Madhyamaka is rarely appreciated regarding its potential benefit of total liberation. Most consider it a dry, incomprehensible, philosophical system, grounded in merely intellectual arguments and refutations.
Unfortunately, we can thank Tsongkhapa and the Gelugpa’s for this oft mistaken view regarding the “Middle Way”, in Sanskrit: Madhyamaka.
A much simpler understanding can be conveyed, and when fully digested, will produce complete liberation from the ignorance which is the cause of our suffering.
The bottom line understanding is this: the universe, the world, our bodies, our brains, our selves, other people, our interactions, our perceptions, our karmic mind and all physical objects as experienced; are conceptual constructions occurring in consciousness, and are of the single substance of “thought” or “consciousness”, or “mind” only.
A quick introduction into this perspective would be to initially understand that everything we perceive or experience are no more than fluctuating fields of atoms. The mind labels certain of these patterns of atoms as trees, people, planets and all things. The entire field of atoms is interconnected as a single universal field with no separate parts. The human mind conceives certain patches of perceptions are as “thought about”. There are no “people” in reality; only a fluctuating field of vibrating atoms that the mind defines as people, with all their thought-up characteristics. This is like the mind assigning the existence of a snake to a coil of rope in the dark. There is no “snake” there and there are no “people” either.
This isn’t nihilism because the field of fluctuating atoms exists (in our analogy) but has no inherent characteristics other than as the mind projects upon it; as the thoughts that define what a “person” is. The “person” is a made-up story, comprised only of thoughts superimposed upon an ever evolving and changing pattern of insubstantial atoms.
Now apply this insight to all things, creatures and people. It’s realized that the fluctuating field of atoms are “empty” of those defining “thought descriptions” which are its only specified or designated characteristics.
In reality there are no “people”, “persons” or “things”; there is only an impersonal field of atoms in fluctuation.
The early Buddhists believed in these primary “atoms” as taught in Abhidharma. Other Buddhist schools refuted even the existence of primary “atoms” as a material substrate, as did the Madhyamaka and Prasangika traditions. This view evolved into the “Consciousness Only” schools. They eliminated all “material” elements or substrates. The only Reality was immaterial Consciousness (shes pa) itself.
That means that our universe, world, bodies and lives are now seen as merely fluctuations of “thought”, not fluctuations of material “atoms”. This is the view of Madhyamaka and Prasangika “emptiness teachings”. This means all phenomena are “empty” of any kind of objectively existing, material substrate or substance; all is consciousness or mind only.
Does this view conflict with modern science and physics or is this also the current view of quantum mechanics?
This perspective is not possible if “classical Newtonian physics” is true. Therefore we have to upshift to the much more accurate view that “quantum mechanics” offers.
One of quantum physic’s founding fathers, Erwin Schroedinger, wrote:
“The world is given to me only once, not one existing and one perceived.”
Some supportive quotes from QM physicists:
“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.”
― Max Planck, Father of Quantum Theory
“There is no matter as such. All matter originates and exists only by virtue of a force… We must assume behind this force the existence of a conscious and intelligent Mind. This Mind is the matrix of all matter.”
― Max Planck
“Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.”
― Albert Einstein
“The doctrine that the world is made up of objects whose existence is independent of human consciousness turns out to be in conflict with quantum mechanics and with facts established by experiment.”
― Physicist Bernard d’Espagnat
“It was not possible to formulate the laws of quantum mechanics in a fully consistent way without reference to the consciousness.”
― Physicist Eugene Wigner
“We have to give up the idea of realism to a far greater extent than most physicists believe today.”
― Physicist Anton Zeilinger
“Observations not only disturb what is to be measured, they produce it.”
― Physicist Pascual Jordan
“When we measure something we are forcing an undetermined, undefined world to assume an experimental value. We are not ‘measuring’ the world, we are creating it.”
― Niels Bohr
“The atoms or elementary particles themselves are not real; they form a world of potentialities or possibilities rather than one of things or facts.”
― Werner Heisenberg
“Everything we call real is made of things that cannot be regarded as real.”
― Niels Bohr.
“If quantum mechanics hasn’t profoundly shocked you, you haven’t understood it yet.”
― Niels Bohr
“The ontology of materialism rested upon the illusion that the kind of existence, the direct “actuality” of the world around us, can be extrapolated into the atomic range. This extrapolation is impossible, however.”
― Werner Heisenberg
“ ‘It from Bit’ symbolizes the idea that every item of the physical world has at bottom an immaterial source and explanation… that all things physical are information-theoretic in origin and that this is a participatory universe.”
― John Archibald Wheeler
“Consciousness is the phenomenon whereby the universe’s very existence is made known.”
― Roger Penrose
“Quantum physics thus reveals a basic oneness of the universe.”
― Erwin Schrodinger
“Deep down the consciousness of mankind is one. This is a virtual certainty because even in the vacuum matter is one; and if we don’t see this, it’s because we are blinding ourselves to it.”
― David Bohm
“If ordinary people really knew that consciousness and not matter is the link that connects us with each other and the world, then their views about war and peace, environmental pollution, social justice, religious values, and all other human endeavors would change radically.”
― physics professor, Amit Goswami, “The Quantum Activist”
Professor of Quantum Physics at John Hopkins University, Richard Conn Henry wrote:
THE REAL SCANDAL OF QUANTUM MECHANICS
“It seems that almost everyone feels that the universe must be “made of” something and wants to know what. We know for a fact that the universe is not “made of” anything. …. Get it through your heads, physicists! It is sometimes said that the only thing that is real are the observations, but even that is not true: observations are not real either. They, and everything else, are purely mental.”
He later states: “…. there are no real monkeys or cats or other humans––the entire universe exists only in YOUR mind.”
(Jackson: This is the actual implication that quantum mechanics reveals since 1925, and has continued to be verified as a completely accurate description of the universe at all levels. This happens to be identical to the Buddhist teachings known as Madhyamaka (Middle Way) as elucidated by Nagarjuna and later by Chandrakirti.
In the Madhyamaka teachings it is demonstrated logically that the universe and all its beings exist purely through conceptual designation alone. Outside of our mental constructions there is no universe and no beings at all. Quantum Physics and Buddhism agree completely on this vital
From another essay, physics Professor Conn Henry writes:
“One benefit of switching humanity to a correct perception of the world is the resulting joy of discovering the mental nature of the Universe. We have no idea what this mental nature implies, but — the great thing is — it is true. Beyond the acquisition of this perception, physics can no longer help. You may descend into solipsism, expand to deism, or something else if you can justify it — just don’t ask physics for help.”
“There is another benefit of seeing the world as quantum mechanical: someone who has learned to accept that nothing exists but observations (thoughts), is far ahead of peers who stumble through physics hoping to find out ‘what things are’. If we can ‘pull a Galileo,’ and get people believing the truth, they will find physics a breeze.
The Universe is immaterial — mental and spiritual. Live, and enjoy.”
Richard Conn Henry is a Professor in the Henry A. Rowland Department of Physics and Astronomy, The Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland
Quantum physics can help us in deconstructing our incorrect views that assume an objective, material universe exists “out there”. Only Consciousness exists and our thoughts about it.
As harsh as it may sound, your children and yourselves, are merely fluctuations of “atoms” or believed thoughts; like everything else. Reality is not more than your thoughts, as momentary appearances of Consciousness.
Now that the “view” has been clarified; let’s look at some of the teachings of two great proponents of Madhysmaka, Nagarjuna and Chandrakirti:
The unborn nature ~ Chandrakirti
Right from the beginning, in the unborn nature
There is nothing to be refuted and nothing to be established.
At the level of the unborn, there is no distinction of
Attaining nirvana or not attaining nirvana.
The unborn nature itself is also not there,
Because there is no thing which is unborn.
There is no relative and no absolute.
There are no buddhas and no beings.
There is no view and nothing to meditate on.
There is no conduct and no result.
The mind is the meditation;
The mind free of concepts rests in its own place.
There is nothing that recognizes and nothing that is distracted.
There are no characteristics, and the meditation is very clear.
“Those who believe in validly established conventional reality assert that relative phenomena have objective existence; that they validly exist from their own side, by virtue of their own specific characteristics. Chandrakirti shows how this is not the case; he demonstrates that phenomena in relative reality have no valid, objective existence, but are merely conceptual projections, just like phenomena in dreams.”
From Chandrakirti’s Entering the Middle Way with Commentary from Karmapa VIII Mikyo Dorje
Nagarjuna wrote in “Praises”:
“Any horns there on a rabbit’s head are just imagined and do not exist. Just so, all phenomena as well are just imagined and do not exist.”
Chandrakirti’s Prasangika view, from his text:
“It is established that through the cessation of karma and afflictive mental states comes liberation.
What, then, is that thing due to the cessation of which karma and afflictive states also cease?
Karma and afflictive mental states come from conceptuality (vikalpa), and that comes from conceptual structuring (prapañca). Conceptual structuring, however, ceases in emptiness.
This is so because afflictive mental states such as desire arise in one who, as a childish, ordinary person, is improperly conceptualizing material form and so on.”
As Nāgārjuna will explain:
It is said that attachment, aversion, and confusion come from conceptuality because
they arise in dependence on the beautiful, the ugly, and error. (MMK 23.1)
And it is also said in a sūtra:
Desire (also maya), I know your root: you are born from conceptuality. No longer will I
conceptualize you, and thus, you will no longer be in me.
“In this manner, karma and afflictive mental states, first of all, come from concepts. And the concepts arise from various kinds of conceptual structuring to which one has become conditioned throughout one’s beginningless saṃsāric existence.”
“Those various kinds of conceptual structuring include: knowledge and the known object; linguistic referent and linguistic expression; agent, object, instrument and action;
material form and sensation; female and male; gain and loss; happiness and suffering; fame and obscurity; praise and blame; and so on. ”
“All of these worldly conceptual structures cease in emptiness; that is, they cease when one sees that all things are empty of essence. How so? Because the aforementioned web of conceptual structuring occurs [only] if one perceives a thing to be “real”.
Peace is the calming of all perceptual objectification (sarvopalambhupaśama), the calming of conceptual structuring: no dharma has been taught by the Buddha for anyone anywhere.”
A modern master of Prasangika, Gen Lamrimpa explains:
“The entire universe and everything in it is conceptually designated.”
“We say that phenomena are established by the power of conceptual designation.”
“Since phenomena do not exist inherently, they must exist conventionally. And since phenomena are established by the power of convention, they exist in a dependent fashion. Phenomena are dependent upon something else; in particular, they are dependent upon conceptual designation.”
“There are a number of Buddhist scriptures that make this point. For example, there are sutras that say phenomena are established by conception. Also, Nagarjuna’s writings say that phenomena are established by thought, and Aryadeva makes the same point. All these Buddhist writings say that phenomena are established by convention, and what they mean here is that they are conceptually designated.”
“This is an assertion unique to the Prasangika Madhyamaka view. All four Buddhist philosophical systems affirm that phenomena are dependent upon the collection of their preceding causes and conditions. But apart from the Prasangika system, the other Buddhist philosophical systems do not assert that phenomena are established by conception. Advocates of those other systems are not able to comprehend this point.”
“Nagarjuna comments that total emptiness, or universal emptiness, remains upon the complete cessation of all appearances of conventional reality (conceptual constructs). In the absence of all conventional appearances (conceptual constructions), that emptiness can be called “the clear light of the fourth occasion.” The Buddhist scholar Sangye Yeshe states that this mind of clear light pervades all of space. This indicates the essential nature, or the mode of being, of the awareness (rigpa).”
“We can ask this question in relation to the “I.” How does the “I” exist? First of all, the “I” does not exist except as a conceptual or verbal designation. Apart from that, the “I” has no other mode of existence.”
(Translated from Tibetan by B. Allan Wallace)
Khenpo Tsulstrim Gyamtso:
“We can formulate the following logical reasoning: Karmic actions and results are mere appearances devoid of true existence, because no self, no actor, exists to perform them. This is a valid way to put things because if the self of the individual does not exist, there cannot be any action, and therefore there cannot be any result of any action either.”
Khenpo Tsulstrim Gyamtso
“Someone might ask, “Isn’t it nihilistic to think that karmic actions and their results do not exist?” In fact, this is not a nihilistic view because there exists no self to have any nihilistic view. There can be a nihilistic view only if there is someone to hold it, but since there is no one to have any view, then there can be no nihilism. Furthermore, since the thought of nihilism neither arises nor abides nor ceases, there can be no nihilism in genuine reality. Genuine reality transcends the conceptual fabrications of realism and nihilism. It transcends karmic actions and results, and the absence of karmic actions and results as well. If karmic actions and their results do not exist in the abiding nature of reality, then what is the quality of their appearance?”
Nagarjuna describes this in the chapter’s thirty-third verse:
“Mental afflictions, actions, and bodies, as well as actors and results, are like cities of imaginary beings, like mirages, and like dreams.”
“In the end, Madhyamaka refers to the actual direct experience of a nonreferential state of mind that is utterly free from all discursiveness obscuring the seeing of mind’s true nature. So when Madhyamakas talk about freedom from discursiveness, it means not only freedom from extreme or wrong ideas but complete absence of any coarse, subtle, conscious, or unconscious ideas, thoughts, or mental images whatsoever (obviously, this does not mean some kind of coma). At the most subtle level, this means to be free from even the most deeply ingrained tendencies within the mental flux of ordinary sentient beings, such as our instinctive “gut feeling” of being individuals who are different from others and the appearance of subject and object as being distinct.”
Karl Brunnholzl from his “Center of the Sunlit Sky”
Brain and Idealism:
Dzogchen teacher Alan Wallace: