SEVERAL MIDDLE WAYS V

This view on the cosmos’ emptiness, the primordial nothingness, could not have been Nāgārjuna’s reference to past wisdom.
He may have delved in Buddha’s teachings and come across the Sutta on emptiness and its later 2.0-version the extended Sutta on emptiness. Just as the equally Small Vehicle Phena Sutta (SN 22.95): the Teaching on froth (or foam), the two above texts are about the absence of ens in living beings, and in the Phena Sutta it’s about even the absence of essence in material things such as froth on water. This Phena Sutta then could have been Buddha’s first mention of emptiness (sunyā) beyond the mere mortal.

The Phena Sutta: “ … Monks, suppose that a large glob of froth were floating down this Ganges River, and a man with good eyesight were to see it, observe it, and thoroughly examine it. To him … it would appear empty, without substance: for what substance would there be in a glob of froth?

Nevertheless Nāgārjuna may not have been entirely satisfied with this too. For him, it didn’t do. He wished to go a step further in order to deal with the entire Chain of Dependent Arising, including the functioning, the process of Dependent Arising itself. In doing so he amplified the teaching on emptiness beyond the initial goal of bringing the individual to examine himself to see and witness that all within his own frame is fleeting, that nothing in it can be grasped and that therefore there is no need to be overly concerned with your individual life since it is empty of substance and ultimately cannot be governed – “I cannot say: let me look like this, let me be like that”, a paraphrase of one of the early teachings.

In his Teachings on the Roots of the Middle Way (Mūla-madhyámaka-kārika – Ch.24,18) Nāgārjuna writes the word sūnya in the genetive: sūyatam: the Dependent Arising’s emptiness. This is important for a correct understanding of the stanza:

Yah pratītyasamutpāda sūnyatām tām pracaksmahe /
sā prajñaptir upādāya pratipat saiva (sa-iva) madhyamā
.”

I STATE THE DEPENDENT ARISING’S EMPTINESS /
I PERCEIVE THE DEPENDENT ARISING’S EMPTINESS AS CONTIGENT ON (UPĀDĀYA) /
CONVENTION. THAT (the dependent arising’s emptiness) IS THE MIDDLE (way or path).

I.e. first with our ordinary mind we perceive how phenomena come to be dependent upon one another, e.g. a flower as result of the presence of soil, water, air, and light. After a while with our well trained mind we realize that both the phenomena and the arising as a process are empty of content or own-being. This own-being in Buddhist parlance is svabhāva.

This is the thorough emptiness that Nāgārjuna postulated, going beyond the earlier realisation of emptiness as (merely) a living being devoid of ever-abiding, never-changing self. Nāgārjuna says that both the object and the process of perceiving the object are empty (sunyā). In doing so he, and not Vasubandhu whose words will be discussed below is the true father or inventor of the thoroughly Mahāyānistic “Consciousness-only school” otherwise known as the Yogacára.

SEVERAL MIDDLE WAYS VI

Again several centuries later the monk-scholar Vasubandhu comes to the fore. Vasubandhu pretended to have written down verses that he heard by mouth of the coming Buddha Maitreya. And pushing his pretence a little further he “comments” on Maitreya’s verses – that is, he elucidates his own verses. We find Vasubandhu’s fib in the Madhyānta-vibanga discussed below, somewhere in April 2019.

Chapter II, par.7, stanza 1.2 of this manuscipt says:

Na sūnyam nāpi casū nyam /
tasmāt sarvam vidhīyate /
sattvād assatvāt /
sattvāc ca /
madyamā pratipat ca sā.”

Neither is it asserted /
that all is unreality, /
or reality. /
Existence /
is non-existence. /
(These two ways of perceiving) existence /
is the MIDDLE PATH.

The last four lines are heavily inspired by Nāgārjuna’s way of formulating. I.e. Vasubandhu rehashed parts of Nāgārjuna’s MMK.

Less elegantly than his revered philosophical forebear Nāgārjuna Vasubandhu here basically states the same thing: the thorough emptiness of everything including the processes that we might be able to observe.
We may interpret Vasubandhu’s stanza in the sense that we’re invited not to fall into either one of the extremes of “is” or “is not”. Nor should we give credence to the philosophy that denies the non-core of the matter since mind in statu nascendi is the core, or coreness (svabhāva). In other words, in this school of thought one should not give credence to philosophical materialism.

Discrimination between Middle and Extremes – a Mahāyānistic manuscript – I

A number of entries in this blog are about technical terminology whereby in the first instance Greek philosophical and Christian theological technical terms were employed to translate Buddhist manuscripts. And even the words of such philosophers as Heidegger, Schopenhauer, Kant and Nietzsche were considered to be useful: Thing-in-itself (Ding an sich).
Quite a number of these earliest attempts to render Buddhist manuscripts in theological terminology have proven to be mistakes. In later years, as of the second half of the 20th Cent., they have been corrected by several authors from among the monkhood as well as by knowledgeable outsiders.

There is no need to dwell on the question why the earliest translators inserted Greek and Christian terminology into translation of Buddhist manuscripts. Suffice it to say that the early 20th Cent. T. Stcherbatsky made ample use of this theological and Greek-philosophical toolkit.

In his translation of the Mahāyāna Madhyānta-Vibhanga (Discrimination between Middle and Extremes) attributed to Vasubandhu we find ample use of concepts such as “revelation”, “salvation” and “psyche”, to name but a few.
The author Vasubandhu set himself to work after meditating on the coming Buddha Maitreya. His writings have been commented on by other Buddhist monk-philosophers such as Sthīramati.

The following four entries are about Mr. Stcherbatsky’s choices and why they are lacking, i.e. a profoundly different philosophical approach east and west.

Discrimination between Middle and Extremes – a Mahāyānistic manuscript – II

THING IN ITSELF

In the above-mentioned translation of the Madhyānta-Vibhanga T. Stcherbatsky chose “thing in itself” as a rendering for the mainly mahāyānistic word svabhāva , a Sanskritic word which he further understood as “suchness”.
Nāgārjuna dedicated an entire chapter to this svabhāva of which the first verse runs:
Na sambhavah svabhāvasya yuktah pratyaya-hetubbih, / hetu-pratyaya-sambhūtah svabhāvah krtako bhavet.” (Mūla Madhyamika kārikā. ch. 15)
Translation:
It is not proper to speak of SELF-NATURE (SVABHĀVA) as a result of causes and conditions /
Were svabhāva a result of causes and conditions it would be something made (and svabhāva is not-made, is not destructible, it is, in the ultimate sense, not, at least not comprehensible by the senses).

Therefore we understand why Stcherbatsky chose “thing-in-itself”.

But since “thing-in-itself” is so heavily laden with 20th Cent. philosophical terminology there is the possibility of misrepresenting the meaning of the word.
Svabhāva has in the past been one of the concepts on which some later mahāyānistic traditions imputed the notion that there should be “thingness”, “somethingness”, sometimes called “seeds of existence”. Throughout the 20th Cent. these traditions nearly all disappeared, the Tibetan Jonang-tradition seems to be one of the last schools that holds on to the old interpretation. Confronted with scientific evidence which says that not matter but energy is the ultimate building block in the universe, svabhāva as “thingness”, “seed” can no longer be maintained.

Discrimination between Middle and Extremes – a Mahāyānistic manuscript – III

REVELATION

Stcherbatsky’s choice to translate the Sanskritic “nāma-pada-vyañjana-kāya”, occuring in his rendering of the Madhyānta-Vibhanga, with “revelation” is seriously problematic.
The early Buddhist traditions translate this composition with “When you know this thing (nāma) in your heart and mind (pada) with all the distinctive marks within this assemblage (vyañjana-kāya)” (… then you might conclude …..)
The “nāma-pada-vyañjana-kāya” addresses both the emotions (‘this person leaves a positive impression’) and the reason resp. logic (‘I find nothing lacking here’).

There is no “revelation” here. There is nothing or no-one to “reveal” whatsoever.

Discrimination between Middle and Extremes – a Mahāyānistic manuscript – IV

SALVATION

Mr. Stcherbatsky considered the “three yāna”, the “three vehicles” to be the means to the end the he dubbed “salvation”. However all these yāna have to be put into practice by the individual. These are not flowers that one cuts along the way, but fields that one has to cultivate oneself. To therefore say that in the end there is “salvation”, being the intervention of a helping hand from somewhere out there is in Asian Buddhist circles considered to be completely preposterous and ridiculous. The individual who strove reaps the fruit of his own endeavours. S/he liberated her-/himself.
This with respect to the translation of the Madhyānta-Vibhanga.

Discrimination between Middle and Extremes – a Mahayanistic manuscript – V

PSYCHE

In the translation of the Madhyānta-Vibhanga Mr. Stcherbatsky employed the word psyche in translating pratyaya-vijñāna-ālaya-vijñāna or in short the ālaya-vijñāna, the “storehouse consciousess” as it has become known in the second half of the 20th Cent.
The ālaya-vijñāna is a through-and-through mahāyānistic concept. There is a lot of debate on the subject, but what all mahāyāna-tradions agree upon is that, where consciousness can be taken apart in several layers or functions, the ālaya-vijñāna is the last, some say 7th, some say 8th consciousness that serves as a storehouse where that which is experienced, learned, and remembered is, in statu nascendi – mind needs no space – kept for later use.
As this storehouse is continually updated – shifting sands — it cannot be considered to be the psyche in the Greek philosophical sense of the word: “the invisible animating entity which occupies the physical body” as one source explains it.
The ālaya-vijñāna is not an invisible “something” and it does not “occupy the body”. As said, consciousness or mind needs no space; it is beyond space and time. We will not find a translation of the word psyche in any of the dictionaries of Asian philosophy.

DRAVIDIAN AND ARYAN

As an introduction to Dr. Swamy’s word on Aryans and Dravidians we must repeat Prof. R. Choudhary’s remarks (“The History of Bihar”, 1958, p.15) how the clan in which the historical Buddha was born, was not of Aryan origin. Prof. Choudhary states that nor the Hindu Vedas, nor Manu (Manu smrti) mention Magadha as a nation or a people (in today’s Bihar in India). He says: “Magadha belonged to the Munda and non-Aryan group.”

This explains how Buddhists as of the coming to be of Gautama (Gotama, or Sakya-muni) Buddha did not bother with vedic (pre-Hindu) rites or Aryan cultural strictures such as not marrying “lower castes”, or not sitting down and eating with these “lower castes”, and so on.

“Aryans vs. Dravidians” is a Myth”

Conversation between Dr. Subramanian Swamy and Abhaey Singh
The Festival of Bharat, publ. July 31, 2018

Dr. Swamy:
“The other pollution in our history is these words “Dravidian” and “Aryan”. The word Dravidian was first known to be used by (the 8th cent.) Adi Shánkara. When he started what is so typically Indian: no conquest by war but by shastra, which means debate. So Buddhists had taken over (the north) and Adi Shánkara made it a mission to revive and bring back Hinduïsm.”

(In fact Adi Shánkara created “Hinduïsm” by amalgamating many though not all dharmic schools in one and starting what is now known as advaita vedánta.)

“So he (Adi Shánkara) challenged scholars of Buddhism to debate. … The Buddhist scholar was Múndara Mishra. … plus another scholar from the Úttara Mimámsa school.” (Another atheïst school.)
One of the debater’s wife, the Buddhists or the Mimamsists presided over the debate.
“She asked Adi Shánkara: “who are you?” And he said: “I’m drávida shishu.” (shíshu means child). “But what is this word “drávida“?” He said, ‘it’s a sandhi (linking) of two words: Tr[a] and vid. Tr means 3; vid means coast.’ “So where the three coasts meet
there is Drávida. So it’s a regional term. South India is Drávida.
Unfortunately the British pounced on that and made it a racial thing. …”

“The word “Aryan” doesn’t exist in Sanskrit literature. “Arya” means “a civilised person”, an accomplished person, a gentleman or a lady, that sort of thing. It (the word) was never part of the community.

(Commentary: The word “aryan” does exist in Sanskrit literature, though not in the racial sense of the word, not as the name of an ethnicity. “In later times”, says the Monier-Williams dictionary, “arya” came into use for “the first three castes” as opposed to the ‘caste’ of Shúdra, peasants, blue collar workers. Earlier the Buddhist scriptures used the word arya as in arya-púdgala (Hybr. Sanskr.) or arya-púggala (Pali): person of lofty qualities.
In the Pali Culavamsa (PTS, 1973, p.239) we find the word “arya” with reference to the Pandu (or Pandya) dynasty of Southern India.)

“So the British created a history where they said that the whole of India was full of Dravidians; then the Aryans came from Europe through Khyber Pass and beat the hell out of the Dravidians and asserted themselves. And then they provoked the South Indians to rebel against the north under the term that “this country is really yours”. And Karnátaka didn’t accept it, and Kérala didn’t accept it, and Andhra (Pradesh) didn’t accept it, but Tamil Nadu became a victim of that. And so the Dravidian movement was started. …. .

“In fact (before the British took over) they (the Tamils) used to celebrate “Raman lila” as opposed to “Ram[a] lila” (lila, also leela), because Ram[a] was “Aryan”, a northerner (and Raman was perceived as being a southerner).
Now they’ve stopped (the conflagration of Raman and Ram) and I made a contribution (to that).”

(Although even as recent as 2019 the wikipedia editor states that the demi-god Raman is in fact the Hindu demi-god Rama, who in popular parlance is referred to as Ram.
Therefore Dr. Swamy has his work cut out; wikipedia uploaders tend to be extremely stubborn.)

Thereafter Mr. Swamy relates the rather contemporary story, i.e. dating from the colonial era, that says that Raman was killed by Rama and that therefore Ram[a] ruled supreme over the south. “But the truth is that Raman was also a northerner. … He went to Manosarovar and Lord Shiva gave him this boon” (of ruling over a swath of land).

“This (perceived) division is now being exploded by DNA studies.”

Mr Swamy goes on saying that recent DNA studies revealed that there is no racial difference between south and north. All Indians of Indian stock have the same DNA. The Dravidians are not a different race; they are merely the folks that live in the south, “between the three coasts” as Adi Shánkara explained it.

The scholar Rómila Thapar established quite a theory around the word “aryan” (not arya) that she wrongly assumes to appear in the Hindu Vedas. In section 3 of a series of 5 talks on Ms Thapar the publicist Rajiv Malhotra deals with this and other questions that can be raised listening to the otherwise distinguished Ms Thapar or reading her publications on the subject.

July 2019: mohenjodaro

The former head of the Archaeological Survey of India, B.B. Lal, shows in of his three volumes book on the Harappan Culture: “Facets of Indian Civilization –  Recent Perspectives” (Delhi 1999) how brick fragments found at both the Harappan site and that of Mohenjodaro in the Punjab show what is called the swastika. From this fact he deduces that the swastika — in the 20th Century so intrically linked with “Third Reich” Nazis and their claim to fame as descendants of Central Asian “Aryans” that swept into Western Europa as well as India to establish their culture —  is an Indian, or at least Indic symbol, and that considering this fact the “Aryan invasion-theory“, first promoted by British settlers in India, cannot hold.

At the same time we cannot overlook that the Tochars of the 5th-10th Century held the swastika as national, ethnic, or cultural symbol. Neither can we overlook the fact that we find this symbol on the glazed wall of at least one religious building in Tashkent.

While the invasion-theory seems to be lacking, or needs to be discarded, we might as well adopt a new “Aryan-theory”, or at least a “swastika-theory” and call it the “Aryan export-theory“. One has the impression that Harappan-Punjabi merchants and others who settled in western lands decorated their buildings with a sign that they considered symbolic of their ethnic or national roots: here lives a Indian.

Vasant Shinde and his team, connected with the Deccan College of Pune, published the result of a study in the DNA of skeletal remains of a group of Indus Valley Civilisation (IVC) peoples who lived at a place called Rakhigarhi in Haryana, India. This group lived before 7000 BC and is now recognised as an indigenous people. The DNA study suggests “no notable migration of people and claims to have dismantled the Aryan Invasion Theory.” S. Venkat Narayan from Sri Lanka cited this result in the newspaper The Island of September 7, 2019.
The Deccan College group goes on saying that “This breakthrough research completely sets aside the Aryan migration-invasion theory. The skeleton remains found in the upper part of the Citadel area of Mohenjo Daro (now in Pakistan’s Sindh province) belonged to those who died due to floods and were not massacred by Aryans as hypothesised by British Archaeologist Sir Mortimer Wheeler.

Sanyassa

Especially during the lifetime of Sri Rajneesh, a Hindu guru, the word sanyassa, resp. sanyassin frequently occured in western circles where one tried to follow one or other of the Indian dharmic systems.

In the true sense of the word, someone who sees him or herself free from wordly context, free from conventions, free from rules, is called a sanyassin. This appelation solely regards the followers of the Hindu dharma. In Buddhism this total freedom of it all merely occurs in tantric practices, and in that case the person is not a sanyassin but a tantri.

 

Caste

February 7, 2019

Although the Indian Government stipulated several years ago  that the word “caste” ought to be abolished, Government offices and the Indian media frequently use the word when speaking of a particular group of inhabitants.

Nevertheless the word “caste” has no exact pendant in Sanskrit. Instead we find the words “varna” and “jati”. “Varna” (colour) refers to the occupation of the person or persons: the segment of society that are potters or porters etc., and “jati” (birth) denotes a community, i.e. where one is born and the codes of conduct that are followed by this segment of society.