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Solipsism vs. Buddhism

JoshuaJoshua Veteran
edited November 2010 in Philosophy
My friend asked me today what Buddhism has to say about Solipsism. I was caught off guard by his questions, like usual. All I could say was something about how Solipsism is an extreme view that could be equated to the opposite view in terms of extremity that we don't have any inherent existence, only the outer world does (which, frankly on hindsight, my intuition which is typically correct even in its inability to communicate verbal reason, says that Solipsism is far more probable than its antithesis). I mumbled some half communicated reason about how Buddhism would probably adhere to the middle way and say something to the effect that all people have an equal share in the pie, that despite whatever ultimate reality is we all have an equally powerful mind if that mind is indeed projecting reality. Then I said that whether or not it is projecting reality or whatever ultimate reality may be isn't important in Buddhism, for when he asks me these sorts of questions (which I've highly encouraged him to do) if he is seeking an absolute answer to (or as he has often confessed a single, absolute philosophy to answer) all his questions he isn't going to find it, especially with Buddhism. This is because Buddhism is more pragmatic and if you cannot ascertain a question, then there's no use in debating or searching for supreme wisdom lies in giving up that search and quenching that irresistible thirst for unconjectural questions. I also fumbled even less skillfully in attempting to say something to the effect that in the history of Buddhism there have been those schools who have strayed slightly off the path of admitting there's no knowledge for certain (and if I'm correct rather than saying what is for certain, they'd say something like what isn't likely to happen thereby limiting potentials of ultimate reality and passively giving you an idea of what is more likely) and in these cases people who understood well the nature of unconjecturable questions would emerge like Nagarjuna with his Mulamadhyamakakarika text on absolute emptiness to accomplish the goal of more or less disproving all contemporary Buddhist philosophies which attempt to attest to any ultimate, discernible truth whatsoever in order to reintroduce the absolute middle way before a branch of alternate Buddhist philosophy can begin to emerge.

Therefore the position of Buddhism and Solipsism would probably ultimately be--who the hell knows or cares? But conventionally, considering the middle way, Buddhism would probably deny Solipsism on account of its extreme egocentrical nature, am I correct? Or ought I apologise and correct myself?


  • edited November 2010
    I'll be honest with you, the big problem with Solipsism is that it denies the existence of the "other" as in other sentient beings. When you're left with is a selfishness that becomes invincible. What a solipsist does is essentially close their mind to the existence of other sentient beings, and says essentially "bullocks to the truth, only I can prove me wrong". So at the fundamental level, narcissism and solipsism are intertwined.
  • edited November 2010
    valois wrote: »
    I mumbled some half communicated reason about how Buddhism would probably adhere to the middle way and say something to the effect that all people have an equal share in the pie, that despite whatever ultimate reality is we all have an equally powerful mind if that mind is indeed projecting reality.

    I think you were pretty spot-on here. Your answer sounds very similar to Berzin's:
    Question: Does that mental activity include sense phenomena?
    Alex: Sense phenomena would be the objects of that mental activity. Mental activity always has an object, it always has content. Those would be the objects. It depends what you mean by sense objects. There is the external sense object, there’s the mental representation of the sense object that the mental activity gives rise to, and then there’s the whole issue of the commonsense object. Is there a commonsense object?
    We were discussing this in terms of the four traditions. Actually what we perceive is just one sense field. So the sensabilia, let’s say colored shape, well this cup, actually all I see is an orange shape. There’s a mental representation of an orange shape that I see, but the cup is not just an orange shape, is it? If I close my eyes and hold this in my hand, I get a completely different type of sense data. So what is the cup? It is a hologram made of putting together these different sense fields, sense information, isn’t it?

    Is there a commonsense cup? What is there? That’s a very interesting question. The non–Gelug schools emphasize that the commonsense cup is really a conceptual hologram. It is only known conceptually. It only can be known conceptually, because in fact with the senses you can only know one sense aspect of it. Also, you can only know one moment of it at a time. A commonsense object endures over time. How do you know an object that exists over time, if you can only perceive one moment at a time? So it’s conceptual, a conceptual hologram.

    But Gelugpa emphasizes, “Watch out just saying that it’s a conceptual hologram, because if it’s only a conceptual hologram, the danger is that you’ll think that everything just exists in your imagination and it tends toward solipsism and the Chittamatra extreme,” or let’s say a poor understanding of the Chittamatra extreme. The Chittamatra view allows for everybody to see the cup, but of course each of us sees it from a different angle, so we’re not seeing the same thing.
    The non–Gelug would say that there’s no common locus externally for the cup. Each of us is just, from our karma, perceiving a mental representation from a certain angle and distance. And because of collective karma, we are seeing what seems to be the same cup at the same time. But there’s no actual common locus to it separate from a perception of it, because how would you know it? If you knew it, it was connected to perception, so how would you know that there’s one separate from perception? This is a very good point.

    The Gelug would say, “Watch out, all of this tends toward solipsism if it’s not really understood well.” So Gelug would say, “Conventionally you’d have to say there’s a common locus.” There is a common locus even within the Chittamatra view – that is a big difference between Gelug and non–Gelug Chittamatra – the common locus of the cup that we’re all seeing. That fits in with the Gelug Sautrantika theory of perception that you’d have to say we see commonsense objects and that that is not just a hologram in our heads, in our imaginations. It’s an external hologram. It’s not just that externally only orange shapes exist. Granted that we can only either see orange shapes or feel physically certain sensations in our hand.
    I'll be honest with you, the big problem with Solipsism is that it denies the existence of the "other" as in other sentient beings. When you're left with is a selfishness that becomes invincible.

    This is also a good way of looking at it. Berzin says something similar a section entitled The Relation between Mind and Appearances:
    Despite the description of the winds of karma creating appearances, Kalachakra is not a system of subjective idealism. It does not assert that everything exists only in our heads. If everything did, why would we need to develop compassion? No one would exist except us. Solipsism does not accord with the basic Buddhist worldview.

    What the mind creates through the winds of karma are cognitive appearances. If I sit here and look at you, and then move over there and look again, the cognitive appearances of you created and perceived by my mind will be different. The appearance depends on the angle and distance from which I look. Everyone in this room, for example, may be looking at the translator or at me, but each person sees a different cognitive appearance because he or she is looking from a different perspective.

    In addition to merely the visual images we perceive, we project further appearances on top of them, which we also imagine we see and experience. For example, we project the appearance of someone as the most beautiful person in the world or the most terrible one. Such inflated cognitive appearances are also created by the mind and “painted” by the winds of karma.

    Kalachakra asserts that there is a material world, with subtle particles coming from different natal sources than our cognitions of appearances painted on them. Nevertheless, we can’t say that the material world exists totally independently of minds. This is because what happens materially, for example in the environment, is also affected by behavior, attitudes and so on. If we decide to chop down all the trees, it will affect the material environment, won’t it? Similarly, the minds and karmic actions of those who lived before have affected the formation of our universe and the type of life forms that have evolved in it.

    The reason for discussing the material world in this way, as affected by the mind, is because all we can ever really talk about is what we experience; and what we experience is, of course, through the mind. If we wish to change what we experience, we need to change our attitudes and behavior. We need to “change our minds.”
    Have I mentioned how much I love Alexander Berzin's Archive???
  • JoshuaJoshua Veteran
    edited November 2010
    upalabhava wrote: »
    I'm lovin' it!
  • JeffreyJeffrey Veteran
    edited November 2010
    The other is ungraspable... Yet it is all we got.
  • edited November 2010

    You speak like you are well on your way to understanding Buddhism. Solipsism is believing the mind is the only thing that exists, which Buddhism does not believe this. Buddhism believes in the perpetual cycle of birth and death, which connects all living beings, thus the Buddha was not someone who believed that he alone existed, which would be preposterous because why would he then become a teacher? Buddhism deals with Solipsism by saying that the entire material universe is dual and non-real, while the wisdom which escapes from this is the absolute reality. Thus, solipsism is a false paradigm of existence and non-existence, the opposite of solipsism is the belief that one's self does not exist and therefore only the world exists, which is paradoxial at best. Further than this is nihilism, the belief one's self does not exist, which arises the question "then who is speaking?" Nihilism is, as it stands, the most ridiculous and extreme theory, second only to the notion that the world truly exists in an eternal precision, which while a picturesque scene is devoid of certain fundamental laws of the universe, namely change.
  • fivebellsfivebells Veteran
    edited November 2010
    Solipsism is an ontological position and as such, Buddhist practice is not concerned with it, except in as much as it brings an end to attachment to it.
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