Retroactivity of Awakening

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Coëmgenu
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Retroactivity of Awakening

Post by Coëmgenu » Tue Feb 07, 2017 6:58 pm

Greetings all,

A while ago, I proposed a thought-experiment based on a surface-level, or literalist, reading of the description of the Buddha's Awakening and Buddhic Lifespan based on Chapter 16 of the Lotus Sutra, which declares one (or both) of the following readings (or neither, to cover myself if my wrongness in these speculative interpretations is irreconcilable with any mainstream Buddhology).

1) the Awakening of the Buddha is retroactive, having never occurred once it has occurred, as much of a contradiction that may seem, speaking on terms of general conventionality. It is in this way that Buddhahood is beginningless.

2) the Awakening of the Buddha is non-retroactive, thus is temporal, and is fundamentally tied to the conditions and historical reality of a certain moment in time, perhaps even a certain specific and particular experienced dharma, most likely the particular asamskrta (unconditioned) dharma of nirvana itself. Chapter 16 merely labels the experience of the asamskrta-dharma as occurring "measureless" time before because the amount of time that has passed, since the asamskrta-dharma-experience, is uncountable by anyone or anything on account of the sheer size of the number, for no other reason. Since the beginning of this Buddhahood, as a date/time, is unknowable, it falls beyond the purview of the "All" as outlined in, say, the Sabbasutta of the Páli nikáya-literature, and thus cannot be said to exist. It is in this way that Buddhahood is beginningless.

Which one of these readings (or neither) seems more likely?
世尊在靈山會上拈華示眾眾皆默然唯迦葉破顏微笑世尊云
The Lord dwelt at the Vulture Peak with the assembly and plucked a flower as a teaching. The myriad totality were silent, save for Kāśyapa, whose face cracked in a faint smile. The Lord spoke.
吾有正法眼藏涅槃妙心實相無相微妙法門不立文字教外別傳付囑摩訶迦葉。
I have the treasure of the true dharma eye, I have nirvāṇa as wondrous citta, I know signless dharmatā, the subtle dharma-gate, which is not standing on written word, which is external to scriptures, which is a special dispensation, which is entrusted to Mahākāśyapa.

नस्वातोनापिपरतोनद्वाभ्यांनाप्यहेतुतः
उत्पन्नाजातुविद्यन्तेभावाःक्वचनकेचन

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Queequeg
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Re: Retroactivity of Awakening

Post by Queequeg » Tue Feb 07, 2017 11:23 pm

Coëmgenu wrote:Greetings all,

A while ago, I proposed a thought-experiment based on a surface-level, or literalist, reading of the description of the Buddha's Awakening and Buddhic Lifespan based on Chapter 16 of the Lotus Sutra, which declares one (or both) of the following readings (or neither, to cover myself if my wrongness in these speculative interpretations is irreconcilable with any mainstream Buddhology).

1) the Awakening of the Buddha is retroactive, having never occurred once it has occurred, as much of a contradiction that may seem, speaking on terms of general conventionality. It is in this way that Buddhahood is beginningless.

2) the Awakening of the Buddha is non-retroactive, thus is temporal, and is fundamentally tied to the conditions and historical reality of a certain moment in time, perhaps even a certain specific and particular experienced dharma, most likely the particular asamskrta (unconditioned) dharma of nirvana itself. Chapter 16 merely labels the experience of the asamskrta-dharma as occurring "measureless" time before because the amount of time that has passed, since the asamskrta-dharma-experience, is uncountable by anyone or anything on account of the sheer size of the number, for no other reason. Since the beginning of this Buddhahood, as a date/time, is unknowable, it falls beyond the purview of the "All" as outlined in, say, the Sabbasutta of the Páli nikáya-literature, and thus cannot be said to exist. It is in this way that Buddhahood is beginningless.

Which one of these readings (or neither) seems more likely?
May I suggest another thought experiment?
“Suppose there were a man who ground five hundreds of thousands myriads of koṭis of nayutas of incalculable great manifold cosmos into particles. While passing through five hundred thousands of myriads of koṭis of nayutas of incalculable lands to the east, he dropped just a single particle; and in this way he continued to drop the particles as he went toward the east, until they were all gone. Suppose all these worlds, whether or not a particle was left in them, were reduced to particles, and each particle represented a kalpa.
Now, how long a period of time is that?

If you're still coherent after trying wrap your head around that, come back and tell us about it.

:rolling:
Those who, even with distracted minds,
Entered a stupa compound
And chanted but once, “Namo Buddhaya!”
Have certainly attained the path of the buddhas.

-Lotus Sutra, Expedient Means Chapter

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Re: Retroactivity of Awakening

Post by Coëmgenu » Tue Feb 07, 2017 11:34 pm

Queequeg wrote:
Coëmgenu wrote:Greetings all,

A while ago, I proposed a thought-experiment based on a surface-level, or literalist, reading of the description of the Buddha's Awakening and Buddhic Lifespan based on Chapter 16 of the Lotus Sutra, which declares one (or both) of the following readings (or neither, to cover myself if my wrongness in these speculative interpretations is irreconcilable with any mainstream Buddhology).

1) the Awakening of the Buddha is retroactive, having never occurred once it has occurred, as much of a contradiction that may seem, speaking on terms of general conventionality. It is in this way that Buddhahood is beginningless.

2) the Awakening of the Buddha is non-retroactive, thus is temporal, and is fundamentally tied to the conditions and historical reality of a certain moment in time, perhaps even a certain specific and particular experienced dharma, most likely the particular asamskrta (unconditioned) dharma of nirvana itself. Chapter 16 merely labels the experience of the asamskrta-dharma as occurring "measureless" time before because the amount of time that has passed, since the asamskrta-dharma-experience, is uncountable by anyone or anything on account of the sheer size of the number, for no other reason. Since the beginning of this Buddhahood, as a date/time, is unknowable, it falls beyond the purview of the "All" as outlined in, say, the Sabbasutta of the Páli nikáya-literature, and thus cannot be said to exist. It is in this way that Buddhahood is beginningless.

Which one of these readings (or neither) seems more likely?
May I suggest another thought experiment?
“Suppose there were a man who ground five hundreds of thousands myriads of koṭis of nayutas of incalculable great manifold cosmos into particles. While passing through five hundred thousands of myriads of koṭis of nayutas of incalculable lands to the east, he dropped just a single particle; and in this way he continued to drop the particles as he went toward the east, until they were all gone. Suppose all these worlds, whether or not a particle was left in them, were reduced to particles, and each particle represented a kalpa.
Now, how long a period of time is that?

If you're still coherent after trying wrap your head around that, come back and tell us about it.

:rolling:
My inquiry is actually based on that very passage, or one incredibly similar! :)
世尊在靈山會上拈華示眾眾皆默然唯迦葉破顏微笑世尊云
The Lord dwelt at the Vulture Peak with the assembly and plucked a flower as a teaching. The myriad totality were silent, save for Kāśyapa, whose face cracked in a faint smile. The Lord spoke.
吾有正法眼藏涅槃妙心實相無相微妙法門不立文字教外別傳付囑摩訶迦葉。
I have the treasure of the true dharma eye, I have nirvāṇa as wondrous citta, I know signless dharmatā, the subtle dharma-gate, which is not standing on written word, which is external to scriptures, which is a special dispensation, which is entrusted to Mahākāśyapa.

नस्वातोनापिपरतोनद्वाभ्यांनाप्यहेतुतः
उत्पन्नाजातुविद्यन्तेभावाःक्वचनकेचन

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Queequeg
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Re: Retroactivity of Awakening

Post by Queequeg » Tue Feb 07, 2017 11:48 pm

If the joke needs to be explained... its clearly not a funny joke.

Its excerpted from the passage you're referring to.

What I'm trying to suggest is that maybe you're asking the wrong question. That problem is posed as one that should be contemplated - "try and count how many kalpas."

Last night, my four year old son started telling me about his favorite numbers. It was one of the conversations I've been waiting to have with him. It went something like this:

Son: I like 10 because 10 is the biggest number.

Me: But what about 11? (chuckling at my reference to Spinal Tap)

S: I like 10 and 11. And 100. 100 is a nice number. And its the biggest.

Me: What about 1,000?

S: That's a nicer number. 1000 is the biggest number.

Me: What about 10,000?...
(repeat)
... 1 million? ... 1 billion? ... 1 Trillion?

S. That's made up. There's no trillion. That's silly.

Me: Oh, yes, its a 1 with 12 zeros.

S: Well that's the biggest, but 100 is the nicest number.

Me: What about googolplex?

S: What? (laughing) That's not a number!

Me: Yes it is. So, what about infinity?

S: (silent)

Me: Do you know what infinity is? (no answer) Its the biggest number you can think of. Plus 1. And then plus 1 again. And again. And Again.

Son: I like 10 and 100.

Me: Why?

Son: Because they let other numbers win.

---

Infinity. And Infinity of infinities. I believe the point is to leave you dumbfounded. Bring about an end to conceptual thinking about the life span of the Buddha. Just leave it as something so long that we can't even begin to think about it, let alone conceptualize it and make it a function of ego.
Those who, even with distracted minds,
Entered a stupa compound
And chanted but once, “Namo Buddhaya!”
Have certainly attained the path of the buddhas.

-Lotus Sutra, Expedient Means Chapter

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Re: Retroactivity of Awakening

Post by Karma Dondrup Tashi » Wed Feb 08, 2017 12:31 am

Once upon a time there was a man. Every 100 years he was permitted to walk from the east coast of the US and drop one grain of sand in the Grand Canyon. When the Grand Canyon was full, he was permitted to drop one grain of sand into a second Grand Canyon. Then he had to start again with the first Grand Canyon and when that was full again, he was allowed to drop a grain of sand in the second Grand Canyon again. When the second Grand Canyon was full he was permitted to drop one grain of sand into a third Grand Canyon, and then he had to start over again with the first and second grand canyons. And on and on up until ten grand canyons. And they all lived happily ever after.

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Re: Retroactivity of Awakening

Post by Coëmgenu » Wed Feb 08, 2017 1:25 am

If I have offended anyone I am very sorry. I am just trying to see if certain things I think are solid in the Buddhavacana form a coherent worldview, concerning conventional presentations of reality, with other things I believe are Buddhavacana.
世尊在靈山會上拈華示眾眾皆默然唯迦葉破顏微笑世尊云
The Lord dwelt at the Vulture Peak with the assembly and plucked a flower as a teaching. The myriad totality were silent, save for Kāśyapa, whose face cracked in a faint smile. The Lord spoke.
吾有正法眼藏涅槃妙心實相無相微妙法門不立文字教外別傳付囑摩訶迦葉。
I have the treasure of the true dharma eye, I have nirvāṇa as wondrous citta, I know signless dharmatā, the subtle dharma-gate, which is not standing on written word, which is external to scriptures, which is a special dispensation, which is entrusted to Mahākāśyapa.

नस्वातोनापिपरतोनद्वाभ्यांनाप्यहेतुतः
उत्पन्नाजातुविद्यन्तेभावाःक्वचनकेचन

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Re: Retroactivity of Awakening

Post by smcj » Wed Feb 08, 2017 3:30 am

Not based on the Lotus Sutra, but instead the Buddha Nature teachings, my position is that enlightenment is retroactive. Once you can see your Buddha Nature clearly (enlighenment), then you can retroactively see that it was there all along. However if you never get to the stage where you can see your own Buddha Nature clearly (normal unawareness), then the fact that it is always there, while still valid, is moot.

Just my $.02
I support Mingyur R and HHDL in their positions against Lama abuse.

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Re: Retroactivity of Awakening

Post by Queequeg » Wed Feb 08, 2017 4:11 am

Does anyone seem offended?

You refer to some overarching logic... What do you think the answer is?
Those who, even with distracted minds,
Entered a stupa compound
And chanted but once, “Namo Buddhaya!”
Have certainly attained the path of the buddhas.

-Lotus Sutra, Expedient Means Chapter

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Re: Retroactivity of Awakening

Post by smcj » Wed Feb 08, 2017 4:16 am

Queequeg wrote:Does anyone seem offended?

You refer to some overarching logic... What do you think the answer is?
Practice Dharma. Get enlightened. Pay it forward.
I support Mingyur R and HHDL in their positions against Lama abuse.

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Re: Retroactivity of Awakening

Post by Coëmgenu » Wed Feb 08, 2017 4:17 am

smcj wrote:Not based on the Lotus Sutra, but instead the Buddha Nature teachings, my position is that enlightenment is retroactive. Once you can see your Buddha Nature clearly (enlighenment), then you can retroactively see that it was there all along. However if you never get to the stage where you can see your own Buddha Nature clearly (normal unawareness), then the fact that it is always there, while still valid, is moot.

Just my $.02
My suspicion is that retroactive enlightenment, shared by many Buddhist schools, is one of the de facto underpinnings of Chapter 16, and explains how the contents of Ch 16 are not incoherent with the larger Buddhist tradition, which others have claimed they are.

But I am open to the notion that this teaching is absent or not mentioned in the text.

Still, many great sages of the past have believed that the totality of the Buddhadharma that is authentic informs the Lotus Sutra, and as such, that all true teachings of the Buddha have a home within the sutra. I am still learning and researching though. Forming a hermeneutic, if you will, of how the sutra is meant to be read, and what informs it, but this is what I am looking for now, to see if it is legitimately there or if I am "wishfully willing" it into the sutra artificially.
世尊在靈山會上拈華示眾眾皆默然唯迦葉破顏微笑世尊云
The Lord dwelt at the Vulture Peak with the assembly and plucked a flower as a teaching. The myriad totality were silent, save for Kāśyapa, whose face cracked in a faint smile. The Lord spoke.
吾有正法眼藏涅槃妙心實相無相微妙法門不立文字教外別傳付囑摩訶迦葉。
I have the treasure of the true dharma eye, I have nirvāṇa as wondrous citta, I know signless dharmatā, the subtle dharma-gate, which is not standing on written word, which is external to scriptures, which is a special dispensation, which is entrusted to Mahākāśyapa.

नस्वातोनापिपरतोनद्वाभ्यांनाप्यहेतुतः
उत्पन्नाजातुविद्यन्तेभावाःक्वचनकेचन

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Re: Retroactivity of Awakening

Post by Coëmgenu » Wed Feb 08, 2017 4:19 am

Queequeg wrote:Does anyone seem offended?

You refer to some overarching logic... What do you think the answer is?
Some of the answers seemed a little annoyed with my questions, I thought it better safe than sorry to apologize if people thought I was babbling on incoherently on the forums.
世尊在靈山會上拈華示眾眾皆默然唯迦葉破顏微笑世尊云
The Lord dwelt at the Vulture Peak with the assembly and plucked a flower as a teaching. The myriad totality were silent, save for Kāśyapa, whose face cracked in a faint smile. The Lord spoke.
吾有正法眼藏涅槃妙心實相無相微妙法門不立文字教外別傳付囑摩訶迦葉。
I have the treasure of the true dharma eye, I have nirvāṇa as wondrous citta, I know signless dharmatā, the subtle dharma-gate, which is not standing on written word, which is external to scriptures, which is a special dispensation, which is entrusted to Mahākāśyapa.

नस्वातोनापिपरतोनद्वाभ्यांनाप्यहेतुतः
उत्पन्नाजातुविद्यन्तेभावाःक्वचनकेचन

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Re: Retroactivity of Awakening

Post by Queequeg » Wed Feb 08, 2017 4:42 am

Coëmgenu wrote:
Queequeg wrote:Does anyone seem offended?

You refer to some overarching logic... What do you think the answer is?
Some of the answers seemed a little annoyed with my questions, I thought it better safe than sorry to apologize if people thought I was babbling on incoherently on the forums.
That's just how we relate to each other on DW.
Those who, even with distracted minds,
Entered a stupa compound
And chanted but once, “Namo Buddhaya!”
Have certainly attained the path of the buddhas.

-Lotus Sutra, Expedient Means Chapter

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Re: Retroactivity of Awakening

Post by Wayfarer » Wed Feb 08, 2017 6:41 am

'Truth is what is always already the case'.
Only practice with no gaining idea ~ Suzuki-roshi

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Re: Retroactivity of Awakening

Post by smcj » Wed Feb 08, 2017 8:19 am

Wayfarer wrote:'Truth is what is always already the case'.
Right.

So then are you onboard with the idea that Awakening is retroactive?
I support Mingyur R and HHDL in their positions against Lama abuse.

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Re: Retroactivity of Awakening

Post by Wayfarer » Wed Feb 08, 2017 9:18 am

The way I would intepret it is that Gotama was awakened to what has always been the case since 'before time', as it were - so, awakened to the eternal truth. There was never a time when that truth wasn't the case, but I'm sure there was a time when the individual Gotama didn't realise that.

There is a sense of the word 'eternal' which is not 'of endless duration' but 'altogether outside the temporal'. Which, I suppose, is one of the meanings of akalika, 'not a matter of time'.

I think the difficulty arises with reconciling how a temporal being - namely, Gotama - could become the Tathagatha. But I think perhaps the answer is something very like, Gotama the individual died at the moment of awakening - died as in 'passes beyond', 'gone beyond', and then realised the true identity that he had in some vital sense, always been. (Not that this rationalises it or explains it, it will always be a mysterious thing.)

:namaste:
Only practice with no gaining idea ~ Suzuki-roshi

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Re: Retroactivity of Awakening

Post by Astus » Wed Feb 08, 2017 2:51 pm

Two basic terms would need to be clarified first: what is awakening and what one is awakened to. And the simplest answer seems to be that awakening is the removal of defilements and one is awakened to emptiness. Then the solution to the original question is that there is a point in time when defilements are removed, while the truth of emptiness is valid at any time.
1 Myriad dharmas are only mind.
Mind is unobtainable.
What is there to seek?

2 If the Buddha-Nature is seen,
there will be no seeing of a nature in any thing.

3 Neither cultivation nor seated meditation —
this is the pure Chan of Tathagata.

4 With sudden enlightenment to Tathagata Chan,
the six paramitas and myriad means
are complete within that essence.


1 Huangbo, T2012Ap381c1 2 Nirvana Sutra, T374p521b3; tr. Yamamoto 3 Mazu, X1321p3b23; tr. J. Jia 4 Yongjia, T2014p395c14; tr. from "The Sword of Wisdom"

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Re: Retroactivity of Awakening

Post by smcj » Wed Feb 08, 2017 3:15 pm

In simple terms, I'm going to take that as a "yes" from both of you.
I support Mingyur R and HHDL in their positions against Lama abuse.

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Re: Retroactivity of Awakening

Post by narhwal90 » Wed Feb 08, 2017 3:26 pm

Years ago as a thought experiment early on in NSA I did some estimates relating to the "dust particle/kalpa" question. The compounding exponents immediately exceed the age of the universe, it seems to me the question isn't really about actual age perhaps it is an artifice to lead away from counting- or perhaps number theory concepts of infinity were not appropriately developed at the time of the writing to be used instead. A quick search suggests the development of theories of infinity were in their initial forms in India and Greece around the time of Sakyamuni, or perhaps slightly after.

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Re: Retroactivity of Awakening

Post by Karma Dondrup Tashi » Wed Feb 08, 2017 3:31 pm

In my next incarnation the age of the universe may have changed.

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Re: Retroactivity of Awakening

Post by Malcolm » Wed Feb 08, 2017 4:01 pm

Coëmgenu wrote:Greetings all,

A while ago, I proposed a thought-experiment based on a surface-level, or literalist, reading of the description of the Buddha's Awakening and Buddhic Lifespan based on Chapter 16 of the Lotus Sutra, which declares one (or both) of the following readings (or neither, to cover myself if my wrongness in these speculative interpretations is irreconcilable with any mainstream Buddhology).

1) the Awakening of the Buddha is retroactive, having never occurred once it has occurred, as much of a contradiction that may seem, speaking on terms of general conventionality. It is in this way that Buddhahood is beginningless.

2) the Awakening of the Buddha is non-retroactive, thus is temporal, and is fundamentally tied to the conditions and historical reality of a certain moment in time, perhaps even a certain specific and particular experienced dharma, most likely the particular asamskrta (unconditioned) dharma of nirvana itself. Chapter 16 merely labels the experience of the asamskrta-dharma as occurring "measureless" time before because the amount of time that has passed, since the asamskrta-dharma-experience, is uncountable by anyone or anything on account of the sheer size of the number, for no other reason. Since the beginning of this Buddhahood, as a date/time, is unknowable, it falls beyond the purview of the "All" as outlined in, say, the Sabbasutta of the Páli nikáya-literature, and thus cannot be said to exist. It is in this way that Buddhahood is beginningless.

Which one of these readings (or neither) seems more likely?
Which Buddha? Śākyamuni?
Buddhahood in This Life
འ༔ ཨ༔ ཧ༔ ཤ༔ ས༔ མ༔


[A]nything at all that is well spoken is the word of the Buddha.

-- Ārya-adhyāśaya-sañcodana-nāma-mahāyāna-sūtra

The different sūtras in accord with the emptiness
taught by the Sugata are definitive in meaning;
One can understand that all of those Dharmas in
which a sentient being, individual, or person are taught are provisional in meaning.

-- Samadhirāja Sūtra

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