31 Does Buddha look more like Galileo or Moses?

15 Apr 2016

We return to the radically empirical observation of that we’re immediate aware of - appearances and the awareness of them. To understand the Dzogchen interpretation of where these appearances are coming from, we can start from scratch. Imagine you’re in a lucid dreamless sleep, resting in the substrate -alaya- and you’re aware of it, with the substrate consciousness, which is not even human. Then somebody wakes you up, and suddenly all these appearances arise - the person, your room, tactile sensations, mental appearances, and so forth. Where did all these appearances and your human mind come from? In Dzogchen, straight from Düdjom Lingpa, these appearances arise from the substrate, this pregnant vacuity, filled with potentiality; and your human mind with all its configurations, which was dormant when you were in the dreamless sleep, emerges from the substrate consciousness. When you fall asleep again, all appearances withdraw into the mental domain and all the configurations of your human mind withdraw into the substrate consciousness. As Padmasambhava said, ‘all appearances do not exist outside the space of your own awareness’. They are all in your own substrate, illuminated by your own mind - we’re all in our own bubble, a very large one, and yet, individual space. But people outside seems to be more than mere appearances. What is really outside of our bubbles? Galileo, Descartes, and other Christians, tried to understand God’s vision of the absolute reality, of what was really there, outside our skin. So that was the trajectory for Modern Science for the last 400 years - from God’s eye perspective to a purely objective perspective to what Thomas Nagel calls a “view from nowhere”. Alan quotes David Gross, Nobel laureate, “nature speaks in only one language, and that is the language of mathematics.” They are all seeking reality outwards, whereas all contemplatives are seeking reality inwards. The Buddhist way of getting out the bubble, out of the Alano-centric view, out of the eachoneofus-centric view, is not by leaping outside to non-human concepts or to third person observations. Buddhists didn’t make any contribution to society in terms of technology - no iPhones, no telescopes, no chronometers and so forth; but they’ve contributed a lot in terms of technology for refining attention and metacognitive skills. Alan ends with this first part of his talk with this question: is there a way of transcending the bubble to see reality beyond the scope of our limited anthropocentric perspective? Yes! Shamatha. Let’s practice!

The meditation is on Shamatha.

After meditation we return to Karma Chagmé’s text on Shamatha, page 3. Alan starts comparing mental perception with visual perception - just like the eyes are only able to see within the “visible spectrum”, the mind also operates within a limited bandwidth. We can transcend the limitations of human bandwidth of mental perception through the one technology of shamatha practice, achieving up to the fourth dhyana and displaying many siddhis although still tainted by delusion. When shamatha is imbued with vipashyana, these paranormal abilities become untainted. After commenting on Śatasahasrikāprajñāpāramitā, Alan presents Buddha’s description of how, with the achievement of the fourth dhyāna, he recollected the specific circumstances of many thousands of his own former lives over the course of many ages of world contraction and expansion. Alan elaborates on the issue: is Buddhism a religion, considering the Eurocentric point of view? Where does Buddha fit? He is not a prophet, he never claimed to be the son of God, nor unique! Why do we call Buddhism a religion? Or, as people can’t stand religion, for some good reasons, why don’t we take all religious elements out and come up with a secular Buddhism? Alan says that, when he travels for teachings, he is told again and again: don’t mention religion, give a secular approach. And he wants to say: “Buddhism was not a religion in the first place! What part do you want me to leave out?” So who was Buddha? Does Buddha look more like Moses or Galileo? For Moses, his power came from God, he didn’t achieve it. Buddha didn’t say that he has been divinely inspired. He said, “No, I actually took this pre-existing technology called samadhi, refined, and used it in an unprecedented way and corroborated discoveries that earlier contemplatives had made.” He sounds more like Galileo, than like Moses or Jesus. Alan then comments on the Chapter 12 on “Supernormal Powers” in Buddhaghosa’s classic Visuddhimagga - The Path of Purification - as being pure and the most sophisticated science (Please refer to Alan’s notes - Friday 15th). Alan ends citing Arthur C. Clarke’s Three Laws. Clarke’s first law: “When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong. Clarke’s second law: The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible. Clarke’s third law: Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” The four dhyanas and the powers coming out of them are magic, if you don’t understand them. But for those following Buddha’s path, there is no magic. Let’s discover our minds and blow our minds.

Shamatha meditation starts at 21:08.

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