71 What Is a “Smordge” and How Does It Exist?

09 May 2016

In the next section of the text, Panchen Lama is taking us from the limited domain of examining the self and establishing the absence of inherently existent self to the domain of all phenomena. Alan reminds us of a previous reference to the six elements in the analysis of the self. At that time, we examined these six elements individually and collectively in order to establish that they were empty of self, and that the self was not to be found outside these elements either. We have not done a meditation on the imputed sense of “mine”, but Alan encourages us to do it during our individual practice. To linger experientially not only in the discovery that these six elements are empty of “I” but also of “mine”. To see how the sense of ownership arises as something objective. And then to see how light, how ethereal it is. To scan through the visual, auditory and other consciousnesses up to the mental domain and see whether with any appearances there arises the sense of “mine”. Is it my voice or just a voice? How mine is my sensation? How about my thoughts, my emotions? Then we move on to today’s topic: the examination of the six elements themselves to see that they are just as empty of inherent existence as the self. That their ontological status is just as empty as that of the ownership of a cellphone. Before the meditation, Alan raises the question of whether these six elements are inclusive and contrasts them with the elements we know from science - the periodic table of elements. Alan points out that in Buddhadharma the elements are all about the world of experiences. The four elements of earth, water, fire and air refer to everything that arises in the physical world: the earth element is what provides solidity, the water - fluidity, the fire - heat and cold, and the air - lightness and movement. Then there is the domain of space where all these take place. And finally - consciousness which in this context covers all configurations of consciousness, all activities of the mind. In today’s meditation we examine how these elements exist. How do their manifestations and configurations exist?

The meditation is on vipashyana

After the meditation, we return to Panchen Lama’s text. We have already asked: how do we exist? Now the question is: how does everything else exist? Alan underlines that it is very important to read this 17th century text from the perspective of the 21st century and not 19th century physics. Hence he begins by quoting Andrei Linde’s article on “Inflation, Quantum Cosmology and the Anthropic Principle”. It turns out that if the whole universe is viewed as a quantum system then the element of time “falls out” of the mathematical equation. As if the universe was static. This is called the problem of “frozen time”. Andrei Linde explains that the notion of evolution is not applicable to universe as a whole, because there is no external observer with an external “clock” outside the universe. So why do we see the universe evolving? For this we need two pieces: 1) an observer with a ”clock” and other measuring devices and 2) the rest of the universe. The universe is evolving dependent on this observer and the measurements. If there is no observer, there is no evolution and the universe is static (or “dead”). Now, from this 21st century perspective, we go back to Panchen Lama, continuing to read verse 30 of the root text. Here the same sequence applied earlier in the meditation on self (way of appearing, apprehending and existing) leads to the conclusion that the six elements do not exist inherently, because they are composites. To illustrate this Alan coins a new term (a new concept) “smordge” which he makes to mean the configuration of laptop, smartphone and eyeglass case together. In this way, by designation, “smordge” comes into existence. And this means that there may be more “smordges” out there, just as there may have been “smordges” in the past and will be in the future. As long as someone designates them. And everything else is exactly like that! - underlines Alan. For example the solar system. It is also a mereological sum. Was it already out there? Does it include Pluto? Where does it end? Does it include its gravitational field? Who decides? It is a conceptual designation, it has the same ontological status as the newly invented “smordge”. Here Alan quotes a question posed by another contemporary physicist Paul C. W. Davies: “Without a miracle, how can something come to exist that did not exist before?” The answer is: by conceptual designation! Next, we read verse 32 of the root text and Alan explains the meaning of the phrase “you do not find even the minutest particle of meditative equipoise and of the one who rests in meditative equipoise”. Physical objects can be described using space and time dimensions but configurations of consciousness occupy only a time vector, not a space vector. Therefore in this context the “minutest particle” must mean particle of time (pulse). Lastly, referring to the final phrase of the commentary to the root text read today (“Alternatively, the subtle basis for imputing a self is said to be the very subtle energy-mind”), Alan points out that at any time one can designate oneself on the basis of one of the three levels of the energy-mind: coarse, subtle and very subtle. For example, when resting in shamatha, one can designate oneself “I am resting in shamatha”, on the basis of the subtle energy-mind. Similarly, in the bardo, one may use the subtle energy-mind as the basis of designation. And finally, resting in rigpa, the Buddha nature can serve as the basis of designation. In all such cases, as previously, in order to establish how the mind exists, one needs to first identify the mind.

The meditation starts at 19:33

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