I’m thinking of contexts like the basic analysis of sense consciousness:
Dependent on eye and sights arise eye consciousness …
So what can be experienced directly is “sights”, which in physical terms is essentially “light”, or more technically, “photons”. We, as educated moderns, know that when we see something it is just photons. Now, photons are, in some sense, a fundamental reality, or at least, pretty much as close as it gets. Yet our understanding of “photon” is inferred from our science.
In the same way, concepts such as “matter” are inferred from sense experience. “Sights” and “sounds” are quite different: what is there that unifies them, that allows us to see them as the same kind of thing? That information is not encoded in the thing; it is inferred.
Or consider even within the scope of sight. We directly experience this sight, what is happening in your field of vision right now. Yet we know that this is not random or arbitrary: there is a flow that connects this sight with that sight I experienced a moment ago. Or perhaps better to say that we only experience the changes. The idea of “sight” as a category is therefore inferred, it derives from our memory that there have in the past been experiences similar to this.
Again, thinking of the same passage. But its one of those things that is expressed in many different ways. For example, the interdependence of namarupa on cosnciousness, or that consciousness relies on the other four aggregates.
It’s true, and make no mistake, Buddhism leans towards an idealistic interpretation. Perhaps it’s a linguistic problem, though; I’m looking for a word that means (gestures vaguely around) all this and experience is the best I’ve got.
But that is another inference. You could equally say that we simply are not aware of all the things influencing experience; it doesn’t tell us how primary those things are.
They’re interdependent. You can’t have a spouse without a marriage, and you can’t have a marriage without spouses. I’m just trying to say that the relation is critical. Perhaps “family” might be a better metaphor. Or perhaps I should just stop with the metaphors!
I feel a bit like you’re wanting me to make a statement about ontological primacy, whereas I’m wanting to talk about phenomenological primacy. Our experience is complex, that is the primary reality in which we live. It’s just there, the “big buzzing confusion” as Kalupahana called it.
Just as a scientist would regard matter as primary, but it is really just that their method works best with matter; so a meditator treats mind as primary, but it is really just that their method works best with mind. Both methods work perfectly well within their scope, but the temptation is to assume that therefore it explains everything outside the scope as well.
I just don’'t think there’s anything to justify it. The suttas treat rupa ontologically on the same plane as mind, it’s just that the mind is of more concern for meditators. But the Buddha seemed to accept the existence of the material world in the ordinary sense. He just didn’t like it very much!
Again, as you know, with many such things it has to be drawn out. The suttas consistently present the aruppas as dependent on the form jhanas, which themselves are dependent on the physical development of meditation. I’m not sure if there is an explicit statement that they depend on matter, but I can’t imagine how it’s possible to understand that they are not.
Like I said:
Whether some schools of Buddhism are in fact idealistic is debatable; certainly some schools leaned heavily that way. But it’s also true that if examined closely, we find different perspectives within the same school. I do think it is too broad to say that Yogacara as a whole is idealist, though certain Yogacarins may be. I don’t think, for example, that Vasubandhu was. Kalupahana discusses this, and shows how vijnaptimātra “mere expressions of consciousness” became cittamātra “mind-only”.
I’m not disagreeing that there are strong idealist tendencies in modern Buddhism, I am just a little cautious about ascribing such a broad brush to complex and rich philosophical movements. I think (quasi-)idealism developed late in the picture, at least 1000 years after the Buddha. It’s not like its just there to be picked up in the suttas: it took a long process of evolution.
Idealism goes beyond that to assert that matter is an illusion and doesn’t really exist. And I’ve never heard a Thai teacher say anything like this.