Buddha/Space

Code has provided the informational matrix for space in my recent code/space posts.  While I still have a lot of ground to cover there, I thought it would be interesting to approach the question of space from the matrix of a Buddha.

In Buddhist literature, the Matrix-Of-The-One-Gone-Thus is frequently intertwined with space.  I touched on this in a  previous post discussing Buddhist space. As with just about everything, different flavors of Buddhism treat space in somewhat different ways.  As I have in my previous Buddhist posts, I will be mainly talking about the Gelugpa school’s interpretation.

The Verse Summary of the Perfection of Wisdom is one of the oldest of the Perfection of Wisdom sutras.  In this passage, one who has in effect, directly perceived Emptiness, sees the dharma (in this context, sees the way things are) as if she were seeing space itself.

The One-Gone-Thus teaches that one who does not see forms,
Does not see feelings, does not see discriminations,
Does not see intentions, does not see
Consciousness, mind, or sentience sees the dharma.
Analyze how space is seen as in the expression
By sentient beings in words, “Space is seen.”
The One-Gone-Thus teaches that seeing the dharma is also like that.
The seeing cannot be expressed by another example.

Verse Summary of the Perfection of Wisdom translated by Jeffrey Hopkins in Final Exposition of Wisdom works by  Tsong-Ka-Pa edited and translated by Hopkins

Emptiness is a non-affirming negation.  It establishes the inherently existing self as the object to be negated, but does not explicitly affirm anything in its place.

This approach negates inherent existence without inadvertently positing some kind of essential entity, or ground of existence.  Extending this, space then becomes a metaphor for the Mind perceiving Emptiness.  In Emptiness Yoga, Jeffrey Hopkins writes “space [is] the non-affirming negative that is the mere elimination of any obstructive tangibility”. (371)

Common usage certainly includes this alternate sense of “space”.  We could reformulate “I need my space” as “I am experiencing you as an obstruction to my optimal functioning.  Get lost.”  Buddha/space takes this non-obstructiveness as the defining characteristic of space, not as an intellectual exercise, but rather as the felt experience of the way things are.

If the mind that has voidness as its object thinks intellectually, “This is ‘noninherent existence.’ I have found ‘noninherent existence.’ This absence that is the nullification of what is to be refuted is ‘voidness,’” this is referred to as “setting voidness out at a distance.” This will not do. The mind that has voidness properly as its object is a decisive piercing of the mere nullification itself. In other words, with the understanding, from the depths of our heart, that things do not exist at all like they appeared a while back, the mind taking voidness as its object completely pierces the sphere of this mere nullification like a spear piercing a target. A mind that does that is totally absorbed on voidness which is like space.

H. H. the Dalai Lama and Berzin, Alexander. The Gelug/Kagyü Tradition of Mahamudra.   Online excerpt.

This lack of obstacles, space, becomes a metaphor for the spacious awareness that encounters no obstacles in its efforts to bring all sentient beings to enlightenment which is itself, spacious awareness.

See also The Whole Is Greater Than the Part (Part 1)

The Whole Is Grater Than the Part (Part 2)

The Negated Cyborg

While emptiness’ object of negation is inherent existence, the mere idea of it does little to move one along the Buddhist path.  Traditionally, the process to develop one’s experiential understanding starts with distinguishing two kinds of objects: the self and phenomena.  Of course the self is a phenomenon, but it is one that we are likely to be especially attached to.

Most people experience the phenomenon of the self as inherently existing more vividly than any other.  Even the most ardent deconstructionist or social constructionist, when push comes to shove is likely to exhibit behavior indicating she experiences his self as inherently existing.

Indeed, mapping one’s responses to different negative and positive situations would provide a kind of geography of the self imputed as truly and inherently existent.  The Fifth Dalai Lama wrote an account of this that I find especially compelling.

A tight, firm mind thinking “I” exists in our mental continuums on all occasions of sleep and waking.  However, like a mirror and an image of your face,… when you encounter conditions of happiness and suffering, the mind [misconceiving “I”] manifests very strongly, but on occasions when such conditions are not encountered it is a little unclear…

Therefore, you need a clear notion of pleasure or pain that someone else actually caused you.  If not [occurring now], you should recall a former occurrence of such to the point where it appears clearly to you mind.  For example, if someone [falsely] accused of being a theif…you could have strong hated for this person….At that time, this “I” which is the object of the accusation of theft and which is held tightly and firmly in the center of the heart, seems even as if it can be seen with the eye and grasped with the hand.

Similarly, if another person caused you to achieve a desired aim and you reflect that such and such help was rendered, the “I” that is the object helped appears vibrantly from the center of the heart.  In reliance on you cultivating either of these two modes, the manifest mind thinking “I” causes other coarse thoughts to become dormant.  You should allow the consciousness innately conceiving “I” to increase in strength, then analyze the way the mind conceives the “I”.  – Fifth Dalai Lama [1]

For the cyborg, this meditation could be expanded to include the artifacts of technology that she has aggregated into his experience of self.  For instance, many people might experience the theft or malicious destruction of their cell phone as an assault.  Some may relate to the field of information their communication technology produces as a part of their inherently existing self.  So the cyborg may experience data mining and the Boundless Informant program as a personal assault as well.

Indeed this negated inherently existing cyborg is one of the best proofs of the existence of the contingent, functional cyborg.

[1] Fifth Dalai Lama, Sacred Word of Manjushri. Tanslated by Jeffrey Hopkins, Practice of Emptiness. quoted from Jeffrey Hopkins Tantra Techniques

Related post: Negating Emptiness

Negating Emptiness

In the Tibetan Buddhist interpretation of emptiness, it is important to firmly and clearly establish “the object of negation”.  That object is both the idea and experience that phenomena inherently exist.  Only a clear sense of  what the “object of negation” is, provides the basis for the idea of emptiness to mature into experiential understanding.

We can begin to establish the nonexistence of inherent existence by noticing that everything that exists is impermanent itself or depends on impermanent phenomena to exist – space for example.

Elaborating on this, the one conducts a series of analytic meditations.  The first focuses on the idea that all phenomena come into being because of causes and conditions.  When the causes and conditions supporting something no longer exist, the thing also ceases to exist.

The next meditation notices that parts make up everything that exists. Any whole is  a collection of aggregates.  Each part has parts and each whole is part of some other whole.

In the Consequentialist version of emptiness, a phenomenon seems to exist the way it does because the perceiving awareness imputes the idea or experience of inherent existence onto it.  This point requires more analysis to penetrate than the preceding two.

It is this reflexive sense that things exist in the way they seem to exist that creates the experience of Conventional Reality made up of objects and processes.  This is a step before the ideas such as that reality is socially constructed.  A chair appears as a chair first because we impute the mode of being as inherent existence onto appearances.  Once we have done that, we can interact with other beings and the environment to construct the boundaries of this and that.

This can occur on a subtle level that we not only are not aware of, but can be counter to our stated beliefs.

This point is traditionally elaborated in dense writings featuring among other elements nesting negations.  The purpose is not only to demonstrate the point logically but to erode and eventually eliminate that reflex view that things are the way they appear ie inherently existing.

The danger of over-abstraction in some areas of dGe lugs thought is great, but the intricately woven arguments, when probed over time, lead to an internalization of knowledge and palpable experience of principles, which are then the basis for verbalization. In the beginning, the words seem to use the person, but later, a changed person is using the words

 Jeffrey Hopkins “Reason as the Prime Principle in Tsong kha pa’s Delineation of Deity Yoga as the Demarcation Between Sutra and Tantra”

At some point in this process one is likely to ask if emptiness itself truly ie inherently, exists, or even if it is the ground of existence for everything else.  Here the importance of establishing the object of negation becomes clear.  The object of negation is the inherent existence of phenomena.  This is a simple negation.  It does not assert the existence of something else.

Emptiness exists only when  appearances are imputed to exist. To understand emptiness one must negate it.

Note:  Different schools of  Tibetan Buddhism have different presentations of emptiness.  There can be considerable controversy on some points.  I’m using here an understanding of emptiness held by the Gelugpa (“dGe lugs” in the Hopkins quote) school.  This view of emptiness is also known as the Middle Way Consequentialist or Prasangika Madhyamika school of emptiness first fully developed by Tsong-Ka-Pa.

I undertook this post to test my understanding of these concepts.  Any errors are mine alone and I apologize for them.

Space is Seen

For about 2 years now I’ve been reading, rereading, looking at with various levels of confusion the Final Exposition of Wisdom by Jeffrey Hopkins.  Most of the book is extended excerpts from 3 of Tsong-Ka-Pa’s major works, with extensive footnotes and a final essay by Hopkins.  Hopkins acts as an editor and translator, but the bulk of the book is from Tsong-Ka-Pa’s works.

Tsong-Ka-Pa was the last of the three masters (Padmasambhava and Atisha being the other 2) that taught and developed the “spiritual synthesis of Tibetan Buddhism”* over the course of about 730 years.  He founded the Gelugpa school to which the Dalia Lama belongs.

Only recently I realized that several times in the book Tsong-Kha-Pa quotes a passage from the Verse Summary of the Perfection of Wisdom.  (There are a number of Perfection of Wisdom Sutras, this one being considered one of the earliest.  The Heart Sutra is the most famous.)

The One-Gone-Thus teaches that one who does not see forms,
Does not see feelings, does not see discriminations,
Does not see intentions, does not see
Consciousness, mind, or sentience sees the dharma.
Analyze how space is seen as in the expression
By sentient beings in words, “Space is seen.”
The One-Gone-Thus teaches that seeing the dharma is also like that.
The seeing cannot be expressed by another example.

Somehow, understanding that I had been reading the same passage, in different contexts for almost 2 years without understanding the degree of repetition, without understanding the centrality of the passage, seemed significant.

Until it didn’t.

*Essential Tibetan Buddhism, Robert Thurman p.35