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The Difference between Sa.msaara and Nirvaa.na
By David Loy

That sa.msaara  is nirvaa.na   is a major tenet of Mahaayaana  philosophy.   "Nothing  of  sa.msaara  is different   from  nirvaa.na, nothing  of nirvaa.na   is different from sa.msaara.  That which is the limit of nirvaa.na  is also the limit of sa^msaara;  there  is not the slightest difference between the two."[1] And yet there must be some difference  between  them, for otherwise   no distinction  would  have been made   and there would be no need for two words to describe  the same state.   So Naagaarjuna also distinguishes  them: "That  which, taken  as causal  or dependent, is  the process  of  being  born  and  passing  on, is, taken noncausally and beyond all dependence, declared to be nirvaa.na."[2] There is only one reality this world, right here but this world may be experienced  in two different ways.  Sa.msaara is the "relative" world as usually   experienced,  in  which  "I"   dualistically perceive  "it"  as  a  collection  of  objects  which interact causally in space and time. Nirvaa.na is the world   as  it is in itself, nondualistic  in that  it incorporates   both  subject  and object  into a whole which, Maadhyamika  insists, cannot  be characterized (Chandrakiirti: "Nirvaa.na  or Reality  is that which is absolved  of all thought-construction"), but which Yogaacaara  nevertheless  sometimes  calls "Mind"  or "Buddhanature," and so forth.

But if, as Buddhism  claims, there   never  was an "I, "  how  can  "I" experience  dualistically?   The answer, of  course, is that  "I"   do  not  experience      dualistically;  the  sense  of  duality  is  only  an illusion, since  all  experience  is and  always   was nondual.  However, this only raises the question in a different  form: if not  how   does  the  delusion  of duality originate  (since Buddhism  "turns aside" all such questions  about first causes), then how is this delusion of duality perpetuated? Since we are told it is possible   to overcome  the  sense  of duality  and attain or,  more  precisely, realize-nirvaa.na, what obstructs the experience of nonduality?

The purpose of this paper is to outline an answer to that question. It seems to me that there are three main factors which constitute  "the process   of being born  and  passing  on," two  of  which craving  and conceptualizing are well-known.  What is not so well understood  is the relation   between  them  and their relation    with  a  third  factor  which  Naagaarjuna identifies-causality.  The interaction of these three factors  works  to  sustain  the  sense  of  duality. Avidyaa, ignorance, is not  a separate  factor  but a generic term for their interaction.


Craving, ta^nhaa, is  the  most  obvious  factor, since the Buddha's Second Truth identifies  it as the cause of our dukkha (dissatisfaction). Fundamentally, the problem  of craving  is not  sensual   desire  but attachment in general, whether to sense-experience or to "mental events." How does such attachment generate the David  Loy is a Senior  Tutor with the Department of  Philosophy    at  the National University of Singapore. This paper  is part of his doctoral  dissertation to  be  submitted  to  the  National  University   of Singapore.   Philosophy   East  and  West  33,  no.  4 (October 1983). Sense of duality? Does not the concept   of attachment presuppose  duality an  "I"  which  is necessary  in order to cling to something? The Yogaacaara answer is that the tendency of nondual Mind to "freeze" or "fix itself" gives rise to the distinction between subject and object: "that-which-is-grasped"  becomes  reified into   an objective  "thing"  and "that-which-grasps"  becomes  the "self."  Here the mutual interdependence of subject  and  object  is obvious: there  can be no "that-which-grasps"  without "that-which-is-grasped." But it is claimed that this dualism  is delusory, for there is no real distinction  between  the content of consciousness   and   consciousness    itself.   "When cognition  no longer  apprehends  an object, then  it stands fully in [nondual] consciousness-only, because where  there  is nothing  to grasp  there   is no more grasping. The absence of an object results in the absence  also  of a subject, and not  merely  in that grasping."[3] Nirvaa.na, of  course, is "the  end  of craving" and therefore the end of such grasping. "The tendencies  to treat object   and subject  as distinct and real entities are forsaken, and consciousness  is established  in just  the true  nature  of one's  own  [nondual] consciousness."[4]

So  the  problem  of  craving    is  not  "moral" (whatever  that  could  mean) but epistemological: it distorts "my" perception of the world.


But such   attachment  seems  limited  to what  is immediately   presented.    "I"   can  "grasp    at"  a particular appearance only because that appearance is now appearing.   How can I grasp at something  that is not present  any more? In such a case, the ability tore-present" an appearance  will  be beneficial.  It gives  me a way of retaining  "it"  and referring   to "it." It enables "grasping at a distance."  Hence the advantage   of a system of re-presentation that is, a language.

But this   is also  the origin  of a problem.   The fundamental   difficulty  with  craving  is  that  it generates a sense of duality "I" desire that "thing" which, more fundamentally, I already am.  The problem of re-presentation is that it widens the gulf between the "I" and the "object."  I re-present   a particular "object"  by calling  it, say, an "urg." This enables me to refer  to the "object"  even  when  it does not immediately appear.  But when the appearance is again introduced,  the  re-presentation   "urg"   does  not disappear, as  having  no  more  function.  It  still re-presents   the  appearance.  Now we know  what  the appearance   is.  It is "urg";  or it  is a particular instance  of a universal: "an urg."  Now I experience  the  appearance  "through"   the re-presentation.  The problem  is that, the more successfully  a system  of representation  functions, the more likely  we are to confuse   the representation  with the appearance.  So tathataa, the "thusness"  quality  of things  as they really are, is subjected to vitarka, conceptualizing, and to vikalpa, false  imaginings, which   filter  and distort  sense  experience;  we  are  urged  to  "cut  through" this "fog of concepts" if we want to realize the true nature of the world.  Mahaayaana  emphasizes this problem of conceptualizing more than Theravaada, which emphasizes  craving generally.   In fact this is the source of much of the quarrel    between    them:   Mahayanists    criticize Theravaadins  for reifying   the Buddha's words into a doctrinal    system,  and   the    paradoxes   of   the Praj^naapaaramitaa  suutras  may be understood  as an attempt to avoid that pitfall.

But  there  is a serious   confusion  in the above analysis. It is not the case that the presented world is divided up into grasped  "objects"  which we later re-present; rather, we divide up the world the way we do (that is, learn to notice  what is present) with a system of representation. John Searle, a contemporary philosopher of language, explains this well: I am not saying the language creates reality. Far from it.  Rather, I am saying that what counts as reality is a matter  of the  categories  that  we impose on the world; and those categories are for the most  part  linguistic.    And  furthermore:  when  we experience   the  world  we  experience    it  through linguistic   categories    that  help  to  shape   the experiences themselves.  The world doesn't come to us already  sliced up into objects  and experience: what counts  as  an object  is already  a function  of our system  of representation, and  how  we perceive  the world in our experiences is influenced by that system of representation. The mistake is to suppose that the application  of language  to the  world  consists  of attaching  labels  to objects  that are, so to speak, self-identifying.  On my view, the world divides  the way we divide it, and our main way of dividing things up is in language. Our concept of reality is a matter of our linguistic categories. [5]

Such   an  approach   is  reminiscent   of  Kant's distinction    between    things-in themselves    and phenomenal  things-as-we-perceive-them the  same distinction   we  have  made  in order  to distinguish sa^msaara from nirvaana.  In place  of Kant's  twelve "Aristotelian"  categories  Searle  offers  language, "our system of representation."  Searle and Kant both doubt    that   it    is   possible    to    experience "things-in-themselves,"  but  the  contemporary   view seems  to leave  the door open in a way that Kant did not: Is it possible  to get behind  language? Is that not what occurs  in meditation, when one "lets go" of all ideas and concepts?

That this contemporary  Western  view of language is consistent  with Buddhist teachings may be seen by looking  at  the  Buddhist  analysis  of  perception.

Various   schools  divide  up the  act of apperception into  a different  number  of stages  (even   the five skandhas may be interpreted as one such version), but fundamentally  they  agree  about  the nature  of the process. This is ummarized  by Conze  into  "three levels   of  the  apperception   of stimuli," to  which        "three kinds of `sign' correspond the sign as (1) an object   of attention, as (2) a basis for recognition, and  as (3) an occasion   for  entrancement."  In  the first stage, one turns towards a stimulus;  attention is directed to a "bare" percept. In the second stage, what has been perceived  is recognized, "as a sign of its being  such and such   a part  of the universe  of discourse, and   of  habitually  perceived  and  named things." So the "bare" percept is now recognized as a girl, or table, or whatever,   with   all   its connotations.  These connotations   are elaborated  in  the third  stage, which  "is marked  by the emotional and volitional  adjustment  to the `sign'."[6] In the case of a girl, I may be attracted  by her and so try to get to know her.

This whole   sequence  usually  occurs  so quickly that we are not able to distinguish one stage from another;  hence we take it to be one  simple  mental  event: "seeing   a pretty  girl." Consequently, we are normally  never aware of what it is like  to experience  just the first   stage, for we never have experienced  just  that  by  itself.  So philosophers   as  different    as  Wittgenstein   and Heidegger    assert   that   what  we  do  immediately experience   is  "a  pretty   girl."    But   Buddhism emphasizes  that  we can learn   to distinguish  these separate stages, and in fact to experience that first stage by itself is the goal of the Buddhist path:

The task   is to bring  the  process  back  to the initial point, before any 'superimpositions' have distorted the actual and initial datum. The seemingly innocuous phraseology  of the formula which describes the   restraint   of  the   senses    opens   up  vast philosophical     vistas,   and   involves     a   huge philosophical programme which is gradually worked out over   the  centuries   in  the  Abhidharma    and  the Praj~naapaaramitaa.`He   does   not    seize   on  its appearance   as  man  or woman, or its   appearance  as attractive, etc., which makes it onto a basis for the defiling  passions.  But he stops at what is actually seen.' ‘He seizes  only   on that  which  is really there.’[7]

The    claim   of   Buddhism,   and   most   Indian philosophy, is that "that which is really  there"  is very different   from what we would normally  think it to be.  The Yogaacaara view is that, contrary to what  Conze writes, I can let go of the seizing," too that is,  the  "I"   can  be  let  go and   what   is  then       experienced  is the original thing-in-itself, nondual "Buddhanature."

One might therefore  conclude that thinking  (and language),   because  they  distort  perception,  have solely the negative  function  of obscuring  reality; hence  we should  strive  to "transcend"  or minimize them.   But this would  be a mistake, just  as it is a mistake  to think  that sense-perception  or physical activity  must  be  "transcended."  Nothing  is to be rejected, but its actual  nature  must  be clarified. The linkage  between perception  and conception   is a problem that has two sides. Just as concepts veil the true nature of percepts, so perceptions  also obscure the true nature of thought.  When the thought-forming activity of the mind is used solely or primarily as a system of representation, something fundamental about  the nature of thinking is concealed. Just as there is  nondual   perception,   so  there   must    be  nondual thinking both  of which must be radically  different from   our  dualistic   way  of  understanding    them.

 Mahaayaana calls our usual representational  thinking vij~naana  and distinguishes  it from praj~naa, which is defined as that knowledge  in which the known, the knower,  and  the  act  of  knowledge  are  one.  The etymologies  of the words  are  revealing: they  both share  the same  root  j~naa, "to know," but  the vi prefix   in  vij~naana  (and  in  vi-kalpa,  vi-tarka) signifies  "separation,  differentiation";  hence  it refers  to that type of knowing  which  discriminates one  thing   from  another--most   fundamentally,  the knower from the known. The pra- of praj~naa signifies "to spring up (by itself)" evidently   referring to a more spontaneous  and creative thinking  in which the thought  no  longer  seems  to be the  product   of  a subject  (which, of  course, it  never   was), but  is experienced as arising from a deeper, nondual source. In  such  knowing  the  thought  and  that  which  is conscious of the thought are one.

The  second  and  third  of  Conze's   stages   of apperception  are  subjective  interpretations  based upon  the first.  The second, recognition, is part of what we have called conceptualizing the  application of our system of  representation   to  what is immediately  perceived.  The third, our emotional and volitional   response, will   generally    be   some expression  of craving.   It is important  to see  how  these two work together. In order to crave something, I must   be  able  to distinguish   the  object  of  my craving  from other  things, and in order for this to be  done  most  successfully, language a  system  of Representation is necessary.  It may be possible for me to crave a particular  taste without being able to  identify  it,  but  it  helps  enormously  if  I  can represent that flavor as "chocolate." The vast number of possible conceptual  distinctions    can  thereby increase and refine our cravings.  This does not mean that craving is dependent upon our concept-formation; the Buddhist view is the opposite: that our system of representation is at the mercy of our desires, and in fact  evolved    in  order  to  help  us  satisfy  and elaborate them.   The motivation behind the particular way in which we "divide up" the world through language (hence   transforming    nirvaa.na into sa.msaara) is, fundamentally, our craving. In this way Wittgenstein   and Searle  turn  out to have  been  right:  we  do  not  first  perceptually  "pick  out" objects  and only  later  name them  and crave   them; rather, we learn to notice  them by naming  them, and the motivation  behind that naming was originally the assistance  it gave in satisfying  desires.  (This is not contradictory  to the Buddhist view of perception discussed   above,  for  what  is  important  to  the Buddhist is that the association  of perception  with craving  and  conceptualizing  can  be  broken.) So a child   learns  to cry  "Mama!" in order  to be fed or comforted.  Perhaps this can be stated more strongly: through language I become conscious  of that  is, am able  to  represent    to  "myself"   desires   which  otherwise remain "unconscious."


The third   factor  which polarizes  nondual  into dualistic  experience  is causality.   Inasmuch as any connection  between  two  bits  of experience   can be interpreted  as causal, causality  may   be  the  most fundemental   of the three;  in this  way Schopenhauer was able  to reduce  Kant's  twelve  categories  to a single one. For both Kant and Schopenhauer, causality cannot be predicated of things-in-themselves, because it is part of what we superimpose  upon the noumenal world in order to experience it  phenomenally.

Naagaarjuna agrees: The universe viewed as a whole is the Absolute        [nirvaa.na], viewed as a process it is the phenomenal [sa.msaara].  Having regard to causes and conditions,  we have the phenomenal  world;  this same world  when causes  and conditions are disregarded, it is called the Absolute.[8] This   is  generally    the  view  of  those   who distinguish between Appearance and Reality: Causality is the way we relate  one object  or event to another in the phenomenal  world, but it cannot be predicated of Reality itself. In fact, the category of causality first becomes necessary because we phenomenally  distinguish  between  one thing  and  another;  insofar as we then perceive  the world as a collection  of separate  objects  and occurrences, we must  then  determine  their  relationships  to  each other.  If and   when  we experience  the  world  as a "Whole," there  is no  such  necessity, as   Nietzsche pointed out:

Cause   and effect: such  a duality  probably never occurs in  reality  there stands  before   us a continuum  of which  we isolate  a couple  of pieces; just  as  we  always  perceive  a  movement  only  as isolated  points, therefore  do not really see it but infer it.... An intellect which saw cause and effect as a continuum  and not, as we do, as a capricious division  and  fragmentation, which  saw the flux   of events would reject the concept of cause and effect and deny all conditionality.

One should   make use of "cause"  and "effect"  as pure  concepts  only, that is to say, as conventional fictions   for  the  purposes   of  designation   and communication, not for  explanation.   In the  an sich [Kant's  "things-in-themselves"]  there is nothing of "causal    connection,  "    of    "necessity,  "    or "psychological  unfreedom."  There is no following of effect after cause. No laws hold.  It is we alone who have invented the causes, the after-one-anothers, the for-one-anothers, the  relations, the constraint, the number,  the  law,  the  freedom,  the   ground,  the purpose.[9]

The well-known  problem with Kant's metaphysic is that, while agreeing  that causality  is a phenomenal category,  he  also  illegitimately    inferred   that things-in-  themselves  must  be  the  cause  of  our phenomenal appearances. Nor can be easily escape this difficulty, for without  some such view   there  is no reason    to     postulate      the    existence     of things-in-themselves  at all, since he believed  they cannot in principle ever be directly experienced. The Mahayana  view  is not subject   to either  criticism, since   "things-in-themselves" the  Absolute in Naagaarjuna's quotation just given are  experienced immediately  upon the cessation   of appropriation or         dependence that is, of attachment.  Furthermore, the view  that reality   is actually  non-dual  avoids  the error of postulating  a Reality "behind"  Appearance; rather,  Reality  is  "within"   Appearance or,  more precisely, the Reality  that is sought  is Appearance itself, but not, of course, appearance as we normally understand it. From this perspective, it is our usual "common sense" view in which we distinguish   between material objects and their appearance  to us that is (as   Berkeley   realized)  guilty  of  metaphysically

postulating a Reality "behind" appearance. Vasubandhu,  like   Berkeley,   denied   not  sensible qualities,   such  as  solidity, but   the  independent substratum  matter  in  which  they  supposedly adhere.

Kant, of course, was  responding  to the  problem with causality that Hume had pointed out. To say that one event  causes  another  is to assume  a necessary

connection between the two, but such necessity is not something  we can  ever  observe  or infer  from  the events  themselves;  we can conclude   only that there seems  to be  a constant  conjunction.  The  idea  of necessary connection is something we superimpose upon our  sense-perceptions.  Hume's  view  is  that  this arises due to the constant association of ideas, that we eventually  notice the connection  between  events and then come to expect it. But Kant and others since  him have  pointed  out that  our minds   are  not so passive: we

instinctively look for try to make causal relations between events.

Naagaarjuna   would agree that causal  connections are something  that we superimpose  upon the world we experience hence  one  of the  ways   we  "transform" nirvaa.na  into sa^msaara.  This applies   not only to relations  between perceptions  but also to relations between thoughts. Objectively,  exploring   the  relationships  between  thoughts results in logic;    subjectively,   the    apparent   connection   between thoughts is an essential aspect of our sense of self. But this link, like the self, is an illusion:

So  with  former  thoughts, later  thoughts,  and thoughts   in between: the thoughts follow one another without being linked together. Each one is absolutely tranquil.[10]

In the exercise of our thinking  faculty, let the past  be  dead.  If  we  allow  our  thoughts,  past, present, and  future, to link  up in a series, we put ourselves  under restraint.   On the other hand, if we never let the mind attach  to anything, we shall gain liberation.[11]

The    general    problem   with    making   causal connections  is that in so doing  we never experience the thing-in-itself  (tathataa) wholly, because  only         part of the mind is perceiving  it;  the rest is busy relating it to something else.  Of course, insofar as objects  are  perceived  as  distinct, they   must  be

causally   related,  but  as  a  consequence  we  miss something   important  about  the true nature   of that "object."  Just  as recognizing   and craving  for  an object mean we distort  "what is actually  there," so does relating  the object  causally  to other objects and  events.  The ingrained  tendency  to see  causal

relations   is part  of that  subjective  gloss  which distances   me from  the  object  and  keeps  me  from realizing that I am it.[12]

Heidegger's   concept of zuhanden[13] ("utensils"; Greek,  pragmata)  is  helpful  here:  In  our  usual day-to-day living what we immediately  experience are not objects  just "simply   there" but utensils  to be

used in various ways.  I do not perceive the pen I am writing  with  as it is in itself  because  I am busy utilizing  it to write  down  words, and the paper  I         write upon is not perceived  in its full presence but also just utilized as something  to write words upon; the table  is utilized  as something  to support  the paper;  the chair  as that which supports  me, and so forth.    Heidegger   concludes  that  we  immediately experience  the world as a "totality of destinations" (purposes)  which  ultimately    refers  back  to  me.

Vorhanden,   objects   just  "lying    there, "  are  a derivative   category dependent  upon zuhanden, for we become  aware of objects  as zuhanden  only when they fail or are not where they should be, or as something unexpected that "gets in the way"; so, for example, I will experience my pen as vorhanden only when it runs out of ink and perhaps  not even  then: for I may see

it then as a utensil  whose utensility   is that it is something to be thrown away into the rubbish bin.

The fact that we normally  experience  things  in this way fits perfectly  with the Buddhist   view that  we do not experience  things  as they are because  we

view   them  causally.  But there  are two significant differences between Heidegger and the Buddhist  attitude.  First, in Buddhism the "totality

of destination"  does  not  refer  back  to me, it is "me";  that is, the tendency  to treat things in this way (part  of our sa.mskaaras) constitutes  the sense

of  self,  or  an  important  part  of  it.   Second, Heidegger   views    vorhanden   as  derivative    from zuhanden;  he saw his project  in Being  and Time  as

overcoming the error (prevailing since Parmenides) of basing  a metaphysics  upon  vorhanden.  The Buddhist view,   as  we  saw  in  Conze's    three   levels   of apperception, is that the primary  category  is "that  which  is  actually   given, "  upon  which  craving, conceptualizing,  and  causality  build except,   the Buddhist  agrees,  for  the  fact  that  usually  the various  processes  occur so quickly   that we are not able to distinguish between them.

Why do we tend to see objects  causally, that is, as  utensils? This   is obvious  enough: insofar  as I crave, I will need to manipulate  the world  in order

to obtain what I want.  To manipulate   requires us to think causally: what causal   factor  will lead to the desired   effect?  In  fact,  the  desire   for  such

manipulation  may be seen as the root  of the concept of causality:

The  idea  of cause  has its  roots   in purposive activity  and is employed  in the first instance when we are concerned  to produce or to prevent something.

To discover   the  cause  of something   is to discover what has to be attested   by our activity  in order to produce  or to prevent that thing;  but once the word

"cause"  comes to be applied   to natural  events, the notion of altering  the course  of events tends to be dropped.  "Cause"   is then  used  in  a nonpractical, purely  diagnostic  way  in cases  where   we have  no interest   in  altering  events  or  power  to  alter them.[14]

However,   this  view  that  causality  is  merely phenomenal  would  seem to contradict   the Mahaayaana understanding   of  `sunyataa  as  dharma-nairaatmya. `Sunyataa  in Mahaayaana   has two  primary  meanings:

first, that the world  (the true world, nirvaa.na) is empty of predication;  this is essentially  the point already   made  about  conceptualizing    as  obscuring

tathataa.   Second, `sunyataa  means dharmanairaatmya, that there  is not anything  `in' the world   that has any self-nature, because  all things  are conditioned by each other and hence are relative.  So Naagaarjuna

interpreted pratiityasamutpaada, the law of dependent origination, as showing  the  interdependence   of all things presumably, as their causal   interdependence.

This seems inconsistent  with our view that causality is merely thought-expectation, part of the subjective filter    which   interprets   what    is   immediately experienced.

But  there  is  no contradiction.  The  essential interdependence   of  all  phenomena  does  not  mean causality, in the sense that we and Nowell-Smith have meant, which  is  rooted  in  purposive  activity  to attain  something  desired  or  to prevent  something disliked.  That   sense  is temporal  and linear: some specific   cause  A  will  produce  effect  B.   This presupposes experiencing the world as a collection of separated   objects; causality    explains   their relationship, and our understanding of their interaction  is used  to obtain  one  object  and not another.  `Sunyataa as complete interdependence means that there are no objects  and hence no linear causal relations between objects. Dharma-nairaamya  implies that the world, as Nietzsche pointed out, is a continuum. We may isolate a couple of pieces, designate them as objects and try to determine  their causal relationship;  but in fact there   are no such isolated  pieces;  there is only a holistic flux of events.  All particulars   are simply momentary appearances, empty forms that the continuum takes  in its constant   transformation.  Each form is empty  because   it has  no nature  of its  own: it is simply  what  the whole  continuum  is doing  at this place  at this moment.  The other side of the coin is that because  each form  is empty  it is the complete manifestation   of    the   entire   continuum.    Each particular contains and manifests the whole.  Hua-yen expresses   this insight  with the analogy  of Indra's infinite net: at each interstice is a jewel which may be said to be empty because  it simply  reflects  all the other jewels;  but it may also be said to contain all the others.  Thus our cosmos is symbolized  as an infinitely   repeated interrelationship  among all its members each  one of which encompasses and expresses all the others.  This is very different from our more         usual linear  and temporal   conception  of causality; Jung's   concept    of   synchronicity "an a causal connecting principle" is closer.[15]


Let me summarize  what has been   said so far.  In answer  to the  question  of why  we experience  this world  (which  in itself  is nirvaa.na) as sa^msaara,

three    factors   have   been    identified:  craving, conceptualizing, and causality. The relations between craving  and  the  other  two  have  been  discussed: insofar   as  I  crave, I  will  need  to  distinguish conceptually  the objects  I crave, and I will relate to objects causally  in order to obtain that which is craved. To complete the triangle, we must look at the relation between conceptualizing and causality.  What remains  to be seen  is how causality   is built  into language itself.

Earlier, Searle  was  quoted  to point  out  that naming  is not just  a matter  of pinning  labels  on objects that are self-identifying. "The world doesn't come  to  us  already  sliced  up  into  objects  and experiences: what  counts  as an object is already  a function of our system of representation,  and how we perceive  the world in our experiences  is influenced by that system  of representation."  So, in naming, I do not first see a thing and then decide to call it a "door," for example; to call   it a "door"  is how  we learn to pick it out and notice it. We divide  up the world   and come to see it as a collection  of objects by giving  names  to those  objects.  But now we must take a further  step.  How does  naming   "mean"? The conclusion     of   recent   philosophers     such   as Wittgenstein   is  that  we  cannot  understand   how language functions  until we see its connection  with our behavior.   Language  is an integral part of a way of  life, and  the  only  way  we have  to   determine whether  a  person  "understands"   certain   language patterns  is  by  observing  his  behavior.  A person understands  the meaning  of "door" not by being able to give us a verbal   definition, but by being able to use it in the appropriate way for going in and coming out. So to understand that "that" is a door includes understanding the To understand  that  "that"   is "a door"  is thus  to define  my  relationship   with  "that";  the  concept "door" itself is enough to identify the place of that thing in my vorhanden system of utensils.  As soon as I recognize  something  as  "a  piece  of  chalk," my causal relationship  with it is established: It is to be used for writing on a blackboard. At that point, I will  usually  put it in its "place"  and then pay no more  attention   to it until  I need to write  on the blackboard.   Of course, other  recognitions  are more emotionally  charged, such as identifying  particular forms as "cigarette"  (if one is addicted to tobacco) or  "a  pretty  girl";  in  such  cases  my  possible relationships  with these objects  are more obviously defined in terms of cravings.

So causality is built into language. Names do not simply cover things like a blanket of snow resting on the roof of a house.  Learning a language is learning to make causal connections, learning to see the world as  a  collection    of  utensils  used  in  order  to accomplish  certain  ends.  Naming,  in  the  act  of picking out objects, also determines how we relate to them.  In  this  way,  craving, conceptualizing,  and causality  work together   to sustain  a sense of self "in"  an objective  world.  If "I" want to experience the "world-in-itself," all  three  must  be overcome. The "thing-in-itself" tathataa must be realized to be distinct  from  any  craving  for  it, from  my representation   of  it,  and  from  whatever  causal associations it may have for me.  For only then can I realize that I am it.



1.        Na samsarasya nirvanat kineid asti visesanam
      Na nirvanasaya samsarat kineid asti visesanam
           Nirvanasya ca ya kotih kotih samsaramasya ca
           Na tayor antaram kincit susuksman api vidyate
           (Naagaarjuna's Maadhyamaka Kaarikaa XXV, 19-20)
2.       Ya ajavamjavibhava upadava pratitya va
          So pratitya anupadaya nirvanam upadisyate
          (Ibid., XXV, 9 (Sprung's translation))

3. Vasubandhu's Tri^m`sikaa-vij~naapti-kaariika, 28.

4. Ibid., 29.

5. From Men of Ideas, ed.Bryan Magee (New York:Viking Press,1978), p.184.

6. Edward   Conze, Buddhist  Thought  in India: Three Phases  of  Buddhist  Philosophy  (London:  George Allen & Unwin, 1962), pages 62-63. The emphasis is Conze's;   he  quotes    from   his   own  Buddhist Meditation.

7. Ibid., p.65.

8.Maadhyamaka  Kaariikaa  XXV, 9 (Murti's Vedaantic translation of footnote no. 2 above).

9. Nietzsche's  The Gay Science, section  112, trans. Hollingdale; and Beyond Good and Evil, section 21, trans. Danto.

10. Zen   master    Ma-tsu   (d.    788) ,  from  the Ku-tsun-hsu   Yu-lu (Shanghai: Fu-hsueh-Shu-chu, no date), I:4.

11. From the Platform  Suutra of the Sixth Patriarch, chapter IV: "Samaadhi and Praj~naa."

12. This view of causality is intimately related to a different  way of understanding  time.  Causality requires  that the past become the present;  that is, that past causes determine  present  effects. To deny causality is to deny this also. Past  things  are in the past and do not go there from the present, and present  things  are in the  present, and do not  go there  from  the past....      Rivers which compete with each other to cover the land do not flow.   The `wandering air' that blows about is not moving. (Seng-chao, Chao Lun) Dogen later elaborated on this: we should  not take the view   that  what  is latterly  ashes  was formerly   firewood.  What we should  understand  is  that,  according  to  the doctrine  of   Buddhism,  firewood  stays  at  the           position  of firewood. There   are former  and later stages, but these stages are clearly cut.We do not consider that winter becomes spring or that spring becomes summer. (Shobogenzo, fascicle 1)

13. Being   and  Time,  III;  "The  Worldhood  of  the World", 15.

14. P. H. Nowell-Smith, "Causality or Causation".

15. The   link  between the two Mahaayaana meanings of `suunyataa otherwise an obscure relationship is that by eliminating thought constructions we experience the world as such a nondual continuum.

Transcribed for Buddhism Today by Bhikkhuni Lien Hoa


Updated: 15-1-2001

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