Thursday, March 11, 2010

Shunyata - Emptiness in Buddhist Philosophy Part 4

The conclusion that all things are empty of inherent existence and appear only in dependence on our minds is not an obvious truth. So deeply ingrained is the idea of inherent existence and authority in Western culture that even when we have analysed all things as dependent on causes, and dependent on parts, we still hold back from the most subtle truth of dependence on mind. We think there ought to be 'something out there', or someone 'authoritative' who prevents the real world from being so much dependent upon our judgment. On first meeting teachings on emptiness the western mind often suspects it is the victim logical trickery or mere playing with words. Fortunately it is possible to demonstrate the true and all-pervasive nature of emptiness by examining the mode of existence of fundamental particles, the building blocks of all things in the material universe.

The participation of the observer
According to the Kadampa school of Buddhist philosophy all phenomena exist by dependence on other phenomena, which are themselves dependently related to other phenomena and so on. No matter how deeply or far back we search, no phenomenon can ever be found which is fundamental or a 'thing-in-itself'. Neither the observer nor any observed phenomenon exist independently, but are inextricably intertwined. This viewpoint is known as dependent relationship.

Geshe Kelsang Gyatso [KELSANG GYATSO 1995] states that there are three levels of dependent relationship:

(1) Gross dependent relationship - causality - the dependence of phenomena on their causes.
(2) Subtle dependent relationship - structure - the dependence of phenomena on their perceived parts (including aspects, divisions and directions).
(3) Very subtle dependent relationship - the dependence of phenomena on imputation by mind.

All functioning things exist in these three ways. The very subtle dependent relationship - existence by the mind's imputation - is the most difficult one to understand, especially since for most ordinary phenomena this view of existence is masked by the two grosser levels of existence. This subtle mode of existence is always present, but only becomes apparent in those circumstances where the grosser levels do not dominate.

If we have problems with the terminology of gross and subtle, we may think of this as the degree of apparent objectivity of dependent relationship . The most gross is the most objective and the very subtle is the most subjective (or participatory) type of dependent relationship.