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2011年4月30日 星期六

Saturday Fun

Sorry about the omission last week. My office is smack right in the middle of a relocation exercise. I'm done last night with the packing, the sometimes cruel and merciless clearance of the papers and articles accumulating imperceptibly in my drawers, on my desk top and shelves over the years. So there's time to resume our Saturday fun. As a man, there are remarkably few places where his fantasy will eventually end up in. Here're some of them.  Enjoy.


If Men Ruled the World...


Any fake phone number a girl gave you would automatically forward your call to her real number.


Nodding and looking at your watch would be deemed an acceptable response to "I love you."


Hallmark would make "Sorry, what was your name again?" cards.


When your girlfriend really needed to talk to you during the game, she'd appear in a little box in the corner of the screen during a time-out.


Breaking up would be a lot easier. A smack to the ass and a "Nice hustle, you'll get 'em next time" would pretty much do it.


Birth control would come in ale or lager.


You'd be expected to fill your resumé with gag names of people you'd worked for, like "Heywood J'Blowme."


Each year, your raise would be pegged to the fortunes of the NFL team of your choice.


The funniest guy in the office would get to be CEO.


"Sorry I'm late, but I got really wasted last night" would be an acceptable excuse for tardiness.


Tanks would be far easier to rent.


Garbage would take itself out.


Instead of beer belly, you'd get "beer biceps."


Instead of an expensive engagement ring, you could present your wife-to-be with a giant foam hand that said, "You're #1!"


Valentine's Day would be moved to February 29th so it would only occur in leap years.


"Cops" would be broadcast live, and you could phone in advice to the pursuing cops.(Or to the crooks.)


The only show opposite "Monday Night Football" would be "Monday Night Football From A Different Camera Angle."


Telephones would automatically cut off after 30 seconds of conversation.


2011年4月27日 星期三

Religion and Science: Compatible or Irreconcilable? 2

We saw in Wilson's article that in so far as the discovery of the reality of the universe is concerned, religion and science may be incompatible and that the basis of moral values may no longer be God but ourselves. Paul Kurtz however approaches this problem from a different perspective.


According to Kurtz, speaking as a "scientific naturalist and a skeptic", confining himself to the discussion of  the religion of a monotheistic but personal Abrahamic God, which claim to provide a special kind of revealed truth, supernatural and independent of science, an authoritative source of morality and a divine judge of political order, such a religion is incompatible, not only with science, but also with ethics and democratic politics. However, insofar as "religious discourse" is considered as a kind of "existential poetry", then he thinks that "religion and science are not necessarily incompatible." According to Kurtz, if religious followers claim that their beliefs are "absolutely true, righteous and just" then religion would be "irreconcilable with science and much of ethics and politics." He too, disagrees with Stephen Jay Gould, who maintains that "there are distinct magisteria and as such are compatible...magisterium of science covers the empirical realm: what is the universe made of (fact) and why does it work this way (theory)" but the magisterium of religion "extends over questions of ultimate meaning and moral virtue"  


To Kurtz, the first conflict between science and religion is in the area of what is considered to be "true" and the kind of method one can legitimiately use in arriving at what is believed to be the "truth". Science is predicated upon free inquiry, critical thinking and the willingness to question assumptions. Scientific truths must be justified by evidence. It must be predictable, logically consistent, and have mathematical coherence. It must theoretically be repeatable and must be judged by peer review. Hence scientific truths must be objective and is implicitly universal, trans-cultural or free from individual and cultural bias. Religious truths on the other hand often have to appeal to authority, tradition, faith, mysticism and revelations to convince those who would believe in them. In addition, the monotheistic religions, for the sake of maintaining the purity of their identities, often draw sharp lines between what is inside and outside, what is considered as part of"themselves" and what is considered as "the others", the saved and the damned, the clean and the unclean, the believer and the non-believers, the belongers and the non-belongers and hence are often exclusive, intolerant of the purported "truths" of rival religions or of rival sects within the same religion and will not hesitiate to engage in wars to propagate their own version of the "Truth".


Historically the Christian religion is not averse to suppressing free inquiry e.g. the case of Copernicus and the house arrest of Galileo and  the burning of Bruno, the attack upon Darwin and would not hesitate to use force and authority to preserve what they regard as the "truth". Even today, many Christians are opposed to stem cell research, abortions, homosexuality and some are still opposed to divorce on doctrinal grounds.


In the third place, a scientific question cannot be resolved by appeal to supernatural entities, to miracles, the paranormal and the occult but many theologians have little qualms in trying to settle theological disputes as to what they think the truth might be by appealing to their own beliefs in what God is supposed to have said. The scientist seeks natural  causes, not theological causes to explain the happening of various phenomena calling for explanations e.g the theory of evolution but many Christians, Muslims, Orthodox Catholics do not accept evolution and prefer the biblical accounts of direct separate creation of different species of living things. Many Christians believe that amongst all the creatures, human beings have been singled out by God to hold dominion over the universe and everything within it and that each person has an "ïmmortal soul" created by God at the time of insemination of a female ovum by the male sperm. But they have little or no factual evidence in support of their beliefs and many of them still try vainly to fight a losing battle against the advances in scientific knowledge of how the universe and the animals and plants came to be created by adopting theories like the "god of the gap" hypothesis, creationism and its barely disguised later form called "intelligent design" chiefly by pointing out weaknesses in the evidence for Darwinism and thereby hope to rub off some of the credibility which "science" enjoys in the contemporary world in support of their fundamentalist religious faith about which I shall write in a later blog.   


Kurtz also disagrees with Gould's view that science has no role to play in matters of morality because it is a '"non-factual" domain. He says that different religions have different stands on such  practical questions like monogamy and polygamy, divorce, abortion, stem cell research, capital punishments, food laws, women's rights etc. If so, whose magisterium should be followed in matters of what constitutes moral behavior? On the question of the purported "afterlife", different religions also have different views on who is entitled to go to heaven or deserve to burn in hell. Again, whose magisterium should be followed?


Kurtz thinks that scientists and social scientists have a lot to contribute to the study of various religions by using the methods of historical research, archeology, linguistics, anthropology, sociology and psychology to examine the claims of Revelations. Scholars have found that many of the so-called religious "truths" have little or no factual evidence in their favor and an examination of the way the Bible and the Qu'ran were written has also led to considerable skepticism about their claims to contain inerrant or infallible truths. Scientists have also found no evidence of the existence of  any incorporeal  or disembodied "souls" separate from a physical body and a physical brain which are capable of any independent and discarnate existence therefrom or after the a person dies, let alone evidence that such "souls" are immortal. Their conclusions are that these are merely matters of pure "faith". Their findings are not surprsing. Souls are not supposed to be material!  


From the Renaissance onwards, moral philosphers too have sought to explain human morality by relying on such concepts as man's material, biological, psychological and social needs, social instincts, man's natural tendency to desire to be happy and to avoid pain and suffering, the common good, his innate sense for social justice, the benefits of co-operation as against  unbridled competition, enlightened self-interest, utilitarian values, pragmatic effects, cultural traditions etc. Kurtz thinks that from Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Spinoza, Kant and Mill on down to the present, philosophers have sought to dispute the idea that morality and ethics should necessarily be based exclusively on religious beliefs. Gould thinks that science is concerned with facts not moral values (which he considers to be beyond the capacity of empirical research but Kurtz does not think so.) To Kurtz. education, social psychology, psychiatry, policy sciences such as economics, sociology and political science show that science can indeed be used to help resolve social and moral problems. Although philosophically, it is impossible to derive an "ought" from an "is", at least we can take into consideration our knowledge of facts and of the causes and likely consequences of alternative policies and means-ends evaluations e.g. studies have helped us understand much more now about the genetic, neurological, physiological, biographical, psychological and historical basis of homosexuality in that it has taught us that it is not as "unnatural" and certainly much more widespread in all kinds of societies at all ages than what certain religious leaders may wish us to believe. 


Apart from the historical conflict between religion and science, religion has also had some quite powerful effects on the politics of certain countries. Many religious leaders argue that even the state should be subsumed under the divine order e.g the sharia as revealed through the Qu'ran and Hadith is taken as the foundation of law, sometimes leading to theocracy, the wedding of the mosque and the state. Even in America, religious interests have played an extremely influential part in helping candidates like George Bush to win the presidential election.      


Despite the conflict in many areas between science and religion, Kurtz thinks that religion still has a role to play in modern society and for that reason, it is unlikely that religions will disappear any time soon despite scientific advances in many spheres of human knowledge and human civilization. To him, religious language is "not primarily descriptive, nor is it prescriptive."( not prescriptive? I wonder)  He thinks that the "descriptive and explanatory functions of language are within the domain of science; the prescriptive and normative are the function of ethics." In such domains, each has its own kind of autonomy. He thinks that the function of religion is evocative, expressive and emotive: "it presents esthetic inspiration, moral poetry, performative ceremonial rituals, which act out and dramatize the human condition and human interests, and seek to slake the thirst for meaning and purpose." To him, the religions of revelation "deal in fictionalized tales, parables, narrative metaphors, stories and myths: they frame the divine in human form (anthropomorphic). They express the existential yearnings of individuals endeavoring to cope with the world that they encounter and to find meaning in the face of death." He thinks that religious language is eschatological and  that its primary function is to express hope. He says, "If science gives us truth, morality the good and the right, and politics justice, then religion is in the realm of the expectation and promise. Its main function is to overcome despair and hopelessness in response to human tragedy, adversity and conflict--the brute, inexplicable, contingent and fragile facts of the human condition". Religion to Kurtz is not primarily about what is true, what is good, what is right and what is just but is "an attempt to transcend contrition, fear, anxiety, remorse and provide "balm for the aching heart" many if not all through the creative human imagination: "they traffic in fantasy and fiction, taking the promises of long forgotten historical figures and endowing them with eternal cosmic significance." In that regard, they are similar to other powerful works of art like Verdi's and Puccini's operas, Dante's poems, Shakespeare and Moliere's 's plays, Dostoievski's and Balzac's novels, the cathedral at Chartres, the skyscrapers of New York. "The creative religious imagination weaves tales of consolation and expectation. They are the dramatic expression of human longing, enabling humans to overcome grief and depression and escape from the tragedies of the world." In this sense, religious beliefs and religious statements cannot be taken to be objectively true, only metaphorically and esthetically meaningful. Many human beings cannot bear the thought of the ultimate extinction of the universe and of our civilization: they crave immortality. Religions arise to supply that need. But to Kurtz, many atheists and agnostics have found life meaningful and worth living for its own sake in the here and now, as fully and richly as they can in the secular and naturalistic world.. 


To me, religion is ultimately a multi-purpose institution to help us cope with certain universal problems of human life: it provides simple, easy to understand answers to many otherwise unanswerable pseudo-questions like "where do we come from?", "where shall we go after we are dead?", " Is  there a universally applicable and externally given meaning and purpose to human life in general and my life in particular? "  and by extension to other forms of life: it provides a professional class of ecclesiastics to help us go through life's most dramatic, most risky moments like birth, puberty, marriage, sickness, old age and eventually death, or crisis like wars, droughts, famines, floods, typhoons, volcanic eruptions, earth quakes, tsunamis, plagues, loss of dear ones; it provides a common physical place like a church, a synagogue, a mosque, a temple etc. where the faithful can meet at regular intervals to renew their common faith and beliefs and where religious rituals to commemorate significant events in the history of their religion may be re-enacted so as to bring their mythical or legendary past back to the present in feasts like the birth of their prophets, the passover, the last supper, the resurrection of the body or other religiously meaningful events; it helps many villages, towns, cities and even nations to build up their own traditions; it establishes a set of rituals through which we may relive the relevant existential crisis faced by people of all times and places; it also provides simple guidelines on what we should or should not do under various commonly shared morally perplexing circumstances in our social life.  It does so through a ready made and easily understood story in poetic language with larger than life characters with some of whose plights and whose lives and with some of whose qualities the ordinary folks may identify, as meaningful answers to some of the deepest concerns of man which the ordinary folks are likely to have to face and thereby help them negotiate the treacherous waters in the river of life. .


Ultimately, religious language is the language of myth . According to the anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski: "Studied alive, myth....is not an explanation in satisfaction of a scientific interest, but a narrative resurrection of a primeval reality, told in satisfaction of deep religious wants, moral cravings." (Magic Science and Religion)(1954) .The religious scholar Mircea Eliade says in his book Myth and Reality (1963,) "In imitating the exemplary acts of a god or a mythic hero, or simply by recounting their adventures, the man of an archaic society detaches himself from profane time and magically re-enters the Great Time, the sacred time."  Rollo May says in his book The Cry for Myth (1991), that a myth is a way of making sense in a senseless world. Myths are narrative patterns that give significance to our existence. "Whether the meaning of existence is only what we put into life by our own individual fortitude, whether there is a meaning we need to discover, the result is the same....Through its myths, a healthy society gives its members relief from neurotic guilt and excessive anxiety." To May, the myth is always a story which carries the values of society and its narration always points towards totality rather than specificity and is chiefly a right brain function. "The myth unifies the antinomies of life: conscious and unconscious, historical and present, individual and social", in a form which is passed down from generation to generation, from age to age. "Whereas empirical language refers to objective facts, myths refers to the quintessence of human experience, the meaning and significance of human life. The whole person speaks to us, not just to our brain.", he says. To May, "myth is a form of expression which reveals a process of thought and feeling--man's awareness of and response to the universe, his fellow men, and his separate being. It is a projection in concrete and dramatic form of fears and desires undiscoverable and inexpressible in any other way".


In the 20th century and even now, our myths no longer serve their function of making sense of our existence. Thus many young and not so young people in our sprawling city slums or even in some posh clubs or apartments are left without purpose or direction in life and people cannot control their anxiety and excessive guilt feelings. Psychologist Jerome Brunner writes: " ...when the prevailing myth fail to fit the varieties of man's plight, frustration expresses itself first in mythoclasm and then in the lonely search for internal identity".(Myth and Identity in ed. Henry A Murray Myth and Mythmaking (1960)) When people fail to find meaning in the traditional God, they may feel miserable. Myths are our way of finding meaning and significance in a confused and confusing world. "Myths are like the beams in a house: not exposed to outside view, they are the structure which holds the house together so people can live in it, " says May.  Indeed, if people cannot find consolation and hope, they may drift into promiscuity, drugs, alcoholism etc. on the psychologically plausible logic that a little something is still better than nothing and a short break is better than no break. Peter Berger says in Pyramids of Sacrifice, "It is through myths that men are lifted above their captivity in the ordinary, attain powerful visions of the future and realize such visions." In "The Birth of Tragedy from the Spirit of Music", Friedrich Nietzsche, the philosopher who announced the death of God through the mouth of a madman, asks, "What does our great hunger signify, our clutching about us of countless other cultures, our consuming desire for knowledge, if not the loss of myth, of a mythic home, the mythic womb?" Our hunger for myth is for May, our hunger for community, for purpose and hence meaning in our lives.  


If we understand religion as part and parcel of man's efforts to try to deal with cetrtain universal existential problems of humanity in mythic form, as Kurtz and May seem to think, then how can there be any conflict between religion and science? Science and religion address quite different problems with only certain overlaps as far as factual issues are concerned. We should never understand mythic questions as factual questions! Science is concerned with rational ideas on factual matters, religion is concerned with man's practical existential emotional needs but is often presented by unimaginative religious leaders as if it would also satisfy his rational intellectual or epistemological needs! Hence we find the kind of the confusion and muddled thinking in a great many followers of various religion who try to treat their religions as if it were a factual matter, as if it were a scientific question! Hence the misguided and misplaced enthusiasm of many fundamentalist Christians for "intelligent design"!


Science and Religion: Compatible or Irreconcilable? 1

Hardly any one will doubt the value of science. The impact of science in the form of technology is as dazzling as the sun. The impact of religion on the lives of huge sections of the population, especially in technologically less advanced societies, and in one of the most technologically advanced societies, America, is no less obvious. Can science ever replace religion as the dominant cultural force in our civilizations? Has science already overtaken religion as the foremost intellectual force in our world? If not, can it ever do so? What is the proper relation between science and religion? These are questions which every thinking man will ask himself at one point or another of his life. To find out, I read two articles: "Science and Religion: No Irenics Here" (2006) by Fred Wilson and "Is Religion Compatible with Science and Ethics? A Critique of Stephen Jay Gould's Two Magisteria"(2005) by Paul Kurtz.


According to Wilson, science and religion are not only different but incompatible. How? Many religions hold that values are "objectively" there as part of the ontological structure of the world eg. Plato and Aristotle and that to understand how things in this world works, it is necessary to transcend the natural world and look at it from a more fundamental, permanent, unchanging, eternal and ultimate perspective. Science on the other hand is concerned only with how things in fact work in the natural and social world and in that sense, wholly naturalistic. Moreover, some scientists and philosophers of science claim that to understand how things work, it is unnecessary for us to find some kind of "objective" or God-given or God sanctioned value structure within which to place such understanding and since our values are rooted in our psychology and our culture, value systems can be justified only by how well they serve our well being. To the social scientist, moral values should be evaluated by human standards, not by the standards of any so-called "natural law" or by any divine standards and hence, we should take responsibility for the kind of moral standards we in fact adopt and not ascribe them to any God or other divine being(s).


Stephen Jay Gould has argued in Rock of Ages: Science and Religion in the Fullness of Life (1999)  that science and religion are non-overlapping magisteria: one deals with fact and the other with values, of goodness and God, that science deals with "how" questions and religion deals with "why" questions. But to Wilson, morality is one thing but ultimate meaning and ultimate reality and God is another. To the followers of the Abrahamic monotheistic religions like Judaism, Christianity and Islam, values, the meaning of life, what is permitted and what is not, depend ultimately on God's will and not on our own way of thinking. To philosophers like Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, people have what they think of as a "soul" which has the ability to perceive what they think of as "eternal forms" through the use of their "reason" and that how things do behave also point to how they ought to behave. If so, the natural laws are not only descriptive but also normative and prescriptive. Whilst Plato seeks to explain mostly human behavior, Aristotle tries to extend his master's explanatory model to all changing things. He called the bearer of the active power "substances" and his doctrine found its way into Christian metaphysics which uses it to support their religious dogma and morality. To Wilson, "what the Platonic-Aristotelian metaphysics does is provide a rationale for values held on other grounds".They are "value judgements disguised as objective fact."  Science however, provides another method: observation, hypothesis formation, experimental verification or falsification. It abandons the philosophically speculative tasks of "intuiting" through the use of reason what the "eternal forms" might be and what kind of force is driving things to behave in the way that they do and relies principally on careful and controlled observation and hypothesis testing through the experimental method. Locke thus argues that the world of forms is "a figment of our philosphical imagination. To Wilson, "Just as moral content of the forms was a projection of the wishes and values of those defending the metaphysics, so also the natural-unnatural distinction in physics". To the scientist, the distinction is a distinction of no consequence, a pseudo-problem. Science is able to solve problems the old metaphysics could not. Science proceeds by finding "timeless patterns" and not seek to find explanations for how things and people behave through "a timeless entity" (God), not through "transcendental forms" but by "natural patterns", which patterns are merely descriptive, not normative. To the scientist, his explanations of morality makes no appeal to any so-called "objective values" given by any supposedly divine entity.


This is how Wilson defines how morality comes about and how science may assist us in achieving our moral and other ideals: "Morality thus becomes, with the new empirical science, not something that is discovered in the world, not something that we rationally intuit; it is something that we find within ourselves, but put there by social forces, forces over which we have some control, not by God over whom we have no control. Morality thus turns out to be something we create...as social beings...we have a choice in the matter. We can, within limits...choose the values we are to live by. As for what we can't choose, then at the least, we can accept those things as our fate in the world of fact. We can ask, what vision of the good do we have? Is it a good worth having. And we can ask whether it is an attainable good, and if it is, we can ask how we can best go about attaining it? The former are questions of value. Science will not help us answer those. But the others are questions of fact, and there science can tell us the answers to those questions. In other words, while science cannot tell us what the good is, it can describe the means that are available for attaining that good...it will tell us...that most of the goods that we value can be attained only if we form with our fellows a stable society or community of persons....we must develop sharable values and co-operative behavior...how better to develop a social order that can secure the goods that make life worth living...we can secure our vision of the good only if we have a moral and social order that promotes that end.....The moral or social order, our moral and political values, is not something that is imposed upon us, it is something that we find within ourselves, and it is something that we can shape and develop. It is therefore something for which we must take responsibility". 


To me, if we accept what Wilson says, then if our society decides that it is not right to kill, we can no longer claim that it is the natural law that we should not kill or that it is God's will that it be so. Socrates has asked long ago the question whether we should be virtuous because it is decreed by the gods that we should be so or whether the gods decree that we should be virtuous because it is good to be so. We as a society should decide whether it is good not to kill except for good reasons or whether we should never kill under any circumstances and if so, why and whether we should accept such reasons.


What is evident from Wilson's article is that whilst science has freed us from the burden of "objective values", it has given us the responsibility for deciding and following the values that we have, for our own moral order and for our own vision of what constitutes "good". To Wilson, and here, I agree with him, to think that the moral values that we as a society in fact hold as somehow "objectively" found in the fabirc of the universe or as decreed by God, is merely a metaphysical sleight of hand by those in authority for better and more easily securing the consent of the ignorant and unthinking populace to the continuance of those values which our society in fact finds useful or expedient to hold for reasons totally unrelated to some such "God" or "gods". We have all learned from Lord Acton that power corrupts and that absolute power corrupts absolutely. Those who claim to act in the name of God are seldom free from that human tendency which Lord Acton so succinctly pointed out from his study of human history.


We have found in all kinds of religious rules of conduct which a modern secular society may find repugnant e.g.to hold that women should be subservient to men, that pork or beef should be avoided under all circumstances, that society should follow a caste system the identity and social status of whose members are determined at birth, that there are devils in this world and that those in league with this supposed "devil" should be burned at the stake, that only ordained priests should have the power to forgive sins, that all Jews should be circumcised, that all women must wear a veil whenever they appear in public, that man is the master of the earth, that God created the world for exploitation by man, that it is alright to treat others as slaves, that one may immediately go to heaven if one were to engage in terrorist activities in the name of one's religion, that it is right to offer human sacrifices to the gods, and to fight all kinds of religious wars, whether you call them crusades or jihads etc. 


As Wilson says, to think that our morality is objective because there is a God who has decided for all eternity for us that what the priests and theologians say that he thinks is right is absolutley right and what they say he thinks is wrong is absolutely and certainly wrong may well be "a disguise that allows us to ignore our responsibility for our values and allows us to institute without critical examination both the silly and the nasty" . Empirical science has freed us from the burden of such values. By ascribing the origin of all our morality to a supreme supernatural being, we are encouraged to conduct our lives as slaves who must at all times look upon what is pleasing and displeasing to a supposed God. By worshiping God, we turn ourselves into slaves, as Nietzsche claimed in the last century. There are perks for being a slave of course. We can feel safe in thinking that we are right and have the support of the most powerful being in the universe imaginable: we shall have a most powerful protector, law giver, who is supposed to love us even more than we do ourselves and we are assured a place in the Pearly Gates if we do what he decrees that we do and refrain from doing what he prohinits. But by the same token, we shall be cast to burn for all eternity in a fire which never extinguishes. To me, this kind of punishment is totally disproportionate in that we live upon this earth for not more than a hundred years but we shall suffer for all eternity if we were to act against the will of God. This is against all notions of proportionality in the sentencing of criminals in a modern society. What a price we have to pay for such feelings of security! We lose that most precious quality that a human being can possibly possess: our autonomy. We cannot decide for ourselves what we think is good for ourselves. It has been decided for us, from all eternity.


Though with the greastest reluctance, I have to agree with Wilson's conclusion: "God is an illusion, a projection of our own values upon the world freeing us for the need to defend our choices. He/she/it ought therefore to be exorcised from the magisterium of ethics...and morality...if we are responsible knowers and doers.".  


2011年4月23日 星期六

Transcendence of Time Space and Life


It's finally holiday time. I can certainly do with a break. Whilst on the MTR train, I flipped open a book which I have bought but which I haven't really had time to read except in snippets. I allowed my fingers to take the place of my mind and decide what I should read. What appeared before my eyes was a title which has always fascinated me: space and time. The book is Sheng Yen (聖嚴)'s  Zen and Enlightenment (禪與悟) (91). The chapter is entitled Time, Space and Transcendence of Life. An inexplicable sense of luxury bathed my mind. I started reading. 


According to Master Sheng-Yen, the word "" in Chinese means up, down, left, right, front, back and the word "" means past, present and future and the phrase "宇宙" together are usually taken to mean the web of existence woven by time and space each extended to infinity. To Sheng-Yen, time and space may be taken to be just another name for the universe (世間) ("" here referring to the past, present and future of time which can stretch to infinity in both directions such that one lifetime is called " " and space being divided into various units called "".) Thus combining the line of time and the points and surfaces of space, we have "世間".


To the Buddhist, time and space are just the locus of activity (活動). All activities or displacement of objects in space and all changes in materials and in phenomena occur within time. As  it is the nature of all ordinary things to undergo changes in time and space and no "activity" can ever occur outside of time and space, all entities described as "eternal" must of necessity be unchanging/changeless and hence immobile and if so, "the eternal" must exist outside of time and space.  However, ordinarily, all that human beings are given to know is only what is present in the here and now. Even all our thoughts about so-called "infinities" are extrapolations of a series of time and space and we really can never fully understand what the word "infinite" time really means because we have no direct experience of what it means and how it "feels" in our sensory experience. Similarly, our understanding of space is also limited. We can understand space directly only through the senses of our bodies and indirectly through our measuring instruments. As there can be no thought without a mind and as our minds and our thoughts are limited by our bodies, our understanding of space is similarly limited. Although some think that the world of spirit is outside of time and space because spirits are supposed to be non-material and hence invisible or formless, it is not so because even the world of spirits (beings commonly referred to as souls, ghosts, devils, gods etc) cannot be apprehended except through such physical media like the human body or the physical brain, operating through the recall or "memories" of our "experience" via the use of images, signs and concepts. As so-called "spirits" are nothing more then a form of energy and as such energy is created through matter, every activity and all things or objects or beings can be said to always exist within and never outside of space and time.


To the Buddhist, both time and space are considered forms of being which are illusory (幻有) because they are considered to be merely phenomenal (i.e. we can only perceive certain of their provisional forms and appearance and can never experience them as they are in and as themselves) and in that sense, they have no true substance or materiality or reality, as ordinarily understood. We can discover or posit their existence only through their effects on matter. To the Buddhist, there are three different kinds of "being/entity/existence" (): subjective being/entity/existence (主觀有), objective being/entity/existence (客觀有) and mental being/entity/existence (唯心有). The term " objective entity" refers to the world shared in common by all beings but even this objective world is affected by the various subjective beings within it because the life and death of all beings will always leave some effect or trace in this objective world, whether in the form of its culture or its physical environment although in most cases, such effects or trace may be quite minimal or negligible. This phenomenal world is said to be illusory in the sense that it is always subject to changes, never permanent or never remains in the same form for any substantial periods of time.  The subjective world is subjective because it involves perception or awareness or reconstitution of stimuli from that external world by the internal processes of our mind, which itself functions within our body through that organ within it called our brain and through such perception, awareness and/or knowledge, we are motivated to action which changes the relationship between various external objects amongst themselves in the external physical world or which changes the social relationships between ourselves and others in that external world. Such effects may cease upon our death. Although the external world exists both before we are born and after we die, it no longer has any relationship with us after we are dead. Like everything else, our minds and our mental activities are also subject to constant changes, from the moment of our birth to the moment of our death. Hence even our "self" or ego is an absolute illusion and have no "real" or "true" existence which remains the same for any substantial periods of time.


To Sheng-Yen, the mental world can be viewed or analyzed in three ways: as in western philosophy, as in western science and as in Buddhism. In the West, idealism (唯心 ) is a metaphysical concept which, according to some philosophers, holds that the highest organizing principle in this world of ours is that of the mind (cognition, emotion, and will) and in this sense it may be compared to the inner/innate/inborn knowledge () of the Eastern conscience(良知 )or the li () as in the way of the universe (天理). In Western science, the scientist is concerned only to analyze mental activities in so far as they exist in man's brain and the memory of his experiences. In that sense, it is ultimately materialist. Science does not concern itself with what happens before the birth of the world or the birth of a person nor their condition after the relevant demise. To the Buddhist, the word "mind" () refers to a liberated or enlightened Buddha mind according to which the entire world is within the mind of the Buddha such that people in the phenomenal world are always people inside the Buddha mind and the various buddhas are always the buddhas as they appear in the minds of the ordinary folk but from the Buddhist perspective, both the minds of the ordinary folk and the mind of the Buddha can theoretically be the same because all persons are supposed to have within themselves what is potentially a Buddha mind.. From such a Buddhist point of view, it is only because, owing to their ignorance (無明), the ordinary folk is attached to always making a distinction between the concepts of "self" and the concept of the "other" and because he is always setting a theoretical boundary between what he considers to be his own "self" and everything else which is not part of that "self", either in the form of "the others" or in the form of the external physical world that he fails to notice this similarity between his own individual mind and the "Buddha mind", which is thought to be all inclusive. Because of this mental habit or attitude, the unenlightened ordinary folk accumulate karma (), whether good or bad, and thus will continue to exist within the endless cycles of life and death or the turning within the wheel of samsara (the cycle of constant births and deaths).


To the Buddhist, their mental activities have a certain force or energy. That energy appears in the form of "karma" (業力) and become what is called "karmic cause" (業因) or "karmic seed"(種子 ). The ultimate collection or store of all kinds of karmic "seeds" and "causes" is called alaya (阿賴耶識 ) or the realm of storage/foundation consciousness (藏識) because it is there that the karmic seeds are supposed to be stored and it is there that they are supposed to continue to have effect in the world ever across different lifetimes but karmic causes and karmic seeds are stored there only as potential sources of energy awaiting manifestation in this life or later lives. From that store of potential mental energy, new "karmic seeds" are thought to cause new karmic activities and cause new effects or consequences either in this life or in later lives. Thus there will be constant changes even in the alaya. This is why according to Buddhism, nothing in the physical world and in the mental world is considered changeless and nothing is thought to continue forever and this is why the Buddhists consider that all forms of existence and all forms of being as provisional/temporary/transient existence, beings or states. From a Buddhist perspective, all beings and all states or all phenomena, without exception, exist only for a period of time and then change into something else. This condition or state of ceaseless changes is what Buddhists describe as "empty/ emptiness/ emptying/void/illusory/ illusion" () and every person, every object, every phenomenon is considered to be mere form without "reality" or "substance" (諸法空相). This is what is meant by the "empty nature" of everything that is (空性).     


From the Buddhist perspective, time and space are inseparable because all space exists within time or a particular point or period within time. Although Buddhist thought theoretically describes the condition of the world from a point of view beyond that world or from a transcendental viewpoint, it can only do so by using the concepts applicable within that non-transcendental world or from within a non-transcendental point of view because the truly transcendental reality can never be adequately or correctly described by words and in that sense can be said to be indescribable. It can only be hinted at and to a limited extent "imagined". It is only because the Buddha wishes to help us understand that transcendental and otherwise indescribable world that he adopts the use of terms, concepts, imagery commonly used within that non-transcendental and secular world.


A Buddhist starts with the law of cause and effect/chain of causation (因果法) which operates within time and with the master-servant relationship (賓主關係) that exists amongst different phenomena operates within space. To the Buddhist, the cause/effect and master/servant relationship together constitute what has been called "nidana" (co-dependent origination of effects) (因緣法) whereby sometimes one cause may be the subject and another cause an object in the case where the subject exists prior to the object of the relevant action and has an effect/consequence on the corresponding object of that action. If so, the subject is described as the cause () of the object. Sometimes, causes may operate simultaneously. If so, each subject may at the same time be both the cause and the effect of each other so that they are at one and the same time both a subject and an object of the other's action upon him/it (the master may at the same time be a servant and the servant a master). Sometimes they may operate together to be the joint causes of a third object/event. When more than one cause act at the same point in time at the same place to cause a third effect or to cause effects in each other, such a condition of joint action or mutual interaction of cause and effect is described as "co-dependants" (). It is also possible that at a particular point in time, one subject may cause effects or consequences in many different objects. Cause and origination of effects or consequences (因緣) may switch places with one another. For this reason, the doctrine of pratityasamutpada (the doctrine of co-dependent origination of effects) (因緣法) can never be discussed separately from the law of cause and effect (因果法) and vice versa.( 因果不離因緣  因緣不離因果).


Nowadays, when the Buddhists talk about the doctrine of co-dependent origination of effects (因緣法), they include also how things or matter and events happen within space e.g. how different causes may contribute to the happening of a particular phenomenon in space or affect one another. However, in primitive Buddhism, Buddhism was concerned not with matter but with people: what might be happening before a person is born and after he dies. They called the infinite past, the present and the infinite future "the three infinite realms"  (無窮三世) and within these three infinite realms, the Buddhists have found 12 phenomena which they summarize as " the 12 nidanas" () ( the word nidana meaning "cause/foundation/source/origin) which is the best and most comprehensive application of the principle of pratityasamutpada (因緣法) or the doctrine of co-dependent origination of effects within the three realms (三世十二因緣). The 12 nidanas are: 


1.       avidya or avijja or ignorance (無明)( our past karma leading to confusion and lack of clarity in realizing our budha nature


2.       Samskara or Sankhara () meaning the activity of our past words, thoughts and conduct affecting our present.


3.       vijnanna or vinnana or consciousness ( ) or the action of samskara and the shaping of that energetic activity into a less flexible and more stagnant form. The cognition of object within our field of awareness and its structured stream being continually fed from the relevant activity of our five senses like sight, sound, smell, taste, touch and our internal processing thereof into cognition and thus cause all the experiential data of our unconscious including our memories, our dreams and various psychological complexes.


4.       Namarupa (名色)( meaning our mind, which is known only by name and meaning form. The vijnana grasps things quickly after which it will move rapidly from sensory objects to imaginative objects thus crystallizing into new mental forms called “nama or represented as material forms called “rupa”.


5.       Sadayatana or Salayatana or the six-sense gates(六入 or 六根) the six sensory points of entries viz. eyes ( ), ears ( ), nose (), tongue(), skin (), thought/cognition () the first five of which are organs and the sixth being their appearance in our consciousness, corresponding to the what has been called the 6 dusts (六塵) ie. sight ()sound(), smell (), taste (), touch ( ), the limits of cognition ().). At this phase, between ages three to four, when contact with the world can be done through the six sense-gates, the child is still unable to generate any powerful and sustained thought or desire for happiness and the wish to avoid sadness


6.       sparsa or phassa or contact ( ). At this phase, there is a relationship or full rapport between the internal and external ayatana e.g like the sensation of sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch which appears completely to our awareness.  


7.       Vedana or sensation () or the tonal structure of the feeling tone. This feeling tone describes that which may be experienced by us between ages five or six to twelve or thirteen, when we are able to distinguish between pleasure and pain and good and bad but not yet able to form greed and addition.


8.       Trsna or Tanha or craving or desire love (). This describes our teenage condition, when after we become aware of the tone of our sensation, we are either unconsciously conditioned to or developed a habitual craving or attachment to the relevant sensory experience which comes into our consciousness. This describes the habitual craving for pleasure but before such craving has become inveterate and generalized. In the same way, we may desire and get attached to conditions in which the habitual structuring of sensory impression and momentary awareness facilitate desiring for eternal peace and contentment  It describes the phase when we are between 14 and 15 to 18 and 19.


9.       Upadana  or greed, avarice and attachment (), which describes our condition from age 20 when our greed and avarice are reinforced or get attached to the environmental condition, when we start seeking all kinds of sensory pleasure and form emotional attachment.   


10.   Bhava () or the acquisition/accumulation of karma. It describes the condition in which we accumulate our karma () because of our attachment/non-attachment to various forms of sensory pleasures, whether good karma or bad karma when we are still unable to lift ourselves from the cycle of action because we are still attached to the application of the law of cause and effect. It may occur in three forms : desires (欲有), bodily or sensory pleasures (色有),  non-bodily/sensory pleasures (無色)


11.   Jati or Birth () (meaning that we are still subject to the cycle of births like birth through embryo (胎生), through egg (), through fermentation (濕生) or through metamorphosis (化生) because of our good or bad karma, we are not yet free from the 6 paths (六道) viz. heaven (天道), human (人道) , asura (修羅道) concerned with guarding and protecting the dharma, animals (畜生道) , hungry ghost (餓鬼道), hell (地獄 ).                                        


12.   Jara-marana or aging decay and death (老死) which describes our condition of having to deteriorate after our maturity and eventually having to die.


To Sheng-Yen, our perception through our 5 senses may be very much affected by our feelings and desires which then may propel us to certain willful action (). Because of our attachment to various sensory or non-sensory pleasures, we may misconceive or distort or pollute our perception and this polluted perception will in turn influence our further perception which then lead to further ignorant conduct. Because our conduct is misled by our ignorance, our perceptions themselves and hence our cognition will be blinded by our desires and our attachment to sensory or non-sensory pleasures, we shall never be able to extricate ourselves from the never ending cycle of ignorant perception-conduct-perception-conduct through our senses (名色) and hence can never escape samsara ( the cycle of life and death). But once we eliminate our initial but fundamental ignorance, we can begin to transcend the cycle initiated by the six faulty sensory points of entry(六入) (which in turn influences our further perception and then lead to further ignorant conduct (名色). If we can lift ourselves outside of this cycle, we shall then transcend the limits of time and space. Of course to be able to do that, we need constant training through applying the correct methods. 


According to Sheng-Yen, the Buddhist view of space and time has undergone a number of changes in its history. It first started in primitive Buddhism, going through Theravada, then the Mahayana tradtiion, as  elaborated through the doctrine of madhyamika (中觀論) of Nagarjuni (龍樹菩薩) or Yogacara (瑜伽行唯識學派). Primitive Buddhism is based on the Agama Sutra (阿含經) according to which we must realize that nothing that we think or do (諸行) can last forever (無常) and all kinds of phenomena occurring within time and space, including all that we think, all our concepts and all our words teach us to eliminate the concept or idea of a "self/ego". (諸行無常 諸法無我) because although we may discern certain causal links between different phenomena, all such relationships are either strengthening or abating and even the so-called "self" that the ordinary folk thinks belongs to himself is based upon such impermanent and constantly shifting phenomena. If so, then all the forms, whether of objects, events or our concept of our "self" can be nothing but transient and impermanent and hence has no "reality" or is otherwise ultimately an "illusion". All our thoughts comes and goes in an instant but although often we may be able to trace a certain similarity between them and hence find a certain stability or permanence and a certain continuity between one thought and another, nonetheless, strictly speaking, one thought is not the same as another and all thoughts exists only at certain points in time and hence are transient and are disparate, not continuous.


Amongst the Theravada/Hinayana tradition, the school which advocate that everything has real existence or being Sarvâstiväda (一切有部) is most influential and from the Abhidharma-Mahavibhasa Sastra (阿毘達磨大毗婆沙論 or 大毘婆沙論)( the word "vibhasa" meaning "compendium") , we know that there are four masters in this tradition viz. Dharmatrata (大德法救) , Buddhadeva ( 覺天), Vasumitra (世友) and Ghosa (妙音), the first two concentrating on parables and latter two being elaborators of the thoughts contained in the Abhidharma-kosa sutras (毘達磨論師) who posited that all human beings have an individual atman (personal self or soul) which is but an imperfect form of the brahman (the impersonal or universal Spirit).


The idea of "all/everything" (一切) was first introduced in the Sajyukagama (雜阿含經) (agama meaning the propagated holy/sacred religion and sajyuk meaning relating to a collection or an assortment of agama ) and refers to the 5  senses plus the knowledge derived therefrom of all sentient beings and the relevant stimuli in the external environment matching those six sources of impure knowledge and the idea of "real existence within the three realms"(三世實有) appears in the Agama (Nikaya in Pali 尼柯耶) in which the idea that the past, present and future exist in reality but that the ideal embodiment of the dharma exists permanently appears (三世實有 法體恆有) and from this, the doctrine develops that the present is embodied but not the past and the future. Originally, this is said in connection with the what sentient beings and the physical environment and thus pertain to spatial existence but for the purposes of liberation from time and space, it is thought that the past, the present and the future are connected through the concept of the karma. Because whilst the activities of the atman constantly changes, the relevant brahman always remains the same, hence it is said that the dharma body exists permanently. It is thought that everything is centred in the here and now: the effect of past karma is present even now and the karma now will continue to affect one's future karma.


By the time of development of 一切有部, a theory of 三世實有 is established e.g. 順正理論 chapter 51 states "it is only by believing in three types reality of non-action (有真實三種無為) can one claim to be talking about everything exists(一切有)"  The three types of non-action (三種無為法) are: choosing annihilation (擇滅) , not choosing annihilation (非擇滅) and emptying (虛空). What this really means is that whilst the conventional understanding of reality is that the past, the present and the future are real and thus such reality exist within time and space,  there is also a transcendental realm of existence outside of time and space and beyond the limits of conceptual ideas. The three methods are just three different strategies or ways a Buddhist saint may adopt to deal with with the sufferings in this world: the suffering not only of our "selves" but also the suffering of the other ordinary folks.  


In the Mahayana tradition, space and time are understood differently. In Nagarjuni's Madhyamika, he says that if the present and future exist by virtue of the past, the present and the future must exist in the past but if there is no present and future in the past, then how could one say that the present and the future is caused by the past? Thus if time exists, it can only have a relative existence ie. the past, the present and the future exist only by comparison with each other. Time only exists relatively because we can only think of time by observing the changes in and between objects and events in space but since objects and events rely upon each other for their existence and each of such objects are also subjected to constant changes and mutations and thus have no real existence, time too can have no real existence. Hence the Madhyamika says, "Because of objects, time exist. How could there be time without objects. If objects do not truly exists, how can time exist?" If so, the reality of time is denied. The Abhidharma-kośa (the compendium of Abhidarma)( 俱舍論) and Yogacara/Vijnavada (瑜伽行唯識學派/唯識瑜伽行派/唯識派/唯識宗) are two of the largest schools in the Mahayana theoretical tradition along with the Madhyamika.


Another master in the Mahayana tradition is Vasubandhu (世親菩薩) who first wrote the Theravada Abhidharma-kosa and then the Mahayana's Consciousness only Doctrine (唯識論) or Dharma Characteristics Doctrine (法相論)  In the 75 ways discussed in the Abhidharma, everything that exists in time and space is discussed through the four phases of "birth, continuance, variation and disappearance" (, ,   , ). In the 100 ways discussed in Consciousness only Doctrine (唯識論), the operation of time and space is discussed through the concepts of "birth, aging, continuance, impermanence, switching around, stability and variation, correspondence/concordance, speed, priority, method, time, figures, consistency, inconsistency" (, , , 無常, 流轉, 定異, 相應, 勢速, 次第, , , , 和合性, 不和合性). In the earlier texts, he discussed about only three stages, "birth, continuance, disappearance" ( 生住滅) but talked about four stages only later. To Sheng-Yen, the stage of "variation " () can be considered a particular stage within the stage in continuation (). In fact, everything changes between birth and death/disappearance and everything continues for a period of time, no matter for how long, but during its continuance, changes constantly occur, whether it be changes in quantity, then changes in quality and corresponding changes in form or shape until it completely disappears or dies.  Whether time and space is discussed through the concept of 4 or 14 stages or phases (), these stages or phases are not determinate or rigidly separate. Their only use is to show to us how things, events, phenomena operate in time and space: how they change places in time and space and the whole point of Consciousness only Doctrine (唯識論) or Dharma Characteristics Doctrine ((法相論) is to let us know that nothing is permanent and that from the ultimate metaphysical point of view, it is "unreal" or has no real or permanent existence. The object of this teaching is to help the ordinary folk's not to get so attached to particular people, places, things, events, states, ideas, emotions, even what is conventionally considered laudable or praise-worthy ideals. .


How does a Buddhist view life? To a Buddhist, those who in some sense consciously have a purpose in life is called a "sentient being". Thus plants and chemicals are called non-sentient beings. Sentient beings are attached to life. Life may be considered from the point of view of a hierarchy of three orders from the lowest to the highest in the following order: cells and nerves, then memory, then thought. Plants are considered to be non-sentient because they do not have a highly developed nervous system and thus do not feel pain. Only when we have a brain with memory of pain will we begin to fear pain and only when we have thought can we begin to form a desire to avoid pain and can know how to do so. Only when we have a nervous system and a thought system can and will we hope to avoid pain and get attached to life. There is also a hierarchy of the ability to feel: we may have moods, feeling and temperament (情緒, 情感, 情操) . Only human beings have all three of them. The higher mammals may have only moods and feelings and the lowest animals only have moods ie. instincts and desires. The Buddhist analyze the life of a sentient being into four types of suffering: birth, aging, sickness and death (生老病死)whilst non-sentient beings are considered only to have corresponding states of formation, continuation, weakening and disappearance (成住壞空).


Whether something has life or is inanimate, everything is subject to constant changes and nothing that we see or find can exist permanently and everything affects each other such that one thing or one being may be the result of one or more other things and may itself be a cause or one of the causes of the existence of other things or beings. This is the doctrine of co-dependent origination of things and phenomena: when the causes join together, something is born and when the causes for their continuance is gone, they disappear. The Buddhist takes a very anthropocentric view of life. Like the Christians, they think that everything has meaning only in so far as they are meaningful to man and think that the world exists for man but whilst monotheistic religions think that the world is created by a God, the Buddhist think that the world is the result of the joint efforts of all beings and that the world has existed by itself even before the emergence of life. Buddhists believe that there is no creator. Buddhism is created to deal with the problems that life presents to us and how to resolve such problems namely, the problem of suffering. To the Buddha, suffering arises from ignorance of the causes of suffering which he identifies as the activity of the human mind, which tends to form certain rigid mental attitudes whereby it habitually and constantly creates distinction between what it thinks is the "self" and what is the "other" and what is the external world and which tends to attach itself to what it thinks is good, valuable and beneficial and dissociate itself from what it thinks is bad, worthless and prejudicial and acting from such an attitude, wishes to constantly heap upon its "self"  what it thinks is "good" and wishes to avoid or escape from what it considers is "bad". What is important for a Buddhist is to take out the arrow from a man, treat the wound of the one who has been injured by a poisoned arrow and not spend time finding out who invented the arrow and how the arrow is made because to the injured man, such questions are meaningless.


What is the ordinary folk's conception of how life arises? Sheng-Yen thinks that there are two ways of thinking about how life arises and continues by the ordinary folk which he calls "origination from karmic feeling" ( 業感緣起) and "origination from Alaya" ( 阿賴耶緣起). Because the ordinary folk is attached to life and hence to certain of his life's emotions like selfishness and from such selfishness arise such emotions as avarice(), anger (), addiction (), pride ( )  which then lead on to certain acts and deeds like killing, theft, addiction, wrongful words (殺生 偷盜 淫欲 妄語). From such emotions arise also such desires as the desires to protect one's family, race, nation or even the world but whatever the purpose to which such emotions are put, whether it be for the self or for the group of which that self forms part, whether it is for what is considered as a "good" or a "bad" purpose, they arise from attachment to life and if so, all such activities form part of what is called imperfect karma (有漏業) and thus will lead to further effects in another life. In other words, what is done in this life will become the cause of another life. This process is called origination from karmic feeling. If we do not learn how to lift ourselves from this attachment to life, then we shall live within a never ending cycle of rebirth-death.


Apart from origination from karmic feeling, there is also "origination from Alaya" (阿賴耶緣起).According to this perspective, what the ordinary folks do in this life or karmic deeds (造業) may become the cause or the seeds of what may happen in the next. It is of course possible that what we do in this life may lead to consequences within our own lives but in the majority of cases, the consequences of what we do will not become apparent immediately. According to Buddhism, there are three possible consequences in the chain of causation (因果報應) namely what has been called "flower consequence" (花報) ie. when the consequences are realized within the same one lifetime, what is called "fruit consequence" ( 果報) ie. when the consequences are not realized in this life but in the next and "residual consequence"( 餘報) ie. when what we do in this life will not appear until more than two lifetimes. He gives an example. Someone who has committed any one of the five heinous crimes (五逆) ( according to the Theravada tradition these are killing one's mother, father, an arahant, killing the head of a monastery, causing disputes amongst the sangha and according to the Mahayana tradition, these are one of the five heinous crimes within the Theravada tradition, stealing statues or other treasures of a monastery, slandering the Mahayana, killing or putting obstacles in the training of monks, disbelief in the law of cause and effect and advocating that there is no karmic consequence of thoughts or having no fear of the consequences of one's karmic acts or doing one of the 10 serious crimes(十惡) viz. murder (), theft (), gross indecency (), lies (妄語), dirty words (綺語), offensive language (惡口), sowing disputes by gossips (兩舌), miserliness and greed (慳貪), anger (嗔恚), heresy (邪見)) will be have as its "fruit consequence" ( 果報) by being punished after death by being sent to Avici (無間) Niraja (地獄) or 無間地獄 ( one of the 8 or 18 hells according to Buddhism, the lowest and cruelest of the hells in which suffering is uninterrupted (無間)) and when he returns from hell to the human world, he may be punished by being poor, afflicted by all kinds of sickness, be working at menial jobs, be placed at the lowest rung of the social ladder, mutilated and disfigured as his "residual consequence" (餘報) for the crimes he committed he committed in this life and when during this life, he is shunned and held in contempt by people around him in this life, that is his "flower consequence" (花報). According to this point of view, all that we do in this life or our karma (造業) will become the "karmic cause (業因) or karmic seed (種子) of any consequence () in our future. This karmic cause alaya meaning (業因) is stored within our own alaya (our so-called 8th consciousness) ( 第八識) or "seed consciosness" (種子識) ("store")  awaiting a suitable time and place for its manifestation as a consequence (). It is sometimes called "Ripe Changes Consciousness"   (異熟識) meaning that the consequences may change according to changes in lifetimes ( evil done in this life may have to be repaid in the next), types ( e.g. evil done whilst still a human being may result in suffering as an animal or in hell) and quantity of evil/good that we do (e.g. if  we kill 9 lives but save 1, that may not be sufficient to save us from going to hell because of the quantity of evil we do may not balance out the good that we do) and evil/good done in this life may mature into a consequence later or in a different world. 


According to Sheng-Yen, there are many misconceptions about the nature of Buddhism. Many people, including some Buddhists, believe that Buddhism is transcendental and that this world is a world of suffering and hence liberation means being free from this world and that Buddhism is an escape from this world and that leaving this world of suffering is nivana. But this is not what the Buddha taught. It is true that in the Hinayana tradition, when a Buddhist has attained the 3rd Fruit (第三果), he will no longer return to this world and when he reaches the stage of the fourth Fruit, being an arahant,(阿羅漢第四果) he will have left the three realms (三界) and entered into the world of nivana and will no longer have anything further to do with the human world, according to the Mahayana tradition, even after a Buddhist has attained enlightenment, he will never leave this world but will return to this world to teach the ordinary folks. Someone who has already attained Buddhahood will still need to eat, sleep, to be clothed, to move about in this world but he will do so with a completely different perspective: he will no longer be affected by nor be attached to such emotions or desires as greed, anger, low self esteem, pride etc. Precisely because they have attained buddhahood, they will treat every one as their equals and will give them such assistance as they may need from time to time. But if so, how do their lives arise? According to Buddhism, whilst the ordinary folks will face consequences according to the nature of their karma and a Bodhisattva will enter life or death by their will power, the Buddha relies on neither his own karma nor his will, but by his pure heart 淨心緣起/ 界緣起 or truth 真如緣起. or by  如來藏緣起.


淨心緣起/ 界緣起 refers to the possibility that since the Buddha mind is pure as it is unattached to either the self or the other or the world or any other thing at all, he can be with all the buddhas of the past, the present and the future and with all beings as if he were one with them. He does not think of himself as a buddha. Nor does he think that there are any ordinary folks to be enlightened because there is no longer any distinction between the self and the non-self but whenever any one initiates any kind action and is friendly to the Buddha, he will respond as a Buddha at any place, in any incident, at any particular point in time to such of the ordinary folks as may require a response from the Buddha. He may also appear in the form of a Bodhisattva or an arahant or even as an ordinary folk at a particular place, at a particular time within a group or an individual because the ordinary folks are never far from the Buddha mind which is without cares and concerns, anxieties, obstacle-less and limitless both in terms of time and space.


A different way in which life may start is through Tathāgata orgination (真如緣起). According to this conception, Tathāgata (真如) is the original state of all beings and that of the Buddha. It may follow two types of origination: if it follows a polluted origination, it will follow greed, anger and addiction and become a selfish and attached ordinary folk but if he follows a pure origination, then it will practice vows, zen and wisdom and will then respond to the holy men and become a buddha himself just like any other buddhas. A holy man's  真如 will not get attached to purity. He is attached neither to purity or pollution and will never be moved by either the pure or the polluted and will stay the same permanently. He will not look upon the ordinary folks as either pure or polluted and hence he can act in a polluted world to help the ordinary folks because only when there is no pollution, no purity, no addition, no substraction, no coming, no going can he be called 如來. If he is 如來, then he has no need to leave this world of the ordinary folks and has no need to take any vows to enlighten the ordinary folks. He will be everywhere, anytime to help those who need help in this world. 


Finally, there is also the Tathāgatagarbha origination (如來藏緣起. ). Tathāgatagarbha means Buddha nature (佛性), mindfulness (覺性) , innate nature (自性) , Tathāgata (真如)  as-is-ness ( 實相) perfect mindfulness (圓覺) . According to this viewpoint, everyone has the potential to be a Buddha in the alaya consciousness of the ordinary folks, then if the person practises imperfect good or bad karma, then what is stored in his alaya consciousness is the seed of the ordinary folk but if he practises vow, contemplation and wisdom perfect study, and practices charity selflessly, then the seed that he builds up will be the seed for being a buddha. In his alaya consciousness, the seed stored there will be the seed for being a buddha. From the point of view of a buddha, everyone is the same as the buddha, the mind of everyone is a treasury for the如來 . Therefore it is stated in 勝鬘經 空義隱復真實章 that there are two types of 如來藏, the empty and the non-empty. The empty 如來藏 will be detached, separated, transformed all troubles but in the non-empty  如來藏, when it crosses the sand, it will not be detached, separated, nor transformed nor think about the Dharma. "空如來藏 若離若脫若異 一切煩惱藏世尊 不空如來藏 過於恆沙 不離不脫不異不思議佛法". In himself, he is empty but from the point of view of his compassion for the world, he is not empty and because he places himself amidst the world, his virtue is unlimited. The 如來 himself is free from all troubles, but as the Buddha body, he is still immersed in troubles for the sake of saving the ordinary folks and spreading the Buddhist teaching. Therefore even a Buddha may remain in this world. 


How then to transcend space and time according to the Buddhist perspective? To transcend time and space is to transcend life: from a life with a self, with selfishness and attachment to a life without self, with selflessness and indifferent to life and death and thus to be able to live a life free from all further ordinary stress and thus a life of ease. To do so, we may follow one of three methods. According to the Agama Sutra, the first method is to learn about the 4 noble truths of suffering ( taking the consequences of being born, aging, getting sick and dying, loving, separating, desiring what one has not, regret, hatred and the specific attachment in the 5 skandas or 5 aggregates (五蘊 )( vizrupa () or form or matter of the external physical world including our the body and sense organs, vedana() or sensation or feeling either neutral, pleasant and unpleasant, likes, dislikes, worries; sanna () or perception, conception, cognition and discrimination of what is good/bad, good and evil, thoughts, ideas, impulses, prejudices, compulsions, volition and decisions triggered by an object ;  sankhara ( )or mental formations or habits, and vinnana () or consciousness or discernment and the base that supports all experience) and practise the 8 correct or proper methods or ways (八正道) like right view, right thought, right words, right karmic deeds, right life, right effort to improve, right precepts of thought and action, right contemplation (正見 正思 正語 正業 正命 精進 正念 正定) or finally through the the Zen method which does not rely on words but on direct experience or intuitions to realize that everything is impermanent.