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Is Metaphysics Possible? (page three)

Laozi, Kant & Buddhist Pranama

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Continued From Page Two

Yogic Direct & Reflexive-Awareness Direct Perception

Within Buddhist pranama, “experience” is understood to apply -- at least potentially -- not only to the category of what Kant would call phenomena (i.e. worldly appearances), but also to the category of noumena (i.e. what is really-real). In particular, the second two categories of direct perception -- yogic direct perception and reflexive-awareness direct perception -- present a deep challenge to Kant’s assumption that “experiential knowledge can provide knowledge of appearances only,” i.e. of phenomena but never of noumena.

Yogipratyaksa (yogic direct perception) is a form of nondual mystic intuition or apperception whose more formal definition is: “an unmistaken non-conceptual cognition rooted in meditative awareness.” Yogic direct perception can have an apparent object (for instance, in the case of being able to see something which is hidden to normal perception), or no apparent object (for instance, when "seeing" selflessness or impermanence directly, as a fruit of meditative wisdom).

Svasamvedana-pratyaksha (reflexive-awareness direct perception) is another form of mystic intuition or apperception, which goes even further than yogic direct perception into the realm of nondual perception of what Kant would call the “really real.” Reflexive-awareness direct perception is a mode of perceiving in which the explicit “object” of the perception is (in alignment with a Dzogchen view) an unconditioned “ultimate, unbounded wholeness." Such an "ultimate, unbounded wholeness" is not actually an “object” in the usual dualistic sense, but rather is the very nature which IS that reflexive awareness. Reflexive-awareness direct perception is, then, a form of nondual perception which, by its very nature, is self-authenticating, in the sense that the nondual experience itself constitutes its own validation.

Conventional & Ultimate Validity

And this brings us to how Buddhist pranama also challenges Kant’s assumption that “ways of knowing (i.e. principles of valid cognition) are identical for phenomenal and noumenal realms.” In Buddhist pranama, a clear distinction is drawn between conventional and ultimate validity, whose tenets are applied, respectively, to what Kant would call the phenomenal and the noumenal realms. So for instance: sensory direct perception and mental direct perception -- which all ordinary beings have access to -- are considered as being only conventionally valid forms of knowledge; while yogic direct perception and reflexive-awareness direct perception are ultimately valid. In other words, the latter are forms of cognition through which one is able to realize the true nature of self/phenomena (i.e. what Kant would call the “really-real”).

Though there’s something of a parallel here between, on the one hand, conventional v. ultimate validity (within Buddhist pranama); and on the other hand, Kant’s contingent (a posteriori) v. necessary (a priori) truth -- the important difference is this: Buddhist “ultimate validity” is rooted in nondual experience; while Kant’s “necessary truths” are rooted in logical (or mathematical) necessity, so remain at the level of conceptual mind.

The a priori vs. a posteriori distinction, as defined by Kant & other western philosophers, misses completely the possibility of noumenal experience, i.e. experience grounded in the “inner” or “meditative” realms, transcendent of space/time, whose universality is established not by logical necessity, but rather via nondual self-authentication.

Experiential & Rational Ways Of Knowing

Finally, let’s have a look at Kant’s assumption that “experiential/empirical and logical/rational ways of knowing are mutually-exclusive.” In most lineages of Buddhist practice, there is a distinction made between hearing, contemplative and meditative forms of wisdom. This distinction is rooted in the possibility of a process whereby conceptual propositions, when planted in the field of meditative energy, can transform into or at least open the way to non-conceptual insight, i.e. can become “experiential” in a noumenal sense. So for instance: we might begin with a series of wholly conceptual synthetic propositions relating to emptiness -- but then, via a process of contemplation (a kind of meditative alchemy) -- end with a wholly nonconceptual yogic direct perception of emptiness. The general point here is that Buddhist pranama allows for a certain fluidity among ways-of-knowing, which is not obvious in Kant’s formulation.

So, coming back around, one final time, to Kant’s big question:

"Are synthetic, a priori judgments about noumena possible?"

From the view of Buddhist pranama (as outlined above), Kant’s very formulation of the question, and the assumptions embedded within his categories, preclude him from being able ever to establish that which he seeks to establish, viz. direct access to what is really-real.

In terms of Buddhist pranama, what is “really-real” is accessed via yogic direct perception and reflexive-awareness direct perception -- which, if translated into Kant’s language, might best be described as some combination of non-phenomenal (i.e. noumenal) experience and a-logical rational insight.

So can a synthetic proposition about noumena -- say “Pure Awareness is blissful” -- be established a priori, i.e. independent of experience? Independent of phenomenal experience, yes -- but not independent of noumenal experience, i.e. the intimate immediacy of nondual knowing. Now of course, once again, “noumenal experience” is not acknowledged, as such, within Kant’s system; nor is unconditioned “direct experience” of any sort -- which is why the introduction of tenets of valid cognition rooted in nondual meditative experience is so useful, and necessary for the resolution of the issue at hand.

Buddhist pranama places yogic direct perception and reflexive-awareness direct perception -- gateways to knowing what is really-real -- in the same general category as sensory direct and mental direct perception: the more common forms (in their nonconceptual purified states) of so-called empirical knowledge. This to highlight, perhaps, the fact that knowledge of the really-real -- while it may (or may not!) depend in certain ways upon mental cognitions (or a particular kind of “rational insight”) -- is certainly not reducible to formulations of syllogistic logic, i.e. to analytic a priori statements -- nor to any kind of knowledge that remains wholly divorced from experience: since the raison d'être of the entire spiritual enterprise is for knowledge of the Ultimate to be, simultaneously, the experience of It. Or, more properly put at this stage: for Ultimate Reality (qua the practitioner) to knowingly experience Itself.

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Further Reading:

Reflections On Direct Perception In Buddhist Epistemology

Perception, Conceptual Construction & Yogic Cognition

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