“Was not their mistake once more bred of the life of slavery that they had been living?—a life which was always looking upon everything, except mankind, animate and inanimate—‘nature,’ as people used to call it—as one thing, and mankind as another, it was natural to people thinking in this way, that they should try to make ‘nature’ their slave, since they thought ‘nature’ was something outside them” — William Morris

Monday, October 4, 2010

Object-Oriented Buddhism 15—The Five Heaps

Okay, let's go back to atomism...Even that level of Buddhism is quite advanced. The atoms we're talking about are already phenomenological in some sense.

Early Buddhism (Theravadin) describes the “self” as a composite of five “heaps”—rather wonderfully rudely (the five “skandhas”). These heaps are basically collections of objects. We have form—the physical body. Feeling—the nervous system, subtle body (whatever you want to call it). Perception—eyes, ears, hearing etc. Formation—concepts. Consciousness. Clearly all “sentient” beings have these.

Later Buddhism ascribes these skandhas to ALL objects.

What Buddhism calls “ego” is what Heidegger and Graham Harman call Vorhandenheit or “presence-at-hand.” All objects treat themselves and all other objects as present-at-hand, retroactively positing them as this or that. A rock grazes another rock. Rock 2 becomes “that rock grazed by rock 1.”

Presence-at-hand is a kind of caricature.

This is precisely what happens with the skandhas. Consciousness looks at them and goes “Hey—that's me.” This “Hey—that's me” then becomes an object in the fourth skandha (conceptual formations). Sooner or later you are taking your world very personally.

Buddhism holds that ego is a caricature in precisely this way.

It also holds that it's possible to think of and imagine a reality beyond ego. This is what Graham calls the “zero-person” view.

Why is this possible? Because the caricature does not truly exist.

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