Wednesday, 27 December 2017

Purifying the Past with Vajrasattva, the New Year Buddha

The night before

followed by...

...the morning after

That's what many of us say on the first of January - and it isn't just about the after effects of New Year's Eve.

Never, ever, again!

New Year is the traditional time for kicking old harmful habits, and resolving to stop causing further hurt to ourselves and others.

A fresh start


The Vajrasattva visualisation and meditation gives us a fresh start by purifying harmful, negative tendencies and states of mind.

The practice consists of visualising Buddha Vajrasattva (small - about 6 inches tall - not full-sized like a human) above the crown of our heads. He doesn't come from anywhere in particular, he just appears. We believe he is there but don't need detailed visualisations.

Vajrasattva purification relies upon the four opponent powers, which are...

1) Reliance
2) Regret
3) Opponent force
4) Promise

Vajrasattva is the Buddha of Purification.

Reliance helps pacify and weaken negative karma, it involves going for refuge and developing a mind of boddhichitta .

Any negative actions we have committed in the past were either towards objects of refuge, or towards sentient beings.

Negative actions against objects of refuge are purified by going for refuge. We go for refuge to Vajrasattva, regarding him as the synthesis of all objects of refuge.

Negative actions against sentient beings are purified by developing bodhicitta. We think of all living beings as precious and dedicate ourselves to their welfare, and to abandoning causing them suffering. We may wish to visualise that we are surrounded by all living beings and they are also purifying by relying on Vajrasattva.

Caring for all living beings

We develop a sincere regret for all the harmful actions that we have performed against sentient beings. Regret is not the same as guilt. Guilt is a negative state of mind that increases confusion and self-hatred. It leads nowhere and functions only to weaken our will.

Regret, on the other hand, is an admission of our mistakes coupled with a positive intention to learn from them by not repeating them. In other words, we are performing a tantric transmutation by transforming our negative history into our future spiritual path.

Opponent force
The mantra is the opponent force that purifies the actual negativities. We can mentally or audibly recite the long or short mantras. When we are reciting we are requesting Vajrasattva to purify us.

We visualise a moon cushion at Vajrasattva's heart on which is the white letter HUM. Standing around this are the letters of the mantra. From the mantra white light rays and white nectar pour down and purify us from top to bottom, pushing out negativities. All dirty substances leave by lower orifices.

Negative karma leaves as dirty liquid. Mental and physical sicknesses leave as pus, blood, worms and other creepy-crawlies.

Then we feel completely clean, our body is just pure white light.

If we have a particular problem, we visualise that problem being expelled.

The fourth opponent power is the power of promise to gradually abandon harmful actions. We can't purify without making a promise to refrain. Promise purifies the tendency to repeat bad habits which harm ourselves and others. Promise plants the seeds of new tendencies which destroy old tendencies.

At this point we make a realistic promise to avoid negative actions. We don't make promises we can't keep, but make a determination to overcome all negative actions eventually.

Finally, Vajrasattva dissolves into us, and our body, speech and mind become inseparable from Vajrasattva.

We then dedicate the merit we have accumulated by practising the Vajrasattva purification to the happiness of all sentient beings.

12 steps
Although we may joke about the after-effects of New Year's Parties, for some people alcohol is a year-long nightmare. The Alcoholics Anonymous 12 step program requires alcoholics to acknowledge they are helpless against their addiction until they go for refuge to a Higher Power.

For Buddhists, Vajrasattva is such a Higher Power who can help to break addicitions to alcohol, drugs, food etc

Wishing all sentient beings


Vajrasattva Mantra Song and Video

Buddhist Christmas

Buddhist Candlemas

Buddhist Halloween

Seasonal Festivals



Thursday, 14 December 2017

Can Buddhists Celebrate Christmas?

Buddhist Christmas

Bah Humbug!

Other non-Christian religions can get a bit uptight about Christmas, but Buddhism is fairly laid back.

A few years ago the city of Birmingham renamed Christmas to 'Winterval' as a result of protests by non-Christian faith communities, but as far as I'm aware it wasn't the Buddhists who were complaining. 

Of course, there are aspects of Christmas which a Buddhist might have reservations about - rampant consumerism and so on, but these are the same excesses that are often denounced by Christians who complain that in recent years the spiritual aspects of Christmas have been replaced by a credit card frenzy.

But in general Buddhists are quite happy with Christmas and have no hangups about hanging up Christmas decorations and enlightening Christmas trees.

Presents under the Bodhi Tree

In the Simpsons episode She of Little Faith , where Lisa converts to Buddhism, Reverend Lovejoy tries to dissuade her by saying that she can't celebrate Christmas because "Santa doesn't leave presents under the Bodhi tree". Richard Gere puts things right by explaining that Buddhists believe that those religions that are founded on Love and Compassion are valid spiritual paths.

So you can eat your Christmas cake and still be a Buddhist, though of course you can never finally have the cake whether you eat it or not (all cakes are compound phenomena and thus subject to impermanence).

Excessive consumption of Christmas cake may also promote the realisation that there is no inherent difference between an object of attachment and an object of aversion. ("Can't you manage just one more slice? Look here's a nice piece with extra thick icing... What's the matter, aren't you feeling well?")

Was Jesus a Buddhist?
Many Buddhists believe that Jesus was a High Bodhisatva or manifestation of Enlightened Mind. There is also some evidence that in the 'lost years' Jesus travelled to the East and studied Buddhism - certainly you can't get any more Buddhist than the traditional Christmas message of 'Peace on Earth - Goodwill to All'. And who exactly were the Wise Men and where did they originate? Were they Buddhists?

A Buddhist Christmas Carol

Dickens' well-loved story A Christmas Carol sometimes upsets the more fundamentalist Christian evangelicals with its 'ghosts' (to an evangelical all such spirits are apparitions of Satan). But from a Buddhist perspective the story makes perfect sense:

Chains of attachment to money-boxes

Marley's miserliness has resulted in him becoming a Preta (ghost) after death. His attachment in life was to money, and in the Preta realm his attachment manifests as fetters to chains of money-boxes, keys, ledgers and heavy purses. 

In order to help purify his karma, Marley sets out to warn Scrooge that the same destiny awaits him. Marley is assisted in his task by two peaceful Buddhas (Christmas Past and Christmas Present - Buddhas can manifest in any form that is beneficial to sentient beings), and one wrathful Buddha ('Ghost of the Future!' I fear you more than any spectre I have seen'). 

Buddhas can appear in any beneficial form

The Buddhas take Scrooge through a sort of mini-Bardo experience, where he reviews his life from the perspective of what he has done to others, or not done for others, rather than what he has done for himself. He awakens into a state of mind transformed by compassion and generosity.

Ho Ho Ho ... Hotei! The Buddhist Santa Claus

I'm a mince pie junkie, so when it comes to the the annual Christmas Battle of the Bulge, I've long ago taken Langri Tangpa's advice and adopted the practice of 'accepting defeat and offering the victory'.

Unfortunately, this does have a slight problem with the self-generation visualisations. Most of the Buddhas are portrayed as young, slender and sitting upright, which means that those of us with a more Homeric appearance (in the Simpsonian sense) need rather vivid imaginations to 'bring the result into the path'.

So I was quite pleased when I discovered a Buddha with whom I could easily identify - Buddha Hotei - a manifestation of Buddha Maitreya with an amply proportioned physique (The Wikipedia article rather unkindly calls him 'fat').

Buddha Hotei is very popular in China and Japan. He's often portrayed sitting in a semi-reclining posture and laughing uproariously, while distributing presents to children out of an inexhaustible sack. The similarities with Santa are quite intriguing, see Hotei_1, Hotei_2,
Hotei 3

The winter solstice

Of course the origins of Christmas long pre-date Christianity. The majority of the world's religions originated in relatively low latitudes (around 30°N) where the difference in day length between Summer and Winter is not particularly noticeable. However, for us folks who live further from the equator, the long dark nights and short dull days of midwinter are definitely a big psychological issue. That is why the Winter solstice has always been of such importance to Northern Europeans. It symbolises, if not the rebirth, at least the conception of the new year. In the Celtic calendar Imbolc (Candlemas) was the actual birth of the New Year, with the appearance of the first lambs and green shoots.

The early church failed to suppress the solstice celebrations and instead adopted them (much as they planted churches on pagan sacred sites), overlaying the scarcely concealed Druidic symbolism with Christian attributes. There is actually no historical evidence that Jesus was born on the 25th December.

The Celtic annual cycle of Imbolc, Halloween and Winter Solstice offers a rich source of symbolism and analogy for the process of rebirth, life, death, bardo and conception that would not be as apparent in traditional Buddhist countries, which are mostly at lower latitudes. So it is likely that as Buddhism continues to spread in the Anglo-Celtic cultural areas, it will adopt some of the Winter Solstice customs. There is no reason for in not to do so, for it is often remarked that unlike most other religions, Buddhism is not tied to a particular culture. 

Because of its strong philosophical foundations, Buddhism is universal.   It is effective for any sentient being, anywhere, any time.

Christmas Eve at Vajralama Center Seattle

- Sean Robsville

Read more at Buddhist Philosophy


Related articles:

Buddhist New Year

Buddhist Halloween

Buddhist Candlemas

Celtic Buddhism - Buddhism in pre-Christian Britain

Why Beauty Matters - Spiritual Art versus the Cult of Ugliness

Cauldron, Chalice and Grail Symbolism in Buddhism and Celtic Wicca

Buddhist origins of Christianity

Numinous Symbolism - Pagan, Buddhist and Christian

Evolution is no Threat to Buddhism

C J Jung, Buddhism, Tantra and Alchemy

Thursday, 30 November 2017

Recipe - Winter Warmer Kale Soup with Optional Turmeric, suitable for vegetarians and vegans.

500g kale in 3 liter pan

Kale is one of the most nutritious vegetables, being a good source of vitamins, minerals, anti-oxidants and substances that protect eyesight, especially as we get older.  It is also a good source of calcium for vegans.

Unfortunately kale isn't the most exciting or appetizing vegetable in its own right, it needs to be combined with something else to make it more tasty and digestible. This is a recipe for a delicious and nutritious thick soup which is ideal as a winter warmer. In this recipe olive oil is used to solubilize the lutein and other lipophilic nutrients so that they can be taken up by the digestive system.

- 500g fresh kale as whole leaves (avoid the ready-chopped kale stocked by some supermarkets as this is full of stalk and of uncertain freshness).

- Two medium onions

- Three cloves of garlic

- 350 g peeled chopped potatoes

- Extra virgin olive oil.

- Ground black pepper

- Stock cubes or bouillon powder sufficient for 1500ml of stock (typically seven vegetable Oxo cubes or five level teaspoons of Marigold vegetarian or vegan bouillon. Check the instructions on the packaging).

- Turmeric powder (optional)

One 3 liter capacity pan
One 2 liter capacity pan
Frying pan
Spatula or wooden spoon
Hand-held blender

Wash the kale leaves, then strip leaf portions from the central stalk, which should be discarded. Also discard any damaged or yellow patches of leaf.

Put 300ml of water and 40ml (2 tablespoons) of extra virgin olive oil into the 3 liter pan, then add the leaf portions. These are quite springy when uncooked and will need a lid on top to press them down (see picture above) until they wilt and soften in the rising steam.   When the pan begins to boil, press the kale down with the spatula and stir occasionally to ensure thorough cooking and contact with the oil/water. Simmer for 15 minutes.

Simmer the 350g chopped potatoes in 1 liter water till soft.

Chop two medium onions and three cloves of garlic and fry gently in 40ml (2 tablespoons) extra virgin oil till soft.

When all ingredients are cooked...
Add the crumbled stock cubes or bouillon powder to the simmering potatoes, remove from heat and stir well. 

Add 1/4 teaspoon black pepper. 

Add the fried onion and any remaining oil from the frying pan and liquidize.

Add the kale gradually (in five or six batches) and liquidize. Adding the kale in small portions avoids clogging the liquidizer.

Add and mix the oil/water that the kale has been cooked in as this contains nutrients.

Finally check for taste and add more pepper or stock if necessary.

The soup can be frozen as portions in suitable microwaveable containers and reheated as required.

You can supercharge this soup with anti-oxidants by adding two level tablespoons of turmeric  and mixing well just before adding the stock powder to the potatoes.  This will give the recommended daily dose of 1 teaspoon of turmeric per 250ml  portion of soup.  However, be aware that some people need to be cautious about taking turmeric, and it does affect the taste of the soup in a way that may not  be to everyone's liking. So turmeric is probably best left out if you're preparing the soup as part of a meal for guests.

SEE ALSO Secondary Metabolites

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

Why are our minds repeatedly trapped in the bodies of animals and humans?

Sow a thought, reap an action
Sow an action, reap a habit
Sow a habit, reap a character
Sow a character, reap a destiny

Why are the minds of samsaric beings repeatedly drawn into the bodies of animals and humans?  If the mind is capable of existing independently of the body, then why doesn't it do so?   What drives it to biological rebirth? 

Why can't we debiologize ourselves once and for all?
If there is a path to enlightenment which leads out of this continual cycle of birth, aging, sickness and death, why doesn't everybody take it?   If we all have Buddha nature, why do we always end up in such a mess? Why do we seem to take a perverse delight in spiritual self-harm?

The reason for this endless cycle of suffering is that we always have 'something on our mind'; and that something is karma.  The true nature of our mind is clarity, but that clarity is obscured, distorted and weighed down by the imprints of millions of nasty, brutish and usually violently short lifetimes. 

Our minds are deluded into thinking that happiness can be found in samsara, and though it has never worked in the past, this time we'll finally get it right. So after death we are drawn into another rebirth in the biological realms.

Fortunately, we can accomplish a karmic detox of all this accumulated delusional crap, and bring about long-term mental peace and clarity, leading to release from samsaric rebirth for ourselves and others.

More at Buddhist Philosophy

Thursday, 14 September 2017

The truth about the situation in Myanmar

The OIC-financed dhimmi MSM are full of jihadist taqiyya and kuffarophobic agitprop about the situation in Myanmar.
Learn the truth here and here

See also No Future for Buddhism

Understanding Terrorism

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Understanding the minds and motivations of the Jihadist bombers

'I have been made victorious with terror!'


I wrote this original analysis of terrorism as a contagious mental illness  four years ago.   The situation has continued to deteriorate since then, with the attacks becoming ever more frequent, and the latest one specifically targeting children, leaving little girls killed, maimed, mutilated and disfigured for life, with faces ripped apart by shrapnel deliberately added to the bomb for that purpose.  Ever since the Beslan attack, the jihadists have been particularly keen to murder and maim infidel children. with more attacks planned for the future.   (For an explanation of the jihadist attitude to child murder/abuse/rape read this)

Saffie Roussos, youngest victim of Jihadist human sacrifice

The well-intentioned but dangerous delusion of the 'Religion of Peace'
It is dangerous and deluded wishful thinking, no matter how well-intentioned,  to claim that every major world religion, including Jihadism,  advocates peace, love and compassion at the heart of its teachings, and that all violent manifestations are a corruption of the original faith. 

- It is wishful thinking, because we 'kuffars', as they call us, are vainly wishing that all the jihadists, and their supporters and enablers, are mistaken about the true nature of their faith. 

- It is deluded, because half-an-hour's investigation of the teachings of Jihadism, the character of its founder, and the history of its expansion, will demonstrate that the jihadists are correct. The ideology is indeed powered by hatred, intolerance, ignorance and aggression  Jihadism is an arrogant, expansionist, totalitarian and supremacist faith, commanded to world domination. It always has been and always will be.

- And it is dangerous wishful thinking, similar to the well-intentioned 1930's propaganda that the Nazis wanted 'Peace in our time', which lulled the civilised world into complacency, and allowed the forces of evil to gather strength. Hitler could have been stopped much earlier, and with far less bloodshed, if the appeasers had not deluded themselves, and most of the gullible public, about the true nature of his ideology.  

Malware of the Mind
Perhaps if we were to reclassify jihadism from being a religion, to being a contagious form of insanity, we might find better ways of dealing with it.  Maybe if we regarded jihadism as a public health problem, we could use some of the epidemiological approaches to eradicating it that have been so successful against other contagious scourges of humanity, such as smallpox and polio. 

Using the public health analogy, we could employ immunization. We could deliberately spread the metameme (a meme about memes) to give immunity to more pernicious supremacist memes by stimulating critical thinking in would-be jihadists, much like the harmless cowpox virus can block out the lethal smallpox virus by stimulating the immune system.

The mental infection of jihadism is transmitted by a collection of memes (mind-viruses), which when they come together in an organized, mutually-reinforcing system such as religious supremacism are known as a memeplex.  A malignant memeplex takes over the normal mental processes of its host, just like a virus takes over the normal biochemical processes of the body to ensure its own reproduction and spread, even if it means destroying its host in the process.

As Nobel-prize winning author V.S. Naipaul pointed out, hatred of kuffars is the pivot of supremacist existence, and this is the central meme around which all the other components of the jihadist memeplex revolve.   The hatred is so psychopathically intense that the host will destroy himself in order to further the purposes of the memes.  

Jihadism, like Nazism, is what political scientists classify as an 'otherising' ideology. Both Nazism and Jihadism derive their energy from dividing the world into them versus us. For Nazism this conflict is Untermenschen versus Ubermenschen, for Jihadism it is Kuffars versus Ummah. Despite the differences in terminology, the results are very much the same.  This divisiveness leads to the classical liberal dilemma of tolerance of the intolerant, or how do you avoid otherising people who insist on otherising you from themselves?

This isn't to say that all supremacists (and especially heretics such as Ahmadiyyas and Sufis) automatically hate us. It's just that 'Kill the unbelievers wherever you find them' is the pivotal commandment of the Koran, with the phrase 'wherever you find them' presumably including children's concerts.   The jihadist hostility towards kuffars is obsessive, about one third of the Koran consists of fulminations against unbelievers!

So the devout supremacist will always have this genocidal commandment ticking away at the back of his mind, ready to explode into Sudden Jihad Syndrome as soon as he becomes mentally unstable.   

For mentally unstable people who have been brought up in Christian, Jewish, Buddhist or Hindu cultures, the internalized commandment 'Thou shalt not kill' may have a restraining influence.    But for the mentally disturbed supremacist, the commandment 'Thou shalt kill!' has the opposite effect. 

This seething hatred of all infidels, whether men, women or children, provides much of the motivation and justification for the jihadist rape gangs and pedophile networks who harass women and girls in Europe's cities. As with the caliphate, the relevant verses in the Koran and hadiths are quoted to justify their sadisticly depraved and perverted lusts, but that's another story.

From the Buddhist point of view, jihadists such as the Manchester bombers deserve compassion just as much as their victims, for their lives are also being ruined by this contagious viral memeplex of self-reinforcing delusions. A rabid dog suffers from the rabies virus just as much as the people he bites. 

And perhaps Buddhism might offer some hope of treatment for potential jihadists. It may be possible to use Buddhist meditation techniques to cut through delusions and weed out malignant memes even after they have become established ( more here)

And finally, another intellectual weapon against the ideology of jihadism is the theory of evolution itself (from which memetics and the metameme derive).  Jihadism is incompatible with evolution. If evolution is true then the Koran is false, and consequently all its incitements to violence are revealed as nothing but the rantings and ravings of a psychopath, rather than the commandments of God.   

Of course evolution is no threat to Buddhism, though Darwinism does raise some interesting questions about what experiences our body censors from our mind. 

See also Malignant memes, memeplexes and the metameme.


Tuesday, 21 March 2017

The Two Enlightenments - Buddha and Voltaire

Image result
Enlightenment Values  (Not applicable in Scotland)

From The Public Domain Review     
by Donald S. Lopez, Jr.

"...It would not be until well into the nineteenth century that European scholars, all sons of the Enlightenment, sought to turn the founders of religions from gods into men, to separate their precepts from church doctrine. For Jesus and the Buddha, this transformation entailed not debasement but exaltation... Over the course of the nineteenth century, the European portrayal of Buddhism underwent a profound metamorphosis: from a form of idolatry practiced by pagans, to a religion, and a world religion, finally to something beyond the category of religion...

Read it all

See also  The Rational Basis of Buddhism 

Thursday, 2 March 2017

Nagarjuna, Gödel’s Theorem and Russell’s Paradox

Unconventional knowledge
by Kenichi Morita

Distinguishing between “conventional computing” and “unconventional computing” is not so easy, since the notion of unconventional computing is rather vague. Some scientist may want to give a rigorous definition of it. But, if he or she does so, then unconventional computing will become less attractive. The very vagueness of the concept stimulates one's imagination, and thus is a source of creation.

In this short essay, related to such a problem, we consider thinking styles of the West and the East. We examine several possibilities of ways by which we can recognize various concepts in the world, and acquire enlightenment from the nature. At first, we begin with the two categories of knowledge in Buddhism. They are “discriminative knowledge” and “non-discriminative knowledge” (however, as we shall see below, discrimination between “discriminative knowledge” and “non-discriminative knowledge” itself is not important at all in Buddhism). Although it is very difficult to explain them, in particular  non-discriminative knowledge, by words, here we dare to give some considerations on them.

Discriminative knowledge is just the set-theoretic one. Namely, it is a knowledge acquired by classifying things existing in the world.  For example, the discriminative knowledge on “cat” is obtained by distinguishing the objects that are cats from the objects that are not cats. Therefore, what we can argue based on discriminative knowledge is a relation among the sets corresponding to various concepts, e.g., the set of cats is contained in the sets of animals, and so on. Knowledge described by an ordinary language (or a mathematical language like a logic formula) is of this kind, since “words” basically have a function to distinguish certain things from others.

Non-discriminative knowledge, on the other hand, is regarded as the true wisdom in Buddhism. But, it is very difficult to explain it in words, since words can be used for describing discriminative knowledge. Therefore, the only method by which we can express it is using a negative sentence like “Non-discriminative knowledge is not a knowledge that is obtained by distinguishing certain things from others.”

Actually, non-discriminative knowledge is recognized neither by words, nor by thinking, nor by act. Moreover, it is not even recognizable. This is because all acts such as recognizing, thinking, and explaining some objects necessarily accompany discrimination between the self (i.e., actor) and the object. In Buddhism, everything is empty, i.e., it has no reality in the world in its essence. Hence, there is nothing to be discriminated, and there is a truth that can be gotten without discriminating things. Furthermore, such a truth (non-discriminative knowledge) itself is also empty, and thus does not exist. It may sound contradictory, but this is caused by explaining it by ordinary words.

There is no doubt that discriminative knowledge brings practical convenience to our daily life. Today's science also relies on discriminative knowledge. There, objects to be studied are clearly identified, and their properties are described precisely. By this, science brought us a great success. However, discrimination is considered as a kind of “biased view” in Buddhism. Thus, we should note that such a knowledge is a “relative” one. Namely, when we state a scientific truth, we can only say like “If we assume a certain thing is distinguishable from others based on some (biased) viewpoint, then we can conclude so-and-so on it.” We should thus be careful not to overestimate the descriptive power of languages.

It is well known that from the end of 19th century the foundation of mathematics has been formalized rigorously with the utmost precision. It is, of course, based on discriminative knowledge. However, at the same time, problems and limitations of such a methodology were also disclosed. A paradox by Bertrand Russell on the set theory is the most famous one, which first appeared in Nachwort of the Frege's book (Frege, 1903). Russell's paradox is as follows:

Let R be the set of all sets each of which does not contain itself as a member.

Is R a member of itself or not? In either case, it contradicts the definition of R.

Due to this paradox, the naive set theory had to be replaced by some sophisticated ones such as the type theory. The incompleteness theorem by Kurt Gödel (1931) also shows a limitation of a formal mathematical system. He proved that in every formal system in which natural numbers can be dealt with, there exists a “true” formula that cannot be proved in this system. He showed it by composing a formula having the meaning  “This formula is unprovable.”

Nagarjuna is a Buddhist priest and philosopher who lived in India around 150 - 250 AD. He is the founder of Madhyamaka school of Buddhism, where he developed the theory of emptiness. In his book Vigrahavyavartani (The Dispeller of Disputes) (Westerhoff, 2010), he pointed out “very logically” that false thinking will be caused by relying only on discriminative knowledge. This book is written in the following form. First, philosophers of other schools who believe every concept has a substance (here, we call them philosophical realists) present objections against those of Madhyamaka school. Then, Nagarjuna refutes all of them.

While philosophers of Madhyamaka school assert every concept has no substance (but they assert “nothing” as we shall see below), the opponents (philosophical realists) say as follows (Westerhoff, 2010):

If the substance of all things is not to be found anywhere, your assertion which is devoid of substance is not able to refute substance. (Verse 1)

Moreover, if that statement exists substantially, your earlier thesis is refuted. There is an inequality to be explained, and the specific reason for this should be given. (Verse2)

Nagarjuna says:

If I had any thesis, that fault would apply to me. But I do not have any thesis, so there is indeed no fault for me. (Verse 29)

To that extent, while all things are empty, completely pacified, and by nature free from substance, from where could a thesis come? (Commentary by Nagarjuna on Verse 29)

That is, without saying “all things are empty,”all things are empty by nature, and hence the Nagarjuna's assertion itself is also empty.

We can see that the observation “If all things are empty, then the assertion ‘all things are empty’ cannot exist” resembles the second incompleteness theorem:

“If a formal system in which natural numbers can be dealt with is consistent, then consistency of the system cannot be proved in the system” by Gödel (1931).

However, methodologies for obtaining the above observations are quite different. In the former case, non-discriminative knowledge played the crucial role, and thus the observation itself is again empty.

Nagarjuna launches a counterattack against philosophical realists, who claim “all things have substances", by the following objection:

The name “non-existent” what is this, something existent or again non-existent? For if it is existent or if it is nonexistent, either way your position is deficient. (Verse 58)

It is clear that the above argument is analogous to Russell's paradox. By this, Nagarjuna pointed out that philosophical realists who rely only on discriminative knowledge have a logical fault. However, as stated in Verse 29, Nagarjuna asserts nothing in his book.

It will be reasonable to regard discriminative knowledge as conventional knowledge. Then, how is non-discriminative knowledge? Although this kind of knowledge has been argued by philosophers and Buddhists for a very long time, we can say neither conventional nor unconventional. Probably, it is meaningless to make such a distinction. Instead, we consider a question: Can we use non-discriminative knowledge for finding a new way of scientific thinking, and for giving a new methodology of unconventional computing? Since current scientific knowledge is very far from non-discriminative knowledge, it looks quite difficult to do so. However, it will really stimulate our imagination, and may help us to widen the vista of unconventional computing.

I have been studying reversible computing and cellular automata (Morita, 2008) for more than 30 years. Through the research onthese topics, I tried to find novel ways of computing, and thus I think they may be in the category of unconventional computing. Besides the scientific research, I was interested in Buddhism philosophy. In 1970's and 80's, I read Japanese translations of several sutras and old texts of Buddhism. They are, for example, Prajnaparamita Sutra (Sutra of Perfection of Transcendent Wisdom), and Vimalakirti-nirdesa Sutra (Vimalakirti Sutra), as well as Vigrahavyavartani (The Dispeller of Disputes). All of them discuss emptiness of various concepts and things in the world, but assert nothing. I was greatly impressed by these arguments, which themselves are empty. Although my research results are, of course, given in the form of discriminative knowledge, and thus in the purely Western style, I think such a thought somehow influenced me on my research when exploring new ways for unconventional computing.

Read the full article here 

See also

Thursday, 19 January 2017

Sentience, suffering, and the futile quest for homeostasis

The first priority of all living organisms is to maintain a steady state, known as homeostasis - the regulated stability of structures, organs and internal systems that allows life to continue.

All living things need to protect and maintain a minimum functioning structure to survive.    An animal deprived of functioning limbs, or a plant deprived of leaves, will soon die. 

Metabolic homeostasis

In addition, all organisms need to regulate a complex set of interacting metabolic chemical reactions. 

From the simplest unicellular organisms to the most complex plants and animals, internal processes operate to keep conditions within tight limits to allow these reactions to proceed. Homeostatic processes act at the level of the cell, the tissue, and the organ, as well as for the organism as a whole.  
Maintenance of homeostasis requires a continuing input of energy in the form of food for animals, and sunlight for plants.   If the energy needed to maintain homeostasis exceeds the energy input, the organism will die once its reserves are exhausted.  In terms of energy expenditure, you’ve got to keep running just to stay still.

In addition to maintaining structural integrity and metabolic stability, a juvenile organism will have a secondary priority to grow, and an adult organism a secondary priority to reproduce.  But without homeostasis, these secondary aims cannot be achieved.

Conscious and unconscious homeostasis.
Non-sentient organisms, such as plants and bacteria, maintain homeostasis by purely mechanistic processes, using automatic feedback in the same way that a centrifugal governor mechanism maintains a steady speed for a steam engine.    Even in sentient animals, many homeostatic processes are unconscious, and we have no awareness of their operations.

Automatic feedback mechanism

But the game completely changes when sentience comes into the picture.  Two non-mechanistic factors come into play - qualia and intentionality - which allow far more adaptive homeostatic control strategies than purely automatic feedback loops.

Qualia (singular quale) are qualitative experiences including experiences of suffering such as  thirst, hunger, fear, pain and so on.

Intentionality is the property of being ‘about’ something, of having 'an intentional object'.

So the quale of thirst forces the mind to become obsessively intentional about water, the quale of hunger forces the mind to become similarly intentional about food, and the qualia of  pain and fear force the mind to become intentional about avoiding the causes of these unpleasant sensations (objects of aversion).

Did sentience evolve, or was it co-opted?
Now the interesting thing is that neither qualia nor intentionality are physical phenomena (as was first pointed out by the Victorian physicist John Tyndall 140 years ago).  Neither are they in any sense mechanistic phenomena.

Consequently, there is no known process by which sentience could have arisen by Darwinian evolution.  Evolution can account for the physical structure of the bodies of sentient beings and their automatic homeostatic control mechanisms, but it cannot bridge the explanatory gap between the physical and the mental.

As Thomas Nagel argues, the materialist neo-Darwinian conception of nature is incomplete, because it cannot adequately explain the appearance of consciousness.

So if sentient minds haven’t evolved, have they nevertheless been co-opted by evolutionary processes to improve the homeostatic behavior of animals?
Suffering, unpleasant though it may be for the individual, has survival and evolutionary advantages for the species. 

To quote Richard Dawkins:

"The total amount of suffering per year in the natural world is beyond all decent contemplation. During the minute that it takes me to compose this sentence, thousands of animals are being eaten alive, many others are running for their lives, whimpering with fear, others are slowly being devoured from within by rasping parasites, thousands of all kinds are dying of starvation, thirst, and disease. It must be so. If there ever is a time of plenty, this very fact will automatically lead to an increase in the population until the natural state of starvation and misery is restored."

Mental states such as suffering, unsatisfactoriness and pleasure are qualitative subjective experiences, which carry strong immediate meanings, and do not exist in automata - mechanistic systems such as relay networks or computers.

It is for this reason that complex animals have evolved neural structures which attract and capture minds. Fundamentally, it is the suffering and grasping of their minds - the need to avoid pain and seek pleasure - that provides the driving force for survival and reproduction of complex animals. The physical body enters into a symbiotic relationship with a non-physical mind.

In Buddhist philosophy, the mind of a sentient being is not a product of biological processes, but something primordial which has existed since beginningless time, and which will be drawn into another body once the present one has died. But reflecting on Richard Dawkins' description of the horrors of Samsara, it's surprising that sentient minds allow themselves to be co-opted by biological systems again and again. Maybe they've got no choice, maybe they're deluded, or maybe they just don't know how to get out.

The brain is a device which has evolved to delude the mind.
It could also be argued that in addition to biochemical and physiological mechanisms for maintaining homeostasis, evolution has also given sentient beings a psychological homeostatic mechanism by constructing the illusion of a stable self, which can and must be maintained.

This false sense of a stable self is, of course, a delusion, though from the evolutionary point of view, a very useful one.

Survival advantages of sentience
In evolutionary terms, any adaptation or feature must have some selective benefit for the organism that possesses it. Obviously, a physical body equipped with sentience will have an improved chance of surviving to propagate its genes over any mindless competitor which is not deterred by pain or motivated by pleasure.

But what does the mind gain from this symbiotic association?   Usually little or nothing. 

When the life of the biological partner comes to an end, the mind has to endure the sufferings of death and then leave its home, being unable to take anything with it. It must then enter the unstable hallucinatory state of the bardo,  and perhaps soon after find a new body

Or even worse, if it doesn't find a new body quickly, it may stay in a nightmarish state of karmically induced hallucinations - a perpetual bad trip that lasts indefinitely: 'for in that sleep of death what dreams may come...'.

Parasitic body, parasitized mind?

In Buddhist terminology these minds are wanderers or migrators in samsara (the realms of suffering and delusions). The mind is non-evolved and non-evolving, at least not by the normal processes of natural selection. The body uses the mind for its own purposes, not vice versa as we may like to imagine.

So, perhaps the relationship between mind and body is more one of parasitism than symbiosis. The biological body gets a better chance to propagate itself.  But the mind has to endure dukkha -  the ever-changing experiences of craving, suffering and attachment, that the body imposes upon it in order to force it to do what is necessary for survival, competition and reproduction.

Homeostasis is a mug's game
Since maintaining homeostasis is like running to keep still, sooner or later the body's systems will wear out, with the inevitable results that the Buddha observed on his ride outside the palace...

The Four Sights

See also Buddhist Philosophy

and Can you debiologize yourself?