This grant was used in two ways. First, the Department of Religious Studies organized a lecture series which included three major lectures relating to science and religion. Second, the grant was used for the development of new courses in Religion and Science Programs in the Department of Religious Studies.
The lecture series sponsored by The Infinity Foundation was presented as a science/religion conference in 2001. Following is the description of the two-day conference.
“Nothing in Common: Scientific and contemplative views on nothing”
Sponsored by the Infinity Foundation and the UCSB Department of Religious Studies
Friday, May 11, 2001:
Location: Chemistry Building 1179
7:00-9:00 p.m.: “Nothing Is Too Wonderful to be True: Why Nothing (and only Nothing) is Perfect”
K. C. Cole, Science writer for the Los Angeles Times. Followed by a book-signing of her recent, best-selling book The Hole in the Universe: How ScientistsPeered Over the Edge of Emptiness and Found Everything.
Saturday, May 12, 2001:
Location: Buchanan 1910
9:00-10:00: “The Nothingness of God: Medieval and Modern Perspectives”
Tom Carlson, Associate Professor, Dept. of Religious Studies, UCSB Followed by a book-signing of his recent book Indiscretion: Finitude and the Naming of God.
10:15-11:15: “Much Ado About Nothing: The Physical Structure of the Vacuum”
David Gross, Director, Institute of Theoretical Physics, UCSB
11:30-12:30: “Vacuum States of Consciousness: A Tibetan Buddhist View”
B. Alan Wallace, Visiting Lecturer, Department of Religious Studies, UCSB Followed by a book-signing of his recent book The Taboo of Subjectivity: Toward a New Science of Consciousness.
2:00-3:00: “Nothing in Mind: The Neuroscience of Nothing”
Richard O. Brown, Staff Neuroscientist, The Exploratorium, San Francisco Museum of Science
3:15-4:30: “Nothing Doing: Cosmos and Body in Daoist Alchemy”
William Powell, Associate Professor, Dept. of Religious Studies, UCSB
4:45-5:45: Panel discussion among all the participants, with audience participation
This series of lectures is free and open to the public.
Course Instructor, Alan Wallace writes:
“I’ve been teaching an undergraduate course you have sponsored, entitled “Religion, Science, and the Problem of Consciousness.” The students’ response to this class has been extremely gratifying. You can look at the syllabus and class notes, etc. on the following website. The number for the class is reli 172B: http://eres.library.ucsb.edu/cgi-bin/eres/view.pl .
Consciousness: Eastern and Western Perspective Instructor: B. Alan Wallace Religious Studies
Comparative exploration of the nature of consciousness as presented by Western cognitive scientists and philosophers of mind and by Buddhist and Hindu philosophers and contemplatives. Historical developments of Western, Indian, and Tibetan theories concerning the mind and its potentials will also be examined.
Upper division course.
Ned Block, Owen Flanagan, and Güven Güzeldere, eds. (1998, 2nd printing) The Nature of Consciousness: Philosophical Debates. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press. ISBN: 0-262-52210-1 (pb: alk. paper)
Wallace, B. Alan (1998) The Bridge of Quiescence: Experiencing Tibetan Buddhist Meditation. Chicago: Open Court. ISBN: 0-8126-9361-2 (pkb. : alk. paper).
Indich, William M. (1995, Reprint). Consciousness in Advaita Vedðnta. Delhi: Motilal Barnarsidass. ISBN: 81-208-1251-9.
Forman, Robert K. C., ed. (1990) The Problem of Pure Consciousness: Mysticism and Philosophy. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN: 0-19-510976-7 (pbk.)
Prabhavananda, Swami & Isherwood, Christopher, trans. & comm. (1981, Reprint) How to Know God: The Yoga Aphorisms of Patanjali. Hollywood: Vedanta Press.
Shraddhananda, Swami (1996) Seeing God Everywhere: A Practical Guide to Spiritual Living. Hollywood: Vedanta Press. ISBN 0-87481-052-3
Jeremy W. Hayward & Francisco J. Varela, eds. (1992) Gentle Bridges: Conversations with the Dalai Lama on the Sciences of Mind. Boston: Shambhala. ISBN 0-87773-517-4
Padmasambhava (1998): Natural Liberation: Padmasambhava’s Teachings on the Six Bardos. B. Alan Wallace, trans. & ed.Boston: Wisdom Publications. ISBN 0- 86171-131-9
Chagmé, Karma. (1998): A Spacious Path to Freedom: Practical Instructions on the Union of Mahðmudrð and Atiyoga. B. Alan Wallace, trans. & ed. Ithaca: Snow Lion Publications, 1998. ISBN 1-55939-071-9
“The Nature of Mind in Tibetan Buddhism” His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama of Tibet The XIV Dalai Lama Endowment for Tibetan Buddhism & Cultural Studies Inaugural Lecture University of California at Santa Barbara June 2, 1997 Translated by B. Alan Wallace
I would like to thank Chancellor Yang and his wife, the faculty, and the students of this university for this opportunity to present an inaugural address for the establishment of a program for the study of Tibetan Buddhism and culture at this distinguished university. Greetings to you all.
I have the utmost confidence that this newly established program will be of great benefit. There is increasing interest throughout the world in Tibetan Buddhism. So I am certain that there will be great benefit in establishing an academic program in this field of study that will be of the highest academic caliber. Since education and mental training within the Buddhist tradition are based upon reason and investigation, it is fitting that the study of this tradition should be introduced into modern academia, for the two are deeply compatible.
The topic for today’s lecture concerns the nature of the mind. Simply put, the essential nature of the mind is luminosity and cognizance. In fact I feel there will be great value in long-term dialogue and collaboration between Buddhists and neurobiologists, those who are studying the nature and functioning of the brain. In this regard, topics for collaborative research and discussion might include the relationship between the body and mind and the ways in which memory operates. Another topic is the manner in which habitual propensities in the mind manifest in experience. Up till now, I have been able to participate in dialogues with various groups of cognitive scientists on a number of occasions, and I have found my understanding increasing with each such opportunity. Both neuroscientists and Buddhists may benefit from such collaboration. I have derived benefit from these conversations, and the neuroscientists themselves also appear to have gained some fresh perspectives and ideas as a result of these dialogues.
Now I would like to address the nature of the mind and related issues as they are understood within Tibetan Buddhism. As I am sure all of you know, the root, or foundation, of the whole of the Buddhist teachings is known as the Four Noble Truths. Among the Four Noble Truths, the First Noble Truth, the Truth of Suffering, introduces the nature of suffering. The reason for this is because we are averse to suffering, and this subject is taught in terms of feelings. Among the three types of suffering, the first, called blatant suffering, is that very feeling of pain or suffering itself.
Secondly, that which is called suffering of change is in fact the tainted feeling of pleasure. The third form of suffering known as the ubiquitous suffering of conditioning pertains to the feeling of indifference, which is neither pleasure nor pain. Now all these three types of suffering pertain to feeling as it is directly related to consciousness. So the First Noble Truth, the Truth of Suffering, has a deep relevance to the nature of consciousness.
The Second Noble Truth, the Truth of the Origin of Suffering, pertains to mental afflictions and to karma, or the actions induced by mental afflictions. There are some Buddhist schools that assert that some voluntary karmas are in fact of a material nature. But on the whole, Buddhist theory asserts that the nature of karma is a mental factor pertaining to volition. Therefore, karma, being of the nature of volition, is of the nature of consciousness. And mental afflictions are certainly expressions of consciousness as well.
As for the Third Noble Truth, the Noble Truth of Cessation, although cessation itself is not consciousness, it is an attribute of consciousness. The Fourth Noble Truth, the Truth of the Path to Cessation, involves excellent qualities of the mind, or of consciousness, specifically those qualities that lead to liberation. In terms of the presentation of samsara, the cycle of existence, and nirvana, liberation, if the mind is not subdued, there is samsara, and if the mind is subdued, there is nirvana.
Given the tremendous importance of the mind, certain philosophical schools within Buddhism maintain that all phenomena are of the nature of the mind. They maintain that external objects‹in the sense of phenomena that are totally independent of the mind‹do not exist. But the most predominant philosophical school within Tibetan Buddhism does not take that position. Rather, it says that physical, external entities, different in nature from the mind, do exist. In short, among Tibetan Buddhists there are some who deny the existence of eternal entities that are not of the nature of the mind; but for the most part, Tibetan Buddhist philosophers do assert the existence of such external entities. There is a great deal of debate about this point.
Regarding the Buddhist classifications of the five psycho-physical aggregates, the twelve sense-bases, and the eighteen elements of existence, the mind is included among the twelve sense-bases and the eighteen elements. Among the five psycho-physical aggregates, the aggregates of feelings, recognition, and consciousness are all aspects of the mind. The aggregate of compositional factors includes both mental and non-mental phenomena. So among the five aggregates, most are of the nature of consciousness. So if each of these aggregates could vote, those that are of the nature of the mind would win by a landslide! (His Holiness says with a chuckle.) I should add that the fifth aggregate is the aggregate of form. So the five aggregates are form, recognition, feelings, compositional factors, and consciousness. Among those five, only one is completely non-mental, while feelings, recognition, and consciousness are of the nature of the mind, and compositional factors are of two sorts‹some of the nature of consciousness and some not.
The Lord Buddha said that if one trains the mind, there is joy, and if the mind is undisciplined, there is suffering. In this way, the Buddha placed great emphasis on the mind. Thus, the basis which is to be purified is the mind. If it is trained, there is nirvana, or liberation, and if it is not trained, one continues in the cycle of existence know as samsara. The principle things that must be purified are the contaminations of the mind, and these also are mental. That which purifies the mind is excellent qualities, or states, of the mind. The results of having purified the mind also consist of excellent qualities, or states, of the mind.
The fundamental criterion for determining what does and what does not exist hinges on whether or not something is apprehended by valid cognition. It is not sufficient for something to be merely cognized or merely to appear to the mind; rather when the mind apprehends something, this cognition must be incapable of refutation. That is, when an object is apprehended by the mind, it must be incapable of being invalidated by some other sound knowledge. Thus, the criterion for existence itself pertains to the mind, specifically to valid cognition. Therefore, some Westerners interested in Buddhism maintain that Buddhism is actually not a religion, but a science of the mind. I think there are some grounds for such a claim.
Now what is the nature of the mind? First of all, the Tibetan term for consciousness, shepa, is actually a verb used in such expressions as “One knows,” or “I know,” so it indicates an activity. Thus, one speaks of consciousness on the basis of the ability to know. In terms of the internal classifications of consciousness, we designate two categories of consciousness. The first of these is sensory consciousness, which has for its dominant contributing condition something physical. Secondly, there is mental consciousness, whose dominant contributing condition is not physical. Another classification distinguishes between the mind and mental factors. The mind apprehends the sheer presence, or nature, of its object, whereas mental factors apprehend specific attributes of the apprehended object. The Vaibhasika school of Buddhist philosophy asserts that consciousness apprehends its object nakedly, or without mediation, implying the existence of “image-free” consciousness. In contrast, the Sautrantika philosophical school and all of the higher philosophical systems [namely, the Yogacara and Madhyamaka schools] assert that consciousness apprehends its object by way of images. Therefore, they state that consciousness arises with images. Another classification is made in terms of conceptual and nonconceptual cognition. Conceptual cognitions apprehend their objects by way of generic ideas, whereas nonconceptual cognitions, such as perception, apprehend their objects experientially more directly, which is to say, not by way of generic ideas.
In terms of the ways in which consciousness apprehends an object, first of all there is false cognition, which simply misapprehends its object. It is totally mistaken. Secondly, there is doubt, or uncertainty, in which cognition waivers between two options. Then there is belief, which is simply an opinion, without any compelling rational or empirical basis. Next, there is inference which is based upon conclusive reasons or evidence. And finally, there is perception, which apprehends its object experientially. So we have many types of cognition.
It is extremely important to distinguish between mistaken cognition and valid cognition.
For the most part, those types of cognition that lead to suffering are mistaken cognitions, which do not accord with reality. Many states of consciousness that lead to suffering are out of accord with reality and are mistaken. The remedies for those states of consciousness are valid cognitions that do accord with reality. So it is very important to investigate the distinction between cognitions that are delusive and those that are accurate. How is this to be done? Both mistaken and valid cognitions are alike insofar as they both do exist, both arise and are experienced. Now our task is to investigate those which are and are not mistaken. This needs to be done with reference to reality, to those phenomena that are apprehended by the mind.
The question of the relationship between reality and appearances arises everywhere, for there can be a disparity between how things appear and how they exist. This must be examined closely. In light of the importance of investigating the nature of reality and not simply relying on appearances, within the context of the Buddha’s own teachings, it is also crucial to investigate rationally whether or not a certain teaching is to be taken literally.
Such investigation is to be done with the mind, of course, and not simply with the instruments of technology. In order to counteract a completely mistaken cognition, one pursues logical consequences in order to bring about valid inference, or one may use conclusive syllogisms. Syllogisms entail reasonings sometimes used to affirm the existence of a given entity or the validity of a given proposition and sometimes to refute the existence of something or to show the fallacy of a certain proposition.
That is, at times one may infer the existence of a given entity, and sometimes the nonexistence of something may be inferred. Given that twofold distinction, the syllogisms are sometimes negative in the sense that they demonstrate the absence of something, and sometimes they are affirmative in the sense of affirming the existence of the given object. Therefore, analysis is central to logical reasoning. Because of the centrality of logical analysis and investigation within Buddhist philosophy, I think there is a great potential for dialogue and collaboration between Buddhist philosophy and Western philosophy.
I have had conversations with some philosophers who have told me that according to some schools of thought, the very existence of universals is refuted, for the distinction between universals and specifics is rejected. I have also heard there are others who deny the Law of the Excluded Middle. In Buddhism we assert that if one apprehends the opposite of an affirmative entity, this refutes the existence of that entity. In contrast, it seems in some philosophical systems, the Law of the Excluded Middle is not accepted. This is definitely a topic for further discussion and collaborative investigation. If there is disagreement between Buddhist and Western philosophers on this point, we don’t simply want to leave it at that and say, “Oh, they’re different.” Rather, we need to investigate the reasons why philosophers take the positions that they do. So this calls for further investigation. If, upon careful investigation, it turns out that there are compelling reasons for dispensing with the Law of the Excluded Middle, this would call into question many of the pivotal reasonings within the Buddhist philosophy. In that case, I would have to sit back and scratch my head a bit (His Holiness remarks with a chuckle).
From a Buddhist perspective, the reason for engaging in such investigation is not simply to gain greater knowledge about the world. Rather, our goal is to bring about a transformation in the mind. This doesn’t occur simply by prayer or by wishing that the mind will change. The mind isn’t transformed with that alone, is it? The mind is transformed by ascertaining various facets of reality. For example, if you have a certain assumption about reality and you subject this assumption to investigation and consequently find evidence that invalidates your prior assumption, then the more you focus on this evidence, the more the previous assumption will decrease in power, and the power of your fresh insight will increase. Thus, most good qualities of the mind accord with reality, which is to say, they are reasonable. They are grounded upon sound evidence. The mind is transformed when one ascertains and thoroughly acquaints oneself with fresh insights into the nature of reality that invalidate one’s previous misconceptions or false assumptions. For example, within Buddhism, we speak of faith, or confidence. If one’s faith is based simply upon authority‹because the assertion one believes was stated by an authoritative person or scripture‹such faith is not very stable or reliable. In contrast, there is another type of faith that arises in dependence upon careful, sustained investigation. Such faith is based upon knowledge. Qualities, such as faith and compassion, that are to be nurtured as one follows one’s spiritual path are to be cultivated on the basis of reasoning and knowledge. They are actually supported by wisdom even though they themselves are not wisdom. By means of such investigation, one’s mistaken cognitions are decreased and one’s valid cognitions are increased. On the other hand, it is all right if some people want to approach the study of Buddhism purely academically in order to increase their erudition.
Within Buddhist Tantra, or Vajrayana, there are classifications of different degrees of subtlety of consciousness. For example, there is a threefold classification of waking consciousness, dreaming consciousness, and the consciousness of dreamless sleep. All of these are investigated. More subtle than any of those is the state of consciousness when one has fainted. Finally, the most subtle form of consciousness occurs during the dying process. I believe that it would be very fruitful to investigate the relationship between the mind and brain in relation to these various degrees of subtlety of consciousness.
It may be more appropriate to speak of these more subtle mental states as types of potential consciousness. It seems that accounts of these more subtle states of mind do not refer to consciousness having a clearly apprehended object or to which some object appears and is discerned. When the more coarse forms of consciousness (the five sensory consciousnesses and mental consciousness) manifest, these more subtle states of mind remain latent. But when the appropriate conditions or catalysts arise, these more subtle states of mind may become manifest and fully conscious. In Vajrayana Buddhism the most subtle state of consciousness is known as clear light. In terms of categories of consciousness, there is one type of consciousness that consists of a permanent stream, or an unending continuity; and there are other forms of consciousness whose continuum comes to an end. Both these levels of consciousness‹one consisting of an endless continuum and the other of a finite continuum‹have a momentary nature. That is to say, they arise from moment to moment, and they are constantly in a state of flux. So the permanence of the first kind is only in terms of its continuum. The most subtle consciousness consists of such an eternal continuum, while the stream of the grosser states of consciousness do end. Within Buddhist philosophy there is another point about which there is considerable debate. On the one hand, if one looks at a stream of moments of consciousness, it is asserted that one moment of consciousness may apprehend another, preceding moment of consciousness. But Buddhist philosophers raise the further question as to whether is it possible for a single moment of consciousness to apprehend itself. There is a lot of discussion and investigation into this point.
That is a general overview of Buddhist theories concerning the nature of the mind. Since you are establishing a program for Tibetan Buddhist studies here, you will have the opportunity to research and investigate these matters at greater length. I believe there will certainly be much benefit in that. I wish to thank you all for making this program of study possible.
As there are issues that have remained unresolved concerning the nature of the mind after more than two thousand years of Buddhist investigation into these matters, I suspect that some of these may still remain unresolved even after your program of studies is established (His Holiness closes his lecture on a note of laughter). But finally, whether we really solve these problems or not, I think in this life we should have a more open mind, or warm heart. That is, I think, more practical, or useful. Thank you very much!
Rethinking the Metaphysical: Western Science and the Advaitic Critique
by Mark Noble
To adhere, with any sense of conviction, to a doctrine of scientific materialism means, in the modern West, to accept a twofold set of metaphysical presuppositions that guides scientific inquiry as we know it: namely, the essential distinction between the thinking subject and objective reality, and the presence of an active telos toward which we are oriented. While the former of these fundamental Western presuppositions is perhaps more obviously manifest in secular modernity than the latter, I would argue that both have had a pervasive influence on the development of a modern scientific discourse as they were inherited from the West’s religious and philosophical traditions. Interestingly, the attention given to potentially correlative “sciences” of consciousness—i.e. the mind—in Buddhist contemplative traditions by scholars adjacent to modern science has introduced an entirely different conception of the metaphysical, which calls to account not only the methodologies employed by contemporary neuroscience, for example, but that entire metaphysical foundation on which it is grounded. The Vednta tradition, in particular, sustains a notion of the metaphysical that collapses both of these major Western presuppositions—refusing to acknowledge the separation of the scientist from her science and nullifying the notions of development or progress. The contrast in worldviews indicates a powerful critique. However, even if this Advaitic commentary does not completely usurp modern science, it must at least force the West to rethink “the metaphysical”—not merely in terms of that which the subject cannot reduce to object, but as the necessary ground on which its most basic presuppositions are founded.
Ironically, the modern Western phrasing of “the metaphysical” as whatever lies “beyond the scope of observation” (Topic 3) requires as its foundation a metaphysical position: the notion of thinking subject—an observer—that stands in natural opposition to observable reality. This fundamental duality proves ubiquitous in Western philosophy after Descartes. The solipsism of the infamous Cartesian aphorism—“cogito sum”—becomes the logical ground on which modernity ventures to posit subjectivity, and thus invites the sort of duality that the Advaitin thinker hopes to sublate. The irony is nowhere more pervasive than in modern science, whose secular development has eliminated any practical concern for meta-physics. Apparently ignorant of its own foundations, the initiative to understand and control reality as object emerges in the modern West as the product of the Cartesian metaphysical logic. Moreover, as with Descartes, the grounding of the scientific subject is a function of its own certainty about the object of its cognition—i.e. the scientist gauges truth via observation in relation to a category of objective certainty. Thus, from the self-grounding cogito ego in Descartes, modernity goes on to posit a deep faith in human rational capacities and foster grandiose utopian visions of progress and freedom via the widening gap between the now deified subject and a purely objective reality.
Such notions of progress—familiar to science in its relation to Western culture more broadly—stand upon the metaphysical architecture of Christian teleology. Traceable from Augustine through to Hegel, the presence of the telos in the West dominates religion and philosophy into the modern era. Though at times the Christian version of Platonism with which Augustine and Pseudo-Dionysius inaugurate medieval Europe does bear some conceptual similarity to the Buddhist cosmology—especially with mystics such as Eckhart and Dionysius—the constant procession or movement of Christian metaphysics toward its end renders it distinctive. The teleology characteristic of Christian theology, soteriology, and, of course, eschatology is inherited by the modern West, and, consequently, is built into the dogmas that drive secular science. Despite the twentieth century, Westerners, with exceptions, adhere to a belief that scientific knowledge implies a kind of progress toward an absolute knowledge that will not only relieve objective reality of whatever metaphysical mysteries it once held but actually improve the lives of its constituents. The Cartesian implications are clear: the self-grounding subject is always on its way to a kind of absolute certainty—perhaps in much the same way the Neo-Platonic subject is on its way back to God. The persistence of the subject/object matrix and the activity of the Christian telos seem to go hand-in-hand, driving the scientific discourse of the West, and, consequently, its empirical investigations into the nature of consciousness.
In its most basic ontological framework, the Vednta philosophy dissolves the Cartesian subject/object duality and thus undermines the very mode of discourse that underlies the Western scientific worldview. Rather than calculating and quantifying the material world as object, the Advaitin pursues a “higher knowledge” which culminates in “the awareness of the identity of the knowing subject with reality itself” (Indich 7). Having posited a “transcendental ground of existence”—Brahman—the contemplative engages the possibility that “knowledge and reality, epistemology and metaphysics merge in non-duality” (Indich 7). Thus, the Advaitin ontology requires that its subject reject, or “sublate” the illusory world of materiality so as to grasp its own identity with the ground of being that is both existential and transcendental. For the Platonic metaphysician this “cancellation” of the phenomenal world might once have signaled a sort of ascension toward the divine; but for the modern scientist, the contemporary practitioner of Western metaphysics, the persistence of materiality is crucial. In fact, modern science emerges as that very sort of worldview the Advaitin characterizes as “ignorant” (Indich 9) because of its conflation of material phenomena with “reality.” Such confusion, for the Buddhist, is the product of a belligerent refusal to acknowledge the impermanence—or mere conventionality (Wallace 179)—of the Cartesian subject/object dichotomy—even as it anchors scientific materialism.
Furthermore, by contrast to the teleological paradigms that govern the West, the “transcendental ground” of which the Advaitin becomes passively “aware” is characteristically static. “Absolute consciousness” (Indich 117) does not signal a spiritual process, as with Christian Platonism, nor does it function as progress, in the mode of modern science. Rather, Brahman emerges as an unchanging permanence whose fusion with the subject represents a pure stasis, or “awareness.” Consciousness for the Advaitin is not a dialectical (i.e. Hegelian) process in which the subject is driven toward the eschaton, but rather a permanent network of being into which the mind is integrated. Where Western notions of absolute or concrete knowledge indicate development or discovery—that is, the whole canon of scientific knowledge is essentially mobile or progressive—the Advaitin’s realization of the unio mystico is not a consequent realization of a telos that governs Buddhist thought. Moreover, the type of “contemplative science” (Wallace 181) with which Buddhists engage the mind clearly resists the sort of progressivism that justifies Western science to itself.
Clearly, to posit, as a Western thinker, the possibility that reality is at once non-dual and a-teleological means to uproot the foundations of scientific discourse; it means, finally, to rethink the metaphysical as we have known it. The popular scientist’s conception of the metaphysical merely as that which remains irreducible to objectivity—or more basically, the “unobservable” or “incorporeal”—seems ultimately inadequate when one recognizes the profound metaphysical presuppositions upon which modern scientific materialism is founded. The materialist who might point to the receding territory in the realms of the metaphysical makes a salient point: modern science has indeed rendered less and less of its objective reality unobservable. But materialism fails to realize, of course, the metaphysical implications of such a statement—namely its dependence upon the maintenance of the subject as distinct from its object and the presupposition of a progressive goal via objective inquiry. The Buddhist critique of this Western “ignorance” regarding the metaphysical as puerile and sophomoric provides the West with an astute means of introspection—especially as it ventures into unknown, and seemingly un-quantifiable scientific territory.
The advent of neuroscience—and its subsequent frustrations—presents modernity with an opportunity for just this sort of critical cultural introspection. The modern study of the mind, of course, includes those normative doctrines of rationalism—which indicates not just the use of one’s rational faculties but also presumes a radical, often dogmatic faith in reason as such—and progressivism as it moves to objectify that fountainhead from which both reason and a sense of progress must have sprung. According to Vednta philosophy, this sort of “modified consciousness” (Indich 55) is riddled with inadequacy to the task at hand. In order to grasp the nature of consciousness adequately, states the Buddhist, the scientist must recognize the metaphysical ground in which she is rooted. If the metaphysical presuppositions at the foundation of Western thought prohibit this sort of recognition, as is the case with modern science, then perhaps the West must begin to rethink its metaphysics—to dissolve those prohibitive matrices of separation and teleological paradigms that render consciousness, and its ground, so elusive.
So perhaps we shall prepare for another upheaval of Christendom—and perhaps not. It seems to me entirely plausible that Western metaphysics is indeed malleable to the degree necessary for the reshaping modern thought into a worldview capable of comprehending consciousness. If the precepts of scientific materialism are as jejune as the Advaitic critique indicates, then this rethinking of the metaphysical is as germane and pressing an issue in the West as it ever has been. Without venturing too closely to a synthetic adumbration of the future in this regard, I would tend to believe that this philosophical collision of East and West signals the potential in modern scientific discourse for relief from the current dogmatism and a heightened awareness regarding those “physics” that stand “beside” or “beyond” objective reality and ground our every thought. Perhaps, however, this optimism is itself yet another Cartesian-based, teleological objectification of the issue—one incapable of finally recognizing the presuppositions on which it rests.
Indich, William. Consciousness in Advaita Vednta. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1980.
Wallace, B. Allan. “A Contemplative View of the Mind.” Choosing Reality: A Contemplative
View of Metaphysics and the Mind. New York: Snow Lion, 1996.
Presupposition 1: subject/object via Descartes
Presupposition 2: teleology via Christianity/Hegel
Critique 1: sublation…identity of subject/object in Vednta
Critique 2: static quality of Brahman, etc.
“The metaphysical” 1: ???
“The metaphysical” 2: ???
Conclusion: upheaval? Perhaps not…but…
-perhaps the guiding precepts of modern science are not all that different than Advaitism… (i.e. there’s more Platonism in science than Wallace’s critique evinces, and more of a Platonic correlate in Buddhism that one might think)
-To adhere, with any conviction, to a doctrine of mechanistic materialism means, in the modern West, to accept a set of metaphysical presuppositions that objectify the material world such that “the universe we experience exists independently of our perceptions and ideas” (Wallace 181) and can be fully explicated, unveiled,
-the telos in modern science: progress toward absolute knowledge (like Hegel) of the objective world; so science depends upon the consistency of the subject/object matrix for its metaphysics…?
-the simple (Hegelian) conclusion: complete scientific knowledge of the objective world includes complete knowledge of oneself…; but does this undermine the centrality of the subject or indicate the illusory quality of the material world? Not really. Why not? Because of the developmental aspect, perhaps?—i.e. because the telos is always active, the West is always in process… Or perhaps the answer is more complex… and we must rethink our definition of the metaphysical so as to acknowledge its foundational influence upon Western thought.
-a theological connection: the purpose of life is to love God (vs. knowledge of Brahman); from Augustine to Hegel the subject/object matrix remains intact in this notion of loving God…and in Hegel we can most clearly see the notion of continuous development or process. So the dissolution of the opposition (still Hegel) via a realization…
-the contemplative mode eventually obliterates the subject/object distinction so as to become aware of “the identity of the knowing subject with reality itself” (Indich 4)
-By way of a fascinating contrast, the latent metaphysical presuppositions of the modern West become most clear when we compare modern scientific rationalism with the East…
-rationalism—as an “ism”—not only indicates the use of one’s rational faculties, but presumes a radical, of ten dogmatic faith in reason as such. The Advaitin bears no such faith; in fact, he considers the sublation of rationality a personal goal.
-Continuity in Hegel vs. discontinuity is Vednta; the Advaitin is not a dialectical thinker in pursuit of a systematic philosophy.
-the definition of the metaphysical from the prompt as that which is “incorporeal”…?