Goal of the path: "nirvana" vs "nirodha"?

Exploring Theravāda's connections to other paths. What can we learn from other traditions, religions and philosophies?
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Goal of the path: "nirvana" vs "nirodha"?

Post by Lazy_eye » Wed Apr 27, 2016 2:48 pm

Hello:

Some of the most contentious discussions here on DW have concerned the ultimate purpose of the path (see the Great Nibbana Debate thread). Aloka recently posted a very interesting paper, by Daniel Breyer, at the BWB forum. I think it presents the underlying issue very clearly. I didn't see it posted elsewhere at DW, so I thought I'd repost.

Quick summary: Daniel Breyer is interested in what Dhamma posits as the ultimate good. He sees two main perspectives: what he calls the Nirvana view and the Nirodha view (there is also a third option, the Eudaimonia view, but this is basically identical to the Nirvana view).

The Nirvana View: The ultimate good in Buddhism is the state of perfect serenity, wisdom and compassion that the Buddha reached after his awakening. This is the highest happiness. Essentially, the Nirvana view amounts to saying that nirvana-with-remainder is the ultimate good; Breyer sees this as the most common view among Western Buddhists. The nirvana view is a positive axiology, that is, it is defined by the presence of something (the happy state known as nirvana).

The Nirodha View: The ultimate good is the elimination of dukkha. In this view, “x is good if and only if x either contributes to the elimination of dukkha, or consists in the absence of suffering.” This is a negative axiology – that is, the ultimate good is described by the absence of something (dukkha).

Some interesting questions/problems arise in relation to these two contrasting views of the Dhamma.

1. The significance of the Buddha's "mundane" teachings. Breyer believes that it is hard to reconcile the mundane teachings with the "Nirvana view"; we are left with the somewhat messy and unsatisfying conclusion that the Buddha taught two different Dhammas. The "Nirodha view," however, is able to explain both the supramundane and mundane teachings.

2. The "Null Bomb" problem. if the ultimate good is the elimination of dukkha, why not blow up the world? Breyer notes that the standard Buddhist answer to this objection hinges on rebirth (in fact, many including myself have argued that the Null Bomb is a serious problem for secular/skeptical Buddhists). However, Breyer believes the Dhamma can resolve the Null Bomb problem even without rebirth and he puts forward an interesting argument to that effect.

The paper can be read here. I'd be very interested in the forum membership's thoughts...
Last edited by Lazy_eye on Sun May 01, 2016 2:20 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Goal of the path: "nirvana" vs "nirodha"?

Post by Mkoll » Wed Apr 27, 2016 9:17 pm

Lazy_eye wrote:Hello:

Some of the most interesting and contentious discussions here on DW have concerned the ultimate purpose of the path (see the Great Nibbana Debate thread). Aloka recently posted a very interesting paper, by Daniel Breyer, at the BWB forum. I think it presents the underlying issue very clearly. I didn't see it posted elsewhere at DW, so I thought I'd repost.

Quick summary: Daniel Breyer is interested in what Dhamma posits as the ultimate good. He sees two main perspectives: what he calls the Nirvana view and the Nirodha view (there is also a third option, the Eudaimonia view, but this is basically identical to the Nirvana view).

The Nirvana View: The ultimate good in Buddhism is the state of perfect serenity, wisdom and compassion that the Buddha reached after his awakening. This is the highest happiness. Essentially, the Nirvana view amounts to saying that nirvana-with-remainder is the ultimate good; Breyer sees this as the most common view among Western Buddhists. The nirvana view is a positive axiology, that is, it is defined by the presence of something (the happy state known as nirvana).

The Nirodha View: The ultimate good is the elimination of dukkha. In this view, “x is good if and only if x either contributes to the elimination of dukkha, or consists in the absence of suffering.” This is a negative axiology – that is, the ultimate good is described by the absence of something (dukkha).
I agree with him that those are 2 viable perspectives. But they are looking at the same thing: Nibbana is the highest happiness and also the cessation of dukkha. Can't have one without the other. I haven't read the paper so I don't know if he made this clear.

There is a problem with his Nirvana View in that in Theravada, Buddhas are still superior to arahants in quite a few ways, despite both having attained Nibbana. So I'd amend the "Nirvana view" to basically replace "Buddha" with "arahant."
Lazy_eye wrote:Some interesting questions/problems arise in relation to these two contrasting views of the Dhamma.

1. The significance of the Buddha's "mundane" teachings. Breyer believes that it is hard to reconcile the mundane teachings with the "Nirvana view"; we are left with the somewhat messy and unsatisfying conclusion that the Buddha taught two different Dhammas. The "Nirodha view," however, is able to explain both the supramundane and mundane teachings.
The teaching on rebirth is what ties the mundane and supramundane together. I don't readily see how the "Nirodha view" is able to do that. What is his argument? Can you give a TLDR version?
Lazy_eye wrote:2. The "Null Bomb" problem. if the ultimate good is the elimination of dukkha, why not blow up the world? Breyer notes that the standard Buddhist answer to this objection hinges on rebirth (in fact, many including myself have argued that the Null Bomb is a serious problem for secular/skeptical Buddhists). However, Breyer believes the Dhamma can resolve the Null Bomb problem even without rebirth and he puts forward an interesting argument to that effect.

The paper can be read here. I'd be very interested in the forum membership's thoughts...
What is his argument? Can you give a TLDR version?
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Namo tassa bhagavato arahato samma sambuddhassa
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Re: Goal of the path: "nirvana" vs "nirodha"?

Post by Goofaholix » Wed Apr 27, 2016 10:36 pm

I believe that what you've defined as the Nirodha View is in fact how the Buddha defined Nibbana/Nirvana, and what you've defined as the Nirvana view is in fact pseudo-dhamma.
“Peace is within oneself to be found in the same place as agitation and suffering. It is not found in a forest or on a hilltop, nor is it given by a teacher. Where you experience suffering, you can also find freedom from suffering. Trying to run away from suffering is actually to run toward it.” ― Ajahn Chah

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Re: Goal of the path: "nirvana" vs "nirodha"?

Post by _anicca_ » Wed Apr 27, 2016 10:40 pm

The nirodha view is basically nibbana.
Nibbana means "no flame", so it is the extinguishing of the "fire" (suffering).
"A virtuous monk, Kotthita my friend, should attend in an appropriate way to the five clinging-aggregates as inconstant, stressful, a disease, a cancer, an arrow, painful, an affliction, alien, a dissolution, an emptiness, not-self."

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Re: Goal of the path: "nirvana" vs "nirodha"?

Post by daverupa » Wed Apr 27, 2016 10:42 pm

The author sets up a few different phrasings for the Dhamma's purpose in order to explore some axiology.
X is the ultimate good. In other words, only X is intrinsically good; everything else that counts as good is only instrumentally or constitutively good to the extent that it contributes to the attainment of X or constitutes X.
This is given various solutions:

X =
  • "nirvāṇa-in-this-life is a state of moral and spiritual perfection and serves as a precondition for parinirvāṇa, which one achieves only at death (when no life remains)... This is the Nirvāṇa View..."

    "...a stable sense of serenity and contentment caused or constituted by wisdom and virtue. Let’s call this the Eudaimonia View..."

    "Nirvāṇa-In-This-Life View... (a combination of the above)"

    "Both worldly prosperity and moral virtue are ultimate goods... (this is a bit complicated)"
Then, his thesis:
My view is that the Pāli Buddhist tradition endorses a distinctive negative axiology, according to which only the elimination of suffering (i.e., dukkha/duḥkha) is ultimately good. In this view, x is good if and only if x either (i) contributes to the elimination of duḥkha or (ii) consists in the absence of suffering. Let’s call this the Nirodha View...
  • "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting oneself one protects others? By the pursuit, development, and cultivation of the four establishments of mindfulness. It is in such a way that by protecting oneself one protects others.

    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting others one protects oneself? By patience, harmlessness, goodwill, and sympathy. It is in such a way that by protecting others one protects oneself.

- Sedaka Sutta [SN 47.19]

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Re: Goal of the path: "nirvana" vs "nirodha"?

Post by retrofuturist » Wed Apr 27, 2016 10:50 pm

Greetings,
Goofaholix wrote:I believe that what you've defined as the Nirodha View is in fact how the Buddha defined Nibbana/Nirvana, and what you've defined as the Nirvana view is in fact pseudo-dhamma.
:goodpost:

Metta,
Paul. :)
"Do not force others, including children, by any means whatsoever, to adopt your views, whether by authority, threat, money, propaganda, or even education." - Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh

"The uprooting of identity is seen by the noble ones as pleasurable; but this contradicts what the whole world sees." (Snp 3.12)

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Re: Goal of the path: "nirvana" vs "nirodha"?

Post by daverupa » Wed Apr 27, 2016 11:09 pm

I'm somewhat underwhelmed; I'm not sure the distinctions being made actually exist, and there's just really vague phrasing in general that makes me want to sit them down and have a good chat about some basics.
  • "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting oneself one protects others? By the pursuit, development, and cultivation of the four establishments of mindfulness. It is in such a way that by protecting oneself one protects others.

    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting others one protects oneself? By patience, harmlessness, goodwill, and sympathy. It is in such a way that by protecting others one protects oneself.

- Sedaka Sutta [SN 47.19]

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Re: Goal of the path: "nirvana" vs "nirodha"?

Post by Lazy_eye » Thu Apr 28, 2016 12:24 am

Mkoll wrote:Can you give a TLDR version?
I'll do my best. :)

The first point concerned the Buddha's "mundane" teachings (which include teachings on how to be prosperous, how to govern a country, and so on). What he terms "the Nirvana view" runs into a problem here, because if Nirvana-with-remainder (i.e. the state enjoyed by the arahant) is the summum bonum, then the Buddha should have only taught that which leads people towards arahantship. But that's not the case.

The nirodha view doesn't run into this problem, because all of the Buddha's teachings -- whether mundane or supermundane -- can be seen as antidotes to suffering of different kinds, whether it's specific varieties of worldly suffering, or the general problem of samsara.

The second point concerned the "Null Bomb" objection to negative axiologies. (Here is a dark/funny example of a Null Bomb objection, courtesy of The Onion). Because "the Nirodha view" is a negative axiology, it raises the problem of how to counter the Null Bomb. The standard answer, as Breyer notes, is that it is countered via rebirth and kamma -- that is, you can't actually deploy the Null Bomb because everyone would just be reborn somewhere else. But he argues that the Dhamma would be able to counter it even without rebirth.

The short version of his argument is that, in Dhammic terms, "the cessation of suffering is intrinsically valuable in a relational sense: it is not the unqualifed cessation of suffering that is intrinsically valuable, but the cessation of suffering in those capable of suffering." He likens the Dhamma to treatment for cancer, whereas the Null Bomb would be analogous to killing the patient (which technically also "treats" the cancer, but not in the way we normally seek).

BTW, I forgot to link to the paper in my earlier post, so here it is.
_anicca_ wrote:The nirodha view is basically nibbana.
Nibbana means "no flame", so it is the extinguishing of the "fire" (suffering).
That's true. What he means by the "NIrvana view" is setting up Nirvana-with-remainder as the summum bonum in a positive axiology.
daverupa wrote:I'm somewhat underwhelmed; I'm not sure the distinctions being made actually exist, and there's just really vague phrasing in general that makes me want to sit them down and have a good chat about some basics.
To me, at least, the primary distinction becomes clear if we consider the Null Bomb objection. The objection can't be deployed against the "Nirvana view," because this view sets up Nirvana as a kind of desirable experience, something that would be lost if the world suddenly blew up. In that case, no one would enjoy that happy state of unafflicted consciousness, compassion and wisdom known as Nirvana (without remainder), so the summum bonum would not have been achieved.

The nirodha view, on the other hand, is potentially vulnerable to the objection, because if "good" is defined as cessation of dukkha, then the more cessation the better, and cessation for everyone would be the best thing of all.

I suspect that you're underwhelmed because you've already worked out a good response to this objection; I have not, and it's been a bit of a brick wall for me.
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Re: Goal of the path: "nirvana" vs "nirodha"?

Post by daverupa » Thu Apr 28, 2016 12:32 am

You mean, how does nibbana resist the claim of being the same as this 'null bomb'?

...let's see, I'll sleep on it...
  • "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting oneself one protects others? By the pursuit, development, and cultivation of the four establishments of mindfulness. It is in such a way that by protecting oneself one protects others.

    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting others one protects oneself? By patience, harmlessness, goodwill, and sympathy. It is in such a way that by protecting others one protects oneself.

- Sedaka Sutta [SN 47.19]

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Re: Goal of the path: "nirvana" vs "nirodha"?

Post by retrofuturist » Thu Apr 28, 2016 12:35 am

Greetings lazy_eye,

Thanks for the TL;DR version.

I think the essential problem here is that the author is stuck in the polarity of existence and non-existence. Whilst they remain unable to transcend that, they will err by positing nibbana as either eternalism, or annihilationism... both of which are wrong. The author, or anyone else getting tangled in the same polarity, would be well served to explore Nanananda's "Nibbana Sermons".

Metta,
Paul. :)
"Do not force others, including children, by any means whatsoever, to adopt your views, whether by authority, threat, money, propaganda, or even education." - Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh

"The uprooting of identity is seen by the noble ones as pleasurable; but this contradicts what the whole world sees." (Snp 3.12)

"To argue with a person who has renounced the use of reason is like administering medicine to the dead" - Thomas Paine

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Re: Goal of the path: "nirvana" vs "nirodha"?

Post by Lazy_eye » Thu Apr 28, 2016 12:52 am

daverupa wrote:You mean, how does nibbana resist the claim of being the same as this 'null bomb'?
Not exactly. It's more: how does the Nirodha view counter the objection raised (that is, "the elimination of all suffering by any means would seem to qualify as the best possible state of affairs" -- hence, a doctor should execute patients, not simply treat them).

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Re: Goal of the path: "nirvana" vs "nirodha"?

Post by Goofaholix » Thu Apr 28, 2016 1:02 am

Lazy_eye wrote: Not exactly. It's more: how does the Nirodha view counter the objection raised (that is, "the elimination of all suffering by any means would seem to qualify as the best possible state of affairs" -- hence, a doctor should execute patients, not simply treat them).
rebirth
“Peace is within oneself to be found in the same place as agitation and suffering. It is not found in a forest or on a hilltop, nor is it given by a teacher. Where you experience suffering, you can also find freedom from suffering. Trying to run away from suffering is actually to run toward it.” ― Ajahn Chah

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Re: Goal of the path: "nirvana" vs "nirodha"?

Post by Mkoll » Thu Apr 28, 2016 1:35 am

Thanks for the TLDR. I think Breyer is creating problems when there aren't any to begin with. We all do this, but the purely intellectual approach he's using seems to be more vulnerable to it.
Lazy_eye wrote:The nirodha view, on the other hand, is potentially vulnerable to the objection, because if "good" is defined as cessation of dukkha, then the more cessation the better, and cessation for everyone would be the best thing of all.
It's only vulnerable without rebirth. With rebirth, the guy who decides to drop the Null Bomb and the doctor who executes his patients are not going to enjoy the fruits of those actions whenever they ripen.
Namo tassa bhagavato arahato samma sambuddhassa
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Re: Goal of the path: "nirvana" vs "nirodha"?

Post by Lazy_eye » Thu Apr 28, 2016 1:40 am

Goofaholix wrote: rebirth
Yes, he acknowledges that. But he then makes the interesting (at least to me) claim that the Dhamma can answer the objection even without rebirth.
Paul Davy wrote:I think the essential problem here is that the author is stuck in the polarity of existence and non-existence. Whilst they remain unable to transcend that, they will err by positing nibbana as either eternalism, or annihilationism... both of which are wrong. The author, or anyone else getting tangled in the same polarity, would be well served to explore Nanananda's "Nibbana Sermons".
Thanks, Paul. I'll have to look at the Nibbana Sermons -- in the interim, though, one follow-up question might be "what distinguishes nibbana (cessation) from annihilation?"

We can see that nibbana can't be eternalism, because "cessation" is not a quality of eternity. It's a little less clear with the other pole, though.

I guess this is a short route back to The Great Nibbana Debate...

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Re: Goal of the path: "nirvana" vs "nirodha"?

Post by retrofuturist » Thu Apr 28, 2016 1:56 am

Greetings Lazy Eye,
in the interim, though, one follow-up question might be "what distinguishes nibbana (cessation) from annihilation?"
Eternalism assumes there is existence and that it is indefinite. Annihilation assumes there is existence and it is destroyed. Each come from the root view that there is, at some point, existence. Yet (as I was kindly reminded by a fellow DW member earlier today), the Buddha said that "as even a little excrement is of evil smell, I do not praise even the shortest spell of existence, be it no longer than a snap of the fingers."

The teaching of paticcasamuppada explains how we typically manifest existence, bhava, and therefore how to avoid giving rise to bhava, thusly...

"Now from the remainderless fading & cessation of that very ignorance comes the cessation of fabrications. From the cessation of fabrications comes the cessation of consciousness. From the cessation of consciousness comes the cessation of name-&-form. From the cessation of name-&-form comes the cessation of the six sense media. From the cessation of the six sense media comes the cessation of contact. From the cessation of contact comes the cessation of feeling. From the cessation of feeling comes the cessation of craving. From the cessation of craving comes the cessation of clinging/sustenance. From the cessation of clinging/sustenance comes the cessation of becoming. From the cessation of becoming comes the cessation of birth. From the cessation of birth, then aging & death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, & despair all cease. Such is the cessation of this entire mass of stress & suffering."

That "cessation of this entire mass of stress & suffering" is nibbana.

Metta,
Paul. :)
"Do not force others, including children, by any means whatsoever, to adopt your views, whether by authority, threat, money, propaganda, or even education." - Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh

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"To argue with a person who has renounced the use of reason is like administering medicine to the dead" - Thomas Paine

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Re: Goal of the path: "nirvana" vs "nirodha"?

Post by Lazy_eye » Thu Apr 28, 2016 2:06 am

Paul Davy wrote: Eternalism assumes there is existence and that it is indefinite. Annihilation assumes there is existence and it is destroyed. Each come from the root view that there is, at some point, existence. Yet (as I was kindly reminded by a fellow DW member earlier today), the Buddha said that "as even a little excrement is of evil smell, I do not praise even the shortest spell of existence, be it no longer than a snap of the fingers."
So, along similar lines, what is mistaken about vibhava-tanha? After all, isn't it reasonable to want to be rid of the excrement/evil smell?

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Re: Goal of the path: "nirvana" vs "nirodha"?

Post by katavedi » Thu Apr 28, 2016 10:23 am

Hello Lazy_eye,
Lazy_eye wrote:So, along similar lines, what is mistaken about vibhava-tanha? After all, isn't it reasonable to want to be rid of the excrement/evil smell?
Vibhava-tanha is still based on the mistaken assumption of existence. Wanting to be rid of existence means that one believes existence is real. If someone is hallucinating that ants are crawling all over their body, the imaginary ants aren't the problem -- the hallucinating is.

Kind wishes,
katavedi
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Re: Goal of the path: "nirvana" vs "nirodha"?

Post by daverupa » Thu Apr 28, 2016 10:42 am

So, to get around a rebirth-necessity in the case of a null bomb or a death doctor, begin from the foundation that agnosticism prevails in all cases of post-death assertions. This also removes post-death promises from being considered as primary goals since the Dhamma is unique in offering a 'here and now' method of investigation.

What is left as an axial value is cessation of dukkha for living beings. Bombs & Deathdocs don't do that (though, in my opinion, another axial value here is a stepwise anti-natalism).
  • "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting oneself one protects others? By the pursuit, development, and cultivation of the four establishments of mindfulness. It is in such a way that by protecting oneself one protects others.

    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting others one protects oneself? By patience, harmlessness, goodwill, and sympathy. It is in such a way that by protecting others one protects oneself.

- Sedaka Sutta [SN 47.19]

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Re: Goal of the path: "nirvana" vs "nirodha"?

Post by Mkoll » Thu Apr 28, 2016 3:41 pm

daverupa wrote:So, to get around a rebirth-necessity in the case of a null bomb or a death doctor, begin from the foundation that agnosticism prevails in all cases of post-death assertions. This also removes post-death promises from being considered as primary goals since the Dhamma is unique in offering a 'here and now' method of investigation.

What is left as an axial value is cessation of dukkha for living beings. Bombs & Deathdocs don't do that (though, in my opinion, another axial value here is a stepwise anti-natalism).
For the sake of argument, let's say someone is agnostic about rebirth and they practice diligently and attain arahantship.

Are they then still agnostic about rebirth? Do they still not know if rebirth follows the break-up of their body? Not knowing this, do they really have "final knowledge"? Have they really attained arahantship?

Or upon arahantship, do they gain the "final knowledge" that there is no rebirth after the break-up of their body? In that case, wouldn't they no longer be agnostic about rebirth but sure of it? So in the end, though they might not have adopted rebirth as a view on the way there, they end up knowing its potential, or rather the end of its potential, in fact?

In responding to this, please keep in mind the difference between the power of recollecting past lives and knowledge of the end of rebirth at arahantship. One is not required for the other according to the texts.
Namo tassa bhagavato arahato samma sambuddhassa
Namo tassa bhagavato arahato samma sambuddhassa
Namo tassa bhagavato arahato samma sambuddhassa

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Re: Goal of the path: "nirvana" vs "nirodha"?

Post by Lazy_eye » Thu Apr 28, 2016 5:32 pm

daverupa wrote:So, to get around a rebirth-necessity in the case of a null bomb or a death doctor, begin from the foundation that agnosticism prevails in all cases of post-death assertions. This also removes post-death promises from being considered as primary goals since the Dhamma is unique in offering a 'here and now' method of investigation.

What is left as an axial value is cessation of dukkha for living beings.
Thanks, Dave. It seems as though you and Breyer are basically in agreement:
Daniel Breyer wrote:The Nirodha View has the resources to resist the Null Bomb Objection precisely because it recognizes that the cessation of
suffering is intrinsically valuable in a relational sense: it is not the unqualified cessation of suffering that is intrinsically valuable, but the cessation of suffering in those capable of suffering.
...although you add the element of agnosticism, which I don't believe he mentions.

So, just to sum up, I see three available responses to the Null Bomb: the argument from rebirth, the argument from dependent origination, and the argument based on scope (the Dhamma is for living beings). Whether these arguments are mutually compatible might be an interesting question: if we add in agnosticism, #3 seems to contradict #1. It is still consistent with #2, though.
katavedi wrote:If someone is hallucinating that ants are crawling all over their body, the imaginary ants aren't the problem -- the hallucinating is.
That explains it very clearly -- thanks Katavedi!

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