7. Epistemology (v) Direct Perception-The Path to Enlightenment

After discussing the use of inferentially connected words as a means of human knowledge and their limitations, in this post, we discuss Buddha’s two means of knowledge to understand both “knowing how things are experienced by us” and “knowing for sure how things stand in themselves,as described by Dr. Fisch.

In Buddhism, the means of knowledge 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, defined as the “inference” that “allows us to glean knowledge concerning objects that are not directly evident to the senses,” leading to “the mere conceptual understanding” of reality, clearly corresponds to what Dr. Fisch describes as using “inferentially” connected words to understand “how things are experienced by us.”

Indeed, as Dr. Fisch said, “How things are experienced by us “is already language informed or concept informed.” “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!” “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.”

However, while the use of inferentially connected words allows us to know “how things are experienced by us,” they do not allow us to understand “how things stand in themselves,” which, Dr. Fisch suggested, belongs to the domain of God.

Dr. Kuhn immediately recognized the immensity of Dr. Fisch’s words as he 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?”

Indeed, can humanity know anything if all we learn through words is what is created in our minds?

Fortunately, Buddha disagrees with Dr. Fisch about knowing “how things stand by themselves.” In Buddha’s opinion, knowing “how things stand in themselves” does not belong to God’s domain. Instead, it is an ability all humans have. According to Buddha, knowing “how things stand in themselves” has nothing to do with God but everything to do with the realities of nature.

In Buddha’s universe, where all realities humans experience are “Nothing but Mentality,” Buddha teaches that consciousness is “how things stand in themselves.”  

Indeed, by relying exclusively on inferentially connected words to understand reality, consciousness is a mystery even to contemporary scientists and philosophers. For example, in Closer to Truth, scientists ask, “Why is Consciousness So Mystery?” “Is Consciousness Fundamental?” “Does Consciousness Require a Radical Explanation?” and “Is Consciousness Ultimate Reality?

The fact is that Dr. Max Planck, a German theoretical physicist, 1918 Nobel Laureate in Physics, and the originator of quantum theory, knew the answers to many of these questions more than a hundred years ago. Dr. Planck understood that consciousness is fundament as he was quoted as saying, “I regard consciousness as fundamental. I regard matter as derivative from consciousness. We cannot get behind consciousness. Everything that we talk about, everything that we regard as existing, postulates consciousness” Additionally, Dr. Planck, as a world-renowned scientist, understood that science cannot solve the mystery of consciousness as he said, “Science cannot solve the ultimate mystery of nature. And that is because, in the last analysis, we are a part of the mystery that we are trying to solve.”

What Dr. Planck did not realize was that about 2500+ years before his birth, Buddha had provided a way that would let him confirm, without science, his belief that consciousness is fundamental. In fact, Buddha’s second means of knowledge would even allow him to be part of the solution to solving the mystery of consciousness because, as Dr. Planck realized, humans are part of the mystery we are trying to solve. Therefore, we must be part of the solution to solve the mystery.

Indeed, if Dr. Planck had practiced Buddha’s second means of knowledge, he could have also been the only Nobel Laureate to be a Buddha.

Buddha’s second means of knowledge is known as pratyaksa in Romanized Sanskrit.   

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.”

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 Chinese translation of samatha in the context of Samathavipasyana is to “stop (Chinese=止).” In other words, the goal of Samathavipasyana is to calm the mind until it is completely still.

As Dr. Fisch describes, humanity’s understanding of reality starts when “the world impacts on us in a causal manner through all our sensors.” That is direct perception. However, the directly perceived data from the outside world is immediately distorted as it becomes the “reading-in of the mind” and gets conceptualized “in ways we do not govern.”

However, conceptualization requires an active mind. So, when the mind becomes still, conceptualization is avoided. When conceptualization is avoided, direct perception can “lead to the direct realization rather than mere conceptual understanding” of reality.

As the definition of Pratyaksa indicates, the importance of a “nonconceptual” understanding of reality” is that it “does not perceive its object through the medium of an image, as does thought.”  

What that means is that when the data “the world impacts on us in a causal manner through all our sensors” is not distorted, conceptualized “images” of the world, such as what one usually can see, hear, smell, taste, and touch are no longer there. In Buddhist description, the universe becomes “empty.”

In Buddhism, whenever anyone can understand that reality is “empty,” congratulations are in order because they are, by Buddha’s definition, enlightened.

According to the Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism, in the Astasahasrika-Prajnaparamita-Sutra (Chinese=道行般若波羅蜜經), Buddha defines enlightenment as the “thought of enlightenment is no thought since in its essential original nature thought is transparently luminous.”  

Of course, a “no thought” mind is the same as an inactive mind. In that state of mind, one can understand that reality is “empty.”

So, what does “empty” mean?

According to The Shambhala Dictionary of Buddhism and Zen, Emptiness (Romanized Sanskrit=shunyata; Chinese=空), also known as “void,” is a “central notion of Buddhism….Shunyata is often equated with the absolute in the Mahayana since it is without duality and empirical forms.”

In other words, Emptiness does not mean there is absolutely nothing. Instead, the absolute that “Emptiness” refers to is the Ultimate Reality known as Citta.

Citta will be discussed in much greater detail in future posts. At this time, it is sufficient to understand that Citta is the quiescent mentality spread throughout the universe. As a quiescent mentality, Citta is “without duality and an empirical form.”

Buddha deems Citta the Ultimate Reality because, without any fluctuation, its “realness” can never change. This is the meaning of the Ultimate in Buddhism: the realness of the Ultimate Reality must be permanent. Furthermore, because it is quiescent, Citta qualifies as an enlightened mentality defined by Buddha mentioned earlier.

Why is that important?

In Post 2, Samadhi was discussed.

Samadhi (Chinese=三昧), according to The Shambhala Dictionary of Buddhism and Zen, is “a non-dualistic state of consciousness in which the consciousness of the experiencing “subject” becomes one with the experienced “object” – thus is only experiential content. This state of consciousness is often referred to as “one-pointedness of mind;” this expression, however, is misleading because it calls up the image of “concentration” on one point on which the mind is “directed.” However, Samadhi is neither a straining concentration on one point, nor is the mind directed from here (subject) to there (object), which would be a dualistic mode of experience.”

The consciousness of the “experienced object” refers to the enlightened Citta, while the consciousness of the “experiencing subject” refers to the consciousness of the enlightenment seeker. When the consciousness of the “experiencing subject” becomes still, it can form a non-dualistic state of consciousness with the enlightened Citta, and enlightenment happens.

As Dr. Planck understood, we are part of the mystery we are trying to solve, and therefore, we must be part of the solution.

As also discussed in Post 2, enlightenment requires the enlightened person to “open his consciousness to encompass all objects of knowledge.” While “opening one’s consciousness” is for the direct perception of reality, “all objects of knowledge” carry the same meaning as the “experiential content” defined in Samadhi.

So, what is “experiential content?” “Experiential content” is the same as what Dr. Fisch calls “empirical facts.” Together with “all objects of knowledge,” all three refer to the data “the world impacts on us in a causal manner through all our sensors.” As long as the data is not distorted, no conceptualized “images” can form. Without conceptualized “images,” direct perception leads to “Emptiness” because the only thing anyone can perceive is the information embedded in the mental construct of all universal phenomena.  

The information embedded in the mental construct of all universal phenomena is critically important because it informs “how things stand in themselves” in nature. To the extent that “how things stand in themselves” in nature never changes, knowing “how things stand in themselves” means “knowing for sure,” in Dr. Fisch’s words.

Buddha calls whoever realizes “how things stand in themselves” in nature enlightened and possessing 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.”

Armed with two means of knowledge, having achieved the highest level of enlightenment of anuttara-samyak-sambodhi, and in possession of “all objects of knowledge” nature has to offer, our historical Shakyamuni Buddha has achieved the highest level of prajna, called prajnaparamita to become a Tathagata.

As a Tathagata, Shakyamuni Buddha is uniquely positioned to teach “things as they are,” which is the content of Buddhism.

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