twice in the last few months i spoke about human nature. in the first post, i alluded to the question of whether there is such a thing as human nature. in the second i showed you an essay i once wrote about human nature. if wonder how this hold up against buddhist ideas of impermanence?

here is a piece from the nirvana sutra

material form is non-eternal. by doing away with this form, one arrives at the eternal form of emancipation. so does it obtain with feeling, perception, volition, and consciousness, too. by doing away with consciousness, one arrives at the eternal form of emancipation and peace. this also pertains to feeling, perception, volition …

let me translate that into what i think it means:

  • material form is impermanent.
  • when we remove this empty form, we become forever free.
  • the same is the case with feeling, perception, will, and consciousness. they are just empty forms.
  • when we remove consciousness, we are forever free and in peace.
  • the same is true for feeling, perception and will.

one way of interpreting this is to say that nothing is fixed, and truly recognizing this constant flux, and living accordingly, is what sets us free.

we do not have to live in the “form” (straightjacket?) of our feelings. we do not have to live in the “form” (straightjacket?) of our perceptions, or our will (desires?).

and now it gets difficult: we do not have to live in the form (or structure, or box) of our consciousness.

what that means, i think, is that we can’t assume that even our most closely held beliefs and values are either fixed or unchanging.  which means that even my view of human nature is up for grabs … ?

pretty heady and radical stuff, this buddhism.

10 thoughts on “impermanence

  1. ashok

    I don’t know that your conception of human nature is up for grabs. I have a rant on Epicurus that doesn’t make much sense, but addresses this problem kinda:

    Epicurus is famous for saying “don’t worry about pain, it’s just material, so when you die, there won’t be any pain” with a straight face. Now granted, he’s a materialist – material is everything. Reading that entry above shows that love is eternal because the material is eternal.

    But “material form” isn’t material, strictly speaking. It’s what we are now, but we dissolve into material, no? (I’m asking here, I don’t know what the rest of what you quoted says).

    Thing is, if Epicurus and the nirvana sutra are in agreement, you’re fine, b/c Epicurus technically has a conception of human nature. For Epicurus, people were good, and living simply and recognizing the nature of the universe (atomism) alone meant the good life was possible.

    I realize there are about 928374972979 issues I’m ignoring here, and that I’m being really terse, b/c none of this is my specialty. Hope it helps some though.

    ashok’s last blog post..Why Does Marketing Exist? Hasn’t Dilbert Proven It’s The Most Worthless Department In Any Business?

  2. isabella mori

    hmm, ashok, a very interesting point – and i love how you say that there are 928374972979 (did i count that right?) issues you’re ignoring. thus speaks a true wise man.

    my tired brain tells me that while epicurus probably was, like other ancient greek philosophers, a tiny bit – let’s say “informed” by buddhism (“influenced” might be too strong a word), there still seem to be great differences in fundamentals.

    while epicurus basically seems to say that the material isn’t quite what we think it is, it, and our sensation of it, is still the foundation of everything.

    that’s very different from buddhism. the principal ideas behind buddhism are that 1) there is suffering; 2) suffering is caused by attachment; 3) suffering can end; and 4) there is a path that leads to the end of suffering.

    sensation, then, is not at the centre; sensation is part of attachment. i also seem vaguely to remember that “sensation” for epicurus is not the pure sensation that buddhists often refer to (the “thusness” of experience) and hold up as something to strive for. epicurus’ sensation is, and correct me if i’m wrong – an INTERPRETED sensation (“my lover is not beside me. that is bad.”) which is very close to attachment.

    of course you’re right that “material form” is not the same as material. “material” is the thing that i can sink my teeth into, “material form” is a concept, an idea (another word that the greeks loved so much).

    the other thing we could wrack our brains over is that all the sutras themselves are views of human nature. how in-flux, impermanent are THEY?

    all these contemplations are not very scholarly, of course, just thinking out loud before going to bed …

  3. isabella mori

    i THINK i’m thinking that we can point out the parallels (which would be quite a long essay) but right now i don’t see an agreement per se.

    saying that they are not in agreement because of the fundamental difference in how they view body and mind would be a quick-and-dirty answer. i seem to hear my philosophical methods teacher whispering in my ear, though, that it would also be a sloppy answer.

  4. ashok

    What then is most essential to either line of thinking, which we need to get a grip on first? Do you want to start with the idea that suffering is central to Buddhism? If so, that’s fine, but what exactly do you want to say is central in Epicurean thought?

    I’m not asking all these questions to be rude. I just want to inquire and see where it goes.

    ashok’s last blog post..International Relations 101: How did Post-Cold War US Policy Create The Russia Of Today?

  5. isabella mori

    aaah, more wisdom from you, ashok!

    your comment in comment #6 did make me think, though. how challenging it is to ask a question and to let it stand, WITHOUT turning away from it.

    (the question being, “is my view of human nature up for grabs?”)

    on the one hand, it’s important to take seriously the invitation implied in a question. one asks, the other replies. that’s a very important part of communication.

    what do we do when a question can’t be answered, when it turns out that answering the question really muddles everything, or when it opens up a can of worms that either party can’t/doesn’t want to handle?

    perhaps all we can do is what we do here. keep throwing out ideas, companionably and respectfully, and keep coming back to the question.

    (btw, i’m curious – where did you THINK this was going?)

  6. wayne

    OT Wisdom theology tells me that Sophia renews all. I imagine that we are constantly being rewoven and thus this allows miracles to happen. In the instant of being nothing, we become healed. I guess in that instant, we could also become ill. Oh well.

    wayne’s last blog post..After the visitors– part 1

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