mikenz66 wrote:I find it a little unfortunate how various personal letters that presumably made sense in the context that Ven Nanavira wrote them have taken on a life of their own. Reading the extract that Jack quoted I honestly can't figure out what he's getting at well enough to even evaluate the argument.
I don't think it's unfortunate at all, considering they're not taken out of context. The context is that Bhante Nyanavira is presenting an argument that if one is to follow the orthodox Theravadin position that anicca = flux, then one must logically arrive at the Mahayanist contention. My reason for posting this that I saw a quote wherein Bhante Thanissaro seems to suggest that Theravada and Mahayana are separate religions. My response was that on the face of things this is quite in order, but as some suggest (see quote) at the heart of things these lines begin to blur.
I think I told you some time ago (in connexion with Huxley and chemical mysticism) that the Mahāyānist view can be summed up in two propositions, the first common to all mystics, and the second supposed to represent the Buddha's solution to the problem raised by the first.
(i) Behind the ordinary appearance of things there lies Reality, which it is the task of the Yogi to seek. Existentialist philosophers do not go as far as this: if they admit such a Reality—Jaspers, for example—they qualify it by saying that it is necessarily out of reach. See Preface (m).
(ii) Reality is the non-existence of things. In other words, things do not really exist, they only appear to do so on account of our ignorance (avijjā). (George Borrow tells of a Spanish gypsy in the last century whose grandfather held this view, so it hardly needs a Buddha to declare it. It seems to be closely allied to the Hindu notion of māyā—that all is illusion.)
This part is crucial for what follows. You have to follow the argument, which is concerned with the existence of things.
Now the Pali texts say that the Buddha taught anicca/dukkha/anattā, and the average Theravādin, monk or layman, seems to take for granted that aniccatā, or impermanence, means that things are perpetually changing, that they do not remain the same for two consecutive moments. Failing to make the necessary distinctions (see PATICCASAMUPPĀDA [c]), they understand this as implying perpetual flux of everything all the time.
Stock formulation of the flux argument.
This, of course, destroys the principle of self-identity, 'A is A'; for unless something endures unchanged for at least a certain interval of time you cannot even make the assertion 'this is A' since the word 'is' has lost its meaning.
The point here is not concerned with the specifics (which is what Tilt seems to be caught up in) but that for anything
to 'exist' it must remain so for some period of time, or else it cannot be said to be, for it is already something other. Flux presumes perpetual
change and that breaks the principle of self identity, for if flux were true, then nothing would in fact exist, because it would not 'be' at all, it would be otherwise.
Now you might say that flux is true in the scientific sense that things are in perpetual motion at a minute level that is far beyond our perception. For example that a chair may 'appear' to be the same chair it was a minute ago, but it is changing all the time, at an atomic level (or however you want to slice it). However to us, the chair remains the same until it changes. So we have a problem, we can either assert the existence of the chair, or we can deny it. To assert the existence of the chair, to say that the chair exists in my experience is to deny the idea of perpetual change. To deny the existence of the chair is to say that although it 'appears' to be a chair, it is in fact in perpetual flux, along with the rest of our world, and we do not see that because we are ignorant of the Buddha's teaching. Now if you re-read the first quote, you will see that this is nothing more than the two contentions that the Mahayanists make. It is the same argument, unfortunately that Orthodox Theravadins make.
Bypassing dukkha as something we all know about, they arrive at anattā as meaning 'without self-identity'. (This is Mr. Wettimuny's theme, following Dahlke. I do not think he is aware that he is putting himself among the Mahāyānists.) Granted the premise that anicca means 'in continuous flux', this conclusion is impeccable. Unfortunately, in doing away with the principle of self-identity, you do away with things—including change, which is also a thing. This means that for the puthujjana, who does not see aniccatā, things exist, and for the arahat, who has seen aniccatā, things do not exist. Thus the Mahāyānist contention is proved.
In light of the above, this should now make sense. If it doesn't, I'll try to expand when I get home later on.