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The vivid qualitative experience of a word (or called "quale" as a philosophical jargon, "private language" as a linguistic jargon) formed by each person is intrinsically different due to one's knowledge, environment, mood, past experience, etc, even same person may form completely different private language's words at different times for a same public language word.

I once see reference here in Wikipeda, without elaboration, that the famous ancient Buddhist Yogacaraist Vasubandhu

uses the example of mass hallucinations (in Buddhist hell) to defend against those who would doubt that mental appearances can be shared.

Can anyone elaborate any historical accounts/stories or speculative explanation about Vasubandhu's argument referenced above to argue for the possibility of mental appearances to be publicly sharable? If such sharing cannot be made exactly on the same common ground, then will there always be some confusion and difference between any two people no matter what cognitive level they achieved?

As a side note, I know this is very similar to the Problem of Other Minds in modern social science where scholars and philosophers invented a term "intersubjectivity" defined here to objectify the existence of certain social common "thought communities" one unavoidably belongs to explain why people can share their private intrinsically different experiences. But I think this community-wise intersubjectivity is just like the sound of a chorus which can be entirely reduced to the superposition of individual sounds, thus seems not a necessary concept. Also per Buddhism's doctrine, the source of suffering is from objectifying private conscious experience and the following endless craving of such reified object, so I'm also interested in hearing any other different middle-way Madhyamaka-style explanations from Yogacara or any other Buddhist schools... Or does Buddhism never have an answer for such question as it belongs to papañca (conception proliferation) and thus effectively reject true possibility of exact mental appearances sharing like in the purely neutral and rational math-like ideal-forms realm?

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  • I could give an answer to this question, but it would be more philosophical than strictly Buddhist, so I'm not sue it's appropriate here. I do think you've misunderstood the 'private language' issue, though... Mar 15 at 19:49
  • @TedWrigley Since my question is to ask any historical accounts/stories or speculative explanation about yogacaraist Vasubandhu's argument, as long as your answer is relevant to his view, I think it's appropriate to just answer here as I believe buddhists will be also interested in hearing at least.... otherwise if u insist, I can post similar on PSE with emphasis on Wittgenstein's incoherence of private language theory... Mar 15 at 20:04
  • I know, that's the issue. I'm not much of a liturgical Buddhist (what I know I get from practice, discussion, and reflection more than reading), so anything I would say would be light on textual analysis. And while I could bone up on Vasubandhu's argument (I'm a quick study), I don't know that I would do it proper justice. I'll read up anyway, just out of interest, but you'll get more scholarly answers from other people. Mar 15 at 21:21
  • "Vasubandhu's argument referenced above to argue for the possibility of all mental appearances to be publicly sharable?" Where does the word ALL come from ^^? I don't see that in the quote. Have you added the word "ALL" on purpose? Why so? Is it true that Vasubandhu argued that ALL mental appearances were publically shareable??!! Mar 16 at 15:46
  • @YesheTenley thx for your careful reading, I just drop "all" for strict adherence of the original wikipedia words verbatim. Then I suppose my question is about almost same as before, just not requiring all mental appearances. This is exactly what my question wants to bridge the gap of different mental images between different minds even seeing the same word/sentence... Mar 16 at 15:55
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There is a historical account of the Buddha saying this about shared experience:

MN77:33.1: Furthermore, I have explained to my disciples a practice that they use to understand the minds of other beings and individuals, having comprehended them with their own mind.

Although this sounds simple, it isn't. Under the sway of greed, hate, and delusion, such comprehension escapes us.

MN77:32.4: And many of my disciples meditate on that having attained perfection and consummation of insight.

Fractured by greed, hate and delusion, we gravitate towards those who share that greed, hate and delusion. And then we argue with others:

MN77:4.2: Now at that time, Sakuludāyī was sitting together with a large assembly of wanderers making an uproar, a dreadful racket. They engaged in all kinds of unworthy talk, such as talk about kings, bandits, and ministers; talk about armies, threats, and wars; talk about food, drink, clothes, and beds; talk about garlands and fragrances; talk about family, vehicles, villages, towns, cities, and countries; talk about women and heroes; street talk and well talk; talk about the departed; motley talk; tales of land and sea; and talk about being reborn in this or that state of existence.

Perhaps it is better to see clearly what is ignored by many:

MN77:36.2: Suppose there was a lake that was transparent, clear, and unclouded. A person with good eyesight standing on the bank would see the mussel shells, gravel and pebbles, and schools of fish swimming about or staying still. They’d think: ‘This lake is transparent, clear, and unclouded. And here are the mussel shells, gravel and pebbles, and schools of fish swimming about or staying still.’
MN77:36.3: In the same way, I have explained to my disciples a practice that they use to realize the undefiled freedom of heart and freedom by wisdom in this very life. And they live having realized it with their own insight due to the ending of defilements.

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  • Thx! What I learned from above is laypeople like to argue about notions of certain nature in a uproar or dreadful state (something like Vasubandu's mass hallucinations argument above), they seem can "share" some mental appearances, but cannot totally agree with each other, thus causing a racket. While once in a calmly-meditated and secluded state like a lake, one can have more psychic power to understand mind with greed as ‘mind with greed’, etc... Under Yogacara's teaching, once consciousness turned to jnana quality, then it's possible to have exactness to share and comprehend like in math Mar 17 at 1:35
  • Yes. Although the sharing will necessarily be limited to those who listen with proper attention. And as always, the conceit "I am" is pervasive even for some practiced in jhana. It takes time and diligence to be free of that conceit, which also limits comprehension.
    – OyaMist
    Mar 17 at 15:00
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There is a famous allegory in Mahayana Buddhism relating three different beings' experience of the very same cup of liquid. The first being is a God, the second is a human, and the third is a hungry ghost. To the God, the cup full of liquid is experienced as a golden chalice full of the most wonderful crystal clear ambrosia giving off a mesmerizing scent. To the human being it is a rather ordinary cup of water. To the hungry ghost it's a revolting and ugly basin full of blood and pus.

Then the Buddhist student is asked to consider what is the truth of this object? Is it a chalice of amazing elixir? Just a cup of water? A vile concoction of mucus and phlegm? And what is it to an ant? An ocean? Is it something else? All of these things at the same time? How about to other humans? To other gods? To other beings? Could it be that there are countless experiences of the same "thing" all related to the karma of the beings experiencing it?

A western philosophical student might wonder what is the qualia of this object? How can different beings experience such different qualia of the same underlying object? Is it "the same" underlying object?? If so, how can it have different qualia? If it is not the same, then what is it? Can anything at all be objectively measured and understood and experienced the same by all beings that might encounter it? By some subsets but not others?

"As a side note, I know this is very similar to the Problem of Other Minds in modern social science where scholars and philosophers invented a term "intersubjectivity" defined here to objectify the existence of certain social common "thought communities" one unavoidably belongs to explain why people can share their private intrinsically different experiences."

I think that is a very poor set of definitions. From all I can tell, it sounds like "intersubjectivity" is merely another word for "convention."

But I think this community-wise intersubjectivity is just like the sound of a chorus which can be entirely reduced to the superposition of individual sounds, thus seems not a necessary concept.

Ah, this is rejected by Mahayana buddhism (and I think Thervada too) as can easily be seen in the allegory of the chariot by Chandrakirti. This can be found also in this sutta.

Or does Buddhism never have an answer for such question as it belongs to papañca (conception proliferation) and thus effectively reject true possibility of exact mental appearances sharing?

What do you mean by "exact" here? I would challenge you to find even one set "thing" in this world or any other in which all beings immediately agree or have a universal objective experience that does not differ in any significant way. Name one such universal qualia that is permanent and fixed. Can you?

I'm not sure if these allegories help answer your questions, but your questions aren't very specific. Rather they seem to allude to a whole host of ideas that are not well defined and mixing western philosophical words/ideas - that are themselves ill-defined - with Buddhist ideas that may/may not be defined according to your usage. Anyway, I hope it is helpful.

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  • From western traditional, no doubt our perceived physical world has only likeness without exactness (as the old saying goes: there're no two exact leaves can be found in this world). Following this line I totally agree with u even number "2" doesn't make exact sense in the perceived illusory world. But most people confidently believes there's another ideal pure-form realm which has exactness, where one can confidently claim 3 - 1 = 2, or like Pythagorean theorem in geometry. My personal view is that this ideal world is similar to the 7th/8th-consciousness-turned-jnana under Yogacara's teaching Mar 17 at 2:16
  • ... so when one is in a calm and secluded state, the projection from the ideal form realm of alaya vijnana via Manas-turned-equanimity jnana to our common 5th consciousness-turned-jnana, then it can have exactness to be shared completely. That's also why one has to be in a calm and rational state to be able to really share one's own or understand other people's any concept or experience... Mar 17 at 2:26
  • "But most people confidently believe..." What of it? Lots of people believe absurd things. What Nagarjuna (and the other Mahayana elders) would say is that people believing such things are believing in an impossible mode of existence. And that this belief is born of ignorance. And that ignorance causes suffering. Mar 17 at 14:35
  • I partially agree many scholars are suffering big from their own imagined problems such as the Hard Problem of Consciousness or Riemann Conjecture. To explain my "exact mental appearances sharing" using an example, is it possible to have any agreed upon exact common ground to start a debate, then use software to define every perceived concept (mental image) in an argument, then just let's calculate to see who's right? I believe this starting common ground is very import for Gelug school. Under above Yogachara guru's claim, it sounds possible. But ur allegory sounds impossible, any conclusion? Mar 19 at 1:38
  • No, it isn't possible. You are asking words to be something they are not. Again, have a look and tell me if you can find any universal objective experience that does not differ in any significant way or any universal word that has an "exact" meaning through the force of its own essence. I say you cannot find any such things. Prove me wrong. Mar 19 at 12:21
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I took the time to read through the 20 Verses — interesting read — and then I returned to this question, and I have to say that the first thing that sprang up in my mind was and old, old joke:

  • An optimist looks and sees a glass that's half full
  • A pessimist looks and sees a glass that's half empty
  • An engineer looks and sees a glass that's twice as big as it needs to be

Doubtless they are all seeing the same 'external (non-mental) object', but their inclinations draw them to interpret it in different ways.

But to the point... Mental appearances are publicly shareable because mental appearances are intrinsically public, not private. Or put more precisely, if I were to put (say) a tomato on the table between us, there are three factors involved in our perception of it:

  1. There is 'something' in the real word that I put on 'something'
  2. There are particular, idiosyncratic sets of sensations that form particular, idiosyncratic patterns within our respective consciousnesses
  3. There is the concept 'tomato', which loosely binds our particular, idiosyncratic patterns of sensation with that 'something' in the real world

The first is a given that lies a bit beyond our comprehension; the second is personal, private, and unsharable; the third is collective, passed down to us from each other and our ancestors. I mean, if you happen to be red-green colorblind what you 'see' when you look at that tomato is not much like what I 'see', and what each of us 'sees' doesn't capture the true nature of the tomato in all its real-world glory. But we both know it's a tomato — we have that concept fixing the landscape between us — and we will agree to it with barely a thought.

There's a psychology experiment where the experimenter will flash color words at people in various colors (e.g., flash the word 'green' in letters that are sometimes green, sometimes blue, sometimes red...). Ask the subjects what color the word 'was', they will most likely tell you what color the word 'said', not the color the 'saw'; the invocation of the linguistic concept overrides the sensory perception entirely.

Dream states are driven by concepts: we might see a chipmunk in a dream and 'know' it is our best friend, because the concept of our best friend arose and (somehow) invoked our private image of a chipmunk. Hallucinations are concepts that are mis-triggered: we experience something and it brings up the concept of 'hair' or 'the moon' so that we swear we have seen those. People in hell realms interpret everything they see as disgusting and offensive, because their consciousness has been warped into that pattern, and because they share common concepts of what things are offensive and disgusting they share their warped perceptions among themselves.

We share concepts because concepts have been passed down to us. When we apply them rightly they bind our consciousnesses together; when we apply them wrongly we sow confusion, doubt, and misery.

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  • Your view is very similar to my referenced "intersubjectivity" which says people as a category have pluggable interfaces to each other via public languages, its regressed reason (dependent origination) may be due to evolved or created common genetics and intrinsic characters, while people cannot easily have such interfaces to bird category. And per Private Language Argument, the non-sharable part is totally private to each one only, we can only judge person based on her public deed based on our shared moral concepts. This is similar to what I thought before but sounds not Vasubandu's view... Mar 20 at 4:05
  • ...many people tried hard to define a complete sharable public language dictionary with ZFC like formal logic as a fixing landscape, hoping to read others' mind. But this landscape is dynamic, for example there were no internet exchanges public concept years ago which was formed gradually from some "private concepts" of a few people. Per Vasubandu's verse-21 here (dasnilanjan.com/uploads/5/7/6/4/57640813/…), awareness of other minds is illusory. Laypeople's mind is no different than dream, ur 3 factors in ur above analysis are all illusions without reality Mar 20 at 4:23
  • Vasubandu's 20 verses sound like western idealist phenomenology, it spends many verses to refute both atomism plurality and monism unity to support his consciousness-only yogacara theory. It emphasizes the false dichotomy of objective-subjective by showing the equivalence of dream and reality, while the only difference is in dream our will is very weak so the karma is much weaker compared to reality. Under his view, any attempt to fix public sharable landscape is a very very rough approximation at best... Mar 20 at 4:41
  • @DoubleKnot: I think you misread what I wrote (though admittedly it isn't an easy concept in any case). This isn't about reading other's minds, which (per my point 2) is impossible. This is about sharing a set of concepts that we do not ourselves create, and filtering all of our experience through that set of concepts, for better or worse. Intersubjectivity is a useful term for talking about how we normalize that conceptual world — how we equilibrate my sensory world with your sensory world to reach something like 'consensus reality' — but that's as far as it goes. Mar 20 at 5:17
  • @DoubleKnot: And you keep misusing the Private Language argument. The argument is that there is no such thing as a private language: language (to be language) must be communicative, and there is nothing we ever need to communicate to ourselves. Mar 20 at 5:23
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Mental appearances can be shared but it is not your mental appearance nor it is someone else's.

famous Buddhist Yogacaraist Vasubandhu "uses the example of mass hallucinations (in Buddhist hell) to defend against those who would doubt that mental appearances can be shared".

What you call as mass hallucination is not a hallucination. Mind leads future. Hell is raised in the minds before it is seen through direct experience. This is applicable for diseases as well. All diseases first germinate in the mind then it spreads for real. How this happens is a different question?

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  • Regarding ur "Mental appearances can be shared but it is not your mental appearance nor it is someone else's", u seem to have similar idea as modern social-psycologists' "intersubjectivity" which I elaborated more in my question above? If so then u seem to objectify personal private mental consciousness and knowledge to an objective common sharable existence, isn't this in conflict of Buddhism's doctrine which identifies the source of most sufferings is man-made objectification? Also in ur second paragraph, are u suggesting pandemic like covid19 was first germinated in the mind? Mar 15 at 22:54
  • Buddha says suffering is due to ignorance or wrong understanding. Wrong understanding is not a man made objectification. Mind works on the principle of cause and effect. I believe all phenomenon have mind as the forerunner. All cause and effect must pass through mind. Covid 19 also went through the mind to become a disease. Mar 16 at 3:15
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If I understand your question correctly, check out Mipham Rinpoche's Beacon of Certainty topic 6, along with its commentary.

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  • I've read through topic 6 and can only understand a little ironically due to the difficulty to match my mental image with buddhism's words. There're 3 types of views listed there: Hashang's complete non-objectifying everything-negating sudden-enlightenment Zen teaching, Tsongkhapa's rational form conception negating into gradual-emptiness-enlightenment teaching, Mipham' nonconceptual sublime equipoise intrinsic emptiness without any negation teaching. So seems to me unless we arrive at gnosis jnana through emptiness, we cannot share any exact clear mental images (concepts)? Hope to clarify... Mar 16 at 6:19
  • And I don't see any link from the reference to my above Vasubandhu's yogacara teaching, pls elaborate if possible for their links to truly understand both... Mar 16 at 6:22
  • Sorry I don't understand the way you speak and I don't understand your question.
    – Andrei Volkov
    Mar 16 at 9:30

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