Contemplating Reality: A Practitioner's Guide to the View in Indo-Tibetan Buddhism

Contemplating Reality: A Practitioner's Guide to the View in Indo-Tibetan Buddhism

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Contemplating Reality: A Practitioner's Guide to the View in Indo-Tibetan Buddhism by Andy Karr

This book is for intermediate and advanced Buddhist practitioners who wish to deepen their understanding by joining practice with study of traditional ideas. It introduces the reader to contemplations that investigate a series of views of reality as they evolved in the Buddhist tradition. These views are explained in plain English, with contemporary metaphors and examples to bring out their meaning for modern Buddhists. Quotations from both historical and living meditation masters and scholars are presented as examples of key principles. Topics include:

   • Egolessness
   • Appearances and reality
   • Methods of investigation
   • Enlightenment
   • Tenets of different schools through the centuries
   • The root of compassion
   • The origin of thoughts

Guided exercises encourage the reader to trust in experiential understanding through deep contemplation of complex concepts. The book is structured as a guide for the reader’s journey.

For more information on the author, Andy Karr, visit his blog at For more information about this book, please visit

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780834823761
Publisher: Shambhala
Publication date: 04/10/2007
Sold by: Penguin Random House Publisher Services
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 240
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

Andy Karr is a longtime Buddhist meditator and amateur photographer. He is the author of Contemplating Reality: A Practitioner’s Guide to the View in Indo-Tibetan Buddhism.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 13: No Arising

Whenever something appears, we assume it exists. To say that it exists means that the appearance is based on an "object." If an object exists, there must also be a history of the production, or arising, of that object. We assume that the object “arose,” or “came into existence,” “appeared,” or “resulted” from a cause or a source. We see our lunch on a plate in front of us and think that it was prepared by someone in the kitchen. If we were to think about it any further, perhaps while we’re waiting for our lunch companion to return from making a phone call, we might say that the grains were grown on a farm and processed in certain ways, the vegetables were grown in different regions and shipped to the local market, the meat (if we eat meat) came from a certain kind of animal, and so on.

The idea of production, or arising, goes hand in hand with the idea of true existence. If something truly exists, it must have been produced. If it was produced, it must exist. On the other hand, things that don’t really exist, such as things seen in dreams, are not produced. The dream car was not produced in a factory.

You might disagree and say that the dream car was produced—it was produced by the mind. This brings out a key point in the Middle Way teachings. Appearances, like cars in dreams, are not refuted. The mere appearance of dependent arising is not refuted. What is refuted is any basis for the appearances: truly existing objects, their histories, and the like. This includes refuting substantially existing mind if we imagine such a thing. The distinction between dependently arisen mere appearances and the production of truly existent things is subtle. Understanding it requires a lot of analysis and reflection.

The second Madhyamaka reasoning, the analysis of causes, asks us to examine production, or arising, to see if it can truly be found. It is a way to get at our assumptions that there are objects, and that these objects have real histories. The reasoning goes like this: if things truly exist, then they would have to be produced, or arise, and the production or arising must be one or the other of the following:

  • from themselves
  • from something other than themselves
  • from both of these
  • without a cause

These four alternatives are all there could be—there is no fifth possibility.

We don't usually question the arising of things. When we do begin to think about arising, sometimes it looks like we assume that things arise or appear from themselves; for example, "When I go home at night, my house appears because it is there," or, "If I go to Los Angeles, I can see Hollywood." We are assuming that we see things because they already exist: the objects are out there, and they arise or manifest from themselves.

Sometimes we assume that things arise from something other than themselves; for example, “This computer was produced in a factory,” or, “These plants grew from seeds.” In these cases we are assuming that the things originally did not exist, but were produced from other things.

Sometimes we assume that things arise from some combination of these two; for example, “This hamburger was made in the kitchen from hamburger meat.” Here the assumption is that something arose from itself with the aid of other causes and conditions.

Sometimes we think that things arise without cause; for example, "It was a random accident," or "The thought just popped into my head."

There are lots of scientific and philosophical arguments that are developed to back up the different instinctive explanations, but from an ordinary point of view, we take arising for granted. We have implicit assumptions about the way things arise and we always have explanations, whether they are philosophically or scientifically consistent or not. You might feel that arising does not have to be logically justified at all since it is an observable fact, but that is not the case. Arising is a concept that we superimpose on direct experience. It is not something we directly perceive.

The analysis of causes helps bring to the surface hidden assumptions and misconceptions that cover over phenomena’s true nature—emptiness. By recognizing the true nature of phenomena we understand their equality and free ourselves from grasping and clinging to them as real. That is why this investigation is so important.

Thrangu Rinpoche introduces this reasoning in The Open Door to Emptiness in the following way:

Emptiness is not an easy idea to grasp at first. Because it is not so easy, we will approach the notion of emptiness from the standpoint of how, if at all, results arise from causes in order to see that, while phenomena certainly function according to a successive pattern, one condition arising out of another, nonetheless the actual arising itself can never be discovered, in other words, in the ultimate sense there is no reality to arising. By a careful analysis we can gain an intellectual appreciation of emptiness.

This analysis is difficult and counterintuitive. It doesn't do much good to rush through the contemplations. In fact, they should probably come with a warning label, something like:

CAUTION: Keep this investigation out of reach of children. Use only as directed. Contemplate for short periods and repeat frequently (except as advised by a physician). These contemplations may cause irritability, nausea, or drowsiness. When doing these contemplations, caution should be exercised in operating machinery or motor vehicles.

The analysis of causes was presented briefly by Nagarjuna in The Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way. Later, Chandrakirti made it the central investigation in his general commentary, which is called the Madhyamakavatara, or Entering the Middle Way. Nagarjuna begins his presentation of the analysis of causes with the following verse:

Not from self, not from other,
Not from both, nor without cause:
Things do not arise
At any place, at any time.

Chandrakirti investigates this topic using Prasangika, or Consequentialist, methods. He does not make assertions of his own, but uses logical reasoning to demonstrate the illogical consequences of other people’s views. We will look at the analysis of causes following his approach.

Arising from Self

Generally, we feel that objects exist and that by looking at them we see them. If we sit in a restaurant waiting for a friend, we assume the friend exists and hope that he is on his way to join us. If he is late, we wonder if something happened to him. When he walks in the door, we think he arrived from somewhere else: he manifested. In essence, our friend seemed to manifest from himself. We don’t think he appeared out of thin air, nor do we think of him as having been produced by some other agency. He appeared from himself. He arose from himself. Of course, we don’t consciously think about arising in this way. We take it for granted. In fact, making appointments and expecting people to show up works pretty well in the world. It is useful. (That is why Prasangikas don’t abandon worldly conventions.)

When you begin to analyze “arising from self,” however, you start to see serious shortcomings with this explanation. Most basically, if something already exists, why does it need to arise again? To say that it arose is meaningless, because it already exists! This is one reason that it doesn’t make sense to say that things arise from themselves.

Also, if things really did arise from themselves, they would arise endlessly, because their causes would always be present. If our friend arose from himself, he should always be present.

If things give rise to themselves, then causes produce results that are the same as themselves. But this is not what we observe—cause and result are not the same thing.

If we try to salvage the explanation that things arise from themselves, saying that our friend was unmanifest before he got to the restaurant and then manifested when he walked in the door, then it would logically follow that an unmanifest friend and a manifest friend are the same!

Do friends, houses, and cities really arise from themselves? Through repeatedly contemplating this question, we can remove the misconception that things arise from themselves.

Arising from Other

One down, three to go. We need to investigate the next logical possibility: that things could arise from something other than themselves. In the context of investigating true existence, “other” means that two things are truly different. They are distinct entities. This is a key point to bear in mind as we go through this investigation.

Take a look at a drinking glass. A little research on the Internet shows that the process of glassmaking begins with sand, soda ash, limestone, and other raw materials. These are melted together in a furnace at very high temperatures. The molten glass is formed in a machine or blown into a mold to produce the final shape. The shaped glass goes through various stages of heat treatment, coating, and cooling. The finished product is packaged and shipped, and eventually arrives in your kitchen.

It certainly seems that a glass is truly different from the sand, soda ash, and limestone that went into the furnace. Surely, this must be a case of arising from other. Here is a contemplation in order to investigate this:

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