Substance and Emptiness

One of the questions I got from my paper on Spinoza and Buddhism on the Self that I gave at the symposium on “Philosophies in Dialog” the other day was that how could I compare Spinoza’s Substance and Nagarjuna’s Emptiness. The issue is a very large one and by itself it deserves a whole project of its own. But here in this blog I can only give a very brief sketch of what I am thinking at the moment.

First a little bit of background, Spinoza’s Substance is the totality of everything. It’s the only thing that exists by itself without being dependent on any other. In fact there is no *other* because Substance is the only thing that exists. Other things are just parts of Substance. Another name of Substance is God; another one is Nature. This is the ultimate reference point in Spinoza’s system, the starting point where everything in his thought follows.

Nagarjuna’s Emptiness, on the other hand, is not so straightforward. In fact Buddhist philosophy does not seem to want to say anything directly about this totality of all things taken as one big entity. In fact “Emptiness” is strictly speaking an aspect, or one could perhaps say at “attribute”, of this ultimate reality. Reality is by nature “empty” – this is a basic tenet of all schools of Buddhist philosophy. But even though it is considered as an attribute, then I think something interest could emerge when we compare it with Spinoza’s Substance.

When Buddhists talk about ultimate reality, it is usually couched in terms of its main characteristics; that is, that ultimate reality is interdependent, always changing, lacking in substance, and so on. This seems to point to a strong contrast with Spinoza’s Substance. If ultimate reality in the Buddhist views “lacks substance” then how could it even be comparable to Substance in Spinoza’s system? Aren’t we then comparing light and darkness, a pair of totally opposite qualities? But things are not that straightforward. For Spinoza’s Substance also cannot be directly described. This is not possible because for a thing to be describable (as, for example, a car is described as a vehicle with four wheels) there has to be a more general concept which is then qualified down to the level of the thing to be described. This is simple Aristotelian logic. But Spinoza’s Substance is the whole totality and “there is nothing greater” (Spinoza’s own words from the Ethics). So it can only be understood through the two possible “Attributes” that we can conceive, namely extension and thought. And even thought it cannot be described we know that it necessarily exists.

The Buddhist is not so metaphysical in this respect. Of course there are things like rocks and chairs, but their identity depends on others. I think Spinoza would agree on this point. So the problem boils down to: How would a Buddhist, or Nagarjuna himself, say anything about the totality of everything? What is the equivalence of Spinoza’s Substance in Buddhist philosophy?

The Buddhist talks about reality in this sense too. This is clear from the fact that Buddhists often talk about the whole totality of things when they characterize it as being always changing, lacking in substance, and so on. So ultimate reality is whatever that lacks substance, always changing, being such that any part of it is always dependent on others, and so on. This “whatever” is one and the same as rocks and chairs in one way of looking at it, but in another it is not the same because rocks and chairs are always parts of it. One way to look at this is to conceive the totality of everything here as whatever that consists of rocks, chairs, stars and also all mental episodes. This has to exist because there has to be something that possesses those characteristics of always changing, lacking in substance, and so on. And then we need to bear in mind that when we talk of this whatever we are not reifying it. This whole totality also share the same characteristics as all its parts.

However, that it is the totality of all things – this is not changing. Or to put it in another way, that it is a fact that all things do change all the time, this fact does not change. And in this point we can, I think, still compare this ultimate reality according to the Buddhist with Spinoza’s unchanging Substance. After all Substance for Spinoza is nothing more that a collection of all things, and all things do also change continuously. It is the whole collection, taken by itself, that does not change.

Žižek and Buddhism

I came across Slavoj Žižek’s critique of Buddhism, which he delivered in a lecture at the University of Vermont some months ago and thought about writing a reply to it for some time. But I think now is the time actually to sit down and write it out. There is a nice blog posting on the background and actually criticism of Žižek’s talk. The blog also has a good summary of Zizek’s rambling talk, which is almost two hours long. You can watch the talk here:

Before coming to my main critique of Žižek, there’s an academic joke which is so typical of him. In the talk Žižek talks about the prayer wheel, which Tibetan Buddhists use to send out mantras by the thousands through its turning. For Žižek this is not a substitute technology for those whose mouths may be too busy talking to do the mantras, but the prayer wheel actually does the recitation and sending out of mantras for you. It is like the canned laughter in sitcom programs. You watch the sitcom and there are laughs. The laughs are there, according to Žižek, not to provoke your laughter, but they do the laughs for you. You don’t have to laugh. Although it’s a comedy and you are supposed to laugh. If you are too lazy, the canned laughter sounds will do the laughing for you. Isn’t that neat? In the same way, Žižek says that when Tibetans turn the prayer wheels, the purpose is not to actually do something which result in sending out the mantras. But the turning is an ersatz; it churns out mantras for you. You don’t have to do anything.

A Prayer Wheel

But Žižek is quite mistaken here. There are now two kinds of prayer wheels. The traditional kind is something you have do put some effort to make it work. You have to hold it in your hand and move it so that the wheel turns, and you have to keep it turning and turning. Although it does not require much effort in turning the wheel — this is something you can hold easily in one hand, and you only need to turn the wheel, which is usually well oiled, by flicking your wrist — if you keep on doing it for hours as Tibetans do, it can be quite an effort. So the analogy with the canned laughter is not accurate. You still have to do some work with the traditional prayer wheel. However, there is a newer type of prayer wheel which is automatic. You put in some batteries, and there’s a motor inside which automatically turns the wheel without any exertion of your muscle power. Some prayer wheels are so advanced as to utilize solar power to do the work. You can sit and watch the wheel turns. This kind of prayer wheel might be closer to the canned laughter.

But back to my main criticism. Toward the end of his talk Žižek has the following to say. His purpose

is not to criticize Buddhism, but merely to emphasize [this] irreducible gap between subjective authenticity and moral goodness (in the sense of social responsibility): the difficult thing to accept is that one can be totally authentic in overcoming one’s false Self and yet still commit horrible crimes — and vice versa, of course: one can be a caring subject, morally committed to the full, while existing in an inauthentic world of illusion with regard to oneself.

This is why all the desperate attempts by Buddhists to demonstrate how respect and care for others are necessary steps towards (and conditions of) Enlightenment misfire: [D. T.] Suzuki himself was much more honest in this regard when he pointed out that Zen is a meditation technique which implies no particular ethico-political stance — in his political life, a Zen Buddhist may be a liberal, a fascist, or a communist.

Again, the two vacuums never coincide: in order to be fully engaged ethico-politically, it is necessary to exit the “inner peace” of one’s subjective authenticity. [135; paragraph breaks and emphases added]

The passage is taken from page 135 of his recent book, Less than Nothing, which is quoted in the blog I mentioned above. I think this is the core of Žižek’s criticism of Buddhism. The Buddhist’s intent on realizing nirvana, on achieving the state of selflessness, is regarded by Žižek as being separate from the state of moral goodness. That is Žižek sees that it is possible for one to achieve nirvana according to Buddhism’s guideline but remain an immoral person. Presumably what he think is that: If you realize the state of emptiness and non-self, then it is your own realization, your own deluded attachment of the self that has now been overcome, this does not seem, for Žižek, to have anything to do with being loving and caring and compassionate. One can be in nirvana but can commit really horrible crimes. Perhaps Žižek thinks that when one realizes emptiness of all things, perhaps the lives of other people become empty too. When those are empty, one does not have to have any qualms in destroying those lives. Nevertheless, Žižek realizes that Buddhism does recognize this pernicious tendency; that’s why he says immediately afterwards that that is why Buddhism so vehemently affirms that compassion is very important and is indispensable. But then his point remains: When one is in the state of Nirvana, one is (as per Žižek) cut off from the breathing, living world, so much so that a possibility opens up of (gasp!) committing really horrible crimes.

Žižek’s point here is not lost on the ancient Buddhist thinkers. Śantideva has a famous passage (I have to go and look it up) to the effect that when one realizes Emptiness, one still has to remain compassionate, and he takes great pains in emphasizing that one cannot even function or remain viable without the other. In the chapter on wisdom, Śantideva has his imaginary opponent raise a question: “Since everything and everyone is empty, then to what or to whom is our compassion directed?” — a very important and profound question — to which Santideva replies that the compassion is directed to any who has not realized Emptiness, in other words to all beings who are still wandering in samsara. The connection with Žižek’s criticism is that he seems to believe that it is possible to separate realization of Emptiness from that of compassion, but in fact that is not possible at all. Total realization of Emptiness not only opens up your vision so that you see the total, exceptionless interconnection of all things, it urges you to do something about it too. This is the reason one aspires to become a bodhisattva in the first place.

Moreover, one does not have to already be a bodhisattva to see the point Śantideva is making here. Emptiness does not mean that you cut yourself off from everything surrounding you. That is just not Emptiness or its realization. There is no you to be cut off in the first place. So when Žižek talks about the “irreducible gap between subjective authenticity and moral goodness,” the presupposition is that authenticity can be achieved independently of goodness, but that is just not happening. You realize Emptiness when you see yourself in others and others in yourself, not only persons but all things whatsoever. It’s a crazy vision, much crazier than Žižek’s craziest moment. He is right when he says “in order to be fully engaged ethico-politically, it is necessary to exit the “inner peace” of one’s subjective authenticity,” but the “inner peace” he is talking about consists in being fully engaged from the beginning.

Nyima Dakpa Rinpoche on Happiness

Here is an excerpt of Nyima Dakpa Rinpoche’s talk on Happiness from the Dzogchen Perspective, given at Choompot-Pantip Conference Room, Chulalongkorn University on October 2, 2010. I took notes of his talk and made only small revisions. These are basically his words:

**

Ordinary people have ordinary conception of happiness. Living standard does not necessarily make one happy. You have to discover yourself; otherwise you won’t be really happy. Happy is mental experience of satisfaction of the being your state. We enjoy our lives – we are fully satisfied with our lives.

No satisfaction in our lives, no happiness.

You have to train your mind, like training a wild horse. We are able to train a wild horse. When it’s trained then you can leave it. Ordinary people do not have relaxed mind. Mind always moves about with no relaxing. Closing our eyes does not mean we are meditating. As long as the mind is not in the state of meditation, then we are only sitting still and pretending to meditate.

Our mind always roams to many places; we are always following it, so we are not experiencing the real potential to meditation.

So when I talk of training the mind, this means training ourselves to deal with our everyday experiences. We are so busy that we are all stressed and challenged. Even today in the 21st century, with all the challenges the mind still needs to be trained all the more. There’s competition everywhere, even among monasteries. Each and every moment we are not free from these competition and challenges. All these are based on ignorance. Competition leads to many facts of thoughts – it can be positive and negative. These thoughts can give rise to all the five poisons, namely ignorance, greed, hatred, jealousy, pride.

Sometimes we are out of control, then we say we are tired of it. We need to find a way to relax ourselves. Calm the thoughts that are arising every moment. We are entering into state of inner calm and peacefulness. This will rejuvenate ourselves.

Yoga and other exercises do not help us unless you get them to the mind. Dzogchen says “the sources of everything, both pleasant and unpleasant, is from the mind.” The mind is as pure as gold. You can transform it into anything you desire. Your mind can be beautiful or ugly. If you fully trained your minds will be precious and you will be able to heal people. If we are not trained then it becomes a source of suffering. Your health will be affected also. The happier you are, the healthier you will be.

The main point is that we need to train our minds. We need to know how to deal with everyday challenges. There is no particular formula or method. Also happiness will be generated in this way. Find out what is the source of unhappiness. Put your effort to transforming that, then happiness naturally arises, like the sun which is uncovered by moving clouds.

Clouds are the polluting thoughts inside our minds. If you are in a bad health condition, you can either accept or not accept it. This lies in our hands. If we are suffering from illness, then what we can do is either to accept or reject it. But the illness is already there so it’s not possible to reject it. If we try to reject it we will only bring about sufferings on top of the illness that we already have. What is happening is not in our hands, it’s karma, but how we handle them is in our hands. This makes all the differences.

That is the main quality of training the mind.

I have a student who is paralyzed. He cannot move. He listens to my talk and teachings and try to meditate and read books. I asked him how he looked at and reacted to his situation in life. He said he was very lucky that he was still able to use his mind. If he were not in this situation then he could not have thought clearly. “Everytime I meditate on compassion,” he says. “I am lucky that I have a wife and family members who look after me. I am better than those who do not have anybody to care for me. Then I do compassion to all people whoa re suffering like me, especially helpless people. When I have reactions on my condition and get upset, immediately I think this way, it helps tremendously. May my pain be the pain of all people that comes to me, so that they are free from pain. This is very powerful. Let my pain be the pain of others.”

Of course this will not change his own physical condition, but his mental state is much different. It gives open space to allow the karmic appearances come in and dissipate by themselves. Our belief in karma should not be only intellectual, but discover the realization of karma from within. This has the power to heal everything by itself. This helps us to deal with any situation. You are more determined to carry on. If you have 100 percent trust in the Triple Gems, then you will experience some positive effects. If you are shallow and unclear and doubtful, then this won’t help. We have the culture of bowing to the Buddha, but now we are doing from the inside by recognizing the quality of the Buddha. Either way we are doing this from our hearts, knowing the full potential of what we are doing. My student is looking at things positively, so only his physical condition is in misery, but his mental condition is very healthy. It’s the mind that makes all the differences.

Another example shows how the mind affects our lives. Two persons have arguments with us. One person is our friend or loved one. We know this person well. The other we do not know very well, a stranger. The issue of argument is the same. Both are trying to get us upset. According to our relationship, the one who is our loved one, even if he means what he says, we still have the feeling that he does not mean it. This is what we tell our minds. So we are OK with that. But when the other person says the same thing, we get very angry. How come he or she uses such words to me! Our reactions are totally different, and the differences is only due to the nature of the relationship that we have toward each of them. In this case we feel that we have to prove ourselves, out of our own egos. We have to prove our “dominance.” But in fact egos cannot dominate egos. The main point is based on our minds. Once we accept this and know through this, then things become very different. Problem is internal; the mind is key to our own reaction. This is why the mind needs to be trained. Once you can control your minds, then you can control everything.

This is the same in other situations in our everyday lives. Thus in order to be happy we need to train our minds to know how to be really happy. This is what Dzogchen is teaching — emphasizing the mind. Other traditions have the same goal but perhaps different methods. Dzogchen emphasize that mind is the king. Whatever the king orders, ministers follow. Ministers are the thoughts. Automatically this will lead to peaceful situation. Our egos will not have much job. When egos are jobless then we have wisdom. Wisdom means to realize things as they are. When things are as they are there are no two sides, no doubt. Make effort, make progress and develop the quality of the mind. Understand the mind, nature of mind, energy of mind. This is what we are looking.

So when he says it’s important to discover the mind, this does not mean the rest can be ignored. If you want to meet the big boss, you still have to make good friends with the subordinate officers. If you don’t do that you can’t reach the boss. One thing is to practice good heart to all sentient beings. Whether you have disagreements, dislikes or enemies. Still that person will enjoy the happiness and compassion. The person whom you mostly hate he or she still have the potential for love and compassion and still have a lot of potentials of benefits for us. Law of karma. Open up your heart. This is essential for making ourselves to have fewer problems We have been very narrow. Often we deal with jealousy, which comes when we have limited space in us. We are not flexible in us to allow goodness of others to come in. We need to be able to rejoice in other people’s happiness. If you look only from jealousy point, then you can’t discover your own happiness at all. If you think that you yourself alone must be happy, then you won’t be happy. True essence of happiness lies in happiness of others. We need openness and flexibility. You are bothered by what is happening because there is enough space inside of you for others to be happy too. When you are OK you are not complaining, then you are OK the way it is. Even if there are disturbances you are not disturbed because you know there’s enough space for us to be happy. We have a lot of problems because of this lack of space and openness — concern of the individual self alone, so we disregard the goodness in others. Do this then you can experience positive changes in your life. Anger is not a solid object. It’s energy raised in you, coming up through external conditions. True anger is energy of your own self. What arises is your ego.

I’ll tell you a story: Dzogchen master was asked by his student. “My main problem is anger. What is the way to overcome anger?” Master says, “if you run after all enemies, your life will be too short to do that. Rather focus on controlling your own mind then you can control all the enemies.”

If I have ten people as enemies and want to conquer them all. I really can’t do that. But if I try to overcome myself and eliminate anger and ego, then I truly win. Trying to defeat other people simply makes more enemies.

You train your mind to be stable and integrated from within. Then there’s no enemy and no friend. All is equanimity. All are equal.

I am born with no name, and I’ll die with no name. Names come afterward.

If you go deep inside, then you will find that there’s no name to the individual. Hence no enemy, no friend. You look at everyone; he has same potential for loving kindness, positive energies.

 

Ordinary people have ordinary conception of happiness. Living standard does not necessarily make one happy. You have to discover yourself; otherwise you won't be really happy. Happy is mental experience of satisfaction of the being your state. We enjoy our lives - we are fully satisfied with our lives.

No satisfaction in our lives, no happiness.

You have to train your mind, like training a wild horse. We are able to train a wild horse. When it's trained then you can leave it. Ordinary people do not have relaxed mind. Mind always moves about with no relaxing. Closing our eyes does not mean we are meditating. As long as the mind is not in the state of meditation, then we are only sitting still and pretending to meditate.

Our mind always roams to many places; we are always following it, so we are not experiencing the real potential to meditation. 

So when I talk of training the mind, this means training ourselves to deal with our everyday experiences. We are so busy that we are all stressed and challenged. Even today in the 21st century, with all the challenges the mind still needs to be trained all the more. There's competition everywhere, even among monasteries. Each and every moment we are not free from these competition and challenges. All these are based on ignorance. Competition leads to many facts of thoughts – it can be positive and negative. These thoughts can give rise to all the five poisons, namely ignorance, greed, hatred, jealousy, pride.

Sometimes we are out of control, then we say we are tired of it. We need to find a way to relax ourselves. Calm the thoughts that are arising every moment. We are entering into state of inner calm and peacefulness. This will rejuvenate ourselves.

Yoga and other exercises do not help us unless you get them to the mind. Dzogchen says "the sources of everything, both pleasant and unpleasant, is from the mind." The mind is as pure as gold. You can transform it into anything you desire. Your mind can be beautiful or ugly. If you fully trained your minds will be precious and you will be able to heal people. If we are not trained then it becomes a source of suffering. Your health will be affected also. The happier you are, the healthier you will be.

The main point is that we need to train our minds. We need to know how to deal with everyday challenges. There is no particular formula or method. Also happiness will be generated in this way. Find out what is the source of unhappiness. Put your effort to transforming that, then happiness naturally arises, like the sun which is uncovered by moving clouds. 

Clouds are the polluting thoughts inside our minds. If you are in a bad health condition, you can either accept or not accept it. This lies in our hands. If we are suffering from illness, then what we can do is either to accept or reject it. But the illness is already there so it's not possible to reject it. If we try to reject it we will only bring about sufferings on top of the illness that we already have. What is happening is not in our hands, it's karma, but how we handle them is in our hands. This makes all the differences.

That is the main quality of training the mind.

I have a student who is paralyzed. He cannot move. He listens to my talk and teachings and try to meditate and read books. I asked him how he looked at and reacted to his situation in life. He said he was very lucky that he was still able to use his mind. If he were not in this situation then he could not have thought clearly. "Everytime I meditate on compassion," he says. “I am lucky that I have a wife and family members who look after me. I am better than those who do not have anybody to care for me. Then I do compassion to all people whoa re suffering like me, especially helpless people. When I have reactions on my condition and get upset, immediately I think this way, it helps tremendously. May my pain be the pain of all people that comes to me, so that they are free from pain. This is very powerful. Let my pain be the pain of others.”

Of course this will not change his own physical condition, but his mental state is much different. It gives open space to allow the karmic appearances come in and dissipate by themselves. Our belief in karma should not be only intellectual, but discover the realization of karma from within. This has the power to heal everything by itself. This helps us to deal with any situation. You are more determined to carry on. If you have 100 percent trust in the Triple Gems, then you will experience some positive effects. If you are shallow and unclear and doubtful, then this won't help. We have the culture of bowing to the Buddha, but now we are doing from the inside by recognizing the quality of the Buddha. Either way we are doing this from our hearts, knowing the full potential of what we are doing. My student is looking at things positively, so only his physical condition is in misery, but his mental condition is very healthy. It's the mind that makes all the differences.

Another example shows how the mind affects our lives. Two persons have arguments with us. One person is our friend or loved one. We know this person well. The other we do not know very well, a stranger. The issue of argument is the same. Both are trying to get us upset. According to our relationship, the one who is our loved one, even if he means what he says, we still have the feeling that he does not mean it. This is what we tell our minds. So we are OK with that. But when the other person says the same thing, we get very angry. How come he or she uses such words to me! Our reactions are totally different, and the differences is only due to the nature of the relationship that we have toward each of them. In this case we feel that we have to prove ourselves, out of our own egos. We have to prove our "dominance." But in fact egos cannot dominate egos. The main point is based on our minds. Once we accept this and know through this, then things become very different. Problem is internal; the mind is key to our own reaction. This is why the mind needs to be trained. Once you can control your minds, then you can control everything.

This is the same in other situations in our everyday lives. Thus in order to be happy we need to train our minds to know how to be really happy. This is what Dzogchen is teaching -- emphasizing the mind. Other traditions have the same goal but perhaps different methods. Dzogchen emphasize that mind is the king. Whatever the king orders, ministers follow. Ministers are the thoughts. Automatically this will lead to peaceful situation. Our egos will not have much job. When egos are jobless then we have wisdom. Wisdom means to realize things as they are. When things are as they are there are no two sides, no doubt. Make effort, make progress and develop the quality of the mind. Understand the mind, nature of mind, energy of mind. This is what we are looking.

So when he says it's important to discover the mind, this does not mean the rest can be ignored. If you want to meet the big boss, you still have to make good friends with the subordinate officers. If you don't do that you can't reach the boss. One thing is to practice good heart to all sentient beings. Whether you have disagreements, dislikes or enemies. Still that person will enjoy the happiness and compassion. The person whom you mostly hate he or she still have the potential for love and compassion and still have a lot of potentials of benefits for us. Law of karma. Open up your heart. This is essential for making ourselves to have fewer problems We have been very narrow. Often we deal with jealousy, which comes when we have limited space in us. We are not flexible in us to allow goodness of others to come in. We need to be able to rejoice in other people's happiness. If you look only from jealousy point, then you can't discover your own happiness at all. If you think that you yourself alone must be happy, then you won't be happy. True essence of happiness lies in happiness of others. We need openness and flexibility. You are bothered by what is happening because there is enough space inside of you for others to be happy too. When you are OK you are not complaining, then you are OK the way it is. Even if there are disturbances you are not disturbed because you know there's enough space for us to be happy. We have a lot of problems because of this lack of space and openness -- concern of the individual self alone, so we disregard the goodness in others. Do this then you can experience positive changes in your life. Anger is not a solid object. It's energy raised in you, coming up through external conditions. True anger is energy of your own self. What arises is your ego.

I'll tell you a story: Dzogchen master was asked by his student. “My main problem is anger. What is the way to overcome anger?” Master says, “if you run after all enemies, your life will be too short to do that. Rather focus on controlling your own mind then you can control all the enemies.”

If I have ten people as enemies and want to conquer them all. I really can't do that. But if I try to overcome myself and eliminate anger and ego, then I truly win. Trying to defeat other people simply makes more enemies.

You train your mind to be stable and integrated from within. Then there's no enemy and no friend. All is equanimity. All are equal.

I am born with no name, and I'll die with no name. Names come afterward.

If you go deep inside, then you will find that there's no name to the individual. Hence no enemy, no friend. You look at everyone; he has same potential for loving kindness, positive energies.

แลกเปลี่ยนตนเองกับสัตว์โลกอื่นๆ

Buddha11การปฏิบัติสำคัญอย่างหนึ่งของพระพุทธศาสนามหายาน ได้แก่การปฏิบัติ “การแลกเปลี่ยนตนเองกับผู้อื่น” หรือกับสัตว์โลกอื่นๆ ซึ่งเรียกในภาษาทิเบตว่า “ตงเล็น” (tong len) เราได้เคยพูดเกี่ยวกับเรื่องนี้ไปบ้างแล้วในโพสก่อนหน้า หลักการก็คือว่า เรารับเอาความทุกข์ของสัตว์โลกมาไว้ที่ตัวเรา แล้วแผ่ความสุขกับบุญกุศลของราทั้งหมดไปให้แก่สัตว์โลก

ในการสนทนาธรรมเมื่อวันเสาร์ที่ 30 ที่ผ่านมา มีผู้ตั้งคำถามขึ้นมาว่า “ถ้าเราจะเอาความสุขของเราไปให้สัตว์อื่น แล้วเรามีความสุขนั้นจริงๆหรือเปล่า?” คำถามนี้เป็นคำถามดีมากๆ และช่วยให้เรากระจ่างแจ้งมากขึ้นเกี่ยวกับการปฏิบัติธรรมอันสำคัญยิ่งนี้

หัวใจของการปฏิบัติ “ความเสมอเหมือนของตนเองกับสัตว์โลกอื่น” กับ “การแลกเปลี่ยนตนเองกับสัตว์โลกอื่นๆ” ก็คือว่า เรามุ่งภาวนาให้เกิดโพธิจิตขึ้นในจิตใจ โพธิจิตได้แก่จิตที่มุ่งมั่นปรารถนาอย่างแท้จริงที่จะบรรลุธรรมเป็นพระพุทธเจ้า เพื่อประโยชน์สูงสุดของสรรพสัตว์ทั้งปวง เหตุที่เราตั้งจิตเช่นนี้ก็เพราะว่า มีแต่พระสัมมาสัมพุทธเจ้าเท่านั้นที่สามารถช่วยเหลือสรรพสัตว์ให้พ้นทุกข์จากสังสารวัฏได้ ด้วยการจำแนกธรรมสั่งสอนสัตว์ตามแต่จริตของสัตว์นั้นๆ และการทอดทิ้งสรรพสัตว์เอาตัวรอดแต่ผู้เดียวไม่ใช่เป้าหมายของการปฏิบัติธรรมที่สูงสุด แนวทางในการปฏิบัติเพื่อให้เกิดโพธิจิตขึ้นมาในจิตใจอย่างแท้จริง ไม่เสแสร้ง ก็คือการปฏิบัติเกี่ยวกับความเสมอเหมือนของตนเองกับสัตว์โลกอื่นๆ และการแลกเปลี่ยนตนเองกับสัตว์โลกอื่นๆนี้เอง

ในที่นี้ผมจะพูดเฉพาะเรื่องการแลกเปลี่ยนตนเองกับสัตว์โลกอื่นๆ หัวใจของการปฏิบัตินี้อยู่ที่ว่า ในระหว่างที่เราทำสมาธิ เราตั้งจิตมั่นว่าจะรับเอาความทุกข์ของสัตว์โลกทั้งหมดมาไว้ที่ตัวเรา และแผ่ความสุข แผ่บุญบารมี บุญกุศลของเราทั้งหมดให้แก่สัตว์โลก เราทำเช่นนี้ก็เพราะเราปรารถนาที่จะให้สัตว์โลกทั้งหลายมีความสุขและพ้นจากทุกข์ และที่สำคัญก็คือเป็นการชำระล้างกำจัดความยึดมั่นถือมั่นในตัวตนหรืออัตตาของเราเองด้วย

ทีนี้กลับมาที่คำถาม เราตั้งใจจะให้สัตว์โลกประสบกับความสุขสูงสุดเช่นเดียวกับเรา คือเราแผ่กระจายความสุขออกไปจากตัวเรา เหมือนกับเราเปล่งแสงแห่งความสุขแผ่ซ่านไปยังสรรพสัตว์ ที่เมื่อสัตว์ใดได้รับแสงนี้แล้ว ก็จะมีความสุขอย่างสูงสุด แต่คำถามก็คือว่า เรามีความสุขนั้นหรือเปล่า?

คำตอบก็คือว่า มีแน่นอน เพราะในประการแรกจิตใจของเราเป็นสิ่งแปลกประหลาดยิ่ง พระพุทธเจ้าทรงสอนว่า ทุกสิ่งทุกอย่างขึ้นอยู่กับจิตใจ “ใจเป็นหัวหน้า ทุกอย่างสำเร็จด้วยใจ” ดังที่กล่าวไว้ในพระธรรมบท ดังนั้นเมื่อเราตั้งจิตอย่างจริงใจให้สรรพสัตว์ทั้งหลายมีความสุข สรรพสัตว์ก็จะมีความสุขจริงๆ

ประการที่สอง ในขณะที่เรากำลังปฏิบัติอยู่นั้น เราไม่ได้มองโลกจากมุมมองส่วนตัวของเราเอง นี่เป็นเรื่องสำคัญมากของการปฏิบัติแบบนี้ คือว่าเราไม่ได้มองออกไปจากมุมมองอันได้แก่ตัวตนของเรา ที่เราเคยมองแบบนี้มาตลอด ซึ่งก็เป็นเหตุให้เรายังมัวเวียนว่ายตายเกิดอยู่ในสังสารวัฏเช่นนี้ เราไม่ได้มองออกจากตัวตนของเรา แต่เรามองออกจากมุมมองของสรรพสัตว์อื่นๆทั้งหมด นี่เป็นเคล็ดลับสำคัญของการปฏิบัติแบบนี้ เหตุที่การปฏิบัตินี้ได้ชื่อว่า “การแลกเปลี่ยนตนเองกับสัตว์โลกอื่นๆ” ก็เพราะเหตุนี้เองที่ทำให้เราไม่มองโลกจากมุมมองส่วนตัวของเรา แต่เรามองจากมุมมองของผู้อื่น

การทำเช่นนี้ฟังดูเหมือนง่ายๆ แต่ของง่ายๆนี้แหละที่เราไม่ยอมทำกัน จนทำให้เราต้องทนทุกข์อยู่ในสังสารวัฏ รวมทั้งสัตว์โลกอื่นๆด้วย การมองออกจากมุมมองของผู้อื่นก็คือการมองว่า ตัวเรานั้นเองก็คือผู้อื่น เราจะเกิดความรู้สึกนี้ได้ง่ายกับคนที่เรารักมากๆเช่นลูก พ่อแม่จะมีความสุขเมื่อเห็นลูกมีความสุข เมื่อได้ให้อะไรแก่ลูกและลูกมีความสุข พ่อแม่ก็มีความสุขแล้ว เราก็ขยายความรู้สึกนี้ออกไปให้แก่สัตว์โลกทั้งหมด เหมือนกับว่าสัตว์โลกทั้งหมดเป็นลูกของเราเอง

การที่เราพ่อแม่มีความสุขได้เมื่อเห็นลูกมีความสุขก็เพราะว่า พ่อแม่ไม่แยกตัวเองออกจากลูก คงไม่มีพ่อแม่คนไหนทำเช่นนี้เพราะนั่นแปลว่าไม่รักลูกเท่าใด รักตัวเองมากกว่า เป้าหมายของการปฏิบัติได้แก่การทำให้ความรู้สึกรักตัวเอง เห็นแก่ตัวเองนี้เบาบางลง จนหมดไปในที่สุด

และนี่ก็คือคำตอบว่า ทำไมเราจึงมีความสุขมากมายไม่จบสิ้นให้แก่สัตว์โลก ก็เพราะว่าสัตว์โลกมีมากมายไม่จบสิ้น และแต่ละคนก็มีความสุขสูงสุดทั้งนั้นด้วยความตั้งใจจริงของเรา ไม่ใช่ว่าเรามีความสุขอยู่แล้วปริมาณหนึ่ง แล้วไปแจกให้แก่สัตว์โลก คนทั่วไปที่ยังไม่ปฏิบัติหรือเพิ่งเริ่มปฏิบัติอาจคิดเช่นนี้ แต่ความจริงก็คือว่า เรามองออกมาจากมุมมองภายในของสัตว์โลกแต่ละคน แต่ละคน ซึงเมื่อแต่ละคนมีความสุขสูงสุด เราก็ย่อมมีความสุขสูงสุดไปด้วย เพราะเรานั้นแหละคือสัตว์โลกนั่นเอง

Georges Dreyfus’ Talk on “Self and Subjectivity”

Last Friday Georges Dreyfus came to give a talk at Chula on “Self and Subjectivity: A Middle Way Approach” where he argued for a role of Yogacara in solving a dilemma in current philosophy of mind. It was quite well attended. Around twenty-five people came, which is a bit unusual for talks as difficult and technical as this one.

The problem for Georges, and also for philosophy of mind in general, is how to account for the mind and consciousness. On the one hand there’s the Cartesian dualist position, which holds that mind does exist and that body does exist. The problem for this position, as is well known, is how to explain how the two interact with one another. If mind and body are two distinct substances, then how one can influence the other. On the other hand, there’s the “reductionist” one a la Daniel Dennett. Here mental facts reduce to physical ones. The fact that I am conscious, for example, is reducible to my brain states. My brain states’ being in such and such pattern constitutes my having this type of mental phemenomena. For Dreyfus this account is also unsatisfactory because it is materialistic and could not account for the obvious fact of our being conscious and especially our subjective phenomena.

So Dreyfus would like to propose a “middle ground,” so to speak. Based on an interpretation of the Yogacara, especially that of Vasubandhu, he argued that, instead of consciousness being intentionally related to an outside object, consciousness does relate to some kind of its own representation. So instead of the direct realist picture where the mind perceives external object tout court, the mind does relate to representations of external object without being directly related to them. This is a key idea in Vasubandhu, and is quite common in the Yogacara’s account of how perception does in a way alter the very nature of things perceived. For example, for us human beings water appears as what it is to us, namely as clear liquid we can drink, bathe in, and so on. But for the hungry ghosts what appears to us as water appears to them as pus and urine. But what is what the water really is? There is no answer to that because what appears to a being is as real to them as it can be. “Pus” and “urine” are as real to the hungry ghosts as “water” appearing to us.

Vasubandhu
Vasubandhu

So instead of consciousness being either dualistically there, or reducible to physical states, it depends very much on interaction with the physical so much so that they neither are wholly reducible to matter, nor are they totally distinct as Descartes had it.

The Yogacara has been consistently charged with being idealistic. If there is no way out for consciousness except relating ultimately to itself in the form of the representation, then there is no way for consciousness and the physical world to meet. By proposing the “reflexive” character of consciousness (rather than the “reflective one which presupposes ontological existence of external objects), the Yogacara has a relatively easier time accounting for how what we perceive and how we perceive are intimately connected.

This is very heady stuff. Perhaps we should understand this better if Georges did give something to us to read. But unfortunately he did not, so that will be a subject matter for the future.

Georges Dreyfus to give a talk at Chula

ANNOUNCEMENT

Public Lecture

“SELF AND SUBJECTIVITY: A MIDDLE WAY APPROACH”

by
Georges B. Dreyfus
Jackson Professor of Religion
Williams College, USA

In this talk I will discuss Buddhist theories of consciousness and their relation to views of the self. I will argue that among the many Buddhist views on this topic, the Yogacara tradition offers resources for Buddhist thinkers to elaborate a view of consciousness and the self that treads a middle way between reductionist and Cartesian views of consciousness and the self.

Date and Time: March 20, 2009, 1 – 3 pm
Venue: Room 309, Boromratchakumari Bldg., Faculty of Arts, Chulalongkorn University