After discussing the use of inferentially connected words as a means of human knowledge and its limitations, in this post, we discuss Buddha’s two means of knowledge to understand the two realities humans live in. We will again employ Dr. Fisch’s interpretations in modern language to clarify Buddha’s teachings on epistemology from thousands of years ago.
First, let’s recall Dr. Fisch’s presentation.
As Dr. Fisch describes, humans “do not know by our eyes or by our ears, but by means of the words we speak.” The function of the words is to “render explicit” the contents imparted causally on our senses from the outside world that has already been fashioned and conceptualized by our minds “in ways that we do not govern.”
However, “if you look into the dictionary, words are explained by other words. The conceptual scheme, the vocabulary at our disposal, by which we experience and by which we know, is inferentially connected.” “In other words, if this point is north of that, then that point is south of that. That is about the meaning of the words. This isn’t an empirical fact. This is about how these concepts relate to each other. The limits of what we can know, the limits of our world, are the limits of our language!”
Indeed, by the time humans see “on the screen the world that we experience, all that data has already been fashioned and conceptualized by our minds in ways that we do not govern.” “We know by means of using a concept.” “Using a concept is to liken what we see to something else.” “Like every person in this studio, you are unique. But the only way I can account for your uniqueness is by means of a set of concepts by which you are likened to others.”
In these few words, Dr. Fisch beautifully describes the dilemma facing humans: what humans know from word-based knowledge has more to do with how “concepts relate to each other” and nothing to do with “empirical facts.”
Recognizing the immensity of Dr. Fisch’s words, Dr. Kuhn immediately questioned, “What prevents you from cascading into skepticism where we can’t know anything? Everything is related to something else. I have no foundation between what I believe and what the world really is. So, how do I know anything?”
Dr. Fisch then went on to describe two types of knowing: knowing “how things are experienced by us” and “how things stand in themselves.”
“How things are experienced by us,” Dr. Fisch expounded, “is already language informed, or concept informed.” “We know pretty much about the self we experience, the world we experience, the world we find ourselves living in.” “We got it right. We got it right according to our standards, no other standards.”
“Do we know things in themselves?”
“God knows,” was the reply.
This is where Buddha diverges from Dr. Fisch.
In Buddhism, there are no religious Gods. While there are celestial beings, they are not enlightened sufficiently to understand how things stand in themselves.
The uniqueness of Buddhism is that Buddha teaches two means of knowledge to understand two realities humans face: the phenomenal world, which is already conceptualized, and the invisible reality, which has not been conceptualized.
The means of knowledge in Buddhism is known in Romanized Sanskrit as pramana.
Pramana (Chinese=量), according to The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism, is “in Sanskrit, “means of knowledge.”
Buddha teaches two means of knowledge:
A) Anumana (Chinese=比量), according to The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism, is “in Sanskrit and Pali, “inference.” Furthermore, “inference allows us to glean knowledge concerning objects that are not directly evident to the senses.”
Anumana is closely associated with another concept known as agamadharma (Chinese=教法), which, according to The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism, is “in Sanskrit, “scriptural dharma.” In contrast to adhigamadharma, it refers to the mere conceptual understanding of Buddha’s teachings through studying Buddhist sutras.”
Anumana, or understanding “Buddha’s teachings through studying Buddhist sutras,” is what Dr. Fisch describes as using inferentially connected words to understand already conceptualized phenomena. As the definition of anumana suggests, “Inference allows us to glean knowledge concerning objects that are not directly evident to the senses,” which results in a “mere conceptual understanding” of the objects.
Of course, “knowledge concerning objects that are not directly evident to the senses” happens because of what Dr. Fisch describes as the “reading-in of mind.” By sending what the senses sense to the mind, “reading-in of the mind” makes “knowledge concerning objects” to be “not directly evident to the senses.” Furthermore, “reading-in of the mind” leads to the conceptualization of what the senses sense “in ways we do not govern,” which further distorts the “knowledge concerning the objects.” Therefore, by the time we use inferentially connected words to understand the world, what the senses sense has already been distorted beyond recognition. The result is that the world we experience is not the world that impacts us through our senses.
So, Buddha offers a second means of knowledge that prevents the “reading-in of the mind.”
B) Pratyaksa (Chinese=現量), according to The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism, is “in Sanskrit, “direct perception.” Pratyaksa is “nonconceptual in the sense that it does not perceive its object through the medium of an image, as does thought.”
Pratyaksa is closely associated with another concept known as adhigamadharma (Chinese=證法), which, according to The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism, is “in Sanskrit, “realized dharma,” which “leads to the direct realization (Adhigama, Chinese=証), rather than mere conceptual understanding.”
Direct perception is the same as “opening one consciousness” required of a Buddha, as described earlier. Direct perception also makes it possible to form “a non-dualistic state of consciousness in which the consciousness of the experiencing “subject” becomes one with the experienced “object,” the state of enlightenment as defined in Samadhi.
In Buddhism, direct perception is done through samathavipasyana, the meditation method Buddha teaches.
Samathavipasyana (Chinese=止觀), according to The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism, is “In Sanskrit, “calmness (samatha) and insight (vipasyana), a term used to describe a meditative state that combines clarity and stability of samatha with the understanding of the nature of reality associated with vipasyana.” Furthermore, “The presence of vipasyana is the distinguishing feature of the wisdom that derives from meditation (Romanized Sanskrit=bhavanamayiprajna; Chinese=修慧).
The translation of samatha in Chinese is to “stop (Chinese=止).” In other words, the mind must be so calm that it stops being active or has “no thought.” “No thought” makes “reading-in of the mind” impossible because it requires an active mind.
In other words, by preventing “reading-in of the mind,” direct perception makes what the senses sense directly available to the senses without being conceptualized first. Whether one calls what the senses sense the “experiential content” of mentality, “empirical facts,” or “all objects of knowledge,” they all allow understanding reality as reality is, how things stand in themselves in nature.
Since “no thought” is Buddha’s definition of enlightenment, only an enlightened person can realize “the wisdom that derives from meditation.” Most significantly, direct perception makes it possible for Shakyamuni Buddha to be a Buddha and realize the Ultimate Reality that no other teachings teach.
Wisdom is known in Romanized Sanskrit as prajna.
Prajna, according to The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism, is “in Sanskrit, typically translated “wisdom,” but having connotation perhaps closer to “gnosis,” “awareness,” and in some context, “cognition:” the term has the general sense of accurate and precise “understanding of reality that transcends ordinary comprehension.”
“The wisdom that derives from meditation” comes from “opening one consciousness to encompass all objects of knowledge. “All objects of knowledge” is the same as the “experiential content” embedded in the mental construct of all beings in the universe and is equivalent to what Dr. Fisch calls “empirical facts.” They all lead to understanding how things stand in themselves in nature.
Armed with two means of knowledge, having achieved the highest level of enlightenment as a Tathagata, and in possession of “all objects of knowledge,” our historical Shakyamuni Buddha is in a position to teach how things stand in themselves in nature, which is the content of Buddhism.
In a previous post verifying Citta as the First Principle of Truth, it was said that “all Buddha’s teachings, and, therefore, all phenomena in the universe, can be explained as either mentality fluctuating or not.” Buddha’s teaching on the two means of knowledge is yet another example.
The phrase “transforming consciousness into prajna (Chinese=轉識成智)” is the Mahayana Buddhist way of describing the principle behind anumana and pratyaksa, which is the difference in whether mentality fluctuates or not.
Consciousness refers to the active mentality required for anumana. Consciousness, or active mentality, makes “reading-in of the mind” possible. “Reading-in of the mind” makes what the senses sense “not directly evident to the senses,” leading to conceptualization and word-based knowledge to understand the already-conceptualized phenomenal world.
On the other hand, prajna refers to the quiescent mentality required to acquire it. Acquiring prajna requires pratyaksa and the stillness of the mind to prevent “reading-in of the mind.” Without “reading-in of the mind,” one gets an “understanding of reality that transcends ordinary comprehension” because what one understands is how things stand in themselves.