Is the Theravada system one of direct realism?

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Questions to ask Magyamaka and Yogacara Cannot Answer and Why

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Yes, @Mahavihara please do, I just came here to ask you to clarify what these fundamental errors are, and also where Venerable Maggavihari says this. These are definitely topics I’d like to learn about!

Update: This Venerable is mustard on this topic! I want to hear more, and specifically where he addresses Madhyamaka and Yogacara, but I can’t find it.

I found this, though, from @ekocare on Dhammawheel:

ekocare: Here is what venerable Maggavihari at IIT sees as the verification of “paramatthadhammas as existents” by considering the usage of Nominal-case-endings.

1.18. The idea of considering paramatthadhammas as existents can be verified with evidence from the canon itself. In number of suttas the Buddha mentions rūpa, vedanā, saññā, saṅkhāra and viññāṇa to be dukkha (natures that bring suffering). When it is mentioned in suttas as “Rupaṃ dukkhaṃ” and “Vedanā dukkhā” usage of similar nominal case endings in rūpa and dukkha and vedanā and dukkha suggests that the terms are in apposition. It means what is referred by the term rūpa is the same that is referred by the word dukkha. The same should be understood with regard to the other two terms, vedanā and dukkha.

Then in the Acelakassapa Sutta, when being questioned by Acelakassapa whether there is no dukkha “Kiṃ nu kho, bho Gotama, natthi dukkhaṃ (Venerable Gotama, isn’t there dukkha)?”, the Buddha gave the direct answer, “Na kho, Kassapa, natthi dukkhaṃ. Atthi kho, Kassapa, dukkhaṃ (Kassapa, it is not that there is no dukkha. There is, indeed, dukkha)”.

Therefore, as for the teachings of the Buddha, if dukkha exists, rūpa and vedanā (and the remaining aggregates of clinging - upādānakkhandha) also should exist, because dukkha is the five aggregates (rūpa, vedanā, saññā, saṅkhāra and viññāṇa).

It is very evident that the Buddha advocated the existence of dukkha and, also, propounded that what he considered as dukkha is the five aggregates, which in turn leads to the inference that five aggregates do exist according to him. Five aggregates are the citta, cetasika and rūpa which were explained above.

In the Puppha Sutta of Saṃyutta Nikāya, the Buddha clearly advocates that he accepts the idea that five aggregates i.e., rūpa, vedanā, saññā, saṅkhāra and viññāṇa, that are impermanent, subject to change and which bring forth suffering do exist.

Moreover, in number of suttas the Buddha has clearly advocated the existence of spiritual qualities such as eight-fold noble path (ariyo aṭṭhaṅgiko maggo), seven factors of enlightenment (satta bojjhaṅgā), four-fold-mindfulness (cattāro satipaṭṭhānā), three types of feeling (tividhā vedanā) and so forth. These are also concrete evidences to prove that according to the Theravāda canon the Buddha himself has propounded the existence of paramatthadhammas.

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No, Theravada is not a system of direct realism.

Realism is the belief in the following three propositions:

  1. Objects precede consciousness.
  2. Objects exist independent of consciousness.
  3. The world of objects is the real and (more or less) permanent one.

Materialism is a subset of Realism that adds the fourth proposition:

  1. Consciousness is dependent on objects.

Idealism is the belief in the opposite for all four propositions:

  1. Consciousness precedes objects.
  2. Consciousness is independent of objects.
  3. Consciousness is the real and (more or less) permanent thing.
  4. Objects are dependent on consciousness.

Theravada proports that consciousness and objects co-arise. Neither precedes the other, neither is independent of each other, neither is the real and permanent thing. They both are dependent on each other. There are no objects without a consciousness to view them; there is no consciousness without an object to direct itself toward.

Everything is namarupa. Objects are just form (rupa). Form is beheld by the mind. There is no external object you can point to; there is only a mental image of form that can be pointed to. Any assumption or belief that a form is an external object that exists in the world independent of you is just a belief that appears in the mind.

Your description of the Theravada view of reality is, in fact, the Mahayana understanding of reality. The Classical Theravada believe that pannatti, or concepts, things like man, woman, dog, rocks, exist only mentally, but dhammas are mind independent, and dhammas are the fundamental building blocks of reality, and they exist from their own side. Hence, the dog I see is only a conceptual reality, but it is made of ultimately real, mind independent dhammas. When I die, my consciousness will leave my body, but my body will remain, unobserved, and generated by tejo, or the fire element, alone, until it is reduced to dust. The Buddha confirmed as much, in the suttas, obviously, because the suttas are what the Theravada abhidhamma is built on. But the commentaries fleshed it out, thankfully, to avoid exactly this confusion of Mahayana and Classical Theravada.

See below. I’ve edited this to make it respond to your statements, point by point. Please note, the responses to your points are written with the assumption that what is being confirmed is the dhammas, not pannatti. Also, some, or perhaps nearly all of these quotes apply to multiple, or even all of your points, but I’ve broken them up for clarity:

This is correct.

“If, friends, internally the eye is intact but no external forms come into its range, and there is no corresponding conscious engagement, then there is no manifestation of the corresponding section of consciousness. If internally the eye is intact and external forms come into its range, but there is no corresponding conscious engagement, then there is no manifestation of the corresponding section of consciousness. But when internally the eye is intact and external forms come into its range and there is the corresponding conscious engagement, then there is the manifestation of the corresponding section of consciousness.” “Now there comes a time when the external water element is disturbed. It carries away villages, towns, cities, districts, and countries.”
-MN 28

“All form is that which is…

void of idea,
neither feeling, nor perception, nor synthesis,
disconnected with thought,”
“form exists which is not due to karma having been wrought”

-Dhammasangani 2.2.3

Right, again.

“Student, suppose there were a man born blind who could not see dark and light forms, who could not see blue, yellow, red, or carmine forms, who could not see what was even and uneven, who could not see the stars or the sun and moon. He might say thus: ‘There are no dark and light forms, and no one who sees dark and light forms; there are no blue, yellow, red, or carmine forms, and no one who sees blue, yellow, red, or carmine forms; there is nothing even and uneven, and no one who sees anything even and uneven; there are no stars and no sun and moon, and no one who sees stars and the sun and moon. I do not know these, I do not see these, therefore these do not exist.’ Speaking thus, student, would he be speaking rightly?”

“No, Master Gotama. There are dark and light forms, and those who see dark and light forms…there are the stars and the sun and moon, and those who see the stars and the sun and moon. Saying, ‘I do not know these, I do not see these, therefore these do not exist,’ he would not be speaking rightly.”

“So too, student, the brahmin Pokkharasāti is blind and visionless.
-MN 99

It is the dhammas alone that possess ultimate reality: determinate existence “from their own side” (sarupato) independent of the minds conceptual processing of the data. Such a conception of the nature of the real seems to be already implicit in the Sutta Pitaka, particularly in the Buddha’s disquisitions on the aggregates, sense bases, elements, dependent arising, etc.,…

Thus by examining the conventional realities with wisdom, we eventually arrive at the objective actualities that lie behind our conceptual constructs. It is these objective actualities – the dhammas, which maintain their intrinsic natures independent of the mind’s constructive functions…

…the commentaries consummate the dhamma theory by supplying the formal definition of dhammas as “things which bear their own intrinsic nature” (attano sabhavam dharenti ti dhamma).

…concretely produced matter…possess intrinsic natures and are thus suitable for contemplation and comprehension by insight.

Great seers who are free from craving declare that Nibbana is an
objective state which is deathless, absolutely endless, unconditioned,
and unsurpassed.
Thus as fourfold the Tathagatas reveal the ultimate realities—
consciousness, mental factors, matter, and Nibbana.
-Bhikkhu Bodhi, Acariya Anuruddha, A Comprehensive Manual of Abhidhamma, pages 3, 15, 26, 235, 260

The dhammas exist even when no one is around to observe them.

For example, per the below, even after a person dies, and consciousness has ceased, their corpse remains as temperature born matter, which can generate all by itself:

But at the time of death, kamma-born material phenomena no
longer arise starting with the stage of presence of the seventeenth
consciousness preceding the death consciousness. Kamma-born
material phenomena that arose earlier occur till the death-moment
and then cease. Following that, the consciousness-born and nutriment-born material phenomena come to cessation. Thereafter,
a continuity of material qualities produced by temperature persists
as long as it can be called a corpse.
-Bodhi, ibid, p 257

Tejo is the element of heat. Cold is also a form of tejo.
Both heat and cold are included in tejo because they possess the power of maturing bodies. Tejo, in other words, is
the vitalizing energy. Preservation and decay are also due
to this element. Unlike the other three essentials of matter,
this element has the power to regenerate matter by itself.
-Narada Thera, A Manual of Abhidhamma p 319

There are also beings with no mind, but their bodies exist anyway:

There are, bhikkhus, certain gods called 'non-percipient beings.
-DN 1

No perception means no consciousness, either:

“Feeling, perception, & consciousness are conjoined, friend, not disjoined. It is not possible, having separated them one from another, to delineate the difference among them. For what one feels, that one perceives. What one perceives, that one cognizes. Therefore these qualities are conjoined, not disjoined, and it is not possible, having separated them one from another, to delineate the difference among them.”
-MN 436

The world of objects is real, but not permanent in any way. Further, in Classical Theravada, mind and mental factors are also real. Nonetheless, 2.5 out of three of your points that delineate a realist philosophy, so far, have been hit. Classical Thervada is a realist system.

“And what is it, bhikkhus, that the wise in the world agree upon as existing, of which I too say that it exists? Form that is impermanent, suffering, and subject to change: this the wise in the world agree upon as existing, and I too say that it exists."
-SN 22.94

Regarding their theory of sense perception and the nature of the cognitive object, the Theravāda Abhidhamma view is a kind of direct realism that says we do perceive external physical objects.

Karunadasa, Y. Buddhist Analysis of Matter, pp. 149.

"If we base ourselves on the Pali Nikayas, then we should be compelled to conclude that Buddhism is realistic. There is no explicit denial anywhere of the external world. Nor is there any positive evidence to show that the world is mind-made or simply a projection of subjective thoughts. That Buddhism recognizes the extra-mental existence of matter and the external world is clearly suggested by the texts. Throughout the discourses it is the language of realism that one encounters. The whole Buddhist practical doctrine and discipline, which has the attainment of Nibbana as its final goal, is based on the recognition of the material world and the conscious living beings living therein.

Karunadasa, Y. Buddhist Analysis of Matter, pp. 14, 172;

This theory ensures that the object of direct and immediate
perception is not an object of mental interpretation but something that is
ultimately real.
-Karunadasa, Y. Buddhist Analysis of Matter, pp. 149.

Thus the Theravādins were able to establish the theory
of direct perception of the external object despite their recognizing the
theory of momentariness.
-ibid. page 146

What emerges from this Abhidhammic doctrine of dhammas
is a critical realism, one which (unlike idealism) recognises
the distinctness of the world from the experiencing subject
yet also distinguishes between those types of entities that
truly exist independently of the cognitive act and those that
owe their being to the act of cognition itself.
-Y. Kunadasa, The Dhamma Theory, page 38

dhamma theory is best described as dhamma realism
-The Theravada Abhidhamma: Inquiry into the Nature of Conditioned Reality
By Y. Karunadasa, chapter 2

Depends on the context, and situation, but sometimes, yes, yes it is. For example, eye consciousness is dependent on objects. If no visible object comes in range of the eye, no eye consciousness can arise. Further, even if an object is in range, but there is no engagement, still, no consciousness. Note that the object exists, even though there is no consciousness of it.

“If, friends, internally the eye is intact but no external forms come into its range, and there is no corresponding conscious engagement, then there is no manifestation of the corresponding section of consciousness. If internally the eye is intact and external forms come into its range, but there is no corresponding conscious engagement, then there is no manifestation of the corresponding section of consciousness."
-MN 28

“Bhikkhus, consciousness comes to be in dependence on a dyad. And how, bhikkhus, does consciousness come to be in dependence on a dyad? In dependence on the eye and forms there arises eye-consciousness.:
-SN 35.93

A given instance of perceptual consciousness is said to arise only in dependence upon two conditions: the sense organ and its corresponding object-field. This implies that perceptual consciousness arises only in conjunction with an appropriate and existent object; perceptual consciousness of a nonexistent object or without an object is, therefore, impossible.
-Disputed Dharmas
Early Buddhist Theories on Existence
An Annotated Translation
of the Section on Factors Dissociated from Thought
from Sanghabhadra’s Nyayanusara
Collett Cox
p 136-137

So, there you have it: Classical Theravada is undoubtedly a realist system.

Below is a relevant selection from the Kathavatthu

Points of Controversy
9.3 Of Matter as Subjective
Controverted Point: Whether matter should be termed subjective or objective.

Theravādin: If that is so, you must also affirm of matter or body, that it has the mental features of “adverting”, ideating, reflecting, co-ordinated application, attending, willing, anticipating, aiming—things which you would, on the contrary, deny of matter.

All, or any of them you can rightly affirm of mental properties, such as contact (mental reaction), feeling, perception, volition, cognition, faith, energy, mindfulness, concentration, understanding, lust, hate, illusion, conceit, erroneous opinion, doubt, mental inertia, distraction, immodesty, indiscretion—all of which you admit as subjective. But matter is not one of these, and therefore such things may not be affirmed of it.

You deny in the case of matter all those mental features—adverting, etc.—but claim for it the term “subjective”, which is really applicable to “contact”, sensation, etc. These, as you admit, do not lack those mental features named.

Uttarāpathaka: But is not matter correlated (as an object)? Of course you assent. Then as correlated it is surely right to apply the term “subjective” to matter, etc. since “object” is one of the twenty-four (causal) relations.


The issue with this particular subject is that direct realism is the default position of unreflective people. Language itself is oriented toward direct realism. Even though I personally have no belief in it, I still tend to talk in terms of it when speaking with other people. A great deal of these quotes are the same way: the Buddha is addressing a tangent subject and is not going to go to linguistic lengths to avoid this issue. It’s very similar to using the concept of self in everyday conversation.

You don’t need the scriptures for this issue anyways. You don’t even need meditative attainments. All you have to do is sit down and look. Direct realism is clearly wrong. The thought “this object exists in a real world” only appears as a thought…a belief. Your mind is projecting this belief into your direct perceptions in the exact same way it is projecting a self into your experience. Just look.

If realism is true, then you should be able to bring me an object that exists apart from consciousness. Bring me such an object!

“Bhikkhus, consciousness comes to be in dependence on a dyad. And how, bhikkhus, does consciousness come to be in dependence on a dyad? In dependence on the eye and forms there arises eye-consciousness.:
-SN 35.93

This fits what I said. Consciousness and objects depend on each other (and the perception-gate in this case, as dependent origination has the contact stage).

A given instance of perceptual consciousness is said to arise only in dependence upon two conditions: the sense organ and its corresponding object-field. This implies that perceptual consciousness arises only in conjunction with an appropriate and existent object; perceptual consciousness of a nonexistent object or without an object is, therefore, impossible.
-Disputed Dharmas
Early Buddhist Theories on Existence
An Annotated Translation
of the Section on Factors Dissociated from Thought
from Sanghabhadra’s Nyayanusara
Collett Cox
p 136-137

No it doesn’t. This author is wrong, because he read in “form is not dependent on consciousness in equal measure.” Form is dependent on consciousness; consciousness is dependent on form. They co-arise. Without consciousness, form does not arise. Without form, consciousness does not arise. If anything, idealism is closer to the truth than realism, as you can actually experience consciousness of nothingness (arupa-jhanas or a ~20mg dose of vaporized 5-MeO-DMT) but an object that exists but has no impact on any consciousness is literally impossible. You can’t even think of such an object as thoughts only appear in consciousness.

There are also beings with no mind, but their bodies exist anyway:

There are, bhikkhus, certain gods called 'non-percipient beings.
-DN 1

That is NOT what that says. You’re reading your interpretation into this in several quotes.

“And what is it, bhikkhus, that the wise in the world agree upon as existing, of which I too say that it exists? Form that is impermanent, suffering, and subject to change: this the wise in the world agree upon as existing, and I too say that it exists."
-SN 22.94

Form exists…like clearly the form exists as it’s directly experienced; “physical object” is a mental construct that is projected onto form. These are not the same. Disentangle these concepts!

In every case you’re projecting a specific interpretation into these passages. You’re confusing “form” with “physical object.” You don’t need scripture to figure this issue out anyways. Just look. “Physical object” is just a concept that is projected onto the experienced forms the exact same way “self” is a concept projected onto experience in general. This projection is easier to track down than “self,” as it is rooted in the idea we develop in childhood called object permanence, which has practical use but is just a heuristic none-the-less.

Again, if direct realism is the case, then bring me an object outside of my consciousness. Should be easy!

You ignored all of the quotes by scholars in my response that confirm that reality exists independent of mind in Classical Theravada. Your original claim was that Theravada is not even a realist system, and your explaination of what is ostensibly the Theravada understanding of reality was simply, flatly, wrong.

Before we discuss, specifically, direct realism further, do you recant at least that position? Do you admit you were wrong, and that Classical Theravada is a realist system? If not, and you still hold your Mahayana understanding and apply it to Theravada, I respectfully, and regretfully, see no reason to continue explaining this to you, as you seem to be deliberately ignoring agreed upon facts about Classical Theravada, presented in the form of quotes by experts in the field, in favor of your own interpretations.

  1. I didn’t ignore them. I responded to some and the others I see as following the same pattern of reading interpretations into things.

  2. Maybe Classical Theravada is a realist system (but I’m not convinced - I see these quotes as reading in a specific view, the default worldly view at that), but what matters is the truth and I could care less if it’s Theravada, Mahayana, or other. Classical Theravada, like any system, is at best a very useful approach to discovering the truth within you. Attaching to the system is just the fetter of attachment to view and the fetter of attachment to rites and rituals…trying to find the perfect system or perfect way when such a thing is impossible. So I guess what matters is getting at the truth. And you can just look in this case. A view isn’t necessary. The truth is dropping the view, and direct realism is a vie: a projection of thoughts onto experience.

Respectfully, this is a Classical Theravada forum. This is not the correct place for you to push your own personal interpretation of the dhamma. On this forum, the classical Theravada commentaries, abhidhamma, Visuddhimagga, Abhidhammattha Sangaha, and other classical Theravada works are authoritative, not you. And, these works are realist works which declare mind, mental factors, matter, and nibbana as ultimate realities. This is diametrically opposed to the Mahayana, Nagarjuna position, in which none of these things are real, and even nibbana doesn’t exist.

To be completely fair, I don’t agree with every single point made by the Classical Theravada tradition, and I have my own interpretations in some areas. Nonetheless, due to the purpose and nature of this forum, I present only Classical Theravada positions, backed by experts in the field, or direct quotes, or questions. If it is demonstrated that the Classical Theravada position differs from mine, I defer to the Classical position, even if I am unconvinced, personally, as it doesn’t matter how I feel, the Classical position is authoritative, not me.

If you would like to challenge the Classical Theravada tradition, and supplant it with personal positions, I highly recommend dhammawheel forum. You will find a majority who do the same, and agree with you.

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Ok, if that’s what you want I’ll leave.

I’m certainly not asking you to leave! Please stay. I’m only suggesting you accept the Classical Theravada position while here, and go to dhammawheel for attempting to supplant it :slight_smile:

Ya, idk.

Every group seems to be filled with people content, even insistent, on being scholars of enlightenment or seekers of enlightenment rather than actually enlightened. Which, I’m not saying I am enlightened by any stretch so don’t take it that way…just that every once in a blue moon I pop my head out of my hole to see if there’s a group willing to actually look. The first place I looked was Western philosophy, where I found a lot of scholars of Plato, Descartes, Kant, and Wittgenstein…scholars of philosophy…but no philosophers.

I even looked at Zen, since they claim to be the school of direct pointing. I found a lot of scholars of Zen, practitioners of Zazen…but no one willing to just look. Plus they make you take Bodhisattva vows, which I’m sorry, I want to leave samsara. I want out of this place. I don’t want ten billion more lives. They’re right, my compassion for others does not stretch that far. Even one more life sounds unbearable. And they have outrageous claims about the authenticity of their literature. And every group I ever landed in was involved in a plethora of political causes. Bah, you guys probably know the problems with Mahayana better than I do, so ya…

I can just go read suttas and commentaries if I’m supposed to stick within the bounds of one ideology. There’s little value in that for me. The real Sangha-gem is having people to look at the truth with, and even though I poke my head out once in a blue moon, I’ve long accepted such a thing is heretical to how groups/consensus reality works in the first place - I won’t be finding it.

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And the other part of this is that having these conversations is too stressful anymore. I don’t even like interacting with people much anymore because it’s all stress. Having views on such things as realism and idealism is stress too. It’s all just stress, everywhere and everything. Only practice seems to bear fruit; even though it’s very stressful too, it’s at least the stress that seems to lead to letting go of stress.


I agree, and I actually have a very personal version of what I consider enlightenment, correct dhamma, and so on, and some of it is not at all compatible with Classical Theravada. However, while I enjoy discussing personal philosophy, generally, I got sick of having zero framework, nor agreement on things. When everyone is just going on intuition, everything is a debate, and it’s hard to make progress while everyone is always on defense. This is why I am so very grateful for this site. This is where we come to get out of the fight. It is a place of agreement. A place to learn. A place where questions have official consistent, solid answers.

This forum is more like a class where you learn, and discuss, a specific doctrine, rather than an open group debate where everyone says whatever they want and argues. When I want to discuss random ideas, heretical views, etc. I certainly do so, as I’ve got plenty of them, I just don’t discuss them here.

As to the rest of your points: sounds like you’ve got some stress! I get it! I recommend jhana meditation. Especially since you say practice is stressful. It shouldn’t always be, especially jhana. Jhana is the opposite of stress. It is bliss. Further, you may consider speaking with a professional counseller about your stress. I do. I’ve had the same counseller since I was a kid lol! He’s been the counseller for my entire family for over 20 years. I see him even just for advice on career choices, and anything else that is difficult in life. It helps. Some work in that area, combined with Buddhism, and I’ve learned to become a lot more positive, relaxed, and happy.

As to philosphy, philosopical quietism of an extreme variety, where one simply has no position at all, like the Ajnana, is a common solution to finding realism, vs idealism and such ideas stressful. These ideas are part and parcel of philosophy. Hence, the only way around them, if they stress you, is seen, sometimes, as some kind of anti philosophy, like Ajnana. That said, the Buddha taught that we may simply drop all that stuff anyway, it’s all the thicket of views. So we may drop it all, and practice jhana, and mindfulness, and the path. We may keep the dhamma, and drop the philosopical debating.

I hope you find happiness :slight_smile:

I already do 3-4 hours a day of anapana practice (and wish I could do more). Lately it’s just another stress and not relaxing at all - I haven’t had a session that wasn’t drowsy for a couple weeks now. I’ve never been anywhere near a jhana. I won’t stop - meditation is subject to anicca as is everything and it’ll eventually happen, but its not been a source of relaxation either.

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I do a combination of Leigh Brasington’s very easy jhana, with Visuddhimagga hard jhana, and a pinch of Vimutimagga air nimitta jhana, refined by Shankman’s “The Art and Skill of Buddhist Meditation” and, “The Experience of Samadhi”. This is one of my heretical things. I fully admit I’m wrong, and the Visuddhimagga jhana is correct. Technically, I probably don’t even enter jhana at all, per the classical view lol! Since this is a CT forum, I’ll say my way is technically wrong, and, my recommendation is you follow the classical methods. Nonetheless, it brings me great, deep peace, and bliss.

I also do yoga sun salutations daily, and generate a feeling of general love during. Just loving and being loved. It is really nice. I cannot do full on metta, because the idea of loving evil people is too advanced for my level of understanding. So, I keep it just general, but intense, beautiful, love and being loved, not specific. But, here, too, whatever the CT version is, is the correct way, not my way.

Also, side note: I took the bodhisattva vows and yeah, lol! Irrational, impossible vows.

Save all beings, which are infinite. Impossible. Do so via enlightenment, but do this BEFORE I reach enlightenment. Impossible. So, never reach enlightenment, and help no one, and stay in samsara forever. But, the Mahayanists will argue this inside out using bizarre, inverted logic. You say the vows make no sense, they say they make sense ultimately. You say ultimately there are no beings to save, and no vows, so why take the vows, they say they make sense conventionally. You say neither make sense, they say you just don’t get it. Then riddle on about the emptiness of emptiness, Buddha nature, which isn’t or is an actual eternal thing, depending on who you ask, and their mood, and prajnaparamita and how dhammas never arise in the first place, but you should still take the vows, and on and on into inadvertently saying things that are vicious infinite regression, reductio ad absurdum, and other silly things.

I gave up on Mahayana a long time ago. The final piece of the puzzle was reading Stafford L Betty’s papers on Nagarjuna. Ironically, what got me over Yogacara was Nagarjuna and his philosophical descendent, Chandrakirti. They demonstrated that Yogacara, and all subjective idealism “All is mind” stuff is incoherent, and Betty demonstrated that Nagarjuna is incoherent (luckily, though, not the bits that refute idealism lol!).

Mahayana being either Madhyamaka or Yogacara, or the two combined into Madhyamaka-Yogacara, and pretty much nothing uninfluenced by these schools, except some eternalist stuff like Adi Buddha the eternal primordial Buddha and Tathagatarbha sutra interpretations which hold an existent, eternal Buddha nature as true, which are refuted already by Nagarjuna, that was that, for me. The Mahayana scaffolding fell. They attack all of reality, and undercut their own systems along the way.

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I reject idealism, which I suspect is the Mahayana view, too. Realism and idealism are both wrong. I spent like 20 years on this issue. There is no lasting “mind” for idealism to be correct. All there is is namarupa…a series of mind-moments and their content, but the delusion that the mind-moments are one, continuous mind is, well, a delusion. The delusion that the contents of those mind-moments exist outside the citta is also a delusion. Citta and contents arise together as one mind-moment.

As far as I can tell, this is consistent with Abhidhamma. Realism is just the default view and thus what people are very inclined to “read into” their interpretations. That’s all. That’s my take on it.

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In the Mahayana, which is clearly what influences your position, conventionally mind and matter both exist. Ultimately, neither exist. This is the two truths system they use to ostensibly avoid becoming incoherent. It absolutely confirms objective reality, and realism

Otherwise, what are you typing on? Who are you talking to on this forum? Your imagination? No one? Nothing? If you truly believe that, you’re wasting your time, and any philosophy built on anything but that things exist, at least to some degree, necessarily undercuts itself. If it isn’t real, you have no philosophy, and you wouldn’t bother telling anyone about it.

The Mahayanists saw this, and so acknowledged that there is a second truth, key word here: Truth. And that truth is that conventional reality does exist, it’s just empty. The pure idealists, the early Yogacara, were obliterated by Madhyamaka refutation, and ceased to exist entirely as a separate school for all intents and purposes. They were absorbed by the Madhyamaka.

See Chandrakirti for more Edit: original text paste was clipped, added full quote;

Chandrakirti’s works include the Prasannapadā—Sanskrit for “clear words”—a commentary on Nāgārjuna’s Mūlamadhyamakakārikā and the Madhyamakāvatāra (his supplement to Nagarjuna’s text) and its auto-commentary. The Madhyamakāvatāra is used as the main sourcebook by most of the Tibetan monastic colleges in their studies of śūnyatā “emptiness” and the philosophy of the Madhyamaka school. -Wiki page on Chandrakirti

Some selections from a relevant work translated by C. W. Huntington, Jr. (Vijnanavada is the Yogacara or Mind Only school):

Candrakirti’s Madhyamakavatarabhasya 6.86-97

A Madhyamaka Critique of Vijnanavada Views of Consciousness

C. W. Huntington, Jr.

The word “only” has no capacity to negate the objective component of knowledge (jneya).

“(87)…the Lankavatara sutra substitutes “mind alone” for “mind alone is preeminent in the context of everyday experience.” The meaning of this scripture is not to be understood as a negation of form.”

…When the scripture says “mind alone exists; form does not,” this is taught to deny the importance of form and so forth, not to negate their very existence…

(88) If he intended to deny the existence of objective reality wen he said that [the world] is mind alone, then why would the mahatma declare, in the same text, that mind is produced from delusion (moha) and volitional action (karman)?

What sensible person would look at a passage from this same [Dasabhumikasutra] and imagine that consciousness exists as an independent thing (vastutah)? A notion like this is nothing more than dogmatic opinion. It follows that the expression “mind only” serves only to clarify that mind is the most significant element [in experience] This text should not be understood to assert that there is no objective form (rupa).

(90a-b) Even though objective form does indeed exist, it is not, like mind, an agent

This means that objective form is inert.

(90c-d) Therefore, denying any other agent besides mind is not the same as negating objective form altogether.

Some people take (the Samkhya) idea of “matter” (pradhana) and such things as agent, others believe it is mind, but everyone agrees that objective form is not an agent. To prevent pradhana and so forth from being taken as agent, it is explained that they do not have any such characteristic. Seeing that it has the capacity to serve as agent, one declares that mind alone is the agent, and in doing so one gains the high ground in any debate concerning the agency of pradhana and so forth. It is as if two kings desire power in a single land, and one of the two rivals is expelled while the other assumes control of the country. No matter who wins, the citizens are indispensable and would suffer no harm. So it is here, because objective form is indispensable to both, it suffers no loss. One can certainly maintain that objective form exists. Therefore, continuing in the same manner, the text declares:

(91) Within the context of everyday affairs, all five psychophysical constituents taken for granted in the world do exist. However, none of the five appears to a yogi who pursues illuminating knowledge of reality.

Therefore, seeing as this is so,

(92a-b) If form does not exist, then do not cling to the existence of mind; and if mind exists, then do not cling to the nonexistence of form.

When, for some reason, one does not admit the existence of form, then the existence of both is equally unreasonable and one must admit the nonexistence of mind, as well. And when one admits the existence of mind, then it is necessary to admit the existence of form, for both are conventionally real.

“O Subhuti, objective form is empty of inherent existence.” The same is said concerning the others, including consciousness. This is established both in scripture and through recourse to reason.

(93a-b) You destroy the relationship of the two truths, and even then your “real thing” (vastu) [i.e. mind] is not established, because it has been refuted.

In arguing that consciousness alone exists, without objective form, you destroy the relationship between conventional and ultimate truth as it has been explained. And even when you have destroyed this relationship between the two truths, your absolute reality will not be established. Why not? Once the reality [of form] is denied, your efforts [to establish consciousness] are pointless.

(93c-d) It would be better to hold, in conformity with this relationship, that in reality nothing arises; the arising of things is merely conventional.

(94a-b) Where a scripture declares that there is no external object and that mind (citta) alone appears as various things,

This scripture requires interpretation:

(94c-d) the refutation of form is provisional, directed specifically at those who are overly attached to it.

The meaning of such a text is strictly provisional. There are those who have lost themselves in clinging or anger or pride that is rooted in an extreme attachment to form; such people commit grievous errors and fail to cultivate merit or understanding. It is for these people, who are clinging, that the Blessed One taught “mind alone” even though it is not actually so. He did this in order to destroy the afflictions that are rooted in material form.
But how do you know this scripture is provisional, and not definitive?
Through both textual evidence and reason. The master has said precisely this:

(95a-b) The master has said that this [scripture] is of strictly provisional meaning; reason [as well] dictates it is of provisional meaning.

Not only is this scripture of provisional meaning, but also

(95c-d) This text makes it clear that other scriptures of this type are of provisional meaning.

And if one inquires which scriptures are of “of this type,” there is the following passage from the Sandhinirmocanasutra, explaining the “three natures”-the imaginary, the dependent, and the perfected:

The imaginary is nonexistent, only what is dependent exists.

(96) The Buddhas teach that the subject, or knower (jnatr), may easily be dispensed with once the object of knowledge, or the known (jneya), is no longer present. For this reason they begin by refuting the object of knowledge, for, when it is no longer present, refutation of the subject is already accomplished.


And Jay Garfield on Nagarjuna:

  1. Like a dream, like an illusion, Like a city of Gandharvas, So have arising, abiding, And ceasing been explained. This chapter thus brings the first principal section of Mulamadhyamakakarika to a close, drawing together the threads spun in the earlier chapters to produce a thorough demonstration of the emptiness of the conventional phenomenal world. Having demon- strated the emptiness of conditions and their relations to their effects, change and impermanence, the elements, the aggregates, 56 and characteristics and their bases — in short, of all the fundamental Buddhist categories of analysis and explanation— Nagarjuna has now considered the totality they determine— dependent arising itself and the entire dependently arisen phenomenal world- 56. Sometimes translated as “heaps,” or “collections.” These are the groups of more basic phenomena into which complex phenomena such as persons are decom- posed in analysis. The decomposition is in principle bottomless — bundles of bundles of bundles. . . . See Chapters III and IV. Examination of the Conditioned 177 arguing that dependent arising and what is dependently arisen are themselves empty of inherent existence. This is a deep result. It again presages the doctrine of the emptiness of emptiness that is made explicit in Chapter XXIV, and it develops further the theme explored in Chapter I, namely, that when from the Madhyamika perspective one asserts that a thing is empty or that it is dependently arisen, one is not contrasting their status with the status of some other things that are inherently existent. Nor is one asserting that they are merely dependent on some more fundamental independent thing. Nor is one asserting that instead of having an independent essence things have as their essence dependence or emptiness, either or both of which exist in some other way. Rather, as far as one analyzes, one finds only dependence, relativity, and emptiness, and their dependence, relativity, and emptiness. But this is not to say either that emptiness, dependent arising or conventional phenomena are nonexistent — that they are hallucinations. Indeed it is to say the opposite. For the upshot of this critical analysis is that existence itself must be reconceived. What is said to be “like a dream, like an illusion” is their existence in the mode in which they are ordinarily perceived/conceived — as inherently existent. Inherent existence simply is an incoherent notion . 57 The only sense that “existence” can be given is a conventional, relative sense. And in demonstrating that phenomena have exactly that kind of existence and that dependent arising has exactly that kind of existence, we recover the existence of phenomenal reality in the context of emptiness.

-Jay Garfield, Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way, VII.56

By reason of the cessation of one factor in the twelvefold chain, another successor factor fails to arise. Thus does this entire mass of suffering completely cease.
-MKK 26.12 Commentary by Jay Garfield:

  1. If suffering had an essence,

Its cessation would not exist.

So if an essence is posited,

One denies cessation.

Similarly, the third noble truth is the truth of cessation. But inherently existent things cannot cease. Empty ones can. Nagarjuna’s
analysis thus explains the third truth; the reifier contradicts it.

  1. If the path had an essence,

Cultivation would not be appropriate.

If this path is indeed cultivated,

It cannot have an essence.

  1. If suffering, arising, and
    Ceasing are nonexistent,

By what path could one seek
To obtain the cessation of suffering?

The fourth truth is the truth of the path. Again, the path only
makes sense, and cultivation of the path is only possible, if suffer-
ing is impermanent and alleviable and if the nature of mind is
empty and hence malleable. The path, after all, is a path from
suffering and to awakening. If the former cannot cease and the
latter does not depend on cultivation, the path is nonexistent. But
it is the analysis in terms of emptiness that makes this coherent. An
> analysis on which either the phenomena were inherently existent
> or on which emptiness was and the phenomena were therefore
> nonexistent would make nonsense of the Four Noble Truths.


  1. I don’t say nothing exists. Namarupa exists. That’s all that exists. I can’t deny that the objects of experience exist…I only recognize that they exist as objects of experience. I don’t take the extra and unnecessary step of saying they exist independently, on their own, in a world with other objects. Technically I don’t even deny that they do that either; my position is epistemological rather than metaphysical: there’s no knowledge possible of objects existing in an external world apart from consciousness, as consciousness is the very instrument by which all knowledge is known to us.
  2. In a dream, do you talk to dream characters? It’s just much easier to recognize that dream characters are heaps of the five aggregates…fleeting…not ultimately with substance…than it is in this dream, with its strong sense of memory and self. It’s not that it’s a waste, it’s just that I see myself and people in that way. When in a dream, you talk to dream characters. When in this place, you talk to these characters.
  3. I’m typing on namarupa and talking to namarupa. The form of a keyboard, the form of letters on a screen that I form, using perception, into a coherent linguistic understanding. Form =/= physical object. The idea of physical object is superfluous and adds nothing of understanding, except perhaps with the heuristic of object permanence we learn as a child.

I’ll read and respond to your quotes on Chandrakirti and Nagarjuna in a bit. I’m still at work! I’m open to my views falling under any label; I just don’t like how the Mahayana practices or claims that their sutras are from the historical Buddha when clearly they’re later additions. I’d be disappointed if that’s an accurate label for what I see, but I won’t reject it if it is.

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You lean very skeptical on all of these issues, but then affirm the reality, and validity, of consciousness, even if by accident. You imply consciousness is real, and reliable. If it weren’t you’d have no reason to say “there’s no knowledge possible of objects existing in an external world apart from consciousness, consciousness is the very instrument by which all knowledge is known to us.” And etc. This confirms that consciousness is and/or does impart knowledge. This is a very Advaita Vedanta/Yogacara type view. It is not tenable. Either mind and matter exist, or neither exist. Chandrakirti demonstrated this in the quotes above, and it becomes clear when we notice that the word mind has no meaning apart from matter, and vice versa, and many other issues that make this incoherent.

That said, if you truly feel that your consciousness has any reality or validity, please keep in mind that this then means you should be able to use that consciousness to do the Classical Theravada practices that allow you to become an arahant and see the objective world that underlies your conceptual world of pannatti that you currently experience. You will then confirm the objective reality that makes up the world. That, or you should be able to percieve some other valid, real perception. If this is impossible, then consciousness is not reliable at all.

If you say consciousness cannot be trusted in these ways, you undercut the validity, reality and reliability of your own consciousness, and, since the only thing you acknowledge is your own consciousness, and it would then be invalid, you must retreat to Ajnana style skepticism.

In other words, if consciousness is real, then so is perception, and percieved objects. There is no way to confirm that mind consciousness is real, and somehow vision consciousness is unreliable. Thinking is just a sense. We cannot truly say “My thoughts are real, I know, but I don’t know about what I see.” We cannot say one sense is real and the others fake. A thought is just as real as a sight, just as verifiable. Your own mind could be a mere illusion, and everything else could be real. Or vice versa. Picking one over the other is untenable.

So, either mind, and all the senses are real, including their perceptions, or you’ve no position at all.

Further, dreams only make sense when held up to the comparison of real life. Without real life, the word dream is meaningless. Thus, you acknowledge more than just your own consciousness, and invalidate your position. And, even then, to answer your question, when I realize I’m dreaming, no, I don’t talk to dream characters like I talk to real people. If I realized I was dreaming while typing some boring (compared to exciting dreams) message like this, or having a conversation, I’d drop it and go fly around and have fun. In real life, I cannot fly.

Edit: This reminds me, I once had a dream I was trying to convince other dream characters that I was dreaming lol! Spent the dream trying to fly for a group of people, but kept just going like 20 feet up and coming back down. For some reason they were unconvinced. I woke up thinking that was asinine and a waste of a good dream lol!

Another time I gave a coworker a slip of paper with the words written on it with magical letters: “This is a dream.” And challenged her: “if this isn’t a dream, prove it by giving me this on monday!” Totally forgot about the dream over the weekend. Saw the coworker on monday and remembered. I said, “Do you have something for me?” She looked at me like I had four eyes lol! Another wasted dream spent trying to convince people that don’t exist that they don’t exist! Quite ridiculous. The same issue applies to believing no one is real. I wouldn’t waste time trying to convince them, it would be irrational.