In Buddhism the Abhidharma of the Sarvastivada and Vaibhashika Schools argue, with Democritus and his master Leucippus, and with Western functionalist Material Realism (Scientific Realism/Scientism), the realist atomist position wherein reality consists of indivisible physical/material atomic particles (atomism) that have an ultimately physical, objectively real, even absolute and eternal existence. Some Buddhist schools believe that atoms are eternal; some particle physicists believe that electrons and protons are eternal, they do not decay. Such an existence is believed to be independently arising from the quantum vacuum potential, apart from a perceiving, experiencing or experimenting mind. Such realists, whether Buddhists, Hindus or scientists, are essentialists, believing that reality exists essentially and independently—just as it appears from its own side, of its own power—not interdependently as centrist Madhyamaka Buddhists would have it.
On this essentialist, often realist view, reality as it appears to our senses is a perfect “mirror of nature” (Rorty), a kind of “immaculate perception” that represents an eternal barrier between human consciousness and the real world. This observer-independent, theory-independent, realist view is opposed by the Buddhist Idealists, the Yogachara/Chittamatra or “Mind Only” school of Asanga and Vasubandhu, along with Western Objective Idealists—Bradley, Royce, McTaggart—who broadly construe arising material objective reality as unreal, a subjective apparition or illusion of a sentient perceiving consciousness. For Chittamatra Idealism, appearing relative-conventional physical spacetime reality is relative and illusory (avidya maya) as it arises from its basal nondual ultimate source (vidya maya). This appearing reality is “mind only.” There can be no objectively real things.
Kant’s Transcendental Subjective Idealism—a duality of realist, material objective phenomena, and the perfectly subjective unknowable utterly transcendent noumenon—is a Western (Platonist) version of our Primordial Wisdom Tradition’s “Two Truths” duality—objective relative and subjective ultimate—and resembles the “Neutral Monism” of William James. It also resembles the non-idealist, non-essentialist yet pragmatically realist centrist Buddhist Middle Way Prasangika view of Nagarjuna and Chandrakirti, as we have seen. Is such a middle way between these two truths of relative form and ultimate emptiness epistemically realizable? Is there a centrist position between our apparently competing paradigms of descending Science (form) and ascending Spirituality (emptiness)?
Yes. Between these two philosophical extremes—the realist/materialist reification of an absolute, substantial, eternal and independent physical and mental phenomenal reality, and the idealist nihilistic negation of it—abides the mean that is the Prasangika Madhyamaka, the centrist, Nalanda Buddhist Middle Way Consequence School. Prasangika is the theoretical basis, and complementary, according to Longchen Rabjam (Longchenpa 2007) and His Holiness the Dalai Lama, of the pragmatic view and practice of the Buddhist Nyingma School’s Dzogchen, the Great Perfection (Boaz 2012, “Principia Dharmata: The Buddhst View of the “Nature of Mind” p. 34 ff., and “A Glimpse of the Great Perfection” p. 45 ff.). Here we have not only a centrist synthesis of the Two Truths that are exoteric Realism/Materialism (matter), and esoteric Idealism (mind/spirit), but an optimistic and freeing soteriology—a greater esoteric or innermost esoteric view and practice for human liberation/enlightenment and ultimate happiness, the happiness that cannot be lost.
“Everything that exists lacks an intrinsic nature or identity” asserts Alan Wallace (1996) explicating this Buddhist centrist ontology. The appearance of objects arising from the basal primordial ground are interdependently related, that is, their reality is dependent on other related events and processes, “prior causes and conditions.” Moreover, our minds perceptually and conceptually impute and reify these appearances into objectively “real” physical/mental/emotional spacetime existent realities; some attractive, some not so attractive. We then choose either to reduce our subjectively real experience to such partial and incomplete cognition, or we do not. To reduce or not to reduce, that is the question of epistemology.
Physics and Science are quantitative. “The qualitative” (value, volition) is active yet hidden and denied in Science. It must now be recognized and strategically developed. What is urgently required is an integral noetic epistemology and ontology that accounts for a trans-rational, contemplatively if not conceptually knowable subjective ultimate or universal trans-physical reality matrix base or sourceground—the “supreme source” of our wisdom traditions—in which objective physical relative spacetime particulars (energy, mass, force, charge, waves, particles and people) arise, interact and participate. Clearly, such a noetic science requires a methodological relaxing of the limits of the obsessively objective independent view and praxis that is “Scientific Realism.”
The basal quantum vacuum potential of Quantum Cosmology, with Buddhist openness/emptiness (shunyata/dharmakaya/kadag) in which the vacuum arises, is a good beginning. This of course requires noetic contemplative research methodologies that utilize both quantitative objective third person data and the qualitative subjective data of introspective/contemplative first person reports (Boaz 2012, Ch. VI, “The Structure of Noetic Revolutions: Reflections on Methodology”).
The Copenhagen Interpretation, Hawking’s new MDR view of the Quantum Field Theory and the quantum vacuum potential, the “consciousness causes collapse”, and the new Quantum Bayesianism (QBism) interpretations of QFT are Science’s inchoate acausal architecture for such a middle way methodology. The rub is that physics (frequently embodied by discursively self-reified relatively real but not ultimately real physicists) still clings to its orthodox, old paradigm dogmatic metaphysic of objectivist Realism/Physicalism/Materialism of a lawful cosmos of real objects eternally existing real time. Notable exceptions are the antirealist views of Bohr, von Neumann, Wheeler, Barbour and possibly the epistemic turnabouts of post-MDR Hawking, Lee Smolin, Adam Frank and Andy Albrecht, discoverer of the vexing Clock Ambiguity Paradox.
What might the culture of Modern and Postmodern physics look like with this methodological enrichment of the psychology and epistemology of Premodern—and now, with the rise of contemplative science—Postmodern Buddhist Middle Way contemplative science? This emerging integral noetic ontology presents a propitious aperture for the centrist noetic science of matter, mind and spirit of our emerging Noetic Revolution, and the healing wisdom that abides therein.