61 The Sharp Sword of Intelligence - Identifying the Object of Negation

B. Alan Wallace, 03 May 2016

As we begin to venture into the next section of Panchen Rinpoche’s text, in this session Alan starts the inquiry into the object of negation. The object of refutation is a self that exists prior to and independent of any conceptual designation. This is connate ignorance, but with prajna, the sharp sword of intelligence, we can apprehend the absence of that self. This applies also to all phenomena. In order to expand the discussion of this topic, Alan brings in quantum physics, questions about how the sun, the moon, the earth exist - is the moon really there? Is the earth really spherical? Is Mount Meru existing from its own side? Is there only one approach to exploring reality? Alan highlights the need to bring in contemplative inquiry in the 21st century, as another avenue to understand reality. Before the meditation Alan illustrates Tsongkhapa’s assertion that we apprehend reality in three ways:

(1) We attend to appearances (of ourselves, of others, of all phenomena), and all the appearances suggest that they appear as existing from their own side, and we grasp onto them as such, we reify them, we take them as face value. It is connate, it is a root delusion. Whenever any mental affliction operates, in the madhyamaka view, it is always operating from this basis of reifying whatever is the target of our craving, hostility, pride etc. Reified first, and then compounded with mental afflictions.

(2) Then there is the way of an arya bodhisattva who knows through incisive research that no phenomena exist by its own inherent nature. When he/she comes out of meditation, the bodhisattva apprehends appearances as being empty appearances. That’s another way of viewing the same phenomena. The phenomena arise, but you see them as empty of inherent existence.

(3) Undifferentiated. The way we apprehend phenomena doesn’t crystallize itself to affirm reification nor does it have the insight into seeing the emptiness. It kind of floats without drawing that distinction.

The meditation is on vipashyana.

After meditation, Alan proposes a very interesting thought experiment and then we return to Panchen Rinpoche’s text.

Meditation starts at 36:00

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Spring 2016 - 61 - The Sharp Sword of Intelligence

Olaso. So, this afternoon we will be returning to the vipashyana presentation and Panchen Rinpoche’s text. And where he will go immediately, as soon as we open up, open it up, is to identifying what’s called the object of refutation or the object of negation. So let’s just linger there because what I’d like to do, as usual, is try to completely weave theory together with practice. For the theory is right there to illuminate the practice, we come from the practice, and that comes and illuminates the theory, the teachings. So when we go back to the teachings “Oh, I get it, I get it! I know what he is talking about!” Right? ‘Cause you had some taste. And so that’s really the ideal. To my mind, Buddhism should always be taught that way. And physics is taught that way. And mathematics is taught that way. When I studied mathematics you learn something and immediately you work in problems, and physics you learn something and you run in an experiment. It’s really good.

So, let’s linger there just a little bit because in the spirit of a need to unify theory and practice. So it’s very straightforward that conceptually it is not difficult at all to understand what is meant. What is the object of negation, what is, for example the self that is to be negated? Well, first of all, just to make it really clear: It is something that doesn’t exist but appears to exist, is grasped onto as being existent. So I give… ok, I’m going to give the silly example that I’ve given so many times, and just ‘cause it’s so obvious. Imagine something that is not true and that is: I think I am not a reincarnation of Napoleon, which I could be – one chance out of what? 10 trillion, whatever. But imagine that I actually think I am Napoleon, you know, a little short guy back there in 19th century, and I’m actually so. I’m delusional, you know? And actually so… Have that: And I’m walking around and I think that I am actually Napoleon, ok? And so I even take on a French accent, I put my hand here, and you know, I expect everybody to salute me and … But then, I go to Catalina, you know, she’s dealt with this before. [laughter] She gives me really sustained therapy in showing “Well, in fact, you know, there is just no evidence that the Napoleon you think you are actually exists. Number one, you’re taller, number two you don’t speak French, number three he’s dead.” [laughter]. She is kind of step-by-step taking me through it, you know, until finally she persuades me that where I am there is no Napoleon. And then I peal my bell and, you know. [laugh]. She’s done her work.

[02:38] But the Napoleon that I think I am is the Napoleon to be refuted, because, in fact, taking it very seriously… And if you show me a lot of respect I fell very puffed up, if you ridicule me or say I am crazy, then I feel very offended, very upset, because I am Napoleon and you are not acknowledging who I am. So what does exist in this, you know, this example, what does exist is I do think I am Napoleon, I’m grasping, apprehending myself as Napoleon, and that, does have causal efficacy, that has all kinds of influences, right? It is existent as anything else. The thing that doesn’t exist is the Napoleon that I think I am, ok? So, it is a silly example but then we can say: Ok, where I were is it not silly? So the object of refutation is that, let’s say a self – or turns out to be anything else too –, but the self that exists here in that shell, a self that exists prior to and independent of any conceptual or verbal designation, just that simple. It’s already there. It’s prior to and independent of conceiving of it, labeling it, conceptually or verbally. It’s already there. Almost like “It’s already there, stupid!” You know? That self that exists by its own inherent nature it’s really there, exists by its own nature. It exists from its own side, prior to and independent of any conceptual designation and even labeling process, that is the self that we grasp onto, so it is said. It is said that that kind of delusion is connate, you don’t learn it. It’s connate but, with careful analysis, with the sharp sword of prajna, of intelligence, then we can cut through that and apprehend the very absence of that self. Now of course it’s not just the self, it’s everything else as well. So I’ve mentioned before and gave a very, I think, a really brilliantly clear definition of metaphysical realism, as defined by Hilary Putnam, because he really new his stuff extremely well. But metaphysical realism, you remember, there is one true description of the Universe – it’s already out there, it can be mapped, it can be known, and we know it by way of appearances.

[04:54] So does the sky really inherently exist as blue? No, but there is a sky out there, that is kind of behind the blue, that is really there already. Oh, of course! But where does really… I think it becomes really obvious… is: “Think of the sun and the moon just for starters, think of the sun and the moon”. Who doesn’t think that the moon is really out there, you know, 237 thousand miles – whatever, something like that. Who doesn’t think that’s a great big chunk of cold rock or half cold half hot rock out there? There is really, I mean, it is really out there. And then the sun, all the more so, 98 million miles away, something like that, who doesn’t think it is really out there? I mean, you call that anything; you can call it hot fudge sunday, if you like, call it anything you like. If you think about it, not think about it, it doesn’t matter what you call it, what you think about it, or anybody thinks about it, it is what it is. And you just happen to call it the sun. Tibetans call it nyima, so what? It is what it is, and our labels are just kind of fluff, like dropping a feather on a tank. The tank doesn’t care. It is already there, right? And so this is very very natural and where it’s inborn, there is what is connate. So when we hear about achieving the fourth jñana[infinite energy of primordial consciousness] and being able to stroke the sun and the moon, we just make ones burst out in laughter. You know. Oh…boy I had no idea Buddhists could be that superstitious. This is like: “Cuckoo! Cuckoo!” [laughter], you know, really over the board, like this is what we just start: Ha, ha! Man, are they Looney Tunes! You know. And of course, if metaphysical realism is correct then they are, we are, hu, I am. You know?

So I’ve emphasized this morning again – I found a number of times the importance of reinvigorating and establishing the authenticity of contemplative inquiry as an authentic mode of investigating nature of reality, that can give rise to and has given rise to authentic discoveries, that can be replicated and become consensual knowledge, right? What is the big deal? And I think the big deal – part of it – is always being a truth, because this is how you become liberated, not by science. Science is not making you liberated, it is making our lives much more hedonically pleasant if, you know, we don’t destroy ourselves in the process.

[07:28] But it’s like right now science has no competition. I mean, where is the alternative view of the planet which we’ve all seen the photos of thousands or ten thousand times? Who of us doesn’t think the planet is really round? You know. And it is really out there. And, in fact, that is mostly blue [laugh], until you think: “No no, it’s brown, it’s not really blue, because blue is just generated by visual cortex”. Right? And it is not brown and it’s not shiny, you know, but kind of, kind of like the earth but not blue. That’s what is really there, and is not brown… and it is not warm… you know, kind of like invisible earth that is round. [laughter] When you look for it, exactly what is it do you think that’s really out there, it does start to get a bit dodgy, if you do start thinking about it. But that it is round, and heavy. Who doesn’t think that’s true? And I think for very good reason, there is no competition, there is no competition. Well, there is, but hardly anybody knows about it. It is like before quantum mechanics came along, before specifically Einstein came along. Einstein, not only with his Relativity Theory, Einstein was the first one to come up with the notion of photons. He didn’t call them that but he was the world’s first one of thinking that light actually travels through space as quanta. And we call them photons. He came up with that idea, 1905, pretty sharp guy. I think we have to agree, he’s pretty smart. And of course they’ve found evidence for that effect. He set up the right type of measuring system and, lo and behold, there is no doubt about it.

[09:23] Light comes in quanta, but until then there was only one view of light by knowledgeable well-educated scientists and the general public, in the late 19th century. And now light consists of fields, electromagnetic fields, traveling through space at the speed of light, and it was a purely mechanical view of light and that is it has wave properties. So it… Lord Kelvin said that there is one thing we are absolutely certain of and that is the existence of a lumeniferous ether. Space has to be pervaded by a subtle medium, such that when light travels through it, light waves, fields of electromagnetic energy travel through space, they do display wave properties. I mean, that was simply known unequivocally. It’s true and therefore there has to be a medium that ripples, just like waves in the water. Well, you don’t have any waves in the water if there is no water, and you don’t have any sound waves if there is no air, and you don’t have any light waves if you just have a sheer vacuity. Just sheer, emptiness of space, if space is just nothing, there is nothing to ripple. So, logically, there had to be this subtle ether, an ethereal medium that when light travels through it, it would ripple and set up all these wave patterns, interference patterns, which were very very well known.

But ether had to exist, logically it had to exist. Did they have any evidence for it? No actually there was no evidence for it at all, but given this way of viewing reality, classical physics in late 19th century, it had to exist. Until somebody, two guys proved it didn’t – Michelson-Morley 1879, I think it was. They set up a very sophisticated measurement that had there been… – this is relevant, I’m not just meandering here. They found, they discovered the absence, it’s not that they did not find the ether, that’s easy. I haven’t found it, so what? They discovered the absence of the ether by a very subtle experiment – you can check it out on Wiki – pretty clearly. But you have to come into physics a bit to know, understand it. But it was really… they nailed it. They set up an experiment that if the ether did exist, it would have shown up in their experiment, it would have shown itself. It didn’t, therefore they ascertained the absence of the ether, which should have been impossible because it had to exist, if you assume that space, time, matter, energy are all absolutely real. And there is one way of viewing reality, and that is the way of 19th century physics. So this was back in 1879, no internet. So their discovery, you know, this, this couple of guys out in America ran this experiment, but it didn’t kind of spread like wildfire, like when the Higgs Boson was discovered – woff, you know. And we knew it seconds later, practically, internet knew all that, we knew that perfectly well. But they didn’t have anything like that.

[12:28] So they made the discovery and several years later Lord Kelvin was still saying: We‘re absolutely certain the ether exists. This was about five years after it was determined it didn’t exist, ‘cause, you know, they are Americans, and he was English and he was an aristocrat…. So what could those American yahoos know anyway? You know. [laugh] So it didn’t get through. But then Michelson-Morley shook things up, ‘cause it should absolutely exist and it doesn’t. But then how do you account for the empirical fact that wave, waves of light, show interference patterns? When there is nothing to wave, you know? And they don’t go like this, light doesn’t go like a dolphin blind chap [laughter], it doesn’t do that. And so, well, Einstein came along and showed, and then of course Niels Bohr and the others showed well. Einstein remained a metaphysical realist to the rest of his days. I think it actually stopped in some very important ways. But people like the younger ones…, as Max Planck said: “Science progresses funeral by funeral.” [laughter]. It’s true. The old ones have to die off, you know? Poincaré, brilliant physicist, he just…, he was so in trends in 19th century, he was extremely bright, he could never make that shift over into the new physics. So, he had to die. Well, he’d come to that anyway, but that generation, most of them had to die out.

And then we get this young upstarts, like Werner Heisenberg, kid, you know, in his twenties. And he’s come making this ground-breaking discoveries in quantum mechanics and shaking everything up: That light is not inherently a wave nor is it inherently a particle, it arises relatively to. But now – relative system of measurement – but now as soon as you have that, now that you two legitimate, now this is where it comes to shamatha, dhyanas and stroking the sun and the moon. [laugh] Most people wouldn’t see the connection but for you it’s, I think, obvious at this point [laughter]. And that is: If you think the only way, the only possible way, the one way – you know this notion we have the one way, we have the only way. If there is only one way to measure light, and that’s the way of the 19th century physics, and it always shows itself to be a wave, then you just assume that’s the way it is inherently, objectively. We’re just mapping what is already absolutely there, independent of any system of measurement. Coming to quantum mechanics, and they devise another system of measurement and from that perspective light is unequivocally composed of quanta. Little bevies. Little packets, little pockets of light, little pockets of pulses of energy, which are not at all like waves, they do not have wave properties, and waves do not have particle qualities. And so now that shakes things up. Now, ok, it is fine from your perspective to say that light is a wave. On the other hand from this perspective, which is equally valid, light is not a wave, it’s particle, it is composed of particles. And I have just to get over that. This is where they set the very foundation to shaking beneath us. ‘Cause is now very hard to be metaphysical realist in foundational physics.

[15:41] So we are the same here. There is only… now here in years 2016, in terms of the public domain, there is only one way to study the universe. ‘Cause philosophers have a whole bunch of ideas, very interesting but no consensus, so there is no competition. And then Muslims and Christians and Buddhists, Jews and so forth, so called religions, have all kinds of beliefs and they believe them. But then, the Hindus don’t believe what the Taoists say and the Taoists don’t believe what the Christians say and the Christians don’t believe what Buddhists say and the Theravada Buddhists don’t say what he Mahayana say and the Gelupas don’t buy that Dzogchen business, you know? [laughter] Right? That, as one said, [jokingly] “What you’re thinking?” It was what one Gelugpa geshe… When His Holiness was teaching Dzogchen, in France, there was one gheshe I was sitting next just what these westerners need and sneered: [jokingly] “What you’re thinking?” [laughter] It was a Gelupa teaching this, you know, [jokingly] “What you’re thinking? Hum”. [laughter] So, there is no competition, if even the Gelugpa’s and Nyingma’s can’t agree. There is no exactly competition to what we don’t agree but, you know, after all, the sun is not really out there, you know. Who is gonna believe them?

And so this is where contemplative inquiry could be far more important than movements from classical physics to quantum mechanics. If it can be demonstrated with full open minded collaboration with scientists, it is not trying to convert anybody here, but to show there are in fact different ways of investigating reality that have their own legitimacy and it shows once again the complementarity. That was Niels Bohr, really picked up on that, one of the great architects of quantum mechanics. It was his symbol. He used the yin yang symbol on his family, some… I think his family…

[17:23 student: crest].

[Alan] Yeah, what is it called?

[student: crest].

[Alan] Crest! Exactly, right. Didn’t he? I’m sure he did.

And so, right now we are stuck ‘cause religion is not rising to the challenge of providing avenues of knowledge, philosophy never has – not since Pythagoras perhaps – and the science is just dominating and they just are so good at it. So they are not to blame, they’ve just succeeded whereas the others have not. But of course as soon as we consider the science as the only way, then there is one story. It has nothing to do with Mount Meru or the garden and the serpent and the tree, it has to do with the big bang being completely physical and 8 billion years later life forming on our planet for more like 10 billion years, give or take. Ten billion years, life forming on our planet, where did the life come from? Well, that was already there. What was already there. Only physical stuff.

[18:24] And then, given another billion years or so and then the first conscious organisms start coming out. And where did their consciousness come from? Well, it was already there – chemicals, electricity. And now here we are, where do we come from? More primitive “us’s”, you know? Our progenitors? now where did they come from? Well then it is inevitable that you’re stuck with materialism, because it all came out of matter. Why did it come out of matter? Because it is the only question they are asking. When they are asking about the origins of the universe, they’re asking physical questions and using physical apparatuses and coming with physical answers, which is inevitable. So, of course they think the big bang, the first ten billion years of, you know, of evolution in the universe is all physical ‘cause it’s all they know how to measure.

So, contemplative inquiry is kind of really the, and I think the only hope that humanity can get its feet unstuck from the roots of materialism, ‘cause materialism makes really, not only good sense, it makes unavoidable sense. If you consider science as the only way to explore reality, I mean, where is the wiggle room? If the first ten billion years of the universe was all physical – life emerged from that and conscious organisms came out of that – then it’s kind like we have no choice here. That’s why when I engage with a lot of scientists and suggest a non-materialist way of viewing reality, they say: but they just don’t even know how to think about that. And I understand why and it is not because they are not intelligent. I’m sure a lot of them are a lot more intelligent than I am, you know, very distinguished, world class scientists, big reputations, for very good reason, they’ve earned it. They can’t even imagine how you could work in a scientific context without working in a materialistic context, you know. Because there is no second round, there is no alternative of viable mode of inquiry. And shamatha is crucial for that. To make it replicable, rigorous, sustained, right? not just vipashyana. Vipashyana would be pecking at it, pecking at it, but then you always fall back. The scientists have continuity. They have their system of measurement and just keep on going and going and going, you know. Until a weasel gets in there and screw things up. [laughter]. And what happened?

[20:49] [inaudible] Elisabeth, thank you. Elisabeth brought to my attention this seven billion dollar Hadron super collider – They had to shut it down. All those three thousand employees, they all, you know, had to wait, ‘cause a weasel or a marten – or she was thinking that maybe it was a [jokingly] a marmot [laughter] – chewing through one of the wires and the whole thing went gluey. So seven billion dollars versus weasel. Weasel wins! [laughter] For a while, in any case that is definitely diversion. But even there shamatha breaks down sometimes, you know, they slip into laxity, the hearten large Hadron super collider slip into laxity when the weasel, you know, cut out there vividness. Okay, yes, I’m stretching. [laughter]. Okay.

So, is identifying the object to be refuted… The sun existing from its own side really there –, that is the object to be refuted. The moon really there from its own side, hard, round, big, pulling on the oceans, causing the tides and so forth – that’s the object to be refuted. The earth is something that’s inherently spherical, big and heavy with a hardcore, hardcore – that’s the object to be refuted. And so is Mount Meru, existing from its own side. Because, if you were living in Tibet 500 years ago, there was only one approach to viewing reality, exploring reality: the yogis. They were the only ones. There was no competition. The Hindus pretty much agreed with them, they didn’t talk that much with the Chinese about deep things, there was mostly trade, you know, mundane stuff. So the Tibetans up on the top of the world, for them there was really only one group of authorities. They differed here and there, but overall… Ask any Nyingmapa, Gelugpa, Sakya, Kagyu: “Is, you know, is Mount Meru in the center of our world, and we have four continents around that, eight subcontinents, do we have it?” They would: “Oh yeah, we all agree of course, sure. Sure, sure.” And then, quite naturally, the general laity would assume that’s is inherently existent, ‘cause there is only one way to understand reality. And our greatest are all our Einstein’s and Nils Bors’, and Isaac Newton’s, they all agree on this.

[23:09] So I told you the story of this young Tibetan friend of mine whose mother, remember her? She was a nomadic woman living out in Eastern Tibet, and her son is very cosmopolitan, very… spoke good English and so he travels all over the place. He went back and spoke with his mother, visited his mother, and he told her that he’d visited America. And she said: “Oh, America, and where is that with respect to Mount Meru? Is it on the other side of Mount Meru or this side of Mount Meru?” You know. And it’s not a silly question, ‘cause she probably had something no knowledge at all about science. So there we are.

So we’re going to try to bring this into practice – not worrying for the time being too much about the sun, moon or the earth, and whether they inherently have those shapes, that momentum, that mass, heat, energy and so forth and so on – but come to the one that is most important and that is reification of self. And I end on this point, before we go to meditation, but all of this actually dovetails completely with what we are about to read, from the 17th century, which could have just as easily been written yesterday by some very fine Gelugpa scholar. Very interesting point I think, subtle and important from Tsongkhapa, many others may have said but I know he said it. And that is: The way we apprehend reality, he said, we do so in three ways, in three ways, that is generically, in general, people do apprehend reality in three ways. Not everybody does but among different individuals there are three modes. And one is that we attend to appearances, appearances of ourselves, appearances of other people, the sun, moon, and the planet and so forth, and all the appearances suggest that the phenomena that are appearing exist from their own side. And we grasp onto them as such, and that is we reify, the sun as really being out there, pretty much as it appears, maybe with a bit of modification like “ok, it is not yellow, but besides that, it is pretty much that”. So first mode is that we see appearances that appeared as if they’re existing from their own side and then we take them at face value. Maybe not quite face value, ok, I mean if you’re not a naïve realist ok, it says it’s not yellow but, besides that, it is pretty much, that’s it. It’s invisible but that’s an invisible something, that is what is truly there and it is really spewing photons all over the place and radiation. I mean, if we, you know, if we blow our atmosphere here, then we will have serious problems with radiation sickness. Doesn’t matter what you believe, be a Buddhist, Christian, whatever, doesn’t matter because that radiation is gonna get you. Just like if you played with uranium, just tossed it around in your hands, you are gonna get really sick and then die. Doesn’t matter what you believe. It just doesn’t matter at all what you believe. You can think it is lead, you can think it is… doesn’t matter. It really is spewing out high-energy photons and they will really make you sick, and they kill you.

[26:06] And so, there is a way of simply quite connately, naturally, grasping onto phenomena as if they truly exist. And that is said to be a root delusion, a core delusion. Whenever any mental affliction operates in the Madhyamaka view, it is always operating from that basis, reifying whatever is the target of our craving, hostility, jealousy, pride and so forth. It is reified first and then we compound a mental affliction on top of mental affliction and that is where it really hurts. That is where it really starts to hurt, right? So there is one way.

And then there is a way of, let’s say an arya bodhisattva, who’s gained direct realization of emptiness, or a vidyadhara for that matter. But we can stick with the arya bodhisattva, who knows through incisive, incisive research and conclusive ascertainment that phenomena, in fact, no phenomena exist by their own inherent nature. And so when they come out of meditative equipoise and they are attending to the world of appearances, all the appearances still appearing as if they exist from their own side, they do not apprehend them as such, they apprehend them as being empty, contrary to appearances. So they view them as they are and not as they appear. They do not reify but, on the contrary, they apprehend the phenomena themselves, their bodies, the environment, other people and so forth as being empty appearances, not existing from their own side.

That’s another way of viewing the same phenomena. So first there was a mountain, then there was no mountain, then there was a mountain, that kind of thing. First there is a mountain that is reified, then there is no mountain when you settle in meditative equipoise in emptiness and the entire world vanishes. Then you come out of meditative equipoise and you’re engaging with the world of appearances, and yes, there is a mountain right over yonder and is at a certain number of kilometers away. It just doesn’t exist from its own side, you know. But still, it is over there and it’s at so many kilometers away. That’s when the mountain is there but not in the same way. You didn’t just do … you didn’t go around the block and start out where where you started, or end up where you started from. So that’s the second way, ok? It arises, you see it, you apprehend it but you do not reify it and you see it as being empty of inherent nature. That’s how you apprehend it, right? That is the second way. And the third way is undifferentiated and that is: we apprehend but the way we apprehend, whatever it may be, doesn’t crystalize itself to affirm reification nor does it have the insight into seeing the emptiness, it just kind of floats without drawing that distinction. And that is the third way, ok?

[28:44] So what I would like to do now is try to take all this theory, references to quantum mechanics and a lumeniferous ether and so forth and bring this home right now in our practice. And here will be the session? I want to talk about it very briefly but I will guide it, and that is what I would like to do now, get just to front load it just a little bit. Ok, settle body, speech and mind, of course, then go right into taking the mind onto the path, okay? Classic practices: settling the mind in its natural state. So resting there. But in fact, just before doing that, as we’ve done before, just rest for a little while there, in awareness of awareness, quietly, non conceptually, not designating yourself as anything, as much as possible resting in the non conceptually designating mode. We are just quiet. So there is no crystalized sense of I am. Just quiet. Like that. Rest there and then, when I give you the cue, then turn the light of your awareness to the space of the mind – events arising within it. And then watch very closely ‘cause we’re not just gonna… I’m not gonna let you of the hook and just let you go back to shamatha, to crack the vipashyana whip, and that is: as you’re resting there stuff will come up. Of course, it’s supposed to, right? And on occasion you may very well have a sense that you’re thinking a thought, hu? There’s cognitive fusion that you were resting in stillness and then you’re not, you’re thinking a thought. When you see that occur, direct your attention inwards and see how are you conceiving of yourself, who are you the thinker? Do you have a sense of yourself as being someone really in here, existing prior to and independent of any thoughts about yourself, that really thought that thought, a real agent in here? Is that your sense? Right? Or a thought arises and from the very moment it arises you sense it as just an empty appearance and in terms of there being any thinker who thought the thought, just having a sense of that too? It’s quite ethereal, just a name, just a name, but nothing behind it, nothing really there that is the referent of the name, just the name. Is that the case?

[31:30] That you actually have an experience yourself – you don’t have to be an arya bodhisattva for this, – might have that experience today, of having a sense of self arising but even as it arises you already sense it as just a name, is just empty, just an appearance, nothing more than an appearance. And likewise, the thought that was thought, conceived by the agent, empty appearance. And if you can bring a really very sharp blade of vipashyana to this, you might note on other occasions that a thought arises and the sense of there being the agent is just undifferentiated. You don’t have a sense “I thought that” nor do you have a clear insight that it just occurred and the thinker is just a word, just a label, it’s undifferentiated. So, if you see, this is now fine tuning, yeah? But it’s with in that, see if you can identify how do you conceive of yourself, how do you do that?

I give you an analogy and now we go to the practice, ‘cause this is a close, a pretty close analogy. I like it. And that is: “Imagine that you are resting…” As a thought experiment, it’s not hard at all. “Imagine that you rest in dreamless sleep but you’re lucid”. Ok? It’s not terribly hard to imagine, it’s a sheer vacuity, no appearances arising, say it’s the perfect sensory deprivation tank, the contemplative sump pit, contemplative sensory deprivation tank, the perfect one. So there are no appearances arising but you’re clearly awake, clearly cognizant, the mind is bright and you’re just resting there, not talking about it, just resting. So that is a thought experiment, right? And you’re in deep dreamless sleep but you’re very lucid. And then some karmic energies move and a dream pops up and you’re in it, right? You’re in it. A dream pops up and you are a persona within the dream. Oaky that happens. That happens a lot. In that first moment that you’ve taken on the form of somebody in the dream, in the context, of course, of the dream scape and possibly other people, in that first moment have you lost your lucidity and you think that is who you really are? In other words is the first moment, one of ignorance, and the second one of delusion, reifying yourself as this little person in the dream with, unbeknownst to you, a very short life span, you know. Is that the first moment of unawareness, and then delusion, and reifying yourself as really being this person in the dream? Is that the case? It is pretty much for non-lucid dreams. Or is it the case that you sustained your lucidity, that you already had, while you’re simply resting in lucid dreamless sleep, and in that first moment there you are and you recognize you’re just an apparition. That the person you’re appearing is just, just, just empty appearance and you know that everything there… you’re born into the dream lucid, and you recognize everybody in the dream, they are not people, they are not really there, these are apparitions, empty appearances, they’re all empty appearances, I am an empty appearance. So, some people have dreams that way, if they are lucid already in the dreamless sleep, they may enter into the dream in the first moment knowing, and in the second moment recognizing the dream as a dream, right? And then playing that out. So that’s the second possibility, right? You could be lucid, you could be knowing and then be unknowing and reifying; you could be knowing and continue being knowing and apprehend yourself as a mere label, an empty appearance, having no real existence whatsoever or anything else in the dream, that is the second possibility. A third possibility is that it might just be undifferentiated and that is: the dream starts and not really reifying but not really seeing either, a kind of hazy middle ground, no man’s land, we haven’t crystalized on either side, just like that. That’s a possibility, ok? All right, put on your seat belts.

[35:58] Meditation starts - bell rings three times.

[36:54] With the motivation of bodhichitta, settle your body, speech and mind in their natural states, culminating in your awareness simply resting in its own place, still and clear, free of grasping.

[38:57] As you simply let your awareness rest, empty of con, empty of conceptualization, and therefore at least relatively empty of conceptual designation, including the designation “I am”, you may find that your sense of your own identity is undifferentiated, not crystalized or reified as a real self in here, who is doing the meditation, but neither either ascertaining the emptiness of your own identity, undifferentiated. See if that’s true.

[40:30] And let your eyes be at least partially open, vacantly rest your gaze in the space in front of you. And direct the flow of your mental awareness single pointedly to the space of the mind and whatever rises within it, sustaining the stillness of your awareness within the movements of the mind.

[42:13] And within the range of events arising in the space of the mind, there are mental images, discursive thoughts that you simply observe… these empty appearances arising from, present in the space of the mind, dissolving back into that space. But there are also the subjective impulses, the experience of thinking a thought, the experience of desiring, the experience of feeling an emotion…

[42:58] Some thoughts seem to occur of themselves, spontaneously, with no agent, nobody doing them. They just happen. But other thoughts seem to be the product of your mind, they seem to be what you’ve done – you thought that. So examine closely when the mind is active, in terms of thinking, desiring, emoting. How do you conceive of yourself as the thinker, the one who is desiring, the one who is remembering, the one who is meditating?

[43:51] Do you grasp onto yourself as being really in here, existing by your own characteristics? Do you apprehend yourself as being empty of such an inherent nature? Or is your sense of personal identity undifferentiated? Examine closely. If you start getting a bit tight, a bit stressed by the difficulty of the practice, throttle back, ease up, just rest in awareness and watch the show – this illusory display of appearances arising and passing in the theatre of the mind.

[47:21] And in this practice we can ask for ourselves “Is it true?” What Tsongkhapa and the whole madhyamaka tradition says: that from birth we do naturally conceive of ourselves as being inherently existent – the sense of being someone, some real person, who may be viewed in different ways by people with different perspectives. But regardless of all their perspectives, they’re all seeing a nuclear me, someone who is really here, who appears in different ways to different people but nevertheless is really here – the real me. The one we may be afraid to disclose, we’re shy about opening up, we may not want people to see the real me, the one that we think we are privy to and others are not.

[48:34] Do you think there is a real you? And if so, how do you appear to yourself?

[59:59] Meditation ends. Bell rings three times.

[1:00:24] Very briefly before we return to this 17th century text, we educated in modernity – doesn’t matter whether it is Singapore, Beijing or wherever –, but in modernity where those who have some education in science and so on, we’re kind of brought up naturally thinking in terms of our metaphysical realistic view of reality – that all I watch exist out there and doesn’t have color, doesn’t have smell and taste but… So we’re not reifying those, we recognize those as just empty appearances arising independent upon our visual cortex, auditory cortices and so forth, but what’s really out there is: wow, space is real, and mass is real, and shape is real. And this becomes really obvious, this will be obvious one of these days if we have some big, some big asteroid, a really big one, coming on the trajectory, this could strike our planet. There will be this massive affirmation: that metaphysical realism… that happens. [laughter] The people asking exactly how far away is it really, how big is it really, how much mass does it have really, will we really survive or not? This is all absolute grasping to the existence of our planet and the space between the planet and the asteroid and speed with which the asteroid and, and so forth and so on. So this really strikes home at the reification, right.

So just very briefly and just for fun – a thought experiment, kind [of] a thought experiment. I ask you to use your imagination. “Imagine just a vast open limitedless expansive space, sheer empty space, deep space, empty space, but with nothing in it, no galaxies, no planets, no elementary particle, nothing, just a total sheer emptiness of space in all directions, with no limits. So imagine that. And now imagine within that space one… one particle, let’s say an electron, just one lonely little particle, an electron, hanging all by itself, in the vastness of the space. Is it moving or not? [laughter] Is it? It’s a simple question, is it moving? Like just, you know… What? Huummm an analogous quest for, you know, electron positron, you know, the soul mate [laughter]. Or is it still? Is it moving or is it still?

[1:03:19] Student - You can’t tell because there is nothing to relate to it in this vast space, anything to relate.

[1:03:23] Yeah, the answer of people listening by podcast is that there is no answer to that question, because to see if that it’s moving or not has to be relative to something else, and if all there is about it is just the empty space. But now what if the space itself, as was assumed until Einstein, is absolute, that space provides some absolute objective real context. As was assumed by Lord Kelvin, and pretty much everybody of his learned peers, assumed that space was completely permeated by this luminiferous ether, which was real, substantial but very very subtle.

Then could you ask: “Is it really in motion?” Yeah, you could. If you got to identify that luminiferous ether, then the space that it occupies will be real, because it’s real and that will provide an absolute point of reference with respect to which you could ask. And you could answer in a meaningful way: “Yes, that one isolated electron is moving with respect to space. It was in this part of space and then moved to that part of space, right? Ok. Now let me make it a tiny bit more interesting. Two electrons. [laughter] Two electrons. And the distance between them is increasing, they are getting further and further apart. Which one is in motion? Or are they both in motion?

[student] In they’re in that thin infinite space with…

[Alan] Open expanse… In the whole universe there is just Adam and Eve, lets say a positron and electron, [laugher] just you know, they started the whole thing.

[student] They’d both be moving.

[Alan] If the distance between them is increasing, they have to be both moving?

[student] Yes.

[Alan] Why?

[student] I don’t know why.

[Alan] Why isn’t enough for one, I mean, you’re the girl, imagine it. You’re the electron, I’m the positron, and I just say: “Stay put honey. Stay put. I’m going off, I’m going off looking for…”

[student] I’m moving because you’re moving.

[Alan] No, no, but you’re the electron and I’m the positron, and I say: “Stay home, I’m going out and check if I can find some other electrons out there [laughter]. So, the first positron is definitely a rascal [laughter continuing]. So I just say stay put. And so, what’s wrong with that?

[student] If it is infinite space and you’re moving, I’m also moving.

[Alan] Why? Why can’t you just be obedient? [laughter] Don’t move, just stay home ‘cause I need to know where to get… If I don’t find anybody else, I want to know where you are. [laughter continuing] Stay at home, so I’ll know where to look ‘cause if you wander off I then I will really be on my own and that will be awful. But I’d like to do a bit of a fishing expedition here. Find some other cute electrons out there. So why can’t you just stay put and I head off. What’s wrong with that?

[student] I can’t articulate it but I can see it. [inaudible 1:06:23]

[1:06:27] [Alan] Does anybody agree that she can’t just stay home and I can move? Why? That’s fine, if you cannot articulate it. To my mind I can take off. And you can stay. You don’t have to move. You don’t have to follow me. Which will make the… If you’re following me but I’m going faster, the distance between us would increase but not as fast as if you’ve stayed home. But of course, if you run as fast as I did, then the distance between us wouldn’t shift.

[student] All right.

[Alan] And if you ran faster than me because you wanna catch me and give me a spanking, [laughter] then the distance will be getting smaller and smaller until [jokingly] whackt! [laughter continuing]

[student] So it’s true, then, that you could move independent from this and this could stay still.

[Alan] Well, isn’t it? Until Einstein came along and just shook the whole universe and that is: There is no absolute space. If there had been an ether, there would have to be absolute space, but there is no ether, there is an evidence of an absence of ether and therefore you can have the relativity of space time. One final one, just for fun, yeah? And that is: You’re traveling at a certain speed and you look at your companion, in your little spaceship, and your companion, you see, is quite slender. But I’m traveling by you very very rapidly, I’m traveling in the express at nine tenths the speed of light.

[student inaudible] Me and my slender companion going really fast.

[Alan] Yeah. You’re in a little cylinder with your companion, and your companion is kind of slender like you, right? Within your inertial frame of reference ‘cause you’re travelling at a constant speed. But I zip by you, super duper, I’m going nine tenths the speed of light and I observe you and your companion and I see you both as really really fat. [laughter] That’s what I see, you know. Really [jokingly] strrrettched out like that, you know. So what are you really, then, are you really thin or are you really really fat?

[student] Well, [laughter] I would say that I’m both.

[Alan] You’re skinny and fat. [laughter continuing]

[Student] I would say depending on from what perspective you’re looking and for you who the observer is.

[Alan] Right, yeah. So you don’t, then, independent of inertial frame of reference, you’re not independently fat or skinny. You’re not independently heavy or light, you’re not independently here or there and you’re not independently still or in motion. That’s all just from Relativity Theory and that’s not even including quantum mechanics. That’s pretty breathtaking, isn’t it?

[1:09:30] And quantum mechanics goes even deeper than that. Yeah. Because Einstein did assume that light absolutely travels at 186 thousand miles per second, relative to any inertial frame of reference. So that’s an invariant, that’s an absolute across all inertial frames of reference. And then quantum mechanics comes in and says: “Which light are you referring to, the particle or the wave? And what is the nature of that light? Does it exist independently of any system of measurement?” You see, this is really quite breathtaking, this all happened within about one decade or two, the first two decades of the 20th century. And it was such a… so explosive, so profoundly… shattering. That most of the rest of the sciences, and most of the rest of physics wanted to contain it, and make, that’s only, that’s only, that’s relevant only at velocities approaching the speed of light, but of course we are not, so it’s not a problem. It’s irrelevant to us ‘cause we are not even traveling remotely like it. They’ve now discovered three planets that are earth like, they are only 40 light years away. It’s brand new discovery, just today or yesterday, very recently, anyway, only 40 light years away. Quite nearby, except if you hop in one of our spaceships it is millions of miles, millions of years to get there, millions of years, yeah. So, in other words, it’s ‘cause our spaceships travel not even remotely like it, not one tenth of speed of light, and therefore it’s kind of like not irrelevant but is really not very relevant. And quantum mechanics with the elementary particles, most neuroscientists, with a marvelous exception of Donald Hoffman, are assuming that quantum mechanics is just irrelevant to brain activity, ‘cause those are warm big gushy cells and not elementary particles, so there it is. So that is kind of softening us up, I think it’s really really helpful if that seems like just kind of a diversion, I think it’s really helpful to make use of the fact that we are living in the year 2016 and not as if we’re living in 1879, ‘cause frankly, most of the cognitive sciences are still imbedded in late 19th century, you know. And that makes it very difficult to avoid statements like, you know: “The only way to understand meditation is by understanding the underlying neural mechanisms”. That is marvelous talk for 18th century, that makes really good sense. The neural mechanisms, you know, the creaking wheels and the grinding and cells and spewing out and so forth, ah. But come and get real. That was 140 years ago, you know. To view this, the teachings on Dzogchen and the views, the teachings on madhyamaka, with some awareness, not that science is proving Buddhism, we don’t need science to prove Buddhism, and quantum mechanics relativity doesn’t need Buddhism to prove it. These are independent modes of inquiry, this is what makes it so fantastic. They are not crypto-Buddhists trying to bring Buddhism into physics. They’re just really good physicists, right? And Tsongkhapa, Longchenpa, Lama Mipham Rinpoche, Panchen Rinpoche, they had no access to, well, because they didn’t even have quantum mechanics back then.

[1:12:49] So the notion that that can be coming from different perspectives and coming in upon can bring the truth, that gets really powerful. Way beyond philosophy, way way beyond religious belief. So maybe there is something really true here.

[1:13:03] Olaso! So let’s finally get back to the text. It’s only 15 minutes to go. Ok. Yippie yeah ki yay, let’s go. So well What’s the concentration that directly “effects” the obtainment of liberation? This is rather scholarly speak here. Effects, ‘cause with an e not an a. So What is the samadhi that directly brings about– and that doesn’t mean influence, it means to bring about – the achievement of liberation? What is that samadhi? Okay? We go to the root text: If one discerns the lack of self of – and “lack of say” I’ll just read it, but I have modified a lot of translations here –If one discerns the lack of self of phenomena and meditates on it, this absence of self– or, I prefer the word “identity”, for reasons I’ve explained before but most people say self and so ok, if people are comfortable with that – If one discerns the lack of self, the absence of self of phenomena and meditates on it, this identitylessness of phenomena, that is the cause of obtaining the result, nirvana. No other cause will bring about peace. This of course is the peace of nirvana. We get a lot of peace with shamatha, with samadhi but it will not last, ok? So, he’s pointing to this, that’s implying here, it’s not enough to realize personal identitylessness. We need to realize a lack of self, a lack of… the identitylessness, the emptiness of inherent nature of phenomena, at large, and that is a way to and seeing reality. Of course nirvana is equivalent to emptiness; that’s how you realize emptiness, that’s how you achieve nirvana. This states that– he continues now in his commentaries – this states that one who discerns that phenomena are identityless – that is devoid of an inherent identity existing in and of themselves – and meditates on the meaning thus discerned, will obtain the result – nirvana. Also there is in such meditation – on lack of self – in such meditation there is no intrinsic division by way of subtle and coarse. Which is to say there is no, in all of Buddhism, there is no, when we speak of emptiness – emptiness, shunyata – there is no coarse shunyata and subtle shunyata, like coarse shunyata for the Sutrayana, and subtle shunyata for Vajrayana or for Dzogchen, there is no such a thing. It’s either emptiness or it’s not emptiness but it’s not internally, doesn’t have a spectrum of subtle and coarse. It’s just what it is, it is emptiness. It’s a simple negation, so you don’t have different flavors, it’s a simple negation of inherent existence, right?

[1:15:59] However, but there is a division into lack of self or lack of inherent identity of phenomena and persons. So the emptiness in question is not a different type of emptiness, when it’s an emptiness of phenomena and an emptiness of persons. But the basis that is empty, well, we can speak of persons, individuals, and then there is everything else, including the mind, the body, physical phenomena and so forth and so on. (inaudible) Chandrakirti teaches, the glorious Chandrakirti teaches, the great preponderant of the prasangika view, an interpretation of madhyamaka – For the sake of freeing beings this lack of self is taught as twofold since it is divided into phenomena and persons, Simply speaking of what it really is, there are two types of entities, there are persons and then there is all the other types of entities and persons, people, individuals, including animals, human beings, devas and so forth. They are empty of inherent nature and all other phenomena are also empty of inherent nature. In this regard we make a distinction, but the emptiness is the same, it is the emptiness of inherent nature. although, of these two, the lack of identity of phenomena is established first – in the scriptures and commentaries, as in the prajnaparamita, Mulamadhyamakakarika, the great root text on madhyamaka by Nagarjuna, in such, a lack of identity of phenomena is established first. When it comes to meditation, it’s necessary to meditate first on the lack of self in persons. So you start from the center, you start from the emptiness of inherent nature of you own identity and move outwards from there, as taught in the king of concentrations, Sutra, the Samadhi Raja Sutra.

This text is really about practice, so he is going to follow the practical route rather than more theoretical route. And he’s already said, he’s going to follow the practice where you first achieve the meditative state and you go to theory – oh, we’ve covered shamatha, that is a meditative state, but now even going to theory, he is going to keep it very close to practice. So the Samadhi Raja Sutra says: When you perceive an identity in yourself, or of yourself – the inner you, the real self, the you that has a mind, that has a body and so forth, – when you perceive an identity of yourself, that perception applies to all. I just want to make sure I didn’t cut up too much there. Yeah, I don’t think I modified the meaning to date, I hope not, I don’t think so. So, if you perceive that, yourself, you can perceive it everywhere else. The nature of all phenomena is utterly pure like the sky, so by knowing one you know all, by seeing one you see all. I’m a little bit suspicious, I really expected to see “if you perceive the lack of identity of yourself”, but that wasn’t there in the original, was it? Ah, ok. I’m not going to mess with it because I don’t have the Tibetan in front of me, the Tibetan or the Sanskrit, but this will all be clear.

[1:19:03] Thus, in meditating on the lack of self of persons – really makes me wonder whether… He really should be saying “if you perceive a lack of identity of yourself”, that’s what he really should say. Whether it says that I don’t know, but I know that’s what he should say. “If you realize identitylessness with respect to yourself, by that same analysis, by analyzing whether you, as an individual, a self, are identical with your body, your mind, the combination of both, or are something entirely separate. If you come to the conclusion on that basis, that you do not inherently exist, you apply that as did Nagasena to a chariot. He did exactly that, and then the chariot, it is not found, not to exist objectively. Ok, self, chariot, ok, everything else, space, time, matter, energy, you name it. All these objects that populate the universe as we know it, every single object has attributes. Tell me the object that you can identify that doesn’t have any attributes, or that you don’t identify by way of its attributes. So, no matter what it is, whether it is justice whether it is peace, whether it is beauty, whether it is space, time, matter or energy, the object has qualities, characteristics, by which we identify it, right? Consciousness, we know it by way of its cognizant and luminous aspects, right? And it has those two qualities. As soon as you have an entity that has qualities or has parts, either one or both, then you can ask, ok: “The entity is it identical to anyone of its parts, the collection of its parts, or does it exist independently of its parts?” And it doesn’t matter whether it is you or Higgs boson, it doesn’t matter. If it is true for me that I have no inherent nature, the rest of the universe just falls of it. If you really see that, if you follow the implications – that’s what he is really saying here, right?

[1:21.09] So, Thus, in meditating on a lack of self of persons, it is necessary in the outset to identify the object of negation – that is the cause of negation. Sorry, I need to check the Tibetan on that one. I’m just going to leave it, I didn’t modify it earlier…, I started moving a bit more quickly and get the vipashyana section. As it says on The Way of the Bodhisattva, Shantideva’s Bodhicharyavatara – and I don’t have the Tibetan with me now, ‘cause I wanted to see what my wife Vessna with my translation was of this verse. I couldn’t find, I didn’t have enough time. “What is that?”

[1:21:47 student - inaudible].

Thank you. “Can you point right to it so we don’t waste a lot of time?” [1:21:50 Tibetan phrases]. I could see why it is translated that way. [1:22:15 Tibetan phrase] I’m not going to try to change it but I wish I could see the previous text. Thank you. It’s not, I mean, this is a good scholar. I mean, Roger, thank for your work here, there is no question, you’re an excellent scholar and this is not… So…

But the point of this is something really simple – without touching upon the existent to be analyzed there is no apprehension of this nonexistent. The way that Panchen Rinpoche’s interpreting this I think is totally sound, [it] is: If you don’t identify that which is to be negated, then you have no means to negate it. And it is crucially important when you’re realizing the identitylessness of a non self or person, you’re not destroying something that was there, but you’re seeing something that you thought was there that turns out not to be, like Napoleon where I am right now. Nowhere to be found. But I could think that I really am Napoleon and, I mean of course that’s silly, I could think that, you know, I could exaggerate all kinds of qualities that I have, you know, and take it really seriously. I’m not going to give any example but, you know, it happens all the time. Or I can have, I can have such a low self esteem that I imagine myself to be, you know, something much more inferior in various ways, and grasp on that’s what I really am. I’m really such a loser, no I’m so superior, I’m blah, blah, blah. So let alone Napoleon, you know, we can exaggerate and we can deflate our sense of an identity and grasp on to that as real, whereas in fact there is no one corresponding to that. There is no one like that but we can still apprehend ourselves as such. Not quite as crazy as you thinking you’re Napoleon but still delusional, and that gives rise to so much suffering, you know. That’s what he is saying here.

[1:24:03] Ok. So, If an object of negation is – now he says this nice and clearly – If the object of negation is not identified, then, with the target unseen the arrow will stray. That’s when you’re applying your vipashyana, really probing into the target. If you have not identified that which is grasped onto as being real, but which in fact doesn’t exist at all, then the arrow will stray, your investigation will go astray, you will miss the target. With the enemy, to give another example, with the enemy unidentified, the army cannot be led, it is like that. Ok? This is a good analogy, excellent analogy. So, also if there is – this, again, can… needs a little of unpacking, anybody who knows madhyamaka knows exactly what he is meaning, what he’s saying here, but if you don’t, this could be like: “What?!?” Also if there is the excess that is over probation in identifying the object of negation, ok? It’s perfectly clear if you already understand what he is saying, what he is saying, but if you don’t – I don’t know what do you get from that. But it’s very clear. If there is over probation in identifying the object of negation, it’s throwing the baby out with the bath water. It is negating too much. It’s like finding there’s a brain tumor and just cutting out half the brain. I’m sure we’ve got it, you know. Oh, by the way, he’s demented now it was an overextension you cut out too much, right? But if you cut out too little, then the tumor is still there and it will grow right back.

So that’s what he is talking about in the very next. If there is an over pervasion – oh, this happens a lot! I’ve seen this in a lot of contemporary Buddhist literature – “There is no thinker”. I read that, you know. A lot of people think it is wonderful, “Oh, thoughts without a thinker, is not that great? Only thoughts exist, no thinker.” He just throws the baby out with the bath water. And who was that who came to that conclusion? You know. As if thoughts exist but thinkers don’t. Now, wait a minute, there is that what you think about, there is the thinking and there is the thinker and they all exist in mutual interdependence. Why are you throwing out one? Your thoughts don’t just happen, people are very creative, they come up with all kinds of thoughts. Let’s not deny the obvious, that is throwing the baby out with the bath water, coming to the conclusion: “Oh, I check from myself within my body and my mind and elsewhere, I couldn’t find myself anywhere, therefore I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t exist.

I just received a message from someone who has been doing some investigation here and came to sense of being nonexistent. And then came to the conclusion that she didn’t really love her husband any more – ‘cause, if she doesn’t exist, he doesn’t either, why should I love someone who doesn’t exist? And then the stuff is all taking out of compassion, out of empathy, all of that, ‘cause if I don’t exist then you don’t exist, none of us exist, and so she’s just taken a dip into nihilism. Oh, this is not foolishness, this is what happens. When you investigate, you find the middle way by bouncing off the extremes. So, if you’ve never, if you’ve never tasted, if you’ve never tasted nihilism, you should taste it briefly ‘cause we’ve really tasted substantialism. You’ve been drinking droughts, you have been drunk on substantialism for as long as samsara is being around – [jokingly] I’m really here. Are you really there? Oh yeah, we’re both here. [laughter]

[1:27:24] We know substantialism really really well. Nihilism we’ve hardly even never occurred to us, you know. And so, see both extremes and then you can see what is left over. So don’t come to the silly conclusion that you don’t exist at all ‘cause then you’ve over, that’s the over pervasion, right? But then he says: If you fall to nihilism, and that will undermine compassion, empathy, altruism, virtue and everything else, because you’re just a nihilist. But if there is an excess of under pervasion, then, without refuting the subtle object of negation one falls to the extreme of eternalism, the danger is very great. He is not kidding. This is not just philosophical exercises or sophistry. And that this happens; the second one happens a lot as well. People are trained in philosophy, especially in Buddhist tradition for example, or happens also. There are neuroscientists, many of them, very smart people, they say, you know, they checked out the brain, they don’t find any CPU of the central processing unit within the brain, you know, the kind of headquarters in the brain. And since there is no neural correlate of the self, the one who is in charge – there isn’t any – then, well, we have recognized that, we have recognized the absence of a central processing unit in the brain that is in charge of and organizes and runs the rest of the brain. We know that to be true. We found the absence of such a central processing unit and since there is no correlate of such a self, therefore there is no self. And then they come to the conclusion that the self doesn’t exist and then they go home hug their wife and kids and then sit down and have dinner. Untouched. ‘Cause the self they’ve negated is just a figment of their imagination in the first place. [It] has no impact. See whether makes their anger subside, craving subside, egotism subside, craving for money, prestige, wealth, power and so forth subside. I kind of doubt it, ‘cause it never really strikes the target. And this happens in philosophy. I’m not just beating up neuroscientists but people sometimes make a big deal – Oh, look! A neuroscientist is coming to the same conclusion as Buddhism. No, you’re not. It’s a faulty, a faulty parallel. It’s a dead end. It’s a complete dead end. But happens in Buddhist philosophy also for people who are very sophisticated. They conjure up in their minds the notion of the self and then they apply a reasoning to it. And then they refute it, and the self that is refuted was something they just concocted. It was almost a video game, you know, and their actual lived sense of self wasn’t even touched. That happens a lot.

So that’s under, under pervasion – that you created this little miniature artifact. This little contrived sense of self, and then you annihilated it, and then you walk home very proud of what you’ve done, you know. So this danger is very great to either when he says falls to the extreme of eternalism – that’s the term, that’s a literal translation – it would be closer to say you’ve fallen to the extreme of metaphysical realism or you’re falling to the extreme of substantialism, ‘cause that is what it really means. But it is called the excess of eternalism, because by implication, if the self did exist in this way that is inherently existent, independent of conceptual designation, by implication then, it would be immutable. That’s not obvious but if you probe very deeply into this, that turns out to be the implication, right? And then, therefore, eternal.

[1:30:55] So the danger is very great. And Nagarjuna’s root verses on Wisdom, his Mulamadhyamakakarika, states – If their view of emptiness is wrong, those of little wisdom will be destroyed. So this is serious philosophy. We’re actually living it. You’re actually viewing reality. That’s one of my, my criticisms of materialism. I think most people who advocate it don’t view reality that way. They are not taking their own belief system seriously, ‘cause they view their loved ones as real people who are morally responsible, who are not just blobs of protoplasm, they regard themselves as having will, making decisions and being responsible for them, you know. Uh, none of that is compatible with materialism, so they’re not willing to follow the implications from their own beliefs, they’re not willing to live it. So then what is the point? That would be so horrific.

William James, William James was indoctrinated into scientific materialism at a medical school at Harvard, in the 1860’s – I think it was. And he was taught in medical school “You have no will, you’re just a machine”. This is an immediate implication of materialism – you’re just a machine”. “You’re not making any decisions, what feels like decisions are just the echo of brain activity taking place. And you’re just along for the ride but you have no efficacy of your own. You’re not an agent. This is false notion of identitylessness, this is horrifically false. You’re not an agent. Why? Not because there is an emptiness of agency, as in madhyamaka, no, because the brain is the agent and the brain is absolutely real and you’re just a figment. You’re fluff, you’re an epiphenomenon, or just nothing at all and it’s just a brain embodied in a body and a body in the physical world running according to the inexorable laws of physics and chemistry and the machine is grinding away. You are nothing. You’re along for the ride and you have no efficacy of your own. And this man, he couldn’t do philosophy as a spectator sport. He took it in. He took it in. And, boy do I sympathize with him. He went almost catatonic, he was almost catatonic, you can read about it in his brilliant book The Varieties of Religious Experience. He refers to someone – he doesn’t say by name, but it’s him – who slipped into a depression, a sense of hopelessness, of helplessness, of radical existential disempowerment, so profound that he could hardly move. It was absolutely debilitating, right down to his core. And he could have stayed there but he remembered the writings, he was very very erudite very and very transatlantic, never considered Asian religions. Understandably, hardly anybody did in the west at that time.

[1:33:52] But he was very transatlantic, and he read the philosophical writings of a French philosopher by the name of Renouvier, who said man’s first act of free will is to decide that you have free will, that we are not compelled by the evidence to believe that we have no free will. It’s not conclusive, it’s not definitive, there is no proof, therefore you can choose to believe, you can make choices, and that is a choice you can make. It was like being out in the ocean and seeing one little sliver of wood you can hold on to. I’ll take it. And he said that was his way out of this absolutely debilitating depression. Is: “That will be my first act of free will, to affirm that I have it”, you know.

So, it’s a good story. So, when he says the danger is very great, I’m suggesting very seriously that’s the implication. If you really start… really from moment to moment you’re fusing your so called belief system with your way of viewing reality, you will view others as robots, you will view yourself as robot, you will view nobody as having any responsibility, nobody making any choices, being fundamentally mindless - coming from nothing and dissolving into nothing, with no meaning anywhere in the universe, not in yourself or outside. If you are not depressed, you are not paying attention. [laugh] Really. How can anybody have a happy day while actually viewing reality in that way? Because these are the immediate and necessary implications of being a straightforward materialist. This is why I harp on it so much, this is not just some crazy bunch of ideas, depression rates are going through the roof right now, mental illness is going up, anxiety [is] going up, depression [is] going up. We have all these drugs, all these marvelous psychologists and psychologists trying to battle the way. It’s like trying to battle, battle a tsunami, a 30-feet tsunami with paddleboards. It’s not the psychologists’ fault, it’s just we’re all being indoctrinated into, unless we have a religious context that we are holding fast to. To a worldview that is just crushing. I think it really is diabolical.

[1:36:13] If their view of emptiness is wrong those with little wisdom will be destroyed. It is like a snake ceased in the wrong way or a spell wrongly executed. Therefore, knowing the Dharma’s profundity, which is difficult for the feeble minded to realize, the sage taught that from his teaching the Dharma, misconceptions would occur. It’s subtle. The Buddha’s teachings on not self in the Pali Canon, the teachings in the prajnaparamita on emptiness, they’re subtle. And if one is feeble minded the chances are very high you’ll miss it. And you’ll have either settled back into comfortable substantialism and have a concocted notion of emptiness or non-self or you’ll tip right over into the other extreme, and just wind up being a nihilist. So, the stakes are high, people are taking this seriously. And the benefits are enormous if you do find that middle way which, in the same breath all phenomena are empty and they’re arising as dependent related events. It opens the heart to compassion, deep and (? sick) compassion, rather than smothering it. Olaso! It’s enough for one afternoon.

Transcribed by Sueli Martinez

Revised by Rafael Carlos Giusti

Final edition by Rafael Carlos Giusti


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