We have stressed that all things arise with condition (i.e. that they are impermanent), and that they depend upon (among other things) context. This is true, of course, of the views of continuous and discontinuous change that we have been examining. We accept one or the other of these views because it “makes sense.” It fits, more or less, into a general overview which we have developed about “the way things are,” and which is reflected in our attitude towards the world. This is reasonable enough; for to act otherwise would lead to inconsistency, self-contradiction, and confusion. Probably, not all consistent points of view can be isomorphic with the way things are. But certainly, no inconsistent ones are, for the way things are is that, at least, they are: they do not contradict their own existence.
Even one who holds an overview compatible with the idea of continuous change may find that, because of what has been said herein, that notion no longer seems inevitably necessary. Yet he may discover a lingering reluctance to discard it. For even a faulty part that fits the machinery may seem preferable to a replacement which, though itself flawless, is not compatible with this equipment. And no discussion of change, however skillful, can change that feeling, for it is based not so much upon a belief in flux as upon a more general attitude which receives support not only from flux but from other beliefs as well.
Our discussion of impermanence, then, cannot be complete without a consideration of the two overviews which provide the contextual support for each of the views of impermanence we have been considering. Because the groundwork has already been well laid this discussion need not be extensive.
It will be convenient to use the term reductionism for the overview which is compatible with flux, and holism for that which is compatible with discontinuous change, for reasons which will emerge out of our discussion.
Reductionism finds much of its rationale, no doubt, in the common experience that certain complex phenomena, when reduced to sub-systems, can thereby be understood in a meaningful way. There is no shortage of examples of such phenomena, but our bicycle, being not so many pages away, is handy. We can divide the system “bicycle” into sub-systems, which will include the mechanisms of steering, propulsion, and braking, the rider’s support, and so on. And an examination of these will yield an understanding, at least in some sense, of what is meant by “bicycle.”
None of these sub-systems are themselves “bicycle:” the system is to be found only in the whole of the sub-systems (some of which, such as “bell,” may be optional) organized in a particular functional manner. A bicycle, then, is the sum of its parts plus their organization. Although no sub-system in itself is (or includes) “bicycle,” yet the sub-systems are comprehensive, both as a whole (for there is no mysterious element outside of them which is needed in order to furnish the organized sub-systems with that “breath of life” whereby — presto! — there is suddenly a bicycle); and individually (inasmuch as there is no component which in its nature cannot be categorized as belonging to this or that sub-system). Furthermore, the sub-systems are organized in a way which is non-iterative (that is, no sub-system is inherently inseparable from other sub-systems; every component, regardless of function, can be classified within one and only one sub-system).
Further, if we wish to understand any sub-system more fully we can reduce it in turn to its components. This will lead us eventually to the nuts, bolts, springs, levers, and what-nots that are the “atoms” which combine to form certain structures (“molecules”) which combine to form higher-level structures which eventually make a bicycle.
This sort of analysis, which is reductionist in character, is fully adequate to understand the structure of bicycles. Furthermore, it is the only type of analysis which can lead to the knowledge, “how to assemble a bicycle.” And it is the sort of analysis that is pervasive not only in our dealings with mechanisms (“fit tab A into slot B…”) but with so much of the way we organize our daily lives (“if I catch the 7:15 to Bosnia-Herzegovina, then the 9:10 to…;” “one more qualification, and then we can go on to ask whether…”) that to question its validity as a means of analysis might seem at first to be a lunatic proposition.
And we can certainly agree that within its own sphere reductionism is a form of analysis that is both legitimate and necessary; and then we can go on to ask whether that sphere is universal. Are there, in other words, areas of human experience which in their very nature are not amenable to a reductionist approach? Are there areas wherein to apply such a methodology is a guarantee of misunderstanding? The answer being — to avoid suspense — yes, there are: any structure which contains one or more true recursive elements cannot, in its very nature, be understood by a reductionist approach.
Suppose, as we dismantle our bicycle (carefully cataloging where each piece came from, what it connected to, and how it functions), we were to discover, tucked away nearly out of sight, a curious mechanism we had never noticed before: a small replica of the very bicycle we were examining — a replica complete in every detail. Not a mere model of our bicycle, this replica, we discover, is an integral part of it, connected to the other parts in a functional manner. What ought we to do?
Of course, we might just heave the whole machine onto the nearest trash heap in disgust and frustration (where, no doubt, Bandha will trip and fall over it). But if we wish to understand how our bicycle works we will have to understand this sub-bicycle as well. So we dismantle this unit piece by piece only to discover…. Obviously, if bicycles were constructed in this peculiar fashion then a reductionist analysis would never result in an understanding of how to assemble a bicycle. A different form of analysis would be necessary.
But, it may be objected, bicycles are in fact not constructed in such a peculiar way. Ignorance, craving, holding, and suffering, it has been said, are so constructed. But it has also been said that these are actually seen (in their essential aspect) only by enlightened beings and not by the likes of us, and that their existence is therefore not actually established (the structures, that is, not the enlightened beings). For, after all, we don’t know that we don’t know. And aside from these — it may be objected — what is there in the realm of experience that is not amenable to reductionist analysis?
Very well: consider the spaghetti packet which displays a drawing of a joyous youth holding a spaghetti packet which displays a drawing of a joyous youth holding…. As a child I used to be fascinated (and, perhaps, a trifle disquieted) by the implications of this crude illustration. I knew at once that there was no use taking a magnifying glass to it, of course. For even if the art work and printing had been done with exquisite exactitude there would still have been a point at which the yet-smaller youths chortling over yet-smaller spaghetti packets would vanish out of sight.
It wasn’t the drawing that intrigued me: it was what the drawing implied. Could any of those ever-smaller smiling youths have an inkling that for the next-larger smiling youth he was but a drawing on a spaghetti wrapper? Was I myself but a…? Absurd, of course: the problem of non-recognition is not so easily settled. But it was this, much more than the drawing itself, that was an early glimpse of the unsettling effects of recursiveness.
Again: all of us have seen at one time or another an ant racing headlong around the rim of a glass or cup. And around and around and…. (And perhaps many of us are familiar also with the well-known cartoon that depicts two castaways walking along the shores of an uninhabited tropical island, an island which they have obviously circled many times already, for the caption reads: “We must be getting somewhere — the tracks keep getting thicker.” [And, beyond this, some of us may know the Rohitassa Sutta — S. II,26: i,61-63 = A. IV,45: ii,47-49 — wherein the Buddha says, “It is not by going that an end of the world is to be known or seen or arrived at, I say.”])
From our outside perspective we can understand the futility of such a circling, and we laugh at it. But from the viewpoint of the ant (or of the castaways [or of Rohitassa]) it is no laughing matter. And this not because they are deadly serious about their circling (although they may well be) but because they are totally oblivious to the structure within which they are trapped, which is in fact why they are trapped in it.
Only when they understand their situation can they also understand how to disentangle themselves from it as well as to see both the humor and the pathos of that situation. Here we discover a humor and a pathos which are not to be found in non-recursive situations. Whatever emotions might be evoked in watching the difficulties someone experiences in getting from A to B, they are of an entirely different sort than those aroused in observing the difficulties involved in getting from A to A. But those difficulties can only be observed from outside the structure. This is quite easily done in the case of such narrow structures as spaghetti packets and ant-runs; but the Buddha tells us of other recursive structures that are as broad as experience itself. And the whole point of his Teaching is to indicate how to achieve an outside view of these structures.
One more example of recursive structures within daily life. Consider the fractions 1/8 and 13/27. The fraction 1/8 can be written in decimal form as 0.125. That is the end of it. There is literally (or, rather, numerically) nothing further that can be said about it. In decimal form it has been fully expressed. The fraction 13/27, on the other hand, can be written in decimal form only as 0.481481481…. And as we carry out the long division sums we find that no matter how far we extend our labors we will never arrive at anything other than more 481s.
However, we need not actually continue the division in the hope that eventually we will arrive at a better number, for as soon as we reach the first repetition (“40 minus 27 equals 13, bring down the zero for 130…”) we can see how the thing must continue. And we are not surprised, for we have met these nonreducible decimals before, and have learned to live with them, if not to love them. Some fractions are reducible; others are not. And among those that are not are recursive fractions. (However, not all irreducible fractions are recursive. Pi, for instance, in decimal form never locks into a recursive structure, even though, as has been shown, it too is endless. That it is endless, of course, has not stopped mathematicians from carrying out their calculations of pi to sixteen million decimal places (still a long way, to be sure, from the enormous figure of 176,470,000,000, but not bad for all that). On the contrary, it seems to have encouraged them. Are there aspects of experience to which pi is isomorphic?)
Normally we would not indicate the decimal as merely 0.481…, for some might think that what was intended was 0.4818181…, or 0.48111…, or even that the fraction was not iterative at all. So we repeat the series, 0.481481…, which certainly exposes the structure. But if we wish to make absolutely certain that our statement will not be misunderstood even by the slow-witted then we might iterate the series a third time, 0.481481481…. Clearly, though, to go beyond this would be pointless. If one still hasn’t understood what is going on here then to say more would only make understanding less likely, not more so. There is already enough information to figure things out. Indeed, there is already all the information that is possible. To say more would only mislead the cabbage-headed into the mistaken belief that the series might somehow reach an end, perhaps at some remote and infinitesimal fraction which he may then set about seeking, as if (unlike Belloc’s “remote and ineffectual don”) it would explain everything. But in the world of 13/27, no matter where one seeks one will never find any decimals save those of the 481 variety, on ever more immediate and miniscule levels. That is the way it is made, and it cannot be made otherwise.
In a holistic approach there can be no attempt to discover entities more fundamental than those apparent on any level of experience. It is accepted that the fundamental structure is manifest at every level of generality. Thus it is possible to discover the universe in a grain of sand (although we need not therefore follow Blake beyond his art, into realms of mystical ambiguities).
The purpose of holistic analysis is to expose this structure (which, we remember, operates between levels of generality as well as on them, and makes the structure a hierarchy, and not merely a stack). To go beyond this purpose is to turn the analysis into an endless progression (or regression). To stay within the bounds of this function is to know when to stop.
In this approach we are unable to make use of the reductionist advice given to Alice when she was in Wonderland (“Begin at the beginning, continue until you reach the end, and then stop”). For it is a feature of holistic structures that they are not only endless (unless they are brought to an end from the outside) but that even a beginning to them is not to be found. Therefore an analysis of holistic structures must go far enough to adequately reveal the recurrent structure, and then the analysis, if not the structure, should stop.
We can recognize, from our experience as well as our discussion, that our inclination towards reductionism may have a deeper basis than the recognition that “reductionism is the way much of the world can be understood.” Perhaps there is a deep-set wish that this be the way the whole of the world could be understood. And perhaps so much of the world is compatible with a reductionist approach because we have filled our world with such artifacts in order to avoid seeing the holistic core from which we perpetually try to escape: misery breeds misery.
It is not because they are baffling and incomprehensible that we dislike recursive structures and wish them banished to some remote province. For they are in fact comprehensible, albeit in their own way. Rather, we dislike them because they don’t seem to get us anywhere. In a reductionist view there is always the suggestion that “now (at last!) I’m finally getting somewhere.” But in a holistic view getting elsewhere is impossible because there is no “elsewhere.” No matter where we look we only find more of the same. And, too, we dislike recursive structures because they are reminders of what we wish to conceal. “What common sense wishes to eliminate in avoiding the ‘circle,’ on the supposition that it is measuring up to the loftiest rigor of scientific investigation, is nothing less than the basic structure of care.”
It is the nature of craving to be in search. Dissatisfied with what is, we seek elsewhere. The question being present, there is the search for an answer. Although we can never discover a lasting and satisfactory answer we can always rediscover the question. But the question is never the answer, and we lack the alchemy that would turn our leaden puzzlement into a golden solution. The itch being present, there is the search for a scratch. Although we can never discover a lasting and satisfactory scratch we can always rediscover the itch. But the itch is never the scratch, and we are unable to effect the magic that would turn the torment of endless itching into the supposed bliss of an endless Perfect Scratch. Difficult as it is for us, in our quest, to get from A to B, it is as nothing compared to the frustrating and impossible task of getting from A to A!
Rather than face that task, we will prefer to seek elsewhere, or to seek for an “elsewhere,” or to suppose an “elsewhere” and then try to will it into existence. Thus, man is always probing his experience in the hope of finding, hidden beneath its surface, something that is different and which will “explain” things (as St.-Exupéry posits the oasis of pleasure hidden in the desert of dukkha). Our world is replete with this sort of explanation, for it is what people want.
For instance, there is the Freudian notion of “the unconscious.” What is this “unconscious?” Are we conscious of it? If so, then on what grounds can it be regarded as unconscious? If not, then how do we know it exists, except as a (conscious) conceptualization? But despite this simple objection the notion of the “unconscious” is widely and uncritically accepted, presumably because it is the sort of explanation that people want to accept. (The Freudian system may be described as a sort of “psychoanalysis in Wonderland.”)
Another example of such “hidden depths” explanations is, of course, flux. And there are many more such unperceivable hypostasized phenomena invented for the purpose of explaining (i.e. being different than) what is experienced. Explanations abound, in terms of both matter (e.g. electrons; hyperspace) and mind (e.g. “innate releasing mechanisms;” Jung’s “collective subconscious” and similar “we-are-all-one” — one what? — dogmatisms).
We will also find today many different answers offered to us in the name of the Buddha. Not only flux is declared to be “the Buddhist explanation of the universe” (to quote a recent title). We are also offered such concepts as “all that we experience is the result of past actions,” “emptying the (mind’s) storehouse of past conditions,” “the one reborn is neither oneself nor another,” “Buddha-nature,” “thoughts of Self transcend self,” and so on. The list seems to grow ever longer, although the Pali Suttas remain the same length. Nietzsche has correctly characterized this sort of explanatory “elsewhere” as “the illusion of hinterworlds.” (“Was I myself but a…?”) But it is not our purpose here to pick them apart one by one: probably an endless task. For by now it will be clear that in any case the Buddha offers not explanations but rather an indication of the question, and the question’s root, as being that which needs examination.
The search for answers has provided us with some wonderfully clever, elaborate, and original views about “how it all works.” But it can never serve as a tool for understanding our situation. For despite its cleverness it still ignores the basic nature of experience. Rather than seeking a conclusion we need to understand the inconclusive situation which exists. Therefore whatever form they may take, efforts to explain experience are misdirected, and efforts to explain experience in terms of what itself is not experienced (i.e. of “hidden depth”) are a plain self-contradiction. If such explanations are accepted as concepts among other concepts they will be seen for what they are. But if they are reified then they are misunderstood, taken as being what they are not.
Certainly we can deliberately conceal things from ourselves. This is ignorance, self-deception. But all that is concealed is, ultimately, more of the same. It is concealed because we desire it to be other than more of the same. And it is as something other that we seek to make it manifest. This is why it remains concealed. Once it is understood that even if there is something hidden it is not something different, then there will no longer be an irresistible drive to discover such a secret essence, the impossible exception to the rule. If we scratch the itch what we invariably find is more itch. If we scratch the surface what we invariably find is more surface.
As always, it is the failure to see the recursive structure of craving, the ever-abiding quest to find freedom from the ever-abiding quest, which founds a further and costly failure: failure to recognize the holistic approach of the Suttas. Many Suttas are analytical in nature (and many are not: some are analogical, others are exhortative, inspirational, descriptive, or various combinations of all of these). But it does not follow that they are reductionist. Consider, for example, M. 28: i,184-91, excerpts of which are quoted at footnote 15 and elsewhere. This discourse is perhaps as analytical in approach as any in the Canon. But is it therefore reductionist?
The Sutta tells us that just as the elephant’s footprint can contain within it any other footprint, so too all skillful things go for inclusion within the four noble truths. These four truths are defined and the first truth (dukkha) is then considered in detail in terms of the five aggregates. The five aggregates are defined and the first aggregate (matter) is then considered in detail in terms of the four elements. The four elements are defined and the first element (earth) is then considered in detail in terms of internality and externality. The internal aspect is then further analyzed into “head hair, body hair, nails, teeth, skin, flesh, sinews, bones, marrow, kidneys, heart, liver, stomach, spleen, lungs, bowels, entrails, gorge, dung, or whatever else is internal, personal, solid, solidified, held to.”
And is all of this analysis set forth for the sake of explaining the whole in terms of its parts? Does the Sutta strive for some ultimate or atomic entity? Not at all, for the discourse then goes on to tell us that all these things, head hair, etc., are just that (earth element) and nothing more than just that, and are not to be regarded as mine, as I, as my self.
Now earth element in oneself and external earth element are simply earth element. This should be seen as it actually is with right understanding: “Not, this is mine; not, I am this; not, this is my self.”
These things, however base or minor they may be, are all to be regarded as impermanent, woeful, not self. It is evident, then, that the point of the analysis is neither to explain the whole in terms of its parts nor to discover any ultimate. Precisely to the contrary, it aims to show that no matter how detailed or minute one’s analysis or search may be, still there is no escape from things being no more than what they are. And what they are has the nature of being impermanent, woeful, and not-self.
Every arc of a circle, however minute, displays precisely the same quality of curvature as is shown by the circle as a whole. Thus an understanding of the structure of the arc is not different from an understanding of the structure of the circle. So to even the smallest fragment of existence is not free from the characteristics of impermanence, suffering, and not-self. And thus an understanding of the structure of the fragment is not different from an understanding of the structure of existence.
To demonstrate this D. 17: ii,169-99, takes the opposite tack from M. 28. It points out that however magnificent and expansive an appropriation might be made it is still impermanent and not worth holding to: disenchantment and freedom are preferable. The analysis, which at first may have appeared to be a paradigm of reductionist logical data processing, turns out in the end to be every bit as holistic and organic as the rest of the Teaching.
It is because they fail to understand this that so many people also fail to understand what is meant by the expression “practising the Buddha’s Teaching.” Their concept of such a practice is akin to searching for an invaluable golden needle in a haystack of worthless straw (see footnote 2). They seem to believe that if only they are diligent enough, sufficiently keen-eyed and nimble-fingered, they will somehow or other find this golden needle. And so they set to work, carefully sifting through the haystack, picking up each bit of straw, examining it, deciding “That’s not a needle,” discarding it, and reaching for the next bit. And so they discard straw after straw: “That’s not a needle, that’s not a needle, nor that, nor that, nor….” They believe that if they are persistent enough, and perhaps very lucky, then some day they will be able to cry out joyously, “It’s a needle! It’s a needle!” Whereupon all their troubles will be over.
Such people need to understand that practice of the Buddha’s Teaching is not like looking for a needle in a haystack. It is like looking for hay in a haystack. What needs to be seen is something that is very ordinary, mundane, and present-to-hand everywhere. It is not a different sort of experience that needs to be discovered. It is the everyday sort that needs to be seen. But it needs to be seen rather than, as is usually the case, conceived (as being other than what it is). Unfortunately, though, even if they were to accept this assertion as true, human perversity is such that most people would accept it in the wrong way. They would regard it as an extraordinary and different and explanatory truth. And in the end it would make no tittle of difference to most people, for they would simply return to their haystack, pick up the next bit of straw, examine it carefully, and decide “That’s not straw.” Discarding it, they would reach for the next bit of straw — “No, that isn’t straw either” — and the next bit, and the next: “That isn’t straw, nor that, nor that….”
A holistic approach can only be understood in the mode of holism, just as non-attachment can only be understood in the mode of non-attachment (and just as, too, attachment can only be understood in the mode of non-attachment). Thus, the message of this Teaching is, in effect: “Your experience is that of a questioning; your need is for an Answer. The history of all worldly endeavour is the tale of a search for this Answer. But an Answer is not to be found. Therefore there is all this dissatisfaction and grief. However, there is a way to stop asking the question….”
But of course most people, ignoring or misconceiving this advice, do continue to ask their questions and to cling to their various answers. Yet whether one’s answer is that everything exists, or that nothing exists, or that all is one, or that all is a diversity, or that self/God exists (free will!), or that self/God does not exist (determinism!), or that I am this, I am that, I am the other — whatever the answer, then regardless of how much wisdom may underlie it, the very fact of its being an answer at all consigns it to the realm of the world, the world of answers. For no answer is capable of uncovering and exposing the conditions upon which there is this constant need to raise these questions. And whatever one’s answer is, it is only a concealment of the question, not an ending of it.
Answers do not change a person. They merely confirm for him certain assumed validities. Only if we refuse to accept any answer, only if we insist upon the question, drive it home, and explore its underpinnings, is it possible to transcend the realm of the question, the realm of the world. The world we experience is a world of concern, anxiety, involvement, appropriation. Any “understanding” of one’s situation which does not recognize this, or which acknowledges it only as an afterthought, is fundamentally and irretrievably inadequate. Only an understanding which exposes the recursive structure of the appropriated, the appropriation, and the posited appropriator as an organic entity permeating the entirety of experience is adequate as a fundament upon which to base an investigation into the human situation — our own. Only thus can there be a comprehension of dependent arising, and thus of the futility of appropriation. Any effort which fails to see how the “eternal” appropriator is utterly dependent upon the impermanent appropriated is a futile effort. But an effort which strikes for the heart of the relationship has indeed the potential for perceiving the futility and can, by perceiving, end it.
54. It is always possible to go below the “atomic” level. A metallurgist, for instance, might be concerned with what is, as regards bicycles, a “sub-atomic” level; for considerations of alloys can never lead to “bicycle.” Which level is taken as atomic depends on purpose and point of view. The “atoms” of this essay are its words. Although a calligraphist might regard individual letters (or even pen strokes) as his “atomic” level, anyone who tried to understand this essay by considering it letter by letter would only exhaust himself while failing abysmally in his effort to comprehend what is said here. [Back to text]
55. In a letter to the Venerable Ñānavīra Thera (1 February 1959, unpublished) the late Venerable Ñānamoli Thera recounted a conversation he had had with a South American visitor who was not fluent in English: “…I said to him, pointing to the ironwood tree in new leaf… ‘Do they have trees like that in Venezuela?’ S: ‘Naw, but dey ist a menna menna otchads in Venezuela.’ I: ‘What kind of orchards?’ S: ‘Whata kind? Dey grow ona da trees!’ I: ‘So the orchards grow on trees in Venezuela?’ S: ‘Sure!’ I: ‘What kind of fruits?’ S: ‘Fruits? Ah dunno. Dey ist a vat you call a flowers, plantee valuable, in da joongle onna da trees dey grow, plantee valuable!’ I: ‘Oh.’ By this time it had dawned on me that the ‘otchads’ were in fact not ‘orchards’ but ‘orchids’…” Orchards that grow on trees — which goes well beyond merely missing the forest for the trees — is an exact description of recursiveness. This particular example is laughable, but since it is this very structure which blinds us to perception of impermanence, the principle which it illustrates is of such importance (and the fruit it yields of such bitterness) that we would do well if our laughter was not that of derision but of recognition. [Back to text]
56. Not only is recursive function theory an important part of computer science (see footnote 19); the notion of recursiveness has yet wider applications in both science and technology. Gregory Bateson, for example, in Steps to an Ecology of Mind (New York: Ballantine Books, 1972), p. 109, borrows terminology from communications engineering in his discussion of cultural value systems. He distinguishes between “a ‘regenerative’ or ‘vicious’ circle” and “a ‘degenerative’ or ‘self-corrective’ circle.” And his discussion (pp. 201-278) of the “Double Bind” theory of schizophrenia bears striking similarities to recursive structures. Although the concepts used in these various disciplines are not always quite the same as that used in this essay (which concept we have distinguished, perhaps a bit presumptuously, as “true recursiveness”), yet they are sufficiently similar to demonstrate the existence of the structure in many aspects of human endeavor. [Back to text]
57. “For to know nothing is nothing, not to want to know anything likewise, but to be beyond knowing anything, to know you are beyond knowing anything, that is when peace enters in, to the soul of the incurious thinker. It is then the true division begins, of twenty-two by seven for example, and the pages fill with the true ciphers at last.” — Samuel Beckett, Molloy (London: Calder and Boyars, 1959), p. 64. [Back to text]
58. It is of no significance that the manufacturer of those endlessly regressive spaghetti packets (as well as the makers of the many other products whose labels display the same sort of replicative artwork) presumably feels no aversion towards his package design. The purpose of such advertising is to achieve as much self-reference as possible. Rather, the significant point is that we should find that such labelling evokes in ourselves a sense of ambiguity which non-replicative artwork cannot replicate. [Back to text]
59. Martin Heidegger, Being and Time (tr. M. Macquarrie and E. Robinson, New York: Harper & Row, 1962), p. 363. [Back to text]
60. “Monks, it is for one who feels (experiences) that I make known: ‘This is suffering,’ ‘This is the arising of suffering,’ ‘This is the ceasing of suffering,’ ‘This is the way leading to the ceasing of suffering.'” — A. III,61: i,176. Certain Pali terms are commonly translated in a way that supports the “hidden depths” view of experience. Most notable among these may be anusaya and upadhi. Anusaya is, to a reductionist, “latent tendency.” A holistic translation would be “potential.” A piece of paper has the potential to burn — i.e. it is flammable — but we do not suppose that it therefore contains hidden within itself, in latent form, a blazing fire. So too, for so long as there exist ignorance and craving a person has the potential to experience greed, envy, hypocrisy, and many other evil unprofitable states. But we need not suppose that therefore these states exist in some latent or unexperienced form until they are somehow “called forth” into manifestation. Certainly the third section of the Satipatthāna Sutta (M. 10, D. 22, etc.) suggests that all characteristics of the mind can be known. It does not suggest that there are latent or hidden characteristics. As for upadhi, often translated as “rebirth substrate” (or more simply as “substrates”), the word is a synonym of upādāna, “holding,” and may be translated as “appropriation.” This is true in all Sutta contexts. See e.g. Udāna 30: 33: “Dependent upon appropriation (upadhi) this suffering is born. With destruction of all holding (upādāna) there is no suffering born.” And M. 105: ii,260: “Appropriation is the root of suffering.” [Back to text]
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