W. S. Waldron, Middlebury College
There is a growing consensus in Western thought and science that we may understand ourselves and our world more deeply if we think in terms of patterns of relationships rather than of reified essences or entitiesif we think, in short, in terms of dependent arising. This essay explores such possibilities by focusing upon two core concepts, the dependent arising of our "world of experience," and the notion of vijña-na, "discerning cognitive awareness" or simply "consciousness," ultimately arriving at its most important development in the Yoga-ca-ra school of Indian Buddhism, the a-laya-vijña-na, a form of subliminal cognitive awareness or "unconscious structuring of the world." We will draw upon ideas from such modern fields as general systems theory, evolutionary biology and cognitive science in order to elucidate these ancient Buddhist notions, resulting in provocatively different, yet to my mind more evocatively contemporary, interpretations of key Buddhist concepts. Rather than pursue a simple point-by-point comparison between these traditions, however, we seek to invoke their commonalities by engaging in an inductive, almost phenomenological inquiry into the possibilities of speaking about experience "without using the personal pronoun." (Wittgenstein 1975, 88).
To anticipate both the
argument and structure of this essay, we will focus on a number of areas where
Indian Buddhist thought constructively converges with current trends in scientific
approaches to mind: They both focus on patterns of dependent relationships rather
than on actions of independent entities; within which cognitive awareness (vijña-na)
is understood as a process which arises by depending upon conditions, rather than
a faculty that acts by cognizing objects. It arises, moreover, as the awareness
of differences within a circumscribed cognitive domain, rather than as the perception
of objects within a pre-existing external world. These cognitive domains have
arisen through processes of circular causality (feedback systems), in large part
brought about by those very discernments of difference. Such differences themselves
mainly arise within a larger classificatory context, through unconscious processes
pre-formed by linguistic categories, rather than through conscious processes performing
rational procedures. This "linguistification" of human mental processes
gives rise to a symbolic self, which is dependent upon the reflexive possibilities
of language rather than reflecting the existence of substantive souls. Finally,
the notion of a "cognitive unconscious" epitomizes all of the above
points: it develops through evolutionary processes of circular causality, which
give rise to forms of awareness without an experiencing subject, by means of which
our world of experience is continuously yet unconsciously constructed, classified,
and mapped. This unconscious structuring of experience, both traditions submit,
imparts the cogency of human experience, with its deep sense of subjective coherence,
without relying upon essential or substantive causal agents, either external or
internal. In this way, at least some Buddhist thinkers and some modern scientists
have reached some accord in ways to think about "Thoughts without a Thinker."
I. The "Dependent Arising of the World" as Phenomenology of Experience
The Indian Buddhists observed that we can best understand complex causalityhow things come to beby understanding the systemic relations in which they are embedded and the patterns of dependence upon which they arise, that is, their "dependent arising." As we shall see, this formula subsequently became the basis for a model of circular causality in which certain specific patterns of conditions continuously feedback upon themselves, reinforcing their own evolutionary processes.
The classical Indian Buddhist conception of causality2 is singularly expressed in the simple formula of dependent arising:
When this is, that comes to be; with the arising of this, that arises. When this is not, that does not come to be; with the cessation of this, that ceases. (M II 32, etc.)
One of its most important implications is that it dispenses with the notion of fixed entities or unchanging essences altogether. Instead of asking how independent entities act within or upon an objective world, the view of dependent arising asks "under what conditions does such and such a phenomenon arise?," or, more elaborately, "what various complex conditions interact in what recurrently patterned ways in order to routinely give rise to what kind of phenomena?"3
In other words, our attention toward independent agents acting on independent objects, the entrenched grammatical syntax of conventional language,4 is changed into an investigation of the complex, processual and interactive arising of things. But this requires focusing upon patterns of arising rather than on actions of agents; and patterns are relational, not substantive, and arising is dynamic, not static.5 The Buddhist dismissal of selves, essences or unchanging entities, therefore, does not depend upon logical propositions derived from first principles, such as "all is change," as much as it logically follows from the nature of the questions being raised, "how do things come to be?"a point which is all the more obvious by a similar disavowal of essences,6 entities or substantive selves7 in modern science.
is the conceptual framework, the causal syntax if you will, within which most
earlier Buddhist analyses of mind took place. It is an approach to describing
and understanding experience as it arises. It is, in a word, a phenomenology of
II. The Dependent Arising of Cognitive Awareness
This is well exemplified in the concept of vijña-na (P. viñña-n.a), "cognitive awareness" or "consciousness," the central most concept in Buddhist understanding of mind. Although the Buddha8 generally declared that "Apart from conditions, there is no arising of cognitive awareness" (M I 258), each form of cognitive awareness arises in conjunction with particular factors: "Visual cognitive awareness arises dependent on the eye and (visual) form." (S II 73). That is, when an object appears in a sense-field, impinging upon its respective sense-organ, a moment of cognitive awareness (vijña-na) arises.9 Sense-object and sense-organ (or faculty) are thus correlatively defined: a visual object, by definition, is that kind of stimulus which can impinge upon an eye.
Although it is common to speak of cognitive awareness as if it actively cognizes objects, in the syntax of dependent arising cognitive awareness does not actually cognize anythingit simply is the awareness which arises when the requisite conditions come together.10 Vasubandhu, author of the fifth-century Abhidharma-kos'a, makes precisely this point:
The su-tra teaches: "By reason of the organ of sight and of visible matter there arises the visual consciousness": there is not there either an organ that sees, or visible matter that is seen; there is not there any action of seeing, nor any agent that sees; this is only a play of cause and effect. In the light of [common] practice, one speaks, metaphorically, of this process: "The eye sees, and the consciousness discerns." But one should not cling to these metaphors.11
In other words, to interpret vijña-na as an act of cognition rather than an occurrence of cognitive awareness is to ignore the syntax of dependent arising, which takes no active subject. Once again, the traditional Buddhist denial of a substantive, unchanging entity may be seen as less a metaphysical position than a function of its mode of analysis.12
in these terms, is thus neither purely subjective nor wholly objective. Like a
transaction that takes place between individuals, cognitive awareness occurs at
the interface, the concomitance of a sense-organ and its correlative stimulus.
Cognitive awareness is thus also neither an exact "mirror of nature"
which reflects things "as they are"since what constitutes an "object"
is necessarily defined by the capacities of a particular sense organ; nor is it
a unilateral projection of a priori categoriessince the cognitive capacities
of a sense organ are also correlatively defined by the kinds of stimuli that may
impinge upon them. This entails a number of important implications, for discerning
cognitive awareness is not only an event that occurs temporally, but one which
equally depends upon relational distinctionsand relational distinctions
are hardly substances.
III. The Dependent Arising of Awareness (vijña-na) of Difference.
Perception operates only on difference. All receipt of information is necessarily the receipt of news of difference. G. Bateson (31).
In his popular book, Mind and Nature, Bateson (1979, 121) analyzes cognitive processes by comparing them to a simple electric switch:
the switch, considered as a part of an electric circuit, does not exist when it is in the on position. From the point of view of the circuit, it is not different from the conducting wire which leads to it and the wire which leads away from it. It is merely "more conductor." Conversely, but similarly, when the switch is off, it does not exist from the point of view of the circuit. It is nothing, a gap between two conductors which themselves exist only as conductors when the switch is on. In other words, the switch is not except at the moments of its change of setting, and the concept "switch" has thus a special relation to time. It is related to the notion "change" rather than to the notion "object."
The switch exists, as a switch, only at the moment of switching, otherwise it remains indistinguishable from the rest of the circuit. Our sense organs function similarly, Bateson avers: they only operate relative to, that is, are only triggered by, changes in stimuli, by events. Bateson is not simply parroting the ancient platitude that "everything changes."13 Rather, he is suggesting the more fundamental notion that change is constitutive of perception itself. Hence, to even speak of perception is necessarily to speak of eventsand this is to speak in terms of dependent arising.
Just as the switch does not exist, for the circuit, except while the switch is switching, so too distinct stimuli do not exist, for a cognitive system, except insofar as they involve contextual differences. This is not to say that "differences are perceived" (which would abandon the syntax of dependent arising), but rather that an awareness of difference is constitutive of perception in the same way change is. To even speak of perception is to necessarily to speak of awareness of differences. Awareness of differences, however, cannot arise outside of a context, since differences occur between phenomena. An absolutely isolated object would be imperceptible. Contextual differences, however, have no singular location. As Bateson (109f) avers: "Difference, being of the nature of relationship, is not located in time or in space." Since awareness of differences arises contextually rather than independently, and is episodic rather than enduring, it has no substantive existence. Not being a substance, it neither comes nor goes anywhere.
These ideas suggest an interesting approach to the elusive notion of dharma in Abhidharma. Abhidharma represents a systematic attempt to analyze mental processes in terms of experiential eventsand it is these momentary14 and distinctive events that are called dharmas.15 A dharma refers, in other words, to each momentary and distinct aspect of experience insofar as it is causally involved in the arising of cognitive awareness. Thus, it logically follows from our mode of analysis that dharmas arise from nowhere and go nowhere. That is, dharmas have neither any actual substance nor any singular location; they are neither a "something" nor a "nothing," ontologically speaking.16 (These are, of course, the same conclusions we drew above with our analysis of perception, except that they may now also be reflexively applied to the systemic differentiation between the terms of analysis themselves. Abhidharma, in other words, is a "metapsychology," which self-consciously "deals with the various concepts and categories of consciousness as the primary objects of investigation." (Piatigorsky, 1984, 8) While dharmas may ultimately refer to experiential phenomena, what counts as a dharma in any system of description must always be distinguished from other dharmas. Dharmas cannot therefore refer to independent, self-sufficient entities. Or rather, and more precisely, we cannot speak about the "true nature" of a dharma outside of a given system of analysis.17)
The arising of cognitive awareness is, moreover, not just correlative to our sense organs or faculties, but to the implicit schemas enstructured in those organs and faculties themselves. We cannot help but see something as red rather than blue, hearing pitches as high or low, feeling distinct textures or temperatures, or smelling odors odious or enticing. Since such distinctions are constitutive of cognitive awareness, the classifications they depend upon are also indispensable for any arising of discerning cognitive awareness (vijña-na). As cognitive scientists Lakoff and Johnson point out,
Categorization is... a consequence of how we are embodied.... We categorize as we do because we have the brains and bodies we have and because we interact in the world the way we do... What that means is that the categories we form are part of our experience. (1999, 18f)18
Our cognitions and
distinctions, and the implicit schemas that inform them, thus constitute our experienced
IV. Circular Causality Brings Forth a World: Biology
Our capacities for such awareness of distinctions did not arise uncaused, nor are they without their own consequences. They developed in dependence upon previous kinds of experience and in turn condition the kinds of experience, the kinds of cognitive awareness, which may arise in the future. The momentary arising of the discernment of differences is thus part of a larger feedback cycle in which "the effects of differences are to be regarded as transforms of the difference which preceded them." (Bateson, 121) These two notionscircular causality, in the form of recursive feedback processes, and epigenesis, wherein the results of previous events serve as the basis for succeeding onesin another area where Buddhist philosophy has much in common with scientific models of causality, particularly those of cognitive science and evolutionary biology.
Stimuli are always impinging upon the sense organs, giving rise to forms of cognitive awareness; and these processes continuously but subtly modulate the structures of these organs, which in turn influences their receptivity to subsequent stimuli. These two notionsthat living entails continuous cognition and cognition entails continuous modification of living structureintroduces an important causal reciprocity between the structure of sense organs and the arising of cognitive awareness. These reciprocal processes take place not only at the micro level of cognition, but also at the macro level of evolution. Both evolutionary biology and the view of dependent arising articulate models of circular causality to describe how things come into being over the long term through recursive processes of feedback causality.19
This means that the very minds and bodies we embody today reflect the gradually accumulated results of reproductively successful interactions between our forebears and their natural and social environments. As with our analysis of cognitive awareness, evolutionary theory thus shifts attention from the arising of entities to the patterns of interaction. "What evolves," Maturana and Varela observe "is always a unit of interactions" (12), neither the organism by itself, and certainly not the environment alone, but the organism-in-environment. In other words, it is patterns of interaction that evolve,20 representing "the evolution of the cognitive domains."21 And, similarly and reciprocally, the evolution of its cognitive domain is the evolution of the "world"for that specific kind of organism, a process Maturana and Varela call a "structural coupling with the world."
the "world" or "environment" for any given organism, therefore,
depends upon these evolved cognitive structures. We cannot speak of an independent,
objective world that organisms have access to, because "the domain of classes
of interactions into which an organism can enter constitute its entire cognitive
reality." (10f) [Emphasis added] To even speak of a "world" therefore
is necessarily to speak of a cognizing, that is, an interacting organism. In this
sense, and consonant with the view of dependent arising, "world and perceiver
specify each other." (Varela, et. al. 1991, 172) both synchronically
V. Circular Causality Brings Forth a World: Buddhism
We may now better appreciate some of the implications of the formula of dependent arising, whose cyclic nature warranted the appellation "sam.sa-ra," literally "the going around." The series of dependent arising depicts a recursively cyclic process between the constructed complexes (sam.ska-ra), cognitive awareness (vijña-na), and the constructing afflicted actions these both enable and elicit: for as long as the cognitive processes give rise to sensation and feeling, then craving and grasping will tend to arise, which in turn tend to elicit the intentional afflicted activities, the karma, that ultimately create and sustain the structures (sam.ska-ra) that support further existence and the "arising of the world." And for as long as these structures persist, they provide the conditions that both enable and conduce to further cognitive and afflictive processes, and so on. This model of circular causalityenabling structures that give rise to cognitive awareness, which in turn elicit the afflictions that instigate actions which reinforce those very structures, etc.Bis, we submit, the core of the pre-Maha-ya-na Buddhist world view.22
Evolutionary biology and Buddhist thought thus both analyze the causal relations underlying momentary cognitive processes and long-term evolutionary processes in a similar fashion: the "arising of the world" for an individual, its phylogeny, as well as for a species, its ontogeny,23 can be equally well understood as the "arising of the world, the "bringing forth" of specific cognitive domains, out of the dynamic vortex of cyclic causality.
Since the interaction between cognitive awareness and its enabling structures, which entails continuous modification of these structures, is also causally effective at a developmental or evolutionary scale, this means that the particular implicit and innate classificatory systems that condition cognitive awareness themselves become important factors in the further development of living structures (sam.ska-ra), that is, they impart causal influences on human evolution in their own right. Living forms have, in effect, "enstructured" their cognitive maps, their capacities for cognitive discernment, through the extended epigenetic processes of circular causality. This is true at the individual level, in our neural pathways, for example, as well as at the level of the species, as in evolutionary theory.
But classifications, we remember, refer to patterns of relationships, not properties of substances, to maps not territory. That is to say, that the distinctions that constitute our cognitive mapswhich have no spatial location and come from nowhere and go nowherewere indispensable conditions for the dependent arising of our minds and bodies. In Buddhist terms, the dharmas that are discerned are constitutive conditions for "the arising of the world," not just epistemologically, which is obvious, but ontologically as well. In short, there would be no distinctively human embodiment without the classifications and categorizations constitutive of the arising of cognitive awareness itself.
what is the greatest source of human categorization and classification, whose
differences have no spatial location either inside or outside of our brains,24
and is, furthermore, one of the most salient features of the physical and mental
structures of human life? Language. It appears that we are not only the results
of what we have thought, felt and done, but above all, of what we heard and said.
We are, in short, the word become flesh.
VI. Cognitive Awareness Arising from Consensual Communication
Our linguistic capabilities did not, of course, spring fully formed from the head of Zeus. They too are part of the accumulative, constructive and interactive processes of evolution whereby cognitive processes condition living structures, which in turn condition further processes and so on.25 As symbolic communication "dependently arose" in early hominid species it became a powerful evolutionary force in its own right, radically and irrevocably changing the structures and processes of the human brain.26 This momentous change centered on an increasingly enlarged prefrontal cortex, where such symbolizing processes apparently occur.27 As language use and this "prefrontalization" mutually reinforced each other, the symbolic-linguistic mode of cognition that is dependent upon them came to dominate other, originally nonlinguistic, processes. Human cognitive processes, even simple sensory ones, in other words, unavoidably arise in dependence upon our linguistified brain. Language, then, along with the systemic distinctions upon which it depends, is not something added on to human cognitive processes. Systemic symbolic thinking is constitutive of normal human cognitive processes.28
This prefrontalization of human cognition, however, is fraught with unintended consequences, consequences that follow from the very nature of linguistic symbolification. Language gives rise to its own feedback cycles: "[S]ymbolically mediated models of things..," Deacon notes (434), "exhibit complicated nonlinearity and recursive structure as well as nearly infinite flexibility and capacity for novelty due to their combinatorial nature." "We cannot help but see the world in symbolic categorical terms," Deacon declares (416), "dividing it up according to opposed features, and organizing our lives according to themes and narratives." This linguistification of human cognitive processes thus represents a physiologically enstructured, dominating cognitive strategy characterized by compulsive yet creative recursivity, based upon words that are defined mutually and systemically, not independently or substantively, and whose ultimate meanings are conventional determined. No wonder Deacon ambivalently observes (436): "we are not just a species that uses symbols. The symbolic universe has ensnared us in an inescapable web."29
Buddhist analysis of mind also connects reflexivity, and the linguistic categorizations it gives rise to, with cognitive processes (vijña-na) that have been built up through the accumulating, epigenetic cycles of dependent arising. Its reflexivity and recursivity also depend upon the reciprocal relationships between sensory cognitive awareness, non-sensory (symbolic) "objects" such as thoughts or ideas, and the ensnaring web of conceptual proliferation (S. prapañca, P. papañca) entailed by language use.:
Dependent on the eye and forms, eye-consciousness arises. The meeting of the three is contact. With contact as condition there is feeling. What one feels, that one apperceives. What one apperceives, that one thinks about. What one thinks about, that one mentally proliferates. With what one has mentally proliferated as the source, apperceptions and notions tinged by mental proliferation [papañca-sañña--sankha-] beset a man with respect to past, future, and present forms cognizable through the eye.... mind-objects cognizable through the mind. (M I 111f)30
The most deeply entrenched source of these recursive possibilities, which also doubles back to generate its own linguistically generated recursivity, is no doubt our sense of self as an enduring, experiencing agent. As one text declares, the notion "I am" is a proliferation; "I am this" is a proliferation; "I shall be" is a proliferation." (S IV 202f; Bodhi, 1259). The very thought "I am" is, according to the Sutta-nipa-ta, the root (mu-la) of proliferation itself.31 In other words, as long as the thought "I am" persists, so long will endless cycles of apperceptions, conceptual proliferation and further apperceptions, etc. keep spinning.
This sense of self, however, derives its compelling cogency, its enduring and endearing allure,32 from the same social and linguistic matrix other words and symbols do: symbolic representation.33 Like language, this symbolic self is a product of massive interdependency; like other relational phenomenon, it has no substantive existence in time or space. "It is a final irony," Deacon concludes (452),
it is the virtual, not actual, reference that symbols provide, which gives rise
to this experience of self... it is the symbolic realm of consciousness that we
most identify with and from which our sense of agency and self-control originate.
[Emphasis in original]
VII. The Cognitive Unconscious as Embodied Structuring of Experience
Language and the symbolic self that language enables are also both complex results of interdependent processes which have, over time, become enstructured into enduring physiological and psychological structures. "It is the goal of most cognitive processes," Deacon declares (456), "to make information processing unconscious and automaticas quick, easy, and efficient as possible." We must distinguish, therefore, between those immediate but intermittent processes of discerning cognitive awareness accompanied by attention, from the underlying but continuous processes operating automatically. This distinction was intimated in the two distinct formulas for the arising of cognitive awareness in Indian Buddhism thought:
Depending on eye and forms visual cognitive awareness arises. (S II 73)
Depending on sankhka-ra- (sam.ska-ra) cognitive awareness arises. (S II 2)
It was not until the Yoga-ca-ra school (circa 2-7th century CE), however, that the forms of supraliminal cognitive awareness (pravr.tti-vijña-na), which arise in conjunction with present stimuli accompanied by attention, was explicitly distinguished from the subliminal forms of cognitive awareness, which are subsumed under the term "a-laya-vijña-na" (roughly "store-house" consciousness), that arise in conjunction with more enduring structures (sam.ska-ra).34 This Buddhist "cognitive unconscious," however, is no more an experiencer, agent or enduring subject than was cognitive awareness in the earlier model. It still has all the qualities and qualifications mentioned above: "it is related to the notion "change" rather than to the notion "object"... admit[ing] only news of difference" (Bateson, 121), it comes into being through the accumulating, epigenetic processes of cyclic causality, and it specifies cognitive domains that constitute a particular cognitive reality, a dependently arisen "world of experience". According to the Sam.dhinirmocana-su-tra, this form of subliminal cognitive awareness,
the mind with all the seeds matures, congeals, grows, develops, and increases35 based upon the two-fold substratum36 (or: appropriation, upa-da-na ; that is, (1) the substratum of the material sense-faculties along with their supports (*sadhis.t.ha-na-ru-pa-indriya-upa-da-na), (2) and the substratum which consists of the predispositions toward conceptual proliferation in terms of conventional usage of images, names, and conceptualizations.37
That is, subliminal cognitive awareness (a-laya-vijña-na) continuously arises in conjunction with (1) the living sense-faculties and (2) the predispositions instilled by past linguistic experience, conceptualization, naming, etc., bringing forth as its cognitive domain an "external world" outside of immediate awareness.38 We live, that is, in a "world" whose predominant structuring influenceslinguistic and physiological structures built up over time through extended organism-environment interactionwe cannot fully discern. And this is, if I am not mistaken, nearly exactly the current notion of the "cognitive unconscious."39
There is also a continuous and simultaneously reinforcing relationship between sub- and supra-liminal cognitive processes in order for even ordinary human activities such as conversations to occur. That is, on the one hand, all supraliminal cognitive processes are said to simultaneously arise based on subliminal cognitive awareness (a-laya-vijña-na),40 continuously and simultaneously informed by the classifications these predispositions (va-sana-) toward conceptual proliferation. On the other hand, the arising of supraliminal cognitive awareness also continuously entails modulations or transformations of the forms of unconscious cognitive awareness themselves, implanting "seeds" (bi-ja) or impressions (va-sana-) as the texts say.41 These reciprocally reinforcing and gradually accumulating processes, however, take place not only simultaneously, ceaselessly and mostly automatically, but also, in large part, unconsciously.
Since linguistic categories and classifications underlie all forms of cognitive awareness, subliminal as well as supraliminal, then we are susceptible to the same conceptual prolixity, the ensnaring recursivity that language entails, at unconscious levels as well. Concomitantly, our sense of selfenabled by and arising out of the reflexivity of linguistic representationhas also become enstructured so that it too occurs "unconsciously and automatically" in nearly every moment of mind.
Therefore, it follows
that, since the systemic classifications underlying our cognitive processes have
informed and instigated intentional activities that, in the long term, have been
instrumental in shaping the contours of human evolution, our linguistically-based
symbolic self, unconsciously embedded and virtually real, has played a leading
a role in the coming to be of our entire "world of experience." The
symbolic self, in other words, although generated out of the vortex of the linguistic
recursivity underlying all cognitive processes, from the unconscious level up,
has compelling causal efficacy in its own right.42 And this is true both within
a single lifetime, that is, ontogenetically, as well as in the traditional Buddhist
conception of multiple lifetimes, that is, (after a fashion) phylogenetically.
VIII. The Cognitive Unconscious as Generative Matrix of our "Common World"
We live our lives in this shared virtual world... The doorway into this virtual world was opened to us alone by the evolution of language. (Deacon, 22)
How is it that we collectively "bring forth" our shared world of human experience? We live in this "shared virtual world," as Deacon puts it, in large part because "the evolution of symbolic communication... created a mode of extrabiological inheritance... [that] is intrinsically social," (Deacon, 409f), one that evolved "neither inside nor outside brains, but at the interface where cultural evolutionary processes affect biological evolutionary processes" (ibid.) That is, we have similar kinds of cognitive processes because they developed historically through continuous interaction with other human beings, giving rise to our common bodily forms, with our species-specific propensities toward cultural and social conditioning, and the dominating influences of linguistic classification, conceptualization, nominalization, etc., through which we collectively yet unconsciously bring forth a shared world of experience.
With allowances for the issue of rebirth, this is largely compatible with mainstream views of causality in the Yoga-ca-ra tradition. As the commentary to MSg I.60, explains:
[The statement:] "The common [characteristic of the a-laya-vijña-na] is the seed of the receptacle-world" means that it is the cause (karan.a-hetu) of perceptions (vijñapti) which appear as the receptacle world. It is common because these perceptions appear similarly to all who experience them through the force of maturation (vipa-ka) that is in accordance with their own similar karma. (U 397c12f; u 267a8-268a1)
Our "world"43 appears to us in similar ways because we have similar karma to experience it similarly.
It is language that provides the means through which the "common aspects" of the a-laya-vijña-na give rise to a "common" receptacle world. And it is just because our cognitive structures are constituted by linguistic predispositions that cognitive awareness is subject to language's endless recursivity (prapañca). The "predispositions or impressions of speech" (abhila-pa-va-sana-), which have the "special power" (s'akti-vis'es.a) of the predispositions of conventional expressions (vyavaha-ra) to give rise to manifest cognitive awareness (vijña-na) in regard to expressions of selves (a-tman), dharmas, and actions, etc.44 (ad MSg I.58) are never fully "used up" (anupabhukta), MSg I.61.2 explains, because "the seeds of the impressions of language give rise to conceptual proliferation since beginningless time." In other words, this linguistic recursivity is the generative matrix from which endlessly springs forth our symbolic world, one that virtually supercedes the physical world we apparently inhabit.
The reciprocal feedback processes that language invites thus operate at a variety of levels, not only synchronicallybetween the a-laya-vijña-na and supraliminal forms of cognitive awarenessbut also diachronically, between our previous linguistic experience and our present proclivities conditioned by the "impressions" of language. These operate both within a single lifetime, and, in traditional Buddhist terms, over multiple lifetimes. There is also a third, unconscious yet thoroughly intersubjective, feedback system, which, like the other two, continuously proliferates and perpetuates samsaric existence, but which, unlike them, bridges the individual and collective experience of the "world," connecting our similar karmic activities with the similar "worlds" these activities bring about.45
Our commonality of worlds, then, dependent upon our common species-specific cognitive structures, is ultimately inseparable from our commonality of cognitive awareness, dependent upon our common linguistic, symbolic structures. As Deacon (452f) declares,
a person's symbolic experience of consciousness... is not within the head... This [symbolic] self is indeed not bounded within a mind or body... [it] is intersubjective in the most thoroughgoing sense of the term.
It is our unconscious habits of body, speech, and mind to which we are habituated that give rise, in the long term and in the aggregate, to the habitats we inhabit. And, this, we suggest, is as true for some twentieth century biologists and neuroscientists, as it was for fifth-century Yoga-ca-rin Buddhists.
1. This is a summary. The fuller version appears as "Buddhist Steps to an Ecology of Mind: Thinking about 'Thoughts without a Thinker,'" Eastern Buddhist, 2002, Vol. XXXIV, No. 1, pp. 1-51. 2002.
2. This is, unavoidably, a generalization. There were numerous sects, which often differed in their interpretations of dependent arising.
3. There are many passage in the Pa-li texts such as the following: "Who, now, Lord, is it who craves?" "Not a fit question," said the Exalted One. I am not saying [someone] craves. If I were saying so, the question would be a fit one. But I am not saying so. And I not saying so, if you were to ask thus: "Conditioned now by what, lord, is craving?" this were a fit question. And the fit answer there would be: "Conditioned by feeling is craving." (S II 13).
4. Wittgenstein: "All our forms of speech are taken from ordinary, physical language and cannot be used in epistemology or phenomenology without casting a distorting light on their objects." Philosophical Remarks, #57 (cited in Stern, 1995, 12).
5. Since by definition essences do not change, they can have no obvious causal effect in the world of change; an unmoving billiard ball does cause another ball to move, only a moving one does. Essences are therefore metaphysical notions unrelated to the endeavor to understand causality in the phenomenal world. In slightly different terms, Wittgenstein suggests that "a wheel that can be turned though nothing else moves with it, is not part of the mechanism." (Philosophical Investigations, #271).
6. Gombrich (1996, 1f) cites Karl Popper's remarks on the non-essentialism and nominalism of modern science: Popper, 1952, vol. II, p.14: "the scientific view of the definition 'A puppy is a young dog' would be that it is an answer to the question 'What shall we call a young dog?' rather than an answer to the question 'What is a puppy?' (Questions like 'What is life?' or 'What is gravity?' do not play any role in science.) The scientific use of definitions... may be called its nominalist interpretation, as opposed to its Aristotelian or essentialist interpretation. In modern science, only nominalist definitions occur, that is to say, shorthand symbols or labels are introduced in order to cut a long story short." Popper, 1974:20: "... essentialism is mistaken in suggesting that definitions can add to our knowledge of facts...""
7. Many, if not most, scientific works on brain and consciousness reject the notion of a "unified, freely acting agent." For example, brain scientist Richard Restak (1994, 111-121) argues: "Brain research on consciousness carried out over the past two decades casts important doubts on our traditional ideas about the unity and indissolubility of our mental lives," particularly "the concept of ourself as a unified, freely acting agent directing our behavior." Lakoff and Johnson (1999, 268): "The very way that we normally conceptualize our inner lives is inconsistent with what we know scientifically about the nature of mind. In our system for conceptualizing our inner lives, there is always a Subject that is the locus of reason and that metaphorically has an existence independent of the body. As we have seen, this contradicts the fundamental findings of cognitive science."
8. 1. There are serious historical questions concerning whether or to what extent the discourses preserved in the Pa-li Canon represent the actual words of the Buddha. As these questions do not directly affect the import of this paper, we provisionally accede to their traditional attribution to the Buddha.
9. M I 190: "When internally the eye is intact and external forms come into its range and there is the corresponding engagement, then there is the manifestation of the corresponding class of consciousness." ?~amoli (1995, 284).
10. As Rahula (23) points out, "Consciousness does not recognize an object. It is only a sort of awareness awareness of the presence of an object." Milinda's Questions: "Because there are vision here and material shape, sire, visual consciousness arises. Co-nascent with that are sensory impingement, feeling, perception, volition, one-pointedness, the life-principle, attentionthus these things are produced from a condition and no experiencer is got at here." (78) 
11. Pruden (1990, 118). Buddhaghosa similarly states in the Visuddhimagga (XIX,20): "He sees no doer over and above the doing, no experiencer of the result over and above the occurrence of the result. But he sees clearly with right understanding that the wise say 'doer' when there is doing and 'experience' when there is experiencing simply as a mode of common usage."
12. Wittgenstein's attempt to forge a subjectless language entailed similar consequences: "It is because a language designed for the sole function of expressing everything that a subject might experience has no need for a term designating that subject that one cannot refer to the subject of experience from within the phenomenological language... From within, one cannot individuate a subject at all. The metaphysical subject is not an object of experience, but a way of indicating the overall structure of experience... The grammar of the phenomenological language ensures that all statements about experience are expressed in the sameownerlessway." Stern (1995, 84).
13. In his Philosophical Remarks #54, Wittgenstein makes the following remark: "What belongs to the essence of the world cannot be expressed by language. For this reason, it cannot say that all is in flux. Language can only say those things we can also imagine otherwise." We take Stern's (1995, 162) comments on this passage as admonitory qualification for many of the points that follow in this essay: "Like the solipsistic sayings, 'the world is my world' and 'only the present experience has reality,' Wittgenstein regards 'all is in flux' as a philosophical pseudo-proposition, an attempt to say the unsayable.... But saying that we can't imagine it being otherwise is to rule out the possibility that the proposition is false, and in so doing we also eliminate the connection between language and world that gives the proposition its sense." These 'solipsistic sayings,' in other words, may be constitutive conditions for what we can say without themselves being propositions.
14. The Abhidharma-kos'a defines as momentary that which perishes immediately after it coming into being. (AKBh IV ad 2b-3b; Shastri:568; Poussin:4). There was of course considerable disagreement as to what exactly constitutes a moment, whether it was divisible and so on. See, for example, Katha-vatthu XXII.8, the Abhidhammattha-sangaha, (Compendium of Philosophy) 25; Nyanatiloka (1980, 34); AKBh ad II 46a-b (Shastri:259; Poussin:228).
15. 1. From the root verb is "dh," "to hold, bear, carry, maintain, preserve, keep, possess, use, place, fix, etc." Derived meanings of dharma are "that which is established or firm, steadfast, law, statute, prescribed conduct, duty, right, justice, virtue, morality, religion, etc." (SED, 510, 519). In the Abhidharma context it is traditionally defined as that which "holds" (dha-rana) its own mark. (AKBh ad I.2b; Shastri:12; Poussin:4: svalaks.an.a-dha-rana-d dharma.)
16. This is arguably implicit in the perspective of dependent arising from the beginning: "He who with right understanding sees the arising of the world as it really is, cannot attribute non-existence to the world; he who with right insight sees the passing away of the world as it really is, cannot attribute existence to the world." (S II 17)
17. Since dharmas are themselves dependently arisen events, they are expressed in terms of patterns of relationship (with the concomitance of X and Y, Z arises). But because the multiple conditions for the arising of a phenomenon were themselves dharmas (X and Y), the formula of dependent arising was fairly early on implicitly, or perhaps incipiently, a system wherein the sense of each item was mutually and disjunctively defined. That is, Buddhists fairly quickly came to recognize that they working with systems of relationships rather than individual terms.
18. Varela, et. al. (1991,167) make a similar point: "The visual system is never simply presented with pregiven objects. On the contrary, the determination of what and where an object is, as well as its surface boundaries, texture, and relative orientation (and hence the overall context of color as a perceived attribute), is a complex process that the visual system must continually achieve... In the words of P. Gouras and E. Zrenner, 'It is impossible to separate the object sensed from its color because it is the color contrast itself that forms the object.'" [Emphasis added.]
19. Reciprocal or causal causality is commonly used in investigating emergent properties, how things come to be, particularly in evolutionary biology. It is, rather, linear logic that is the problem: "How is the world of logic, which eschews 'circular argument,' related to a world in which circular trains of causation are the rule rather than the exception?... we shall see that logic is precisely unable to deal with recursive circuits without generating paradox and that quantities are precisely not the stuff of complex communicating systems. In other words, logic and quantity turn out to be inappropriate devices for describing organisms and their interactions and internal organizations." Bateson (21)
20. Rose (1997, 229f): "Evolutionary stable strategies within and between populations, whether or not they culminate in symbiogenesis, require that the 'unit of selection' now cease to be an individual genotype or even phenotype, and becomes instead a relationship between genotypes and/or phenotypes." [Emphasis in original.]
21. (12) "What evolves is always a unit of interactions defined by the way in which it maintains its identity. The evolution of the living systems is the evolution of the niches of the units of interactions defined by their self-referring circular organization, hence, the evolution of the cognitive domains." In Buddhists terms, we might say that is the cumulative and repeated relationship between sam.ska-ra and vijña-na that evolves.
22. Vasubandhu describes this classic account of cyclic causality in terms of one's "mind stream": "the mind stream (santa-na) increases gradually by the mental afflictions (kles'a) and by actions (karma), and goes again to the next world. In this way the circle of existence is without beginning (ana-dibhavacakraka)." (AKBh III 19a-d. Poussin, 57-59; Shastri, 433-4.)
23. Varela, et. al. (1991, 121) interpret these two aspects of dependent arising as roughly corresponding to phylogeny and ontogeny: "we could say that such traces (karma) are one's experiential ontogeny.. Here ontogeny is understood not as a series of transitions from one state to another but as a process of becoming that is conditioned by past structures, while maintaining structural integrity from moment to moment. On an even larger scale, karma also expresses phylogeny, for it conditions experience through the accumulated and collective history of our species." One of the main differences with evolutionary theory, however, is that Indian Buddhists see the "evolution" of mind is terms of the continuity of individual mind-streams from one lifetime to the next, with karma as the basic causal mechanism whereby changes are transmitted from one life to the next. In Darwinian thinking, this role is played by natural selection. In this sense, Buddhist ideas are akin to a form of Lamarkianism. return
24. See Deacon (409f) below.
25. As Capra (1998, 220) points out, "as it keeps interacting with its environment, a living organism will undergo a sequence of structural changes... an organism's structure at any point in its development is a record of its previous structural changes and...each structural change influences the organism's future behavior."
26. "It is simply not possible," Deacon concludes (409f), "to understand human anatomy, human neurobiology, or human psychology without recognizing that they have all been shaped by something that could best be described as an idea: the idea of symbolic reference." return
27. 1. "[S]ymbol use itself must have been the prime mover for the prefrontalization of the brain in hominid evolution."(Deacon, 336)
28. Geertz (1973, 49): "As our central nervous systemand most particularly its crowning curse and glory, the neocortex grew up in great part in interaction with culture, it is incapable of directing our behaviour or organizing our experience without the guidance provided by systems of significant symbols.... To supply the additional information necessary to be able to act, we were forced, in turn, to rely more and more heavily on cultural sourcesthe accumulated fund of significant symbols. Such symbols are thus not mere expressions, instrumentalities, or correlates of our biological, psychological, and social existence; they are prerequisites of it. Without men, no culture, certainly; but equally, and more significantly, without culture, no men."
29. A web, we might add, without a weaver. Anthropologist Rappaport (1999, 5): "It would not, indeed, be an exaggeration to claim that humanity is [its] creation." return
30. ?~amoli, 1995, 203. Translation altered for terminological consistency.
31. "With what manner of insight, and not grasping anything in this world, does a monk realize Nibba-na? Let him completely cut off the root of concepts tinged with the prolific tendency (papañca), namely, the thought 'I am.'" (SN 915-16) (Ñyanananda, 1971, 34f). Translation altered slightly. (katham disva- nibba-ti bhikkhu anupa-diya-no lokasmi kinci. Mu-lam papancasakha-ya-ti Bhagava- manta- asmi-ti sabba uparundhe.) Ñyanananda takes "manta-" as "thinker" rather than thought.
32. The Buddha describes the following, unacceptable, conception of a self: "That which is this self for me that speaks, that experiences and knows, that experiences, now here, now there, the fruition of deeds lovely or depraved, it is this self for me that is permanent, stable, eternal, not subject to change, that will stand firm for ever and ever." (M I 8 )
33. "Self-representation...," Deacon suggests (451), "could not be attained without a means for symbolic representation."
34. The distinctions between these two forms of cognitive awareness are most succinctly stated in the Proof Portion of the Yoga-ca-rabhu-mi: A1.a) The a-layavijña-na has past sam.ska-ras as its cause (hetu), while the arising forms of cognitive awareness, visual, etc., have present conditions as their cause. as it is taught in detail: "the arising of the cognitions comes about due to the sense-faculties, the sense-domains and attention.''
35. Tib.: sa bon thams cad pa'i sems rnam par smin cing 'jug la rgyas shing 'phel ba dang yangs par 'gyur ro. Sanskrit reconstruction by Schmithausen (1987, 356, n.508): *sarvabi-jakam cittam vipacyate samu-rcchati vddhim viru-him vipulata-m a-padyate. This closely parallels passages found in Pa-li texts, S III 53, D III 228: vijña-nam... viddhi viru-him vepullam a-pajjeyya.
36. Comprised of the prefix "upa," "towards, near, together with," plus the noun "a-da-na," "receiving, taking to oneself" (SED), upa-da-na, like sankha-ra-, may refer to both an active process and a passive product, both a conditioning and a conditioned state. It is not only "grasping, attachment, finding one's support by, nourished by, taking up," but also "fuel, supply," "the material out of which anything is made," or even "substratum by means of which an active process is kept alive or going." Apte: 471; PED:149. See also Schmithausen (1987:72).
37. Schmithausen reconstructs the last phrase as *nimitta-na-ma-vikalpa-vyavaha-ra-prapañca-va-sana--upa-da-na. The import of this dauntingly long (and proliferating!) string of concepts is well summarized in Schmithausen's definition (1987, 357, n.511) of the first item, nimitta, as "in this context, objective phenomena as they are experienced or imagined, admitting of being associated with names, and being (co-) conditioned by subjective conceptual activity (vikalpa), which has become habitual so that it permeates all (ordinary) perceptions and cognitions." [Emphasis added.]
38. Ibid. (D.3b7-4a3; H. T.580a2-12): A1.b)A.2. The "outward perception of the external world, whose aspects are undiscerned" (bahirdha--aparicchinna-ka-ra-bha-jana-vijñapti) means the continuous, uninterrupted perception of the continuity of the world based upon that very a-laya-vijña-na which has inner appropriation as an object. 1.b)".3. Thus, one should know that the way the a-laya-vijña-na [functions] in regard to the object of inner appropriation and the object of the external [world] is similar to a burning flame which arises inwardly while it emits light outwardly on the basis of the wick and oil, respectively." return
39. Lakoff and Johnson (1999, 9-15).
40. Sam.dhinirmocana-su-tra. Chapter V. 4. "Vis'a-lamati, the six groups of cognitive awareness, that is, visual cognition, aural-, olfactory-, gustatory-, tactile-, and mental cognitive awareness, arise supported by and depending on (sanis'ritya pratiha-ya) the appropriating cognitive awareness (a-da-na-vijña-na) [a synonym of the a-laya-vijña-na]." The Pravr.tti-Portion of Yoga-ca-rabhu-mi (D. 6a4-6; H. 580c26-581a2): A4.b)B.1. The a-laya-vijña-na arises and functions simultaneously with the [forms of] arising cognitive awareness, too."
41. Pravr.tti-Portion of Yoga-ca-rabhu-mi (D.5a3-7; H. 580b17-29): A3.c) "In this way one should understand establishing the arising [of the a-laya-vijña-na] is by means of the a-laya-vijña-na and the [supraliminal forms of] arising cognitive awareness being reciprocal conditions of each other: by means of [the a-laya-vijña-na] being the seed [A.1.] and creating the support [of the forms of arising cognitive awareness (pravr.tti-vijña-na)] [A.2.], and by [the pravr.tti-vijña-nas] nurturing the seeds [B.1.], and [causing the a-laya-vijña-na] to grasp the seeds [of itself] [B.2.]."
42. Deacon (1997, 453): "These abstract representations have physical efficacy. They can and do change the world. They are as real and concrete as the force of gravity or the impact of a projectile."
43. Johansson (1979, 28f) has collected numerous passages that equate "the world" (loka) with the "world of experience": SN 169: "the world has arisen through the six (senses, or sense-modalities), it gives rise to knowledge (i.e. is known) through the six; building on the six, the world is destroyed in six;" A II 48: "In this very fathom-long body, with its perception and inner sense, I proclaim the world to be, likewise the origin of the world and the destruction of the world, likewise the method leading to the destruction of the world;" A IV 430: "These five love-objects (ka-maguna-) are called the world in the code of the noble one. What five? Forms, cognized by the eye, longed for, alluring, pleasurable, lovely, bound up with passion and desire, sounds... , smells... , tastes.., contacts;" S I 39 "The world is brought up by the mind, swept away by the mind;" A II 49 "there is no release from suffering without reaching the end of the world."
44. ad MSg I.58. U 397a24-b4; u 266b4-267a1; Bh. 336c5f; bh. 168b7f .
1. It is the "unbounded" nature of symbolic media, in Deacon's (427)
terms, that "gives us the ability to share a virtual common mind."
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