Emptiness Teachings website

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Richard Zen, modified 6 Years ago.

Emptiness Teachings website

Posts: 1631 Join Date: 5/18/10 Recent Posts
http://emptinessteachings.com/

Nice website devoted to emptiness.

I especially like the 7 fold reasonings article:

http://emptinessteachings.com/on-the-emptiness-of-the-self/


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Not Tao, modified 6 Years ago.

RE: Emptiness Teachings website

Posts: 997 Join Date: 4/5/14 Recent Posts
I made a spinoff thread, but I also have a question that is more related.  Do you think intellectual thinking, like going through the seven fold reasoning, will work as a meditation? Is this similar to noting, or different?
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Richard Zen, modified 6 Years ago.

RE: Emptiness Teachings website

Posts: 1631 Join Date: 5/18/10 Recent Posts
I think it's more of an unfindability quality. If one looks at a tree and thinks "concept tree" and ignores the interdepdence of soil, sun, water, CO2 etc then that is the starting point. After that you look for dependencies everywhere until all you see is dependencies. Then you notice that there is no inherent demarcation line even if there are qualitative conventional differences.

In meditation you would do this to yourself but I think one has to stick with it. One has to gain conviction from repeatedly looking for a self in different parts of life. For example you would pick something like thoughts and notice how thoughts cannot happen without perception of things or memories. Without things what are you going to think about? With perception it is a recognition faculty so I have to recognize something out of an object before I even get to thinking about the thing. Perception is interdependent to objects. Objects are impermanent, so the consciousness that knows an object must also be impermanent.

I sometimes like to look at my car with nostalgia and the places it took me, but I also remind myself of the people who tune it up, who originally made it, who conceptualized it etc. You can think about the food these car makers had to eat to stay alive long enough to make the car for me. What about ancestors that existed so we could exist? What about people who fought for democracy and died but our lifestyle survived because of their sacrifice. The list is endless. I think relief happens when the object appears more like parts than a total big picture object that has no cause or effect.

Suddenly the lonely apartment feels like it has a sense of connection and interdependence that doesn't happen when every object is supposed to inherently exist and that's it.
Mark, modified 6 Years ago.

RE: Emptiness Teachings website

Posts: 550 Join Date: 7/24/14 Recent Posts
Well put, thanks Richard. The interdepencies are there but it seems we need to put them into a hierarchy. If there are no parts then everything is one and of equal value. That would probably not be lived out in a moral way e.g. Every person in the world would receive an equal amount of my concern and I'd be diluted with no friends emoticon

I think the the value of a philosophy is only in so much that it impacts the way I live. If the theory does not translate into morality then it seems like over intellectualization.

Wilber presents hierarchies and at some stages the individual conceives "all views are equal" but if they continue evolving then the separation comes back with an understanding of inter connectedness and an ability to judge. I'm guessing you are well past that but I mention it as a possible framework.

It seems that compassion is basically the self enlarged e.g. I see someone in pain and I feel that pain. Not an intellectual understanding but a bodily emotion. That profound understanding motivates compassionate action. This requires a self to bridge from the subjective experience of one person to another. Maybe I should use "self process" instead of "self"

I wonder if it would be better to experience nostalgia with equanimity. It seems there is almost a guilt about having those positive emotions and then intellectualizing some rationale to "pay back" those good feelings.

In the west we tend to hear ego when people say self. If the self is seen as a process then the ego is just a tiny part of it. Expanding the experience of self to match closer with the hierarchy of dependencies seems reasonable. The ego would be pretty insignificant in that bigger picture. At the same time it does not put all dependencies on a level playing field.

Would be great to have your thoughts on this.
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Richard Zen, modified 6 Years ago.

RE: Emptiness Teachings website

Posts: 1631 Join Date: 5/18/10 Recent Posts
Mark:
Well put, thanks Richard. The interdepencies are there but it seems we need to put them into a hierarchy. If there are no parts then everything is one and of equal value. That would probably not be lived out in a moral way e.g. Every person in the world would receive an equal amount of my concern and I'd be diluted with no friends emoticon

I think the the value of a philosophy is only in so much that it impacts the way I live. If the theory does not translate into morality then it seems like over intellectualization.

Wilber presents hierarchies and at some stages the individual conceives "all views are equal" but if they continue evolving then the separation comes back with an understanding of inter connectedness and an ability to judge. I'm guessing you are well past that but I mention it as a possible framework.

It seems that compassion is basically the self enlarged e.g. I see someone in pain and I feel that pain. Not an intellectual understanding but a bodily emotion. That profound understanding motivates compassionate action. This requires a self to bridge from the subjective experience of one person to another. Maybe I should use "self process" instead of "self"

I wonder if it would be better to experience nostalgia with equanimity. It seems there is almost a guilt about having those positive emotions and then intellectualizing some rationale to "pay back" those good feelings.

In the west we tend to hear ego when people say self. If the self is seen as a process then the ego is just a tiny part of it. Expanding the experience of self to match closer with the hierarchy of dependencies seems reasonable. The ego would be pretty insignificant in that bigger picture. At the same time it does not put all dependencies on a level playing field.

Would be great to have your thoughts on this.

I don't think we need to put them into a hierarchy because most people already do this before they even learn meditation. Oneness and love is empty but that doesn't mean they are empty of value, just empty of inherent existence. This is why a first training of morality makes sense so the purpose of the emptiness practice is to make it easier to be moral. The purpose of these exercises is to root out where the self lives. It mainly lives in thinking and especially thoughts and memories about time. It can even live in the present moment (which is just short-term memory). I think looking at physics can help because we see simplified shapes and physics shows us that there is ultra-detail of interdependence that we can't sense.

What I like about emptiness is that it doesn't mean you have to destroy the push and pull to like and dislike but you can direct it based on skillfulness. We all know that giving into love can be skillful or unskillful depending on whether it's a long-term love or just infatuation. We can give so much love that people can treat us like a doormat and dump their problems on us. People with personality disorders are not likely to be cured by our love so having a healthy aversion to those people helps. It's never so cut and dry.

I like your analysis on equanimity towards nostalgia and yes I did in the past talk to a psychologist in a restaurant about this but that was earlier on in my practice. I feel that feeling of preciousness towards the memories of day trips with my car but if I look at the dependencies (people who tuned it up, manufactured it, etc) it widens to an infinite set of dependencies and the nostagia turns more into gratefulness and equanimity is achieved just doing this exercise.

I particularly like doing this analysis when driving in annoying rush hour traffic. It's easy to get surprised everyday that this happens and it can turn into an angry habit. Looking at how the bad driving is dependent on stress, which is dependent on expectations at work of timeliness, which is dependent on desires to make a living. Or car accidents is also dependent on traffic congestion, which is dependent upon the hour that everyone wants to go to or from work, which is dependent on expectations at work etc. It turns into something that's amazing that there isn't MORE collisions.

Love is dependent on kind actions, which is dependent on giving love to people that are worthy of it (those who don't just take but give in return), which is dependent on discerning which people to be around, which is dependent on skills of how to read people etc. Love is dependent on understanding the benefits of love, which is dependent on having an experience of love in the past to compare it to, which is dependent on having a goal of love which is dependent on etc.

The main thing to notice is how there are gaps in my list of dependencies where one could infinitely add MORE dependencies which eventually go beyond our scientific understanding. To me the conventional understanding would be to list the knowable dependencies and add to them as we learn more about science and can act on that information.

Wow this is fun conversation!

I'm getting ready to visit Japan for vacation and learning about Omotenashi (hospitality) you can see how people value this characteristic in people. When someone is in dire straits and needs a help there's nothing better than the dependency of top notch hospitality. Yet one has to respond in kindness to avoid being a greedy go-getter, free-loader type.
Mark, modified 6 Years ago.

RE: Emptiness Teachings website

Posts: 550 Join Date: 7/24/14 Recent Posts
In the stages Wilber presents there are early stages that are very dogmatic with strict hierarchies. Further on there are stages which do not want hiearchies (but still have strong ones e.g. all views are equal - that being a superior view itself). Further on the hierarchies come back but not as dogmatic.

When you say some people are deserving of your love and others are not, that is a hierarchy i.e. one thing/person is prioritized over another. I don't think it is a bad thing. But I see advantages in acknowledging the hierarchy, the utility of them and in some cases the need to reshape them.

Maybe hierarchy is too much of  a loaded term. It could be interpreted as rigid and dogmatic but that is not necessary. A hierarchy could change over time, be based on context etc. There are certainly situations where hierarchies do a lot of damage. But there is also a risk of throwing the baby out with the bath water. Maybe "sphere of influence" would be better than hierarchy ? So for example I need to be much more concerned about the atoms that make up my body than those that make up distant stars.

I wonder if "root out where the self lives" is partially reinforcing a self. There is an assumption that there is something to root out. The end result is perhaps similar but the model we hold could make progress easier or harder.

The idea of widening appreciation for anything makes good sense to me. As you describe (thanks) it could work well for unpleasant experiences too. 

"giving love to people that are worthy of it" and "dependent on having an experience of love in the past" might lead to confusion as to how that cycle gets started. Love is a subjective experience so it could happen without the object even being aware of it. Demonstrating that love through actions introduces morality and the situation may call for not engaging with the other person out of your, their or both interests. I'm not sure the love needs to be "turned off", just expressed appropriately.

Science (and Buddhism) are very fond of cause and effect analysis. It certainly can go a long way. But it has limits, a big one being (as you mentioned) the impossibility for humans to fully understand any complex real world situation in those terms. System thinking is an interesting alternative. Wikipedia ->"Systems thinking focuses on cyclical rather than linear cause and effect" It obviously has limits too.

Self as a process leaves no "thing" to root out. This leaves a bigger space for progress off the cushion. There are still skillful and unskillful views, behaviors etc. Meditation can help align subjective experience with self as process. I suspect that when most people refer to the self that needs to be rooted out they have certain unskillful views and behaviors in mind.

Western buddhism places a very high value on no-self as an end to suffering. Someone arriving at "no-self" should also arrive at the same conclusion for all concepts i.e. emptiness. I've not seen emptiness used as a solid basis of morality. 

I'm clearly not understanding the concept of emptiness - it does not seem to allow for things like love. Those are things that would be put on top of it through subjective experience. Love as human's know it is a subjective experience. It would be a huge leap of faith to believe that love is something fundamental to the universe. It is fundamental to human nature and we have a fundamental tendency to anthropomorphism. I don't think love is a workable concept in the context of entities that do not have subjective experience, or love becomes a sadly limited concept.
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Richard Zen, modified 6 Years ago.

RE: Emptiness Teachings website

Posts: 1631 Join Date: 5/18/10 Recent Posts
Mark:
In the stages Wilber presents there are early stages that are very dogmatic with strict hierarchies. Further on there are stages which do not want hiearchies (but still have strong ones e.g. all views are equal - that being a superior view itself). Further on the hierarchies come back but not as dogmatic.

When you say some people are deserving of your love and others are not, that is a hierarchy i.e. one thing/person is prioritized over another. I don't think it is a bad thing. But I see advantages in acknowledging the hierarchy, the utility of them and in some cases the need to reshape them.

Maybe hierarchy is too much of  a loaded term. It could be interpreted as rigid and dogmatic but that is not necessary. A hierarchy could change over time, be based on context etc. There are certainly situations where hierarchies do a lot of damage. But there is also a risk of throwing the baby out with the bath water. Maybe "sphere of influence" would be better than hierarchy ? So for example I need to be much more concerned about the atoms that make up my body than those that make up distant stars.

I wonder if "root out where the self lives" is partially reinforcing a self. There is an assumption that there is something to root out. The end result is perhaps similar but the model we hold could make progress easier or harder.

The idea of widening appreciation for anything makes good sense to me. As you describe (thanks) it could work well for unpleasant experiences too. 

"giving love to people that are worthy of it" and "dependent on having an experience of love in the past" might lead to confusion as to how that cycle gets started. Love is a subjective experience so it could happen without the object even being aware of it. Demonstrating that love through actions introduces morality and the situation may call for not engaging with the other person out of your, their or both interests. I'm not sure the love needs to be "turned off", just expressed appropriately.

Science (and Buddhism) are very fond of cause and effect analysis. It certainly can go a long way. But it has limits, a big one being (as you mentioned) the impossibility for humans to fully understand any complex real world situation in those terms. System thinking is an interesting alternative. Wikipedia ->"Systems thinking focuses on cyclical rather than linear cause and effect" It obviously has limits too.

Self as a process leaves no "thing" to root out. This leaves a bigger space for progress off the cushion. There are still skillful and unskillful views, behaviors etc. Meditation can help align subjective experience with self as process. I suspect that when most people refer to the self that needs to be rooted out they have certain unskillful views and behaviors in mind.

Western buddhism places a very high value on no-self as an end to suffering. Someone arriving at "no-self" should also arrive at the same conclusion for all concepts i.e. emptiness. I've not seen emptiness used as a solid basis of morality. 

I'm clearly not understanding the concept of emptiness - it does not seem to allow for things like love. Those are things that would be put on top of it through subjective experience. Love as human's know it is a subjective experience. It would be a huge leap of faith to believe that love is something fundamental to the universe. It is fundamental to human nature and we have a fundamental tendency to anthropomorphism. I don't think love is a workable concept in the context of entities that do not have subjective experience, or love becomes a sadly limited concept.
Emptiness allows for love because you are not removing anything. You are simply understanding what is already true. Emptiness is not of value but of permanance. This may be more apparent in Mahayana teachings but you don't want to eliminate emotions you just want to eliminate the habit of fixation/rumination/obessive thinking. Once that weakens people feel so much better they want to quit and develop other parts of themselves. It's a personal choice where people stop. Losing the ruminating habit is simply discontinuing the act of ruminating long enough for the habit to atrophy (noting, bare awareness, advaita presence, CBT) and of course you can recondition other better attitudes per your values.

The hierarchy thing you are talking about is skillful discernment which is different from eternal judgement. It's healthy and a necessary thing. In psychology they call it salience (how things stand out). Addiction often involves extreme salience but you need some salience or else you wouldn't function. As long as you are conscious there is a sense of self still there. Any experience, colour, measurement, shape, time or location is just another perception that consciousness is aware of. This is why nirvana is a momentary non-experience where subject, object and time disappear and return. This is from having equanimity to all experiences long enough for the senses to fade. A person could like or dislike a meditation state (including nothingness), or have a preference to meditate instead of getting on with life. Preferences can cause stress. "I prefer this to that" is all that is needed to set the stress ball rolling.

I would highly recommend anyone to start or continue a metta practice because it does improve habits. Any virtue practices are good and understanding emptiness can help to reduce temptations that get in the way.
Mark, modified 6 Years ago.

RE: Emptiness Teachings website

Posts: 550 Join Date: 7/24/14 Recent Posts
Hi Richard, please bear with me on this. I listened to a couple of hours of Rob Burbea's dharma talks - The Theatre of Selves (part 1 & 2). In another thread I read your positive review of his book. I'd like to vent a little frustration but this is not at you. In the intro of both those talks Rob makes a statement about how a process centric view of the self is not what the buddha taught and does not lead to a useful result. So I thought I'm listening to the right dharma talk emoticon The talks then later go into detail of tantric style techniques - something that as far as I understand the buddha did not teach either. I don't have a problem with people teaching things that are not what the buddha taught. I do have an issue with Rob's intro because he is implying that what follows is what the buddha taught. So far in the two talks I don't see the process centric view in opposition to anything he mentions. So I'm left wondering why he felt he needed to bring that up, why he felt the need to imply he was going to be teaching what the buddha taught while introducing concepts from much later schools of buddhism. It seems unskillful - it just made it harder to really listen as it raises some suspicion about the agenda.

From a bigger picture it seems that the emptiness concept is closely tied in with the concept of the relative and absolute. Something else the buddha did not seem to teach http://secularbuddhism.org/2015/03/12/on-conventional-and-ultimate-truth

As soon as someone uses "that is not good because it is not what the buddha taught" then they should justify their own interpretation in those terms.

I can see that the concept of emptiness is very powerful. In particular it plays into a natural desire for some ultimate truth. Any claim of ultimate truth is something that should be given a lot of suspicion - this is something the buddha seems to have explicitly avoided. Beyond that there is a lot of evidence to suggest that it is naive to assume anything absolute can be comprehended by a human. Of course this does not rule out an illusion of ultimate truth.

My current take is that "don't know" is the best answer we are going to get to the most fundamental questions. Of course that is not going to be a very good marketing strategy for someone who wants to teach. It is human nature to want an "answer" or "the truth" and the buddha seems to have been one of the few teachers who did not fall into this.

From a practical point of view I can see value in adopting emptiness. It might be a stepping stone to a view that acknowledges subjective experience is always a map not a reality and then we can get comfortable with "don't know" as an answer. 

My understanding of Buddha's teaching is in this life suffering is inevitable but the second dart is optional. For example when Rob takes an example of using samadhi to take a painful area of the body and turn it into a pleasurable sensation then this is setting oneself up for the second dart - the samadhi is only temporary.

Taking the concept of emptiness and setting it up as a total liberation from suffering in this life seems to also be setting people up to fail. Humans are limited, any state is temporary, even the ability to concentrate can be lost after it has been gained. It is not easy to drop an attachment to absolute truth - it has kept many religions alive and well for thousands of years!

The above is an attempt at discussing process and emptiness views. Below is more in response to what you wrote.

The term "skillful discernment" might be better, by hiearachy I'm referring to what underlies the skillful discernment - it requires values, judgements and hierarchies. They could perhaps be termed skillfull hierachies when replacing an assumed hierarchy. Salience is one hiearchy and can be misleading.

Regarding the metta, "Who is not worthy of your love?" might be worth considering.
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Richard Zen, modified 6 Years ago.

RE: Emptiness Teachings website

Posts: 1631 Join Date: 5/18/10 Recent Posts
Mark:
Hi Richard, please bear with me on this. I listened to a couple of hours of Rob Burbea's dharma talks - The Theatre of Selves (part 1 & 2). In another thread I read your positive review of his book. I'd like to vent a little frustration but this is not at you. In the intro of both those talks Rob makes a statement about how a process centric view of the self is not what the buddha taught and does not lead to a useful result. So I thought I'm listening to the right dharma talk emoticon The talks then later go into detail of tantric style techniques - something that as far as I understand the buddha did not teach either. I don't have a problem with people teaching things that are not what the buddha taught. I do have an issue with Rob's intro because he is implying that what follows is what the buddha taught. So far in the two talks I don't see the process centric view in opposition to anything he mentions. So I'm left wondering why he felt he needed to bring that up, why he felt the need to imply he was going to be teaching what the buddha taught while introducing concepts from much later schools of buddhism. It seems unskillful - it just made it harder to really listen as it raises some suspicion about the agenda.

I wouldn't worry about agendas because they all have them. Rob started working with Geoffrey Degraff and moved onto more Mahayana practices. To me it's all about techniques and practicality. I highly recommend you listen to his emptiness talks which communicate Nagarjuna really well for English speakers. I'm always an eclectic because I don't want to throw out the baby with the bathwater. Many of these Dharma speakers have political views I'm not as interested in but if they do somethings good I'll appreciated it nonetheless.

You have to understand that for most Buddhist practitioners they shrink their amygdala to the point where there's so much equanimity that they naturally want to return to emotions and typical dopamine motivation and this is often done with imagery.

Rob goes into this with the below talks:

http://www.londoninsight.org/resources/audio-downloads/
Dec 7 2014

I also like his descriptions of students who feel okay enough that they want to move on from emptiness. The equanimity can be overkill and when relief is so extensive it's natural for people to want to manipulate imagery for motivational purposes. We live in a world where vivid imagery arises with advertising, which manipulates our amygdala, and it's nice to learn a skill where people can create their own imagery to guide their goals instead of relying on others.


For me I prefer the following to the powers:

http://www.amazon.ca/Oxford-Guide-Imagery-Cognitive-Therapy/dp/0199234027

Of the powers I do like I would say the Brahmaviharas to be really valuable and somewhat of a bedrock of any meditation practice.

From a bigger picture it seems that the emptiness concept is closely tied in with the concept of the relative and absolute. Something else the buddha did not seem to teach http://secularbuddhism.org/2015/03/12/on-conventional-and-ultimate-truth

As soon as someone uses "that is not good because it is not what the buddha taught" then they should justify their own interpretation in those terms.

I'm sure Rob's context is more on the line with staying at bare-awareness which is not the end of the practice. It's a good spot to be in but after awhile it becomes clear that being in a non-reactive state deadens those emotions to the point beyond what is needed. Since emotions are impermanent as long as people don't fixate/obsess/ruminate on them they can be fine. Fixation/obsession/rumination as a habit is the problem and needs to be deconditioned. People can have so much self-bashing they reinforce bad habits instead of changing them. You decondition them by repeatedly not indulging in those thoughts. If a negative thought has started it doesn't have to be finished. It can be let go of for something more skillful. Developing imagery that is healthy can release dopamine, serotonin, etc in good ways. I think I remember one Christian pastor who said "it's not bad to like things. The problem is what do you like?"

I can see that the concept of emptiness is very powerful. In particular it plays into a natural desire for some ultimate truth. Any claim of ultimate truth is something that should be given a lot of suspicion - this is something the buddha seems to have explicitly avoided. Beyond that there is a lot of evidence to suggest that it is naive to assume anything absolute can be comprehended by a human. Of course this does not rule out an illusion of ultimate truth.

He talks about insight also being empty so I think he gets it quite thorough if you read his book which is less about imagery and more about dependent origination.

My current take is that "don't know" is the best answer we are going to get to the most fundamental questions. Of course that is not going to be a very good marketing strategy for someone who wants to teach. It is human nature to want an "answer" or "the truth" and the buddha seems to have been one of the few teachers who did not fall into this.

The ultimate or absolute is simply that everything is empty of eternal essence so it's more of a negation than a positive about truth. You are definitely not supposed to be fixated on Buddhism.

Here's a good talk on this:


http://www.dharmaseed.org/teacher/74/talk/22715/

From a practical point of view I can see value in adopting emptiness. It might be a stepping stone to a view that acknowledges subjective experience is always a map not a reality and then we can get comfortable with "don't know" as an answer. 

Yes that is more healthy but emptiness also allows for a sense of self if it's skillful as long as it's understood as being empty.

My understanding of Buddha's teaching is in this life suffering is inevitable but the second dart is optional. For example when Rob takes an example of using samadhi to take a painful area of the body and turn it into a pleasurable sensation then this is setting oneself up for the second dart - the samadhi is only temporary.

Nope. If you have insight then developing useful skills like concentration are valid. This is because you are not clinging to anything. It's hard to explain but I have preferences and full emotions but they don't seem to hurt. This is the goal as far as I'm concerned. Preferences can cause stress only if fixated/obsessed/ruminated upon.

Taking the concept of emptiness and setting it up as a total liberation from suffering in this life seems to also be setting people up to fail. Humans are limited, any state is temporary, even the ability to concentrate can be lost after it has been gained. It is not easy to drop an attachment to absolute truth - it has kept many religions alive and well for thousands of years!

I think he's talking more about practice than attaching to an absolute concept. I think listening to more of his emptiness talks will help with context. Listening to his imagery talks without the emptiness talks will skew your impression of him. I'm more interested in the meditation practices and how I can use them in practical ways than to worry about agendas of absolute truth. The absolute in Buddhism is very narrow anyways and has more to do with arguing against people who think consciousness is permanent.

The above is an attempt at discussing process and emptiness views. Below is more in response to what you wrote.

The term "skillful discernment" might be better, by hiearachy I'm referring to what underlies the skillful discernment - it requires values, judgements and hierarchies. They could perhaps be termed skillfull hierachies when replacing an assumed hierarchy. Salience is one hiearchy and can be misleading.

Regarding the metta, "Who is not worthy of your love?" might be worth considering.
Salience is not misleading. It's a major sign of addiction. A lack of variety of desires coupled with a lack of options for variety can lead to over-exaggeration of the benefits of familiar perceptions. This is why changing habits is difficult because the brain actually punishes you with cortisol to move away from familiar addictions. I particularly like the Dalai Lama's analysis of pros and cons with salient perceptions. Everything has a downside and to see something that is very attractive to you requires some analysis of the downsides to prevent too much excitement. Alternatively if something seems extremely fearful there may be a possibility of exaggeration here in that there may be good perceptions that are being ignored. This prevents a balanced view. I really don't care if people use Salience or Hierarchy. They should make discerments between what is valuable and what is not valuable.

Who is not worthy of my love? Those who will treat me like a doormat for it. Not everyone responds to love, especially narcissists. They hate oxytocin (love). They only want serotonin (pride). If I do metta to someone who reminds me of Hitler it is more like "I wish you were happy and not insane" so I don't ruminate about them. Having "enemies" in your head is letting them hurt you beyond what you should allow, on the other hand you can't avoid fights sometimes. I want to avoid enabling the bad behaviour of bullies by being too nice. Tough love is necessary sometimes.

If you want to try some of Rob's greatest hits I would recommend the following:

http://www.dharmaseed.org/teacher/210/talk/9553/
The subtlety of dependent origination (tons of good stuff here for repeat listenings)

http://www.dharmaseed.org/teacher/210/talk/11929/
Time

http://www.dharmaseed.org/teacher/210/talk/9547/
No mind

http://www.dharmaseed.org/teacher/210/talk/9813/
Welcoming

Have fun practicing!



Mark, modified 6 Years ago.

RE: Emptiness Teachings website

Posts: 550 Join Date: 7/24/14 Recent Posts
Hi Richard, this is very insightful for me thank you. I'm all for pragmatism regarding techniques. The "philosophical framework" does seem to have some influence on the later results so I'm interested in that too. 

I finished listening to the 3rd (final) talk in that first series and it was better. I still detected something like "views are just views and we can experiment with different ones - but it is all ultimately emptiness" There seems to be a contradiction there and I'm interested in exploring it.

I listened to the talk on emptiness by Rob you suggested. It was good in that it is clear and I'm not sure if my take away is valid but I'll share my thoughts. Maybe you will see where I'm misinterpreting. Rob seems to be basing his analysis on some quite old philisophical texts. From what I gathered those texts are playing some subtle games with rational logic and lead to some dubious conclusions. I'll try to explain.

One reasoning presented is that time is continuous not discrete. This is used to demonstrate that a moment does not exist because each moment has beginning middle end and so on. Underlying this is a causal model of the world - it is close to a mechanistic view. For x to arise it depends on y but if y depends on x then neither x nor y can exist. Prior to Newton there was a strong committment in the west to this view too, the assumption was that we were going to explain the world materially. We were going to "remove the ghost from the machine" (sort of similar to the Buddhist agenda). When Newton discovered the law of gravity he effectively got rid of the machine and we have since then been pretty much left with the ghost! It took quite a while for this to catch on but science had to give up on ever providing a causal explanation of the world. The theory of relativity was a further nail in that coffin and quantum mechanics has further driven home the point in our generation. It is worth keeping in mind that Netwon's theory of gravity was as preposterous and absurd to people then as quantum physics is to us now. Science basically just integrates the ghost once there is some math that can't be refuted. We could predict that most people in 100-200 years will accept quantum theory in a similar way to how most accept gravity today.

There is an assumption because I can divide some period of time into beginning, middle and end, then any period of time can be divided in this way. That is simply not true. We can "theoretically" do that but that is just speculation. Human perception is limited - we have a limited instrument. One way to look at science is to consider that  it advances as we get better at measuring. To measure we basically build new instruments. Humans have the same "instruments" or perceptions that we had thousands of years ago. We have only been able to enhance this in very superficial ways so far (e.g. you can have better than 20/20 vision by operation or play with psychedelics etc.) On one hand this is good because it means what the Buddha found should work for us (if we can adopt the same beliefs) but it seems a shame to ignore 2500 years of further learning.

A human can get very good at perceiving smaller units of time but there is a biological limit. For argument's sake let's say it is 1ms. This means there is no beginning, middle, end from then on. It might seem counter-intuitive but I think it is similar to theories about matter that eventually there is a binary representation i.e. it is discrete if you go far enough (the idea of matter at that scale as information is one resulting theory).

We also know that the human can never perceive now. There is a delay of some period of time between when light hits the eye and when we are conscious of that. So being in the now is an illusion. 

It might be a safe bet to assume that the brain is spending a huge amount of energy on pattern prediction too. So it is not necessarily intention that drives attention but unexpected patterns that can focus attention.

In regards to the self process, from a philosophical point of view it seems clear the self process is dependent on many things outside of the body. On a practical level we are more concerned about subjective experience - it is nice to know my hand includes quarks but not of much use. We know that subjective experience is related to brain function (not reducible to that). I'm not sure about what follows but I think it would be reasonable to assume that we can find cases of people who are not self conscious but can function in regards to objects and the passage of time.

Perhaps for fun we can take this one step further - it indicates that there is something that is permanent: the past. 

If you buy the reasoning Rob gives and practise with those expectations then you'll probably reach similar conclusions he reached. But I'd love to see more pragmatic dharma. That talk on time seemed to make it so clear how theory creates dillusion. I'm not providing a better answer - it is much easier to be the critic than come up with a valid idea! 

We do have more sophisticated conceptual models available than the ancients had. But that does not justify throwing the baby out with the bath water. We are living in a world where it is fairly obvious humanity is not at the center of the universe. Discoveries like gravity, evolution and neuroscience behind the self process seem to allow re-interpretation without invalidating what was found in the past (just putting things within an appropriate context).

One interesting point to the above is that a process unfolds over time and if the self is a process then it should be possible to have experiences without self (of course the later interpretation, reporting etc would re-introduce self). My experience seems to align more with this it seems that self is not some fundamental thing and this can be directly experienced fairly easily.

I've been spending a lot of time on the cushion the last couple of days - more than I ever have off retreat. So this had some very positive effects- thanks!.

Switching to the discussion about love. I think we have a vocab issue more than anything. Loving does not mean "being nice". So as you mention "tough love" is an option. It would not be very loving to let someone treat you as a doormat - neither to them or yourself or others who will interact with that perons in the future. 

Thanks very much for the list of talks, he has over 200 so it is invaluable to have some hierarchy there emoticon

Thanks for taking the time.
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Richard Zen, modified 6 Years ago.

RE: Emptiness Teachings website

Posts: 1631 Join Date: 5/18/10 Recent Posts
Mark:

I finished listening to the 3rd (final) talk in that first series and it was better. I still detected something like "views are just views and we can experiment with different ones - but it is all ultimately emptiness" There seems to be a contradiction there and I'm interested in exploring it.

There is a sense of self as long as you are conscious. The subtlety of dependent origination talks about that and how any perception, time, or measurement can feel self-related. So if we can't be in nirvana all the time then we have to work with conditioning in a more skillful way than the typical way we are taught. Brahmaviharas for example and many other skillful goals. Of course this is a personal choice.

I listened to the talk on emptiness by Rob you suggested. It was good in that it is clear and I'm not sure if my take away is valid but I'll share my thoughts. Maybe you will see where I'm misinterpreting. Rob seems to be basing his analysis on some quite old philisophical texts. From what I gathered those texts are playing some subtle games with rational logic and lead to some dubious conclusions. I'll try to explain.

One reasoning presented is that time is continuous not discrete. This is used to demonstrate that a moment does not exist because each moment has beginning middle end and so on. Underlying this is a causal model of the world - it is close to a mechanistic view. For x to arise it depends on y but if y depends on x then neither x nor y can exist. Prior to Newton there was a strong committment in the west to this view too, the assumption was that we were going to explain the world materially. We were going to "remove the ghost from the machine" (sort of similar to the Buddhist agenda). When Newton discovered the law of gravity he effectively got rid of the machine and we have since then been pretty much left with the ghost! It took quite a while for this to catch on but science had to give up on ever providing a causal explanation of the world. The theory of relativity was a further nail in that coffin and quantum mechanics has further driven home the point in our generation. It is worth keeping in mind that Netwon's theory of gravity was as preposterous and absurd to people then as quantum physics is to us now. Science basically just integrates the ghost once there is some math that can't be refuted. We could predict that most people in 100-200 years will accept quantum theory in a similar way to how most accept gravity today.

I think you are going in partially the right direction but the purpose of Buddhism is to lower stress from excess rumination. If people look for a demarcation line between 2 billiard balls in the conventional senses it is obvious but if one was to zoom in one would find that there's air (now Higgs particles, dark matter, etc) in between the balls and as we break down objects it's clear that every part is made of more parts and we can't seem to find a partless part. We may find a partless part eventually but it's already so small that as these parts shift, things like death occur. This means that ruminating about most things when there's this looming death is pointless. I tend to tell people that time is more moving through space than how we experience it. In the mind we look at time through memories which are impressions partially reconstructed by the imaginary part of the mind. Experience is just a simplified version of the universe. If we want to move ahead of just being with bare attention we have to look at how unsolid things are and that's where translations try different English words like illusion, and more commonly nowadays, a hologram. The words have trouble containing the insights and so we hear that things are real and not real at the same time and how that's the middle path. This is just a skillful way to acknowledge the "ultimate" while still being sane enough to react to normal perceptions. That's why when my perception gets caught up in something like slow traffic and frustration I can remind myself how experiences are essentially gone as I'm experiencing them. It's just short-term memory or long-term memory. There's always a little subtle thinking happening even in deep meditation where the brain is measuring at a minimum the quality of the meditation and how to make it stay at a high quality as long as possible. There's always a subtle thinking about the past and a projection of how things might be in the future. Even if it's just the short-term past and short-term future.

There is an assumption because I can divide some period of time into beginning, middle and end, then any period of time can be divided in this way. That is simply not true. We can "theoretically" do that but that is just speculation. Human perception is limited - we have a limited instrument. One way to look at science is to consider that  it advances as we get better at measuring. To measure we basically build new instruments. Humans have the same "instruments" or perceptions that we had thousands of years ago. We have only been able to enhance this in very superficial ways so far (e.g. you can have better than 20/20 vision by operation or play with psychedelics etc.) On one hand this is good because it means what the Buddha found should work for us (if we can adopt the same beliefs) but it seems a shame to ignore 2500 years of further learning.

A human can get very good at perceiving smaller units of time but there is a biological limit. For argument's sake let's say it is 1ms. This means there is no beginning, middle, end from then on. It might seem counter-intuitive but I think it is similar to theories about matter that eventually there is a binary representation i.e. it is discrete if you go far enough (the idea of matter at that scale as information is one resulting theory).

We also know that the human can never perceive now. There is a delay of some period of time between when light hits the eye and when we are conscious of that. So being in the now is an illusion. 

It might be a safe bet to assume that the brain is spending a huge amount of energy on pattern prediction too. So it is not necessarily intention that drives attention but unexpected patterns that can focus attention.

How people fade their senses into Nirvana is by relaxing the push and pull towards experiences and this seems to quieten the limbic system enough to fade experience. This is because the addictive survival part of the brain is so intertwined with perceptions and how to evaluate them, it gets exceedingly difficult to see the more subtle clingings.

In regards to the self process, from a philosophical point of view it seems clear the self process is dependent on many things outside of the body. On a practical level we are more concerned about subjective experience - it is nice to know my hand includes quarks but not of much use. We know that subjective experience is related to brain function (not reducible to that). I'm not sure about what follows but I think it would be reasonable to assume that we can find cases of people who are not self conscious but can function in regards to objects and the passage of time.

Perhaps for fun we can take this one step further - it indicates that there is something that is permanent: the past. 

Yeah it's permanently GONE!

If you buy the reasoning Rob gives and practise with those expectations then you'll probably reach similar conclusions he reached. But I'd love to see more pragmatic dharma. That talk on time seemed to make it so clear how theory creates dillusion. I'm not providing a better answer - it is much easier to be the critic than come up with a valid idea! 

We do have more sophisticated conceptual models available than the ancients had. But that does not justify throwing the baby out with the bath water. We are living in a world where it is fairly obvious humanity is not at the center of the universe. Discoveries like gravity, evolution and neuroscience behind the self process seem to allow re-interpretation without invalidating what was found in the past (just putting things within an appropriate context).

One interesting point to the above is that a process unfolds over time and if the self is a process then it should be possible to have experiences without self (of course the later interpretation, reporting etc would re-introduce self). My experience seems to align more with this it seems that self is not some fundamental thing and this can be directly experienced fairly easily.

I've been spending a lot of time on the cushion the last couple of days - more than I ever have off retreat. So this had some very positive effects- thanks!.

Switching to the discussion about love. I think we have a vocab issue more than anything. Loving does not mean "being nice". So as you mention "tough love" is an option. It would not be very loving to let someone treat you as a doormat - neither to them or yourself or others who will interact with that perons in the future. 

Thanks very much for the list of talks, he has over 200 so it is invaluable to have some hierarchy there emoticon

Thanks for taking the time.

No prob!
Mark, modified 6 Years ago.

RE: Emptiness Teachings website

Posts: 550 Join Date: 7/24/14 Recent Posts
The concept of personal choice seems in contradiction with dependent origination. Letting go of the concept of freewill is liberating and does not mean living without intentions.

For all practical purposes the billiard balls can be considered with newtonian physics. If the goal of practise is to impact subjective experience then we might be better working with pragmatic definitions i.e. time is discrete because there is a minimal resolution in subjective experience.

I think we get further by considering subjective experience as a map of the universe not as a simplification of it. A map is never anything remotely like the place it maps - it is not a simplification. For example a lake on a map does not become more like a lake as you add more information about the lake.

Taking the slow traffic example, one approach would be to consider all things as empty so no need to care about the traffic. Another approach would be to embrace the traffic as part of self process - the self is not a separate thing inside the car experiencing the crazy traffic. The crazy traffic is a part of the process - our illusion is to try to draw a line between things that are clearly interrelated.

I think you can attain states in meditation where "you" are not trying to maintain the state (no push or pull), where there really is no preference, the self is simply not engaged. Things keep moving along when the self is not present so the meditative state will change (impermanence). Perhaps they are just very short periods of time and any reflection is going to reintroduce the self process. Thinking as commonly understood can cease in meditation, the introduction of "subtle" thinking seems like a prop to a philosophical framework more than a subjective experience.

If you believe there is always subtle, undetectable, thinking going on then it is opening a door for rumination and stress that might not be needed.

Agreed we can think of the past as permanently gone - it is also permanently present. That does not mean the present is 100% conditioned by the past. There is always an element of randomness, realising that can help reduce stress a lot. It is similar to the emptiness argument I guess.

Getting back to our conversation of morality, love etc. The self as process seems to provide a direct path to realising that. Having a more pragmatic model of self as process makes it obvious the other is part of the self. Emptiness might be an "uprooting" of the self but it is the self incorporating the other that is compassion which leads to morality. I like this direct link from insight to morality.

From a pragmatic point this works without any need to call out to the "ultimate" (swap in your favourite god and you have any one of number of religions). Getting comfortable with "don't know" seems like an easier path than trying to shoe horn reality into a rational framework. Agnostic buddhism perhaps emoticon

My experience when sitting with this type of framework has led to a shift in perception off the cushion. While sitting the location of the "observer" moved from slightly outside and behind the head to a central area. It was quite an uncomfortable sensation, it came all the way out to the face and felt like it was going to push through before settling back. It has stayed in the new place since then (a bit over a month now). Recently that "observer" sensation has started expanding on the cushion and it seems to envelope the space around me now while I'm off the cushion. I interpret this to be some sort of representation of what is part of self i.e. it is expanding toward a more accurate perception. This is almost certainly brought on by the expansion contraction noting using Shinzen's system. I would not draw conclusions based on this (early days) but it is not contradicting the model I'm trying to describe.
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Richard Zen, modified 6 Years ago.

RE: Emptiness Teachings website

Posts: 1631 Join Date: 5/18/10 Recent Posts
Mark I think you're misunderstanding what ultimate is. It's not an ultimate reality like some fantasy or preying to God. It has to do with everything lacking inherent existence. (Please see the website in the OP). Our amygdala's act as if things exist independent of cause and effect (inherent existence), so much so that useless rumination is indulged in again and again no matter how pointless it is to do so. People identify rumination as a self and when someone identifies with it they try to solidify it with repetition of those sensations causing more habit conditioning towards stressful thinking. You can manipulate cause and effect towards more healthy thinking when you don't idenfity your current habits as a self. Read up on Right Energy which allows us to push our intention toward more healthy reasonings and thinking patterns. Stress damages the immune system, which does so much to keep us from cancer and other ailments. Depression is pervasive in modern society and much of it is ignorance on what we are doing to our thinking habits.

Objects are so interdependent that we must include what we think is a self (push and pull of likes and dislikes). This is why I pointed out Rob's talk about The subtlety of dependent origination. Thinking is a sensation in that if you like or dislike it you can feel it in the body. Rob's talk points out the intention to pay attention. These sensations are not free of cause and effect and dependency at all. Even existentialists like Heidegger would point out Throwness which reminds us that we are born/thrown into an epoch with certain cultural knowledge and technology and no amount of excluding intentions, analyzing, strategizing, dominating will there be an inherent self that is not influenced by the period's knowledge and cultural understandings of this universe. Then there's biological factors like IQ and how long you live and whether you choose to learn one set of skills versus another.

The freedom to choose doesn't have to conflict with cause and effect. It's intertwined with it utterly. If I lived in the future and it had better technology than now I would have better choices available than if I lived in the Roman Empire and all the superstition related to it. Emptiness is the best part of Buddhism. One could look to beliefs of walking on water, or walking through walls as crappier elements of ancient Buddhist thinking and any beliefs about the afterlife being in the same territory.

With emptiness you can't exclude any part of your experience as being separate from cause and effect and being a special controller. This is why meditation is needed so we can see those subtle dependencies we ignore. It's like being a doctor or psychologist outside of your body analyzing you. They only see cause and effect but when people look at themselves they go back to the default "specialness self" no matter how ridiculous it is. Any experience is known by consciousness so much so that all experiences (including meditative ones) are known by consciousness. Consciousness is inferred because some experience is happening. It has no shape, colour, location or time. Even the perception of nothingness is a perception known to consciousness.

Everytime your spotlight of intention moves from one object to another habitually and automatically you can see the cause and effect of impressions and habits at work. Those subtle movements are liking and disliking some perception of time, space, or objects before any heavy thinking is building up. Actions are dependent on intentions and intentions are dependent on habits, past knowledge, having presence and pushing the intention forcefully or not having presence and letting automatic intentions work freely. If you feel pleasant or unpleasant it will naturally influence intentions to act on what's causing discomfort or comfort.

This stuff is happening so fast. Just watch yourself driving a car after lots of experience and notice the intention to pay attention working skillfully and automatically to shoulder check, steer, brake etc. You don't need a lot of presence to do this (nor do you want that much psychological power used on this skill). Skillful habits are just fine. This is why using Right Energy with Brahmaviharas can be a good conditioning for you. It's so much better than conditioning rumination which is just endlessly thinking about problems without thinking about solutions or thinking about solutions that are improbable and simplistic. It's possible to be so stressed with rumination that you become exhausted so your intentions to do the right thing are thwarted.

Right Energy:

(1) to prevent the arising of unarisen unwholesome states;
(2) to abandon unwholesome states that have already arisen;
(3) to arouse wholesome states that have not yet arisen;
(4) to maintain and perfect wholesome states already arisen.

What I like about Rob is that he's not getting you to eliminate a self. You can use a strong sense of self (with the understanding of no inherent existence) skillfully. Pushing your intention to pay attention towards insights is also empty of permanence and is another way of looking that reduces stress. This way you have flexibility to be a normal person instead of pretending to lobotomize your emotions you deem "not allowed".

Watch those subtle movements happening. They are trying to dominate so they can get serotonin, oxytocin, dopamine, endorphins, etc, etc. Many people go to meditation and actually condition their sense of self further by acting like the "self" is meditating. It actually takes a lot of practice to see enough detail that nothing can be excluded.

BTW I'm not religious and quite agnostic. This is why Buddhism can be so attractive to existentialist westerners who want to reduce stress but have qualms towards other religions.

I hope this makes sense now. Cause and effect is very complex and can easily include our senses of selves and any emotion or experience. Understanding this deeply with meditation reduces stress further than just being with bare attention all the time.
Mark, modified 6 Years ago.

RE: Emptiness Teachings website

Posts: 550 Join Date: 7/24/14 Recent Posts
Hi Richard,

I appreciate your time and patience. Maybe we can focus on a specific point. I'd like to start with what I see we are in agreement so we can skip those topics.

We are both looking for a pragmatic understanding from an agnostic view. We both believe the way the physical brain works can give insights into how mind works.  Some people identifiy rumination as a self, neither you nor I defend that point of view. Neither you nor I are advocating "getting rid of self". Neither you nor I are advocating being with bare attention all the time. We both agree rumination is a cause of stress and something to be avoided.

I'm not sure but I think you would agree that the self would be better thought of as a process than a thing. That the process of self is interdependent with at least subjective experience, physical body, the physical environment (technologies, tools, eco-system etc) and the social/cultural environment (i.e. inter-subjective).

One way of trying to advance is to look for inconsistencies in a view. I'm all for you pointing those out. 

Regarding what I've understood of Rob's view on emptiness a couple of points are an assumption that time is a continuous quantity but I don't see that this holds up,  time as discrete is supported by the physical limitations of the brain. Rob also tends to use self and ego interchangeably sometimes, I wonder if this is part of the misunderstanding. Ego being a part of self process, ok, but self as ego is clearly too limited. I suspect that Rob would not agree explicitly that self means ego but the way he sometimes uses those terms interchangeably indicates something. I suspect Rob has a narrower definition of self than you or I.

Inherent existence is a theoretical concept that does not fit within an agnostic view. For there to be inherent existent there would need to be some ultimate understanding. That I can't buy into inherent existence, is not a strong argument for emptiness (or there being nothing inherent). From an agnostic view emptiness or anything "ultimate" is speculation and risks to cloud a pragmatic understanding. A logic of "if you can't prove X then Y must be true" is not rational. That we can't demonstrate through rational discussion that something is inherent does not imply emptiness is ultimate or true. It does tell us that the power of rational thought and reductionism are limited - which is part of the agnostic view.  

My point about being able to substitute emptiness for god is not that your emptiness is a god but that someone who believed in god could (probably would) come up with a similar argumentation i.e. there is nothing inherent except god. Underlying everything is emptiness or underlying everything is god could lead to similar low stress experiences. 

If we could focus on one point I'd choose your mentioning of the freedom to choose, personal choice etc. I think exploring this could give me a better idea of what emptiness is for you. You accept the ideas of no inherent existence and dependent origination, I don't see how you make the leap to "freedom of choice" which I assume implies freewill. If you look at any choice you are making I don't think you'll find something that has independence. As you mention there is no inherent existence, so there is no independent "thing" that can exercise freedom of choice.

You mentioned in the same paragraph as "freedom to choose" the idea that different periods of history give different options. I agree but that seems more of an argument against a notion of "freedom to choose". Different periods of history had different options but options are not the same thing as freedom to choose.

As you write "With emptiness you can't exclude any part of your experience as being separate from cause and effect and being a special controller." so where does the freedom of choice come from ? The concept of "freedom of choice" implies a special controller. Maybe you are using the terms "personal choice" and "freedom of choice" in an unconventional sense ?
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Richard Zen, modified 6 Years ago.

RE: Emptiness Teachings website

Posts: 1631 Join Date: 5/18/10 Recent Posts
Mark:
Hi Richard,

I appreciate your time and patience. Maybe we can focus on a specific point. I'd like to start with what I see we are in agreement so we can skip those topics.

We are both looking for a pragmatic understanding from an agnostic view. We both believe the way the physical brain works can give insights into how mind works.  Some people identifiy rumination as a self, neither you nor I defend that point of view. Neither you nor I are advocating "getting rid of self". Neither you nor I are advocating being with bare attention all the time. We both agree rumination is a cause of stress and something to be avoided.

I'm not sure but I think you would agree that the self would be better thought of as a process than a thing. That the process of self is interdependent with at least subjective experience, physical body, the physical environment (technologies, tools, eco-system etc) and the social/cultural environment (i.e. inter-subjective).

Yes the self in waking life has all these different emotions, and moods and seeing that is a form of basic insight. I still feel down sometimes but it's not as debilitating as before. It's like clouds that give way to sunshine eventually.

One way of trying to advance is to look for inconsistencies in a view. I'm all for you pointing those out. 

Regarding what I've understood of Rob's view on emptiness a couple of points are an assumption that time is a continuous quantity but I don't see that this holds up,  time as discrete is supported by the physical limitations of the brain. Rob also tends to use self and ego interchangeably sometimes, I wonder if this is part of the misunderstanding. Ego being a part of self process, ok, but self as ego is clearly too limited. I suspect that Rob would not agree explicitly that self means ego but the way he sometimes uses those terms interchangeably indicates something. I suspect Rob has a narrower definition of self than you or I.

Rob's idea of self is that it can be as solid as a tantrum right down to basic subject, object, and time.

Inherent existence is a theoretical concept that does not fit within an agnostic view. For there to be inherent existent there would need to be some ultimate understanding. That I can't buy into inherent existence, is not a strong argument for emptiness (or there being nothing inherent). From an agnostic view emptiness or anything "ultimate" is speculation and risks to cloud a pragmatic understanding. A logic of "if you can't prove X then Y must be true" is not rational. That we can't demonstrate through rational discussion that something is inherent does not imply emptiness is ultimate or true. It does tell us that the power of rational thought and reductionism are limited - which is part of the agnostic view.  

I would focus more on the unfindability of any permanence than agnostic vs. religious. To me the absolute is also empty of inherent existence. This way the middle path between nihilism and essentialism can be bridged. In daily life, reminding oneself of how "gone" experiences are creates relief because the reminder reduces rumination. Emptiness should not be clung to with rumination. Whether someone wants to use processes in a conventional way that is skillful I think nobody should have any problem with that. One way of looking would be to remind oneself of the present moment being short-term memory so that any fixation on perfect processes and wanting processes to work a certain way won't get into too much stress when the process doesn't work perfectly.

My point about being able to substitute emptiness for god is not that your emptiness is a god but that someone who believed in god could (probably would) come up with a similar argumentation i.e. there is nothing inherent except god. Underlying everything is emptiness or underlying everything is god could lead to similar low stress experiences. 

Possibly, but pondering emptiness would be quite different than praying to God in the conventional sense to give you something. Yet praying to God to give you what you are likely to get or making likely plans based on a natural understanding of how cause and effect works would lower stress equally. Or being atheist and just creating expectations that match a realistic world would also reduce stress. Having more preferences to deal with life circumstances or letting go of preferences both would reduce stress.

If we could focus on one point I'd choose your mentioning of the freedom to choose, personal choice etc. I think exploring this could give me a better idea of what emptiness is for you. You accept the ideas of no inherent existence and dependent origination, I don't see how you make the leap to "freedom of choice" which I assume implies freewill. If you look at any choice you are making I don't think you'll find something that has independence. As you mention there is no inherent existence, so there is no independent "thing" that can exercise freedom of choice.

There are no permanent "things" that make choices but here we are. The intelligence that is there is going to use it's knowledge to the best degree given the cause and effect of environmental conditioning and how the willpower can deal with those conditionings. Then the body dies and we don't see any spark left. For some people there is a hope for more and I don't rule it out but I don't want to superimpose something that I can't prove. Emptiness is just proven because of it's unfindability (which goes into physics, which is also limited to the time in which it's understanding rests). One could even fabricate a self in a healthy way while knowing it's emptiness, to obtain healthy results. Vivid imagery for example.

You mentioned in the same paragraph as "freedom to choose" the idea that different periods of history give different options. I agree but that seems more of an argument against a notion of "freedom to choose". Different periods of history had different options but options are not the same thing as freedom to choose.

I'm only arguing against the freedom to choose attitudes that people often have. For example, people who are on American Idol and think they have the freedom to win regardless of their lack of singing talent. Or people who think they can run a marathon without practice. Our choices are limited within cause and effect but we often day-dream of options that don't match reality. Vivid imagery triggers the amygdala for motivation but motivation must be balanced with realistic observation of results. I would be against the self-help gurus who get us turned on with pep talks about achieving goals while ignoring the process to get there. Here's a good reminder:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NHopJHSlVo4

As you write "With emptiness you can't exclude any part of your experience as being separate from cause and effect and being a special controller." so where does the freedom of choice come from ? The concept of "freedom of choice" implies a special controller. Maybe you are using the terms "personal choice" and "freedom of choice" in an unconventional sense ?
You have a sense of self as long as you are conscious. The understanding of emptiness doesn't eliminate the sense of self. It creates a new understanding that allows for MORE choice as you can see your conditioning in action and direct it to new territories that go beyond. People usually identify with habits "I'm this way or that way" and ignore the conditioning that got them there. If you identify with your conditioning it's easier to say "I can't" and give up on goals. Some goals are useless and achieve nothing but some might be abandoned too soon. Teaching people how empty conditioning is and how to create new conditioning should allow for development of new skills than previously thought possible. 

Richard
Mark, modified 6 Years ago.

RE: Emptiness Teachings website

Posts: 550 Join Date: 7/24/14 Recent Posts
Hi Richard,

I've started thinking of "the self" with two different perspectives. One being the "sensation of self" which is the subjective experience of having subjective experiences. The other being the "process of self" which is concerned with the things that influence the "sensation of self". The "sensation of self" and the "process of self" can't be physical entities, can't be permanent and are continually changing.

Some practitioners seem to limit "the self" to the "sensation of self". For example when I wrote  "subjective experience, physical body, the physical environment (technologies, tools, eco-system etc) and the social/cultural environment" you replied "Yes the self in waking life has all these different emotions, and moods" This is not the same thing, the "sensation of self" can be broken down into various components of subjective experience like emotions and moods but this does not capture the bigger picture of the "process of self".

We probably have different notions of what a monotheist god is in the context of this discussion. I'm not religious either. The idea of god being an entity that grants prays is perhaps a common religous practise but if we tried to understand buddhism by observing the rituals in devout buddhist cultures we'd have a very distorted view too. Christian mystics seem to reach universal conclusions such as "god is everything", "I am god". I had these deeper spiritual experiences in mind when comparing with "emptiness is everything", "I am emptiness" etc. Basically I think there is a common insight with an underlying assummption that a "universal truth" is accessible to human experience. I think both have a view while believing they don't, therfore mistaking a map for reality.

When you write "willpower can deal with those conditionings" you seem to again be calling out to something that is not subject to those conditionings. Where/what is that thing ?

For you emptiness "creates a new understanding that allows for MORE choice as you can see your conditioning" but I think you'd get even more value from a "process of self" view as this connects the conditioning to your sphere of influence. It also provides a direct connection between moral action and subjective experience. For example the society you live in is a part of the "process of self". Emptiness as an underlying philosophy could lead to a "sensation of self" centric view and if that is not causing stress then it could appear like an end game.

Listening to Rob and in our discussion I've not seen insights from emptiness more pragmatic than those of a "process of self". I can see a bunch of risks of taking on an absolute view or reducing the self to sensations or not being able to connect emptinesss to morality. In addition the Buddha seems to have explicitly avoided drawing absolute conclusions - that is a big warning sign. The concept of emptiness seems to have been introduced several hundred years later and appears more intellectual than practical.

I'd love to hear examples of where an agnostic view of self as process is going to run into grief while the truth of emptiness avoids that. 
"Don't know" as an underlying conclusion could lead to focusing more attention on other things that can be known.

     Mark
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Richard Zen, modified 6 Years ago.

RE: Emptiness Teachings website

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Mark:
Hi Richard,

I've started thinking of "the self" with two different perspectives. One being the "sensation of self" which is the subjective experience of having subjective experiences. The other being the "process of self" which is concerned with the things that influence the "sensation of self". The "sensation of self" and the "process of self" can't be physical entities, can't be permanent and are continually changing.

Some practitioners seem to limit "the self" to the "sensation of self". For example when I wrote  "subjective experience, physical body, the physical environment (technologies, tools, eco-system etc) and the social/cultural environment" you replied "Yes the self in waking life has all these different emotions, and moods" This is not the same thing, the "sensation of self" can be broken down into various components of subjective experience like emotions and moods but this does not capture the bigger picture of the "process of self".

This process of self you are talking about. If you elucidate it for us will probably have some preferences that are particular to Mark. Most processes of selves that people have are a personal story and then identifying with different plot points and meanings as their self. Any technical drawing or process map of a process of self is likely to fall under reductionism and be too simple. To be perfectly honest I have lots of processes of selves. There isn't even just one. There's one for work. There's one for meditating. There's one for my typical preferences. There's one for my writing skills because I've had people in the past praise me for it and want me to help them with their business letters. People are constantly projecting labels for me and I don't want to identify with them because I want to create more skills and add to the ones I have instead of limiting my growth.

If you like to explore self-processes more I would recommend:

- Myers-Briggs (with a self-development attitude of course)

http://www.amazon.com/Shadows-Type-Angelina-Bennet/dp/1445741679/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1427553667&sr=1-1&keywords=shadows+of+type

- Enneagram

http://www.amazon.com/Complete-Enneagram-Paths-Greater-Self-Knowledge/dp/1938314549/ref=sr_1_8?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1427553695&sr=1-8&keywords=Enneagram

- CBT

http://www.amazon.com/Mind-Over-Mood-Change-Changing/dp/0898621283/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1427553742&sr=1-1&keywords=Christine+Padesky

This list is large for choices on developing a self.

We probably have different notions of what a monotheist god is in the context of this discussion. I'm not religious either. The idea of god being an entity that grants prays is perhaps a common religous practise but if we tried to understand buddhism by observing the rituals in devout buddhist cultures we'd have a very distorted view too. Christian mystics seem to reach universal conclusions such as "god is everything", "I am god". I had these deeper spiritual experiences in mind when comparing with "emptiness is everything", "I am emptiness" etc. Basically I think there is a common insight with an underlying assummption that a "universal truth" is accessible to human experience. I think both have a view while believing they don't, therfore mistaking a map for reality.

I wouldn't worry about rituals since this is a pragmatic dharma site and I'm sure most founders of religions would have plenty to say about religious rituals. Believing in rites and rituals is actually a fetter to prevent Stream Entry.

When you write "willpower can deal with those conditionings" you seem to again be calling out to something that is not subject to those conditionings. Where/what is that thing ?

For you emptiness "creates a new understanding that allows for MORE choice as you can see your conditioning" but I think you'd get even more value from a "process of self" view as this connects the conditioning to your sphere of influence. It also provides a direct connection between moral action and subjective experience. For example the society you live in is a part of the "process of self". Emptiness as an underlying philosophy could lead to a "sensation of self" centric view and if that is not causing stress then it could appear like an end game.

Listening to Rob and in our discussion I've not seen insights from emptiness more pragmatic than those of a
"process of self". I can see a bunch of risks of taking on an absolute view or reducing the self to sensations or not being able to connect emptinesss to morality. In addition the Buddha seems to have explicitly avoided drawing absolute conclusions - that is a big warning sign. (How? Having a preference for views, including Buddhism, is another potential for stress). The concept of emptiness seems to have been introduced several hundred years later and appears more intellectual than practical.

Rob calls it "ways of looking". What's the difference? Looking with an insight angle is just another way of looking but one that reduces stress. Since we believe in cause and effect then what causes stress should be analyzed and different causes and effects can be put into place to reduce unnecessary stress. To me it's MORE practical, and the intellectual part of it is welcome to me as well because you can gain benefits of reduced stress from reasoning and seeing the salience of unskillful perceptions/impulses and then abandon them.

I'd love to hear examples of where an agnostic view of self as process is going to run into grief while the truth of emptiness avoids that. 
"Don't know" as an underlying conclusion could lead to focusing more attention on other things that can be known.

     Mark
Look Mark. I don't see much of an argument here. A "process of self" is so nebulous and could differ from person to person. Thinking about the Mark's version of a "Process of Self" is just thinking. It's all empty of permanence and whether you have your Mark version of a process of self or not, all that matters is that you condition yourself according to your deep values versus just accepting the conditioning you got from parents and influential people in your life (unless you find it skillful). That's the liberation that Buddhism allows. There are many different views and values people can adopt with this practice and the only limitation is how much stress and damage is created by them in society.

One could use CBT and a self process but much of this is visualization again and most CBT practioners need a mindfulness practice because preferences cause stress regardless of your method. Either we welcome more and more irritating things that we can't control in our lives or we increase our preferences to include more and more challenging situations. This is the only way to reduce stress no matter what method you use. When stress is reduced you have less fear to change behaviours and patterns you don't like. By not identifying those patterns as a self it's easier to use practices like Right Effort to push your intentions in different directions instead of repeating the past. This stuff is beyond the majority of the population who identify habits as a self and in turn double-down and reinforce them further. When you do the practice long enough and the self-referencing thinking-loop atrophies everything is normal and what most people would constitute a personality is still there. You just don't talk to yourself as much and that extra stressful loop of making yourself into an object to "like or dislike", "like or dislike" is a waste of energy and gets you nowhere. People love to abandon it and often find it anti-climatic because they were simply bested in the past by a self-referencing habit.

Buddhism does connect emptiness to morality but people keep ignoring it. Look at the 8 fold path and especially the Brahmaviharas and you'll see that Buddhism (like many other religions) have a letting go practice (emptiness being a facilitator) and a reintroduction to passion but directed towards what the individual feels is more valuable. Emptiness is also about the middle path which is another area people keep ignoring. The middle path warns against nihilism and eternalism. You are not supposed to fixate or obsess about Buddhism. To do so is no different than any other fixation. Examples of pointing at the moon and to get the practioner to look at the moon instead of the finger are numerous.

I have trouble seeing an argument here. If you like your practice and you are fixating less then keep doing it. For me now that I'm doing more public speaking and people are projecting extroversion on me like never before. It shows that Myers-Briggs is just a preference inventory (which they admit) and one can change preferences if one sees the benefit of doing so. The most important thing is that when attitudes are changed purposefully, they have to be repeated to create new habits/skills/dispositions/character etc. There are certain biological limitations and physical limitations but lots of opportunities to fabricate different attitudes instead of indulging in the same ones I've done in the past.

Whatever practices you choose follow, follow them because you can notice tangible benefits arising.

Richard
Mark, modified 6 Years ago.

RE: Emptiness Teachings website

Posts: 550 Join Date: 7/24/14 Recent Posts
Hi Richard,

You are right the "process of self" I'm refering to is going to be extremely complex and unique to an individual in the details. Too complex for anyone to fully understand. It needs to take into account context, environment, relationships. In particular trying to understand it with a cause and effect type analysis is going to be very limited, systems thinking is perhaps more appropriate (limited too). One process can include others etc. I think some generalizations can be made and valuable insights gained - for example realizing that the process can be changed - realising that the sense of self is built on an invalid model of the self process.

A process centric view incorporating buddhist insights is very different from MBTI, Ennaegram - those are very reductionist views. CBT is perhaps more interesting in that it stems from Stoicism which offers a moral framework that is much more practical for "westerners" than the Buddhist system. CBT or even Stoicism does not seem to have anywhere near the depth of meditiative traditions as far as insight goes.

You seem to be confusing the idea of a process centric view of self and the concept of reinforcing the self as per western phsychology. I'm interested in a process centric view of self within a medititive training (mainly noting). 

I'm not worrying about rituals, was trying to highlight the sophistication of some monetheist traditions (reaching similar insights to the concept of emptiness).

When I listened to Rob and yourself there is a strong impression that "ways of looking" sit over an "absolute" truth about the nature of everything (emptyness). It is an interesting idea, in particular Rob seemed to confront it with a process centric view. So I'm asking questions to see what this emptyness view is offering on a pragmatic level.

If "absolute truth" is taken as just another "way of looking" then it makes more sense to me and is a contradiction - instead of absolute truth it is more like a temporary truth emoticon In which case the discussion may be more about my misunerstanding of this.

You don't need a concept of emptyness to see that cause and effect are fundamental. Going back to our traffic example you can see the futility of ruminating over it from a process centric view. For example the "sense of self" is reacting to an unskillful separation of the physical body and the environment. By seeing the "external traffic" and how this is "causing" frustration we can see that the traffic is actually part of the process of self (at that moment) This bigger picture makes it easier to see the attachment to things being different which can be dropped so the rumination on traffic stops. This view also allows us see how voting for a local government with a good plan for traffic might be wise. 

In regards to how to recondition ourselves I think Stoicism has a lot to offer - it needs to be modernized but that is an inherent part of Stoicism.

Here is a good example, you wrote "Either we welcome more and more irritating things that we can't control in our lives or we increase our preferences to include more and more challenging situations. This is the only way to reduce stress no matter what method you use." This is a view that we either accept things or like things the way they are, it places the "sensation of self" as central. There is an additional option which is to change the situation - this is the social engagement that Stoicism demands (within one's circule of influence). Stoicism is a philosophy for acting in the world whereas most religous traditions encourage disengaging (the pinnacle being to join the religous order).

Interestingly Stoicism has a practise that is nearly identical to metta.


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Richard Zen, modified 6 Years ago.

RE: Emptiness Teachings website

Posts: 1631 Join Date: 5/18/10 Recent Posts
I started with Stoicism but because so much of the writings have been destroyed it's hard to do much except to include modern CBT/REBT etc to update it. We of course must engage with the world and I do like the Stoic ideal of engagement and it also fits with Plato's understanding that if we disengage then other people will rule our lives.

I think you are starting to get the understanding of emptiness. Rob is Mahayana so he will take the samsara is as empty as nirvana tack. There are people who put cessation experience/non-experience as more important than actual experience and that can be a preference for insight experiences that causes stress if we are living life in a normal context.  By going into cessation and coming out and now noticing more "self" sensations as sensations you can gain insight and work with the real world with that understanding. 

If someone gave me a live grenade and I exploded, then where would the self be? This is closer to their understanding. Having a strong self point of view (process or not) is skillful in certain circumstances and very practical but with the understanding of how we are made of endless parts puts things in perspective so that rumination doesn't go too far. I'm pretty sure a Buddhist who understands emptiness well will still ruminate and feel anger if they are put into jail wrongfully or physically beaten up. They probably will recover faster than the general population but it would be a huge challenge. If I have an emotional investment towards a process (of any kind) and that process fails to predict reality it's quite easy to also be too defensive. Things should be light and if people just simply relax fixation/obsession/rumination and try to detect when these things are starting up and to let go they will be going in the right direction.

I used to follow politics, tons of news stories and I could see how that was just an attachment. Now I watch little TV and sometimes people have to remind me of some major news story. It's a relief not to follow every detail of what's going on because most of it is fear or desire or envy based on one or the other. Unless I can use the information (some news is useful), it's pretty much useless chatter and based on preferences can cause stress when we here talking points we don't like or here opinions we don't agree with. I look at that and then remind myself, "did I savour my meal today or did I just ruminate about some news story instead?" Savouring my meal becomes much more important than worrying about every tornado, car accident, murder, election, etc. This is especially true when I won't even remember most news stories a year from now.

If there is a limit of Stoicism and Buddhism to reduce stress, it is that at some point I have a preference for not having a knife in my belly so agitation, fights, and war will have to be accepted in order to survive extreme narcissists and psychopaths. So a sense of self has to be allowed since the purpose of a fight or flight response does still have some use today.
Mark, modified 6 Years ago.

RE: Emptiness Teachings website

Posts: 550 Join Date: 7/24/14 Recent Posts
Hi Richard,

There is somewhat of a revival going on for Stoicism it seems (although still a very small thing) http://blogs.exeter.ac.uk/stoicismtoday/ https://howtobeastoic.wordpress.com I have not got far in this - I was initially interested in Virtue Ethics which led to Stoicism.

An agnostic "don't know" regarding the absolute seems reasonable for me now but for people who want a "truth" I think emptiness is a great view.

"Things should be light" resonates well with me.

Likewise I used to follow the news etc. I've not had a television for a long time. Have not seen/read/listened to the news for about 9 months. It started out as an experiment and I've just continued it. The mass media is really not bringing any value as I see it - in fact the opposite.

Thanks for the chat, interesting.

     Mark
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. Jake ., modified 6 Years ago.

RE: Emptiness Teachings website

Posts: 698 Join Date: 5/22/10 Recent Posts
Not Tao:
I made a spinoff thread, but I also have a question that is more related.  Do you think intellectual thinking, like going through the seven fold reasoning, will work as a meditation? Is this similar to noting, or different?



The 7-fold reasoning is not just a reasoning though, it's embedded in a practice. Part of the practice is to first get ahold of the felt-sense of being a solid seperate self in your own experience. If you are then deploying the reflections upon this very felt-sense there is a very different result than if you merely reflect along the lines of the 7fold reasoning without first discovering and holding in attention the felt sense of self. In the former case (actually doing the *practice*) there results conviction in emptiness, in the latter case (mere intellectualizing) there results whatever changes in opinion may or may not result to no real effect in any case.

essentially the practice of the 7 fold reasoning is a whole package involving concentration and investigation and it's, again, working with the felt-sense of self of the practitioner in real time, not a 'philosophical' or abstract reflection on theoretical considerations about 'self' as a theoretical or conceptual object.

make better sense>?

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