Tuesday, October 16, 2007


I think I've figured something out that I was struggling with. For a while I believed that I had found a hole in Buddhism; that it was wanting to have its cake and eat it too. I think I'm wrong. What am I talking about?! Of course I'm wrong! I'm 19! I'm always wrong! Anywho, I learned something today that made me think about things in a different way metaphysically. First I have to preface this post with two seemingly unrelated ideas that I've been pushing around in my head.

Thought one:
In my Modern Philosophy class, we've been talking about John Locke. Locke started talking about substratum. The easiest way to understand this is to think about an object (a cup, say). Okay, so this cup is metallic, shiny, has shape, extension, etc. It has a myriad of properties. What holds these properties together? Whatever that mysterious substance is is the substratum of that object. Philosophers have struggled for a while with substratum. Locke thinks that substratum is a mental process of assimilating these properties into a single object. We learn it through experiencing the world. I'm not sure, but it's a cool thing to think about.

Thought two:
In my Eastern Religions and Philosophies course, we've been discussing Buddhism. The thing I've been struggling with is the idea of reincarnation, specifically in relation to the skandhas. Buddhism has this belief that a person is made up of five skandhas. When you die, these skandhas break apart and come back together to recreate you in a new form. They are essentially what carries your personality and traits from life to life. The problem I was having is this: What is the substratum of the skandhas? What holds them together after you die? It isn't the self (like a soul or something) because Buddhism rejects the notion of the self. It just felt to me like Buddhism was saying, "It just works! It's magic!" Without resolving this notion, it didn't seem like reincarnation would work for Buddhism in my eyes. It seemed like you had to have some central self, like the Atman for Hinduism, in order to hold all of this stuff together.

Tonight the two issues collided while I was reading for Eastern. The Buddha says, "There is, monks, an unborn, not become, not made, uncompounded, and were it not, monks, for this unborn, not become, not made, uncompounded, no escape could be shown here for what is born, has become, is made, is compounded." When I pair that with the idea that instead of an Atman, Buddhism claims we have Nirvana at our core, and with the idea that Locke says substratum cannot be explained because it has no properties at all, it makes a lot of sense. It seems like Nirvana is the substratum for things in the world. It has no qualities, yet it is at the core of everything. It holds our skandhas together, yet does not add to anything since it is essentially "not existing." It cannot be claimed to exist since it has no qualities at all. Kinda cool.

What I find myself doing, even still, is using the name "nirvana" to describe nothing. I think it's strange that in my mind I imagine "nirvana" holding these things together, when in reality it is nothing. What I wonder is whether nirvana truly is nothing, or whether it is something which cannot be described or have attributes and qualities ascribed to it. Perhaps it is not "nothing," but only an "indescribable something." Another interesting though.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It's the nothingness in my soul that keeps me hurting from day to day.... from black day, to black day.

Seriously though, good post. My head's full.