Thursday, October 11, 2018
Some personal observations on approaches in Early Buddhism and Advaita Vedanta towards the elimination of craving, suffering.
I was recently reading some material from Thanissaro Bikkhu related to the three types of craving, as seen in early Buddhism.
The three types of Craving can be identified as craving for sensuality in general (ie objects in contact with the senses- usually in a pleasurable way), craving for "becoming" and craving for "not-becoming".
We are all familiar with craving for sensuality and objects deemed as nice, good, pleasurable etc. as they come in contact with the 6 sense media and are then labelled and remembered (perception).
These components form a part of the 12 links of dependent origination elsewhere detailed in early Buddhism. The links in particular that are 'hit' above are name+form, 6 sense media, contact, feeling tone (like, dislike, neutral), craving, clinging and becoming.
In regards to the other two types of craving, which are "becoming" and "not becoming", it is interesting that TB explains "becoming" in terms of desires and perceptions that form one's "sense of who they are in a particular world of experience". This sense of who one is, isn't fixed, and is changing along with the world of experience at a particular moment.
Craving for "becoming" and "not becoming", then seem to be very closely tied to the sense of being a subject, an individual self, with a perceived separate existence tied to memory, perception, etc. This autonomous 'self' is challenged in Buddhism, under the teaching that everything existing (phenomenal) is "not self" (Anatta) and "impermanent" (Anicca) and thus suffering/sorrow/stress (Dukkha). (The 3 Marks of Existence).
Craving itself forms an integral part of the 12 links of Dependent Origination, and is dealt with extensively in most Buddhist schools using a variety of means (and no-means) to manage. Early Buddhist schools chiefly focused on the practices of Mindfulness and Concentration (along with Ethics) in order to deal with craving and becoming (which lead to suffering and stress). Later developments in Buddhism (Mahayana and Vajrayana) used a variety of means which had no link to the Buddha's historical teachings, but were nonetheless also efficient (or in some cases more efficient for certain students) in giving the same end.
Moving to Advaita Vedanta we can see a similar focus on the "Becoming" aspect of the 12 links. In fact, the primary focus of many Advaita schools seems to be directly on hitting the "Becoming" aspect (as in challenging the existence and perception of a separate, subjective self). Self-Inquiry is one such practice that concentrates on this aspect. A secondary focus is also involved in demonstrating and experiencing the illusory, temporary and unsatisfactory nature of the world and existence (Maya). In regards to the craving for "Becoming", it is interesting to note that Nisargadatta spends considerable time in some of his lectures talking about 'Self-Love', which is the natural desire for conditioned consciousness (wakefulness) to perpetuate itself and experience itself through objects. This outgoing nature of consciousness serves as bondage for the apparent individual, which itself is consciousness misidentified or lost in delusion (Maya).
We can also find a primary focus in some Advaita Vedanta schools on the aspect of "Consciousness"- which both forms a part of the 12 links (prior to Name/Form), and also one of the 5 Clinging Aggregates (skandas) in Buddhism. (This focus is also shared by some Mahayana schools such as the Mind-Only school (Cittamattra) and several Zen sects). These Advaita schools used methods to directly experience or come to know bare "consciousness", its nature and its source, and thus nip the bud of Feeling, Craving, Becoming before they manifest as problematic further down the 12 Links track. Further, "Consciousness" itself was both explored in terms of being both subject/object (ie nondual), and in some schools, finite or temporary itself (as an imposition on the un-manifest Absolute). Early Buddhism was largely silent on these matters (ie consciousness vs Absolute or Ultimate Self), since discussing alternative views were not deemed to be conductive to a direct means to ending stress, and all too often (especially in historical India, and probably also now with digital media!) led to conjecturing and adherence to philosophical sects, which although interesting, was not helpful.
So overall, we can find many similarities between the practical methods of both Early Buddhism and later practical focus points in Advaita Vedanta, which both aim at the understanding and managing of stress, suffering and delusion.