Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Varieties of nondual experience

Yes, this is a play on Wm. James The Varieties of Religious Experience, which I discussed in this IPS thread. We will, in fact, see the same type of debate about nonduality in that thread in what follows, which is a rehash of the Tibetan two truths debate. I explored the latter in this IPS thread on Batchelor, which was a rehash of an earlier Gaia thread called "letting daylight into magic." The excerpts following are from the end of the Batchelor thread, and which highlight the sticking point in the Magellan thread.

Given the recent discussion in the Magellan blog post I thought I'd revive this thread with Elias Capriles' book Sutrayana from the perspective of Dzogchen, available at Scribd. He said:

"The Dzogchen teachings resort to concepts and terms which are extraneous to Prasangika thought, and which are featured in the canonical texts of the Third Promulgation (dharmachakra) and in the philosophical schools based on them, such as the Yogachara School, the Madhyamaka-Swatantrika- Yogachara subschools of Madhyamika thought, and the subschools that make up the inner, subtle Madhyamaka (which are the Zhentongpa and Mahamadhyamaka subschools)" (9).

Also see Sonam Thakchoe's  The Two Truths Debate referenced earlier in the thread, as well as his paper "How many truths?" that pre-dates the book. Also Garfield's book Empty Words is available at Scribd.

The following are some excerpts from Empty Words and are points I've made before above and in previous threads. We can see the Yogacara influence in Dzogchen Caprilles admitted above and which is a major sticking point in the shentong/rangtong debate. Similar analysis is found in The Two Truths Debate.

"The fact that all phenomenon are ultimately empty entails very different consequences....for the Madhyamika, it entails that nothing, including emptiness, lacks inherent existence and that all phenomenon are on the same ontological footing. For the Yogacarins, on the other hand, it entails that all objects of consciousness are completely nonexistent and merely imaginary, while the mind itself and the absence of duality are truly existent.... As a consequence, whereas for Nagarjuana the two truths are in the end identical, characterizing the same reality from different perspectives...for Vasubandhu ultimate reality and conventional reality are not in any sense identical.... For Nagarjuna we can express genuine truths through language and can understand reality conceptually. For Vasubandhu neither is possible. Madhyamaka hence provides a non-mystical, immanent characterization of the nature of reality...and of the nature of our knowledge...about one reality. Yogacara epistemology and metaphysics, on the other hand, require for genuine knowledge, for access to truth, a mystical intuition of a transcendent realm.... It hence implicates a strong ontological version of an appearance/reality distinction" (182-3).

From "How many truths?":

"Tsong khapa's own claim [is] that that two truths constitute 'a single ontological identity' with 'different conceptual identities'" (124).

"Go rampa argues...that conventional truth must be eliminated in the ascent to ultimate truth.... The two truths are binary opposites....conventional truth...is the ignorance of ordinary beings....ultimate truth is the sole truth and the phenomenal world is utter illusion" (130-1).

He then shows which people side with which view, and it pretty much comes down to the rangtong (Gelug) versus the shentong (the other Tibetan sects including Dzogchen).


  1. From Morton, “Hegel on Buddhism”:*

    “To the undecuated ear the shentong view almost sounds like a version of idealism, or perhaps even solipsism, especially as it is full of phrases such as 'the clear light nature of mind,' which could easily be heard as a form of theism.... [But] shentong does not accept the Cittamatra view that consciousness is truly existent. [It] hold[s] the Madhyamaka view that it is non-arising and without self-nature” (23-4).

    And yet:

    “Realty is empty, but not of the qualities of a Buddha, transcendent intelligence, wisdom and compassion: luminosity. Remember that the subject-object dualism has long been surpassed. So what we are dealing with here is a self-luminous reality, beyond conceptualization” (25).

    * http://www.scribd.com/doc/72517043/Timothy-Morton-hegel-on-Buddhism

  2. From Caprilles (cited above):

    “Concerning the confusion of the Ati view according to which the true nature of mind is Awake Awareness, with the lower Yogachara view according to which there is a thoroughly established Buddha-nature, it must be stressed that the Dzogchen teaching, rather than viewing the nature of mind as thoroughly established, assert it to be an awareness free of elaborations” (200).

    Morton and Caprilles assert that shentong adheres to the Madhyamaka view of phenomenon as empty of inherent existence. Yet they both seem, per Garfield and Thakchoe, to adhere to an ultimate realm beyond conceptual elaboration. That is, "a strong ontological version of an appearance/reality distinction." Or in my terms, a dualistic nondualism.

  3. Now how does this square with OOO's notion of the withdrawn real in relation to local manifestations? There doesn't seem to be a ontological appearance/realty distinction, for one thing, as both are structural constructions, elaborations, as it were. In OOO there is not only no transcendental essence but no transcendental substance.

  4. For example, Bryant from "On the reality and construction of hyperobjects with reference to class":*

    "While classes are hyperobjects, individuals, or entities in their own right, this does not entail that classes don’t have to be produced. Classes are the result of antipraxis, or the material trace of millions of technologies, media, signs, signifiers, natural environmental conditions, infrastructure, and countless
    human practices that, in their material trace, take on a life of their own, structuring the possibilities and activities of persons embedded within the class" (88).

    Even hyperobjects like emptiness are produced through elaboration; the latter term doesn't have to be interpreted narrowly as "conceptual" but more broadly as objective in the OOO sense. No elaboration, i.e. no parts to establish the hyperobject, no hyperobject. While the latter cannot be reduced to the former (transcendent in one sense), it also cannot exist without "them" (not transcendent in another sense).

    * http://speculations.squarespace.com/storage/Bryant_Reality%20and%20Construction%20of%20Hyperobjects_v2.pdf

  5. Bryant also notes in the referenced article that "if class exists, it is not an experience nor the result of an experience (though it can, perhaps, be experienced)" (86). So how can the withdrawn be experienced? Can it be so through a transcendent, present consciousness or "awake awareness" of the real through meditative discipline? Bryant goes on: "The question then... [is] how we experience or are conscious of class....requires a sort of leap and detective work that ferrets all sorts of traces allowing us to finally infer its existence" (90). Recall from The Democracy of Objects that this is apprehended though Bhaskar's transcendental realism, which asks:

    "What must be presupposed about the nature of the world in order for our scientific practices to be possible? As Deleuze reminds us, the transcendental is not to be confused with the transcendent. The transcendent refers to that which is above or beyond something else. For example, God, if it exists, is perhaps transcendent to the world. The transcendental, by contrast, refers to that which is a condition for some other practice, form of cognition, or activity"(1.2).

    This transcendental presupposition is exactly a form of conceptual elaboration to infer a nonconceptual (non-human) elaboration. Or as Garfield once said (see p. 84 of this thread*) in order to experience the nondual one must first have a correct conceptual view of it.

    * See p. 3 of the Batchelor thread for link.


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