Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Tuning in to Dhamma with the 3D Crystal Radio

The Dhamma has been made clear in many ways by Master Gotama, as though he were righting the overthrown, revealing the hidden, showing the way to one who is lost, or holding up a lamp in the dark for those with eyesight to see forms...

[MN. 7, Vatthupama Sutta]

I'm going to try to develop further the ideas expressed in the previous entry and have a feeling that there could emerge a few strands of research.

There's no known contemporary written account of the Buddha's teachings - it was very much an oral traditon. So when we say the Buddha "taught," what gets recorded in written form as his "teachings" certainly loses a great deal. So this term probably needs lots of qualification along the lines of, say, the Buddha "transmitted" and it is worth paying special attention to the commonly used term applied to his disciples of "Savakas," the "listeners" or "receivers".

So, I'm taking 'Savakas' as my cue or prompt. My previous entry introduced briefly an analogy with holography. Just to use a bit more of the terminology, I was comparing the teachings with the interference patterns (hologram) produced on a special film when a light (called a reference beam) is shone at and interferes with light from the object to be 'recorded' (called the object beam). Shining the right light (the reference beam) at the hologram generates the light from the original object (i.e. the object beam) thereby providing a faithful 3D semblance. At least, that's my beginner's understanding of the process, just paraphrasing a Wikipedia article.

The main points I wish to highlight are that there are two components necessary to reproduce a faithful reproduction of the original whole - the appropriate recording (on film) and the right light shone onto the film.

Now to take the comparison further, it is as thought the Buddha possessed the reference beam and for someone to understand they too need the reference beam to reconstruct the original 3D object, the Dhamma object, as it were.

How do they generate the reference beam? In considering how the 'right light' (or reference beam) is produced by the mind, it's easier for me to try working with another analogy in which we may liken the mind somewhat to a crystal radio set. The crystal lies at the heart of the set because it acts as the detector, converting radio waves into sound that is meaningful to us.

The ability to interpret a signal depends upon the kind of crystal and also its size and quality. So it seems to me that it can be likened to the inner treasure of paramis, perfections accrued through meritorious actions over many lives, specially as a crystal itself takes a very long time to form. In practice, for radios, it's relatively easy to find the right kind of crystal that can do a good enough job, so the analogy is partial. However, we may also say that a radio's ability to tune in to different stations is similar to the way people can tune in to different kinds of teachings.

So what's the significance of the holography analogy? At the moment, what I'm presenting are probably just a few pieces of a jigsaw. Even so, I think some research could analyse the Buddha's teachings using the latest findings in physics and psychology to explore new kinds of mental maps. It would mean putting to one side many of the assumptions currently used in linguistic and textual analysis so there is space to allow for aspects hitherto considered irrelevant or dull, such as repetition. I think it would be instructive to provide different ways of looking at the Tipitaka through a variety of visual representations and mappings - linear and nonlinear.

One particular interest is abstraction or, looking the other way, expansion or reification: which teachings expand on others? Are these teachings characteristics of interference patterns? Is there something analogous to concentric rings to be drawn, where the inner core is the teaching at its most abstract, as in the Bahiya Sutta, and where the outer circles containing the inner core are supporting details, as in the Malunkyaputta sutta?

I think holography could be useful in casting light on how the mind perceives and processes. Also pertinent are studies in physics - particularly quantum theory - and the implication that these studies have on the study of mind.

I know little about holography or physics, let alone how they may relate to mind, so have just ordered Wholeness and the implicate order by David Bohm, and The Holographic Universe by Michael Talbot, which was a bundle offered by Amazon.

[Quote at beginning of article added on 4 December 2008]

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