So I received pictures of a wonderful book (Unlocking Mysteries of Birth and Death) and wanted to know about my interpretation of the passages. However first a detour (1):

  1. In a neuroscience experiment one ask you to raise a hand and before you raise it determine which one you will raise before you actually raise it. This seems to imply there are two ways to predict the evolution of the system. One is by following the train of "thoughts" of the person in question. The other is by treating it as a physical system and determining the equations of motion. Buddhism teaches "thoughts" as what we are consciously aware of and they are only one level of awareness accessible to us. I would conjecture there is a one to one mapping between the physical and this entire pool of consciousness. Now given there is a one-to-one mapping one essentially has redundant variables. For example consider: x=y=c where x and y are variables of physical world and c is the variable of the conscious pool. One should be able to eliminate the variables of coordinates of space-time.

  2. Point (1) explains: The Simultaneity of Cause and Effect (page 182)

"The Buddhist principle of casualty, however, probes much deeper, penetrating the inner most nooks and crannies of life. It deals with a realm transcending space and time. From, this perspective it is meaningless to talk of cause preceding effect ..."

I'd go further on my interpretation of the of the rest of the pages ... But maybe another post ...


Is this a valid interpretation? What is this position known as in Western philosophy?

  • Trying to predict behavior based on physical equations of motion is probably impossible. Trying to predict behavior based on mental content is possible. People do it all the time, largely without even being aware that they do it. Dogs can predict when you are about to get up from your chair. AI can predict your emotional state based on voice tone and eye movement. The point of the Buddhist quote is that you cannot computationally, in your mind, make any predictions of your behavior except by looking at your overall state, which is largely time-independent. Learn that and you know enough.
    – Scott Rowe
    Apr 12 '20 at 17:16
  • everything in space and time has a cause. In Advaita, which is the same as Mahayana, it is referred to as time, space, and causation. Beyond time and space there is no causation. In Mahayana that which transcends beyond time, space, and causation - the transcendental state - is referred to Nirvana. Apr 14 '20 at 7:02

This sounds like walking into a classic heffalump trap. Whenever Buddha was asked a question about the soul, he would say first, exactly what do you mean by soul. You should ask, exactly what do we mean by cause - eg arguably it is a narrative heuristic not fundamental now in science Is the idea of a causal chain physical (or even scientific)? Then ask exactly what was Buddha talking about that is interpreted now as causality.

Causality, karma, in Buddhism, is essentially psychological, narrative. And the SE post in link above shows how that makes sense in terms of modern thought. In Buddhist thought suffering, clinging, begins when there is conceptualising, abstracting - ie where ignorance and delusion become possible. The chain of dependent origination narrates arising from that. In the conventional sense, these are causal, preceding effects. They happen in loops though.

The conundrum for Western thought about 'who' makes the decision to raise a hand if it is shown by experiment to have already been made, isn't an issue for Buddhism. Which always viewed consciousness as the result of aggregates, heaps, arising at the gates between internal and external realms. In modern thought we have the workspace theory of consciousness, in which a range of unconscious processes compete for our awareness, and when they enter it they can be integrated into the self-conceptualising narrative - the strange-loop quality subjectivity and complex consciousness are deeply tied.

"Intention (cetana) I tell you, is kamma. Intending, one does kamma by way of body, speech, & intellect." - The Nibbedhika Sutta, Anguttara Nikaya 6.63.

I understand this as how there are all these threads and chains of karma, of narrative or dependent origination, and when we bring them into our awareness our workspace, we impart the qualities of our intention to them, our own personal karma. The consequences continue outside of that time, that awareness, when we make our own karma with the infusion of our awareness. Buddha had to face the consequences of his own karma from before awakening even after his cessation of creating karma, the consequences of what he had clung to in the past would have to exhaust themselves, even after he attained unshakeable liberation from clinging.

I hope this helps. I'm not sure I've really answered your question, because I am pretty sceptical about what you have presented.

Edited to add:

I shoukd be clear that my perspective is Mahayana yogacara school. Just been reminded of Vadubhandu's 20 Verses, and reading

"Vasubandhu's Viṃśatikā (Twenty Verses) repeatedly emphasizes in a variety of ways that karma is intersubjective and that the course of each and every stream of consciousness (vijñāna-santāna, i.e., the changing individual) is profoundly influenced by its relations with other consciousness streams" - Dan Lusthaus

Also a clearer description using canonical language of what I was trying to say about 'infusing':

"[T]he Sautrantikas [...] insisted that each act exists only in the present instant and perishes immediately. To explain causation, they taught that with each karmic act a "perfuming" occurs which, though not a dharma or existent factor itself, leaves a residual impression in the succeeding series of mental instants, causing it to undergo a process of subtle evolution eventually leading to the act’s result. Good and bad deeds performed are thus said to leave "seeds" or traces of disposition that will come to fruition." - Dennis Hirota, from here

It should be said there is another fundamental source of discontinuity between Buddhist and Western thought. Buddhist philosophy is meant to be used, 'realised', through personal practice. It cannot be seen purely a book-keeping of account of mechanics. For Western thinking, the defining context thinking is orientated around is experiment. For Buddhist thought it is experience, and that is the ground it is built on because that is it's concern, that is what it is for.

  • 1
    I like your answer. Western thought has made its own bed by trying to explain everything at entirely the wrong level.
    – Scott Rowe
    Apr 12 '20 at 17:23
  • Etymologically, experiment = experi - ence + ment, experiment is meant to be a transformed formal experience from Indo-European language perspective. Thus the two thoughts may not have "fundamantal source of discontinuity" which cannot be reconciled... Feb 26 at 20:32
  • @DoubleKnot: Etymonline has: "from Latin experimentum "a trial, test, proof, experiment," noun of action from experiri "to try, test," from ex "out of" (see ex-) + peritus "experienced, tested," from PIE -per-yo-, suffixed form of root - per- (3) "to try, risk." " I should clarify, the Western assumption is to objectivity, & I see the Eastern assumption as to a subjectivity; that the Buddhist perspective is, of accurate intersubjective, is founded on accurate subjective, founded in personal development. As per Indra's Net metaphor.
    – CriglCragl
    Feb 26 at 23:24
  • The diff btw "ence" and "ment" lies ence~=once (little, immature), ment~=usual formal suffix (movement, department) meaning "many, mature, complete", clearly experiment means more mature formal experiences from maybe more people, effectively "objective" experience. As for subjective Buddhist perspective, I got what you mean here and tend to agree. We just never need to put "accurate" qualifier before "subjective", since from the subjective person's viewpoint, his or her subjective experience is always accurate by the definition of subjective, one always thinks one's own experience accurate... Feb 26 at 23:53
  • 1
    @DoubleKnot: comments not for extended discussion. I'd point to the sharing of 'salience landscapes', needs of similar tasks & shared modes of life, to structure how we group & prioritise experiences, in ways that contain skill & learning & culture that gets transmitted & compounded. My view on causality is here philosophy.stackexchange.com/questions/70930/… I don't accept qualia philosophy.stackexchange.com/questions/73847/…
    – CriglCragl
    Mar 15 at 11:58

"The Simultaneity of Cause and Effect", for me this position in Western philosophy can be mapped to rational idealist Leibniz's famous "final cause" from the "pre-determined harmony". For him, the seemingly infinite chain of efficient cause and effect is just a phenomenal reflection of the infinite ontological monads which are ultimately reflecting in the image of the omni-One. According to his principle of pre-determined harmony, the chain of cause and effect is already coded at the creation of this world as true "final cause", thus ontologically later chain is just an unfolding of this simultaneous "pre-determined harmony" and his Monads are very much like Hinduism/Buddhism's Indra's Net allegory. The essential difference is Leibniz is a monotheist holding Christianity belief strongly and admits all monads are real ontological existent substances, while Buddhism takes a more nihilistic view (essentially taking Occam's Razor doctrine known in the West to an extreme), doesn't admit Indra Net's true existence, as famously summarized in the doctrine of co-dependent origination/arising of karma which is of emptiness nature. Thus in application, there's hardly any difference between the "pre-determined harmony" doctrine and "co-dependent origination" doctrine...

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