Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Fabrications and Middle Way

Stian Gudmundsen Høiland
I would like to talk about my current understanding of dependent origination.
I apologize for the length of this, but hope that at least some will benefit from this and possibly engage in discussion about it.
Also keep in mind that this is stream-of-consciousness (pun slightly intended (pun definitely intended*)) and is quite "raw" in that I have not edited these notes. I might expand on these notes later to include other links of DO.
(If this interests you, check out this post where I talk about attention as a vector for cessation in relation to DO: https://www.facebook.com/groups/dharmaconnection/permalink/825574277469790/)
* Hint: intended & sankhara.
There is difficulty in talking about dependent origination.
The ideas conveyed in this doctrine is meant to convey general principles on a level of abstraction that our language is a little ill-equipped to handle.
Comparison with mathematics comes to mind—a highly specialized system of symbolization (language) to describe the most universal abstractions we currently observe.
Dependent origination is a little like this. It includes in its scope the fundamentals for language and as such reaches and wants to transcend the boundaries of language.
Fabrications are the pretenses under which we operate. “Operate” here is critical to understand. To “operate” in this context is meant to convey the deepest generalization of “action” or karma. If we were to really concentrate on what it means to “act”—go deeply into the structure and fabric of what it means to be “doing” something—that is what is meant here by operate. Of course we could use any of a plethora of other words in common usage, but the deeper meaning is this basic conception of *action*.
Now ‘action’ is insufficient on its own terms. Acts, on this deep level of investigation, requires, is dependent on, a wider scope or context. Standalone acts make no sense at all; acts must occur within a greater structure, a bigger picture.
In deep investigation, acts are equivalent to “yoking” or joining. The nature of action is to “bring closer together”, and it makes no sense to say that we are “joining” without anything that is being joined. In any act—which is always “an act *of joining*—there is a minimum number of elements in the current context. Which is to say that the fabric of action or karma presupposes, assumes, occurs within a structure or paradigm which always must include at least two things that are “yoked together” or joined, or rather, two things that are actively “in joining”—these two elements are engaged in the activity of "being joined”.
Nyanananda, with his whirlpool analogy for samsara, calls this “a whirling ‘round”.
With that, arising synchronically or simultaneously with that—presupposed and assumed by the wider paradigm—there is another piece of the puzzle. With the arising of the “twoness” we just explored, necessarily there arises “separateness”. One can not have “twoness" without also having “separateness”. These two seemingly different concepts equate to each other in a most basic, fundamental way. Or, rather than resorting to identity, it is more skillful to say that they *depend* on each other, though this somewhat betrays the strength and immediacy of their bond or dependency.
So this is what we have so far: Acts, twoness and separateness. One can discover that beyond merely listing these in order, it is hard to construct a meaningful sentence to describe the relation between these terms. The reason for that is that they are bound together so tightly in interdependence so as to be almost indistinguishable from each other.
This set of concepts form an interlocking paradigm of *reality*-ness. But, though it is a very conceptually elegant model, it is yet insufficient on its own terms. Going together in deep, immediate dependence with this set is another interlocking set.
The fabrications that is the second link in the twelve links of specific dependent origination is "pretense of volition”. This is a fundamental impulsion towards action. The impulsion and the action are again in such an immediate relationship of co-dependence that it is tempting to call them the same thing, but it would be unskillful to do so.
It might be good to remind that here we are concerned with what is revealed in deep investigation, the deeper mechanisms of dependent origination. As such these words are meant to apply on a scale or in a scope which is not evident in the mere reading of these words. So it might be good to reconsider the meaning of "impulsion" and "volition" (action).
As we have explored, impulsion and action cannot occur in a stand-alone way—there is a requirement for “twoness” (which in turn depends on “separation”). The way of knowing which knowns in terms of twoness is called vijnana. Trying to explain this term can be quite laborious if we are aiming for technical precision, but is quite easy to understand with simple, loose terms. In this context, the prefix “vi” means the opposite of splicing or joining, which is to say “divide, “cleave” or "split", and the root “jnana” means knowledge. In summary, it means "to know divisively” or “separative awareness”.
In English, this is usually glossed as “consciousness” and that makes sense with two considerations. First, in this context, consciousness is not meant as what might otherwise be termed “awareness”. Though we are definitively talking about a form of “knowing”, we are not talking about bright, clear, ‘glowing' awareness that is very common in spirituality and mysticism. We're talking about a patterning. Second, consciousness literally means “together-know-ness” (con-scious-ness) and this perfectly fits the model, because “togetherness” implies multiplicity (and twoness) and separation.
As discussed above, the prefix of vijnana (consciousness) means the opposite of “joining”. Do you see how this relates to “action” which means “joining”? Consciousness and volition (action, karma) together form an amazing model, interlocked in immediate co-dependency. Consciousness as a pattern of polarity or duality provides the required framework for volition (action) by dividing and separating, and volition by its very nature works as the “glue”, so to speak, that holds the polarities. The one could never function without the other. Consciousness without volition or volition without consciousness makes no sense at all. They come together in a package so integrated, so closely bound in dependence, that, once again, it is tempting to identify one with the other, but that would be mistaken.
A crucial point to make is the tension and basic conflict that marks the patterning caused by this model or structure. We have here two polarities bound together only by incessant activity. The nature of the model is such that the polarities are never to meet, but that will always be the impulsion—to make them meet. Two poles that by definition will never meet and impulsion to join them that will by definition never cease nor succeed. Consciousness and volition balance and counter-act each other so perfectly, that it amounts to a perpetual motion machine, sustained by grasping. Within the bounds of the model there is no way to break the cycle, to stop the whirling. This is the first reality of the noble ones.
Anything that arises within the bounds of this structure will be marked by that fundamental tension, basic conflict. This “anything” is “existence" and the tension is called dukkha, thus all existence is marked by dukkha, by virtue of the very mechanisms of existence.
Fabrications, or sankhara, are “pretendings” (or preparations, as Nyanananada calls it). They are the basic material out of which realities spring. An analogy Nyanananada uses is that of a chess game. No chess game can occur unless two friends agree to pretend to be in opposition and try to win over one another. That sphere in which the reality of a chess game springs up, together with the two chess players, that is an instance of paṭiccasamuppāda, dependent origination, as taught by Gotama. In this analogy, the unspoken assumptions and pretense of the game is sankhara. From that, the two players become sensitive to that sphere of reality that is the chess game, and simultaneously there is insensitivity towards realities outside of the scope of this sphere. So it is “bias”.
Perception depends on this bias; perception occurs by and as filtration through evaluation, or vedana (commonly translated as “feeling”). The bond between perception and vedana is so immediate that again it is tempting to say that they are identical, but it is skillful to say only that they are co-dependent.
But saying that fabrications are “pretendings” creates a duality. In using a concept such as pretending, we get the dichotomy of real and unreal. If any reality stems from, has it’s root in, fabrication, which is a concept meant to convey “unreality”, does that mean that everything is unreal, fake, an illusion?
In the fundamental sense of “Awakening”, yes, this is what it means. The unreality of reality is what one awakens to, just like one awakens to the dreamness of a dream—that peculiar sense in which it is unreal. And this is unimaginable freeing, like a cool breeze. “Lucidity” is when, while remaining “in” the world one is yet not “of” the world—as happens during lucid dreaming.
But in another sense, there exists no real dichotomy of real or unreal. If we say that “everything is unreal”, then we eliminate the difference between real and unreal, because then nothing is real—the usefulness or efficiency of the dichotomy expires. The only reality that we engage in is one that is unreal—thus making it not-a-reality. In this way, we could say that any reality hovers in the middle of being real and unreal, never touching any of the two sides. Or, maybe more skillfully, we could say that it is indeterminable. Our trying to pin down “reality” as either/or, as real or unreal, is an attempt to discover or unveil the ontology of “reality”—an attempt to discover its being, or *that* which it *exists* as. But awakening and its insight is that ontology (along with anything else) is in that state of “middleness”, where it hovers indeterminable between any “extreme”, any “this” or “that”, never neither ‘either' nor ‘or'.
So even though fabrications are “pretendings”, these unreal, made-up, concocted pretendings are the sum total of (any) reality; we could say that the nature of realness is unrealness. Those fabricated, mind-made, constructed pretenses is all the reality we will ever have, and this makes them “as real as anything can get” (which is to say, not really very real! :D).
Stuffs RedTurtle likes this. (Saturday, March 8, 2014 at 2:37am)
Stian Gudmundsen Høiland
This is *barely* *touching* the *surface* of the depth of DO :O
(Saturday, March 8, 2014 at 2:54am)
Kyle Dixon
The principle or notion of an 'indeterminable middleness' discussed in the second to last paragraph also came up on dharma wheel just this week:

Andrew108 wrote:

The intent of Madyamaka is not to establish this 'no reality' thesis. It's praxis is the assertion that genuine reality (which everyone has access to) is beyond extremes.

Malcolm wrote:
No, since this would just be a statement of existence.

Andrew108 wrote:
If you say that there is no reality then of course you are stating that reality does not exist.

Malcolm wrote:
I never claimed reality existed, therefore I am free of the fault of claiming it does not exist. When someone points out your bank account is empty, is it their fault that you have no money? Have they destroyed money you thought you had? Of course not. It is the same when stating "there is no reality". This is merely pointing out the conclusion of freedom from all extremes.

Āryānantamukhapariśodhananirdeśaparivarta-nāma-mahāyāna-sūtra states:
The Sugata said "existence" and "nonexistence" are extremes; whatever does not exist in the extremes, that also does not exist in the middle.

Since this vehicle is without extremes,
also the extreme of the middle does not exist.

Kāśyapa, "permanence" is one extreme; impermanence is the second extreme. Whatever is the middle of those two extremes, that also cannot be examined.

Sampuṭanāma mahātantra:
There is nothing empty, not empty,
and nothing to perceive in the middle.

The Meditation on Bodhicitta:
The nonexistence dependent on existence does not exist, also that nonexistence does not exist. Because the extremes do not exist, the middle does not exist, also do not rest in the middle.

The sgra thal gyur:
Because of being free from extremes, do not abide in the middle.

So we can clearly see that sutra and tantra agree on one point, i.e. there is no reality in the extremes, and there is no reality beyond the extremes. Ergo, there is no reality, since reality would have to be either existence or non-existence and so on.
3 liked this (Saturday, March 8, 2014 at 5:42am)
Stian Gudmundsen Høiland
Do you know where those translations are from, Kyle? They are really good :)
(Saturday, March 8, 2014 at 6:05am)
Greg Goode
I like that one,


Since this vehicle is without extremes,
also the extreme of the middle does not exist.
(Saturday, March 8, 2014 at 6:08am)
Viorica Doina Neacsu
(Saturday, March 8, 2014 at 6:15am)
Kyle Dixon
Stian, I know the sgra thal gyur one is his, since he has apparently translated that collection of tantras in full. As for the rest though, I can't say for certain.
(Saturday, March 8, 2014 at 6:15am)
Stian Gudmundsen Høiland
Kyle, in that thread you quoted Jigme. One of the quotes was "appearances are not cut with the razor of emptiness". Where is this from? Also, are the preceding quotes from the same work? And what about the quote from Sam Van Schaik, the one that says "straying into taking emptiness as a seal"?

By the way; did you have an 'opening' or something recently? I see you quoting some really, really good stuff in that thread (yet still I find your comments often stand in contrast to the quotes you use to support your arguments, even in the same post).
(Saturday, March 8, 2014 at 8:18am)
Kyle Dixon
From a book called "Approaching the Great Perfection" by Sam Van Schaik.

"In the gol shor tshar gcod seng ge'i ngar ro, Jigme Lingpa enumerates four mistaken approaches to emptiness, which he calls the 'four ways of straying [shor sa bzhi].' These are
borrowed from the Mahāmudrā tradition, where they are to be found at least as far back as Dagpo Tashi Namgyal (1512-87), who enumerates them in his Legshe Dawai Özer. They are: (i) straying into the condition where emptiness is an object of knowledge, (ii) straying into taking emptiness as the path, (iii) straying into taking emptiness as an antidote, and (iv) straying into taking emptiness as a seal."

Sam Van Schaik comments: "The first error is the fault of making emptiness an intellectual object" which is holding a view of emptiness in the mind instead of recognizing the uncontrived dharmatā on the outset, which is the beginning of the path in Dzogchen and Mahāmudrā.

He says "The second is the fault of taking emptiness as a path of training and attempting to arrive at emptiness, rather than taking it as the basis for the path", which again alludes to the praxis of Dzogchen etc., being predicated on knowledge of uncontrived dharmatā.

"The third is the fault of using emptiness as an antidote to discursive thought [rnam rtog] and afflictions [nyon rmongs]", which he says stems from not recognizing that discursive thought and affliction are primordially empty in essence and are freed through self-liberation. Again referencing knowledge [vidyā] which knows intimately knows dharmatā.

The fourth is referencing the application of the concept of emptiness to perception and again holding that view in the mind. 'Sealing' or affixing a concept to non-conceptual dharmatā.

This is all fairly normal rhetoric when it comes to the Dzogchen tantras and Mahāmudrā teachings, comparing and contrasting views for the sake of the expositions.
(Saturday, March 8, 2014 at 8:34am)
Kyle Dixon
"Appearance is not cut with the razor of emptiness", in the context of the definitive view which is the foundation for the praxis of Dzogpa Chenpo, because that view is the non-arising of mind. Dharmatā is the non-arising of the grasping reference point and from the standpoint of that view appearance self-arises and self-liberates. If appearances were evaluated in order to render them as empty this would once again involve the grasping which gives rise to subject and object. So rather than contrived actions of that kind, the dharmatā which has been recognized is left in its natural condition. This isn't yet the full realization of emptiness, but it is the path.
(Saturday, March 8, 2014 at 9:06am)
Kyle Dixon
What would be an example of a contradiction you see between the cited quotations and my own writing? Feel free to point one (or many) out.
(Saturday, March 8, 2014 at 9:15am)
Stuffs RedTurtle
Thanks for posting this
1 liked this (Saturday, March 8, 2014 at 10:39am)

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