How could we merge absurdist and Buddhist philosophies?

M. Provisionally we could put side by side ‘absurd’ (or illogical) and ‘unprovable’, even if they are not synonymous; and the main tenets of all religions are such. They are not ‘rational’. On the other hand, neither science, ‘common sense’, or rationality are the ‘end all’. There are many things that escape explanation with the current state of our knowledge and understanding.

Paradox is a term related, one way or another, to the above. Just consider the following:

i) “How wonderful that we have met with a paradox. Now we have some hope of making progress”. Niels Bohr (famous physicist)

ii) Is there anything more absurd to ordinary understanding of the world and us than the following (taken from my blog): “That truth, put into words, is paradoxical: you are all (as Consciousness) and ‘you’ (as perceived individual) are nothing, or a phantom; you are the final witness, but ‘you’ are not a witness; the world is illusory (as appearance), but in essence is reality itself. That revelatory, transcendental experience is non-transferable, not provable to another.”

GL. If by absurdism you mean acknowledging that there is no absolute truth, then zen buddhism when asked what is enlightenment, answers “6 pounds of flax”, which is, I believe, trying to point out that absolute truth is impossible.

M. You probably mean ‘impossible to demonstrate, or to know, with the ordinary mind’, but ask a zen buddhist if it (absolute reality or truth) is impossible to grasp, to grok.

GL. I think the point of the flax koan is that you can’t know satori with certainty.

M. Is it not rather that the experience cannot be explained – or transmitted – with words, being ineffable? Such is a transcendental experience, where there is no individual per se present.

GL. Isn’t “ineffable” the same as saying we can’t know with certainty?

M. No, it means ‘inexpressible’, the experience being overwhelming (rather than being too sacred – another meaning).

GL. If you can’t describe it, then it isn’t knowable.

If it is purely a matter of experience, then there is no way for me to know you are experiencing something the same way I am. Color is ineffable. You experience red and green the way you do, and I experience it the way I do. And unless we have an objective test for color blindness, there is no way to know if you see what I see. Some people see color when they hear sound. And as long as that experience is ineffable, there is no way to know if we see color the same way. Only when we establish some objective explanation and some objective testing can we know with certainty if we are experiencing similar things.

M. You refer to what are called qualia, but I am not sure how far you want to go (can nothing be known? In what sense?) Most empiricists/scientists tend to disregard this question or deny that it presents any problem for their physicalist stance. In non-duality, which is what interests me, there are not, cannot be, any objective tests referable to either external or internal experiences of what generally is understood as reality (the world and oneself) except, perhaps, in one’s facial expression and/or demeanor. That agrees with what you say about qualia but, aside from non-duality (or as a preliminary to it), it doesn’t mean that there cannot be agreement, concurrence, in the realm of thought, sensations, and feelings. Two people reading the same book or page – if they are on the same wave length (let’s say interest in non-duality, or in a particular modality of art, like Baroque or modern) – will have similar thoughts and feelings. Language is for communication – even about the understanding of non-duality (like zen) – but certain experiences cannot be communicated, such as particular intuitions or epiphanies, regardless of what we understand as qualia, though related to it.

6 thoughts on “How could we merge absurdist and Buddhist philosophies?

  1. This is a slippery slope. It seems better to be open minded rather than stick to conclusions like ‘there is no way for me to know you are experiencing something the same way I am’. May be so, but it is not entirely uncertain either. At least logically speaking (since most here are not claiming to be liberated). Let us take sweetness as an example. Only Two people taste it, nobody else. They may not be able to describe it in positive terms. But they can certainly say ‘it is not bitter’, ‘it is not sour’, ‘it is not salty’, and so on. By such statements, the rest of the population could infer those two are talking about similar experience. In any case, for most this is an intellectual exercise best left for a rainy day when one is bored with nothing else to do. For the truly liberated, supposedly there is no ‘I’ to begin with. So the issue does not arise.

  2. Martin, twopaisa

    This whole question of conveying teaching / experience seems to me to be problematic. For a start, WHO cares what the experience is and WHO would want to convey to WHO? Let’s try an experiment in logical thinking.

    If we take non-duality as truth, and a jnani as one who has fully realised this non-duality, how would he behave?

    Well clearly he would have no concern for the illusory world. He could not be attached to anything, could have no preference or aversion, could give no special consideration to his body and its relationships (over and above anyone else’s). Since everything is seen with an equal eye. He would simply take life as it comes without thought for the future.

    Hence I suppose why Sankara says that renunciation is inevitable with jnana, as per the Bhagavad Gita, living by whatever comes to him by chance.

    Hence why Ramana, when he came to Arunachala, discarded everything without a thought and ate whatever happened to be given to him.

    And why would a jnani bother (proactively) teaching – given that he sees everyone as just himself, albeit encumbered with the ignorance of an ego. But why would that matter? Teaching people liberation is totally irrelevant, because for a jnani there can be no people.

    Hence why I suppose, Ramana only taught when he was asked a question. When life brought questions to him, he responded to them; when Murugunar and other devotees begged him to write poetry, he obliged. Why not – he has no ego; so if the illusory world brings him a request, why would he not fulfil it?

    And what experience is there for him to convey – apart from the silence / peace that he is?

  3. The whole discussion is an intellectual exercise. But I would be alert about our own concepts, conclusions, and deep rooted conditioning.
    “why would a jnani bother (proactively) teaching”. Because that could be his prarabdha/destiny. One cannot go only by Ramana’s prarabdha. There are also Buddha, Jesus, Sankara etc etc who actively traveled to teach. This points to the real danger of taking a particular example and making it a standard for our judgements. The mind delights in activity. Judgements ensure activity and standards are a necessity for judgements.

    “Teaching people liberation is totally irrelevant, because for a jnani there can be no people.” Again, forget liberation, even for matters such as food, Ramana was very particular about the food served to ashram inmates. He started working in the kitchen at 3 am. He clearly did not say there was no people and food was irrelevant.

    Speaking of Ramana, he has stated that it is better for people to live in dvaita until liberation. He must have realized the dangers of Advaita and the wrong conclusions that can result for beginners.

  4. If you subscribe to eka jiva vada – there is only one consciousness which is seeing the world, and all else arises in it – then the teaching by gurus that appears to go on is just part of the dream in that one jive’s consciousness. An act of grace by consciousness to consciousness to remind it to wake up from the dream of life.

    If you don’t so subscribe, then there is the analogy of the flower. It shows all its beauty and fragrance, without judgement or preference, and without intending to benefit any others by so doing. If they gain benefit, so be it. Nisargadatta said:

    “I look like an ordinary man, but I am not concerned with any of this. All the activities that are going on in the world neither affect me nor do I find fault in them. I know that I can give nothing to the world, nor can the world give anything to me. It appears that I teach people but I don’t even want that. Whatever happens is all right with me.
    When at the time of so called death your form goes away, so also will your brain and memory, and you will not have any memory of ever being a form or person. All existence is illusory. Knowing this what do you want to achieve in the world? All is emptiness.”

    On this point of Ramana recommending people live in dvaita until liberation, there may be a misunderstanding. He actually said:

    “My son, you should experience advaita within your Heart at all times, but never even for a moment, should you express it in your outward action. Advaita is appropriate in all three worlds, but it is never appropriate in relation to the Guru”.

    As you say, until the ego is totally eradicated, you can never be sure that your actions in relation to others are ego-motivated or not. But to be clear he endorsed niskama karma – desireless action. Therefore you should behave as though there are others, with respect and compassion to their needs, but not driven by your own desires.

    • Venkat, any vada is a theory which can be contested by another theory. I am not denying that theories have some value to most since life is messy and the brain can be under enormous stress and easily become demented or even insane. Theories offer some shelter in the form of hope to the mind. It can be a remedy for excessive pain.
      “All existence is illusory. Knowing this what do you want to achieve in the world? All is emptiness.”
      1. Not illusory, very real. 2. I don’t know (meaning actually experience) this at all. I want this, I want that, I want good relationships in my life, I want money, I want respect, I want a healthy body and a long life. I want to enjoy the pleasures of life. 3. What does emptiness actually mean in my daily life, I have no idea.

      I had a different statement of Ramana in mind. But in any case ‘should’ and ‘should not’ are only dogmas. Every religion is full of it. Look at the world around us and see how it really works.

  5. As long as you oscillate between one conception and another, in this case, dvaita and advaita, and trying to eradicate ego, you miss the point. This is all going on in your brain, not in front of you. Whatever you think, it is not it. To live without problems, you have to accept what is. It is what ‘you’ are. How can you have desireless action when you think in these terms? Desireless action is an expression of putting to rest all these ideas about what and who you are. Why keep torturing yourself?

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