This/That Conditionality

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Tommy M, modified 8 Years ago.

This/That Conditionality

Posts: 1199 Join Date: 11/12/10 Recent Posts
I was reading through the "Pali & Buddhist Terms" on accesstoinsight.org and found this little beauty from Thanissaro Bhikku:

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/thanissaro/refuge.html#ida:
This/That Conditionality

The most basic version of right view is simply the causal principle of feedback loops that the Buddha found in the process of developing skillful action. He called this principle "this/that conditionality" because it explains experience in terms that are immediately present to awareness — events that can be pointed to in the mind as "this" or "that" — rather than principles hidden from awareness. He expressed this principle in a simple-looking formula:
"(1) When this is, that is. (2) From the arising of this comes the arising of that. (3) When this isn't, that isn't. (4) From the stopping of this comes the stopping of that."

— A X.92

Of the many possible ways of interpreting this formula, only one does justice both to the way the formula is worded and to the complex, fluid manner in which specific examples of causal relationships are described in the texts. That way is to view the formula as the interplay of two causal principles: one diachronic, acting over time; and the other synchronic, acting in a single instant of time. The two principles combine to form a non-linear pattern. The diachronic principle — taking (2) and (4) as a pair — connects events over time; the synchronic principle — (1) and (3) — connects objects and events in the present moment. The two principles intersect, so that any given event is influenced by two sets of conditions: input from the past and input from the present.

Although each principle seems simple, their interaction makes their consequences very complex. To begin with, every act has repercussions in the present moment together with reverberations extending into the future. Depending on the intensity of the act, these reverberations can last for a very short or a very long time. Thus every event takes place in a context determined by the combined effects of past events coming from a wide range in time, together with the effects of present acts. These effects can intensify one another, can coexist with little interaction, or can cancel one another out. Thus, even though it is possible to predict that a certain type of act will tend to give a certain type of result — for example, acting on anger will lead to pain — there is no way to predict when or where that result will make itself felt.

The complexity of the system is further enhanced by the fact that both causal principles meet at the mind. Through its views and intentions, the mind keeps both principles active. Through its sensory powers, it is affected by the results of the causes it has set in motion. This allows for the causal principles to feed back into themselves, as the mind reacts to the results of its own actions. These reactions can form positive feedback loops, intensifying the original input and its results, much like the howl in a speaker placed next to the microphone feeding into it. They can also create negative feedback loops, counteracting the original input, in the same way that a thermostat turns off a heater when the temperature in a room is too high, and turns it on again when it gets too low. Because the results of actions can be immediate, and the mind can react to them immediately, these feedback loops can sometimes quickly spin out of control; at other times, they may provide skillful checks on one's behavior. For example, a man may act out of anger, which gives him an immediate sense of dis-ease to which he may react with further anger, thus creating a snowballing effect. On the other hand, he may come to understand that the anger is causing his dis-ease, and so immediately attempt to stop it. However, there can also be times when the results of his past actions may obscure his present dis-ease, so that he doesn't immediately react to it at all. This means that, although there are general patterns relating habitual acts to their results, there is no set one-for-one, tit-for-tat, relationship between a particular action and its results. Instead, the results are determined by the entire context of the act, shaped by the actions that preceded or followed it, and by one's state of mind at the time of acting or experiencing the result.

In this way, the combination of two causal principles — influences from the past interacting with those in the immediate present — accounts for the complexity of causal relationships on the level of immediate experience. However, the combination of the two principles also opens the possibility for finding a systematic way to break the causal web. If causes and effects were entirely linear, the cosmos would be totally deterministic, and nothing could be done to escape from the machinations of the causal process. If they were entirely synchronic, there would be no relationship from one moment to the next, and all events would be arbitrary. The web could break down totally or reform spontaneously for no reason at all. However, with the two modes working together, one can learn from causal patterns observed from the past and apply one's insights to disentangling the same causal patterns acting in the present. If one's insights are true, one can then gain freedom from those patterns. This allows for escape from the cycle of kamma altogether by developing kamma at a heightened level of skill by pursuing the noble eightfold path.

In addition, the non-linearity of this/that conditionality explains why heightened skillfulness, when focused on the present moment, can succeed in leading to the end of the kamma that has formed the experience of the entire cosmos. All non-linear processes exhibit what is called scale invariance, meaning that the behavior of the process on any one scale is similar to its behavior on smaller or larger scales. To understand, say, the large-scale pattern of a particular non-linear process, one need only focus on its behavior on a smaller scale that is easier to observe, and one will see the same pattern at work. In the case of kamma, one need only focus on the process of kamma in the immediate present, in the course of developing heightened skillfulness, and the large-scale issues over the expanses of space and time will become clear as one gains release from them.


http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/thanissaro/refuge.html#ida
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fivebells ., modified 8 Years ago.

RE: This/That Conditionality

Posts: 566 Join Date: 2/25/11 Recent Posts
It's not clear to me how this plays out in practice. We all observe causal relationships all the time, don't we? Doesn't seem to make much difference for entrenched karma.
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Tommy M, modified 8 Years ago.

RE: This/That Conditionality

Posts: 1199 Join Date: 11/12/10 Recent Posts
I was looking at this on a more basic level, just the formula of:

"(1) When this is, that is. (2) From the arising of this comes the arising of that. (3) When this isn't, that isn't. (4) From the stopping of this comes the stopping of that."

For me, that's a beautifully simple breakdown of the entire practice of vipassana which has been a very useful framework in my own practice recently; today, for example, while sitting outside I would observe how there was a subtle but noticeable tension around the eye area which, when I consciously chose to let go of any effort involved in "seeing", stopped dead leaving only the experience of seeing, no "seer", only the seen.

Looking at this through the Buddha's formula:

(1) Tension was present around the eye, as was a subtle sense of effort, like a conditioned physiological response involved when one thinks "they" are "seeing". Closer investigation revealed that the tension arose as a result of that effort.

(2) Attentiveness to that tension allowed the discernment of it's cause, in this case the continuing imputation of a "seer" via a misinterpretation of the process of focusing.

(3) On clearly seeing how the mind compartmentalized the experience of "seeing" into it's different aspects, stopping that process of fabrication led to the cessation of any sense of tension. The experience of "seeing" became "in the seeing, only the seen", no more splitting up of the process into a "seer" and a "seen".

(4) I realized how I was still reading the process of the eyes focusing as being something "I" had to do, but recognizing that focusing would continue depending on what the eye was pointed at, e.g. the words of a book, or the panoramic field of sensation, without any effort allowed it to stop.
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fivebells ., modified 8 Years ago.

RE: This/That Conditionality

Posts: 566 Join Date: 2/25/11 Recent Posts
Thanks, Tommy, that's an interesting interpretation. Have to play with it some.