Monday, November 24, 2008

Three Natures Pt. II

Mike continues:

a) Your original post states the Aryas experience "appearances that are the results of ignorance and karma during post-meditation." I assume that although these arise, the Aryas are not deluded by them, unlike ordinary beings. I.e., they experience them as "dependently-arisen mere appearance" and this is what is meant by the "mere relative."

b) Your subsequent comments suggest "mere relative" may be somewhat comparable to the "pure dependent nature." I don't have my NB sourcebook handy but "pure dependent nature" indicates the appearances of the higher stages of the path, e.g., the pure lands, etc. Would these qualify as karmic visions? Also, how would this fit with the Bodhisattva vow and the idea of being reborn in any of the six realms of samsara?

Regarding a), I'm glad you addressed this, Mike. I think you hit the nail on the head with your suggested description of why the mere relative is called as such. Appearances arisen from ignorance manifest for realized beings in post-meditation, but the beings do not believe that they are real. The Tibetan phrase that describes this perceptive state is snang la ma zhen pa, perceiving but not clinging, fixating, reifying, or getting sucked in.

The topic you raised in b) is very interesting to consider in a Middle Way context. The Karmapa, in his commentary, doesn't make much mention of pure realms and kāyas, etc. In one telling line, he speaks of how the purification of clinging will eventually lead to the purification of appearances, but he doesn't really describe what that purification would "look" like. A safe reading of the Consequentialist system would be to say that all pure realms, etc., are appearances for others, but the Followers of the Middle Way (i.e. the noble ones) are free from any positions (and, it would seem, perceptions) of any existence, nonexistence, etc. of appearances. In terms of the benefit of others, I think the Consequentialist explanation would accord with the general Mahāyāna: that the bodhisattvas, on the level of what is commonly accepted by others, intentionally take birth in saṃsāra to perform the benefit of others. Any display of pure realms, etc., would be an extension of that altruistic vision.

I might have more to say about the purification of appearances later...

1 comment:

graham smetham said...

Hi Tyler - heres my replacement comment - thanks a lot.

Fantastic book; I looked forward to its publication as I wanted to use it for my own work. I have just finished writing the most extensive, detailed and rigorous book about quantum physics and Buddhist philosophy – Dancing in Emptiness: Reality Revealed at the Interface of Quantum Physics and Buddhist Philosophy). My work explores extraordinary detailed parallels and interconnections between quantum theory and Chittamatra and Prasangika Madhyamaka philosophy.

In 2005 the Dalai Lama published his book ‘The Universe in a Single Atom’ and the 2007 Mind and Life Conference had the same title with the subtitle ‘the Convergence of Science and Spirituality’. There have been several other books, which you may be aware of, devoted to this topic of the interconnections between Buddhist philosophy and modern science, particularly quantum physics. None of these works, however, comes close to the scope and depth of the book I have just completed after eight years of intensive research and writing.

Obviously in the scope of this small piece I can only give the merest indication of the precise and detailed nature of my work. My book, ‘Dancing in Emptiness: Reality Revealed at the Interface of Quantum Physics and Buddhist Philosophy’, is over 500 pages long and is philosophically and scientifically intense. But to give a very initial indication of spheres of overlap please consider the following. In a recent article in the New Scientist a physicist writes that:

… we now have to face the possibility that there is nothing inherently real about the properties of an object that we measure. In other words measuring those properties is what brings them into existence.

The recently performed experiments that have demonstrated lack of inherent reality of the measured properties involve testing a special formula at the quantum level; if the ‘numbers add up’ then ‘we have to abandon the idea of an objective reality’. When the experiments were performed the numbers did add up and the conclusion that has to be drawn, according to one of the quantum physicists involved, is that:

Rather than passively observing it, we in fact create reality.

This insight into the lack of ‘inherent existence’ is the hallmark of ‘emptiness’, which is the central concept of the Madhyamaka. And the term ‘emptiness’ is defined by Buddhism as exactly the ‘lack of inherent existence’ in all phenomena; it clearly seems that there is a fairly significant connection between these perspectives.

There is an ingrained idea amongst many pundits in the arena of the contrast and possible interconnection between science and religion that these two concerns somehow occupy different realms of discourse; realms which at best can only be vaguely analogous. Such views of ‘non-overlapping’, to use a term famously suggested by Stephen Jay Gould, areas of discourse were for a long period encouraged by theistic philosophers because of the difficulty they had reconciling their religiously based philosophical view of the nature of reality with the scientific worldview. Today such theologians, however, are rushing to cobble together a quantum notion of God.

Thus a recent theological attempt to present a new quantum based view of God claims, somewhat disingenuously, with respect to quantum indeterminacy that:

Thus, from a theological point of view, we can say that something like this indeterminacy could have been predicted on the basis of a theory of noncoercive divine action in the subhuman world.

Unfortunately for the scientific status of theology, however, no such dramatic predictions were made by any of its practitioners. But, as my book amply and precisely demonstrates, Buddhist Chittamatra/Yogacara and Madhyamaka philosophers made spectacular assertions concerning the nature of reality during the two and a half thousand years before those assertions were validated by quantum discoveries; the precision of the descriptions of the functioning of reality which prefigure the quantum discoveries are remarkable.

The Yogacara description of the functioning of perception within a universal field of consciousness, for instance, is exactly that of the quantum Zeno effect. Why has no-one seen this before? No one has bothered to do a detailed investigation; the debate has generally taken place on a superficial level. The work I have carried out is, therefore, the first precise, detailed and rigorous investigation of the issues. At the moment my book is being evaluated by a highly respected quantum physicist, someone who knew and discussed foundational issues in quantum theory with some of the founders like Heisenberg and the later philosophically inclined physicists like David Bohm and John Wheeler, both of whom are very important in my work. In a recent email he wrote to me:

You do a valuable service in pinpointing this particular strand of eastern philosophy that seems to mesh so well with this feature of quantum theory.

But this connection is just one of the precise details of interconnection between the prefiguring Buddhist philosophical analysis of the nature and functioning of reality and the subsequent confirmation by quantum theory.

The delicacy of quantum experiments that are now being performed is extraordinary; nature is now being questioned as to whether consciousness is significant in the construction of reality with increasing sophistication and precision, and the results are actually suggesting that an extraordinary second quantum revolution is on the horizon. Today there seems to be the beginnings of a movement away from a materialism which dogmatically asserts that there must be an external reality which is independent of consciousness, in the direction of the view that consciousness constitutes the foundational nature of reality not only at the quantum level, but at every level.

The Mind-Only, school asserts that it is the mind that is interdependently instrumental in bringing phenomena into existence:

..all these various appearances, Do not exist as sensory objects which are other than consciousness. Their arising is like the experience of self knowledge. All appearances, from indivisible particles to vast forms, are mind.

It would be easy to think that such interconnections are coincidental and intriguing but not necessarily indicative of any deep connection. My research, however, shows that this is not the case. I was astonished to find that when the quantum perspectives of physicists such as Henry Stapp, David Bohm and John Wheeler were interwoven with the Mind-Only discourse a scientific-metaphysical ‘theory of everything’ of astonishing detail, precision and depth resulted. As I pursued my enquiries I became convinced that the Tibetan philosophers must have known about the quantum nature of reality in a very precise manner. When I read the beautiful and inspiring ‘Mountain Doctrine’, translated by Jeffrey Hopkins, I realised I was correct. This insight became one of my favourite chapters of my book - ‘The Empty Wave of Reality’- how astonishing, the fourteenth century Buddhist philosophers knew about the quantum wavefunction! They called it ‘the element of attributes’ or the dharmadhatu. In fact it becomes quite clear that enlightened beings do not collapse the wavefunction.

An interconnection which underlies this insight concerns the three natures as described in the Mind-Only school and the functioning of the quantum wave function. The following is dramatically simplified:

At the quantum level the functioning of reality consists of:

1) An interdependent realm of potentialities for experience which are only activated into actual experience when a perceiving subjectivity interacts with the quantum wavefunction and thereby selects one of the potentialities. This pre-experiential realm is called the ‘other-powered nature’, which is an interconnected realm of potential dualistic experience. The potentialities arise from karma.

2) The ‘collapse of the wavefunction’. This occurs when a perceiving consciousness interacts with the potentialities within the wavefunction and thereby selects one of the potentialities - this leads the illusion of inherent dualistic experiential reality. This is called within the Mind-Only analysis the ‘imputational nature’.

This leads to the understanding that the thoroughly established nature – emptiness, which is the fact that the other-powered nature is ‘empty’ of the imputational nature, corresponds to the situation that the collapse of the wave function is an illusion, i.e. it is not an inherent aspect of the wavefunction itself. This leads to a mapping between the two truths of the Madhyamaka, conventional and ultimate, and the two realms within physics – the classical and the quantum. And it is exactly because enlightened beings, having eradicated all afflictive (obstructions of liberation) and subtle residual (obstructions to omniscience) tendencies, are free from any clinging to existence and thereby do not activate an imputational nature, which means that they do not collapse wavefunctions!

This is a mere glimmer, and yet surely a spectacular indication, of the extraordinary depth of interconnections. Further insights, and a complete outline of ‘Dancing in Emptiness’, can be found at my website www.quantumbuddhism.COM (beware of surrounding charlatans!). I intend to put an end to this debate with an irrefutable demonstration that Buddhist philosophy and quantum physics are describing exactly the same spiritual reality. I am looking for a publisher!

Thanks - graham