Monday, October 22, 2012

forking paths (post for comment)

Lucio Fontana, Spatial Concept, (1960).

In emptiness there is no form, nor feeling, nor perception, nor impulse, nor consciousness; No eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, mind; No forms, sounds, smells, tastes, touchables or objects of mind; No sight-organ element, and so forth, until we come to: No mind-consciousness element; There is no ignorance, no extinction of ignorance, and so forth, until we come to: there is no decay and death, no extinction of decay and death. There is no suffering, no origination, no stopping, no path. There is no cognition, no attainment and non-attainment.-- Paramita Hridaya Sutra

Alfredo Triff

 In Buddhist philosophy there are no wholes: only parts. Similarly, there is no progression to an actuality. The Buddhist moment does not progress toward realization.

Tom Friedman, Big Bang, (Glitter and mixed media on paper, 2008).

It harks back to Nagarjuna's doctrine of Sunyata, a crucial concept in Buddhist philosophy. Imagine a universe of correlations, whereby everything is connected. Whatever is at any moment of space-time, consists of conditions or relationships, and these, too, are dependently co-originated:  

"The 'originating dependently' we call 'emptiness.' " "Emptiness is dependent co-origination."

Sunyata does not mean absolute lack, but rather a positive meaning of being, the ultimate source of all reality. Lama Govinda interprets the principle:
"śūnyatā is not a negative property, but a state of freedom from impediments and limitations, a state of spontaneous receptivity, in which we open ourselves to the all-inclusive reality of a higher dimension. Far from being the expression of a nihilistic philosophy which denies all reality, it is the logical consequence of the anātman doctrine of non-substantiality. Śūnyatā is the emptiness of all conceptual designations and at the same time the recognition of a higher, incommensurable and indefinable reality, which can be experienced only in the state of perfect enlightenment."*
What does it mean to say that reality is ultimately and intimately relational? Sunyata is the reverse of Pratitya Samutpada, the Buddhist law of dependent co-origination. There is no self-subsisting, isolated phenomena. Reality is relation(ship), always in flux, always becoming.

Ghada Amer, Anne, (Acrylic, embroidery and gel medium on canvas, 2004).

Reality is always digested, interpreted, quantified, apprehended. The common sense, everyday perception of things is one amongst many other constructions or versions of the world. What happens is that we "normally" understand the world as made up of distinct, self-subsisting substances, and hence we are able to put things in rational order according to various rules or laws. So, while Sunyata -negatively- means that nothing has a sufficient basis of its being in itself, Pratitya Samutpada means -positively- that one event is dependent on others.

One concept is implied in the statement of the other. Substance, for example would be dependent only on itself, thus excluding both Sunyata as well as Pratitya Samutpada. Therefore, Buddhism doesn't recognize recognizes substance.

The distinction comes from a passage in the catuṣkoṭi of the Mādhyamikas:
a- It is not the case that x is ϕ.
b- It is not the case that x is not-ϕ.
c- It is not the case that x is both ϕ and not-ϕ.
d- It is not the case that x is neither ϕ nor not-ϕ

It seems very complicated, but one can see it as twotruths: Are you warp-yarn or weft- yarn?

 Kaisa Puhakka charts the stylized reification process as such:

"We are typically not aware of ourselves as taking something (P) as real. Rather, its reality 'takes us,' or already has us in its spell as soon as we become aware of its identity (P). Furthermore, it's impossible to take something (P) to be real without, at least momentarily, ignoring or denying that which it is not (not-P). Thus the act of taking something as 'real' necessarily involves some degree of unconsciousness or lack of awareness. This is true even in the simple act of perception when we see a figure that we become aware of as 'something.' In Gestalt psychology, for each figure perceived, there is a background of which we remain relatively unaware. Now, extend this dynamic to text-analysis or speech acts. In hermeneutics, for every text we understand there is a context we miss. With every figure noticed or reality affirmed, there is, inevitably, unawareness. Is this how a spell works?"**

French philosopher Alain Badiou presents his ontology surprisingly close to Buddhism. For Badiou, 1- Being has no latent structure of its own. 2- Being's multiplicity is irreducible to any totality. 3- Ontology is a theory of the void, which is why "the infinite" is a void. It cannot be reduced to a unity. To think of Being means to posit oneself as as "warp" or "waft" (or both?).

Between uncontrolled chaos and absolute disorder:  

Julie Mehretu, Dispersion (Ink and acrylic on canvas, 2002).

What drives this "thirst" for being? Let's see it this way: An entity is reproduced through a replication of its states. Each moment comprising a state of the entity. A complete entity can only be the result of an imaginative reconstruction over a series of states. Sculptor Schramm presents it as in-between of place and no/place: 

Felix Schramm, Misfit (2005-06) @ SFMoMA

The sequence of the replications is linked together in the mind through the rapid succession of similar moments. This gives the continuity of experience and the appearance of persistence. In Martin Oppel's Untitled, the gravity-defying totem-like sculpture becomes a cipher for legion (one in the many).  

Martin Oppel, Untitled (Strata Fiction C, 2008).

Satkari Mookerjee writes that the arrow in its flight "is not one but many arrows successively appearing in the horizon, which give rise to the illusion of a persistent entity owing to continuity of similar entities." 

At this point, Jorge Luis Borges can lend us a hand:
"The Garden of Forking Paths is an enormous riddle, or parable, whose theme is time; this recondite cause prohibits its mention. To omit a word always, to resort to inept metaphors and obvious periphrases, is perhaps the most emphatic way of stressing it. That is the tortuous method preferred, in each of the meanderings of his indefatigable novel, by the oblique Ts'ui Pên. I have compared hundreds of manuscripts, I have corrected the errors that the negligence of the copyists has introduced, I have guessed the plan of this chaos, I have re-established -I believe I have re-established- the primordial organization, I have translated the entire work: it is clear to me that not once does he employ the word 'time.' The explanation is obvious: The Garden of Forking Paths is an incomplete, but not false, image of the universe as Ts'ui Pên conceived it. In contrast to Newton and Schopenhauer, your ancestor did not believe in a uniform, absolute time. He believed in an infinite series of times, in a growing, dizzying net of divergent, convergent and parallel times. This network of times which approached one another, forked, broke off, or were unaware of one another for centuries, embraces all possibilities of time. We do not exist in the majority of these times; in some you exist, and not I; in others I, and not you; in others, both of us. In the present one, which a favorable fate has granted me, you have arrived at my house; in another, while crossing the garden, you found me dead; in still another, I utter these same words, but I am a mistake, a ghost."
*Lama Anagarika Govinda, Creative Meditation and Multi-Dimensional Consciousness, pp. 10-11.** Kaisa Puhakka, Puhakka, Kaisa (2003). "Awakening from the Spell of Reality: Lessons from Nāgārjuna' within," in Encountering Buddhism: Western Psychology and Buddhist Teachings (State University of New York Press, 2003), p. 134, 145.

I will close this post  this sunday at 11pm.


Francisco Silva said...

Exciting topic. So much to be explored and interpreted. Can't wait to attend this class and engage in a group discussion. For now, I will just point out what caught my attention the most.

*the concept of emptiness - which reminds me of Gita, the principle of detachment (not necessarily meaning "empty", but in control, independent of any interferences).

*the Buddhist philosophy - "there is no progression to reality" x "everything is connected (Powers of Ten)." Uh, I believe in both being a MIND SET. The former being a controlled and disciplined understanding of events as independent, not correlated. If I am on the right path, I think it's very difficult to attain this state of mind. But it can be very practical. Deal with parts, not wholes. That implies the perception of "ACTUALITY", not being deluded. Can events be effectively unconnected, unattached, independent?

The latter, where everything is connected, "may" imply utopia. A mind set inherited in every human being. Eat = health = active = happiness = success, and so forth. Is that really the case?

There is so much in this post "forking paths". Will share thoughts after group discussion.

BTW, love the quote: "for every text we understand, there is a context we miss" and "for every figure noticed or reality affirmed, there is, inevitably, unawareness." Would that be because everything is connected or because there are no wholes, only parts?

Anonymous said...

The main reason, I believe, most people today interpret emptiness in a negative light is because Western culture has planted that idea in their minds. Emptiness can, more times tha others, mean growth. Indeed, it is kind of a paradox. I remember my mother always telling me as a child, "never get attached to material things, because the more you do, the less God gives you." This is true. When you harbor thoughts, objects, or even people (meaning to adopt a dominant and controlling personality) the less room there is to grow, to build relationships, or to create.

This post was very interesting, and I am extraordinarily glad I had the chance to read it. Thank you professor

-Juan Lopez

Anonymous said...

As I am reading this post the first thing that comes to mind is my friend Henry David Thoreau. I beleive he touched on this idea on "emptiness." Paraphrasing of course, he said that people get up and read the newspaper every morning with the concept that they have missed something.That when they ha awakenend they could cath up with the events that had occured during theier evening rest.
He explained that it wasn't conceivable to know about any situation other than you own first hand eperiences. His argument was that, any News written down or orally passed on is in fact secondhand news.
His concept of reality in my and his terms opinion, to go out side and burrow, explore, to find yourself at the doorstep of reality, inviting confusion to come out and play.
He has taught me to atleast stop filling myself up with emptiness.

Paul Lee

Anonymous said...

This is an amazing topic that captured my attention early on in the semester. The idea of being nothing is amazing and one that is not only highlighted in Buddhism but also various other religions. This idea of nothing, completely destroys the idea of self, to think as ourselves as nothing may seem absurd at first, but it is highlighted to take the EGO out of you, which is the creator of unhappiness. We must remember that in Buddhism we have a purpose, this purpose is one that is selfless, and impacts the greater good. For one to actually go about our purpose we must make a huge sacrifice, accepting the idea of nothingness in the self which then allows you to go by the selfless ideals. Amazing topic, cant wait to discuss it in class and in philosophy club! -uriel perez

Brian Daniel Farin said...

This whole idea of emptiness is intriguing. The proposal that life is really just a series of experiences really hits home for me because it stresses the fact that each individual occurrence has monumental importance. The task at hand is all that exists, and therefore will determine the future of everything. If you think of things this way, the only option is to be mindful---and mindfulness on a wide scale definitely has the power to transform a world of people that just kind of do things to a world of people that are aware of what they do, which would hopefully promote positive actions.

Then again, everything is a duck rabbit. There is a reality. Things cant just be handled absolutely independently of all other factors because things are so complicated--there is a mixture of good and bad--idleness and awareness in everything. The best option perhaps is a mindful person who is also proactive and doesn't have their head in the clouds.

In the words of the Hasidic masters: "God wanted a dwelling place in the lowest of places."...which always meant to me that this idea of living a meaningful, spiritual life has to be channeled into the world---not living a hermit lifestyle

Rodrigo Sandoval said...

This is my comment.

Fatima Chavez said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Fatima Chavez said...

Interesting topic . I must say that I STRONGLY agree Juans's comment. '' I believe, most people today interpret emptiness in a negative light because Western culture has planted that idea in their minds. Emptiness can, more times than others, mean growth." I personally do believe that emptiness in moderation can give us the answers we need to get through our daily challenges .

Jonathan Kohn said...

Ill go ahead and elaborate on an interview which Sam Harris was discussing his experiences with buddihsm and "mystical experiences". For those who dont know who Sam Harris is, hes a great mind that has a lot of knowledge to offer.
In this interview, called "Sam Harris talks Religion and Other Shit (with Joe Rogan)", lots was discussed, but there was a specific part, on drugs and meditation that I found very interesting.
Sam Harris talks about 'drug' and meditation experiences, basically he says that through much meditation you can get to the same level of mdma (xtc). He continued by talking about a specific tradition of meditation (I think from a buddihst tradition) where you can focus so much to the point where you can look at something from a perspective where your not seeing a 'my' perspective, but rather from a perspective of totality. Theres a subject and then theres all the objects, he says that through meditation you can get to the point where this 'distance' no longer exists, you can get to point of just being open and aware.
I guess this does have a strong connection with the concept of no self. Where this idea of a me and a that is just an illusion. Im not sure what to make of this, Im still doing more research, possibly understand more of that this means. Im guessing the best way to understand this is to actually experience..
here is the interview, the link is at the point where he begins to talk about meditation

King Felix said...

Wittgenstein went through the trouble of establishing an ontology which acknowledged the essentially mysterious, "nonsensical aspects of nature, as inevitable. Via his systematized analysis of language, which drew not only the limits of language, but the very limits of intelligibility, in other words the limits of thought, he problematized in true Western fashion, what was accepted as a phenomenon which was merely experienced in the East. There is definitely a tragically comic element to the unnecessary (possibly superfluous) reaction to existential angst in the form of over-intellectualization endemic to the West, which is at the same time organically and spontaneously solved in the East.

Anatman and sunyata get at the same thing Wittgenstein took the long road to establish (not that his work was concerned mainly with its establishment). The Hindu correlation to both sunyata and Wittgenstein's philosophy of language, would be Atman is Brahman. Where there is merely a realization of our infinite potential, and the persistence of this state unto eternity. The goal of the Dao is also a similar one.

Through a Catholic lens, there is no discrepancy in marveling at these responses to the primordial order that runs through the universe, and in a unique way within us humans. In fact they only elucidate the Catholic position which makes the claim that their (i.e.the mystical doctrines of sunyata, Wittgenstein, Daoism and Hinduism) fulfillment is crowned and transfigured in the deification of the individual via the real union between the human, creaturely spirit, with the unmade prototypical spirit of God, through and in the ingestion of His essence in the form of the Eucharist.

What beauty there is in all of these expressive encounters with the primordial! Nevertheless, if Christ the God man is uniquely manifested to us in His body, blood, soul and divinity within the Eucharist as presented to us through the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, then a proper merger with these other philosophies are not at the expense of anyone's heritage, but for the greater Glory of God (the primordial phenomenon) and for our (humanity's) very real divinization unto life eternal!

Angel Martelo said...

If non-being is itself a state of being, in other words, if the void or lack of existence itself paradoxically a state of existence, then ¨true being¨ is all expansive and inclusive. True being would then include both everything(every-thing or component of the totality) and nothing(no-thing or all unrealized potential of possibility, assuming that absolute anything or everything is possible whether through God or some other form of ¨law-giver,¨ in short the fundamental cause for why and how the laws of the physical universe are what they are). Assuming this is true, then true being is the totality of all that is, is not, was, was not, will be, and will not be; all of these existences and non-existences(which would be the unfulfilled potential of events which never were, are not, and will never be)are then somehow connected and included ¨within¨ the totality. Everything ¨outside¨ of this totality are again those things which never were, are not, and will never be, which are themselves within the void of potential which is ¨within¨ the totality of true being. Following this logic, then everything is connected, including nothing, and there is not one thing which exists independent of the totality of everything(the same everything which includes nothing). That being said, components within the totality can still be ¨set apart¨ as a component of something larger than itself, and be perceived in that manner without being a mirage; it is set apart and yet part of the whole. Though my heart is a vital part of my physical being, and only ¨truly¨ understood as a part of the totality of my physical being, it can still be ¨set apart¨ and be perceived as a ¨heart.¨ Who I am now can´t be truly understood apart from my past, and who knows, maybe I can´t truly be understood now apart from my future whatever that is; but my present self can still be set apart and analyzed nevertheless, and it wouldn´t be an illusion, it simply wouldn´t be the bigger picture; in other words, though it might not be the ¨bigger picture,¨ it is still a, as real as it gets, pixel, or speck of paint among the vast ocean of paint specks which make up a masterpiece or bigger picture.