Arguing with Meditation

Wed., Aug. 20th, 16:00-18:00

Material Visions – avijñapti-rūpa in Practice

Greene, Eric (University of Bristol, GBR)

Within many of their major doctrinal treatises, Sarvāstivādins are presented as defending their doctrinal position on the reality of “unmanifest matter” (avijñapti-rūpa) with reference to, among other things, meditation practice. Certain visions experienced by advanced meditators are, it is claimed, instances of avijñapti-rūpa, and this view on the nature of these visions is presented as contrasting with the position of at least some other doctrinal schools. It is undeniable that avijñapti-rūpa plays several important roles within the overarching framework of the Sarvāstivādin doctrinal system. We may wonder, however, whether the role of avijñapti-rūpa in meditation was something that had any particular significance within Sarvāstivādin-influenced meditative traditions themselves. As a step towards answering this question, in this paper I will explore a number of 5th-century meditation treatises preserved in Chinese that are either translations of texts associated with the Sarvāstivādin-influenced yogācāra meditators of North-west India, or which are Chinese developments of the practices associated with these groups. Leaving aside the contentious (and, perhaps, ill-phrased and unanswerable) question of whether the doctrine of avijñapti-rūpa originally emerged from meditation practice itself, I will endeavor to show that within these meditation texts, the doctrinal implications of meditative visions being in contact with avijñapti-rūpa is a crucial element of the meditation system proposed.


Avoiding the Void: Ambivalence toward Samādhi and the Realization of Emptiness

Jenkins, Stephen (Humboldt State University, GBR)

Ambivalence toward meditation generally and particularly the direct meditative realization of emptiness played a role in the Mahāyāna’s rhetoric of superiority, practical ethics, and path. Bodhisattvas are told to view samādhi as an intoxication that undermines compassionate engagement and to avoid it like Avīci hell. They are particularly warned not to directly realize emptiness as arhat’s do. Bodhisattvas study, analyze, and investigate emptiness, while skillfully applying special upāya to avoid its direct realization. Compassion generating meditation techniques served to prevent the premature "fall into emptiness" and thus ensure samyaksambodhi. When “acceptance of the non-arising of all dharmas” is achieved by a bodhisattva, Buddhas must intervene to rouse them and prevent the cessation of their compassionate activity. Realization of emptiness was considered ethically problematic, not an automatic trigger for compassion. The distinctive identity of the Mahāyāna was not seen in its conception of ultimate reality, but in its ability to ensure the attainment of all the qualities and powers of a Buddha before engaging in its direct realization.


How Only Buddhists Can Stop Thinking and Get Away with It: A Theory of ‘The Attainment of Cessation’ (nirodha-samāpatti) in Early Buddhist Literature

Gethin, Rupert (University of Bristol, GBR)

Since La Vallée Poussin, scholars have tended to read the apparently differing accounts of the Buddhist path and its goal found in the earliest Buddhist sources as reflecting the competing voices of those among the Buddha’s early followers who conceived of meditation primarily in terms of stilling thoughts and emotions (characterised by especially craving) and those who conceived of it in terms of acquiring new knowledge and understanding: the mystics versus the rationalists. Yet, in contrast to other disputed issues adumbrated in the Nikāya-Āgama literature (such as the status of the ‘person’, intermediate existence between lives, the nature of the past, present and future), there is no clear trace of such a dispute in early Buddhist scholastic literature. In fact there is a general agreement on this issue. The present paper argues that the Nikāya-Āgama material concerned with the complete stopping of thoughts represents an attempt to position the Buddhist understanding of meditation and its goal in relation to the claim of ‘wanderers of other schools’ that simply stopping the activities of the mind was equivalent to liberation.


Tibetan Sectarian Polemics and Internalized Polemics in Contemplative Contexts

Komarovski, Yaroslav (University of Nebraska-Lincoln, USA)

This paper discusses the relationship between contemplative internalization of polemical arguments developed by Madhyamaka thinkers and Buddhist sectarian polemics. Exploring Tibetan sectarian polemics on the process of realization of ultimate reality, it outlines two rival positions that seem to advocate mutually contradictory processes leading to the direct realization of ultimate reality as well as different views on the nature of that realization: the position of the major Geluk thinker, Tsongkhapa (1357-1419), and that of his major Sakya critic, Gorampa (1429-1489). Focusing on the issue of identification of the object of negation—a target of fierce inter-sectarian polemics between Geluk and Sakya thinkers—it provides an alternative perspective on their discordant approaches, arguing that contrary to clichéd sectarian claims, differences in their approaches pertain primarily to conflicting descriptions of similar conceptual deconstructive processes leading to the non-conceptual realization of reality. Addressing positions of such seminal Geluk writers as Jangkya (1717-1786), Lopzang Chögyen (1570-1662), and Pabongkha (1878-1941), it argues that later sectarian Geluk thinkers too shared with their non-Geluk opponents the same basic view of the process of contemplative identification and subsequent negation of the object of negation through Madhyamaka reasoning. It thereby demonstrates that the inter-sectarian polemics—which are directly affected by adherence to specific tenets of sectarian traditions—do not in this case translate into the “internalized polemics” wherein Madhyamaka arguments are put into contemplative practice of searching for and not finding the object of negation—a process often deemed indispensable for realization of emptiness to take place.



Realisation as an Argument to End all Arguments

Sobisch, Jan-Ulrich (University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen, DNK)

In my paper I will argue that the experience arising from “meditative practise” (sgom pa, Skr. bhavanA) is used by the Tibetan bKa’-brgyud-pa master ‘Jig-rten-gsum-mgon (1143-1217) precisely in so far as an argument, as it ultimately — when it becomes realisation — ends all arguments, including — and that is the interesting point — all arguments arising from meditative experience and realisation. He has expressed this point in the view-practise-conduct chapter of his dGongs gcig when he stated that “even the Great Three” — dbu ma chen po, phyag rgya chen po, and rdzogs pa chen po — “cannot reach/touch realisation,” indicating that actual realisation lies beyond anything that could be labeled in any way.


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