“Religious interpretations invariably reduce complexity to uniformity while elevating matter-of-factness to holiness […] And the crucial distinction that each truth requires being acted upon in its own particular way (understanding anguish, letting go of its origins, realizing its cessation, and cultivating the path) has been relegated to the margins of specialist doctrinal knowledge. Yet in failing to make this distinction, four ennobling truths to be acted upon are neatly turned into four propositions of fact to be believed. The first truth becomes: “Life Is Suffering”; the second: “The Cause of Suffering Is Cravings—and so on. At precisely this juncture, Buddhism becomes a religion.”
“[A]ccording to Camus, if the absurd is not to degenerate into moral nihilism it must rehabilitate itself in the light of revolt, and that if revolt is not to deteriorate into a regime of tyranny and oppression, it must remain conscious of its origins in the absurd premise.
In Hazel Barnes’s translation of Being and Nothingness, the Sartrean absurd is defined as “That which is meaningless. Thus man’s existence is absurd because his contingency finds no external justification” (Sartre 1956: 628). In marked contrast, for Kierkegaard, the absurd refers to that quality of Christian faith that runs counter to all mundane human experience or, in Kierkegaard’s terms, “The absurd, precisely by reason of its objective repulsion, is the dynamometer of the inwardness of faith” (Lowrie 1938: 336; cf. Kierkegaard 1941: 189).
Reviewing Sartre’s Nausea in 1938, […] Camus criticizes the author for “thinking that life is tragic because it is wretched”, and argues that “the realisation that life is absurd cannot be an end in itself but only a beginning”. “It is not the discovery which is interesting,” argues Camus, “but the consequences and rules for actions which can be drawn from it.”
Camus claims that the absurd arises out of the “confrontation between human need and the unreasonable silence of the world” (MS: 32; E: 117–18). Human beings are naturally inclined to want and expect the world to be intelligible “in the full and familiar ways that religious and philosophical systems have portrayed it”. This kind of intelligibility purports to be comprehensive, to explain the world as a whole, and crucially, it purports to explain the world “in terms that human beings care about”, in ways that make sense “with respect to human values”. In Camus’s view, neither human existence nor the world are themselves absurd. Instead the absurd arises because the world is resistant to this kind of intelligibility: “we want the world to make sense, but it does not make sense. To see this conflict is to see the absurd” (Kamber 2002: 52). “If there is an absurd,” Camus says at one point, “it is in man’s universe” (MS: 38; E: 124). What normally brings the individual into confrontation with his absurd condition, suggests Camus, is the awareness not of human mortality per se, but of his own personal mortality. In the case of Camus himself, this awareness came with his f irst attack of tuberculosis, in 1930 or 1931, at the age of seventeen. For someone whose juvenile writing displayed a profound bond with the natural world, the sudden visceral awareness of his own mortality, the imperviousness of nature to the private traumas of humankind, the feeling of dying slowly from the inside, the painfully asphyxiating experience of the pneumothorax treatments that denied him even the pantheistic prayer of uninhibited respiration, left clear fissures in the latent pantheism of his earliest, mainly lyrical, writing.3 However, this is not to say that the absurd is born of an irrational response to the realization of human mortality. While feelings of the absurd may thus be awoken, awareness of the absurd, Camus insists, is specifically a rational, intellectual discovery, deduced from the recognition of the division between our expectations of the world and the world itself, unresponsive to those expectations (MS: 26; E: 112).
It is Camus’s contention that ordinary human existence tends to take this level of perfect coherence for granted, but that occasionally, or perhaps inevitably, “the stage-sets collapse”, and one is wrenched from one’s ontological complacency and forced to confront the radical incoherence perceived to be at the heart of the relation between the self and the world, that sense of absurdity which a recent critic has characterized as “the feeling of radical divorce, of living in a once familiar but now suddenly radically alien homeland, of being adrift between past and future and unable to rely on either to give meaning to the present, of being a stranger to the world and to oneself” (Carroll 2007b: 56–7).
He asserts repeatedly that it is the implications of the absurd that interest him: “I was looking for a method and not a doctrine. I was practicing methodical doubt.” The absurd, then, as conceived by Camus is fundamentally an epistemological claim addressing an ontological need; that is, a claim regarding the knowledge we can have of the world.
For Camus the absurd describes “a tension, born of a discrepancy between external reality and the human desire for familiarity”, but this does not discount such things as the existence of beauty, friendship, health, satisfying work and creativity.”
“One has to be light to oneself, and you cannot possibly depend on anyone. You cannot have light from another. It cannot be lit by whoever it is — God, or saviours, or Buddhas — it cannot be handed down to you. One has to be totally, completely, a light to oneself. This doesn’t mean selfishly.”
– Do you mean then that none of us needs any of these teachings handed down to us, that we can all discover these things for ourselves?
It is certain that every man is the story of mankind. Obviously. And if one knows how to read oneself, the story of oneself, which is very complex, which needs a great deal of attention… A mind that doesn’t distort facts, what is actually seen, that such an attentive sensitive awareness (that’s easy to cultivate, easy to have), then one can read about oneself, without any illusion.
– You say you will never be put under any pressure, and indeed I can see and understand that. One only has to look at you, or read you, or listen to you to know that. But how about the rest of us? How do we get out from under this burden?
If we all say ‘we won’t be under pressure’…
– We all ARE under pressure.
No. We won’t be.
– How can we refuse it? I mean, how can we live in the real world, the job is waiting for us, we are going to be late, we’ve got an appointment….
That brings up whether society can be changed. […] The communists tried it, the socialists are trying it, various systems are trying to change society. Now, what is society? It is an abstraction of our personal relationships. If our personal relationship changes — radically — society changes. But we are not willing to change. We admit wars, we accept all this… terrible state of existence.
– How do we stop it?
No, revolt against it! Not in the sense of become a communist, all that kind of stuff. Psychologically revolt against it.”
“Advanced meditators sometimes report experiencing a “witness consciousness” that seems to roughly fit this description of the second kind of consciousness, and some of them experience it for a long time. Maybe if it lasted forever they could claim to be enlightened. Maybe this “witness consciousness” is where the “you” that is left over after liberation resides.
Maybe. Or maybe we should just acknowledge that Ajahn Chah was onto something: trying to understand the idea of not-self by “intelectualizing” could make your head explode. And maybe, in light of this possibility, we should stop the intellectualizing right here.
Of course, your head, though intact, may still be in a somewhat confused state. But I have good news: you don’t have to dispel your confusion right now; you can wait a few years, until you’ve meditated so much that you become fully enlightened. Then, having directly aprehended not-self, you can explain it to me.
Meanwhile, here’s what I recommend: Continue to entertain the proposition you’ve probably been entertaining your whole life, that somewhere within you there’s some thing that deserves the name I. And don’t feel like you’re committing a felony-level violation of Buddhist dogma just because you think of yourself as being a self. But be open to the radical possibility that your self, at the deepest level, is not at all what you’ve always thought of it as being. If you followed the Buddha’s guidance and abandoned the massive chunks of psychological landscape you’ve always thought of as belonging to you, you would undergo a breathtaking shift in what it means to be a human.
[Peter] Harvey believes the not-self teaching “is not so much a thing to be thought about as to be done.” And who knows, maybe that was the Buddha’s view of the matter. Maybe he wasn’t really try ing to articulate a doctrine but rather to draw you down a path. And that path involves showing you how many things there are that you think of as part of your self but that don’t have to be thought of that way. In this view, the Buddha, in that first discourse on the not-self, wasn’t delivering a lecture about metaphysics or the mind-body problem or anything else so purely philosophical; he was just trying to get the monks to think about their minds in a way that would lead them toward liberation.
This might explain that feature of the discourse that people who think of the self as a CEO find odd: that the Buddha’s criterion for labeling a part of you not-self is that it’s not under control rather than that it’s not in control. Maybe by not-self the Buddha just meant something like “not usefully considered part of your self” or “not to be identified with”. In which case he was basically saying, “Look, if there’s part of you that isn’t under your control and therefore makes you suffer, then do yourself a favor and quit identifying with it!”
“Psychology has two traditional models of learning, classical and operant conditioning. In classical conditioning an agent learns the association of features, food and bell ringing in Pavlov’s famous example, provided the features meet various conditions, such as proximity of time of occurrence. Measured by drops of saliva, Pavlov’s dogs learned to expect food from bell ringing, and I count that as learning an association, but they did not learn anything about causation—they did not learn the effects of any intervention; for example, how to bring about or to prevent either the presentation of food or the ringing of the bell.
Some associations between a prior feature and a subsequent feature hold because the occurrence of the first feature caused the occurrence of the second feature, and some associations hold for other reasons—often because some third feature caused both the first and the second: Pavlov (or his assistants) caused both the bell to ring and the food to appear. By contrast, in operant conditioning an agent learns both an association and at least a fragment of a causal relation. Skinner’s pigeons learned that pecking a target is associated with the appearance of food pellets, and they learned at the same time how to control or influence the appearance of food pellets—by pecking the target.That partial causal knowledge was evidenced by an acquired skill, a competence at bringing about the presence of food by appropriate pecking, and of course not by anything linguistic. Skinner and his assistants arranged the mechanism, but given that mechanism each bird learned a causal conditional: if it pecks, food appears.
The causal knowledge acquired in operant conditioning may be radically incomplete if it is confined to implicit knowledge of the effects of the learner’s own actions, and not generalized to yield an understanding of the effects of other sources of intervention. It is one thing to know that if I peck on the target, a food pellet will appear, another to knowthat if there is a blow on the target, from whatever source, a food pellet will appear. A full causal understanding separates events that are subject to a system of causal relations from interventions that alter them, and implies a general grasp of the relevant interventions. Learning by imitation seems to indicate a more complete causal understanding. Meltzoff and Moore (1977) showed that very young babies imitate some of the actions of others, and of course older children and adults imitate all the time. Imitation can be for its own sake, from which useful consequences may later be discovered, or may be acquired along with knowledge of the consequences of the act imitated. In the latter case, imitation is the manifestation of an efficient way of acquiring causal knowledge, a way that identifies an act as a generic kind, that recognizes the causal power of the kind, and that recognizes the agent’s own action as an instance of the kind, no matter how different from the observed action of another one’s own action may look or feel to oneself. There is, of course, a reverse inference, from observation of the consequences of one’s own actions to knowledge of the consequences of like actions by others.
Learning causal relations from observations of others’ actions is essential for the accretion of causal knowledge that constitutes culture. It is, therefore, interesting that recent studies suggest that nonhuman primate modes of learning by imitation may be seriously limited in comparison with humans, either because they do not imitate, or do not learn from observations of others the consequences of imitated actions.
Whatever the biological constraints and imperatives concerning the formation of concepts of kinds, it seems likely that humans and perhaps other creatures also have the capacity to fashion kinds to suit their environments. Adults certainly fashion many categories to discriminate causal powers, and presumably children do as well.There may be many ways that causal roles influence categorization, but consider just one of the ways suggested by network representations. From the point of view of Bayes nets, fashioning kinds is fashioning variables, deciding when perceptual or historical differences should be used to separate things into distinct kinds, and when they should be ignored. The “should be” has to do with whatever promotes causal understanding, prediction, and control.
Simon has often insisted that intelligence works best in an “approximately decomposable” world, a world where not everything is hooked up to everything else, and the influences of causes are approximately separable. One of the morals of computational research on Bayes nets is that their utilities are only available when the domain is structured so that the networks are sparse. If every variable is in fact dependent on every other variable, conditional on every other set of variables, little about causal structure can be learned from the data short of a complete set of randomized experiments, and, were such a complex causal structure to be known, prediction and control would be infeasible to compute with it.
But knowledge of a causal structure is useful in prediction and control only if the structure is not completely empty, only if some features influence other features. Causal knowledge from fragmentary observations, possible when the causal structure is sparse, is useful only when some things influence others, but the structure is still sparse.
Whether the causal relations in a domain are sufficiently sparse to be tractable and sufficiently dense to aid prediction and control depends in part on how the variables are specified—on the kinds. Dense causal structures are sometimes resolved into sparser causal structures by introducing new kinds.”
Life has no whence; it is carrying forth, and carrying forth again. Death had no whither; it is carrying away, and carrying away again. Ultimately, how is it? If the mind does not differ, myriad things are one suchness.
Cease and desist, and you are like an ocean taking in a hundred rivers. When you get here, there is no grasping or rejection.
Let go, and you are like a great tide riding on a high wind.”
“So students of the Way, only recognizing the actions and movements of perception and cognition, empty out their perception and cognition, so their minds have no road to go on, and they attain no penetration. Just recognize the basic mind in perception and cognition, realizing all the while that the basic mind does not belong to perception and cognition and yet is not apart from perception and cognition.
Just do not conceive opinions and interpretations on top of perception and cognition, and do not stir thoughts on perception and cognition. Do not seek mind apart from perception and cognition, either, and do not try to get to reality by rejecting perception and cognition. When you are neither immersed nor removed, neither dwelling nor clinging, free and independent, then nothing is not a site of enlightenment.”
” A pragmatist must also insist (with Goodman, Nietzsche, Putnam, and Heidegger) that there is no such thing as the way the thing is in itself, under no description, apart from any use to which human beings might want to put it. The advantage of insisting on these points is that any dualism one comes across, any divide which one finds a philosopher trying to bridge or fill in, can be made to look like a mere difference between two sets of descriptions of the same batch of things.
“Can be made to look like,” in this context, does not contrast with “really is.” It is not as if there were a procedure for finding out whether one is really dealing with two batches of things or one batch. Thinghood, identity, is itself description-relative. Nor is it the case that language really is just strings of marks and noises which organisms use as tools for getting what they want. That Nietzschean-Deweyan description of language is no more the real truth about language than Heidegger’s description of it as “the house of Being” or Derrida’s as “the play of signifying references.” Each of these is only one more useful truth about language — one more of what Wittgenstein called “reminders for a particular purpose.” The particular purpose served by the reminder that language can be described in Darwinesque terms is to help us get away from what, in the Introduction to Volume I, I called “representationalism” and thus from the reality—appearance distinction. Unsurprisingly, I see the best parts of Heidegger and Derrida as the parts which help us to see how things look under nonrepresentationalist, nonlogocentrist descriptions — how they look when one begins to take the relativity of thinghood to choice of description for granted, and so starts asking how to be useful rather than how to be right. I see the worst parts of Heidegger and Derrida as the parts which suggest that they themselves have finally gotten language right, represented it accurately, as it really is. These are the parts that tempted Paul de Man to say things like “literature … is the only form of language free from the fallacy of unmediated expression.”
“For mystics, the “self” is not an entity that stands opposed in a dualistic way to other entities. Instead, it is the clearing in which entities (including thoughts, feelings, perceptions, objects, others) appear. The idea that humans are not entities but the clearing in which entities appear eventually helped Heidegger overcome not only dualism, but also anthropocentrism, the attitude that humankind is the source of all value and that all things must serve human interests. By maintaining that humans are authentic only when they let a thing manifest itself in ways consistent with its own possibilities, not merely in accordance with its instrumental value, Heidegger countered the anthropocentrism of much of Western thought.
Heidegger maintained […] that the human being is not a thing but rather a peculiar kind of nothingness: the temporal-linguistic clearing, the opening, the absencing in which things can present themselves and thus “be.” If humans are not things, then we have to define “knowing” in a different way than before. Knowing is not a relation between two things, mind and object. Rather, knowing occurs because the openness constituting human existence is configured in terms of the three temporal dimensions: past, present, future. These dimensions hold open the horizons on which entities may manifest themselves in determinate ways – for example, as instruments, objects, or persons. Heidegger’s talk of the a priori character of the temporal horizons of human existence is analogous to Kant’s talk of the a priori categories of the human understanding.
Human understanding, then, does not take place inside a mind locked in the skull. Instead, understanding occurs because human temporality is receptive to particular ways in which things can present or manifest themselves. Here it is important to emphasize that what we ordinarily take to be the ultimate constituents of “mind” – thoughts, beliefs, assertions, and so on – are for Heidegger phenomena that occur within the temporal clearing constitutive of human understanding. Hence, minds do not make thoughts possible; rather, a priori human understanding of being makes it possible for us to encounter and to conceive of ourselves as “minds” with “thoughts” separated from the “external world.” For Heidegger, “thoughts” are not radically other than allegedly external entities, such as trees, cars, and books. Thoughts and cars are both entities manifesting themselves within and thus being understood as entities within the temporal clearing of human existence. […] Refusing to conceive of being as a kind of superior entity, an eternal foundation, ground, cause, or origin for things, Heidegger argued that for something “to be” means for it to disclose or to present itself. For this presencing (Anwesen) or self-manifesting to occur, there must be a clearing, an opening, an emptiness, a nothingness, an absencing (Abwesen). Human existence constitutes the openness necessary for the presencing (being) of entities to take place. […] For Heidegger, neither temporality (absencing, nothingness) nor being (presencing, self- manifesting) is an “entity.” Rather, they are the conditions necessary for entities to appear as such. We never “see” time or “touch” the presencing of things; rather, we see and touch the things that manifest or present themselves.
[…] we humans simply are the temporal openness or nothingness in which entities can appear as entities. In addition to such an argument, however, Heidegger maintained that the mood of anxiety [cf. dukkha] reveals the nothingness lying at the heart of human existence. While contending that anxiety is perhaps the most basic human mood, he also observed that it is such a disquieting mood that we spend most of our lives trying to keep it from overtaking us. Our unreflective absorption in the practices of everyday life – family relations, schooling, job activities, entertainment – keep us distracted enough that we manage to conceal from ourselves the weirdness of being human. Anxiety tears us out of everyday absorption in things; it reveals them to be useless in the face of the radical mortality,
finitude, and nothingness at the heart of human existence.
Why is human existence weird? Because humans are not things, but the clearing in which things appear. Although we are not fixed things, we define ourselves as if we were simply a more complex version of the things we encounter in the world: rational animals. Ordinarily, we identify ourselves with our thoughts, beliefs, feelings, attitudes, memories, bodies, material possessions, and so on. Such identification gives us a sense of stability and permanence, which covers up the essential groundlessness and emptiness of human existence. There is no ultimate “reason” for our doing what we do. We have to postulate our own reasons for doing what we do; we invent our own identities, although those identities to a great extent are determined in advance by social practices and norms that have
evolved historically. Moreover, as groundless nothingness, humans are essentially dependent and receptive, finite and mortal. The mood of anxiety is so disturbing because it reveals that “at bottom” we are nothingness, that our existence is ultimately groundless, and that we are essentially finite and mortal. In the face of such disclosures, little wonder that most people flee from the mood of anxiety.
[…] if we submit resolutely to what the mood of anxiety wants to reveal to us, we become authentic (eigentlich) in the sense of “owning” our mortal existence. As authentic, we assume responsibility for being the mortal openness that we already are. Assuming such responsibility is essential to human freedom. Instead of existing in a constricted manner – as egos with firm identities – we allow the temporal openness that we are to expand. This expansion allows things and other humans to manifest themselves in more complex, complete, and novel ways, rather than as mere objects or instruments for our ends. Conversely, by fleeing from anxiety into everyday practices and distractions, we conceal the truth about our own mortal nothingness and are thus incapable of allowing things to manifest themselves primordially.
Zen enlightenment, satori, involves direct insight into one’s radical groundlessness and nothingness. In the light of such a revelation, everyday practices (including working and eating) lose their meaning. Afterward, however, one reenters these practices, but in a way no longer burdened by ignorance about what it means to be human. Likewise for Heidegger, before becoming authentic one exists in accord with everyday practices; upon allowing anxiety to reveal one’s utter groundlessness and nothingness, everyday practices slide away into meaninglessness; afterward, one takes up everyday practices once again, but not in a merely conformist manner.
Instead, being authentic means being free to invigorate and to transform practices in light of the realization of their utter groundlessness. As groundless, things could be otherwise than they are at present. It is important to note, however, that for Heidegger freedom did not mean boundless license for the ego, but instead the capacity for human Dasein to “let things be” in ways other than as mere instruments for the ego. As the Zen tradition puts it, being enlightened means chopping wood and carrying water – but in a manner attuned to the presencing of things as it occurs beyond the dualism of “mind” and “body.”
One phase in this attempt involved conceiving of humans not as minds in skulls but rather as the temporal clearing or nothingness in which thoughts and trees, beliefs and cars can appear as entities. The
other phase in overcoming dualism involved challenging those who privileged theoretical assertions and abstract knowledge over against pragmatic activity. Instead of conceiving of humans as worldless intellects making abstract assertions about external objects, Heidegger defined humans as being always already involved in myriad practices that utilize many different things. These things do not manifest themselves abstractly as “objects,” but instead as tools involved in a complex set of relationships that constitute the “world” of human existence. Human existence, temporally oriented toward the future, is always pressing forward into possibilities opened up within the world. The practical involvements and practices of everyday life precede and make possible the theoretical knowledge so prized by philosophers. Heidegger emphasized the practical dimension of human existence by defining the very being of Dasein as “care.” To be human means to be concerned about things and to be solicitous toward other people. […] he later concluded that the objectifying scientific view did not result from any human decision or weakness, but was instead a proper part of the technological disclosure of entities, a disclosure that was itself a dimension of the “destiny of being.” The famous “tum” in Heidegger’s thinking occurred when he concluded that he could no longer conceive of being in terms of human understanding, but instead had to conceive of human understanding as an aspect of being itself.
[…] Ceasing to speak of temporality or nothingness as a dimension of human existence, he made clear that human temporality arises within a more encompassing “openness” or “region” that cannot be reduced to anything merely human. Later Heidegger emphasized that human existence is appropriated as the site for the self-disclosure or “being” of entities. Instead of conceiving of being from the perspective of human Dasein, then, Heidegger began “thinking” being in its own terms. This move was central to his attempt to abandon any remaining anthropocentrism discernible in his earlier work.
[…] The technological disclosure of entities, then, arose not because individuals were unable to endure anxiety, but instead because, since around Plato’s time, being as such had increasingly withdrawn itself from human view. Correlatively, Western humanity was blinded to the fact that human existence is the clearing for the being of entities. Hence, Western humanity increasingly came to understand itself as a peculiar entity – the clever animal- driven to dominate all other entities for the sake of gaining power and security. Heidegger argued that the emergence of the technological age in the twentieth century was the inevitable result of the clever animals’ craving for power.
By conceiving of being as the permanently present grounding for entities, Plato initiated the 2500-year history of metaphysics. Heidegger sought to transform this history by revealing that there is no eternal or final “ground” for things, that in fact what we mean by “being” is always shaped by historical factors.
Modem science forced entities to reveal themselves only in accordance with theoretical presuppositions consistent with Western humanity’s ever-increasing drive to gain control of everything. While during the industrial age the achievement of such control could be described as a means for the end of improving the human estate, during the technological era – which may be said to have commenced with the horrors of World War I – humanity itself has become a means to an end without purpose: the quest for power for its own sake, which Heidegger described as the sheer “Will to Will.”
The “world” constitutes itself by virtue of the spontaneous coordination or mutual appropriation of the appearances that arise – un-caused, from “no-thing” – moment by moment. Later Heidegger used the term logos to name this mutual coordination of appearances; hence, his claim that language (logos) lets things be. This account of the self-organization of uncaused appearances, which is close to Taoism, also provides the key to Heidegger’s proximity to Mahayana Buddhism. […] in calling for another beginning that
would displace the Western metaphysical quest for the ultimate ground of things, Heidegger questioned the validity of the West’s claim to cultural superiority. Belief in such superiority hinges on the conviction that Western rationality, especially as manifested in science and technology, constitutes the ground for things: to be means to be a representation for the rational subject. In deconstructing metaphysical foundationalism, however, Heidegger revealed the groundlessness not only of rationality, but also of the historical project of mastery based on such rationality.
The Buddhist Conception of Nothingness
According to Mahayana Buddhism, overcoming all forms of dualism is a necessary condition for emancipation from the suffering brought about by experiencing the world as divided into ego-subject and objects. In combating such dualism, Nagarjuna emphasized anatma, the doctrine that there is no essence, core, or substance to things. According to this doctrine, all things arise together simultaneously and are radically codependent in the sense of mutually defining one another. This insight regarding internal relatedness or interdependent causation (pratityasamutpada in Sanskrit) not only undermines the notion of individual”substances” or “selves,” but also rejects the dualistic idea that “sentience” is a capacity enabling some entities to “perceive” others. Entities are not perceived “by” the mind, but instead “perception” and “entity” are different ways of describing a unitary cosmic event of luminosity or self-manifesting, an event that cannot be understood as merely “mental.” When we no longer experience the world dualistically as a collection of separate objects perceived by the mind, but instead as a moment-by-moment manifestation of interrelated phenomena, then we experience the whole universe as sentient, as inherently luminous.
The most famous metaphorical expression of this insight, advanced by the Hua-yen school, is the jewel net of the god Indra. Into this infinite net, representing the universe, are set an infinite number of perfect gems, each of which reflects the light given off by all the other gems throughout the expanse of the net. The play of reflected light is codetermined simultaneously by all the gems, no one of which stands in a “superior” or “causal” relation to the others. Mahayana Buddhism holds that the phenomenal world is akin to such an interplay of reflected appearances, in which each thing is aware of its relation to all other things. These appearances have no ground; there is nothing “behind” what appears, no substantial “ground” or “essence” to cause them. All things arise together in an internally cosmic event of reflection, which is sentient though not usually self-conscious. Based on the insight that all appearances are ultimately empty, Mahayana Buddhists draw the conclusion that form is emptiness and emptiness is form, a paradoxical conclusion whose “proof” demands direct insight, which argument alone cannot provide.
The doctrine of the radical emptiness of all forms, derived from the doctrine of dependent coproduction, suggests that every form, every phenomenon, has equal worth. Since there are no essences, there is no hierarchy of phenomenal reality; hence, no one thing is subordinate to or lesser than any other. Each thing is uniquely itself, like a particular jewel reflecting the play of all other jewels in the cosmic phenomenal play arising as temporary-form-within-absolute-emptiness. Insight into the interdependency of all things reveals the falsehood of anthropocentrism: humans are not radically different from or better than other beings, but instead are moments in the play of phenomena. If all things are internally related, there is no internal “substance” or “core” of entities, including humans. Human suffering (dukkha) arises because people posit and identify with a substantial,
unchanging ego at the core of the flux of experience. By identifying
with this supposedly permanent self, we enter into the state of ignorance known as subject-object dualism. Such dualism is characterized by craving, aversion, and delusion, which combine to produce suffering.
[…] both Heidegger and the Zen tradition maintain that once one is released from the constricted self-understanding associated with dualistic egocentrism, other people and things in the world no longer appear as radically separate and threatening, but instead as profoundly interrelated phenomena. Surrendering one’s constricted ego-identity, and thus moving beyond dualism, enables one to become the compassion (Buddhism) or care (Heidegger) that one always already is. “Authenticity” (Heidegger) and “enlightenment” (Buddhism), then, result from the insight into nondualism, the fact that there are “not two,” neither an “ego-mind” here nor “objects”
[…] both later Heidegger and the Soto Zen master suggest that spiritual practices may help put one in the position of a paradoxical “willingness not to will,” thereby preparing one for the releasement that brings one into the world appropriately for the first time.»
[…] For Heidegger, the self-manifesting or presencing of entities cannot be explained in causal terms. We can describe things in causal terms only after they have first manifested themselves as things. Likewise for Buddhism, causality is a conceptual scheme for relating phenomena, but these phenomena themselves are not “caused,” for all phenomena arise
Simultaneously in mutual coproduction. Heidegger’s account of the
dance of earth and sky, gods and mortals, the dance in which things
manifest themselves in the event of mutual appropriation, bears remarkable similarities to the Buddhist account of the moment-by-moment coproduction of self-luminous phenomena. To some extent, later Heidegger’s thought and Buddhism alike are both versions of what we might call “phenomenalism.” For them, there is “nothing” behind the appearances that constitute the furniture of our worlds.
[…] later Heidegger’s cosmic dance is similar to Buddhism’s cosmic coproduction. Mahayana Buddhism manifests cosmocentrism by noting that enlightened humanity exhibits compassion equally for all beings, not just for humans. Later Heidegger moved closer to the cosmocentrism of Mahayana Buddhism and away from his earlier anthropocentrism not only by calling for humanity to let all beings be, but also by no longer conceiving of the”clearing” as a human capacity or faculty.
Heidegger’s own student, Karl Loewith, also argued that his mentor remained trapped within an anthropocentrism that blinded him to the cosmocentrism of ancient Greek thinkers such as Heraclitus.» Nevertheless, later Heidegger’s notion of the “event of appropriation” (Ereignis), which gathers mortals together into the luminous cosmic dance with gods, earth, and sky, bears important similarities to Buddhism’s mutual coproduction and Lao Tsu’s tao, both of which are regarded as nonanthropocentric. Ereignis, sunyata, tao: these may be different names for the acausal, spontaneous arising and mutually appropriating play of phenomena.
Heidegger, Buddhism, and Deep Ecology
The deep ecologist Arne Naess, a noted Norwegian philosopher and naturalist, has been influenced both by Heideggerian and by Mahayana Buddhist phenomenalism. Naess argues that our everyday “experience” of what it means for things “to be” is shaped by gestalts that organize the concrete contents or phenomena. There are no “primary” qualities, substances, or “essences” of things; indeed, there are no “things” at all, if by “things” we mean solid, unchanging, isolated material objects. “Things” thus conceived are only useful constructs for dealing with the constantly changing and internally related phenomena constituting “experience.” Naess says that “there is a similarity between this view and those expressed by the Buddhist formula sarvam dharmam nihsvabhavam. Every ele-
ment is without ‘self-existence.’ “
Reasoning vainly attempts to give ground to what is groundless: the flux of phenomena emerging moment by moment from the inexhaustible field of absolute nothingness. Insight into this nothingness undermines the constricted ego-pole “in here” defending itself against threatening others and objects “out there.” Such insight reveals the ego and its objects to be gestalts whose contents are constituted by an infinite number of self-arising phenomenal events. Seeing into one’s own original Buddha nature means being simultaneously (I) those concrete contents, (2) the organizing gestalt, (3)the awareness of the contents/gestalt, and (4) the nothingness in which they all (including consciousness) manifest themselves. “Awakening” means
shattering all dualisms, including the one between presencing and
absencing, being and nothingness. […] Phenomenalist ontology holds that human existence is a specific modality of the luminosity characterizing all phenomena.w Human awareness brings this cosmic luminosity to self-awareness. Buddhism, Heidegger, and Naess all assign to human existence the special role of apprehending the groundless, empty play of phenomena. Humans exist most appropriately when their luminous openness is unconstricted by dualistic ego-consciousness. Freed from such dualism, people can enter into a new, non-domineering relationship with all things. Humans can encounter birds and trees, lakes and sky, humans and mountains not as independent, substantial, self-enclosed entities, but rather as temporary constellations of appearances: self-giving phenomena arising simultaneously.
[…] Buddhism, Heidegger, and Naess argue that puncturing the illusion of permanent selfhood would alleviate the infliction of such suffering by freeing one from the illusory quest for total control. Being liberated from the illusion of egocentrism also frees one for spontaneous compassion toward other beings, human and nonhuman alike. One “lets things be” not for any external goal, but instead simply from a profound sense of identification with all things.”
“dependent arising is not merely one strand of doctrine among others, but the radical insight at the heart of the Buddha’s teaching, the insight from which everything else unfolds. […] When the arhat Assaji was asked to state the Master’s message as concisely as possible, he said it was the doctrine that phenomena arise and cease through causes. With a single sentence the Buddha dispels all doubt about the correctness of this summary: “He who sees dependent arising sees the Dhamma, he who sees the Dhamma sees dependent arising” (M.28;i,191)”