Are we really who we think we are? What is the sum of all our thoughts? What is god? These are all wonderful questions that mankind has been asking since beginingless time. Both western and eastern philosophers have wrestled with them but in slightly different ways. I want to explore how close western philosophers like Descartes came to an understanding of Eastern Wisdom and the Buddha Dharma.
Descartes developed 6 meditations in which he doubts and removes all that he cannot prove to exist. He then gradually builds up a new existence that became a good part of how we in the west look at ourselves. In his second Meditation found in AT 24 he explores the question does god exist and what is my relationship to him? “Is there not a god, or whatever I may call him, who puts me into the thoughts I am now having? But why do I think this, since I myself may perhaps be the author of my thoughts”. Descartes is exploring the connection between his consciousness and that of god’s. From where do my thoughts arise, he asks?
In his previous work, Discourse on Method, we find his most famous quote “Cogito ergo sum” or “I think therefore I am” we can assume that Descartes from these two quotes confirms his existence or his ego as fact based on himself as being conscious or at least the source of his own and unique thoughts.
However the Lichtenberg Point put forward by Georg Lichtenberg takes Descartes’ thinking further by supposing that Descartes “I think” could really be interpreted as “It’s thinking” This puts some distance to the supposed source of thought, I like this argument but I would take it one step further and say “There is Thinking”. Why does this matter? Well, the Buddha Dharma shows us that subject, object, and action are really one. So the thinker, the thought that is thought, and the act of thinking are really inseparable, all are one.
Descartes later writes as further proof of his existence that he could be deceived by an external power. “But I have convinced myself that there is absolutely nothing in the world, no sky, no earth, no bodies. Does it now follow that I too do not exist? No: if I convinced myself of something then I certainly existed. But there is a deceiver of supreme power and cunning who is deliberately and constantly deceiving me. In that case I too undoubtedly exist, if he is deceiving me; and let him deceive me as much as he can, he will never bring it about that I am nothing so long as I think that I am something. So after considering everything very thoroughly, I must finally conclude that this proposition, I am, I exist is necessarily true whenever it is put forward by me or conceived by me.” So Descartes exists because he thinks and even if some doubt comes from outside that he does not exist, from a supreme power, he also must exist because he is being deceived.
Thinking? At least I have discovered it – thought; this alone is inseparable from me. I am I exist that is certain. But for how long? For as long as I am thinking. For it could be that were I totally to cease from thinking, I should totally cease to exist. At present, I am not admitting anything except what is necessarily true. I am, then in the strict sense only a thing that thinks; that is, I am a mind, or intelligence, or intellect, or reason – words whose meaning I have been ignorant of until now. But for all that I am a thing which is real and which truly exists. But what kind of a thing? As I have just said – a thinking thing.” What I find important here is the inseparability of thinking and the thinker. In essence, Descartes’ mind and thoughts are one.
This reminds me of the great Indian Mahasiddha Saraha, who said “if you think everything exists you are as stupid as a cow, and if you think everything does not exist you are even stupider”. This points once again to the inseparability of subject, object, and action.
In closing, I find Descartes’ of the inseparability of thinking and thinker to be quite close to the Buddha Dharma. However, the deception of ignorance that may be the supreme power used to deceive Descartes was that the thoughts themselves are separate from the thinker and the act of thinking.