Archive for January 2011

Quora answer: What is the unique quality of consciousness of the human beings who have attained the Supreme Enlightenment?

Each school of Buddhism believes the states it describes is Supreme enlightenment, Interestingly the Buddhists believe in saying that all the other schools are right but we are just a bit more right and thus we deserve the title Supreme for our conception of enlightenment. But as you look at the sutras for the various schools you really see that they did make progress, and the conception of the nature of enlightenment kept evolving and getting more subtle all the time. A lot of Buddhism has to be re-evaluated now that the texts preserved in Tibet but not elsewhere are translated and come to light.

So when we say supreme enlightenment you have to decide what group discusses supreme enlightenment. But it is fairly clear that from a philosophical stand point it is Hua Yen buddhism of Fa Tsang outside Tibet. Within tibet it is probably the commentaries of Mipham that deserve a close look, but I do not know much about this area. I particularly like Dzong Ka Pa because he said that reason had a role in enlightenment which is something I have thought for a long time. How can it be the middle way if it excludes anything? But amazingly Dzong Ka Pa did not believe that consciousness was reflective and so that is a major disconnect which Mipham tries to remedy.

In Tibet you get DzogChen which claims to be the supreme teaching but is really a heresy of Buddhism because it erases the difference between the two truths, and is a lot like Zen Buddhism to my mind.

But if we stick to Buddhism proper, and discount the heresies, and consider Fa Tsang’s work the pinnacle in Hua Yen as the pinnacle then we can say that the unique quality of the one who attains supreme enlightenment would be the realization of emptiness as interpenetration of all things.

A good book about that is
Hua-Yen Buddhism: The Jewel Net of Indra by Francis Cook

Posted January 31, 2011 by kentpalmer in Uncategorized

Quora answer: What is the difference between consciousness and awareness?

The place to start to answer this question is with Phenomenology. Phenomenology was first created by Charles Peirce and then separately by Edmund Husserl. It is the study of what actually goes on within our consciousness without reference to external unknowables which are all bracketed out. If we start with Husserl’s idea then the root of consciousness is the intentional morphe (form), which organizes the hyle (content), which basically says that a transcendental synthesis of content by form occurs. Husserl is extending the viewpoint of Kant here that there are a priori projections upon external noumena. Noumena are the unknowables that are external to consciousness. But then Husserl goes on to differentiate Noesis and Noema. These are combinations of form and content, where Noesis is more form and noema are more content. Husserl says that form and content are never separate in consciousness. Now Husserl also assumes that the imposition of form on content is at the same time the projection of meaning. Thus noesis is not just imposing a form on content but also finding meaning in that projection. Husserl goes on to say that objects in consciousness are noematic nuclei which are constituted from every angle of approach by horizons of exploration, and real objects have almost infinite horizons of exploration, mere phenomena of consciousness itself phenomena like memories or imagination have more limited horizons of exploration. And most importantly he differentiates the external coherence of the noematic nucleus of the object from the internal coherence which is its whatness which is normally thought of as a set of constraints on its attributes. This is all so Husserl can differentiate between Ideas which are abstract glosses from Essences which are directly intuitable understandings of the nature of the object. Thus for the first time essences are distinguished from ideas and are not seen as merely simple ideas as Descartes thought. This distinction later is turned by Heidegger into the difference of modalities for Dasein’s being-in-the-world between present-at-hand which is abstract presentation of phenomena as objects to a subject (Pure Being) and ready-to-hand which is circumspective concern with regard to the totality that occurs in our relation to the technology that underlies our orientation (affordances) to and manipulation of to things, i.e. our behavior toward things as a whole within the world (Process Being).

With this background you can see that Husserl is assuming that everything in consciousness is consciousness of something, i.e. a constituted intention with regard to a specific thing. Later Aron Gurwitsch comes along and adds  gestalts to phenomenolgy and talks about fringe phenomena that are not fully intentional. And it is here that we start to get an understanding of the difference between awareness and consciousness. Awareness is a general background to consciousness, and might be seen as relating to Existence rather than Being. In fact this is part of the reason that Heidegger talks about Dasein which is prior to the differentiation of the subject and object. Dasein can go into a mode of being-in-the-world which has circumspective concern and is not directly intentional projection. For Heidegger both the present-at-hand and ready-to-hand modes are kinds of Being. And Existence is what is found that is prior to either of these projections of abstract glosses where intentions project forms on raw matter of consciousness, or of circumspective concern on the totality of relations between technological and behavioral  underpinnings our actions in the world.

But awareness of existence are left out of all these accounts. The idea that there is no intentional morphe being projected on things, or that there is no ecstasy of dasein by which it projects the world within which it has its being is not considered. Awareness of existence relates merely to what is found prior to any projections on it. And the question is whether we have access to that. My answer to that would be yes. There is beyond all the modalities of Being a direct access to Existence and that is what you can get to through meditation of various forms, or when you are just taking in what is before you without having any vested interests in projecting value upon it, or taking any sort of orientation to it behaviorally that is the hallmark of circumspective concern. Existence is the rock beside the road that no one cares about, which is just found there left where it is. When we look at things that are just found before us, and are not part of our life project in any way, then we are looking at existence, and this is what I think awareness is. Part of what makes meditation what it is is that we are giving up both the projection of intentionality onto things, but also behavior toward the things that signifies our circumspective concern for the interoperability of the totality.

Now that we have disentangled awareness from consciousness, and seen that there  is an intermediate case of circumspective concern we can move back toward answering the question. We went into all this philosophical history from phenomenology because you said you wanted to know the exact relation between awareness, consciousness and memory. Consciousness is defined in Phenomenaology as intentional constitution of objects and these objects are as Merleau-Ponty says pointed at and rendered present-at-hand. Then there is an infrastructure of behavioral practices toward things normally that is hidden unless something breaks down, which is circumspective concern where we discover the essences of things through their actual manipulation within our world which Merleau-Ponty says is related to grasping of things as ready-to-hand as an interoperating totality of things within the world. But when we meditate we cease our behavioral manipulation of things, and we cease the constitution of objects intentionally. And what we find then is awareness without the active projection upon it of anything and what is unleashed in that is myriad phenomena of awareness itself like the activation of memories, imagination, stray thoughts, where the mind works overtime to fill the space created by our attempts to cease to projecting either intentionally or in terms of behavior toward things.

What happens when you meditate at deeper and deeper levels of awareness is recorded in the various Buddhist sutras in which the Buddha finds more and more interesting things to say about what is the goal of the process of enlightenment as described by the various schools of Buddhism. Buddhism is directed at the uncovering of empty existence beneath the projections of illusions of Being. But you  don’t have to meditate to reach awareness, it is always there as the bedrock of our consciousness. The key point is that awareness is inherently reflexive or reflective. We are aware that we are aware in the act of awareness itself. Meditation is accessing this reflexive nature of awareness, because when you are not doing anything else but looking at your own consciousness and its shenanigans then you become poignantly aware of your awareness.

Now this explanation would not be complete without mentioning the Unconscious. Note that the Personal Unconscious of Freud, or the more basic Collective Unconscious of Jung are both related directly to consciousness as its inverse. Consciousness is seen as being like the tip of the iceberg much of which is beneath the waters where its workings are not accessible. And this has to be true because we are presented in consciousness with a priori synthesis within experience and something has to be doing all that synthetic work. So in a way the idea of the unconscious merely goes back to Kant’s assertion that we are immersed in a prior synthesis, and it is merely asking where that synthesis comes from because we are not conscious of creating those syntheses that appear within our experience. The key point here is that much of what we are unconscious of is available to awareness. And that is why there are all kinds of Psychtherapy of the Gestalt type that ask you to be aware of what is around you, and by doing that many times things that you are not conscious of bubble up to the surface of awareness and are resolved at least partially.

But the question becomes, is there anything we are not aware of. It seems that as we explore awareness of empty existence we get deeper and deeper and our awareness continues to expand until we feel as if we are aware of everything. This is because the basis of reflectivity is the interpenetration of things and that interpenetration that is intrinsic to the constitution of things makes it seem as if we were connected to everything that exists. And we now know from the fact that there was a big bang and through Bells theorem that everything in the universe is entangled and in fact we are physically connected at the quantum level with everything else at some level.

Now in all this we have not touched very much on memory. And that is because it would mean we would have to take into account time, and our intrinsic relation to time. For Husserl there was only linear time and the relation to memory was one of the fading of the traces of the now. See the famous diagram in Internal Time Consciousness which was edited by Heidegger. Heidegger himself in Being and Time said that the moments of time, present, past and future were equi-primordial meaning that we are actually immersed in all the moments of time simultaneously. Dogen Kaigen talks about Existence-Time which is how time looks from the point of view of Soto Zen practice which is again different from what Heidegger thought about time. In general, Time and Existence are the same thing with respect to Buddhism because it sees only aggregates in flux. But the flux itself does not arise nor does it cease. Memories, Imaginations, Dreams, Hopes are all part of this flux in a marvelous and mysterious mixture which is different for each of us, and continually different from itself through the production of unending variety.

So I hope this helps put into perspective the relations between awareness, consciousness, and memory as it is seen in phenomenology and how that phenomenology gives us access to understanding the nature of Buddhism as a way of getting back to Existence from the projections on it of Being. Getting to awareness can be done by meditation, or just a moments reflection, when you stop and look around you and wonder where you are going and what you are doing, and why you are here now with the emphasis on sensing the world around you in the present and how you are feeling and what sensations you are having at the moment within your body.

Posted January 31, 2011 by kentpalmer in Uncategorized

Quora answer: How do you know if you are self-aware?

Mipham argues against Dzogn ka pa that Consciousness is inherently reflexive. Dzong ka pa introduces a role for reason in the process of enlightenment. But his sticks to the received doctrine of this school that consciousness is not inherently reflexive. Mipham tries to show that this is an absurd position, because to be conscious of anything is to be conscious of yourself, being conscious of yourself. This point was recently made by Antonio Demasio in The Feeling of What Happens.
Mipham and Dzong ka pa are both Tibetan Buddhists. It is interesting that this debate was going on in the Tibetan tradition. As a reflexive sociologist I must agree with Mipham that consciousness is inherently reflexive. Other reflexive sociologists are John O’Malley and Barry Sandywell. Other reflexive theorists are found at

You know that you are self aware, when you catch yourself thinking about the fact you are thinking, rather than just having thoughts. But even if you are not conscious of your self-awareness to have any perception at all can only happen in relation to your self as Demasio notes. Thus self-awareness is a base state and lack of self-awareness is a degenerate state of consciousness.

However, we must consider trances. Normally people are going in and out of trances all the time. In fact when ever we are involved in an activity connected to our human finitude we normally go into a trance of some kind. In trances people are so caught up in what they are doing that certain things are blocked from awareness, and one looses the self-aware quality of consciousness. When the trance dissipates then one is normally self-aware again.

One can go into deep trance as with Erickson’s methods of trance induction when one looses all consciousness of what is happening in ones surroundings except that which is part of the trance induction itself.

So there is a form of consciousness that is not self-aware but we are seldom in it. So for the most part if you are aware you are self-aware, but your awareness of the self-awareness varies with the trance state

Posted January 30, 2011 by kentpalmer in Uncategorized

Quora answer: Is enlightenment related to consciousness ?

In Buddhism there is no acceptance of the reality of the physical world, which is the opposite of Taoism that reduces everything to nature. Thus for Buddhists all phenomena are in consciousness, which is a very Hindu prejudice and something that the Buddhists probably carried over from the Hindu tradition from which they were a heretical departure. If all there is is consciousness then enlightenment must be a modulation of consciousness, and sure enough we get that with the doctrine of the two truths. From one point of view there are illusions, i.e. that the physical world is there and it persists, and secondly from another point of view all the things we see in consciousness are empty, and have no reality outside of the suchness of their appearance as aggregates in flux in consciousness. Now in Buddhism the emptiness of conscious phenomena is the reality and the substantiveness and unity of phenomena in consciousness is the illusion. However, emptiness is a nondual state which is defined by the tetralemma (A, ~A, Both and Neither) as something other than its four positions. So that means that the fundamental bedrock of consciousness is inherently nondual and rooted in existence rather than Being (Sat). So then we are left to explain how the illusions arise and persist and this is where karma comes in, but because everything in life is dukkah (dissatisfying and leading to suffering) this is what prompts us to look for something, else like a way out of Karma, which would be Nirvana, the annihilation of the karmic traces.

Karma can be seen as what gives continuity to consciousness, i.e. it is ultimately moment to moment and the idea it is life to live is just a metaphor for the dynamics in consciousness. But at the same time as it is aggregates in flux it is also empty and nondual. The solution to how this can be is that emptiness is not altogether empty, it is not a flat plenum with nothing in it, but rather emptiness has its own inherent structure, which is interpenetration. And we can model that by hypercomplex algebras as in the case of the Emergent Meta-system (see

What we see is that consciousness is itself based on the Emergent Meta-system dynamic and do we can have a holonomic theory of consciousness based on Special Systems Theory. And from this point of view enlightenment is merely the realization of the fundamental nondual nature of consciousness itself and its dynamic which underlies all perceived and conceptualized phenomena as non-conceptual and non-experiential substrate, which like empty space contains no ether. That is why in rDzogChen the basic analogy of the mind is to empty space. But empty space is Void as defined by Taoism. So the analogy of the emptiness of the mind is the Void of nature. rDzogChen at least in the case of Majushimitra and Mipham deconstructs the idea of the two truths, and uses Nagargunas logic to question this basic assumption of Buddhism that enlightenment is different from normal consciousness. This happens in other forms of Buddhism as well, like Chan (Zen).

Posted January 30, 2011 by kentpalmer in Uncategorized

Quora answer: How is karma made?

When you ask how Karma is made you have to pick your reference point in Buddhism. I will pick the Awakening of Faith which tries to show how Karma can be possible by positing Storehouse Consciousness (Alayavijanya) as the place where the seeds of Karma are laid down and then persist to fructify later to produce the Karmic quasi-causality across time. Their answer is that Karma is made by laying down seeds (bija) in the Storehouse consciousness through ones actions and thoughts.

What is interesting is that we can model Karma with the Emergent Meta-system which is a complex dynamic made up of the normal system and the Special Systems working together. Fa Tsang’s commentary on the Awakening of Faith is the only book I have found so far which is aware that he is using the Emergent Meta-system as a model. Once we realize that Karma is a traditional concept of the Emergent meta-system dynamic then we can start to be very precise about how Karma must work. The Emergent Meta-system is a cycle of aggregates, or swarms of instances which move from seeds to monads to views to candidatesusing a series of operators that are creationmutual actionschematization, andannihilation. This cycle produces something from nothing, which is what Stuart Kauffman calls order from nowhere in At Home in the Universe. It is a natural cycle we see in plants that produce seeds, that grow into trees (whose leaves are the monads) that then interact mutually through putting forth flowers to bloom that attract insects that can pollenate them, and that gives rise to fruits that then have seeds in them. A great analogy for this process also from China is a series in the game of Wu Chi (Go in Japanese).

So the ultimate answer for how Karma is made is that it is a natural cycle which is powered by a relaxation that moves from high energy to lower energy. In that cycle that acts like a genetic algorithm, various elements are made based on trace templates which have variation. These elements interact with each other and develop views in relation to each other that is the basis of mutual schematization, and this produces candidate variations of each other, that then annihilate to create seeds for the next round of the cycle. Karma can be equivalent to emptiness because it is in fact arising from nothing and returning to nothing. At each stage it only produces aggregates in swarms. Each of these sets of aggregates has its own emergent properties that come from the fact that hyper complex algebras lose properties as the cycle goes through its relaxation process. But interestingly the relaxation process produces anomalous high probabilities that the cycle will start up again, because it produces energy peaks locally even though there is local relaxation. More on the Emergent Meta-system can be found at… in Reflexive Autopoietic Dissipative Special Systems Theory and in Autopoietic Reflexive Systems Theory as well as

I recommend An English Translation Of Fa-Tsang’s Commentary On The Awakening Of Faith translated by Dirck Vorenkamp


Posted January 30, 2011 by kentpalmer in Uncategorized

Quora answer: Is Karma real?

Karma is a Hindu concept that was taken over by Buddhism, because it was needed to contrast with Nirvana, which is the freedom from the wheel of causation by the realization of emptiness. But as explained elsewhere Karma was more or less a trojan horse because it assumed persistent causality that was at odds with the idea of emptiness. This was resolved by the introduction of the two truths doctrine, which is a kind of dualism between dualism and the nondual.

When we ask whether Karma is real we have to understand something of our own linguistic framework. Like Hinduism because it is Indo-european like the Western tradition has Being. Being in classical greek has four aspects called Reality, Truth, Identity, and Presence. Both Being and Existence are oriented toward these aspects. Existence is neither aspect and anti-aspect. Quintessence is a totalized Being which is both aspect and anti-aspect. In normal Being there is either aspect or anti-aspect. Being and Existence are both called standings because they are orientations toward things of the world. Being projects a priori transcendentals on things, while existence is what is there without the projection.

Since Karma is an characteristic of both of Being and Existence according to Buddhism then it is real. But it also has the other aspects and their duals. Karma is true, it is present, and it is identical. In fact we might posit that Karma is the circulation of beings through the aspects and anti-aspects of Being. There are two truths, the truth of Being, and the truth of existence. The truth of existence is that it is empty. The truth of Being is that it is illusory (mara, maya, dukkah). There are two realities, the reality of Being and the reality of existence. The reality of Being is that it is illusory, while the reality of existence is that it is found as it exists without any projections from us on it. There are two identities, the identity of Being which is imaginary such as the persistence of the atman (soul), and the difference of existence which is that it is aggregates in flux. There are two presences, the presence of Being which presents the illusions that we see phenomenologically, and the presence of existence which is just what is there without any valuing of it.

In other words karma is real, identical, true and present, both at the level of Being and Existence. In fact we can say that karma arises from existence and circulates though Being and then destroys itself in Existence again which occurs in Nirvana. In Being there is a substance that persists which supports continuity though time of beings and gives them their various aspects. But existence is neither aspect nor anti-aspect, that is it is still oriented toward aspects but is something other than the aspects as a duality, i.e. it is nondual.

This is hard to talk about in our philosophical tradition and that is because we are set oriented rather than mass oriented. In the hindu tradition that Buddhism inherited there was pervasion logic and an understanding of the mass nature of things, and so it was easy to talk about the pervasion of existence by emptiness and that made sense. But in a set oriented world using syllogistic logic it is much harder to talk about these relations. So that is why we seem to oscillate between identifying existence with anti-aspects and saying it is neither aspect nor anti-aspect. If existence is empty then it is impossible to pin down conceptually.

But in general we can say that Karma is real by definition whether you are looking at it from the point of view of Being (Sat) or Existence as empty (Asat).

Posted January 30, 2011 by kentpalmer in Uncategorized

Quora answer: What is karma?

Buddhism accepts from Hinduism the concept of Karma in order to put a stop to it, via Nirvana as the realization of emptiness. The fact that Karma and Emptiness are at odds was only realized later, and this fact drove a lot of the intellectual development of Buddhism as it tried to resolve this issue. A good place to start when trying to understand this is the Awakening of Faith which explains that there is a kind of consciousness called storehouse consciousness where the seeds of Karma are laid down, and where they persist in order to drive ones destiny later or give continuity to consciousness.

Karma is the persistence of causality across moments of time, or across lives. Basically anything you do that is wrong comes back to haunt you and what ever you do that is good eventually comes back to help you. But this is at odds with the idea that everything is empty. If everything is empty then where does the seeds get their persistent reality, and where can the seeds be put that exists long enough for them to fructify? Karma is seen to be ultimately empty, but that emptiness has to allow for illusions to appear real to ordinary mortals. Buddhism has the doctrine of two truths, and says that both views exist, one that sees illusion as real and one that sees emptiness. But the karma must also be real in some sense because it is what makes the emptiness dynamic so we see the flux of existence.

Ultimately the Heart sutra declares that Form is Emptiness and Emptiness is Form. Karma is the dynamic function that makes it appear as if forms are arising and going out of existence. So we get statements like non-arising and non-ceasing to describe the nature of existence. Eventually this leads to the idea that Emptiness is interpenetration which is the nondual combination of Karma and emptiness which is dynamic flux of aggregates that all reflect each other as Indra’s Jeweled Net.

So if we jump all the way to Hua Yen Buddhism of Fa Tsang then we can say that Karma is the dynamic quasi-causality that operates in spite of emptiness and is what makes emptiness into interpenetration.

Posted January 30, 2011 by kentpalmer in Uncategorized