Thursday, July 19, 2012

Models and Embodiment in Buddha Dharma

 Justin Whitaker has posted a blog Imposing (and Uncovering) Models on Buddhism  on July 16 that raises some interesting questions about models and embodiment.  The context is about how some people think we are imposing Western models onto Buddha Dharma in the process of the transplantation and acculturation of the Buddha Dharma to the West. Whiaker points out the question of models is fundamental to our ability to understand reality and how we view the most basic issues such as our body and our embodiment in reality. He also raises a question about whether the idea of rebirth is based on a model constructed by observations of seasons. Of course that question itself is based on a Western model of analysis.

Here's my initial response.

Well, I imagine that the very idea that the "Four Noble Truths" might be a "model" is very controversial among some Buddhists, whom I would call "fundamentalist" in their view of this question.  One of the essential points of the Mahayana Ekayana (Great Vehicle One Vehicle) view of Buddha Dharma is that all verbal teachings are at best only models and as such are skillful expedient means of teaching Buddha Dharma and as expedient means they are not to be mistaken for Buddha Dharma itself.

As for rebirth, I think it is an intellectual error by the so-called "trusted scholars" to reify it into some kind of seasonal origination.  The notion of rebirth comes from the actual psychic experiences of meditators, mystics, and shamans. To discount this as if rebirth is just a philosophical deduction from observing seasons is a bias imposed by the model of Western materialism.  If a person has not experienced past life recall, then there is no basis for another person to speculate as to how that recall is experienced.  That is, rebirth is not based on any kind of objective study or observation of nature and extrapolating that into a model, but is based on memory itself, the memory of past lives that arise in the deepest meditation and most profound mystic experiences. 

Scholars are notoriously stupid when it comes to understanding transmundane, transcendental, or depth experiences. It would be far more fruitful to look at the archetypal psychology of Carl Jung (including his diary of his own depth experiences in the recently published Red Book) to understand the origins of rebirth as arising from the psychic field and not from such things as objective considerations of the seasons.

I agree wholeheartedly (which is a word-model worth exploring) that the question of embodiment is essential to the Buddha Dharma.   The body-map or body-model that we construct in our consciousness is essential to out illusion of self-image.  We can see this starkly evident in what is known as the "phantom limb syndrome."  Even whn a limb is lost we can still believe it is there and still "feel" it. This shows us that the embodied nature of our lived experience is very largely constructed by our body mapping and that what goes for our body mapping equally goes for our world mapping.  The construction of our body-view and our world-view together make up the construction of our self-image and our delusional belief in the model of a separate self. 

Meditation is an effective way to melt the constructed body-view of our self-image that is embodied as our body-map.  It is sometimes said that the body contains or stores memories, but from the other view it is memories that construct and store the body.  The True Body is the body that is not determined by "inside and outside," "self and other," etc. Buddha taught that the True Body is "pure" because it is not affected or contained by the mundane notions of "purity and impurity."   That is, we don't "become pure" by cleansing the mind of its defilements, the True Body is inherently pure because it is not stained by dualistic concepts like purity and impurity. 

So "cleansing the mind of defilements" means seeing through the mind's constructtion of models that are based on the inherent dualistic or polarizing structure of consciousness.  We are able to have a world view, a body map, and a self image, that is any and every kind of model, exactly because of the polarizing function of consciousness that constructs the model out of the oppositions of the mind's sensations, perceptions and mental formations.  Cleansing the mind of defilements doesn't mean becoming pure without impurity, but in seeing that there is no model of purity that does not necessarily rely on impurity for its construction.

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