Buddhism - conceptual doubts

nanda chandran vpcnk at HOTMAIL.COM
Mon Oct 11 20:40:56 UTC 1999

I've some conceptual doubts on Buddhism and would be grateful for
clarifications from Buddhist scholars on the list.

Also, would anybody know how to subscribe to the list which discusses
scholarly Buddhism - I think it is called BUDDHA-L.
The central doctrine of the MAdhyamaka or the middle way
is that, both the positions - Self and not Self - represents
extreme view points and that truth is in the middle (as told
by Buddha in the KAshyapa Parivartha, Ratnakuta SUtram).

All the brAhmanical schools stand by the Self as the reality
in man. And it's explicitly asserted that the Self is neither
the body nor the mind, but a supersensible Reality - spirit -
and also characterized as knowledge, existence and bliss. And
it's the essence of our "I" consciousness.

Traditionally all the bauddha schools denied the Self - but
considering that the SAkhyamuni didn't advocate prayer or
worship, but taught discipline, ethics and meditation, which
implies that Reality is inherent in man - all the bauddha
schools tried to identify this Reality with something which
was part of empirical life.

NAgasena denies the Self, but doesn't seem too keen on
relating nirvAna to anything else, so leaves off with an air
of mystery about the ultimate Reality but with the implication
that it is inherent in man.

The VaibAshikas deny the Self and claim that the eternal atoms
or dharmas, which underlie existence, is the Reality.
Stcherbatsky claims that their nirvAna is a lifeless material
state. I've some questions on this : For if Reality is only the
atom, then how can a Buddha on attaining nirvAna know that he's
attained nirvAna? So what's the state of consciousness on
attaining nirvAna? Or is there a consciousness atom? I would be
glad for some information regarding the VaibAshika view of the
Buddha before and after his parinirvAna.

The SautrAntikas deny reality to both the Self and atoms - so
what's their Reality? Stcherbatsky claims that they thought there
existed a subtle consciousness after nirvAna. (I would also
appreciate any further information regarding the SautrAntika
concept of nirvAna).

The YogAcArins also deny the Self, but also deny the world as
well. For them the only Reality is vijnAna or consciousness,
which upon purification is nirvAna.

Here it can be noted that all the schools - brAhmanical,
sarvAstivAda as well as YogAcAra asserted that Reality was
something inherent in the empirical world. That the world as
a whole is not Real, but something in it - the essence - the
underlying Reality - Atman or anu or vijnAna - is the Real.

NAgArjuna's basic attack is towards this - that there can be
no substance without attributes or attributes without substance.
So the concept of an "essence" or "inherent existence" is
logically untenable. Further, he and his disciples explicitly
attack and refute all the rival concets of Reality - Atman, anu,
vijnAna etc

So what's his nirvAna?

Contrary to the claims that the mAdhyamika has no positions -
NAgArjuna in his MUlamAdhyamaka KArikA - asserts that there's no
difference between samsAra and nirvAna and that the limit of
samsAra is the limit of nirvAna - in short he seems to be equating
nirvAna with samsAra itself!

For all of other schools, Reality is ontologically different from
the empirical world as a whole - either as spirit or atoms or

So considering NAgArjuna's refutation of the concept of essence
(and also identifying Reality with Atman or anu or vijnAna) and his
assertion that nirvAna is no different from samsAra, he's saying
that Reality is not ontologically different from the world.

So then what's Reality? NirvAna is samsAra free of conceptual
activity. NAgArjuna's reality is more epistemological than
ontological. When the mind wheel ceases, samsAra is nirvAna.

But isn't this stance which denies the Self and also equates
nirvAna with samsAra, in contradiction to the fundemantal doctrine
of the middle way, which tries to take a middle position between
the existence and the non-existence of the Atman or Self?

One more thing that I've against the MAdhyamika is that - if
nirvAna is but samsara devoid of conceptual activity - why
wouldn't the Buddha himself said so? Clearly this is not a very
difficult concept to understand. So I find it difficult to
accept that something as simple as this, is the truth behind
the TathAgatha's thundering silence! And this hardly relates
favorably to the TathAgatha's dialogue with KAshyapa, where he
says that nirvAna is something which cannot be predicated of
anything in relation to the empirical world.

In the Buddha's teachings itself there's no firm proof that he
denied a supersensible mystical reality different from the
empirical world. But all the bauddha schools (except NAgasena
perhaps?) with their rationalistic ideals denied it and tried
to equate it with something in relation to the empirical world
itself. NAgArjuna though professesing to take the middle
between these two positions, also seems to be doing the same
(equating the Reality with something in realtion to the
empirical world - in his case it's the empirical world itself
devoid of thought), thus cutting off any scope for mysticism in
Buddhism. Or is it so?

Grateful for any clarifications.

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