Talons Philosophy

An Open Online Highschool Philosophy Course

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Nagarjuna ; skeptic of reality

 

  Nagarjuna (150 – 250 CE) is considered one of the most important philosopher in Buddhist traditions. Perhaps only second to Siddhartha Gautama (the Buddha). He is also consider the founder of the Mahayana tradition of Buddhism as his writings were very influential.

“sarvaṃ ca yujyate tasya śūnyatā yasya yujyate
sarvaṃ na yujyate tasya śūnyaṃ yasya na yujyate”
“All is possible when emptiness is possible.
Nothing is possible when emptiness is impossible”

This philosopher’s ideology closely fits with my thinking about reality at this point of time. His idea of reality and his statements about beings are “self-less”, in fact according to Nagarjuna, all phenomenon is empty of essence and “inherent existence”. This is the idea of Sunyata, I briefly explained this topic in my first post and it is the master work of Nagarjuna. In his writings, he brings together the idea of

Dependent origination ( Pratityasamutpada) ;

 

… all physical and mental manifestations which constitute individual appearances are interdependent and condition or affect one another, in a constant process of arising and ceasing.

And the Two truths ; ( Check out here for more on Nagarjuna’s philosophy)

In Nagarjuna’s own words:

8. The teaching by the Buddhas of the dharma has recourse to two truths:

The world-ensconced truth and the truth which is the highest sense.
9. Those who do not know the distribution (vibhagam) of the two kinds of truth
Do not know the profound “point” (tattva) in the teaching of the Buddha.
10. The highest sense of the truth is not taught apart from practical behavior,
And without having understood the highest sense one cannot understand nirvana

For Nagarjuna, the architect of Madhyamaka philosophy, interdependence was synonymous with emptiness (sunyata).The true nature of reality (paramarthasatya) can be termed as the “emptiness of own-being” (svabhava-sunyata) and “interdependency” (pratitya-samutpada). Nagarjuna and the Madhyamaka’s taught that neither an individual nor dharma have an own-being that exists by its own right. These two concepts are the basis of Nagarjuna’s philosophy. He draws these concepts from the Buddha’s original teaching in the heart sutra but it is commonly accepted that Nagarjuna took Buddhist teachings to a whole new level introducing metaphysical way of thinking. This enabled Buddhist doctrines not to be only about suffering but also about metaphysical insight to nature of the reality.

 

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Collective Human Knowledge

“Truth is that to which the community ultimately settle down” – Charles Pierce

Lets analyse this claim.

Truth or true is described in the dictionary as ; being in accordance with the actual state or conditions; conforming to reality or fact; not false.

Truth, its definition, its pursuit, its discovery is central to much of human intellectual activity. One place we look for clues about what is true is in the trends of the community. We may attempt to find it in religion or cultural beliefs, for example, that we have learned from a community that shares these beliefs. We know the earth is round or bloodshed is considered “bad” because most of us as society or community would agree to it.

Pierce’s statement praises this way of knowing, suggesting that community, whatever that community may be, is a key to the search for truth. This suggestion is tied to the idea of a body of human knowledge, the idea that the human race progresses as each community member adds to the world’s knowledge, relying on what others have concluded is true and then building on it with his or her own new knowledge.thus, knowledge is a group pursuit, closely tied to community.

There are many types of communities. The whole human race may be thought of as a knowledge community. The smaller group of all scientists is often referred to as the scientific community. Even our philosophy class is a kind of community. Depending on what truth we seek, we may tie it to the community of the whole world or to a smaller community that reflects a focus on a particular area of knowledge. For example, although a Buddhist may tie his or her theological knowledge to the leading of the Buddhist community, he or she probably does not tie them to the theological knowledge of the world community, or even of the western/eastern world. Whatever particular community we tie our beliefs to, we often gauge truth by the guiding of the community because it is impractical to carve out all our beliefs and knowledge systems alone, and indeed would be impossible to function in such a state. Pierce’s words aptly reflect this human tendency, and are valid in alluding to the community’s place as a prominent guide in our search for truth, but raise questions because of the wholesale approach to following the community he suggests.

Unfortunately, there is a downside to the belief. The idea of settling on truth is itself problematic because the term ‘settles’ is ambiguous. How do we know when a community has finished settling? A resting place along the road to truth need not be the destination. The community may be at a lull in its growth. Aristotle’s ideas, for example, were accepted without question for centuries. Can one conclude that the community had settled on his ideas as truth? Absolutely not; further changes have been made. Perhaps one hundred or one thousand years from now, human culture will look back on our ideas as primitive, as steps along the road to the truth that future cultures believe they have settled on. We must qualify our title, then, with this reminder: Because we can never be sure that a community has finished its settling, the notion that whatever the community settles on is true cannot be useful, at a fixed moment in time, as an absolute indicator of objective truth.

Nonetheless, Pierce makes an important point in connecting truth, as a community of keepers of knowledge, reach his assertion, however, is too broad and too absolute. We do need to rely on knowledge communities to help us define truth and decide what we will and what we will not believe. We cannot, however rely exclusively on the leading of a community to define our own beliefs, as the title implies. Instead, we must independently evaluate a given community before following its leads and we must consider the beliefs of other knowledge communities to keep from becoming too narrow in our understanding. We must also use our own reason and perception to evaluate individual truths that the community appears to have settled on as part of our own responsibility as members of the knowledge community. If keepers of knowledge never question their community’s beliefs, these beliefs will never change and there will be no ultimate settlement. If we carefully avoid the dangers of trusting a community to point us to the truth, however, the leading of the community can be a useful tool in our quest for truth.

 

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Reality, a process: Interdependence, Emptiness and Physics

     In early Buddhism, dependent origination (pratitya-samutpada) was primarily used to explain the law of causation, the chain of cause, effect, and conditioning:

Ignorance > Karma > Consciousness > Name-Form > Senses > Contact > Feeling > Craving > Grasping > Becoming > Old age and death > Rebirth

The fundamental state of being is ignorance, conditioned by the imprints or seeds of past actions, habits and relationships (karma), which gives rise to consciousness, which is joined to name-form (the psycho-physical entity, specifically the embryo in the womb), which activates the six-senses; the senses come into contact with objects of desire and as a result, feeling, craving and grasping arise; these factors cause and condition the becoming of life and all that is becoming (existing) is subject to old age and death, and with the theory of rebirth, everything is set to be repeated in a future life, a continuum of consciousness within an seemingly endless cycle of birth and death.

 

 

By the time the Mahayana tradition was established, the focus of the analysis was less on how things come to be and more about how nothing can exist by itself, that everything is interconnected and inter-related. This is one reason why I interpret  pratitya-samutpada as interdependence. Dependent origination or dependent arising sounds too much like a form of creationism.For Nagarjuna, the architect of Madhyamaka philosophy (you can learn more about Madhyamaka here) interdependence was synonymous with emptiness (sunyata).The true nature of reality (paramarthasatya) can be termed as the “emptiness of own-being” (svabhava-sunyata) and “interdependency” (pratitya-samutpada). Nagarjuna and the Madhyamaka’s taught that neither an individual nor dharma have an own-being that exists by its own right.

The Sanskrit word parikalpita, meaning imaginary or the “imagined.” In Chinese Buddhist terms defines it as “Counting everything as real, the way of the unenlightened; The nature of the unenlightened, holding to the tenet that everything is calculable or reliable, i.e. is what it appears to be.” Paraikapita is one of the three natures (tri-svabhava) that imagines a duality between subject and object. This imagined reality is an illusion, a thought construction superimposed on the true reality. Like a veil, it conceals the truth of emptiness/interdependency and all we see in our ordinary experience is an apparent reality, in which things appear to exist by their own right and seem to possess a nature or being that is permanent, independent, unconditioned and designed.

In Madhyamaka philosophy, any duality between subject and object is considered to be imagined (parikalpita again); there is no independently existing ‘experiencer’ apart from the experience, and experience can be also designated as a process.In the world of subatomic physics there are no objects, only processes. Atoms consist of particles but these particles are literally empty. So, we are aware now that reality is not particle-like but more like the nature of space. The common idea of space is an empty three-dimensional area. But there is no empty space (if by empty space, one means nothingness), space is actually permeated with an impalpable continuum. But the three dimensional aspect we perceive is somewhat of an illusion, or perhaps it would be more accurate to say it is not the full reality.

Finally, interdependency or pratitya-samutpada – the insubstantiality, the interconnectedness, the expansiveness of reality – is not only the foundation for all the diverse concepts in Buddhism, it is also the ground of the diverse world. Emptiness is the cause of interdependency and emptiness is not only a synonym for interdependence, it is also a synonym for something else

“That which is of the nature of coming and going, arising and perishing, in its saha (mundane) nature is itself Nirvana in its unconditioned (ultimate) nature.”

-Nagarjuna, “Treatise on the Maha Prajna-Paramita Sutra”

 

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Ontological argument

St. Anselm was the archbishop of Cantebury from 1033 to 1109. He is the originator of the ontological argument, which he describes in his book Proslogium;

God is that, than which nothing greater can be conceived.… And [God] assuredly exists so truly, that it cannot be conceived not to exist. For, it is possible to conceive of a being which cannot be conceived not to exist; and this is greater than one which can be conceived not to exist. Hence, if that, than which nothing greater can be conceived, can be conceived not to exist, it is not that, than which nothing greater can be conceived. But this is an irreconcilable contradiction. There is, then, so truly a being than which nothing greater can be conceived to exist, that it cannot even be conceived not to exist; and this being thou art, O Lord, our God.

 

The argument in this passage can be simplied to standard form:

  1. It is a conceptual truth (true by definition) that God is a being than which none greater can be imagined (the greatest possible being that can be imagined)
  2. A being that necessarily exists in reality is greater than a being that does not necessarily exist.
  3. So,by definition, if god exists as an idea in the mind but does not necessarily exists in reality, then we can imagine something greater than god.
  4. But we cannot imagine something greater than god.
  5. So, if god exists as an idea, then it must necessarily exist in reality.
  6. God exists in the mind as an idea.
  7. Therefore, god necessarily exists in reality.

This passage relies on two important premises. God, by definition, is a being that which a greater cannot be conceived. And the second premises claims that a being whose non-existence is logically impossible is greater than a being whose non-existence is logically possible. Considering these premises are factual correct by definition, premises 3-5 follow the logic of the first 2 premises, which validates premise 6 and the conclusion follows the last premises. If the definition of god is factual correct and the conclusion follow the premises, then Anselm’s argument is valid and factually correct which makes it sound.

I chose Anselm’s argument as my logical argument example because this religious clerk tries to explain the existence of an higher being (god) with a logical argument. Which is fascinating to me because this argument makes me look at monotheism from a different perspective. A lot of people ( believers of a certain faith or critiques of a monotheistic faith) try to discuss the nature of an higher being but most does not put their ideas in a logical idea. Furthermore, the concept of an idea that could be imagined in the human mind is logically a possibility in reality brings up more questions in my mind. To be able to discuss to existence of an higher being, wouldn’t we have to discuss the mere idea of existing and what that would mean to be a higher being that none greater that could be conceived?

 

 

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The Golden Ball

Philosophy can be seen as questioning the mere existence of reality, and this questioning goes beyond our material world. In the material world, reality is confined to “facts”, information and experiments that give us a false sense of reality and logic. Further more, this fascination the human brain has with the materialistic world may have its essence in the way we think, the way we think on the surface.Things we can understand that fit in with our experiments and laws that have been declared by sets of theories that have been only developing for only couple hundred years seems to give us comfort, a sense of security about this mysterious phenomenon we call life. On the contrary the human brain is so complex it also finds comfort in “abstract ideas”, such as theism and variety of dogmatic, ritualistic practices that give the illusion of an higher being, a deity that keeps you safe or destroys you with his wrathful will. A loving god that will take your soul to heaven, after you die. Death, A concept that has fascinated the human brain as far as the time our story began. Science argues that after death there’s no more existence as we know it. Our biological body decays as cellular death occurs. Does this mean our consciousness cease to exist as well? Or is there more to this phenomenon more than we can imagine. Philosophy, aims to ponder deeper into these thoughts. Is there a certain, ultimate answer? Probably not, as most of these abstract ideas such as the nature of self or how human consciousness really works ; create more questions that seem to have no answer. So? What’s the point of spending time and energy on philosophical ideas? If you would like to be believe the human race is even more fascinating than the way science perceive to be, then perfection of wisdom, pursue of enlightenment would be the path that you wouldn’t be able to wonder of another way. Philosophy is transcendental, it doesn’t favor different perspectives but the wise and the enlightened. Philosophy does not have facts to be discovered it doesn’t have information to live upon. Philosophy is a gateway to higher state of thinking and consciousness, where you can discover more about the very nature of human existence and more about you. Philosophy satisfies our fascination with mystery while having you guessing and questioning the idea of mystery it self. If knowledge is an ever expanding ocean of ideas that has existed and will exist in the future, than philosophy is a golden, glowing ball of fascination thrown into to the ocean of knowledge. It sinks and sinks to the very essence of the ocean. It doesn’t stay in the surface, for the surface of this ocean is visible. It is visible to the by standers whom have no idea how deep the ocean is. They are too stunned by the beauty of the ocean they see yet they refuse to acknowledge the dept of ocean. Praising the beauty of the ocean from the shallow end seem to be safer, it gives them comfort But the enlightened,he follows this golden ball of fascination deep into the ocean. As the ball goes deeper it sheds light upon the very darkness of the ocean of knowledge. The enlightened dives further, following the ever sinking ball. it gets darker and colder as he leaves familiar waters. As it gets darker, the ball still sheds light into the darkness, clearing a path for the man. Then he realizes, he finds comfort discovering the unknown. He realizes that the darkness will continue as the golden ball seem to shed more and more light as it sinks. This satisfies his curiosity, his craving for wisdom. Now that he’s deep in the ocean, he doesn’t see the purpose of admiring the beauty of the waves that hit the shallow shore, where people stand and watch. Does he keep following the golden glowing ball or does he go back to share what he has seen?

 

 
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