Essays on Buddhist psychology
the mind, intuition, symbolism, sentience and spirituality
Meditation on Compassion
'.....What is the goal of meditation? Through analytical meditation we shall perceive our object clearly, then through placement meditation we shall gain deeper levels of experience or realization. The main purpose of all Lamrim meditations is to transform our mind into the path to enlightenment by bringing about the deepest levels of realization. The sign that we have gained perfect realization of any object is that none of our subsequent actions are incompatible with it and that all of them become more meaningful. For example, when we have gained a perfect realization of compassion we are never again capable of willingly inflicting harm upon any other living being and all our subsequent actions are influenced by compassion...'
Attachment and Samsara
'......We also need to remember that even those who are not presently experiencing manifest pain still experience other forms of suffering. Everyone in samsara experiences the suffering of not fulfilling their wishes. So many people find it difficult to satisfy even modest desires for adequate shelter, food, or companionship; and even if those desires are fulfilled we have more to take their place. The more we get what we want the stronger our attachment becomes, and the stronger our attachment the more difficult it is to find satisfaction. The desires of samsaric beings are endless. There is no such thing as an ordinary person who has fulfilled all his or her wishes; only those who have transcended selfish minds can do this..'
Highest Yoga Tantra
'...In Highest Yoga Tantra, the meditator generates bliss by imagining sexual embrace with a consort and, at advanced stages, by engaging in actual embrace; and then transforms that bliss into the spiritual path. It should be noted, however, that it is very difficult to use great bliss as a method for attaining enlightenment, and if we are able to do so we have indeed attained a formidable accomplishment.... '
Anthropology of religion
'...Among many anthropologists it has recently become fashionable to dismiss all religions as memes - parasitic mental processes which propagate in the same manner as chain letters...'
Artificial Intelligence (AI)
'...Computationalism or philosophical AI, (sometimes also known as Strong AI), which is the view that all human mental activities are reducible to algorithms, and could therefore be implemented on a computer...'
'...The internal states, inputs and outputs of an automaton have no inherent meaning. Any meaning (semantics) must be assigned from outside the system...'
'... To the western materialist, the state of a 'dead' mind is OFF / Non-Existent / No Activity. It is the ultimate Quietus - no experience whatsoever. To the Buddhist it is impossible to envisage 'no mind'. The state of a disembodied mind is active, hallucinatory and, depending on its karmic imprints, sometimes nightmarish...'
'...It is amazing that no-one ever realised that all phenomena - from atoms to galaxies - can only be known via internal mental states. If internal mental states do not exist then the things that become manifest through them cannot exist - or at any rate must always remain totally innaccessible to understanding. (But presumably this doesn't matter because understanding, being an internal mental state, also cannot exist!)...'
Brain, mind, hallucinogens, TMS and spiritual experiences
' ....People get spiritual experiences under the influence of electromagnetic fields such as Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS), and from psychedelic drugs such as mescalin, LSD, Psilocybe semilanceata and Amanita muscaria. All these transpersonal experiences are simply delusions caused by disruption of the normal electrochemical activity of the neurones.'
' ...Yes and No. There's no doubt that people experience other realms of reality under the influence of TMS or hallucinogenic drugs. In these conditions the functioning of the brain is indeed abnormal. But - you've got to ask yourself - what is the purpose of the normal functioning of the brain? The brain is a device which has evolved by selection of the fittest (not the most truthful) to project the delusion of the inherently-existing self onto the mind. This delusion of a permanent, unchanging self is 'imputed' over the ever-changing transitory collection of biochemical building blocks that makes up the physical aspects of a sentient being. Disruption .... by biochemical or biophysical agents, enables the mind to temporarily push the doors of perception ajar and peek beyond mundane biologically-determined appearances.... '
'...compassion is the root of a Buddha because all Buddhas arise fom the mind of compassion, it is the root of Dharma because Buddhas give Dharma teachings out of compassion for others, and it is the root of the Sangha because it is impossible to become Sangha without practising compassion.'
Dharma and dogma
'Buddha Shakyamuni never claimed to have any higher authority for his teachings than his own experience.'
'The western response to materialism is dualism, which claims that there are two kinds of things in the universe - material objects and souls. The major exponent of dualism was Descartes. Dualism implies that mental experience is a radically new feature that only humans possess, and a late optional extra slipped into an already well-defined, functional, physical universe.'
'Dukkha is sometimes translated as suffering but in actual fact encompasses all senses of unsatisfactoriness, even including pleasure (which evolution has contrived will always be a transient sensation - lest it detract too much from the grim business of survival).'
The mind cannot be an emergent property of the brain or any other physical system, since emergent properties and emergent phenomena are psychological in origin, and require the pre-existence of an observer's mind in order to become manifest.
Empty set - the origins of number
'...in the final analysis the entire number system has been generated by the play of mind on emptiness, in the complete absence of the need to refer to any material thing, or things, which are being counted. Numbers are therefore fundamentally devoid of inherent 'Platonic' existence..'
'As well as being able to affect matter at the quantum level, there is increasing evidence that the mind can directly affect larger scale systems.'
'Epiphenomenalism avoids some of the absurdities of the behaviorists by claiming that consciousness and thought-processes do actually exist, though only as epiphenomena generated by the physical activities of the brain. However, thoughts have no causative functions! The illusion of free-will remains precisely that - an illusion'.
'Our genes drive us along paths of action which appear to minimise suffering, but in many cases increase it. Greed and acquisitiveness are natural reactions designed to increase the survival of our genes, and decrease the chances of our competitors. After a certain point, the more you've got the more you've got to lose, and so the more you've got to worry about.'
Feminine spirituality, philosophy and science
'Why is God male rather than female? Gender is required to allow DNA to recombine and evolve in different and potentially novel combinations. Patriarchal religions preach that God is a single unborn, uncreated, unevolved, non-biological entity who does not reproduce and will endure for all eternity. He hasn't undergone evolution Himself, so why does He need to be sexually differentiated at all?.
Feud between Science and Religion
'Many (most?) scientists believe religions to be irrational, obscurantist and anti-scientific The problem goes back to Galileo, who discovered that the earth goes round the sun, rather than vice-versa as stated in the Bible.'
'The description of the root mind as 'formless' doesn't just refer to its non-material nature, but it emphasises that it is unlimited, non-mechanistic and totally free from any structure or topology. . In Buddhist psychology the root mind is non-physical and non-algorithmic. The mind cannot be understood in terms of circuit diagrams and flowcharts. It is pure awareness.'
'For in Him we live, and move, and have our being'
'Sow an action, reap a habit.
Sow a habit, reap a character.
Sow a character, reap a destiny.'
Laws of physics - their anthropic origin
'Both quantum theory and Buddhist teachings on sunyata suggest that as soon as an observer's mind makes contact with a superposed system, all the numerous possibilities collapse into one actuality. At some instant one of these possible alternative universes produced an observing lifeform. The first act of observation by this mind caused the entire superposed multiverse to collapse immediately into one of its numerous alternatives'
'The Mahayana practitioner's objective is to achieve advanced spiritual states (culminating after many lifetimes in Buddhahood), in order to guide, teach and ultimately rescue all unhappy sentient beings from their suffering. To do this she needs to develop a number of attributes including great compassion (bodhicitta). '
'In Marxist countries most religions were suppressed to a greater or lesser extent, Buddhism being a particular object of persecution. The reason for this is fairly clear, for unlike the other belief-systems that Marxism encountered, Buddhism was the only one which offered a rational, logically coherent philosophy, and thus presented a real ideological threat to the Marxist materialist worldview'.
Mathematics - Its unreasonable effectiveness in science and engineering
So we are left with something of a mystery. According to the physicalist worldview, the mind (including mathematicians' minds) is an epiphenomenon of matter which has evolved solely to ensure the survival of the selfish genes which code for it. Why should this 'top-level' phenomenon have such intimate access to the 'bottom level' phenomena such as quantum physics? After all, the two levels are supposedly separated by less well-understood (in some cases) explanatory layers such as evolutionary psychology, neurology, cell biology, genetics, molecular biology, and chemistry.
'There can be a number of objectives of meditation from simple relief of stress, through improving the long-term peace of mind in this life, up to stabilising and clarifying the subtle (permanent) mind that goes on to future lives.'
Meme theory and memetics
'A novel view of meditation might be that it is like running a virus check on your mind. Lurking memes, such as rubbish left over from childhood indoctrination, can be brought to the surface and examined. Residues of self-referential belief systems - those driven by fear, guilt, wanting to conform, wanting other people to conform, or alternately pride in being better than non-believers - can be recognised for what they are and cleared out.'
Mind - experiencing its non-physical nature
One of the quickest ways to convince yourself that the root mind is not physical, (and is not therefore limited by one birth and one death), is to meditate on the formless nature of the mind.
Mind over matter
Can the mind directly affect sensitive machines?
Original Sin - the evolutionary argument against
'The Buddhist concept of innate delusions is totally different to that of 'original sin' found in some other belief systems. Innate delusions and their imprints are seen as an inevitable consequence of where we've come from over millions of years of evolution. There is no actual 'blame' or 'guilt' to them, though of course the practitioner strives to understand them in order to overcome them.'
Parietal Lobe and Mystical Experience
To the average Westerner, deliberately cultivating the idea that your ego doesn't exist as a fixed entity may seem weird and scary, but in fact it can be immensely liberating. As one of the researcher/meditators taking part in the study said "It feels like a loss of boundary. It's as if the film of your life broke and you were seeing the light that allowed the film to be projected"
Basically, what quantum theory says is that fundamental particles are empty of inherent existence and exist in an undefined state of potentialities. They have no existence 'from their own side' and do not become 'real' until a mind interacts with them and gives them meaning.
'The Buddhist does not doubt that the brain does some very sophisticated ordering of its incoming nerve impulses into the datastructures which are the objects of knowledge. But when all is said and done, those datastructures remain as objects. They are not themselves knowledge, neither are they that which performs the function of knowing.'
Experiments in quantum physics seem to demonstrate the need for an observer to be present to make potentialities become real.
Rebirth - reincarnation
The belief in rebirth is not confined to Buddhism..... few Christians realised the importance of the concept of reincarnation or rebirth in Judaism, where it is known as 'gilgul' or 'ibur'. This has raised the question: 'If belief in rebirth occurs in Judaism, why was it not carried forward into Christianity?' The Buddhist and Jewish beliefs are similar in that it is the very subtle, non-material mind which survives death. Since this is the only thing that we can take with us to the future, we need to make the best use of our present life to improve its state.
Science of the mind?
Science will never be able to analyse such phenomena... because these 'things' do not have any structure - they do not have any nuts and bolts for the dismantling tools of science to get a grip on.
The phrase 'Science of Consciousness' is thus a self-contradiction.
There are a number of arguments against computationalism . Algorithms do not contain within themselves any meaning. For example, the following two statements reduce to exactly the same algorithm within the memory of a computer
(i) IF RoomLength * RoomWidth > CarpetArea THEN NeedMoreCarpet = TRUE
(ii) IF Audience * TicketPrice > HireOfVenue THEN AvoidedBankruptcy = TRUE
What make a sentient being different from an automaton?
Spooky action at a distance (EPR Paradox)
'One of the most vivid illustrations of the interactions of the mind of the observer with a quantum system is given by EPR - the 'Einstein Podolsky Rosen Paradox', or 'Spooky action at a distance' as it is sometimes known. The experimental evidence seems to show that the observer's mind goes to its object unobstructedly and instantaneously.'
Animals above a certain level of development require more than automatic reflexes in order to survive. Advanced organisms need motivation and intention in order to function in complex environments. Motivation and intention are chiefly driven by dukkha - the need to avoid suffering or unsatisfactoriness and the restless but futile search for lasting happiness. It is the suffering and grasping of their minds - the need to avoid pain and seek pleasure - that provides the driving force for survival and reproduction of complex animals.
Evocative symbols are interpreted by and affect the more subtle levels of the mind. Evocative symbolism is associated with art, architecture and poetry, especially where there is a spiritual aspect.
Tantra and Tantric Meditation
All phenomena are free from inherent existence, that is they are not definable in terms of themselves, but are dependently related to other phenomena. The same line of reasoning can be applied to our own identities, for if we search hard enough for our Self or Ego - we find it isn't there!
Tat Tvam Asi - That Thou Art
Is the mind of God separate from the minds of His creatures? Do we all have a spark of universal mind?
Transpersonal Psychology grew out of the rejection of the mechanistic or behaviorist model of the mind which was the orthodoxy of the mid-twentieth century academic establishment . Charles T. Tart refers to this orthodoxy when describing his college experience in the 1960's: 'As to things like mystical experiences, if they were mentioned at all, which was rare, they were relegated to the fringes of psychiatry as being undoubtedly schizophrenic in nature and just showed how sick religions were to be associated with superstitious nonsense like that'
Wicca - an intuitive reaction against materialism?
'As both Tibetan Buddhism and Wicca are growing rapidly in the English-speaking countries, there will come a time when there will need to be an interfaith dialogue between the two paths. The purpose of this article is to examine the similarities and differences between Wicca and Tibetan Buddhism.'
If we regard Buddhism as a combination of a philosophy, psychology and religion, then how much mileage can we get from the first two aspects before we have to start invoking religious faith?