APPENDIX I: BUDDHIST ONTOLOGY
By Way of an Introduction
The following brief summary of Buddhist cosmogony is not appended to this introduction because its thirty-three states of consciousness can be mapped directly onto any “temple mountain.” Instead, it is intended to describe the parallel spatial metaphors both Hinduism and Buddhism employ to visualize these different ontological levels. In geographic form, these include the four continents (only one inhabited by humans,) six mountain ranges, seven oceans, the slopes of Mt. Meru, the home of the gods at its summit and the more aetherial realms which hover above it. In architecture, these might be thought of as corresponding with the temple’s enclosures and gopuras, its jagati, platform or stereobate, then its pitha or adhisthana, its base and its moldings, jangha or walls, varandika, cornice, and the tiers, talas, pidas or bhumis, (which means “earths”) of its shikhara, vimana or tower and, finally, its finial, its amalaka, kalasha or stupi. The body is perhaps the most obvious metaphor, the earthbound feet, mobile thighs and shoulders, the janghas and urushringas, the mind, its shikhara, and its “subtle” body or dharmakaya, the inconceivable or acintya “truth body” with the dis-embodied, “formless” states implicit above its peak. Hinduism and Buddhism are religions of endless echoes from the primal Om, a trait they share with medieval Scholasticism’s "Great Chain of Being." The path of any aspiring arhat or sadhu (Hindu) siddha or bodhisattva (Buddhist) consists precisely in climbing through each of these meticulously delineated planes of consciousness and emptying himself of each (Gr.> kenosis) until the mind is extinguished, Buddhist nirvana, or released, Hindu moksha. The paradoxical implications of expressing this erasure of form and shrinking dimensions for architecture have been touched on in the commentary in the introduction accompanying the two most ambitious Buddhist monuments at Angkor, Preah Khan and the Bayon, see sections XIII and XIV, for which this appendix provides background.
If nothing else, Buddhist cosmology is one of the most audacious ventures into speculative fiction, if not philosophy, ever attempted. It doesn’t hesitate to give authoritative, detailed descriptions of more than thirty mental “worlds” which by its own admission, no human could experience. Its ontology is inventive and intriguing in direct proportion to its implausibility, the same grounds used by the early Christian church father, Tertullian, to prove the equally dubious Resurrection: certum est, quia impossibile, "It is credible because impossible.” In other words, since God alone could do the impossible, only he could resurrect his son, and therefore the impossible was not only possible but inevitable; thus, faith can “move mountains." Credulity seems a fair exchange for believing in the impossible, for having faith in an a priori unsusceptible to a posteriori verification. Since in Buddhism the world and consciousness are illusions, demanding evidence of any truth is ipso facto proof of samsaric entanglement and “defilement.” (The relation of Buddhism to Western philosophy is briefly noted at the end of this section.)
Cosmogony, Ontology, Epistemology, Psychology
The rigorous anti-dualism (advaita) of many schools of Hinduism and Buddhism denies the dichotomies between sign and signified, subject and object, thinker and thought, with the result that its cosmology, ontology and epistemology are ultimately psychological and idealist in the extended sense of any mental phenomenon. (A note situating Hindu and Buddhist ontology in a wider philosophical and theological context follows the summary of each of the thrity-one/ thirty-three levels of consciousness below.) Thus ontology, the modes of being, are simultaneously, states of consciousness, each constituting a world or lokya within a larger realm, class or dhatu. These do not occupy geographic, three-dimensional space, since space, as Kant and the Upanashads agree is a "transcendental category," that is, an a priori of the mind. Worlds exist only in and as the minds of the beings “born into them” at any given time, as a consequence of their previous actions or karma. They are, nonetheless, visualized, in a metaphor borrowed from Hinduism, as layers of psychic experience stacked hierarchically around and above Mt. Meru, traditional home of the Vedic gods. Buddhism regards itself as an expansion, advance or subsequent revelation to Hinduism, so its atheism conceives the Vedic gods, as merely higher states of consciousness than the human, though still mired in desire and hence the endless cycles of samsaric death and reincarnation. Hence, they still reside on the terrestrial plane, though at its empyrean, the summit of Mt. Meru, where they occupy the highest worlds within this lowest realm, 1) the Kamadhatu, the "desire realm" of cataleptic, externally-dependent pleasures which therefore cannot last. (This demotion of the Hindu deities accounts for the asynchronicity between Hindu and Buddhist temporalities.) Above this mountain's summit are two higher dhatus of consciousness, 2) the Rupadhatu or “form realm” of beings who no longer look for delight outside themselves but still have selves and occupy, if not bodies, discrete spatial territories. Over these, at the place space ceases, is 3) the Arupadhatu or “formless realm,” states of consciousness where the dichotomy of self and other no longer exists and consciousness dissolves.
As one might expect, the exact number of "realms of being" and "states of consciousness" varies depending on sect and tradition, hovering between thirty and thirty-six. The discrepancies arise from the number of Rupadhatus or "form worlds," hardly surprising since no human has ever occupied any of them, consigned as they are to the 30th level, with only animals, “hungry ghost” and the damned in less enlightened states. The Theravada count sixteen Rupadhatus; the Mahayana seventeen to twenty-two; the Vajrayana keep it a secret. Although thirty-one is the most common reckoning, the present summary, in the interest of completeness, includes thirty-three – four Arupdhatus, eighteen Rupadhatus, ten Kamadhatus and one for the Narakas, the hells or purgatories. This is on the ground that perdition is a pre-requisite for any self-respecting religion, as demonstrated by the ghoulish glee with which the Narakas' torments are depicted on the southern range of Angkor Wat's 1st gallery. They are every bit as sadistically inventive as the spiteful Dante, whose journey mapped similarly speculative misanthropy.. It should come as no surprise then that each of the Commedia's three parts also consists of thirty-three cantos. Thirty-three as the number of "realms of being" can also be supported on purely numerological grounds which Buddhism, as much as medieval Scholasticism, would find definitive. As they say, it is "no coincidence" that the number of the original Aryan or Vedic gods was thirty-three or that in Indic numerology three denotes perfection because it transcends dualism or dvaita by a proto-Hegelian, tri-partite dialectic. Thirty-three divides into 100 three times, leaving the all-important remainder of one - primal unity. In Hindu astrology, three is the number assigned to the planet Jupiter, cognate with Sans. > dives pitar, the “god father” or "father of the gods," as well as their “guru” or “great teacher.” Thirty-three is, of course, privileged in other religions, notably Christianity where it is the "Christological number," Christ’s age at the time of his death, while three is also the number of hypostases or “persons” of the Triune Christian God and Hindu Trimurti.
The following list makes no pretense to be more than a simplified or simplistic summary of the Wikipedia entry under “Buddhist Cosmology,” itself a digest of passages from various sutras and vinyahas; while the article claims there are thirty-one "states of consciousness," it lists thirty-two with no apparent concern. The present enumeration deviates from that, as already mentioned, by the inclusion of the Narakas or hells, since they are defined as "states of unmitigated suffering without any equanimity" and one can hardly suffer, if not conscious. Buddha himself described life as "suffering and loss," so one would assume it was the most familiar human emotional state, indeed perhaps life itself is hell and was omitted only out of tact, an oversight rectified below. The reader must remain cognizant that all these states, even the most rarefied and resolute in renouncing spurious mental pleasure, are forms of maya because as "states of consciousness" they cling to that ultimate illusion - awareness - and have not yet succeeded in extinguishing the last flicker of sentient being, thereby entering the bliss of nirvana, literally mindlessness.
The Three Worlds, Trailokyas or Tridhatus
Tthe thirty-three - or thirty-one - levels of consciousness are traditionally grouped into three realms, the trailokyas or tridhatus:
I. Arupadhatu – the four "formless realms" corresponding with the four formless dhyanas (5 - 8 in the list below)
II. Rupadhatu – the eighteen "form realms" subdivided into five "pure abodes" and four groups each with three sub-categories, corresponding with the four form dhyanas (1 - 4 in the list below.)
III. Kamadhatu – the ten "desire realms," corresponding with states which have mastered none of the eight dhyanas; the eighth lowest Kamadhatu. Manussaloka, is reserved for four species of humans of which homo sapiens is one.
(The Narakas, the hells or purgatories, subdivided into five cold and eight hot hells, are not usually accorded the dignity of a mental state, but are listed here as number 33 for numerological consistency.)
THE EIGHT DHYANAS
The four “formless” and four “form” dhyanas are also referred to as "absorptions” because their occupants have attained that conscious state so securely, they can never slip into a lower one. Together they constitute the objectives of Hindu, Buddhist and Jain meditative practices or sadhanas and are listed here in ascending order from the least to greatest level of mental equanimity, equated with inactivity.
The Four Form Dhyanas
1. The state of “unified bliss,” the absence of the “five hindrances” to bliss: animosity, sloth, anxiety, doubt and
2. The state of “mental inactivity,” the absence of intention
3. The state of “the half of bliss,” the absence of joy
4. The state of “no bliss” or “no taste,” the absence of joy and pain and hence loss or gain; equanimity
The Four Formless Dhyanas
5. The dimension of the “perception of infinite space” without dimensions
6. The dimension of the “perception of infinite consciousness” without sense of place or space
7. The dimension of the “perception of emptiness” or “sunyata,” the renunciation of all mental qualia, attributes
8. The dimension of non-perception where no qualities or attributes remain to be renounced
The Thirty-Three (or Thirty-One) Levels of Consciousness
I. The Arupadhatu, Arupa Bhumi or Arupachara Brahmalokyas:
The Immaterial/ Formless Brahma Realms
Its inhabitants are beings who have attained in their previous lives the “four formless absorption” or “arupadhyanas” and the four “formless absorptions,” “rupadhyanas.” They have neither physical shape, location, dimension, territoriality nor attributes; as a consequence neither do these Arupadhatus.
1. Naivasamjnanasamjnayatana – the “sphere of neither perception nor non-perception,” beyond even the negation of perception or Akimcanyayatana, without the recognition of particulars or attributes; a liminal state neither conscious nor unconscious; conscious of nothing (but perhaps itself.) These “entities” have the longest lifespan of any “mode of being,” 84,000 mahakalpas of 311,400,000,000,000 solar years each and their realm is the highest, 90,280,000 miles (approximately) above the “sphere of nothingness” or Akimcayayatana (see below.) This “data” will not be supplied for the lower states; suffice it say, the lifespans contract and their height above sea level decreases.
2. Akimcanyayatana – “the sphere of perceiving nothingness,” of dwelling in the thought “there is nothing,” "the awareness of emptiness" or sunyata; nonetheless, a subtle form of perception since it negates the idea of there being a thing and hence is still the perception of an absence.
3. Vijnananantyayatana – “the sphere of infinite consciousness,” of contemplating one’s own consciousness as infinitely pervasive or pervaded.
4. Akasanantyayatana – “the sphere of infinite space,” dwelling on the idea of space as infinitely extensive, akasa, open and unobstructed, while maintaining the dualism between their consciousness and the space outside it.
II. The Rupadhatu, Rupa Bhumi or Rupalokyas: The Form Realms
The eighteen worlds of the Rupadhatu are the first planes to have a physical being (dimension, extent, territoriality.) Their inhabitants occupy space, have gendered “subtle bodies” which form defined nodes within the pervasive force field of "Buddha consciousness." They have no desire for external or cataleptic pleasure finding delight in their own being or essence. They include the Five Pure Abodes of the Suddahvasa devas, "brahmas" or gods which will not be destroyed in the cycles of natural disaster which end all other worlds, including the four Rupadhatu beneath them which correspond with each of the four, lower or ”form" dhyanas (“absorptions,”) whose gradual purgation is the purpose of the meditative sadhanas listed above. The lower three will be destroyed by one or more of the three elements – fire, water and wind. (Since “earth” is the receptacle for these devastations, it is not included as a mode of destruction, just the trash.)
A. The Pure or Suddhavasa Abodes
The five Pure or Suddhavasa Abodes are inhabited by beings who have not been born into this level through “merit,” that is by living virtuous lives, the Theravada Buddhist path, or through meditative attainments or the dhyanas, the Mahayana path, during previous incarnations, but solely from receiving dharma or knowledge directly from a Buddha during his and their lifetimes. They will reach enlightenment, satori or arhat-hood directly from the Suddhavasa Abodes without another samsaric cycle of reincarnation; hence, they are known as anagamis or “non-returners;” unlike the beings in the twenty-four worlds beneath them, they will survive the cyclical destructions of the physical world by wind, water and fire. Since a bodhisattva must be reincarnated to fulfill his vow of enlightening humanity, none are born in the Arupadhatu or the Suddhavasa Abodes because none are anagamis.
5. Akanistha – “the world of devas equal in rank,” peerless and ageless. This realm is the highest point in the physical universe, 2,684,353,560 miles, erroneously calculated by the Indians to be the distance from the earth to Saturn, the most distant planet known to them. Mahasiva (Shiva,) the “Lord of the Samsaric Realms, is said to dwell here.
6. Sudarsana – “the world of the clear-seeing devas,” at a distance from earth corresponding with Jupiter.
7. Surdsa – “the world of the beautiful devas,” the place of rebirth for the five categories of anagamis or non-returners.
8. Atapa – “the world of the untroubled devas,” Sans.> atapa, lacking heat and passion, whose company those in the lower worlds desire.
9. Avrah – “the world of the not-falling devas” or of “those who stream upward,” anagamis who become arhats directly, who can never return in lower states, only ascend to the higher worlds of the Pure Abodes; Avrah is located approximately the distance of Mars from the earth.
B. The Brhatphala Worlds or Worlds of the Fruitful Gods
The four Brhatphala Worlds or Worlds of the Fruitful Gods are inhabited by beings whose mental states correspond with the upper four of the eight dhyanas listed above, characterized by equanimity, by neither pleasure or joy, by "no taste" (and “no fun.") Their worlds form the upper limit of the destruction of the physical universe, that is, they are spared destruction by wind at the end of each mahakalpa.
10. Asanasatta – the”world of unconscious beings” or devas who have achieved the ”formless state” or Arupadhatu of the dhyana of non-perception or Naivasamjnanasamjnayatana (see above,) without objectification or duality, but are unable to sustain it, whereupon they fall into a lower state and are destroyed. This state is apparently sometimes mistaken for an Arupadhatu.
11. Brahtphala – the “world of devas bearing great fruit;” some anagamis (“non-returners”) are born here.
12. Punyaprasava – the “world of devas who are the offspring of merit” accumulated in previous incarnations, peopled by a disproportionate number of Theravada Buddhists who have endowed pagodas at Bagan.
13. Anabhraka – the "world of the cloudless or unclouded devas.” (This anomalous fourth world is sometimes not included and then the Narakas or Hells would form the 33rd level of consciousness.
C. The Subhakrtsna Worlds or Worlds of the Beautiful Gods
The three Subhakrtsna Worlds or Worlds of the Beautiful Gods are inhabited by beings whose mental states correspond with the third dhyana on the list above, the state of sukra or “quiet joy.” Their bodies radiate a steady light, without peaks or troughs, since true beauty is changeless. These worlds will be destroyed by wind but the water of the diluvian flood will not rise high enough to damp them.
14. Subhakrtsna – the “world of the devas of total beauty.”
15. Apramanasubha – the “world of the devas of limitless beauty,” possessing faith, virtue, learning, generosity and wisdom.
16. Parittasubha – the world of “devas of limited beauty.”
D. The Abhasvara Worlds
The three Abhasvara Worlds are inhabited by beings whose mental states correspond with the second dhyana, “lack of intention or desire.” They experience spontaneous self-delight or priti combined with shukra or joy, unreflective or mediated. In contrast with beings in the more evolved Subhakrtsna Worlds, their bodies emit pulses rather than a steady light and they shout out, “Oh, Joy!,” rather than “quiet joy.” Their joy is ephemeral and fluctuating not continuous. Their worlds will be destroyed by wind and water but not the column of fire.
17. Abhasvara – the “world of devas possessing splendor.”
18. Apramanabha – the “world of devas possessing limitless light” on which they meditate.
19. Parittabha – the “world of devas possessing limited light.”
E. The Brahma Worlds
The three Brahma Worlds are inhabited by beings whose mental states correspond with the first dhyana, characterized by vitarka, observation, and vicara, reflection, as well as, priti ,delight, and shukra, joy. They therefore conceptualize and construct perceptions mediated by their consciousness or subjectivity. Since the purpose of the eight dhyanas is the cessation of all mental activity, the more mental activities one has, the lower one’s spiritual development (so much for genius.) Their worlds will be destroyed by wind, water and fire.
20. Mahabrahma – the “world of the great god, Brahma,” the Vedic creator of the physical universe, who in Buddhist cosmology fell from the Abhasvara worlds (above) and was reborn without memory of his prior existence; therefore , he egotistically believes himself to be self-created and the universe to be his own creation; a form of hubris. The Mosaic God would fall into this category, one presumes. Thus, even the creator of the universe in Hinduism, is flawed and placed among the lowest order of the Rupadhatu because he clings to the illusion of himself as “independently” not “dependently-originated” and therefore not an illusion. At the same time, Brahma is the Vedic god who, unlike Shiva and Vishnu, immediately acknowledged the superiority of the Buddha’s dharma and asked to be his servant and, hence, is represented in some Buddhist temples, for example, the Nanpaya Temple at Bagan.
21. Brahmapurohita – the “world of the ministers of Brahma,” whom he created after spending time alone and felt the need for companionship; he believes himself to be their creator though they are just his mental projections and they therefore believe him to be their creator.
22. Brahmaparisadya – the “world of the councilors of Brahma;” they similarly derive from Brahma’s self-division, in this case the need for council or conceptualized thought, mental constructs he perceives as having an independent existence like ideas, rather than experiencing them without subject/ object dichotomy as his "thusness."
III. The Kamadhatu: The Desire Realm.
The inhabitants of this realm are still under the domination of the demon Mara, that is, they still grasp for the illusion of a self and ephemeral, external pleasures which can only bring them suffering, except for Buddhas, anagamis and arhats, enlightened beings born into these worlds. The denizens of the Kamadhatu have achieved none of the eight dhyanas listed above. This realm is subdivided into three types of worlds, the Four Heavens above Mt. Meru or Mt. Sumeru’s summit; the three Worlds of Mt. Meru, its slopes and the solar system circling around it, a world of demons, daimons and the Vedic gods; and finally the four Earthly Worlds spreading out around that mountain’s base, across the seven mountain chains and oceans to the continents beyond, the worlds of humans and other sentient beings, beneath which are the thirteen Narakas or Hells
A. The Four Heavens
The previous 22 bhumis or levels exist vast distances above the summit of Mt. Meru; these “four heavens” are beneath them but still higher than the mountain and form bounded not infinitely extensive planes; they are equivalent to the space of the solar system.
23. Parinirmita-vasavartin – “the heaven of devas with power over the creations of others;” unlike beings in the Rupadhatu, they are unable to create forms which will bring them pleasure but must depend on others who wish to win their favor to bring these to them, hence cataleptic or externally generated pleasures; consequently, they are the art patrons of Buddhist cosmology. This is the home of the devaputra, the “divine demon,” Mara, who uses the desire for beauty to keep others prisoners in the Kamadhatu; he bears comparison with the fallen angel, Lucifer or Satan perpetually proffering the poisoned apple of worldly pleasure and the power of knowledge to humans. This shares Platonic idealism’s (and Deleuze’s deconstruction’s) rather literal minded distrust of art as “deception.”
24. Nirmanarati – “the heaven of the devas delighting in their own creations,” who can project appearances, maya, which please them but ensnare them in their own "alienated" or "objectified" creations, “escaped epipsychies;” as a result, they cannot take pleasure in themselves like the self-delighting devas of the Rupadhatu. The analogy here might be with Marx’s concept of the fetishized commodity which is alienated from its maker who then confronts it as an other, seeing it as “independently-orginated.” This realm is ruled by Sunirmita, whose wife was leader of the female lay devotees of the Buddha.
25. Tusita – “the heaven of the joyful devas,” where bodhisattvas live prior to being reborn as future Buddhas. Until his rebirth as Prince Siddhartha Gautama, the future Buddha resided here; after his enlightenment, the historical Buddha Sakyamuni, revisited this heaven to teach dharma to future bodhisattvas, including his mother who had died in childbirth. His ascent and descent from this heaven on a bridge of jewels is a frequent topos of Buddhist art. Since Buddha's lifetime, the bodhisattva, Natha, has resided there; he will be reincarnated as Ajita, an Aryan noble like Buddha Sakyamuni, and become Maitreya, the Buddha of the Future. He will teach his followers to live without possessions and to engage in “trance meditation.” Vajrayana Buddhism seems to anticipate him in abandoning aspects of Buddha Sakyamuni’s “middle way” which made peace with the world as it is. A frequent wish expressed in dedications on Buddhist temples is for the donor to be reincarnated during Maitreya's lifetime, to provide him a direct path to nirvana, cf. II. A The Suddhavasa World above.
26. Yama – “the heaven without fighting,” the lowest heaven, so called because it is still free of the conflicts of the worlds beneath it. It shares the name of the Vedic god of judgment and death, so this may be the “peace” in which the dead rest or the heaven where the souls of the blessed or “happy ghosts” abide until their reincarnation. Hence it would be equivalent to the classical limbo or the Elysian Fields.
B. The World of Mt. Meru or Sumeru
These three worlds are surrounded by mountain ranges divided by seas with an ocean beyond into which four continents project on one of which humans live. The mountain’s summit is circled by the solar system.
27. Trayastrimsa – “the world of the thirty-three devas” is a flat garden or Paradise on Mt. Meru’s summit, filled with the palaces of the Vedic gods, led by Sakro, a form of Indra, equivalent to Zeus in Greek mythology. He is attended by various supernatural beings such as apsaras, wind nymphs, Gr. aurai, celestial musicians akin to angels. Its denizens are by some accounts 1500’ tall and live for 36,000,000 years and, like Mt. Meru, is between 640 and 720 miles above sea level. It could be thought of as the shikhara of the world, analogous to Olympus or Valhalla.
28. Caturmaharajikakayika – “the world of the four guardian kings,” the directional deities whose effigies are found at Hindu and Buddhist temples and who also live on Mt Meru’s slopes and protect it from the threat of the asuras or demons always threatening to storm its bastions. As in also cosmological areas, there is room for disagreement of lack of clarity; technically, there are ten directions and guardians (see appendix V.) They include the devas responsible for the motion of the planets, as well as their retinues of khumbhandas, dwarfs, gandharvas elves, yakshas, goblins, and nagas, serpents or dragons.
29. Asuras – “the world of the demons” lies at the mountain’s base which extends to the floor of the ocean. This was not their original home; they were hurled here from the Trayastrimsa world (27, above) for their uncouth licentiousness and inebriation, like Satan’s host in the Bible or the giants in Greek mythology. They continually try to scale Mt. Meru and “regain Paradise” but are always repulsed by the Guardian Kings.
C. The Earthly Worlds
30. Manussaloka – (finally…) “the world of humans” who live on the surface of the earth beyond the rings of mountains in the furthest ocean on four continents, so distant from each other they can’t be reached by any vessel which accounts for why no one has ever seen an example of a human from the other three. These include: a) Jambudvipa, the world in which we live, shaped like a triangle its apex pointing south, (not coincidentally the shape of the Indian subcontinent.) Its people are five to six feet tall and live from 10 to 140 years; b) Purvavideha, in the east, shaped like a semi-circle, populated by 12’ tall giants who live 700 years; they engage in trade; c) Aparagodaniya, in the west, shaped like a circle; its inhabitants live in a state of nature, sleep on the ground, do no work, are also 12’ and live for 500 years; (indolence, apparently, is good for the health;) d) Uttarukuru, in the north, shaped like a square, whose inhabitants live in cities in the air, are wealthy and don’t work because food grows without effort, as in the pre-Lapsarian Garden of Eden; therefore they have no private property; the Vedic god of wealth, Kubera, (or by some accounts Vaisravana,) is lord of this realm. Its citizens are 48' tall and live 1000 years.
31. Tiryagyoni-loka – “the world of all animals capable of suffering.”
32. Pretaloka – “the world of the hungry ghosts,” found mostly in deserts and wastelands.
33. The Narakas – the “hells” or purgatories,” usually not included as a level of consciousness, though defined as “unmitigated suffering.” There are thirteen hells, described in section IV below, They are included here as a single state of agony but are not usually included among the thirty plus states of consciousness.
IV. The Narakas, Hells or Purgatory
What would a religion be without its hells? Buddhism and Hinduism have “thirteen,” five “cold” and eight “hot. As in the other realms, people are born into the hells as a result of their karma, in this case very bad karma. Unlike the Christian hell, however, its inmates are condemned to reside there not for eternity - only a fixed sentence, for example, 339,738,624 x 10 10 years; (another place where "sentence reduction" would seem urgently needed.) After release or parole, they must start again the slow ascent up Mt. Meru and beyond toward nirvana where they will be released from the suffering of being conscious – indeed, of being at all; thus the Narakas are sometimes translated as “Purgatory.” It includes the hells of “chattering teeth,” “burst blisters,””crushing” and “freezing,” to name a few.
Epistemology Against Itself: The Critique of Consciousness
(The following paragraphs are a naive observer’s attempt to suggest parallels between the Buddhist cosmology outlined above and trends in Western theology and, more generally, the tradition of “philosophical idealism,” and to place them within the skeptical or “constructivist” critique of both.)
Most religions, even an ostensibly atheistic one like Buddhism, regard all forms of being as epiphenomenon of a metaphysical (Gr.> meta- beyond + phusis nature) or "transcendental" (non-material) “ground-of-being” or absolute, an a priori given, and, as such, an “idea,” unverifiable by a posteriori observation accessible only through intuition or revelation. All faiths are by definition blind and “idealist,” (in the extended philosophical sense of that term, encompassing any mental experience cognition perception, emotion, etc.) For example, in the Bible, the “all-creating Word,” speaks reality, the signifier precedes or posits the signified; in Islam, the Qu’ran is believed to have pre-existed creation; medieval scholasticism held that the “book of nature” was God’s jottings during the first six days, in which the mind of the Creator could be read. Similarly, in Hinduism the primal syllable, the Om or A-U-M, enunciated a universe, indeed, a great trichilocosm (a “third order universe” of 1000 x 1000 x1 000 universes.)
In Plato’s “Myth of the Cave,” the dank locus classicus of philosophical idealism, phenomena, perceived and (mis)taken as real, are merely the distorted shadows cast by the eternal Ideas or Forms, luminous noumena which exist independently of anyone actually thinking them. For Aristotle, the entelechy or general type (tautologically defined as “that which a thing is becoming,”) exists albeit realized only its deformed particulars. (A contrasting example of a materialist worldview might be offered by contemporary neurophysiology which regards ideas, again in the extended philosophical sense of all conscious experiences, as epiphenomena correlated with, though not the same as, chemical reactions and electrical discharges.) Indeed, science delegitimized classical and medieval idealism by proving the earth was not the center of a theocentric universe; this “Copernican turn” or Kehr precipitated the so-called “Crisis of Modernity,” a crisis no longer modern but still a crisis for some
Kant (1724 -1804) made a heroic, rear-guard effort to stave off such scientific claims to speak about ultimate realities as invading the proper domain of theology and philosophy, by showing that a posteriori data or empirical oevidence were inevitably perceived and conceptualized in "transcendental," that is a priori, mental “aesthetic and analytic” categories, e.g. space, time, multiplicity, cause, etc. Therefore, science could not have knowledge of the Ding-an-Sich, "things-in-themselves," which, of necessity, had to be anterior to the mind becoming conscious of them (making them conscious.) He thus attempted to undermine scientific skepticism about the existence of an deus absconditus, an apophatic deity with a counter-skepticism about science's ability to observe one. In so doing, however, Kant psychologized religious belief into a matter of “opinion,” divine revelation, even wishful thinking.
Like most idealists (not-exempting todays’ “deconstructionists and “critical cultural theorists,”) he critiqued everything but his own taken-for-granted a priori: that “reality” consisted of discrete things with their own independent essences or character, ignoring that the mind first designated them as “things.” This assumption is the basis for all object-ification, naturalization and reification (literally, “thing-ification,”) that is, making an idea into an entity with an existence prior to its thought. (Again, an alternative view might be analogous to the current model of an “expanding universe,” as a oozing, “entangled’ energy field or wave function becoming more entropic (less tightly organized or coherent at an accelerating rate.) Hegel (1770 -1831) recognized Kant’s oversight and solved it audaciously, if unconvincingly, by positing that an Absolute Idea or Logic, like Plato’s Nous or the Scholastics’ prolific author was the ultimate reality, engaged in a dynamic dialectical process, manifested as world history, which was on its way to an ultimate synthesis, an Absolute Idea so inclusive it could not be negated.
Heidegger (1889-1976,) realized that Kant's argument applied a fortiori to the revelations and speculations of metaphysicians; therefore Plato's Ideas, Kant's “things-in-themselves,” as much as scientific hypotheses, all had a merely "ontic" or "mind-created" (Buddhists would say “dependently-originated) existence as psychological inventions or phantoms. He, in contrast, claimed to have discovered the human ontological given, the pre-conscious, pre-cultural, “primordial,” essence of “mode-of-being,” a troglodyte he named Dasein, Ger.> being-here or being-there, ultimately, "being-towards-the-world" and "being-towards-time," (leading ineluctably to "being-towards-death” or Angst, he declared was a pre-condition for all "authentic" experience.) Heidegger believed he had fortuitously stumbled on this instinctive creature, neither “sicklied over by the pale cast of thought,” nor emasculated by modern technology, nor “deracinated” by “cosmopolitan” modern humanism and universalism, close to where the first Neanderthal had been found and where he taught - a blond "beast slouching (or goose-stepping ) towards (Nuremberg) to be born.” This invention turned into a Frankenstein monster and considerable embarrassment for him - but not contrition; one might forgive Heidegger for confusing the two, but not for his enthusiasm for either. Nonetheless, he inadvertently provided a concise refutation of his ontology when he defined Dasein as, “that being for whom its being is a question.” This is generally interpreted as referring to humans’ knowledge of their ultimate “non-being,” mortality and Angst or their “given-ness,” “thrown” into existence willy nilly. But his definition could also be read as: “that being who lacks an intrinsic being or essence, and therefore must invent its own nature and plan its own development; in other words, that being whose ontological nature was to be “ontic” or mind-created because it only experienced consciousness.
The Via Negativa: In Pursuit of Mindlessness
Like Western idealisms, the Hindu Upanishads and Buddhist sutras also held that the "world" we perceive, quotidian reality, was “mind-created” or “dependently-originated,” their term for "ontic.” Thus, phenomena had only an “attributed being” and consisted only of “attributes” the mind attributed to them, similar to Locke’s associationism or Kant's "transcendental categories.” The aggregates or skandhas lumped random stimuli into coherent “things” and a single perception (and perceiver) of “reality,” (cf. Kant's "transcendental unity of apperception,”) which the mind assumed were "independently-originated" or "unarisen” “things-in-themselves,” when, in fact, they were not “real”, only reified or made-real by the mind. These epistemologists concluded that if the attributes of being were mind-made or "ontic," then being itself was an attributed quality as well and equally unreal, therefore illusory and maya, (originally, the Sanskrit word for sorcery or magic.) Since the mind was composed of nothing but ideas, (in the extended philosophical sense,) and since ideas didn't exist, they reasoned, with admirable rigor, that the world, the mind and self were also illusions. Thus true dharma, truth and wisdom resided in sunyata, the awareness of the "emptiness" of all awareness; accordingly, the highest of the thirty odd conscious states, (enumerated above,) was naivasamjnanasamjnayatana, “neither perceiving or not perceiving.” Yet even this highly attenuated awareness was still a conscious state and hence illusion; only non-existence, non-consciousness or nirvana, was not illusion.
Buddha’s adamant denial of the reality of consciousness seems to have stemmed from an aversion to what has sometimes been regarded as humans' greatest talent and distinctive survival trait, their ability, indeed, necessity to change or adapt, to create different versions of the world each second, infused with the intention and values they “attribute” to that moment. This obviously meant humans could at best know contingent, ephemeral “truths,” which would pass away - as would their thinkers. Buddha’s “Four Great Truths” seem so traumatized by change that the uncertainty and transience of consciousness and of life invalidate both what is lost and what might replace it. This conviction resulted from the a priori assumption Buddha shared with almost all Eastern and Western philosophy of the past 2500 years: that only the permanent, indivisible, the not "dependently originated" is "real" and not illusion. In this view, human consciousness, the most ephemeral and chimerical thing imaginable, must be unreal, a lie, leading to the futile pursuit of mental phantoms and loss.
A series of syllogisms follows rom the Four Great Truths and their privileging of the unchanging and primal “oneness.” 1) If consciousness consists of nothing but illusions or "fictions," then consciousness itself is an illusion. 2) Since consciousness continually changes, conscious life is nothing but continual loss. 3) Since loss is suffering or dukkha and conscious life, the only life we can experience, is continually changing, conscious life is nothing but continual loss and the cause of continual suffering. 4) If consciousness is nothing but suffering, the only sane goal for life is to extinguish consciousness, that is, nirvana. 5) Similarly, since whatever lives dies and is lost, the goal of life should be not to live again, release, moksha, from samsara or reincarnation. 6) Buddha, to his credit, then drew the logical conclusion: oneness with ultimate reality, whether Hindu Brahman or “Buddha essence,” necessitated nothing less than the cessation of mental activity and of sentient being. Accordingly, the aim of Theravada Buddhism's hundreds of lifetimes and thousands of meritorious stupas is to purge the delusions or karmic “debt" which bind us to conscious life’s projections and hence, the futility of reincarnation. Similarly, the purpose of a lifetime of Mahayana meditation and yoga is to paralyze the mind's creativity and to “snuff out” (Sans. > nirvana extinguish) the spark of intelligence. Insofar, as what distinguishes human beings is having a consciousness capable of creative thought, nothing could be more anti-humanistic than Buddhism.
This seemingly “self-hating” human pursuit of mental mortification is hardly unique to Eastern religions (or, for that matter, television and Facebook.) It is the single commonality found in virtually every religious tradition: Meister Eckhardt's "cloud of unknowing," St. John of the Cross' via negativa or path of self-negation, Sufiism's fanaa or self-annihilation, "to die before one dies,” and Simone Weil's "de-creation.” In short, God, ultimate reality, is apophatic, nirguna, without attributes, niskala, non-manifest or unknowable. Heidegger's often mind-boggling verbal contortions were unavoidable given that his goal was a elf-contradictory "cognitive asceticism,” the "eidetic reduction” or reduction of an idea to its irreducible pre-conscious “essence,” namely its non-existence, “extinguishing” in Buddhist fashion both thought and thinker,
Poets similarly have sought to escape the burden of consciousness which is their vocation and avocation, a kind of creative “death-wish.” T.S. Eliot (1888 - 1965) wrote, “Wait without thought for you are not ready for thought….What you do not know is the only thing you know;” Wordsworth's (1770 - 1850) aspired to a "wide quietude" and Keats (1795 -1821) to a ”negative capability,” which would give them an "unmediated vision" into "the life of things”-in-themselves or ultimate reality. later poet, Wallace Stevens (1875 -1955,) made the case for "fictions which we know to be a fiction but must believe – there being nothing else,” that is, nothing else which conscious beings can experience. Thus the title of his Ars Poetica refers to human beings as the “Supreme Fiction,” because, as conscious beings, they consist of nothing but fictions, ideas and mental constructs. Even Stevens, confronted with the ultimate “given,” death, repudiated poetry; titling his last published poem, “Not ideas about the Thing but the Thing Itself,” (the “return of the repressed” Kantian Ding-an-Sich.) He declared that "the final poem will be the poem of fact in the language of facts” which would indeed be the end of poetry – or its nirvana. Poets don’t, of course, create their own reality, self-help gurus to the contrary. Death is (at least for the immediate future) a “given” or “fact;” but how we think about it is what poets have been doing since the Bhagavad Gita and the Iliad; no topic has generated more opinions or is less a “given.” In or at the end we are still no more or less than our consciousness of us; as Epicurus observed, “Death is no part of life.”.
“Unmediated vision" is, on its face, an oxymoron since vision, like poems and consciousness, is mediation. Here, at least, Kant, the Upanishads and the current, “constructivist model” of neurophysiology can agree; the “categorization,” “aggregation” and array of “non-sense,” the barrage of sense stimuli, into a form, however, fictional, mind-made, is the precondition for its becoming visible or conscious. Thus consciousness is always belated, an after-thinking, permanently a second behind the pre-conscious. Vico (1668-1744) said in clearly 300 years ago, reaffirming Protagoras: “Verum esse ipsum factum” - “truth is what we make it” or “facts aren’t found but made” - and the same is true of “things.”
Post-Humanism vs. the Anthropocene
This endemic suspicion of consciousness, bordering on hostility, continues to find echoes in today's post-modern, neo-Heideggerians, practitioners of “deconstruction” and “critical cultural theory,” the latest rebranding of "eidetic reduction,” a recuperation of philosophy and metaphysics under the guise of exposing them, Language and its discourses, they allege, are tautological, "circles of deferral," concealing their "privileged,” that is, a priori assumptions, by imbricating (immuring) us in internally-consistent discourses which legitimize existing power relationships as “given” or “natural.” Jacques Derrida (1930-2004) generously allowed that we don't speak these oppressive discourses, rather they speak us, but his epigone, Gilles Deleuze (1925 -1995) was more frank, dismissing language tout court as “a conscious self-deception,” humanity's original epistemological sin against the non-conceptual given, now rechristened, the “other” or “sub-alterned.”
Today’s “Post-Humanism” is the logical extension of deconstruction’s recondite “anti-intellectualism” and its uncharacteristically uncritical embrace of pre-modern tribalism and post-modern Volkitsch. It condemns consciousness itself for “colonizing” the "not-conscious" with its specious, speciesist categories and privileged self-interest. "Deep Ecologists” characterize homo sapiens as "the most invasive species" and "lethal virus ever to infect the planet," calling for a human “zero footprint,” as if they had never set foot on it. Post-Humanism turns out to be no more than Pre-Humanism and its “Original Sin” is the original one: not accepting nature humbly as God-given but eating the forbidden truth of the Tree of Knowledge. Now on the cusp of the Anthropocene, they see their worst nightmares being realized: Adam and Eve threatening not just to pillage nature but engineer it in their image; the Garden of Eden as GMO.
The “eternal return” of this atavistic distrust of consciousness and the “primordial,” metaphysical impulse to find something less fickle and fallible than the human mind, despite idealism’s repeated “failed gods,” is entirely predictable under the present circumstances. Post-Humanism has invented a new Ding-an-Sich, simply by reifying t negation or antithesis of mind — the "other-than-conscious,” “Alterity," or "iI y a.” It attributes to it an innocent, “independent-origination” and existence distinct from consciousness, even crediting it with an interest in its preservation. Heretofore, the quest for a more “authentic,” less historically contingent, ground-of-being was “Romanticized” by championing so-called "primitive,” “noble savages,” from sub-alterned “traditional cultures” and autochthonous “First Nations,” exonerated of the sin of thinking too much or much at all. Post-Humanism, by its nature, has had to substitute zoology and meteorology for anthropology, increasing the potential for projecting its own unacknowledged values, fears and wishes onto the "other." This anti-humanistic clinamen or tropism has, with no discernible irony, personified this unknowable, niskala, not-conscious given, as "Gaia Consciousness," the Great Goddess, Shakti and Deva, in short, the mother of all metaphysics, Mother Earth. This has been updated for the digital age as the "distributed intelligence" of the earth’s ecology, a homeostatic, unchanging “eternal truth” and all-inclusive oneness - impervious to the fact that the geological record is one of cataclysmic change. Post-Humanism is especially lamentable since it abnegates control over the very real perils and opportunities of the Anthropocene to precisely the crass, financial self-interest whose recklessness and irresponsibility first brought it to the world’s attention.
The Buddhist ascetic, the Christian mystic, the Post-Humanist iconoclast who would circumvent consciousness must still face the same objection as any nihilism: how can thought not exist, if it is the only thing we can say with confidence we have experienced? Why assume that only the permanent is real, when everything we know is changing, most intimately our own consciousness and macrocosmically the “expanding universe?” Heraclitus, a philosopher living roughly at the time of Buddha and Plato, argued that the only permanence was flux, citing the example that we never step into the same river twice, since neither we nor the river is ever the same. Only ephemerality is eternal and the universe is only unified in its continual diffusion; there can be no return to primal oneness, no “regression to the womb” or the garbagriha ”womb chamber;” the Third Law of Thermodynamics can't be reversed and Humpty Dumpty can't be put together again. Religion, including Hinduism and Buddhism, might be characterized (or caricatured) as the triumph of the a priori in the face of the a posteriori or, more colloquially, "of hope over experience." In the absence of eternal truths, humans have no choice but to continue with the Sisyphean task of thinking.
Jasper’s “Crisis of the Axial Age,” the “Crisis of Modernity” and now the “Crisis of Port-Modernity” are at base the same – crises only for idealism and metaphysics. The Pre-Socratic physiologoi, the materialist Vaishesikas and atomist Charvakas, by denying the anthropomorphized Olympic and Vedic pantheons opened up a frightening but also fertile vacuum which Eastern and Western philosophers rushed to fill. Protagoras viewing the variety and volatility of ideas concluded, "Man is the measure of all things; of things which are and things which are not." Plato, horrified by this reduction of Nous or truth to doxos or opinion, reasoned that truths must exist as ideas independently of people. Buddha, observing the same mutability of ideas, reached an opposite conclusion, that ideas must therefore be illusions. Kant confronted by the Copernican Turn, the "disenchantment of the world” and “disassociation of sensibility” between objects and subjects, accepted that “things-in-themselves" could not be know a posteriori but assumed they must therefore exist a priori. Now, with the dawning of the Anthropocene, when nature, the "primordial” "thing in itself,” the literal "ground of being,” is being changed by human intelligence (or indifference,) idealists have resuscitated the original, unchanging “God-given” ideal, the Romantic’s “World Mind,” the Vajrayana “world beyond thought,” a consciousness without consciousness, a personified Alterity.
Throughout, the one assumption which is never challenged is that there must be some underlying primal “oneness” or "thing-in-itself" more "real" and "true" than the ephemeral fictions of consciousness. The fact that humans have survived from the first without these vanished gods on nothing but their wits (despite the distractions of religion, ethnocentrism and Amazon,) so that they now pose the greatest threat to their own survival has in no way dampened the idealist impulse. Occam’s razor has not been sharp enough to cut through the supererogatory quest for a metaphysic. The human project is so improbable and improvised, just a flicker among the insensate aeons of darkness, that the wish for something less fragile and fallible is as unavoidable as is its absence. The Anthropocene again presents us with a manifesto, no longer at just an historic but now an evolutionary level: “All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real condition of life and relation to his kind.” If we dared confront the obvious that all we have is consciousness and each other, we might treat both with the respect and seriousness they deserve. Post-Humanism might then mean not the end of humanism but its beginning