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.
Descartes is undoubtedly one of the most influential philosophers of our time. He formed our concepts in the west about mind and our existence, although heavily influenced by the catholic church his ideas and theories are here to stay in one form or another. This discussion I intend to start is to discover what similarities can be found between Descartes’ western and christian theories and those of the Buddha Dharma one of the more influential wisdom traditions of the east. As I am here to learn I welcome as always welcome you to reach out and share your thoughts with the community here.
Descartes six meditations are truly a wonderful thought experiment in which he disassembles the foundation of all he believes to exist and then slowly builds them back up only as he in his mind can prove to himself their existence. I cannot understate how similar this process is to the Tibetan Guru Yoga that I practice almost daily. Where after focusing on the four basic thoughts and then taking refuge we dissolve the conditioned world and then slowly build it all back up again in a meaningful way.
Descartes rightfully understood that he held way too many ideas and concepts to doubt and move away from one at a time so he developed a way to deny the existence of large groups of concepts. This way instead of having to dismantle the wall one brick at a time he pulls away at the foundation and lets it all fall in on itself. He does this by doubting; if he can find a reason to believe that he might have been deceived or fooled in any way he removes everything he knows from his existence, even himself, his mind and god.
I think like most philosophers and physicists one must really come to a point where one seriously doubts or denies the existence of everything. We need to explore what the idea of nothing or nihilism might mean. Nihilism, the rejection of all religious and moral principles, in the belief that life is meaningless, but to an even greater degree that of existence as a whole. This is nothingness the absence or cessation of life or existence is at the centre of Descartes’ contemplation.
Over the years I have noticed in discussions with many people that a general conception about Buddhism is that we are nihilists. This misconception seems to be based on the idea that there is no right or wrong in Buddhism, only consequences or cause and effect. I would also add that when one mentions ego destruction it might seem like Buddhists want to kill themselves or something like this. The biggest misconceptions arise when we talk about emptiness, here almost every critic seem to think that Buddhists simply wish to end their existence in a pool of nothingness. These misconceptions could not be further from the truth the Buddha Dharma does not deny the existence of anything or anyone we simply say that things do not exist in the way in which it seems. The Buddha Dharma teaches us clearly that things truly exist but they do so in a way that is free of our concepts and ideas. This is the idea of emptiness, things are empty of the judgments we place on them when we decide or think that something is good or bad. Emptiness is not to be confused with nothingness. However, no thing, or no thingness, seems to be highly relevant in the discovery of our existence.
This is quite similar to the journey that Descartes begins here in his first meditation. Let’s meet soon for our next discussion in Rene Descartes’ second meditation.
As I approach my 50th year in life I am beginning to reflect, realize, and accept that I am well into the second half of my life.
When I was younger I would say that I did not develop a healthy ego at all as I had a rough childhood with an authoritarian mother. This is the situation of many, not just me.
The simple question arises when I read Jung’s statement, is it easier to let go of a poorly developed ego or a well-developed ego? I could surmise that by Jung’s statement that I should have an easy time letting go of my poorly developed ego. Maybe you just might have a stronger motivation to get out of the circle of samsaric suffering if things are really bad. Or another way maybe it’s easier to wake up from a bad dream than from a good dream, so say the words of my Lama.
Think about it another way, why would you jump from a perfectly fine cruise ship or a really nice ego? Not very likely, but the moment you know that you are sinking it’s not even an option to stay onboard.
One of the main teachings of Vajrayana Buddhism is to use one’s strongest emotions as fuel to fire your desire to change. This transformative potential of the Diamond-like practices are like no other. One must confront his anger or fear let them arise, recognize their essence, and let it go! The is tremendous wisdom in all our emotions,
How do we propose to do this? In one word meditation, we begin with the breath then guru yoga ngondro a yidam practice perhaps Tummo.
If we want to break free from samsara we need to see the connection we have with our emotions. Do we really feel them, do we allow them to arise, and most importantly do we let them go? For a long time I was so afraid of my feelings, all of them. I did not feel them very often, and when I noticed that one had arisen I did I had a very hard time letting it go. Sounds fun eh? not really.
Thankfully I have the tools of the Buddha Dharma to work with, firstly and most importantly MEDITATION. The practice of meditation gives us space in mind to choose better decisions, better reactions, and better outcomes for ourselves and those around us. A meditation practice helps us to look within ourselves honestly and fearlessly. A meditation practice helps us to let go of things we no longer need in our lives.
How do you turn inwards and let go of that which weighs you down?
Well there you have it it’s finally been proven that it’s good to be kind to others. Not that we really doubted it 😉
“What studies have shown is that when we are either thinking about kind acts or witnessing kind acts or engaging in acts of kindness to other people, there are several biochemical changes that happen in our brain,” says Dr. Bhawani Ballamudi, SSM Health child psychiatrist. “One of the most important things that happens is that it releases oxytocin, a neurotransmitter that’s been studied extensively for its role in promoting a sense of bonding.”
Oxytocin is associated with empathy, trust, sexual activity, and relationship-building. It is sometimes referred to as the “love hormone,” because levels of oxytocin increase during hugging and orgasm. And all I have to do is be kind to get this natural high, so how do I do that?
“Physiologically, kindness can positively change your brain. Being kind boosts serotonin and dopamine, which are neurotransmitters in the brain that give you feelings of satisfaction and well-being, and cause the pleasure/reward centers in your brain to light up. Endorphins, which are your body’s natural pain killer, also can be released.”
There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so. Hamlet
I wonder if Shakespeare knew this statement’s depth when he wrote it? I haven’t been blogging much in the last few years as I have been going through the most difficult situations in my life. Two and a half years ago my ex and I split up and the battle began over where our daughter was to live. As I am sure many of you have been through something like this you know things can get really bad really quickly. Even for two Buddhists who have promised their lama and all beings to work for their benefit until enlightenment. With such a shared altruistic goal how could things go so wrong?
For over one year I focused on all the bad things that she did and was doing and I spiraled down a very dark rabbit hole. I have never been so negative in my life. Slowly even my best friends started to wisely but compassionately warn me that they could not hear my constant telling of all the things that she was doing wrong. I was becoming bitter and hard not to mention very angry. I had been giving all my energy to and focusing on the bad things that were happening. And not to my surprise but bad things kept happening, it was as if I was willing these things into existence with my attention and awareness and then amplifying them to absurd proportions.
Just like Hamlet, I was a prisoner of my own mind as he was contemplating the murder of his father and his killer King Claudius.
Then the change came, at the behest of my lawyer and a few good friends I began to keep a log of all the things that “she was doing” so that if needed I could use this protocol in court. The first time I started doing this I was emotionally triggered. Fast heart rate, shaking hands, you name it. However, her bad actions had now become my ammunition and my mental health began to improve. I wrote the things down and began to let them go. I was actually happy when she did something stupid so I could write it down. As more and more bad became good I started to see more and more good all around me. Paradox?
My fortunes had begun to change, and I began to heal from deep within. Anger turned to joy and love. The more she did that was meant to hurt me the more healing I found. I found that my own thinking was the key I could decide what I wanted. Heaven or hell was my choice and my choice alone. By choosing to place my attention on negative things or thoughts I was feeding my anger and hastening my own demise. I managed to bring my meditation practice into my daily life and by resting in my heart and consciously directing my thoughts in the direction of love and joy I turned my mind around 180 degrees. I can even say today that I am thankful for her bad actions as I was able to transform them into love and now my relationships have completely changed. Old childhood wounds that had been festering for decades began to heal and the sun started shining brighter than ever before in even the darkest corners of my mind. I am less and less triggered by her actions all the time. It’s clear to me that if I had focused on revenge and anger I would not have only lost my relationship with my daughter but like Hamlet, I would have lost much more.
In my Buddhist practice, I have been taught to build up good impressions in mind. How do we do this? Through mandala practice or volunteering benefiting others, or even just in simple meditation. This is really an interesting thing to do. The more good memories or thoughts you have the easier it is to have something good to focus on. It is much better to wake up from a good dream than a bad one any day of the week. It is as if our minds are hungry and our very attention to one thought or another is the food or energy we expend. We choose to feed our minds with good or bad things at every moment. Of course, sometimes bad things come up in mind, we need only to think, about how interesting, and then let it go back to from whence they came. It is dangerous to deny the energy of stifled or repressed emotions. We simply need to use this energy or fuel in a new way. Give it a new direction and watch our lives change.
Choose today in this very moment what thoughts you want to feed and watch them grow in the garden of your mind. We are the sower and reaper of all things in mind, this is Karma. Remember that being angry is natural but if you feed it, it’s like drinking poison yourself and expecting the other person to die. This is never going to work.
We are in control of our mind in fact we possess mind. Mind does not possess us. This is what we learn in meditation. And to have this come forth in daily life is one expected result of any meditative practice.
I almost always focus on Quantum Physics but for a change, I have decided to delve into, if even for an instant into some Newtonian Physics.
Sir Isaac Newton’s Third Law of Motion, which states that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, or in other words, if Ido something there will be a direct measurable result to my actions. I don’t know about you but this sounds a lot like Karma or cause and effect to my very Buddhist ears. How so, you ask? Let us jump right in.
As I push on the wall with my finger the wall exerts an equal force back onto my finger. The result here is balance unless one force overpowers the other. This is relatively easy to understand.
Now, if I hurt you, you likely will hurt me this is also clear. If I hurt you, do I by default also hurt myself? I think so, at the very least from an emotional or psychological standpoint. Even on an interpersonal level Newton’s third law still stands. And the proof is in the pudding. The residual effect of violence is that one has mental imprints of guilt, sadness, and hate. Positive actions function in exactly the same way. Acts of kindness perpetuate more acts of kindness and positive emotions. I remember the “pay it forward” idea in the early 2000’s. In the drive thru lines in Canada people were paying the food bills for the others in the line with no expectation of anything in return other than a good feeling of doing something nice. This phenomenon continued for some time.
It seems that even Newton knew about Karma at least on a physical level. If it’s true that on a psychological or interpersonal level that a similar law exists we would be wise to begin treating every being as we ourselves would like to be treated or at least stop planting weeds in our own minds. If we don’t the wall will begin to push back on us in ways we will not like.
There is an amazing power that we all share and that is the power of the breath. This power stays with us from the first moments of our life and till the last moments of our death. In fact, there is no life without our breath.
Most of us however go on in life without ever giving our breath a single thought except when we have a problem. At this time it’s usually a bit too late.
Not only does our breath oxygenate our blood and rid our bodies of carbon dioxide, which alone is nothing less than amazing, but it can also be a force of healing and letting go. How so? Glad you asked. Let’s explore this on three levels.
Level one, most of us don’t breathe fully. This means that especially when we are stressed we might only take in 20% of a full breath. This is clearly an exasperation of the situation. When we are stressed we are ineffective in all that we do. One must simply take a few deep breaths and imagine with every inhalation peace love and joy coming into us and all our problems leave us on the exhalation. Recollection of the breath Shiné in Tibetan Shamata in Sanskrit forms the basis of almost all meditations. It also only takes a few seconds or minutes. Try it now, take 10 full breaths in a row without being distracted.
Level two is the level of the bhodisattva. A bhodisattva is someone who works for the benefit of others. So how does this work with the breath? Here we begin to really meditate. The meditation is called Tonglen in Tibetan. It translates as giving and taking. In Tonglen we breath in the pain and suffering of others as black light or energy and we send them back the bright clear light of love and healing. The exact process is that as the black energy enters us and touches our heart center it dissolves or is transformed by our compassion into the light that we then give back. We start with our family then our friends then the neighbors then the whole city, country, continent and then the whole planet. We repeat the steps a few times depending on how long we wish to practice.
The third level is called Tummo in Tibetan and this is quite similar to prajnanic breathing that one can learn in a Hatha yoga class. Tummo is one of the Six Yogas of Naropa and has been traditionally a very secret teaching. The practice fulfils several very interesting needs of the meditator or yogi.
Tummo is also known as inner heat and as one can imagine that a yogi sitting in a cave meditating in the mountains of Tibet might have been a little cold from time to time, this heat must have come in handy. Secondly, the complex series of bodily movements, some of which can now be found on YouTube would have been necessary to keep one’s body fit when one sits for many hours in meditation posture. Lastly, since the source of this heat is one’s emotions, the yogi uses this “way of methods” practice to free himself from samsara. This very powerful meditative experience is profound and life changing, to say the least. Nevertheless, this meditation should not be tried by the uninitiated and by rookies.
I believe that this question is fundamentally flawed and should be restructured. Instead of asking where does consciousness come from, what we should be asking is, what arises from consciousness?
Many of my subscribers are familiar with the theory of panpsychism, which presupposes that consciousness is omnipresent. It is everywhere, even your chair under you or your screen that you are reading or watching this on is in a small way conscious. Does this seem far fetched to you? The only other explanation is that consciousness is nothing more than a biological and chemical reaction limited to somewhere in the brain or body.
So if we presume that consciousness is everywhere and all things are conscious, then we could extrapolate that consciousness is the cause of everything. That the simple act of observation or awareness collapses the wavefront of all the possibilities of particles in superposition into our everyday world.
Now the stage is set for some more questions. The Buddha Dharma talks a lot about the unity of subject, object, and action. This is one of the many ways of expressing non duality. Let’s explore this, we have three things. A subject, (you or me), and an apple (object) that we would like to enjoy (action). So now, what good is a subject (you or me) without an object (apple) to enjoy (action)? What good is an object (apple) without a subject (you or me) to enjoy (action) it? And finally what good is action like enjoyment without a subject ( you or me) to do it to an object (apple)? This system of codependent existence is very interesting to play with. to understand what I mean here is that it is simply not meaningful or logical for one of these things to exist without the others.
Co emergence or co arising are two terms that are often used when comparing our very dualistic experience to a non dual reality. A general understanding of this would be that both good and bad, light and dark, and up and down only exist dependent on each other. We are pointing at the unity of two extremes and saying that what we want or what we perceive is actually in the middle somewhere, but we do not naturally perceive this. We see or understand only the separation or the borders between, in fact our total understanding of the world is based on an ontological seperation of all things. We project the idea of separation on to all that we see. The Buddha Dharma shows us otherwise.
Are we starting to see how all of this is connected?
Now if we ask both questions 1. How does consciousness arise? and 2. What arises from consciousness? at the same time, we begin to close the gap in understanding the conditioned physical world of particles and form, and the unseen world of forces, waves, and our conscious energy. Understanding that some things are not mutually exclusive but rather inclusive or both and, makes our world of experience full and complete. There is a lot of freedom in this understanding.
I want to close with two thoughts. Firstly to quote Albert Einstein when he was speaking about the famous double slit experiment, detailed in the link above. “It seems as though we must use sometimes the one theory and sometimes the other, while at times we may use either” Einstein knew that a “both and” understanding is optimal for complete understanding of the very strange world of particels and waves.
And secondly that, consciousness is the universe’s way of seeing and understanding itself. What is an object, the universe, without a subject, our consciousness, to enjoy or perceive it?
Much to the chagrin of many Roman/Greko philosophers the idea of zero as a number was born in India. To quote Russel Peters, a Canadian comedian the concept was first used in the well-known technique of bargaining by an individual who wanted something but did not want to pay. There are stories and proof of zero concepts in several cultures, not just in Europe and Asia. Even the ancient South Americans seem to have some idea what zero is. There is, however, a Buddhist link expressed by my favorite philosopher Nagarjuna. Nagarjuna is famous for his groundbreaking treatises on sunyata Sanskrit for emptiness. What could be more empty than zero? Even in the cardinal script, the shape of the zero says “hey man there is nothing here look into the circle it’s empty.” One thing for certain even if the zero was not first conceptualized in India, Indians were with certainty the first people to take the concept out of the mathematical arena and into a philosophical debate. Philosophy and mathematics have always had an interesting coexistence. It is said that above the entrance to Plato’s Academy “let no one ignorant of Geometry enter” was inscribed.
The idea of emptiness is not an easy concept to understand in fact it is more often misunderstood that any other buddhist teaching. This is in part due to many translations of buddhist texts compiled by Christian scholars who had the intention of belittling and demonizing the Buddha Dharma therefore calling it Buddhism.
Nagarjuna’s premise is that things or objects in our world have no independent existence in and of themselves, this is emptiness.
The idea is that we as individuals project our own meaning, concepts, and ideas onto everything that we perceive. We label everything good or bad and so begins the constant samsaric battle of attachment and aversion. This step of labeling is a mistake of our egos as we see ourselves as separate from that object of perception. This separation or act of creating a border between that which we truly are and that which we perceive is the original mistake. Mind or our consciousness is compared to an eye. An eye cannot see itself it only sees outwards. This is why we must turn our mind’s eye inwards in the practice of meditation. Only then do we truly see that Ego = 0
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Ngöndro is a set of Buddhist practices that one chooses to complete at the request of one’s lama. Ngöndro can be translated as “to go before” It is therefore known as the four preliminary practices or the four uncommon or extraordinary preliminaries. The full practice may be compared to earning a bachelors degree in meditation as the practices usually take years to complete and when one is finished one normally receives a Yidam practice from his or her lama as sort of a graduation gift. Yidam means mind bond and is usually a lifelong practice. I will be describing the Karma Kagyu Chag Chen Ngöndro from the Ninth Karmapa here as this is what I practice.
The Ngöndro consists of four and sometimes five practices the four practices are:
1. Refuge and Enlightened Mind (prostrations)
2. Vajrasattva (diamond mind)
3. Mandala Offering
4. Guru Yoga
The fifth is commonly referred to as the small refuge and is completed prior to the four main practices sometimes as a trial to see if one is suited for the Ngöndro as it usually entails only 11111 repetitions. The four main practises increase in complexity and difficulty of visualization. They all consist of a mantra or exercise that must be repeated 111 111 times, yes that’s correct, one hundred and eleven thousand one hundred and eleven repetitions per practice. I am not kidding here this is why it takes years to do.
The total package of the Ngöndro can be compared to that of renovating a house or in this case your mind. When one has a house that needs total renovation one tears down the walls replaces the wiring and water pipes and anything else that is in poor repair. This is the prostrations, they are hard work require time and sweat, and you will feel them the next day actually for me it really hurt. But they do come with many benefits, as one develops in the practice so does one’s devotion, dedication, and one-pointedness to the lama and the entire transmission lineage. One purifies all Karma that is connected to the body and its physical actions; one can also become quite fit in the process and they open up blocked energies from our chakras. In each prostration we are aligning our body, speech, and mind chakras on a physical level with our prayer mudras that touches each of these centers and on an inner level as we alternate our inner focus or attention from one place to another. On the physical side, I found it very beneficial that as one develops their core body strength one can easily maintain excellent body posture both in and out of meditation. Correct body posture is incredibly helpful. It’s even not uncommon for a 1 pack to finally become a 6 pack. Likely the most important benefit is two-fold, firstly one begins to repeat the promise of the Bhodisatva every time we meditate. Being a Bhodisatva is not always easy but with practice, it can be. As motivation to do the prostrations one can imagine that we do the prostrations for others. I have personally met one yogi who traveled 500km doing prostrations as he went all for those who could not do them for themselves. Secondly, we begin to work with altruistic wishes such as “may all beings have happiness and the cause of happiness, may all beings be free from suffering and the cause of suffering, may they always experience happiness which is totally free from suffering, and may they remain in the great equanimity which is without attachment and aversion. These are very important steps on the path of the Bhodisatva.
The second practice of Vajrasattva or Diamond Mind is compared to the cleaning out of all the dust and dirt that has accumulated over the years and in the first part of the renovation once all the rough work is finished. Vajrasattva is intrinsically connected to emotions like anger, as one purifies even the most subtle and hidden aspects of the negative things that we have said, thought, or done since beginningless time. The mantra is quite long, 100 syllables to be exact, and one mala takes a minimum of 15 minutes. Here one can hone their concentration skills and enjoy the blessing and relief of removing even more negative Karma from one’s store consciousness. The practice of holding ones concentration so intensely can often, but not always lead to feelings similar to that of anger. This happens because we are in a subtle way creating the mental or inner conditions that are reminiscent of anger. As we develop with the practice we begin to see this narrowness or tightening in everyday situations as we really do become angry. The meditation is skillfully showing us that anger is coming, we then have realized the great gift of then being able to choose to react negatively or not. This is the essence of Vajrasattvas neckar it purifies our past response to anger and we are now only left with an unobscured observation of the situation. This deep wisdom can only grow from here into the openness we begin to develop in the next practice of the mandala offering.
The third practice is called mandala offering and it is for sure the most intricate and beautiful of all four practices. This is the fresh paint, new carpets, and beautiful decorating phase after the hard work of the renovation. Here one imagines universes of amazing and fantastic offerings for all the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas from all times and directions as one places piles of rice and semi-precious stones on a silver plate and wipes them away. We practice giving without regret or attachment and a deeper sense of thankfulness spills over into our everyday lives as one repeats the manta both on and off the meditation cushion. We may even begin to have an idea of what emptiness is, but don’t worry this idea is certain to change as do all ideas and concepts in Buddhism.
The fourth and final practice of the Ngöndro is Guru Yoga, this is meditation like many others in Tibetian Buddism because one directly meditates on the lama and in this case all the lamas of the transmission lineage. This seems only natural to invite everyone over to celebrate after your house is renovated and here the guests bring immense blessing for one’s future practice. On the subject of guru yoga, it would be irresponsible not to mention that when one is meditating “on” the Lama we are not meditating on a person with flesh and blood, we are meditating on a form of enlightened energy and light. This is a very skillful way in which to dissolve our selfish egos and to take on the profoundly positive and enlightening qualities that the lama represents. This effect is multiplied when the entire lineage is placed in mind above one’s head. Devotion and perseverance develop in the practitioner when one begins to realize and identify with the many exemplary examples of lives that were dedicated to the practice and teaching of the Buddha Dharma.
With an overview of the entire Ngondro practice, it is easy to see how all the individual parts fit in with one another. This is what is known as skillful means. Prostrations and Diamond Mind are heavily slanted to the Shinè side. While Mandala practice is almost entirely Laktong and the Guru Yoga is a combination of them both. The building up phase or the Kyerim phase is longer and more detailed in each subsequent practice and very clearly the Dzogrim phase moves from blessing to emptiness to a full Mahamudra experience. With this in mind, it is easy to see how the Ngondro really is the preparation for understanding the highest of the Kagyu Mahamudra teachings.
I have learned something very powerful from each and every practice and even as I am more than halfway through my second Ngöndro I can say that this experience keeps developing deepening far beyond what I could have imagined in the beginning. I have even considered doing Ngondro for the rest of my life as I personally know quite a few people who have done 5 or more Ngöndros and I am sure that they would say the same. If you are thinking that you may wish to undertake such a profound experience for yourself please ask many questions and find a Buddhist Centre near to you to get qualified explanations. The traditional “lung” or wind or word can only be received from a lama. Although it might seem oldfashioned or simply unnecessary a little tradition can go a long way.
Every once in a while I inspired to share one of my website pages instead of a science-based entry. This time around I chose a more recent addition because I find it so inspiring how my Buddhist lineage uses such skillful means to meditate. Meditation and my Lama have unquestionably changed my life for the better. So here is the page in full.
In a previous page I detailed the difference between Shiné and Laktong, here I would like to highlight Kyerim and Dzogrim two closely related but very different terms so as to avoid any confusion as to how Vajrayana Tibetan meditations are often structured and how skillfully they have been put together to enable one to work with mind.
Kyerim sounds like Cherim it is the building up or generation phase and is closely linked to the practice of Shiné. One could almost call it Shiné plus, as the student does not just calmly pacify mind or rest mind on an object of meditation, the object of meditation interacts and provides feedback. Through a process called self-initiation, the meditator receives a combination of lights, syllables, and sounds from the object of focus or the Buddha aspect. Sometimes even a feeling is transmitted to the meditator. This feedback is said to trigger subtle psychological changes or responses in mind, the cumulative effect of such feedback is not to be underestimated. A typical example would be as follows: A white light from the Buddha form shines out towards us from an Om syllable on the Buddhas forehead towards our forehead at the same time we and or the group we are meditating with say the syllable Ommmmmmmmmm out loud for a few seconds. We feel or experience the vibration of the light and the sound together. This process is greatly magnified when we meditate in groups especially when we are in very large groups.
Khyrem can be translated to the moment when the Buddha is born. Here the Buddha or Buddha nature is clearly born and activated in our mind. This conscious feedback is also the same feedback one receives in Tibetan empowerments or initiations, albeit with less ritual. This is why this phase is sometimes referred to as self-empowerment as the lights, syllables, and sounds all correspond to the main chakras that are blessed by high Lamas and Rinpoches during an initiation. This self-empowerment provides the meditator with a strong blessing and enlightened contact regardless of where the lama is. One can also use the analogy of tieing ones rapidly changing stream of consciousness to a pole. Within the meditation, one has a series of approved distractions or highly detailed archetypal forms to focus on. Often one can simply rotate ones attention from one specific aspect to another at will within a much smaller field of attention than one is normally used to. These skillful means are very powerful mind training techniques.
Dzogrim or the completion phase can be compared to hugging or uniting ourselves with the Buddha form. The full mixing of powerful light energy and one’s own energy form imbues the meditator with the enlightened qualities of the Buddha aspect and one is filled with blessing. When the term dissolving phase is used it can be understood to be where we dissolve the barrier or distance between us and the enlightened qualities of the lama or Buddha aspect, here one simply feels inseparable from the teacher and all beings. One no longer is looking into the mirror of mind, we are the mirror, reflecting our own enlightened qualities. Perfection phase refers to the total understanding or the absolute realization of Mahamudra the highest teachings in Vajrayana Buddhism. This is a CLEAR experience of mind unadulterated by the veils of our disturbing emotions and basic ignorance. All three are Dzogrim. Dzogrim and Laktong often share the same place and time in most meditations but as Laktong is the insight the “ah ha” moment or the connection to one’s deepest awareness, beyond the normal understanding. Dzogrim clearly points to a pristine unadulterated experience of the LUMINANCE of mind. This CLEAR LIGHT, when seen from an outside perspective but still within the meditative experience, is the mechanism with which mind shines on the form and sound realms in order so that we may perceive them. This responsive outward shining of consciousness is what we are mentally reproducing in the Khyrem part of the meditation. In its very essence, we are the CLEAR LIGHT when there is no longer any distance or barrier between us and our experience and when we have total unity within our experience, sounds perfect doesn’t it?
There is an old saying that you can never enter the same stream twice. This seems kind of odd to the uninitiated especially if you swam in a river or stream often as a kid, so what do we mean here? We have two Buddhist terms that I would like to introduce and discuss here in relation to the steam. The first is impermanence this is understood that everything is in a constant state of change and the second is “dependent arising”. Impermanence is simple and covered in detail here, but dependent arising can be a bit complex. Let’s use the following example of a stream to discover the meaning in dependent arising. We have a stream flowing past us the fresh cool water is clean and clear. As the water flows by it erodes the banks of the stream in some places and deposits the eroded earth in others, it changes constantly. When our stream meets another stream and the two merge and flow on together, soon we have a river. Then at the end of the long river, we often have all the sand or earth carried by the river deposited in the delta where the main river once again divides into smaller streams as it slowly meets the ocean. Once the river has merged with the ocean a new process takes over as the water evaporates into the air becomes clouds and falls back to the earth as rain to be collected by the stream once again. This natural environmental cycle is dependent arising constant and ever-changing based on the impermanence of the surrounding conditions. One part of the process depends on the other and when seen as a whole there is no beginning or end to be found. Take one part out and nothing exists. No start or creation point is then necessary.
“At first practice is like a river rushing through a gorge. In the middle, it’s the river Ganges, smooth and flowing. In the end, it’s where all rivers meet, mother and child.” Tilopa Ganges Mahamudra.
It is here where we realise Dzogrim or that we are a drop of water in the whole ocean.
It is like this that we can understand our own existence here on earth one big cycle of ever-changing conditions and we can never be the same person twice like we can never enter the same stream or river twice. How do we compare to the river, certainly we are more complex? Here modern science would have to include our store consciousness, that is the sum of all the knowledge, thoughts, and actions we have ever encountered or our stream or consciousness. William James in “Principals of Psychology” used the phrase, stream of consciousness, to describe an unbroken flow of perceptions, thoughts, and feelings in the waking mind.
Buddhist theory calls our store consciousness “Alaya” this is the sum of all our experiences or our karma from all our lives since beginningless time. This Alaya is constantly mixing and interacting with our new life situation. Based on previous actions we decide the new course of action and we cycle through our existence without beginning or end just like the water in the stream. We are never the same person from each moment of mind to the next. The point here is clear we are the result of our actions and ideas, we should be more responsible.
This quote from the physicist Böhm sums it up quite nicely:
“I would say that in my scientific and philosophical work, my main concern has been with understanding the nature of reality in general and of consciousness in particular as a coherent whole, which is never static or complete but which is an unending process of movement and unfoldment….”
D. Bohm, _Wholeness and the Implicate Order_, p.ix
The coherent whole is his comparison for the cycle of dependent arising that is never static or complete. And the unending movement of the river unfolds slowly as new conditions arise in mind.
Modern neuroscientists cannot find the mechanism of how our vast knowledge or memory is stored and then recalled, there are theories but none that are generally agreed upon. There is evidence that certain areas of the brain are associated with certain types of memory but the mechanism is unknown and much of what we know is based on the theory from one man Henry Molaison who has his complete hippocampus removed. After the removal, Henry could not form new long term memories. While this part of the brain certainly plays an important role in memory there is no proof of the storage processes in the brain then the storage could be somewhere else. Just my thoughts but the hippocampus is rather small to store all those memories. Not to mention it’s removal prevented new memories from being formed. The memories formed prior to the operation were still there, showing that the hippocampus is not the storage location.
Alaya has no specific location it is said to be non-local, or more simply said, space is information, omnipresent or everywhere, like energy. It’s simple and beautiful think of it as a cosmic conscious internet or quantum network, flowing through the universe everywhere and always new. Our entire being changing with every new situation and experience. Like always in Buddhism, this responsibility is our own to decide what direction we take, ask yourself do you want a comedy or tragedy today? The choice and answer is clear, are they not?
I love reading and often have 4 or 5 books on the go at once. So I thought it was interesting that when I picked up my copy of “My View of the World” by Erwin Schrödinger and started turning the pages I found a quote that he cited that stems from the writings of the great Indian Philosopher Nagarjuna in roughly year 200 CE. that I had just read in another book about Nagarjuna. Here it is “A thing is neither A nor not -A, but yet it is not a ” neither A nor not -A”, nor can one say that it is “both A and not -A. ” So what is it? Logically we come to a mathematical answer of zero or philosophically we could say the truth. But what did Schrödinger mean when he quoted Nagarjuna, what could he have been getting at?
Erwin Schrödinger was one of the most renown scientists of the 19th and 20th Century was only interested in one thing, Truth and not just any old truth. He was not interested in finding or reiterating the same old same old that was in his words “perusing a line of thinking that is so obviously going to lead us to bankruptcy, just as it did 2000 years ago” He was dedicated to finding the ultimate truth with all the scientific furore he had. So when he came across this symbolic expression of contradictions he must have known that he is onto something. His words are more poignant today than ever in our age of big debt, fake news, and lying politicians.
Pictures speak a thousand words, don’t they?
Nagarjuna is arguably the most pre-eminent philosopher of his time and maybe even our time as well. Born into a Brahmin family in India he lived from circa 150 to 250 CE. Nagarjuna was the head of the Buddhist university of Nalanda and has at least 8 major philosophical texts attributed to him and maybe more. Another quote from his madhyamakakarika is:
“The Buddha’s teaching rests on two truths: Conventional Truth and ultimate truth. Those who do not understand the distinction between them do not understand Buddha’s profound truth. Ultimate truth cannot be taught without basis on relative truth; without realisation of the meaning of ultimate truth enlightenment cannot be attained.” Nagarjuna, madhyamakakarika, Ch. 24, Vs 8-10
Let’s return to our series of contradictions that Nagarjuna proposed 1800 years ago. These statements are simply a dualistic expression like neither good and bad or not up or down. He says we cannot understand the ultimate without understanding the relative, so our ground level basis must be the world we live in now, be it black and white or left or right wing we must understand the polarization and the dualistic contradictions we see all around us. Relativity in a philosophical sense tells us that shortness exists only to an idea of length. We need an opposite to see the relation and therefore the relative truth behind what is to be understood. For example, we could never truly understand light without ever having experienced darkness. We need to know the truth so we can know when we are being lied to. Without some super quantum computer, how should we ever hope to understand all the duality in our universe? Enter the Buddhadharma a logical system for the discovery of Ultimate Truth, or dharmakaya. Dharmakaya or the truth state in Vajrayana Buddhism is one of the three kayas states or bodies that lead to enlightenment, and cannot be explained very easily but let’s try. Dharmakaya is synonymous or leads to an understanding with emptiness or Sunyata. This simply is that no thing made or constructed, thought of or conceived of, or conditioned or habituated has any existence in itself, of itself, or by itself. All the “things” we know of, are dependent on a plethora of other external factors, a quantum network, required for our perception or knowledge of them. They are empty of an independent existence. When there is no thing that is independent then everything is therefore interdependent. This interdependence is crucial to the Buddhadharma because when I realize how connected I am to you I could never do anything to hurt you without hurting my self. Moreover, when I love you I love myself and all other beings all at the same time. That is emptiness, not so easy eh?
Are you ready to embark on a journey of truth for yourself? There is no better way than the Buddhadharma to reach this goal and all along the way to benefit all sentient beings in their search to bring new meaning, joy, and freedom to this existence that is constantly challenged by the elite of this world who are purveyors of lies and dissatisfaction.
In the last few years, there have been a growing number of Psychiatrists and therapists who have been successfully treating their patients with meditation. Meditation can be a powerful tool in one’s possession to help heal and integrate a patient’s troubles into a well functioning and mentally stable member of society. I am personally convinced that the Buddhadharma itself is a path to wellbeing like no other. It encompasses parts of religion, neuroscience, psychology, sociology, and philosophy so seamlessly and effortlessly and at the same time, it stands alone in a category all unto itself. Buddhism is far more developed in the west now than the religious fad it was in the ’60s. Since then it has grown and matured such that in most major North America and European cities one can find many different Buddhist offers nearby at the stroke of a few keys and your favourite search engine. But in this day and age of fad treatments and rising health care costs can one expect to solve their mental health issues by just sitting on the meditation cushion and seeking solace in the welcoming arms of the well-meaning and altruistic Buddhists down the street? As with any big question, its answer has at least two sides that I would like to explore with you now.
I am blessed with many great friends and one of my favourite people in my friendship mandala is Franzi, she is a psychologist and works with people who have quite severe behavioural and mental disorders such as depression, psychosis, borderline, and schizophrenia. She had mentioned to me once or twice that she uses meditation in her practice and I thought that now was a good time to sit down with a good cup of coffee and have a chat with her. First I wanted to know how she used meditation in her treatment plan for her patients and how successful it is. For her openness to meditation in her patients was the first consideration. Many people would not consider it due to religious or cultural objections, and if there was openness the doctor-patient relationship needed to trusting enough to use it successfully. The next consideration was what meditation therapy was appropriate? The first of two main treatments was a simple awareness meditation designed to bring the patient into the here and now. For example, the patient was asked to walk through a park and find 5 things to touch, smell, and describe like fragrant flowers and colourful leaves. For many patients, this exercise was helpful to bring them into the here and now that you and I know, in a stable and easy way. This type of meditation was helpful especially for patients with PTSD. The second meditation uses breathing, or a basic Shine type meditation to relax and bring a patient into a calm mindstate. It is used with patients with depression of various degrees with good success as well, but this was almost never used in more difficult cases as many patients when relaxed were prone to mental disturbances arising uncontrolled and in damaging ways. Meditation was never used in Borderline and schizophrenia patients for this exact reason. Meditation was also never the only form of treatment and was always used in conjunction with traditional psychotherapy in its many forms, “meditation is only one brick in the wall.” or as my picture suggests one tile in the complete mosaic of mental health. I then asked her if and when she would ever recommend a patient to go to a Buddhist centre and to learn meditation. She would gladly recommend things like yoga and Buddhist meditation but only as an option for patients who were already quite healthy, never for patients with severe disabilities.
The last part of our conversation focused on Buddhist centres and how they could deal with patients who are walking through their doors at an ever-increasing rate due to the very high cost of psychological treatment in countries with little or no public health care such as the US. I was surprised to hear much the same advice from Franzi as from my Lama. Severely mentally ill people should not meditate and in some cases such as with borderline patients, the group itself would be in danger with the behaviour of the patient. It is well known that Borderline patients are particularly challenging for even the most experienced groups of medical professionals let alone for a group of well-meaning, altruistic, but completely untrained Buddhist practitioners. Moreover, the complex meditations leading to very relaxed and open states of mind are completely inappropriate for many patients especially when there is no supervision. Some meditations like for instance Ngondro are designed to slowly pull the carpet out from under the ego, this is done in a slow and methodical way that leaves a meditator less and less attached to disturbing emotions and the ego illusion. But one needs a healthy ego in the first place to start this. If this is done by an individual who has an impaired sense of reality it can and likely will be dangerous. Franzi was clear the group should talk about anyone in attendance in the centre who is under the care or should be under the care of medical professionals and find a kind way to ask them to leave, and maybe even have an outside person not from the local group but within the tradition to help. This is not an easy task I can tell you from personal experience as I have had to do this once myself it was extremely challenging to do in good style.
Now for the good news and the other side of the story. Everyone’s life can be profoundly improved if they are lucky enough to come in contact with the Buddhadharma. The trick here is that meditation is not a tool to take lightly. Now, strictly learning about things like the four noble truths, the eightfold path, karma, compassion, and Metta would be of benefit to anyone including the mentally ill. But here is the key and its a problem Buddhists have had since the very beginning and the answer is wisdom. Wisdom must be balanced with compassion and be used in situations where mental health is an issue. Compassion without wisdom is mushy and stupid, wisdom without compassion is cold and hard, here we need the middle way. What does this mean? If you have a mild depression from a bad breakup or are neurotic with your cell phone use as the rest of us, in other words, normal, please feel free to practice meditation in any way in which you like but if you have a chronic, diagnosable, or serious mental health problem, seek out and follow the best medical advice and treatment you can find and follow their professional advice. Do not come looking for it in a Buddhist centre, we are not capable and not trained to help you.
Buddhist centres should also educate themselves about the warning signs of mental illness and be prepared to wisely deal with uncomfortable situations. And any Buddhist centre advertising a course on “dealing with disturbing emotions” should be aware of the Pandora’s box that they are opening when eager customers walk through their the door.
Do you have anything to add or a bone to pick please feel free to comment below,
I find the field of Neuroscience totally fascinating as it challenges one of the most difficult questions mankind has ever asked, how or through what mechanism is consciousness produced. This is also known as the hard problem of consciousness. Neuroscientists have from a mechanical perspective dissected and probed the brain in many many ways, identifying all the parts big and small and how they interact with one another. But to no avail, there is no answer to the big question or at least no agreement or even a general consensus as to how consciousness arises, within the scientific community. If we compare a Neuroscientist to a motor mechanic we will have an amazing understanding of how all the nuts, bolts, and parts of a motor work but we will not know why they do what they do. Today we will explore the how and why of the Buddhist theory of consciousness.
Buddhism has for the last 2500 years also tried to answer this question but from a very different perspective. Buddhists began their understanding of consciousness by searching and studying consciousness from within or from an inner mental perspective. Aided by eastern philosophical training and through the practice of meditation, a practitioner is guided along a gentle path of looking deeper and deeper within one’s most secret place, the seat of our consciousness and our true being.
It seems to me the obvious solution is to not ignore the fact that these two opposites are asking the very same question, but are investigating it from completely different perspectives. What could they learn from each other and how might this benefit mankind? Could there be a new middle way or a consensus of consciousness to be found through cooperation?
To begin understanding the mental or inner perspective of how the Buddhadharma explains consciousness we need to understand two sets of ideas the Eight Consciousnesses and the Five Skandhas. We begin with the radio example. Many Buddhist lamas have likened the brain to a radio a mechanical device that receives signals from our sense organs or the gates of our perception. We are all familiar with them; sight, hearing, taste, smell, and touch. Yes, there are other senses like balance and intuition but let us stick to the obvious ones for reasons of simplicity. In this example, the brain acts as a radio receiving signals from 6 different stations. In Buddhist terms, the stations are called the Eight Consciousnesses. They are as follows 1. Visual (or eye) consciousness 2. Auditory (or ear) consciousness 3. Olfactory (or nose) consciousness 4. Gustatory (or tongue) consciousness 5. Tactile (or body) consciousness and 6. Mental (or mind) consciousness. 7 and 8 will be covered later. The Five Skandhas or Mind and are as follows 1. Form, 2. Feeling or sensation, 3. Discrimination or Perception, 4. Mental Formations, and 5. Consciousness.
Ready to see how all this fits together? Let’s tune into the Visual station on the radio and take a look around. Oh, look what’s that? We have a form. The eyes sense something, for example, a rose, and sends the information to the sixth consciousness the Mind consciousness. Here is where things get interesting. The mind consciousness has received the first skandha of form from the eyes. Here we can think that the mind builds the picture or mental fabrication from the information supplied by the input or inputs. Once a mental fabrication has formed a feeling or sensation arises like good, bad, or neutral this is the second Skandha. The discriminating or perception Skandha then registers, recognises, and labels the object. Then the fourth Mental Formation Skandha has us act by taking a closer look, running away or simply moving on based now on all the information our sense consciousnesses provide. We are now in the fifth Skandha and consciousness of the rose. This state gives rise to the seventh consciousness.
The seventh consciousness or the defiled mental consciousness or better described as emotions arise. “Oh what a beautiful rose, I want it.” we say, and then we are fully aware or conscious of the rose. This is where all the trouble begins, you all know what I mean here.
After the stimulus ends or is no longer the focus of the mind’s attention the information or experience is stored in the eighth consciousness or the All Encompassing Foundation Consciousness. This is most like what we would call our subconsciousness, and is called Alaya in Buddhism.
Was that easy to follow and does it compare to your everyday experience?
Remember, Mind doesn’t mind, matter doesn’t matter! Mind is Boss.
Waves and particles seem to the unlearned to be two very different things. But as we look deep down the quantum rabbit hole we begin to see how words like Non dual and unity have a very big place in the quantum world of the tiny and unseen and Buddhism alike.
Although demonstrated by Thomas Young’s famous double slit experiment in 1801 Wave-particle duality only became widely accepted in Quantum physicists in the mid-1900s. It is very interesting that the theory states that particles can exist as waves, waves can exist as particles, and sometimes they exist as both at the same time. Young discovered that when shooting particles or photons at a steel plate one can observe either an interference pattern that indicates a wave function or individual spots indicating particles. The experiment seems to get weird when we understand that particle patterns were observed when a detector was placed on the screen to track the particles and when no detector was there the wave pattern was observed. Even stranger was when a single proton was fired it spit into two at the slot only to combine once again at the screen displaying qualities of both waves and particles.
Albert Einstein is quoted as saying: “It seems as though we must use sometimes the one theory and sometimes the other, while at times we may use either. We are faced with a new kind of difficulty. We have two contradictory pictures of reality; separately neither of them fully explains the phenomena of light, but together they do.”
Buddhism not surprisingly has some 1000-year-old insights that compare almost exactly to this modern quantum phenomenon. In roughly 1320 the 3rd Gyalwa Karmapa Rangjung Dorje wrote his crowning treatise on Mahamudra. Written in song or poetry like stanzas he tries to show us how things are not perceived as they really are and the connection of mind in our experience of how things truly are. Verse 6 says “The nature of the ground is the dual truth, free from extreme views of a permanent reality and of nihilism” Karmapa states here that our reality is the dual truth that is free from any reality of permanent or unchanging existence and free from the nothingness of nihilism. I would draw the comparison here to Einstein’s words that point to the contradiction between our materialistic world of particles and the unseen world with wavelike properties or even possibilities. Einstein goes further to say that sometimes we need only one of the theories sometimes we need both. Young’ experiment would support both here by demonstrating how sometimes we are seeing particles and sometimes waves then sometimes both. In verse 11 Karmapa goes on to clarify this in case we did not catch it the first time, “May we recognize mind’s essence, which is free of any extremes. It is not existent, for even the buddhas do not see it. It is not non-existent for it is the basis of everything, of conditioned existence and of the state beyond suffering. This is no contradiction. It is the middle way of unity.” So what Einstein initially proposed to be a contradiction is countered by Karmapa’s conviction that the middle way of unity and ultimately agreed to by Einstein “separately neither of them fully explains the phenomena of light, but together they do”. Young would again agree when he observed particles splitting acting as waves and then reuniting to a particle once again. This to me is a very clearly non-dual co-emergent reality. Verse 18, my personal favourite, Karmapa clarifies once more for the doubters among us, “Observing phenomena, none is found. One sees Mind. Looking at mind, no mind is seen, it is empty in essence. Through looking at both, one’s clinging to duality naturally dissolves. May we recognize mind’s true nature, which is clear light”. In complete agreement Einstein and Karmapa both recognize that a complete unified understanding of the seen and unseen or the particle and wavelike worlds between Quantum Physics and Buddhism leads to the truth of our existence. Moreover one cannot ignore the fact that Young and Einstein were both talking about light waves and particles called photons. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to see this clearly?
Meditation helps us to see more clearly or likely even completely clear. Once the veils of our emotions like jealousy and anger are cleared away we see our world free from their constant blurring effect. Our newly developed wisdom transforms suffering into joy. In the double slit experiment, we see the evidence of particles when our attention or the sensor is turned on, this is what we see now normally. If we can train ourselves in meditation maybe we can see the world of waves and their functions, maybe we can even understand or see our consciousness in action and watch as our awareness interacts with the collapsing wavefront into our particle material based world. It sounds a bit crazy, I know, but why not it might be really amazing.
So it seems to me that my three friends seem to agree on quite a lot, maybe the only thing that Karmapa, Young, and Einstein might disagree about is the path one takes meditation versus mathematics. Do both roads lead to Rome? Why not do both, that’s why people like me are here.
Schrodinger’s famous thought experiment illustrates an important Buddhist teaching. Although Schrodinger originally created this experiment to illustrate the absurdity of applying Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics being applied to everyday objects, it’s genius can be used to show us other things and challenge our individual experience of reality. In the experiment, Schrodinger places a cat in a closed steel box where a deadly poison stands ready to be released by a Geiger counter and an atom that decays at an unknown rate. At any time during the experiment, the cat is either dead or alive. We do not know the status of the cat until we directly observe the situation in the box. This illustrates the idea of superposition as the cat technically exists in all possible states until the observation.
What can we learn from this that can be applied to a Buddhist practice? None other than that we are already enlightened and we just don’t know it yet while we have not been able to observe it properly. Many Buddhist teachers explain that enlightenment is closer to us than our skin. This is due to the understanding that we all have the potential to be a Buddha, the fact that we all have the Buddha nature. This means that because the Buddha, also a man, realised enlightenment so can we. We are simply in a state of superposition until we begin to observe, look deep inside with meditation and learn to see ourselves as the perfect beautiful beings that we already are. We need to look inside the box of our minds with trust and purposeful dedication that what we see and what we are is nothing short of amazing. We need to learn to think inside of the box long before we begin to think outside of the box. Most of us have reversed this process only to miserably fail at whatever it is that we are trying to achieve. Do we try to teach someone something that we cannot do ourselves? Are we putting the cart in front of the horse? Can we be of good use to others when we are suffering in an uncontrollable way ourselves, or can we be of best use to all when are in a position of surplus and wisdom? A well-composed meditation practice shows us our natural beauty and divine essence that we have had since beginningless time but have unfortunately due to our own ignorance we have learned to forget it. Let us, therefore, learn to be fully alive whether we are in Schrodinger’s box or not. It is really a choice that we must make to either wallow in our own sorrow or chose to realise our full potential for the benefit of all beings.
In any given moment in any given situation, anything is possible. Superposition gives us a gateway to understanding our unlimited potential and what we see and how we see it is what we receive. And here we can choose to see a comedy or a tragedy it is up to us. Meditation gives us the chance to do this not only on the meditation cushion but perhaps more importantly in daily life.
So was Schrodinger’s cat enlightened? Yes, but he may not have realised it, much like us.
Let’s choose to be amazing…
Have you ever wondered how or where consciousness arises? I have and “Pan what?” was my first question when a good friend mentioned to me in conversation that what I was actually describing to him had already been theorised hundreds of years ago. “Phew, I am not the first idiot to think this” was my second thought and then “wait a second it would have been cool to come up with something new” was the third though. After the discussion, I read up on the subject I could not have been more amazed, as the inherent beauty and wisdom slowly sank deeply into my being.
Panpsychism postulates that consciousness is everywhere and in everything and that this non-local or cosmic wide phenomenon is also without cause. Even stones and elementary particles have consciousness, not just people, bugs, or plants. Even for me, this sounds a little far-fetched until you delve into the subject a bit more. The earliest known references to panpsychism are likely attributed to early religions like Shintoism, Taoism, Paganism, and Shamanism. Even Aristotle is quoted as saying “that everything is full of gods.” Plato argued in his Sophist that all things participate in the form of being and that it must have a psychic aspect of mind and soul. “This world is indeed a living being endowed with a soul and intelligence … a single visible living entity containing all other living entities, which by their nature are all related.” Wow, that is a big idea and not so easy for an individual to wrap his mind around it. That is probably the problem, the idea of panpsychism takes us from the comfort of our strongly held idea of an individual or ego and even the religious idea of a soul or atman to the understanding that not only are all beings one being but that all things are united in a blissful unity or beingness.
This is illustrated in Robert Fludd’s depiction of the world soul. I thought it might illustrate the idea of Panpsychism in an interesting way.
Panpsychism has some competition it is not the only theory about the origin of mind, the emergence theory has many followers as well. Emergence Theory postulates that consciousness has emerged from some as yet unknown evolutionary chemical process. Philosopher Professor Galen Strawson articulates the relationship between panpsychism and emergence quite acutely: “The issue of emergence of mind is important because it is the mutually exclusive counterpart to Panpsychism: either you are a Panpsychist, or you are an Emergentist. Either mind was present in things from the very beginning, or it appeared (emerged) at some point in the history of evolution. If, however, emergence is inexplicable or is less viable, then one is left with the panpsychist alternative. This line of reasoning … is the (panpsychist) ‘argument from Non-Emergence.”
Interestingly there is no proof anywhere of consciousness or mind emerging from any process but either is there any proof of panpsychism. Panpsychism is, however, in my opinion, far more elegant and takes mind or consciousness a few steps further than the emergence of mind as an evolutionary or materialistic process. Even with a rather superficial level of understanding of panpsychism, one might find some comfort in this theory that we are never alone and connected to everything in every way. However, this may also strike fear into the hearts of those who are so deeply attached to their own individuality or egos. Regardless if one finds comfort or fear lets discover some more of how Panpsychism, Quantum Physics, and Buddhism might be related.
When we analyze subatomic particles, one might say that there is no difference between the protons, quarks, and leptons in my body, and the protons, quarks, and leptons in the desk in front of me except that I am conscious and the desk is not. Or is it, but at a dramatically reduced level? David Bohm theoretical physicist and philosopher said “That which we experience as mind … will, in a natural way, ultimately reach the level of the wave function and of the ‘dance’ of the particles. There is no unbridgeable gap or barrier between any of these levels. … … in some sense, a rudimentary consciousness is present even at the level of particle physics” So here we can surmise that there is no barrier between me and the desk.
To this day we do not understand where or how consciousness arises and the role the brain plays in its formation if it plays a role at all. It could be just a receiver or radio, receiving information on several channels of perception that we would call our senses. Panpsychism skips this need to discover the relationship between the brain and the rise of conscious awareness completely, its simplicity is simply profound. No matter how shocking or strange panpsychism sounds I am reminded at what Sherlock Holmes said, that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth. Can science accept this deduction and if not how do we prove that which we have not been able to prove, other than keep trying even though the truth is already in front of us?
Buddhism teaches us that all beings have mind and or what we call Buddha nature, that is the ability to realize one’s full potential. Many teachers, when asked if plants have mind, would deny it and say that simply if it moves like an ant or something then it has mind. As we know plants only sort of move in their relationship to water and sunlight and the various degrees to which they require their nutrients. This could be a very basic version of attraction and aversion. This rather narrow view is on the outset not as encompassing as panpsychism. However, Buddhism requires us to break down any borders or boundaries between us and other things, this even applies to all concepts and ideas so why not to all phenomena as well. At an ultimate understanding of mind, where nothing has any true or independent existence in and of itself, all things would seem to have all the same qualities; conscious and otherwise. I would like to quote David Bohm once more here: “The notion of a separate organism is clearly an abstraction, as is also its boundary. Underlying all this is unbroken wholeness even though our civilization has developed in such a way as to strongly emphasize the separation into parts.” From the Undivided Universe: An Ontological Interpretation of Quantum Theory
This oneness without separation or boundary is exactly what we are talking about when Buddhists say that subject, object and action come together as one. This is known as the state of Mahamudra or complete and full awareness or consciousness. Once we have reduced this ontologically either in meditation, philosophically, or scientifically all that there is left points to just consciousness or mind and nothing else seems to matter, even matter itself. Imagine that, matter doesn’t matter. In this simple state of just being, connected with everything, and aware of all that there is, a state of great joy and bliss arises. Total freedom of mind, no more running from or reaching for, just complete happiness and wisdom resting in the suchness of everything. Here is where we can be really effective in this confused and angry world. Here is where we can really be the change that we wish to see in the world.
So is consciousness everywhere and in all things? I think so. Its simple beauty is both profound and inspiring, especially to the Buddhist ear. Modern science seems to agree more and more with this conclusion and I can only ask when or will modern society see the light as well? Perhaps Panpsychism is even the solution to the hard problem of consciousness. Which is to question how and why sentient organisms have qualia or phenomenal experiences.
For my German speaking audience I found two very interesting videos that discuss Panpsychism. The first one from Professor Harald Lesch a wonderful physisist, astronomer, and philosopher who explores panpsychism from a purly astrophysical perspective with quite an open mind even though he does not agree with the idea.
The second video from Gerd Scobel actually a friend of Professor Lesch explores the topic from a philosophical perspective.
Personally, I think the Buddha Dharma has already answered this question, but that’s a topic for another post. This for me is just another way in which we see that consciousness is the vehicle in which the universe is becoming aware of itself. Why else would it be so beautiful and blissful to experience it either in meditation or by scientific discovery? Let us take this and use it as a tool to better the world and our fellow beings in every imaginable way. Whatever your view is on this topic I would love to hear from you, please feel free to comment below.
” ‘Participant’ is the incontrovertible new concept given by quantum mechanics. It strikes down the ‘observer’ of classical theory, the man who stands safely behind the thick glass wall and watches what goes on without taking part. It can’t be done, quantum mechanics says it…May the universe in some sense be ‘brought into being’ by the participation of those who participate?”
This statement from John Wheeler is game-changing. The movement from static observer status to that of a dynamic conscious participant is truly revolutionary or is it? Science is often slow to react to such outrageous ideas such as this. Remember how long it took us to accept that the earth was a sphere and that it orbited around the sun? Even Quantum Physics had taken its time in the last 100 years to become a household word where many have a basic understanding of at least some the simplest ideas it has proposed to mankind. How would science test John Wheeler’s aforementioned statement other than referring to the famous double slit experiment? How would one propose to observe the participation of the observer on a universal scale and in a scientific frame? This question has many philosophical ramifications as well. But when we want to explore these scientific and philosophical ideas perhaps we do not need to reinvent the wheel. Perhaps the Hermitic axiom of as above so below or as outside so inside might help us here to understand this very complex relationship we find ourselves in. If the answers we are seeking can be found within then we need’ent look further than to understand the Buddha Dharma and Adhyatma Vidya. The Science of Mind has for 1000’s of years clearly pointed out our conscious interactions with the form-based or objective world that we find ourselves in.
As a practitioner of the Buddha Dharma, I have come to understand observation and participation quite intimately. I observe my mind daily; both in everyday situations and in meditation. I examine my actions after I do them and I examine how thoughts arise, exist, and return to mind in meditation. I know that Buddha nature is in everyone and everywhere, and all living beings want to be happy and avoid suffering. I understand that we are participating in consciousness, both karmically and actively by choosing not only what we do and how we do it but how we see and understand everything around us. I have also grown to know freedom and wisdom very well. Freedom in both mind and in the world is the underlying cause of great bliss and joy. Wisdom and deep understanding are knowing not only how to do something but why, if, or when it needs to be done.
For example, the Buddha Dharma teaches us that there are 4 factors that maximize the effects of karma. They are 1) That we know and understand the situation, 2) Wish or plan to do it or wish or plan to have it done 3) Then do the act or have it done, and 4) Being happy or satisfied about the results afterwards. Let us examine two slightly extreme examples. The first, both before and during WW2 Adolf Hitler was chancellor of Germany no one should have had a better understanding of Germany’s situation better than him. He and his government planned the return of Germany to the top of the world stage. Then the plan was methodically enacted step by step. I think that even in his death Hitler was happy and proud of what he had done. Here all four factors of Karma are strongly realised. The next example is related but fictional. Let’s suppose that I was alive in Hitler’s time and I killed him before the first concentration camp opened up. I knew and understood the situation, I planned the act of his assassination and then carried it out. I was devastated to have killed someone but undeniably happy to have saved millions of lives and untold suffering. So here as well all four criteria are met for the strongest karmic imprints in one’s mind. OK perhaps, they are 95% met as I was not happy to have killed in the first place, but I was only happy with the result. Does this 5% make a big difference here? Of course, there is and its a question of wisdom and compassion.
Buddhism teaches us that there needs to be a balance between our actions of compassion and wisdom. When one acts or participates only with compassion we are soft and even mushy. We can be slow to stand up and act in ineffective ways. I think we all know how cold and hard pure wisdom can be. Imagine telling a loved one or family member the truth about something hurtful but in a direct and unloving way. Wisdom and compassion show us how to be loving and effective in the world. Sometimes the most compassionate thing to do is to act with wisdom and kill the Hitlers of this world or stand up and protect others and our freedoms that are constantly under attack. The question is one of motivation, do we act from love or anger do we benefit only ourselves or do we benefit all? Understanding the mindful identification of what is driving our participation in the universe is a central tenant of the Buddha Dharma. I would challenge everyone reading this to think about how your actions resonate not only within your personal lives but on a universal scale as well. Don’t just observe but participate actively for the benefit of all. Be the change we want to see in the world. Be the change that this world so desperately needs.
May the universe you”bring into being”by your conscious, active, and mindful participation be one of great bliss.
May all beings know and live in freedom and have the causes of freedom.
More and more every day modern science is coming to terms with what on the outset was an uncomfortable reality. That is that the observer (you and I) play not just an important role in reality or in our universal experience but actually that we are the deciding factor at the centre of it all. I think for the most part modern science has tried to stay an arm’s length away from any of the organised or generally accepted world religions and this is not necessarily a bad thing, while many of the world’s religions seem hellbent on destroying each other and have become so inflexible because of dogma. There is, however, one notable exception the Buddha Dharma. The Buddha Dharma is without a doubt the most peaceful, humanistic, and scientific of all organised religions. Please note that I personally do not subscribe to the fact that Buddhism is a religion, and I object to the suffix of “ism” as well, but common convention begs to differ and I use the term religion here in this light. If science was ever looking for or in need of a partner to explain the world as it is, the Buddha Dharma is up for the challenge. Why do I say that? Certainly not just because I am convinced of that myself, but because a growing number of scientists are also convinced or at least make comments that lean more and more in this direction. This is not an easy thing to do as science tends to push back on individuals who cross the perceived line of separation between science and religion.
Let’s examine and discuss three quotes that I have found inspiring and relevant to this discussion.
R.C. Henry professor of physics and astronomy at Johns Hopkins University in a 2005 essay is quoted as saying:
A fundamental conclusion of the new physics also acknowledges that the observer creates the reality. As observers, we are personally involved with the creation of our own reality. Physicists are being forced to admit that the universe is a “mental” construction.
Pioneering physicist Sir James Jeans wrote
“The stream of knowledge is heading toward a non-mechanical reality; the universe begins to look more like a great thought than like a great machine. Mind no longer appears to be an accidental intruder into the realm of matter, we ought rather to hail it as the creator and governor of the realm of matter. Get over it, and accept the inarguable conclusion. The universe is immaterial-mental and spiritual.
– Eugene Wigner, theoretical physicist and mathematician said:
“It was not possible to formulate the laws of quantum mechanics in a fully consistent way without reference to consciousness.”
So how is this relevant to the Buddha Dharma? The underlying theme to these three quotes can be summarized in the following points and the following ideas:
The role of the observer and consciousness in the perceived reality of the universe.
The pointing out or pointing to the idea that Subject and Object are interdependent and non separable.
1. The mental processes the observer goes through when perceiving something is described by Buddhist Theory of Perception and is traditionally called the study of the five Skandhas. Skandha is Sanskrit for heap, collection, or grouping. “The five skandhas are form, sensation, perception, activity, consciousness. A form can arise in the mind or outside of the mind. This form gives rise to a sensation, which gives rise to perception, followed byactivity (mental or physical), and lastly consciousness. In the Buddha’s explanation, the five skandhas occur one after the other, very rapidly. They are not a continuous stream but rather a series of discrete or discernible moments. A form arises or appears, then there is a sensation, then perception, then activity, then consciousness.” Thank you to Americanbuddhist.net for this description, the full article can be read here. I personally find that the activity phase of this process is the most interesting, it is here where we colour the perceived experience with a combination of all the impressions in our store consciousness and immediately decide if what we perceive is good or bad. This is the very basis of aversion or attraction, this is what keeps us busy our whole lives running to or away from the things we see. Each and every time we perceive something the process of the five skandhas is repeated without stopping over and over again and we may even experience multiple events overlapping one another. Each individual instance may be named “a moment of mind or consciousness” and many moments of mind strung together is best described as our “Stream of Consciousness”. Our consciousness directs our awareness from one form or arising to another. We are very clearly caught up in a process of observation, judging or evaluating and then acting on all phenomena that we in one way or another come into contact within the universe.
2. The interdependence of subject and object are central to many philosophical discussions within the different schools of Buddhism. One can summarise the major point here with the age-old question, what came first the chicken or the egg? The answer is rather simple you simply cannot have one without the other therefore it is irrelevant as to what came first when we must have both. So to go a little deeper the thought process goes like this: if we have a universe of objects with no subjects we should have to ask what would be the point of it be? All these wonderful things with nothing to enjoy them. Conclusion, objects without subjects are meaningless. On the flip side, what use is a subjective universe full of subjects with no objects to perceive or enjoy? It simply makes no sense to have one without the other. Consciousness requires something to be conscious “of”. So we have this absolutely amazing universe and we are here to discover and enjoy it.
The only thing missing here is action. What do I mean by that? Well in Buddhism we learn that not only are subject and object inseparable co arising phenomena, so are subject, object, and action. Action is important as if there are only subjects and objects and nothing happening well this is just boring. Luckily there is unlimited action in our universe, things never stop moving and changing. Everything is in a constant state of flux as each and every time we interact with something the “Whole of the Universe” is changed as it reacts to our play with it. These are the views held by the Madhyamika school of Buddhist Philosophy.
I firmly believe that we are evidence that the universe is conscious of itself and furthermore, we are constantly creating and choosing our past, present, and our future and we then choose how we see or interpret it as good or bad, in the way the Buddha Dharma has shown us. If you can agree that we are indeed choosing our adventure, lets all consciously decide to choose a positive and joyful adventure for the benefit of all beings.
“Everything we call real is made up of things that cannot be regarded as real” Niels Bohr. What exactly did Neils Bohr mean here? In modern Quantum Physics, we begin to understand that what we have learned such as particles or atoms to be nothing more than probabilities and potentials. We don’t actually know what an atom looks like or exactly where they are and we likely never will. We guess as to their exact positions and properties with complex mathematical equations and complex experiments some costing billions of dollars. To a Quantum Physicist, the idea of a Ven Diagram showing how oxygen and carbon atoms react is like teaching the Dalai Lama about the Buddhas birth. Quantum Physics has completely changed how modern science looks at the reality in which we think we live. To a Buddhist, this is music to our ears. It sounds very much like the teachings of emptiness. To some, the concept of emptiness is troublesome and it can be hard to wrap your mind around it. It has been described by some very early Christian translations to mean nothingness. This makes us Buddhists sound like nihilists. This was likely done on purpose as to discredit, to falsely portray, or confront Buddhism and further the creation myth by the Church and her missionaries. However, Buddhism is as far from nihilism as Christians are from hell. We define emptiness by saying that all phenomena have no intrinsic or independent existence of their own. To detail this teaching classicly we need to discuss the twelve points of dependent origination. But to make things easy I will simply try to answer that age-old question “if a tree falls in the forest does anyone hear it?” For example, let us take something beautiful like a rose. Does a rose really exist? Another way to ask this is to say does the rose exist independently in and of itself? In Buddhist Philosophy for something to really exist it must be independent of all other phenomena. The answer is no, the rose does not exist independently of anything, it is as we know dependant on sunlight for example. One step further and we see that there is no sunlight without the sun. There is no sun without the sun’s ongoing nuclear reactions and no reactions without Helium and Hydrogen. We see here that rose is empty of independent existence. Or as some might say the rose is an expression of emptiness or empty in nature or essence. We agree with Niels Bohr and we understand the rose to be real but it is not.
Is there another way that we can understand the rose to not exist independently? Yes, if the rose is to be considered to be real and independent it must exist as it does now without changing. It cannot grow, bloom, and we could not even cut one from the plant as it would die and rot away. We know this independence to be false because the rose changes in every moment fully dependent on all the conditions it requires to be as it is. This is also understood as impermanence, as no thing lasts forever.
Now if I stop here I can imagine that some of you might say, “see this is Nihilism no things exist in Buddhism. And you might be right, however, I am reminded of a quote from a famous Buddhist Philosopher Nagarjuna, who said “If you think things are real you are as dumb as a cow, if you think they are not real you are even dumber” If you think trains are not real please do not stand in front of one that’s moving, as you will be suddenly surprised. We know phenomena are there because we can perceive them and be aware of them, they are however dependent on our perception and awareness. The famous double slit experiment is good evidence of this. Our observation imparts a temporary existence to them as we observe them. Just as the waveform collapses into particles that we can perceive as we observe them. They arise, exist, and dissolve back into the space or the field where all information exists as space is information. It would seem that we give phenomena their essence or that our observation is responsible for their creation. When we look around and see the sheer complexity and beauty around us it is clear that life is amazing and so full of potential and joy. We just need to slow down and simply pay attention to it; this is what we learn in meditation. So clearly Buddhists are not nihilists. Now for one to think that the traditional biblical creation myth we talked about earlier as the truth, one needs to assume that all of creation was finished after just 6 days. I firmly understand that it is preposterous and hubris to think anything other than, that creation is continuous and infinite. And when you come this far you might just see yourself as an integral part in all of it.
So the falling tree in the forest is dependent on the sun, the rain, and many other conditions around it not the least of which is us. Without someone to notice it there simply is no meaning or reason for the tree to exist in the first place.
“If quantum mechanics hasn’t profoundly shocked you, you haven’t understood it yet.” Niels’ words here are truly inspiring, I would expand to say this: If Buddhism hasn’t profoundly shocked you, you haven’t understood it yet. The more I learn the more I am shocked by the Buddha Dharma. I am often moved to tears when concepts like emptiness finally begin to sink in and are understood on deeper and deeper levels. I am convinced that Niels Bohr must have understood things in a similar fashion or he would not have said what he said.
As part of the scientific process, we ask a question, formulate a hypothesis design the experiment and carry it out and measure the result as objectively as possible. It’s the same in meditation. In the science of mind, the laboratory of traditional Buddhist meditation we look within ourselves as objectively as we can and observe our mind and inner being while listening for the wisdom and answers that are already there deep within our personal inner universe. We then apply this new found wisdom found in our meditation and look for and measure results in our daily lives we are often surprised to see how wonderfully we have changed and developed during our life experience.
So let’s begin our meditation experiment:
A traditional well thought out Buddhist meditation can be comprised of two main parts. In the first part called shine (shyiné), shamatha, or calming and abiding we find ourselves learning to hold our attention using our body, speech, and mind, in fact, we can use our entire totality here and calmly stay on one point of beautiful focus. When distracted we calmly accept and return without any À deieu . After sufficient time, we can be flexible here, we relax our calm focus and allow our full being to either become one with the object of the focus or to dissolve the object of the focus from its state of energy and light into wide-open awareness. After a few moments of open suchness, called laktong (lhagthong), insight, or vipassana we gently return to our normal state of awareness and wish that all beings can find a state of equanimity free from attachment and aversion.
So thankfully much of the preparation for the experiment has already been done during the 1000’s of years of yogis meditating and teaching others in the many traditions passed down from teacher to student in the far east. This is an important clue here, as with science every student needs a qualified professor to question and keep one on track, meditation requires a good teacher, one who understands western life and can communicate and direct the student at all points in the process of inner development is indispensable.
Once we understand the process and have our clearly stated hypothesis such as “meditation is a healthy way to increase my quality of life”, we begin. And sit and sit and sit……..
Are you still sitting?
What are the results? Well, they vary as much as individuals are individual, and while we should not try to grade or evaluate the meditation too much, but generally hindsight of a few weeks to many years shows some profound results. What are the more general results?:
1. Calm and relaxed behaviour.
2. Quiet acceptance of our situation.
3. Stress reduction
4. Space in mind to choose between tragedy or comedy within the challenges in life.
5. Ubiquitous love for all beings.
7. Timeless wisdom.
8. Unbounded joy and bliss.
The open laktong, space, or suchness phase of the meditation is where I have many of my best ideas and inspirations. The calm breathing and focusing follows me throughout the day and helps me complete my tasks at hand with love and sometimes creativity as well.
As with any experiment, unexpected results may arise. It is best to chat with your trusted professor or Lama as to how or why the results have occurred. Allow yourself to incorporate their advice into your personal experience and grow. Just like Quantum Physics is not for everyone and you might be better suited for some sort of Biology or Chemical studies, meditation is not for everyone. A good teacher will know if you are in the right place and may recommend yoga or even just mundane like running if meditation is not for you.
There may be challenges and hindrances that arise and a good teacher can guide you through them. One common one is “I just cannot quieten my mind or the hamster never stops running in his wheel” This “condition” is commonly called “monkey brain” and everyone suffers from it especially in the beginning. When we begin to look inside we start to see just how distracted we are all the time it’s not more or less than normal we just notice it for the first time, and it will subside.
It is also worthwhile mentioning that some individuals who suffer from deep depression or any type of psychosis should likely not meditate or do so only under the supervision of their therapist.
Thank you, have an amazing meditative and joyful day
Science, Jesus and the Buddha why can’t we just get along. I love WordPress immensely and the real sense of community that one with a little work can find here. Unfortunately, some of us are not so community orientated and like to bash others a bit, so what I would like to explore a bit is why it seems that Christians seem to want to single out and demonise Buddhists. Strangely enough, Christians do not seem to bash Islam or Hinduism hardly at all. Personally, I think this is strange because generally, Christians are great people they develop amazing Christ-like compassion and love. So why would they spread false information, call us idol worshipers and often even worse?
So why can’t we get along and respect each other and move forward with the things we agree on? Certainly what we agree on is more important than what divides us. Can we learn something from science in this area?
It seems to me that science stays out of the mess likely because you cannot prove dogma and we the religious ones simply cannot get along without our dogma. I would want to stay out as well if I was a scientist. So this asks the question what is dogma? A quick google search says“a principle or set of principles laid down by an authority as incontrovertibly true. “the Christian dogma of the Trinity” synonyms: teaching, belief, tenet, principle, precept, maxim, article of faith, canon;”
Wikipedia goes a little further to say: “Dogma is an official system of principles or tenets of a church, such as Roman Catholicism, or a philosophy such as Stoicism.
Dogma is transliterated in the 17th century from Latin (Latin dogma) meaning “philosophical tenet”, derived from the Greek ‘dogma’ (Greek δόγμα) meaning literally “that which one thinks is true” and ‘dokein’ (Greek dokeo) “to seem good.”
Dogma refers to positions such as those of a philosopher or of a philosophical school, or in a pejorative sense referring to enforced decisions, such as those of aggressive political interests or authorities. More generally it is applied to some strong belief that the ones adhering to it are not willing to rationally discuss. This attitude is named as a dogmatic one, or as dogmatism, and is often used to refer to matters related to religion, but is not limited to theistic attitudes alone. In Pyrrhonist philosophy “dogma” refers to assent to a proposition about a non-evident matter.”
Or paraphrased “a dogma is a strong belief, principle, or set of principles laid down by an authority as incontrovertibly true that the ones adhering to it are not willing to rationally discuss.” This is quite telling for me as many of the discussions I have had online with Christians were not rational, logical, or at the very least objective. Many also do not even engage in dialogue. Commonly what one gets is that the Bible says this or that and that the Bible is the unquestionable word of the Christian god no matter how it may contradict itself and all reason it is the source of absolute truth. Circular logic and non-sequiturs are commonplace as there is no thought process behind the seemingly blind belief or faith. And to be honest I have like any other human my own beliefs. But I understand that beliefs or faiths do not need to rational or logical as long as one recognizes it as such and keeps it to oneself and does not force them on others or use them to discredit others.
How does science deal with dogma? Science’s job is to ask meaningful questions, formulate hypotheses, and test them to the best of our ability with objective clarity and non-bias. This is not an easy challenge to stay rational and it simply demands logic and objectivity, the very opposite of what this system of religious dogma gives us. While scientific dogma does exist in the hearts of men and their favourite theories the very basis of science requires that when a new discovery is made and found to contradict a previously recognized truth the new discovery is subject to peer review and when warranted it is accepted by the review and the general community as a whole accepts it. But this can take time as the minds of men can become hard to change, but it can and does happen. Just think how long it took us to understand that the earth was not flat since the ancient Greeks theorised in the 6th century BC.
This is completely different from what we see in the three Abrahamic faiths all originating in the Middle East. Proponents of these “ideas” seem perpetually stuck in the idea that their version of the “truth” is the only one and the others are going to hell if they do not subscribe, swallow, or accept it. Worse yet many wars have been fought and will continue to be fought on the basis of irrational dogma and people who are incapable of rationally discussing and analysing their strongly held beliefs within and out from their respective communities. This downward spiral continues as long as those sacred beliefs are held to be true. This holding on to beliefs in spite of knowing rationally that there is no evidence to support them not only creates divisions where no divisions need to be but it suppresses any other new ideas from coming forth and to be developed for our society. This intolerance blossoms into anger, jealousy, and finally hate. The results of which the world knows all to well today when a terrorist expecting 72 virgins on his death walks into a crowded area and blows himself up along with all those around him. And why do we ask? Dogma. We see the same effects mirrored when a community of Palestinians is bulldozed to make way for Zionist condominiums and when Coptic Christians are beheaded by the fanatical ISIL in front of their place of worship in Egypt. Why can we not see the connection between stone thrower in one life and missile launcher in the next life. No matter how you look at it, it’s a simple textbook case of my book is more correct than yours when all the while they are worshipping the same god.
How does the Buddha Dharma and those who truly practice it deal with dogma and strongly held beliefs? Well for starters Buddhists do not proselytise, or witness to others, so to speak in a Sunday Term. Instead of commandments, we have advice. And the beliefs Buddhists do hold are not forced upon those who practice and there are no good or bad ideas just the impartial results that these good or bad deeds develop into, in our lives. The entire system of the eightfold path, four noble truths and all the sutras and tantras are designed to help us on the way and then once we have arrived they are to be discarded, every last one of them, everything is seen as impermanent. It would be like if you were climbing a mountain for example. Imagine that there is a river in the way between you and the top, you need a boat to cross the river to get to the other side but you do not carry the boat to the peak of the mountain, now do you? In fact, the Buddha himself was only a man and he taught that none of his teachings should be taken as the truth just because he is the Buddha, and further said that they should be tested for ourselves against our own experiences for truth. This sounds a lot like the scientific process to me. If there ever was a dogma in Buddhism it is that there is not supposed to be any dogma whatsoever. In fact, it is entirely possible to be a Christian and a Buddhist from the Buddhist perspective.
So what is it that Christians see in Buddhism that seems to be so threatening that in spite of other more deserving opportunities for them to fight against like violence, crime, and war? Could it be that what they see in the Buddha Dharma is the very same message that Jesus brought to the church in his reformation of the old Pharisees and the Scribes into a religion of forgiveness, compassion, non-violence, wisdom, and love for all? Are they reacting the same way that the Pharisees and Scribes did? When we minus all the violent genocidal baggage of the old testament most of the new testament is quite acceptable, maybe there is room for perhaps a third testament, after all the teachings of the Buddha and Jesus were not so different in their purest essence when all the hellfire and brimstone are left aside. The recent rise of curiosity to the eastern religions or wisdom traditions as of late for me represents a very humanistic/religious revival of sorts. Yoga schools, Buddhist centres and mindfulness teachers are popping up left right and centre. One can, of course, thank the well-laid foundation of freedom that we have from our Christian forefathers for this wondrous gift, maybe they feel threatened by Buddhism. As they see the positive growth and lasting change in Buddhist friends and even perhaps in other lands. The growth of the Buddha Dharma in the west is sure to keep on getting stronger and stronger as the critically thinking, well educated, and spiritually minded keep searching for lasting joy and wisdom in an ever more violent world of dogma and discourse. It seems to me that if science can help us it could only happen through education supported by the non-dogmatic discovery of meaningful scientific truth for the benefit of all living beings.
Thanks for reading, please share your thoughts
Feature image shows the 16th Karmapa with Pope Paul VI and attendant Jigmala Rimpoche in 1975
Adhyatma Vidya (skt.) is traditionally known as the knowledge of mind or true self or in a more modern sense the Science of Mind. The rich and fantastically elaborate culture of the ancient Indians were perhaps the first civilization to study, theorise, and test mind. And since the time of the historical Buddha, followers of the Buddha Dharma have been studying it ever since within the ever modern laboratory of meditation.
“Remember that there are many religions in the world. They can not be put under one heading since not all of them presuppose faith in an immaterial and immortal soul. Some of them – for example, Buddhism – may appear to be quite close to the concepts of modern science.” Francis H.C Crick
What is the laboratory of meditation? And what experiments are we doing when we meditate? Quite simply we are looking for the self or the observer. We are looking for that through which hears through our ears and sees through our eyes. We are looking for that part of us that has been with us since beginningless time that which has no colour, shape, or form, the part of us that never dies and was never born, but that part of us that we just seem to know or understand to always have been there.
“For a parallel to the lesson of atomic Theory regarding the limited applicability of such customary idealisations, we must, in fact, turn to the other branches of science, such as psychology, or even to that kind of epistemological problems with which already thinkers like Buddha and Lao Tsu have been confronted, when trying to harmonize our position as spectators and actors in the great drama of existence.“ Niels Bohr
Many great treatises have been written about Buddhist Epistemology (theory of perception), Nagarjuna’s Prajnaparamitas, and the processes that take place when we experience and interact with phenomena. It is understood that when we thoroughly examine all the relationships and dependencies (theory of dependent origination) we can find no thing that is truly independent or exists in and of itself. This could be a good way to explain the Buddhist idea of emptiness; empty of its own existence. In Sanskrit the word used is Shunyata. It is extremely important to note here that Emptiness or Shunyata is not “Nothing or nothingness” the root “Su” denotes a great swelling of possibilities. Wow, that sounds very exciting to me how about you? We live in a world of limitless possibilities and endless joy that arises from it. Space is rich and beautiful beyond our wildest imaginations.
As a man who has devoted his whole life to the most clearheaded science, to the study of matter, I can tell you as a result of my research about the atoms this much: There is no matter as such! All matter originates and exists only by virtue of a force which brings the particles of an atom to vibration and holds this most minute solar system of the atom together. . . . We must assume behind this force the existence of a conscious and intelligent Mind. This Mind is the matrix of all matter.
“I regard consciousness as fundamental. I regard matter as derivative from consciousness. We cannot get behind consciousness. Everything that we talk about, everything that we regard as existing, postulates consciousness.”
We have been ignoring modern science for more than 100 years now in the struggle against impermanence of all things composite. We glorify everything material and honour those who can amass the most. We could not be moving in a such a completely wrong direction as a species, how could we misunderstand or even ignore such a clear and concise description of the material world, from one of the most preeminent minds ever, as this? What did Max see on his blackboard filled with equations erased and scratched over once again that could lead him to such a profound observation such as this? After his years of study experimentation and research and this is how he sums it all up in the final years before the end of his life by saying consciousness is the root of all there is, there is no thing behind it.
Let us compare his summary to that of another scientist, not a normal scientist but a scientist of the mind, the third Karmapa. Rangjung Dorje born in Tingri Tibet in 1284. He studied mind within the laboratory of meditation. His professors were highly respected monks from a very long tradition of mind exploration dating back more than two thousand years earlier to old India, the birthplace of modern science. Well, we haven’t recognized it as such yet but one day we must, the Greeks as great as their minds were, only recycled what they had learned in the east, and claimed much of it as their own. Anyway, I digress. Karmapa wrote a song of Mahamudra, I put forward two verses for our comparison of these two masters of intellect.
Verse 9: All phenomena are projections of the mind. Mind is not “a” mind; the mind is empty in essence. Although empty, everything constantly arises in it. May precise examination sever mistaken views of the ground.
Verse 18: Through the examination of external objects we see the mind, not the objects. Through the examination of the mind we see its empty essence, but not the mind. Through the examination of both, attachment to duality disappears by itself. May the clear light, the true essence of mind, be recognized.
So we can surmise from both Max and the Third Karmapa that everything comes from mind. Max did not say where things go when they cease to exist but today we can logically infer that they must go back to where they have come from, as the Karmapa said.
Don’t you find this comparison interesting, from two totally different times and sources that are saying almost the same thing. It begs us to look deeper and just outside but within as well.
Are Buddhists meditating in order to reach a human equivalent of zero-point energy or quantum entropy within their personal energy fields, realms of experience, existence, or in mind? Buddhists often talk about reaching a point, between attachment and aversion. We understand that we use a tremendous amount of energy striving for the things we desire and want, and running away from and avoiding the things that cause us difficulties. Our battle against our likes and dislikes as dictated to us by our personal concepts literally takes up all of our time and energy. This constant attraction and aversion to all our thoughts is simply so much work and effort we hardly have the time to stop and notice its effects let alone do anything about it. When beginning to meditate most of us become acutely aware of just how many thoughts we have and how much time we spend thinking or daydreaming. We think wow I had no idea how many thoughts I have, wow I am so confused and distracted, or even I cannot even begin to meditate because we are so overwhelmed. So if we can come to this state or point of no longer battling between the two extremes, and can rest in the middle, the present, in mind or mindfulness, how might one view it? Where does this energy go, how is it used and could we put it to better use?
We could call this liberation, great joy, highest bliss, or even enlightenment. One might even use the Tibetan word “detong” here may be defined as the union of emptiness and joy. I would explain further that all the energy we use to run away from or to things would simply be transformed into joy when we realize this state of “meditative entropy”. I use the word entropy here to highlight that this energy that is defined as being unavailable in the system of our existence or the random chaos of thoughts that may be observed may just be the basis of all that was, is, and will be. The inert uniformity is also very interesting here. From a Buddhist perspective, one might point to the union of subject, object, and action; or a state of non-separation of all beings. All this points to an existence of entropy in all areas of our lives or quantum entropy of our life in all its many facets and interactions with all beings, all at once, and for all times.
When we talk about the ground state in quantum mechanics and the chaos that that arises from or within it, I cannot help but think of all the possibilities. Think about this, is the “process of degradation or running down or a trend to disorder, chaos, disorganization, or randomness a bad, good, or neutral thing, when it happens in mind? As with most if not all things in the Buddha Dharma it is neutral, it all depends on how we see it or interpret the battle of our likes and dislikes to all the possibilities of the wide open space of mind. Next time our bus is late or we have a seemingly difficult situation lets keep in mind once the situation relinquishes itself to impermanence and dissolves, we become free of its effects and all we had to do was to be patient and wait for quantum entropy to once again balance out in our lives. We can once again focus upon or see the beautiful and wonderful. I find this potential energy completely enthralling and inspiring. I want some of it, and not just some but all of it. Of course, I will share it with you all.
How do the laws of cause and effect and Quantum Entropy interact? When karma matures and arises it goes through a process. First, we do an action or have it done and then we experience the actions and their immediate results. This action leaves an impression in mind that will arise at a later date and result in an effect in our lives. Much like Newton’s third law that states for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction, the actions that we undertake and complete in daily life result in an equal reaction, in our minds ( I am not sure about an opposite reaction here). For example, when we hit someone with a left uppercut to the chin, we should not be surprised when someone hits us back in much the same way or in a similar fashion. This equalizing out of our actions is entropy at its best on a relative level in mind. Call it what you will, “you reap what you sow”, or some form of “do unto others as you would have them do unto you”, or the timely ripening of Karma, everything we say or do comes back to us in much the same form as that with which we sent it out with. And the result is always a tie game or Entropy. If this is true maybe we should only focus sending out the good stuff?
One of the most wonderful parts of my practice is to recite the four immeasurables. They are as follows: 1. May all beings have happiness and the cause of happiness. 2. May they be free from suffering and the cause of suffering. 3. May they experience happiness which is totally free of suffering and 4. May they remain in the great equanimity which is without attachment and aversion. The fourth one that details a state between attachment and aversion is exactly the balance we are seeking in our meditation and our lives. Here I would apply the second part of the definition “the degradation of the matter and energy in the universe to an ultimate state of inert uniformity” The ultimate state of uniformity how much more beautiful can this get? When everything is uniform, even, or level and totally in balance in the physical world. Would that not include us human beings as complex, unpredictable, and emotional as we are? There would be no yours or mine, no black and white, not even a here and there. What would we have to fight about? We could finally fully and totally relax and not have to worry about what the next guy is doing and work for the benefit of all. Equanimity or entropy take your pick the differences are small and the similarities are enormous.
Whether we are experiencing meditative detong, the equilizing out or the return of our actions (Karma), or equanimity; Quantum or Meditative Entropy will have its effect and even the score out. No matter if we are relating to one another on the relative or the ultimate level, our natural state is one of equilibrium, with all and within all, and in all times and directions. Our only choice is, do we choose to realise this and work with it or not? Do we have the courage to be responsible for our actions and live with the results, even if they affect us all on a quantum level?
Let’s choose a better path for ourselves, one that stands the test of time, endures the strictest of scientific evaluation, and models only the very best of our values and virtues. Do well, be well, and meditate well.
The following as of September 2016 were the definitions I have quoted in this entry:
He was a visionary of exemplary proportions, Nicola Tesla was way ahead of his time, perhaps even what some Buddhists might call a tulku or a high lama only that he was reborn in the west. One of my favourite Tesla quotes is “If you want to find the secrets of the universe, think in terms of energy, frequency, and vibration.” If this does not excite and elicit a strong response in the modern Buddhist, nothing will. I was inspired to say something about Tesla after reading this article in Sanskriti Magazine a few weeks ago. What impressed me the most was that he actually had some of his realizations before he met Swami Vivekananda, and their shared meeting only seemed to strengthen and cement his resolve that western science and Vedantic or eastern teachings were actually talking about the very same thing. I obviously find this extraordinarily interesting or I would not be here sharing this with you all. How I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall listening to them theorize together.
Likely one of the most important things Tesla has said was:
“All perceptible matter comes from a primary substance, or tenuity beyond conception, filling all space, the akasha or luminiferous ether, which is acted upon by the life-giving Prana or creative force, calling into existence, in never-ending cycles all things and phenomena.” ~ Nikola Tesla, Man’s Greatest Achievement, 1907 1 2
The simple beauty in this one sentence connecting both worlds not just on a literary level as he uses both English and Sanskrit terminology, but on a level of understanding unsurpassed by most if not all minds of the time. My take here is that from my Buddhist understanding the Akasha or Luminiferous Ether is what we might call Mind or perhaps consciousness. I will discuss in future blogs what modern science might call this today.
However what puzzles me the most is that if we as humans have been talking about this for ca. 7000 years why have we not come to any conclusions or a consensus between these two worlds?
I have several ideas as to why. Is it simply because of our hubris and pride that western society cannot reconcile that we are not the smartest or wisest beings on the planet? Is our understanding of eastern religions and philosophy still tainted be the catholic missionaries interpretations of Vedic, Hindu and Buddhist texts in the 17 and 1800s that positioned Buddhists as nihilists wanting to lose themselves in nothingness, disappearing from existence into a black hole? Did we lose most of the ancient knowledge in the burning of the libraries of Nalanda in India and Alexandria in Egypt, due to religious wars, and it has taken us ca. 2000 years to catch up? Or is it simply that we have not sat down and discussed the possibilities in enough open forums such as this?
Does Tesla inspire you? Do you have an affinity towards Vedic or Buddhist teachings even though you do not have a religious practise? What are your thoughts and insights?
Quantum Entanglement is really one of my favourite theories it was Albert Einstein’s Achilles heel, a trouble he likely even took with him to his grave. He called it “Spooky Action at a Distance” The use of spooky conjures up all sorts of ghostly images that would raise concern to any scientist or anyone in the pursuit of the truth but I think Einstein liked this description. According to sciencedaily.com entanglement can be defined as a quantum mechanical phenomenon in which the quantum states of two or more objects have to be described with reference to each other, even though the individual objects may be spatially separated. This leads to correlations between observable physical properties of the systems. For example, it is possible to prepare two particles in a single quantum state such that when one is observed to be spin-up, the other one will always be observed to be spin-down and vice versa, this despite the fact that it is impossible to predict, according to quantum mechanics, which set of measurements will be observed. As a result, measurements performed on one system seem to be instantaneously influencing other systems entangled with it.
Buddhism teaches entanglement when we say that everyone else has been our mother in the past, we are all entangled or related to one another in one way or another. This is why we should be aware of Karma or cause and effect. When we act or do something, the law of cause and effect results in entanglement. Our actions will result in an effect in our own lives later in time or they leave immediate impressions in mind that will paint our future perceptions of what happens to us. It is in everyone’s best interest to make this interaction a positive one. Not just for ourselves but for others as well. Some schools of Buddhist philosophy even express entanglement as “space is information”. This offers a different perhaps more complimentary explanation to quantum mechanics than my previous one. If throughout space even beyond our perception of the universe, we found that at every possible place, point, or time that everything imaginable exists; this would explain Einstein’s spooky action at a distance quite handily. I can go on further here but I will save it for another entry. As before am I on to something here or out to lunch? Do you have anything to add or subtract?
I want to leave this entry with a very beautiful poem by Tyler Kent White that seems to accentuate the theme I am putting forward here.
Superposition may be defined as The quantum mechanical property of a particle to occupy all of its possible states simultaneously. This property of multiple coexisting states of existence persists until the superposition is measured, observed, or interacted with. Superposition is classically explained by Schrödinger’s Cat. A cat is imagined as being enclosed in a box with a radioactive source and a poison that will be released when the source (unpredictably) emits radiation, the cat being considered (according to quantum mechanics) to be simultaneously both dead and alive until the box is opened and the cat observed. Its kind of a funny thing to think about, but it begs a few important questions.
What role does the observer play not only in science but in perception in general?
What roles do subject, object, and action, the three subparts of observation, really play in our awareness in meditation?
What are Buddhists attempting to observe in meditation, is this all the same thing?
The Buddhist perspective might be that everything in the universe is constantly in superposition until mind perceives it or consciousness collapses the wavefront and all the possibilities condense into one. One might even say that to a Buddhist all possibilities exist in every situation we experience.
We can say that all possibilities exist within mind, and mind being no thing, is beyond our normal observation but not beyond meditation. When subject, object, and action come together within the meditation we witness the inseparability of ourselves and others. We attempt or practice to do this in the meditation and to then bring it forth in our daily lives. This is commonly called being in the moment or mindfulness. We use these phrases daily almost flippantly while ignoring their much deeper meaning.
The Sanskrit word Mahamudra is a state reached by meditation. Mahamudra could be defined in two parts; as Maha or super and mudra or position. If there are any Sanskrit experts out there, I am curious as to your thoughts on this. Please understand that my Sanskrit is often coloured by my understanding of Tibetan and a very good Indian friend. Mahamudra has been the subject of many beautiful and cryptic songs or prose in Tibet since 1000 ad. The realization of Mahamudra is enlightenment. Our goal in Buddhism is to discover our true potential. This true potential is Enlightenment.
Do you agree, or feel otherwise? Or perhaps you have something to add?