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Nonduality



A Conversation on Buddhism between Dan Berkow, Ph.D. and Greg Goode, Ph.D.

See Dan's other web page: "I will never be known this way"

Also see: Nonduality Salon Magazine: This Is It, an Interview with Dan Berkow, by Gloria Lee

Dan can usually be accessed through NDS List.

Dan: a major unresolved (unresolvable?) question in Buddhism is the nature of selfness. Saying there is no permanent self or identity, anatman, doesn't say what selfness is.

Greg: Perhaps unresolved means no universal agreement. In Madhyamika Buddhism (the Dalai Lama's sect), they think about these things a lot; it's not an unresolved matter to them. In that school atman/self means "that which has inherent existence." And inherent existence is existence "on its own side," or "by its own power." Something has inherent existence if it is not dependent any of the following relations:

-causes and conditions -part/whole relations
-perceiver/perceived duality

And they argue that there isn't anything that is independent in these ways, so there's no inherently existing self. There is a *conventional* self, which they speak of as the aggregates - basically our mind/body complex. This conventional self is the one spoken of in conventional parlance, the one that goes to the store, writes e-mail messages, etc.

So because there's no real fixed entity anywhere according to Madhyamika, there's no real fixed entity that accumulates karma. That isn't seen to be problematic, because there's no real fixed entity that lives a single life either. Madhyamika speaks of the transmigrating self sort of the same way that Theravada speaks of it: my self in life A is neither the same as nor different than my self in life B. And they give the example of a candle lighting another candle. The flame is neither the same nor different from one to the other.

Dan: Thanks for this informative reply.

I don't think it's fully resolved in Madhyamika, although as you say, they may believe it is.

To say there's no fixed entity says what isn't, but it doesn't say how there can be a meaningful statement that there's no fixed entity. Even if you say there neither is nor isn't a speaker, for the statement to have meaning, "selfness" is indicated, i.e. the meaning of the statement itself. One can say, "this statement neither is nor isn't meaningful," but such an indication, for me, would point to the nonresolution of the question of selfness.

For me, it comes down to this: we say something about this and that. this is because of that and that is because of this. how is it we can say "this" and "that"? for the statement to have meaning, there is a point of observation. without such a point, no word can have meaning and there is no coherent statement such as "interdependent being".

so words have meaning, because something is said, something is indicated.

there must be a point of observation that allows meaning to "interdependence" or "mutual definition". this point could be called "selfness" and isn't resolved by the philosophy of interdependence of phenomena. Perhaps this was what Dogen was attempting to resolve with "being-time". Being-time could be construed as a point that contains all time and is all time, simultaneously. If so, this comes very close to the Western mystical idea of God as simultaneously immanent and transcendent, presented in symbolic forms such as the burning bush or the figure of Jesus.

Where is the observation point to say that this is because of that and that because of this, or to say the self is like a flame that neither is the same nor different? One could say there is and is not such a point, and that point is and is not being-time. One could say that point is selfness, or God.

unresolvable, and thus resolved as openness.

~~~~~~

Greg: If I'm reading you right on this, it is one of the more sophisticated charges against Madhyamika. It charges that Madhyamika is nonsensical and self-defeating, because for its statements to carry weight and have meaning, self-ness is unintentionally entailed. If there really is no self-ness, goes the charge, then none of Madhyamika's statements point to anything, therefore they can not be taken seriously. Like "this statement is false." Madhyamika claims to have no views. How does this itself escape being a view?

Actually, Nagarjuna himself dealt with this point, in the last chapter of his _Treatise on the Middle Way_. Jay L. Garfield, a philosopher who wrote an excellent translation/commentary of this text(1), also wrote a fine paper on the same topic.(2) It boils down to this, that there is no ultimate claim made by Madhyamika. It makes no claim to meaning. It is a verbal thorn-to-remove-a-thorn, that the opponent, who believes in meaning, *interprets* as an ultimate and meaningful claim. The very thorn that Madhyamika can remove is the opponent's own attachment to meaning. When it is understood as such, almost like a verbal hit with a stick, then there are no charges of self-defeat. Madhyamika's view is that it is the opponent's grasping onto a very subtle notion of meaning and inherent existence that motivates the self-defeating claim.

So actually, Madhyamika is saying the same thing that Dan-ji seems to be saying most of the time on NDS!!! To say that something is unresolved -- what would "resolved" be????

(footnotes below)

---------------

(1) Nagarjuna, _Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way: Nagarjuna's Mulamadhyamakakarika._ Oxford University Press, New York, 1995.

(2) Jay L. Garfield, "Emptiness and Positionlessness: Do the Madhyamika Relinquish all Views?," , Journal of Indian Philosophy and Religion,1, 1996, pp 1-34.

Dan: Hi Gregji --
Footnotes, too! Thanks, indeed. You're right, I do question views often, see reality as no-thingness, and hence enjoy Buddhism. So I'm questioning the M. view - why not... and that's the main reason for using a silly term like "selfness". I could say "x-ness" and it would be the same.

You went further than me by using words like "nonsensical". I don't see M. as nonsensical, except maybe in the way that G-d is nonsensical. I see M. as not resolving the issue of selfness. I do see the point of M. The way you explained it, it seems to me there is 'selfness' evident in the very use of M. to 'release' attachment. If no selfness, why would it be devised and used, and how would be ascertained the situation and way to use it, and for whose sake?

It is this unacknowledged, indispensible selfness I'm noticing, not calling the entire project nonsensical (except if it be taken as an absolute ending of selfness, or as recognition of an ultimate nonselfness reality). I'm fully in agreement with you that any fixed notion of "selfness" is contradictory. Selfness uses limits, it isn't ultimately definable with limits.

In questioning the opposition of 'this' to 'that' and pointing to 'mutual arising of this and that', the questioning/pointing itself is the selfness that isn't 'this' or 'that'. Itself is the meaning that doesn't depend on meaning, the reality that doesn't depend on any other. That's why it was able to raise the question of attachment to meaning (selfness) in the first place! Its very questioning presents that which is the object of the questioning. It's a no-self self, not merely no-self. If I am the basis of meaning and no-meaning, then my attachment to meaning is absurdity itself. Nonattachment isn't a goal for meditation, it's reality itself when selfness is seen as noncontradictory with no-selfness.

There is no opponent for it -- the thorn isn't needing to be removed; in fact, the thorn is the reason the questioning can take place, the opportunity to 'show itself to itself' as questioning/pointing. My suggestion: let's enjoy the situation as is, as it reveals 'selfness' whether in the form of Buddhism, or any other form of pointing/questioning that seems relevant and attentive to deep biases/assumptions.

The resolution of the issue of self isn't the positing of a fixed position for self, nor a self-entity, but is the manifestation of particular reality in flux "from" an unimaginable nonflux total being. Because these two are one, selfness is all-pervading and nonexistent. This, its seems, is how we manifest as 'this particular living universe'. There is nothing out of place anywhere.

I am calling this 'selfness' (it could as easily be called 'godness') only because it's not a void or lack. Unacknowledged selfness seems the only major "stuck point" I've found in Buddhism. But yes, that's kind of major if it's truly not resolvable.

Perhaps this tendency in Buddhism arose from its insistence on maintaining a tool that would combat the tendency toward fixed views of self, or self as ultimate entity, found in many versions of Hindu thought. Perhaps, Buddhism went to the opposite extreme, and thus is a kind of Hinduism in reaction to its own tendency to fixate on notions of Self.

If we find the selfness hidden in the 'statement of no entity', the no-self position paves the way for a selfness that is infinite, all-pervading, spaceless, and timeless. So selfness is just a word for what is there/not there when both thorns are discarded.

This unresolvable issue of selfness - it's very much the same for me as the Hebrews saying that YHVH can't be represented. What is that very statement itself, if not representation? (Let alone the rest of the Holy Bible ;-) There's unknowable selfness there, as well.

If selfness isn't resolved in Buddhism, Hinduism, or Hebrew teachings, what would resolved selfness look like? Clearly, if I speak, I lie. But what an opportunity for grandiosity! How can I refuse to answer?

It would look like this: An infinitude of meaning with endless self-ripples manifesting as constant flux, endless living-universes of changing meaning, yet without any change occurring in all-pervading self-evident self-nature. The 'catch' is: this self-nature isn't to be found anywhere, and can't be said to exist, ever. Without existing, it is merely self-evident (to who else?) as its own manifestation as living/dying endlessly living universe here, now. I am all that is, hence I am no one and no-thing.

So infinite, it must limit itself to present itself to itself - which it is doing constantly through all these apparent intertwined and resonating lives/universes of meaning.

Its own self-limitation (contraction, apparent division) is itself infinity, self-presenting by defining this from that, contrasting this with that and that with this.

First (and, in a sense, the only meaningful sentence) of the Bible: "With beginning, Infinite Meaning (Elohim) created by dividing the sacred waters from the manifested infinity." From there, meaning is created by division upon division - the rest of the text.

Creation is division, hence creation neither occurs nor doesn't occur. This is true astronomically, physiologically, cognitively, and socially. The self divides without splitting, hence it is no-self selfness.

~~~~~

You'll recall Dan had said: Footnotes, too! Thanks, indeed. You're right, I do question views often, see reality as no-thingness, and hence enjoy Buddhism. So I'm questioning the M. view - why not... and that's the main reason for using a silly term like "selfness". I could say "x-ness" and it would be the same. You went further than me by using words like "nonsensical". I don't see M. as nonsensical, except maybe in the way that G-d is nonsensical. I see M. as not resolving the issue of selfness. I do see the point of M. The way you explained it, it seems to me there is 'selfness' evident in the very use of M. to 'release' attachment. If no selfness, why would it be devised and used, and how would be ascertained the situation and way to use it, and for whose sake?

Greg: Writing this, I've got a cup of capuchino by my side. In Madhyamika, everything is empty of inherent existence. Even emptiness is empty of inherent existence. There is no inherently existing self anywhere. There are ideas and notions and feelings that seem to imply an inherently existing self, but these are empty of inherent existence. Everything that exists has conventional or dependent existence. For M., this includes people, books, computers, religions, Buddhas, enlightened beings, Bodhisattvas and their 10 levels, monks, lamas and llamas, the yearning for liberation, the fear of emptiness, etc.

M's task is a conventional task : save all beings. Emptiness, along with Madhyamika, is conventional. In this conventional sense, M. is for the sake of these beings. The method of M is also conventional. If there were a true, inherently existent self, say an inherently existing non-liberated self, then this being could never be saved. Part of its non-dependent, inherently existing nature would be as an non-liberated being. If it exists as an inherently existing, non-liberated being, then nothing can touch that being to liberate it. Therefore, only dependently existing beings can be liberated. The dependency in question a responsiveness to causes and conditions. Inherent existence would be totally independent of causes and conditions, as well as consciousness.

So, the philosophy of emptiness and dependent arising (one philosophy of which is M), as well as our discussion here about these things, are all conventionally existing things. Now, it is conventionally true according to M. that most beings see themselves and the world as though these things had inherent existence. M's idea is that this feeling of inherent existence is a very common thing, and the root of suffering. To see the emptiness of all phenomena is the (conventional) goal of M.

You'll recall Dan had said: In questioning the opposition of 'this' to 'that' and pointing to 'mutual arising of this and that', the questioning/pointing itself is the selfness that isn't 'this' or 'that'. Itself is the meaning that doesn't depend on meaning, the reality that doesn't depend on any other. That's why it was able to raise the question of attachment to meaning (selfness) in the first place! Its very questioning presents that which is the object of the questioning. It's a no-self self, not merely no-self.

Greg: If you can see the *questioning* as no-self, then what's wrong with *M's*
no-self??

And Dan had said:If I am the basis of meaning and no-meaning, then my attachment to meaning is absurdity itself.

Greg: If? I'm not sure about this theory of meaning, it sounds vaguely advaitic. Looking at M on its own terms, M holds that meaning arises in interaction among people, meaning is conventional in the socio-linguistic sense. M doesn't push meaning back to an "I".

Dan had said: There is no opponent for it -- the thorn isn't needing to be removed; in fact, the thorn is the reason the questioning can take place, the opportunity to 'show itself to itself' as questioning/pointing. My suggestion: let's enjoy the situation as is, as it reveals 'selfness' whether in the form of Buddhism, or any other form of pointing/questioning that seems relevant and attentive to deep biases/assumptions.

Greg: Enjoy I do!! What do you mean by selfness?

You'll recall Greg had said: Hey Dan-ji, Writing this, I've got a cup of capuchino by my side.

Dan: Hi, Gregji - it's a cup of tea here.

Greg had said: In Madhyamika, everything is empty of inherent existence. Even emptiness is empty of inherent existence. There is no inherently existing self anywhere. There are ideas and notions and feelings that seem to imply an inherently existing self, but these are empty of inherent existence. Everything that exists has conventional or dependent existence. For M., this includes people, books, computers, religions, Buddhas, enlightened beings, Bodhisattvas and their 10 levels, monks, lamas and llamas, the yearning for liberation, the fear of emptiness, etc.

M's task is a conventional task : save all beings. Emptiness, along with Madhyamika, is conventional. In this conventional sense, M. is for the sake of these beings. The method of M is also conventional. If there were a true, inherently existent self, say an inherently existing non-liberated self, then this being could never be saved. Part of its non-dependent, inherently existing nature would be as an non-liberated being. If it exists as an inherently existing, non-liberated being, then nothing can touch that being to liberate it. Therefore, only dependently existing beings can be liberated. The dependency in question a responsiveness to causes and conditions. Inherent existence would be totally independent of causes and conditions, as well as consciousness.

Dan: Yes. This all seems valid. The question is without selfness how can there be a position from which to make this observation? I know that selfness can't be stated accurately in words, only metaphorically. However, what I'm questioning here is whether simply making no statement whatsoever is all that helpful, once it is seen that all statements are relative, subject to variable interpretation, etc. With no statement whatsoever about selfness, we are left with a gap concerning how anything appears to arise in the first place. How is any comparison ever made that gives even the illusion of appearance? Selfness is the so-called 'numinosity' of being unknowness itself. The reason I'm making this point is because it seems much *more* than simply "no inherent selfhood, identity, or entity-hood". It's all meaning, all life, the basis of all experience.

Greg had said: So, the philosophy of emptiness and dependent arising (one philosophy of which is M), as well as our discussion here about these things, are all conventionally existing things. Now, it is conventionally true according to M. that most beings see themselves and the world as though these things had inherent existence. M's idea is that this feeling of inherent existence is a very common thing, and the root of suffering. To see the emptiness of all phenomena is the (conventional) goal of M.

Prior to what Greg said above, Dan had said: In questioning the opposition of 'this' to 'that' and pointing to 'mutual arising of this and that', the questioning/pointing itself is the selfness that isn't 'this' or 'that'. Itself is the meaning that doesn't depend on meaning, the reality that doesn't depend on any other. That's why it was able to raise the question of attachment to meaning (selfness) in the first place! Its very questioning presents that which is the object of the questioning. It's a no-self self, not merely no-self.

And Greg had said: If you can see the *questioning* as no-self, then what's wrong with *M's* no-self??

Dan: I never said anything was wrong with it. It's just that without the "self" of a no-self self, there's no way to explain how tendencies, memories, associations are "carried", how perception is experienced as meaningful. That there is no entity, no separate inherent being, no structure for identification makes sense.
But how is this declaration being understood? The very making of the declaration, the idea that there is meaning in relieving suffering, the very understanding (or even moreso the awareness of a no-understanding beyond understanding), reflects "selfness", something beyond negating everything that can be negated.

Dan had said: If I am the basis of meaning and no-meaning, then my attachment to meaning is absurdity itself.

after which Greg had said: If? I'm not sure about this theory of meaning, it sounds vaguely advaitic. Looking at M on its own terms, M holds that meaning arises in interaction among people, meaning is conventional in the socio-linguistic sense. M doesn't push meaning back to an "I".

Dan: O.K. But these observations made by M. From what "place" are these observations being made? From "where" are these statements being understood? For me, this "place" can be called "selfness" or "x-ness" -- it's more than just taking away. Saying 'no self' simply negates statements made that aren't ultimately real. This via negativa takes away something erroneously supposed to be there. When that is taken away, there is some kind of 'realization'. I'm saying that there is 'selfness' implied all along - in the taking away, in the recognition of something that can be deconstructed, in 'experiential realization' and 'realization beyond experience'. By the way, do you differentiate these last two, Greg?

Although there may be no good word for "it" -- "selfness" seems good enough. I find that Buddhism, as wonderful as it is, sometimes seems limited by a kind of "attachment to nonattachment" - to an adherence to a way of negation.

Dan had said: There is no opponent for it -- the thorn isn't needing to be removed; in fact, the thorn is the reason the questioning can take place, the opportunity to 'show itself to itself' as questioning/pointing. My suggestion: let's enjoy the situation as is, as it reveals 'selfness' whether in the form of Buddhism, or any other form of pointing/questioning that seems relevant and attentive to deep biases/assumptions.

to which Greg had responded: Enjoy I do!! What do you mean by selfness?

Dan: The meaning of selfness is the meaning of all meanings. There is meaning to Buddhism, that is why texts are preserved, debates occur, lineages form, monastaries are formed, etc. Although ultimate meaning per se is negated by the radical relativism taught by the Buddha, there is a meaning to that very teaching,
i.e., the relief of suffering. So there is "selfness" in that meaning, in the awareness of suffering as something to be addressed. It is meaningful to eliminate attachments to one-sided meanings. Thus, "behind" the whole project is a non-one-sided Meaning. Not an existing or non-existing Meaning, to be sure, but not simply no-independent-selfness, which is simply a negation of a tendency to one-sided interpretation. The negation of attachment, of one-sided interpretation is for the sake of: what? Multidimensional or Omnidimensional Meaning itself, i.e., "selfness". Ken Wilber made a big point of differentiating prepersonal, personal, and transpersonal 'levels' of experience. Although I have some major difficulties with Wilber's scheme of reality, there is validity to this differentiation.

A way that I can understand it is in terms of a prepersonal oneness that is a kind of fusion of meaning into an undifferentiated beingness and an ultimate oneness beyond beginning or end, that is infinitely 'differentiatible' without in any way negating its nonsplitness. Thus, there is 'selfness' here: an ability to grow, to evolve, along with a nonevolving Totality as presentness. There is time and eternity simultaneously.

I think the best way to explain what I mean is to go back to the flame analogy. The flame isn't the same instant to instant, nor is it totally different. How is this known? It can only be known as a knowing of knowing itself. Knowing can know its
own process/non-process reality. This is where it "sees" no inherent self. How would such knowing be possible if there weren't a transcendent truth simultaneously beyond/within/as the relative situation? 'No inherent selfness' isn't enough because it doesn't explain how this 'no inherent selfness' is observed, from what vantage point, how suffering is being understood as suffering, and *paricularly* how suffering is 'carried'.

Sorry for bringing up so much at once. It's probably too much to address in this forum. But I would like to address this one thing - how can suffering be 'carried' (and it's clearly addressed as being 'carried' in Buddhism - which aims at releasing the carrying process) if there is no self whatsoever? This is where the flaw in Buddhist 'logic' is, from my perspective. Selfness is the "realization" or "knowing as unknowable, the no-static-self Self" who is the One who has 'carried' suffering, unmindful of the lack of suffering in the original nature of 'selfness'.

That's the best I can do at the moment ;-)

Greg: Switching to tea myself now, 6:21pm.

Dan had said:: Yes. This all seems valid. The question is without selfness how can there be a position from which to make this observation?

Greg: The position itself is conventional, so it would be based on scriptures, sutras, Nagarjuna's work, the dialectics of Madhyamika, etc. M. doesn't purport to speak from an absolute postion, in fact says that to do so would be impossible.

Dan had said: I know that selfness can't be stated accurately in words, only metaphorically. However, what I'm questioning here is whether simply making no statement whatsoever is all that helpful, once it is seen that all statements are relative, subject to variable interpretation, etc.

Greg: The statements are helpful if the listener is attached to a notion of inherent self. The attachment, which is conventional only, and lacking of an inherent self, might become dislodged by hearing the Dharma, which is also conventional only.

Dan had said: With no statement whatsoever about selfness, we are left with a gap concerning how anything appears to arise in the first place. How is any comparison ever made that gives even the illusion of appearance?

Greg: For Buddhism, arisings/appearances are in a beginningless chain of causally and cognitively-interrelated appearances. This is where the metaphor of Indra's net of jewels is used, from the Avatamsaka Sutra. No entity with inherent existence, rather each entity consists of nothing other than relations with all other "entities."

Dan had said: I never said anything was wrong with it. It's just that without the "self" of a no-self self, there's no way to explain how tendencies, memories, associations are "carried", how perception is experienced as meaningful. That there is no entity, no separate inherent being, no structure for identification makes sense. But how is this declaration being understood? The very making of the declaration, the idea that there is meaning in relieving suffering, the very understanding (or even moreso the awareness of a no-understanding beyond understanding), reflects "selfness", something beyond negating everything that can be negated.

Greg: Thank you for filling in your notion of self-ness. It is a very deep difference from the way Buddhism sees things. I'm speaking here mostly of Madhyamika, whose dialectics I'm more familiar with. Dzogchen and Mind-Only say different things, more like what you're saying. M says that an inherent self would make meaning and understanding impossible. An inherent self would be an entity or nature that is:

-totally independent of cognition of it
-totally independent of all causes and conditions
-totally independent of all qualities, characteristics and attributes

How is that entailed by any declaration as you point out above? How is that entailed by the meaning of suffering? How could any such entity be known? How could it know anything? How could it suffer? How could it experience or be experienced? How could everything that supposedly has a self have one of those independent entities?

Dan had said: The meaning of selfness is the meaning of all meanings. There is meaning to Buddhism, that is why texts are preserved, debates occur, lineages form, monastaries are formed, etc.

Greg: This makes sense. Among the debates is the age-old debate between Advaita and Buddhism, monasteries, ashrams, texts, teachers, teachings, etc. Self
vs. no-self. One-and-not-two vs. not-two/not-One. Sat-chit-ananda vs. emptiness of inherent existence. We've spoken about this before on this list or Harshasatsangh a few months ago, remember Dan-ji? Much of the difference between these two approaches boils down to temperament. Among those folks who hear about both these approaches, most peoples' constitutions are made up such that one of these approaches resonates more than the other, regardless of the logic.

Dan had said: Sorry for bringing up so much at once. It's probably too much to address in this forum. But I would like to address this one thing - how can suffering be 'carried' (and it's clearly addressed as being 'carried' in Buddhism - which aims at releasing the carrying process) if there is no self whatsoever?

Greg: Although most Buddhism has no inherent or absolute self, it does speak of a
conventional self, made up of the 5 aggregates (form, no sensation, perception, discrimination, consciousness). It is a bundle of these aggregates which is said to carry the suffering, and which desires liberation. In Buddhism, it is said even to carry the suffering between lives. (Like the Dalai Lama says, "What transmigrates is neuroses.") Since this bundle can grow and change and respond to causes and conditions, it can suffer at one time and gain liberation at a later time.

Imagine the alternative. An inherently existing self. Independent of subject/object, independent of causes and conditions, independent of whole/part/taxononomy. How would the inherently existing self ever carry suffering? How would it ever gain release from suffering?

That's all for now. To come down to earth on this a bit - I like both ways of speaking about this stuff, Advaita and Madhyamika, both non-dualism and emptiness/dependent arising, both One and not-One. I think that for people who come to this stuff as adults or who were not raised with it, non-dualism is easier to understand even intellectually, and is a much more pleasant approach. In the Madhyamika of Nagarjuna and Tsong-Khapa's school, there are lots and lots of warnings to the teachers about the scariness of emptiness teachings, and injunctions not to expose the student to these teachings "unless tears come to the student's eyes at the very mention of the word 'emptiness'." But I'd also say that the Madhyamika metaphysic is a sharper and clearer dialectic. And for the intellectually inclined, it might be an effective tool to rid the aspirant of grasping onto a rarified and subtle consciousness/witness state.

Perhaps we could continue this offline if we'd like to go into it some more. I don't what to wear out NDS readers' Delete keys!!!

With you in coffee and tea,

Love,

--Greg