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TOPIC: Offensive Content - Waddaya Think?

Offensive Content - Waddaya Think? 10 Mar 2019 11:12 #110783

From Kenneth Folk's Twitter feed:

(Offensive content warning; y'all Buddhists gonna hate this)
To protect ourselves from the unbearable cognitive dissonance of considering our own non-existence, we typically turn to a nonsense concept like "form is emptiness, emptiness is form." (thread)

"Form is emptiness, emptiness is form" is simultaneously non-threatening and superficially clever. Generations of Buddhists have found comfort here. If you find your mind turning toward this idea whenever the topic of non-existence is raised, be suspicious.

Nothing wrong with the mind protecting itself from cognitive dissonance, but understand that this is what's happening. To insist that "form is emptiness and emptiness is form" is to negate emptiness entirely in favor of a mushy place where nothing ever dies.

And you might want to be curious about whether there is another way to approach the question of non-existence.

As it happens, there is another way! You can learn to access a meta-lens that contextualizes ideas of existence and non-existence without squirming away from either, or blurring them into a pink-grey mush by convincing yourself they are the same.

Here's an exercise designed to help you tease out the new meta-lens if you dare: Imagine a blank piece of paper with two columns. Label one column "experience" and the other "non-experience."

What are some things you could list in the experience column? It would be a long list, since everything that happens while you are awake is experience, including everything you feel, taste, see, smell, and hear. And all your emotions, thoughts, mental impressions, and ideas.

The non-experience list would be shorter. I suppose you could include unconsciousness and death, but since we're really just thinking about this while we're awake, maybe those should be in the experience column instead. Maybe the non-experience column should be left blank.

Now notice that this exercise is itself happening within experience. We're just forming ideas about non-experience, rather than knowing non-experience in real-time. It couldn't be any other way, since non-experience by definition can't be known in real-time.

Maybe it's impossible to form an accurate concept of non-experience because you can't look at it and describe it at the same time; all you can do is try to imagine it after the fact.

If you feel fear or discomfort while pondering this, it may be because it's fucking terrifying.

Stay with the fear for a second. You've been wiggling away your whole life. What does it feel like in your bones, in your guts, as you consider the impossibility of ever understanding non-experience, and it dawns on you that everything you think you know about it is bullshit?

Over time, this discomfort transforms itself into a new meta-lens that doesn't rush to turn away from the unknowable. It occurs to you that oblivion, from the point of view of oblivion, isn't scary at all because by definition you won't be there to be afraid of it.

You won't have to defend experience against the evil merchants of non-experience, or craft sophisticated arguments about why you prefer experience. You won't need to take refuge in self-contradictory deepities allegedly uttered by sages of yore. You may even see the humor in it.

Finally, you might open to the realization that non-experience is the only real peace. And that this is what is meant by "the bliss of nibbana."

Thanks for listening.
Last Edit: 10 Mar 2019 11:12 by Chris Marti.
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Offensive Content - Waddaya Think? 10 Mar 2019 11:14 #110784

This thread on Twitter reminded me instantaneously of being in the room while my father passed away. I had thoughts on this at the time. Basically, he was the one in the room being delivered from suffering. The rest of us were mired in it, even more so at that instant. This is also reminiscent of cessation as it's non-experience. A taste of non-experience that there can be no memory of because at that time we do not have any experience. Non-experience is painless. It's also joyless.
Last Edit: 10 Mar 2019 11:17 by Chris Marti.
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Offensive Content - Waddaya Think? 10 Mar 2019 13:25 #110785

It really is interesting how this sense of self has been dead for 13.8 billion years, we're born and have a chance for living 120 years, and the entire time we're like "I don't wanna die!!!"
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Offensive Content - Waddaya Think? 10 Mar 2019 14:35 #110786

I love this piece of advice given to King Edwin of Northumbria, by one of his chief counsellors, in 627 AD. As recorded by the Venerable Bede.

"The present life of man upon earth, O King, seems to me in comparison with that time which is unknown to us like the swift flight of a sparrow through the mead-hall where you sit at supper in winter, with your Ealdormen and Thanes, while the fire blazes in the midst and the hall is warmed, but the wintry storms of rain or snow are raging abroad. The sparrow, flying in at one door and immediately out at another, whilst he is within, is safe from the wintry tempest, but after a short space of fair weather, he immediately vanishes out of your sight, passing from winter to winter again. So this life of man appears for a little while, but of what is to follow or what went before we know nothing at all."
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Offensive Content - Waddaya Think? 10 Mar 2019 14:54 #110787

Kenneth is getting at something more than the fact that our existence is ephemeral:

To protect ourselves from the unbearable cognitive dissonance of considering our own non-existence, we typically turn to a nonsense concept like "form is emptiness, emptiness is form." "Form is emptiness, emptiness is form" is simultaneously non-threatening and superficially clever. Generations of Buddhists have found comfort here. If you find your mind turning toward this idea whenever the topic of non-existence is raised, be suspicious.

Why is he calling the famous Buddhist phrase "form is emptiness, emptiness is form" a nonsense concept?
Last Edit: 10 Mar 2019 14:55 by Chris Marti.
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Offensive Content - Waddaya Think? 10 Mar 2019 18:05 #110788

Yes, I just love the poetry of the sparrow. :) I guess at one level he is saying that people use "form is emptiness, emptiness is form" as a crutch to suppress their emotions, rather than truly knowing emptiness and form, and this of course is unskilful and unhelpful. The extract does seem to show some clinging to non-existence though, which may be its own kind of suppression.

I would have thought the better view is to be able to say through knowing it directly that existence doesn't apply, as it is just a property of the grasper/grasped relationship. Better to go beyond grasper/grasped, and eventually utterly beyond. After all, there is no point clinging to emptiness, as emptiness is none other than form (i.e. emptiness is not only the source of form, it is also itself a fabrication). That may also be Kenneth's point, I suppose, in a roundabout kind of way.
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Offensive Content - Waddaya Think? 10 Mar 2019 19:56 #110789

I think Kenneth is saying that "form is emptiness and emptiness form" is a Buddhist refuge. Refuge meaning a place to hide from bad things.
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Offensive Content - Waddaya Think? 10 Mar 2019 20:24 #110790

Chris Marti wrote:
Kenneth is getting at something more than the fact that our existence is ephemeral:
To protect ourselves from the unbearable cognitive dissonance of considering our own non-existence, we typically turn to a nonsense concept like "form is emptiness, emptiness is form." "Form is emptiness, emptiness is form" is simultaneously non-threatening and superficially clever. Generations of Buddhists have found comfort here. If you find your mind turning toward this idea whenever the topic of non-existence is raised, be suspicious.

Why is he calling the famous Buddhist phrase "form is emptiness, emptiness is form" a nonsense concept?

I think he's off in a bit of an intellectual, conceptual cul-de-sac. Maybe he's addressing unenlightened people who he has noticed clinging to the concept in this way?
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Offensive Content - Waddaya Think? 10 Mar 2019 20:26 #110791

I get a sense that he is poking at or exposing any form of clinging to eternity view in many of us, which is good! It's so true that many of us like the idea of existing forever, and will use Buddhist passages to try to support our cherished eternity fantasies.

This being said, there are a few passages in the Pali canon that seem to support the idea of Nibbana as a form of "unconditioned awareness", such as Vinnanam anidhasanam (trans: unmanifestative consciousnes) in Digha-Nikaya, and other such passages, yet other passages where Nibbana is presented as "extinction."

Also, there is also annihilation view which the Buddha rejects as well.

Sometimes I wonder about something that may be even more radical or "disturbing" about Nibbana than "oblivion": that even those who have "experienced" it don't know what it is, even though they are transformed by the cessation moment at whatever path level. There is no "subject-object" there so it cannot be known, nor described, even as a "nothing". Could "nothing", or "oblivion", be a metaphore for what is unknowable, just as "unconditioned consciousness" be a metaphore? Should everything we say about Nibbana, including "oblivion" and "nothing", be taken as metaphores for what is inexpressible and unknowable? This idea of "everything and anything we say about nibbana should be taken as metaphore" was advanced to me recently by a meditator friend of mine.

In such cases, for those who cling to eternity view, metaphores of "nothingness" could be the skillful mean needed. And for those who cling to annihilation view, perhaps talks of Nibbana as "the Unconditioned" is better suited.

I've read two books lately by Rodney Smith, in which he presents NIbbana as "Awareness without contents", and goes on to say that this awareness can never be experienced because it has no features by which it can be identified, and it is the very ground from which experiences arise. He says: "awareness is not an experience at all but the ground from which all experiences arise."
It reminds me of a metaphore from physics: Physics says that light can only be seen if there are particles of matter for it to land on. If we had a big ball of light, say a Sun, but no particles of matter anywhere around it, the whole place would be dark, even though there is full of light. The light would be unmanifested. So when awareness shines alone, with no formations/experiences to land on, it feels like complete oblivion: cessation.

I like this metaphore because it sides neither with eternity view nor annihilation view, it seems.

Anyway, I could be off track here.
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Offensive Content - Waddaya Think? 11 Mar 2019 06:02 #110793

Chris Marti wrote:
I think Kenneth is saying that "form is emptiness and emptiness form" is a Buddhist refuge. Refuge meaning a place to hide from bad things.

Oh yeah - clinging to rites and rituals!
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Offensive Content - Waddaya Think? 11 Mar 2019 06:52 #110794

I'm going to go with a mix of Eric and Benoit... Throwing form/emptiness under the bus in the attempts to drag eternalist views with it, but poor old form/emptiness is a perfectly fine metaphor to the extent it's understood as a metaphor.
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Offensive Content - Waddaya Think? 11 Mar 2019 08:00 #110796

I suspect Kenneth is dead serious about what he posted on Twitter, (no pun intended).
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Offensive Content - Waddaya Think? 11 Mar 2019 10:03 #110797

No rest for the living! :)
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Offensive Content - Waddaya Think? 11 Mar 2019 10:04 #110798

I would like to clarify that although Kenneth's view may sound like the annihilation view, I don't think it is. Strictly speaking from a canonical point of view, the annihilation view is that there is a self that is eventually annihilated. It is still a form of self-view in the end, which of course Kenneth does well to repudiate.
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