FreeSangha - Buddhist Forum

Schools of Buddhism => Mahayana => Zen / Ch'an / Seon / Thien => Topic started by: tenzintharpa on January 09, 2017, 03:02:00 am

Title: What is the Zen/Chan assertion of how conventional phenomena exists?
Post by: tenzintharpa on January 09, 2017, 03:02:00 am
I am a Gelug practitioner of Tibetan Buddhism and understand Tsongkhapa’s view but am a little confused on the different views of conventional phenomena held by other schools of Buddhism. 
According to the Zen/Chan, does conventional phenomena:
A) Exist as Illusion, existing only as a projection of the mind, (literally unreal).
B) Exist as Illusion ‘like’; real but existing in an ethereal manner, lacking any inherent true essence; nominally existent.
C) Do Zen/Chan deny the existence of conventional phenomena and/or matter?

Gelug presentation
The Buddha often described life as dream-like but he never asserted that life was a dream or that phenomenon did not actually exist.

Observed phenomenon don’t exist as mere images, projections or visions in the mind but rather exists as separate entities from the mind. The mind and matter are two separate things. Matter is separate from the mind that cognizes and dominates it. And although observed phenomenon are not simply created by a mind, their ultimate mode of existence is dependent upon the mind, so the mind doesn’t create the matter but the matter is dependent on the mind that imputes it as the imputer. Therefore, their mode of existence is separate from the imputer but their existence is dependent upon the imputer. Their mode of existence is separate but their existence is dependent. Nothing can exist independently from the mind which perceives it. ~ Dalai Lama

Title: Re: What is the Zen/Chan assertion of how conventional phenomena exists?
Post by: zafrogzen on January 09, 2017, 05:43:22 pm
Quote
According to the Zen/Chan, does conventional phenomena:
A) Exist as Illusion, existing only as a projection of the mind, (literally unreal).
B) Exist as Illusion ‘like’; real but existing in an ethereal manner, lacking any inherent true essence; nominally existent.
C) Do Zen/Chan deny the existence of conventional phenomena and/or matter?

IMHO -- none of the above.

Those are just mental formations used to cut up, what is (thankfully), one, seamless, inexpressible reality, into bite sized chunks for dualistic minds to digest.
Title: Re: What is the Zen/Chan assertion of how conventional phenomena exists?
Post by: p0 on February 01, 2017, 02:11:50 pm
One has many things, two is not duality.
I think one could just refer to the 14 imponderables for an answer.
Or better yet, maybe, Nagarjunas tetralemma.
Title: Re: What is the Zen/Chan assertion of how conventional phenomena exists?
Post by: stillpointdancer on February 02, 2017, 02:59:42 am
Hi Tenzintharpa. I think the Dalai Lama is a bit confused by all that imputing going on. I suspect the translation isn't all it should be, and that he meant a different word.
Title: Re: What is the Zen/Chan assertion of how conventional phenomena exists?
Post by: VincentRJ on February 02, 2017, 06:54:58 am
Quote
Therefore, their mode of existence is separate from the imputer but their existence is dependent upon the imputer. Their mode of existence is separate but their existence is dependent. Nothing can exist independently from the mind which perceives it. ~ Dalai Lama

This statement certainly sounds like a riddle and perhaps contradictory due to problems of a semantic nature or perhaps even a miss-translation. However, I think what is meant here is that the attributes and qualities we associate with any external object that we perceive, are dependent upon the observer.

For example, those of us with normal eyesight see the world in a delightful variation of color. Leaves are usually green, or an attractive yellow in autumn.
We tend to project our impressions of external objects onto the objects themselves, and often fail to understand that such impressions exist only in our own minds

We tend to think that a leaf really is green, when we perceive it as being green, or yellow as the case might be. However, whatever the color that we perceive an object has, that color exists only in our mind. External objects have no color.

What they have, according to modern science, is a property of reflecting and absorbing certain frequencies of light. We, as human beings, have the property (or facility) to interpret the reception of such frequencies of light, through our eyes and brain, in terms of the sensation of various colors.

In the usage of common language, we then project those uniquely human interpretations of certain wavelengths of light, onto the objects that are reflecting those wavelengths, and describe a leaf as green, when in fact the greenness of the leaf is dependent upon the mind.

I use the example of color because of my interest in photography, but I'm sure there are many other examples you can all think of, whereby certain attributes of external objects that we perceive through our senses, exist only in our own mind.

This is what the Dalai Lama means when he says, 'Nothing can exist independently from the mind which perceives it'. To express it in a more obvious way, one could say, 'Nothing can exist as the mind perceives it, without a mind to perceive it.'

Not only is a leaf not green without a mind to perceive it, it's not even a leaf without a mind to perceive it, because the word 'leaf' is a human construct which exists only in our mind.

I hope I've managed to clarify this for you all.  :wink1:
Title: Re: What is the Zen/Chan assertion of how conventional phenomena exists?
Post by: stillpointdancer on February 03, 2017, 04:11:50 am
Hi VincentRJ. Yes, I think you have explained the issue well. Understanding the jargon of Buddhist discourse is a major problem here in the West. I too have an interest in optics and photography, so can easily follow what you are saying here.
Title: Re: What is the Zen/Chan assertion of how conventional phenomena exists?
Post by: VincentRJ on February 03, 2017, 07:21:18 pm
Hi Stillpointdancer,
Glad at least someone seems to understand what I'm writing.  :wink1:

I do have a problem sometimes with the way that some of the basic Buddhist concepts, such as emptiness and form, are explained in translations of Buddhist texts.

Explanations that a chariot, for example, has no inherent existence, and is empty of form because it is dependent on numerous parts, and if one dismantles the chariot into its parts then there no longer exists  a chariot.....is not a particularly profound argument for someone with a basic understanding of modern science, but such explanations might have seemed very profound and meaningful to someone who lived a couple of thousand years ago or more.

The modern Westerner with at least a basic knowledge of science understands that everything can be broken down into smaller and smaller parts, including the human body and brain, and that doing so either destroys, or changes in some way, the functionality and/or form that the item previously possessed.

However, if the purpose of these Buddhist explanations is to demonstrate that a chariot does not actually possess an inherent functionality, and that the useful qualities, attributes, beautiful appearance, and so on, of chariots, cars, houses etc, are all qualities that exist only in the human mind, then that makes complete sense.

But to claim that something is empty of form, with no inherent existence, because it can be dismantled or destroyed, seems like the bleeding obvious disguised as profundity.

Such an argument might be more relevant as a demonstration of  the principle that no composite things, like chariots and cars, are permanent. But who on earth believes they are?

Don't we all know that all things need maintenance and that everything gradually deteriorates over time, including living things? Haven't we all seen old, dilapidated ruins that were once magnificent houses or castles?

Medicines and vitamins are complex molecules. It would be a very bizarre argument to claim that such medicines and vitamins do not really exist because they can be broken down into their constituent atoms of hydrogen, carbon, sulphur and so on. A molecule is a molecule and has a specific function as a molecule. If one breaks the molecule down into its constituent atoms, those atoms then serve different functions.

Title: Re: What is the Zen/Chan assertion of how conventional phenomena exists?
Post by: stillpointdancer on February 04, 2017, 03:26:03 am
Hi Vincent. Yes, we have a lot in common in this respect. The thread about consciousness and quantum theory is more or less the same thing, trying to tease out Buddhist ideas using contemporary language. It took me quite a few years of talking to people at a local Buddhist center before I had a handle on some of the jargon, and that was a Western Buddhist center.

There's something similar in Western philosophy, going back to the ancient Greeks and Plato and co. where they see the possibility of things existing without matter, such as the idea of a chair. For them there was some kind of existence for the chair before  it was invented. I think that for people like Plato, all these things had been forgotten, and that to invent was to rediscover the thing that had been hanging around waiting to be discovered.

Or something like that. Working on the Stoics right now. Many of them seemed to have some of the same ideas about things as Buddhists.
Title: Re: What is the Zen/Chan assertion of how conventional phenomena exists?
Post by: zafrogzen on February 04, 2017, 07:58:43 pm
Vincent said
Quote
But to claim that something is empty of form, with no inherent existence, because it can be dismantled or destroyed, seems like the bleeding obvious disguised as profundity.

Not that it is "empty of form." But that it has no independent, separate existence. The discriminating intellect puts names on things and then imagines that they have an independent existence. This especially applies to the concept of a separate self.

In my experience true emptiness can only be found through prolonged and devoted practice of sitting meditation.

Zen enthusiasts are often divided up by types. There are even Japanese terms for several different kinds of zenists. One of the most basic and common zen types is the intellectual. Many intellectual types don't actually practice sitting meditation, or dhyana (of which "zen" is a synonym), but have read about zen -- sometimes in great detail. Many of us started out in this category, but, hopefully, sooner rather than later, actually took up the practice of zen (meditation).

The intellectual type is treated with amusement or even disdain by those who actually practice zen (meditation), probably because many intellectuals are subject to the "conceit of superiority" and have been known to actually claim, not only to understand zen, but to speak for zen and even teach it to others.

A new intellectual sub-category might be the "scientific intellectual," who claims to understand zen from the perspective of science -- with or without meditation experience.
Title: Re: What is the Zen/Chan assertion of how conventional phenomena exists?
Post by: stillpointdancer on February 05, 2017, 03:28:57 am
Hi Zaphrogzen. I guess the closest we have in the West is that of the great medieval religious philosophers. Their work was to get closer to God by trying to prove, using logic, that He doesn't exist. I think the idea was that when you failed, you accepted the idea of God with your whole heart- belief through logical analysis rather than prayer. Although I think the sceptics could give them a run for their money.
Title: Re: What is the Zen/Chan assertion of how conventional phenomena exists?
Post by: zafrogzen on February 05, 2017, 10:37:10 am
Yes, there are, thankfully, some things that cannot be approached through conceptual thinking.

I’ve got nothing against intellectual thought, logic, philosophy and science, in their own realm, or even as an adjunct to meditation, but they can’t replace meditation in zen without destroying it.

I remember Karl Sagan saying that someday science would solve every question in the universe. Talk about hubris! It looks to me like every answer they come up with just raises more questions.


Title: Re: What is the Zen/Chan assertion of how conventional phenomena exists?
Post by: VincentRJ on February 05, 2017, 08:30:46 pm
Vincent said
Quote
But to claim that something is empty of form, with no inherent existence, because it can be dismantled or destroyed, seems like the bleeding obvious disguised as profundity.

Not that it is "empty of form." But that it has no independent, separate existence. The discriminating intellect puts names on things and then imagines that they have an independent existence. This especially applies to the concept of a separate self.


Hi Zaphrogzen,

Surely we put names on things so we can recognize them, relate to them or use them in some way. There is a very strong practical purpose for naming or labeling things. Without a labeling system there could be no knowledge.

That things have no completely independent and separate existence, is surely a concept that any reasonably intelligent Westerner, with at least a basic education, understands.

There are obviously degrees of dependence and degrees of permanency. For example, Gold is a highly prized metal because of its resistance to change over time. It tends to resist corrosion. It's a much more permanent substance than iron, for example, which easily rusts unless it is gold-plated.

Surely every child knows it is dependent upon its parents. The child might look forward to the day when he becomes an adult and is independent. But surely no-one kids himself that he is ever completely independent. Even the wealthiest individual can be dependent on the stock market flourishing, and the poorest hermit living alone in a cave is dependent upon the weather and the fertility of the soil in the vicinity of his cave so that food will grow, or is dependent on visitiors who bring food to him.

Quote
In my experience true emptiness can only be found through prolonged and devoted practice of sitting meditation.

I presume by 'true emptiness' you are referring to a mind which is empty of distracting thoughts; a mind which is still and calm; a mind which is free of the usual degrees of anxiety, regret, disappointment, anger, and so on, that most people live with from day to day, and which are manifestations of a general form of suffering, which Buddhist practices are all about freeing ourselves from.

I don't disagree with that. The ability to have control over one's mind, and the ability to give it a complete rest during the stillness of deep meditation, sounds as though it could be very beneficial, even from a purely scientific aspect.

However, in such a state of deep meditation, you are still dependent upon a myriad of conditions and processes which the body automatically performs in order to keep you alive. The brain-stem is abuzz with activity, ensuring your heart continues to beat and your blood continues to flow.

I find it interesting that probably before the birth of Gautama Buddha, and more certainly before the times of that ancient Greek, Democritus, an Indian by the name of Kashyap, born in 600 BC, proposed the existence of the atom. He proposed the existence of a particle which could not be broken into smaller parts, and which would be so small it could not be sensed through the naked eye or any other human organ. He gave it the name 'Parmanu'.

He also suggested that these indivisible particles had an inherent urge to combine with each other in various ways, and that the different combinations of Parmanu produced different substances.

We now know that an atom is a relatively stable and permanent 'thing', although not absolutely permanent because we've learned how to break the atom with the release of much energy, as in an atomic explosion.

Perhaps the usefulness of Buddhism is to remind us of what we already know, because we tend to behave as though we are in denial about such basic facts of science.

Title: Re: What is the Zen/Chan assertion of how conventional phenomena exists?
Post by: stillpointdancer on February 06, 2017, 02:52:34 am
Yes, there are, thankfully, some things that cannot be approached through conceptual thinking.

I’ve got nothing against intellectual thought, logic, philosophy and science, in their own realm, or even as an adjunct to meditation, but they can’t replace meditation in zen without destroying it.

I remember Karl Sagan saying that someday science would solve every question in the universe. Talk about hubris! It looks to me like every answer they come up with just raises more questions.

I love science, but I love art too. You can explain a sunset with science, but you can explore it in a different way with art. Having got to Buddhism through meditation, rather than the other way round, I would agree with you about Zen and meditation. You would surely lose such a big dimension of the Zen experience without it.
SimplePortal 2.3.3 © 2008-2010, SimplePortal