14 May 2021

The Mind-Body Problem and Why It Won't Go Away

One doesn't have to spend a long time talking to people to discover that most of them subscribe to some form of mind-body dualism. Not in any formal way. No one is declaring "I am an ontological dualist". Rather, they find ideas like life after death and a mind that can be independent of the body to be intuitively plausible. These types of views appear to be common to people of all religions and, interestingly, to many people of no religion. It's a gut feeling that death is not the end and a willingness to believe the dualism that this entails. Moreover, many of the people who are ambivalent seem to think that scientific explanations of the world have left the door open to this. The idea being that the afterlife cannot be proved one way or the other, it is beyond the scope of science.

Since virtually all philosophers and scientists now reject such ontological dualism, we have to wonder what's going on here. In this essay I will try to explain why dualism has such enduring appeal, why it continues to confound philosophers and scientists.

Popular culture effortlessly absorbs a philosophical or scientific explanation when it seems intuitive. For example, we use any number of expressions drawn from psychoanalysis—ego, neurosis, narcissistic, subconscious—in daily life without a second thought. Where an explanation is counterintuitive, popular culture simply ignores philosophers and scientists. A striking example of this is that I know plenty of people who still believe that you can catch a chill from being cold and wet; an idea rooted in the four humours theory of the 2nd Century physician, Galen, which relates the qualities cold/wet with the phlegm humour.

So there is still a mind-body problem and it is non-trivial because the majority still find mind-body dualism intuitively plausible despite several centuries of powerful counter-argument and evidence. Any account of the mind-body problem needs to deal with this or it isn't useful. And yet such aspects of the problem are not even part of the philosophy curriculum. Rather, they are dealt with by a completely different academic department, psychology, as though belief is no concern of philosophers. Moreover, philosophers dismiss non-believers as cranks, idiots, or dupes.

As a rule of thumb, I contend that when a problem has been discussed without any resolution for many centuries we have to consider that perhaps we have framed it badly.

Alternative Approaches to Standing Problems

When I took up the problem of identity as reflected in the traditional dilemma of the Ship of Theseus, I realised—with help from John Searle—that the traditional framing of the problem effectively made it insoluble. This may have been unconscious when the problem was first posed, but there's no excuse for retaining this unhelpful approach.

John Searle's On the Construction of Social Reality proposes a useful matrix for thinking about facts. On one axis is the objective-subjective distinction and on the other is the epistemic-ontological distinction. This gives us a grid of four different kinds of facts.

Ontologically objective facts concern the inherent features of an object that are independent of any observer. An example of this is: a screwdriver is made of metal and plastic or wood.

Epistemically objective facts concern statements that are true because we have prior knowledge. We know that the object is a screwdriver only if we have prior knowledge of modern building technology. But everyone who knows what a screwdriver is knows that this screwdriver is one.

Ontologically subjective facts concern statements that are true because of the observer's relationship with the object. Searle especially links this to functions. The function of a screwdriver is to turn screws. But unless you know what a screw is this doesn't make sense. Moreover the function is not inherent in the materials of the object. A function is something that humans impose on objects. The fact that a screwdriver is for turning screws is a real, but subjective fact.

Epistemically subjective facts exist only in the mind of the observer. For example, "this is my favorite screwdriver" is true for me, but you may have a different favourite screwdriver. And the difference does not invalidate either fact. There is no contradiction because the fact is relative to the individual.

With respect to the ship of Theseus, an ontologically objective fact is that the ship is made of timbers arranged in such a way that it floats and can move easily through the water. An epistemically objective fact is that this arrangement of timbers is called "a ship". An ontologically subjective fact is that the function of this ship is to ferry people across the ocean. And an epistemically subjective fact is that this ship belongs to Theseus, it is Theseus's ship.

Traditionally we are supposed to ask, "Is it the same ship when all the timbers have been replaced?" And this generally ties us in knots. Some wish to say it is the same ship because the whole is unchanged, while some wish to say it is not the same ship because all the parts have changed.

My approach is to look at the different types of facts. For example, the ship is a ship at the start of the process of change and it is a ship at the end of the process. We can identify it throughout as a ship. So it has identity qua ship in the mind of any observer who knows what a ship is. This fact is epistemically objective. The ship can carry out its function throughout, so it has identity qua function, i.e. being an ocean-going passenger boat. This fact is epistemically subjective.

The problem here is that the identity of the ship is subjective: it exists in the mind of the observer, not in the object. If the observer believes it to be Theseus's ship then, to them, it is. If I have a different belief that may also be true and the difference does not necessarily invalidate either belief. The ontological status of the ship doesn't matter. It could be, and probably is, purely hypothetical.

The ship qua ship or qua ferry very obviously has identity over time (though I don't see this approach in the account of the problem that I have read). But the kind of identity we are being asked about when the question is framed as—Is it the same ship?—is subjective, i.e. it's not inherent in or to any ship.

The least interesting and least answerable questions are the ones that philosophers typically ask without delineating what they mean by identity, i.e. Is identity vested in the whole or the parts? The answer is that identity is in the mind of the observer. It is a belief about the ships. And as we know, belief amounts to having an emotion about an idea. Opinions are post hoc rationalisations of such emotions. And this means that the order of production is

feeling → belief → actions →reasons

Not the other way around.

There are two points here. The first is that philosophers can't afford to ignore how people actually think and propose solutions in a social vacuum. They may technically right, but if everyone ignores them, what is the point?

The other point is that philosophers are often wrong. The further back in history that we go, the greater the likelihood that philosophers are trapped in an unhelpful way of thinking about an issue. We don't have to accept the traditional way that philosophical problems are framed, especially when centuries of argument have not led to any resolution. If we can see a better way to think about the problem then we are free to adopt it and give the finger to philosophers.

Why We Still have a Mind-Body Problem

Given the overwhelming consensus amongst academics and intellectuals for ontological monism, why do we still routinely encounter the mind-body problem? I've tried to argue that the mind-body problem would be better framed as the matter-spirit dichotomy. I think this is a more general statement of how people actually think about the mind-body problem. People tend to think of matter as cold, dull, hard, dense, lifeless; and by contrast spirit is warm, bright, immaterial, diaphanous, alive. The body is a thus a special case of matter, in this view, because it is matter animated by spirit. Life was seen as something added to matter: an élan vital, or spark of life (such a view is termed vitalism).

If you have ever seen a corpse you know that it is very different from a living body. With reference to a living body, the corpse has shifted decisively towards the archetype of matter. The life has gone out of the person. The difference is what we conceptualise as spirit. Across many cultures, the ancients understood spirit as synonymous with breath. Terms such as spirit, animus, prāṇa, qi, and so on all mean "breath". In the Christian tradition this is epitomised by Yahweh breathing (spiritus) life into the clay body he fashioned for Adam. Adam's soul is the breath of God.

For the longest time, death was equated with the cessation of breathing. And before resuscitation methods were invented this was adequate. Once we realised that forcing air into the lungs of the "dead" person could revive them, we needed new definition of death. Around the same time the function of the heart was discovered and the cessation of the heartbeat became the new definition. Then we learned how to restart hearts and discovered brain waves and the cessation of brainwave activity. Popularly, however, the cessation of breathing is still associated with death. Someone who has been resuscitated is said to have died and come back, and their experiences while their breath or heart stopped is erroneously termed a "near death experience" and treated as a source of knowledge about the afterlife. The fact that we continue to have such experiences is seen by some as proof that there is an afterlife.

Other types of experience can also be interpreted as the mind being independent of the body: lucid dreams, out-of-body experiences, dissociative experiences brought on by trauma, drugs, or physical injury (think of Jill Bolte-Taylor's stroke). And we don't need to have one of these ourselves to find accounts of them plausible. Bronkhorst (2020) deals with how accounts of such experiences are transmitted by those who have not experienced them and become part of the public discourse. I keep in mind also the quote from The Ego Tunnel by Thomas Metzinger:

For anyone who actually had [an out-of-body experience] it is almost impossible not to become an ontological dualist afterwards. In all their realism, cognitive clarity and general coherence, these phenomenal experiences almost inevitably lead the experiencing subject to conclude that conscious experience can, as a matter of fact, take place independently of the brain and body. (p.78. Emphasis added)

The urge to dualism is really quite strong. It is matter-spirit dualism that keeps alive the possibility of an afterlife and also a desire for an afterlife that helps keep dualism alive. This is not something humans are likely to give up on soon, even though for many intellectuals life after death is simply not possible.

Another problem that John Searle pointed out that was that materialism is still rooted in ontological dualism. Materialists still divide the world into two substances; the difference is that they assert that matter is real and mind is not real. Idealists do the same but assert that matter is unreal and mind is real. Even though a materialist may argue that mind is not real—that it is a mere epiphenomenon—they still tacitly concede a substantial difference between mind and matter. They still talk about two distinct substances, even if one is unreal. Lay people pick up on this kind of equivocation even if they can't put it into words.

This tells us that materialism is not an answer because it does not go far enough. If the thesis is idealism and the antithesis is materialism, then we need a synthesis of the two. One synthesis is genuine ontological monism which holds that there is no ontological distinction between mind and matter, that neither can be reduced to the other. In order to address the persistence of dualism we have to invoke epistemology.

Epistemic Pluralism

We can all observe that we have different inputs into our sensorium. I know the world of objects through sight, hearing, taste, smell, touch, temperature, kinaesthesia, etc. I know the world of mind through conscious mental activity and the appearance of pre-formed results of unconscious mental activity emerging into my awareness (intuitions, etc). In other words, even if we formally accept a monistic world in which mind and body are manifestations of a singular, unified reality, there is still an inescapable epistemic distinction between our knowledge of the world and our knowledge of mind.

It is this epistemic distinction that fuels the plausibility of the ontological distinction,especially in the light of out-of-body experiences and other altered states that give the vivid impression of mind independent of matter.

Most people, most of the time, suspend disbelief and proceed in daily life as naive realists. To do otherwise would be inefficient and potentially dangerous. Anyone can examine their experience and ponder the distinction between perception and reality. We all know that there is a difference because our perceptions lead us astray in minor ways quite often. For example, mistaking an object for a threatening agent (e.g. a predator or a dangerous defensive agent like a snake or spider), or getting a colour wrong because of the lighting or background. But note that I never make huge mistakes like perceiving my home to be in Cambridge, England, only to discover one day that in fact I still in Auckland, New Zealand. Glitches on this scale are a sign of pathology. Moreover, minor glitches tend to resolve themselves quite quickly; we may mistake a stick for a snake at a glance, but this does not survive sustained attention. We usually recognise that the "snake" is a stick.

Of course there are abnormal perceptions. Colour-blindness, for example. One can live with colour blindness without too much danger, but one cannot safely pilot an aeroplane. With psychotic delusions the problem becomes more serious. If I perceive my children as demons and follow the urging of internal voices to kill them, the result is catastrophic for everyone involved.

Normal perception is quite reliable and where it is unreliable it errs on the side of protecting us from danger or it is trivial. And so, in daily life, we take perception as reality and most of the time this is fine. Keep in mind that humanity evolved over millions of years and attained the anatomically modern form about 200,000 to 300,000 years ago. For most of this time we were all naive realists and ontological dualists and we survived and thrived. There appears to be no evolutionary disadvantage to being an ontological dualist. Arguably, it is possible that belief in an afterlife keeps us from despair over the fact that we all die and that ontological dualism gave believers some advantage.

The problem is that naive realism encourages us to reify experience, i.e. to consider that what we experience is reality without any intervening processes. And this means we have a tendency to reify the epistemic distinction between world and mind. Hence, so many of us find ontological dualism so plausible. However, this is just the default setting for human beings. It's not a conscious ideology. On the contrary it is only with sustained (and educated) effort that some of us are able to break away from the gravity well of naive realism and subsequent dualism and see the world anew.


We know that our senses respond to a range of different stimuli from visible light, to physical vibrations, to temperature differences, to our own muscle tension. But all of these are turned into identical electrochemical pulses transmitted by nerve cells exchanging sodium and potassium ions across a semipermeable membrane, linked by synapses in which the signal is briefly carried by neurotransmitters. The point is that the signals that arrive in the brain are not distinguished by being of different kinds. They are only distinguished by where in the brain they arrive and the architecture of the brain. We are still arguing over the extent of the role of the brain in creating experience, but recently Lisa Feldman-Barrett noted that the optic nerves account for only about 10% of the inputs to the primary visual cortex. Fully 90% of the inputs are from elsewhere in the brain. Vision must involve a considerable amount of self-stimulation. And presumably the other senses must be similar. Moreover, we see similar patterns of brain activity whether the subject is seeing something or imagining it. Vision and visualisation both use the same parts of the brain. Which explains why hallucinations can be so compelling.

If we stop back from this level of detail and simply take perception as we perceived it then our "world" is made up from a variety of kinds of sensory stimulation: appearances, sounds, smells, tastes, tactiles, temperature differences, muscle tension, etc. And the characteristic of all of these is that they are objective to some extent. You and I may disagree on the pleasantness of an odour (epistemically subjective fact) but we agree that there is an odour. And this agreement leads us to conclude that the odour exists independently of either of us. The smell is an ontologically objective fact. If the smell is the reek of methyl or ethyl mercaptan (the sulphur analogues of methanol and ethanol) then we may agree that it serves the function of making natural gas for cooking detectable by its odour (epistemically objective fact).

The point is that for many of our senses there is some aspect of the information we have access to that is public and accessible to any observer, even if we disagree on some of the subjective facts. No one would ever argue that the pungent smell of ethyl mercaptan is not an odour. Even the synesthete is aware of perceiving one sensory modality in terms of another. Synaesthesia is not a delusion.

Again, our awareness of mental activity is not like our awareness of the other senses. We may be able to use functional MRI to see enhanced blood flow in different parts of the brain correlating with some experience, but the content of our mental activity is not available to anyone else. Our mental sense is ontologically and epistemically subjective. In some senses mental activity is analogous to digestion. We swallow food and it is digested within our body. The nutrients are absorbed by our gut and circulate in our blood. Those nutrients are not publically available, they are contained within us. We can detect changes in blood flow or blood components, but this information does not permit my nutrients to nourish your body.

In this view, subjectivity is not such a mystery. The brain is an internal organ, housed within the skull, and with the body as its interface with the world. Sense data comes in, muscles move in response to signals from the brain (and to some extent from spinal cord). It would make no more sense for mind to be public than it would for nutrition to be public. Inputs from the brain to the brain, i.e. from one part of the brain to another part of the brain are going to have a different flavour to those which come from outside the brain.


Despite advances in science and refinements in philosophy, we still routinely encounter the so-called mind-body problem. I've argued that this is so because there is a striking epistemic distinction in the sensory modes through which we experience mind and body, self and world, spirit and matter. We all have a tendency to reify this epistemic difference and treat it as a metaphysical difference. And this lends plausibility to the belief. We feel that self and world are quite different and thus we believe that they are, we take actions based on this belief, and we subsequently float reasons why we believe or why we acted in that way. This is the process:

feelings → beliefs → actions → reasons

Scientists and philosophers have decisively come down on the side of monism in their work, with a few holdouts that are not taken very seriously. The methods employed tell us that what seems intuitive and plausible is not the case. If we are interested in understanding the world as it is, then this is important.

Part of the problem is that many science communicators are still working with the classical theory of rationality: if you just present someone with the facts they will changed their minds. That is to say we start with reasons and expect people to work backwards, against the flow, and change how they act, believe, and feel. And it doesn't work. Sadly, right wing politicians have embraced this new model and now spend all their time trying to manipulate how we feel, while left wing politicians are still trying to make rational arguments.

On the other hand, there is no great disadvantage to being an ontological dualist. There appears to be no evolutionary disadvantage and there is no day to day disadvantage. When we combine the intuitive plausibility with the lack of any disadvantage for being wrong we get a persistent fallacy. Many of the dualists I know are simply not interested in metaphysical monism. To them it seems to lack salience, or if it is salient, then it is counterintuitive.

There is no getting around the fact that the audience for philosophy is human beings. If we ignore this and pursue truths in the abstract then we can easily become irrelevant to most people. Worse, many intellectuals fail to understand why their ideas don't take off and they blame the audience. As communicators, the responsibility lies on us to get our message across. We are making assertions and thus the burden of proof is on us. If we fail to get our message across, then we have to consider this our failure, not the failure of the audience. It is a poor teacher who blames the student.

As I write this, I am waiting to hear back from a conference organiser about a proposal to give a presentation. What I propose to do is tear down 2000 years of hermeneutics and exegesis and argue for an entirely new way of seeing things. I have outlined the reasons for doing this in ten peer-reviewed articles and dozens of essays here on my blog. At the same time as feeling confident in my conclusions, I am acutely aware that none of these articles has been cited. I think some of them have been read by some people, but as yet my work is either unknown, or not considered salient. Heart Sutra articles still appear that are completely unaware of my articles. How to go about dismantling a familiar, and to some extent cherished, paradigm? If I had four hours I might present something like coherent case. But the best case scenario is that I'll have one hour. At best I'll be able to gloss some of the main points. I doubt anyone who has not already read the relevant papers will even follow the argument let alone be persuaded by it. And yet I have to try.

This is the kind of dilemma that philosophers face all the time in getting across new ideas. New paradigms seldom emerge fully formed and they are almost always resisted by the old guard. Max Planck quipped, perhaps a little unfairly considering history, that his field progressed one funeral at a time. In other words as the old gurda died they made space for new ideas.


Bronkhorst, Johannes.2020. "The Religious Predisposition." Method and Theory in the Study of Religion 33(2) :1-41.

Metzinger, Thomas. (2009). The Ego Tunnel: The Science of the Mind and the Myth of the Self. Basic Books.

16 April 2021

If You Meet Conze on the Road, Set Fire To Him

Edward Conze is still considered by many to be the doyen of the field of Prajñāpāramitā Studies. He is still described in superlative terms and draws effusive praise verging on adoration from some scholars and religieux. I argued in my recent article (Attwood 2020) that this might not be wholly deserved and that we need to reconsider Conze's contributions (and his character). In that article, I gave some examples of Conze's character and his work on the Heart Sutra that I hoped would make people rethink their attitude to him.

In this essay, I will consider some aspects of Conze's philosophical work prior to his turn to mysticism (ca 1937); in particular, I will consider Conze's attitude to Aristotle's law of noncontradiction. This was the subject of Conze's postgraduate research after earning a German doctorate in philosophy (at the time equivalent to a British Master of Arts degree). Conze himself said that all his later ideas were contained in the book that would have constituted his PhD thesis or Habilitationsschrift, i.e. Der Satz vom Widerspruch "The Principle of Contradiction" (1932). To be clear, he is talking about the same Aristotelian principle, that most modern sources refer to as the law or principle of noncontradiction. The term "noncontradiction" seems to more clearly convey Aristotle's intent. 

Not long after it was printed, Der Satz vom Widerspruch was burned by the Nazis along with other books by communists. As Holger Heine (who recently translated the work into English) tells the story, "almost all of the five hundred copies of the first edition were destroyed [and] Conze's hopes for an academic career in Germany had come to naught" (xiv). There was an unauthorised reprint of 600 copies in 1976, produced by the German Socialist Students Association, however a literature review reveals very few citations of Conze's book or other work from the period up to 1937 when his midlife crisis began. It is safe to say that even Heine's enthusiastic attempts to resuscitate Conze's corpse have not led to signs of life. For someone who gets the kind of sycophantic praise that Heine and others heap on him, Conze remains a very minor figure in the history of early 20th Century Marxist philosophy, let alone philosophy generally. Still, given his elevated status in Prajñāpāramitā studies, those few of us who work in this field ought to at least make an effort to engage with Conze's earlier philosophy, given the influence it had on his later work.

In brief, the law of noncontradiction says that if logical contradictions were allowed, we could not make sense of the world. If I state that a proposition is true, the contrary of that proposition must be false. For example, if it is true that Conze was born in Germany, the contrary, that Conze was not born in Germany must be false. At face value this is trivial, but it has profound implications. In this essay I will explore the law of noncontradiction and Conze's attempt to invalidate it. 

Law of Noncontradiction

For Aristotle, the law of noncontradiction was the most fundamental axiom on which rational thought was based. It is what must be known if anything is to be known. It was not something that could be derived from first principles, but had to be true a priori for rational thinking to work at all. In his Metaphysics Aristotle states the law in at least three ways, which Gottlieb describes as ontological, doxastic, semantic.

“It is impossible for the same attribute at once to belong and not to belong to the same thing and in the same relation” (Metaphysics IV 3 1005b19–20).
“it is impossible for anyone to suppose that the same thing is and is not” (Metaphysics IV 3 1005b24 cf.1005b29–30. Emphasis added).”

“And since the contradiction of a statement cannot be true at the same time of the same thing, it is obvious that contraries cannot apply at the same time to the same thing.” (Metaphysics IV 6 1011b13–20).

Quotes are from the Tredennick translation (1933) as found on the Perseus Website.

The law of noncontradiction has to apply at the level of ontology. An object that exists and has certain attributes is not non-existent and lacking those attributes. As Conze puts it:

"We cannot judge that the same man is learned and is also not learned at the same time and in relation to the same group of facts, because in fact he is learned and cannot be not learned at the same time and in relation to the same group of facts" (1934: 207. Emphasis in the original).

At the level of belief, if one rejected it, one's thoughts would be disordered. I cannot logically believe that God exists and that God does not exist, though of course I can be undecided for various reasons. Aristotle notably makes a distinction between what someone says and what they believe. He is thinking of the latter, since lies are eminently possible.

And it must apply at the level of assertion because if it is not true then no communication would be possible. Communication depends on agreements amongst a language using community on what linguistic signs mean. If the law of noncontradiction does not hold then no such agreement is possible. 

The principle goes deeper than this. Being fundamental, it must apply to all things and the commonality of all things is their existence. This principle can be stated as "Being is not and cannot be non-being" (Conze 1934: 208). Although, as we will see, Conze never accepted the universal validity of this and states the opposite in his Heart Sutra commentary using a reduction of Suzuki's logic of sokuhi, i.e. "A is not-A" (on which see Suzuki, Negation, and Bad Buddhist Philosophy). 

Although we cannot argue for the law of noncontradiction on first principles, there are some approaches to justifying it.

Arguments for the Law of Noncontradiction

As evidence for the applicability of the axiom, we can cite the fact that reality is somewhat comprehensible, our thoughts are somewhat ordered, and communication is somewhat possible. Unlike traditional transcendental arguments I am hedging here (using "somewhat") and I will get into this shortly. The point is that with effort we can attain a very high degree of comprehensibility as represented in a vast body of mathematical formulae used in science to describe patterns of regularity we experience when we examine the universe. The intricate web of computers and communications networks that we call the Internet is one physical manifestation of this. If the principle of noncontradiction did not hold, something like the internet would be impossible. Some level of order is required, and though in practical terms this need not be absolute, it must be substantial.

Now let's address the issue of hedging. Aristotelian logic is the foundation of modern logic, it is not the whole of modern logic. The problem with reality is that our knowledge of it is necessarily indirect and incomplete. Aristotle sets out the ideal case in which we have perfect knowledge and reason infallibly. This is useful because it is a model for how things work under ideal conditions. If we did solve problems using reasoning, this is what it would look like. Of course we have known since the mid 1960s that this is not how we solve problems and that 90% of us routinely fall for simple logical fallacies. 

We always operate at some remove from the ideal. Our knowledge is inevitably partial, and there is always the possibility of unknown unknowns (aka the black swan effect). Still, the fact that reality is comprehensible at all is a sign that Aristotle's ideal is relevant to our world. The better our knowledge of the world, the closer we can come to this ideal.

Aristotle dismisses the idea that this axiom requires proof. It cannot be proved because it has to be in place in order for the notion of proving something to mean anything. However, what we can do is refute the opposite. Consider the contrary, i.e. the case where logical contradiction is the norm, i.e. A is not-A. In this case, whatever is true is also false. And whatever is false is also true. One could never know anything because whatever one knew would ipso facto also be unknown. One could not get out of bed in the morning because neither "bed" nor "morning" would stand for anything. Bed and not-bed are indistinguishable. If contradiction is the norm, then one is in a realm of utter nihilism. If what I said could mean literally anything at all, then utterances would convey no information. A lie would be true and a truth would be a lie; "turn left in 200m" would be indistinguishable from "eat a peach while the sun is out" or "the yellow flower is wilting".

Refuting the contrary does not prove the proposition. All we can say is that any scenario in which the law does not hold would be incomprehensible. And since our world is comprehensible, we have to assume that the law holds. 

In his rejection of the law of noncontradiction, Conze takes an exclusively logical approach and in particular his argument against the law of noncontradiction rests on the absolute validity of the law of noncontradiction. Aristotle warned against exactly this: "You cannot engage in argument unless you rely on [the law of noncontradiction]. Anyone who claims to reject [the law of noncontradiction] 'for the sake of argument' is similarly misguided." ‒ Gottlieb (2019).

Another reason that we might hedge on noncontradiction in the modern world is quantum physics. In this branch of physics we describe the state of a subatomic entity using the Schrödinger equation, and this gives us the probability of, for example, finding a given particle at any point in space at any given time. Unfortunately, the Schrödinger equation usually has more than one valid answer. Physicists typically take this to have an ontological counterpart in which the particle is in multiple locations (or states) called a superposition. However, once the particle (or the system of interest) interacts with its environment, then the possibilities collapse to one state with 100% certainty. Again this is interpreted as an ontology in which the interaction causes the cloud of possibilities to collapse down to one, also known as the collapse of the "wave function". This term "wave function" is confusingly used both for the abstract mathematics that describes the state of the particle and for the corresponding physical reality. In this view, the wave function is the particle or, more importantly, the particle is a wave function. The nature of subatomic entities is wave functions in fields.

In the famous thought experiment, Schrödinger's cat is alive and dead at the same time, breaking the law of noncontradiction. This was intended as a criticism of the idea that "observation" caused the collapse of the wave function. Eugene Wigner went further and suggested that the observation had to be made by a sentient being, that somehow "consciousness" caused the collapse of wave functions. Not only was Wigner's wrinkle nonsense, but it is generally considered that the whole idea of observation is poorly defined, discussed in vague terms, and doesn't qualify as science. Still, we are left with the fact that, in quantum metaphysics, reality behaves in counterintuitive ways that apparently break the law of noncontradiction.

Think about a visual observation. A photon leaves the system of interest and strikes the retina, and causes an electrochemical cascade partly shaped by the frequency of the photon and what kind of cell it hit. This cascade arrives in the visual cortex and is interpreted as a visual stimulus. At no point does the eye or brain physically interact with the system. The eye is a passive receiver. Wigner wanted to say, and many people wanted to believe, that looking at something (or perceiving it) changes it. In reality the causality is the other way around. Changes in the system, resulting in the emission or reflection of photons, cause us to observe the system. Without that change our eye receives no photons. So observation by a human being cannot be the cause of anything. 

Conze was certainly ignorant of quantum physics and did not invoke it in his work. On the other hand, Aristotle was concerned only with the visible world and with the functioning of human reasoning as understood in his time. Which brings us to Conze's views on Aristotle.

Conze's Rejection of the Principle of Noncontradiction

Conze has said that all of his later thinking is contained in Der Satz vom Widerspruch. The book purports to be a Marxist critique of Aristotle. Typically, Marxists eschew the mechanical materialism of the nineteenth century and replace it with a materialism inspired by Hegel. In Hegel's dialectic, opposites (thesis and antithesis) clash and this leads to a resolution in which the extremes are unified (synthesis).

Marx and Engels "stressed the dialectical development of human knowledge, socially acquired in the course of practical activity [and] social practice alone provides the test of the correspondence of idea with reality—i.e., of truth." Britannica. This aspect of their thought is distinct from historical materialism and class struggle.

Conze attempts to explain human knowledge as a clash between magic and logic. However, rather than casting them in a dialectical relationship, which would see the triumph of a synthesis of the two, Conze sees the clash of thesis and antithesis as leading to the hegemony of one or the other. And as a result Conze is caught in a cleft stick. On one side is the hegemony of logic, which Conze loathes but relies on to make his point; on the other is the hegemony of magic, something he believes in but cannot use to make his argument (since magical arguments are not persuasive). Conze makes no bones about his view that magic is superior to logic. He outspokenly asserted this superiority in his Prajñāpāramitā work, despite continuing to tacitly use logic throughout. Using logic to show how logic doesn't work is not a very convincing rhetorical strategy.

Thus, also though the idea that truth is socially defined might have some merit, the argument that this leads us to necessarily abandoning the law of noncontradiction is still nonsensical. Rather, noncontradiction becomes even more important as a yardstick for truth. In the most extreme version of this approach, truth is that which does not contradict social norms. Even if we accept the full-on relativism of Conze's Marxism, the social nature of logic does not eliminate the need for the law of noncontradiction. The hardcore relativist imagines that they stand outside any system and can see the merits of each. This God's eye view is a nonsense however. Despite being a refugee, Conze was very much a man of his time, culture, and class, i.e. a minor German aristocrat of the early 20th Century. Conze's views on truth are just as socially conditioned as anyone else's. 

Unfortunately, Conze's antipathy to science has blinded him to the possibility that some observations are not culturally defined. Everyone experiences gravity, for example, and if they took the time to measure it, everyone would find that the acceleration due to gravity is ~ 9.8 ms-2. We may have different accounts of gravity, but some are more accurate than others. As I pointed out in my article on Conze, the historian Carl R. Trueman makes the salient point that objectivity is not neutral or unbiased (2010: 27ff). Objectivity by its very nature excludes the majority of explanations. Objectively, magic is not real; astrology does not describe the influence of the planets on human beings, and "A is not-A" is nonsense.

Marxist ideas about materialism assert an objective world existing independently of the mind with the corollary that mind can exist independently of matter. The latter idea has long been disproved, but in the 1930s there may well have been educated people who sincerely believed in it. Conze, rejected the idea of an objective world, and instead substituted a magical world. To Conze, such ideas were axiomatic and he made no attempt to defend them. He simply asserted the existence of magic and of a magical reality. Citing my essay on Conze's place in Prajñāpāramitā research:

As he says, his “life-long acceptance of magic... has not been so much due to theoretical considerations as to the early acquired intuitive certainty that beyond, or behind, the veil of the deceptive sensory appearances, there lies a reality of magical, or occult, forces” ( Conze 1979: I 32). And in his view science “…has little cognitive value, but is rather a bag of tricks invented by God-defying people to make life increasingly unbearable on Earth and finally to destroy it” (1979: I 32).

These words were written at the end of his life, but they do appear to reflect an attitude that is apparent in his early philosophical work (1934, 1935, 1937).

It is true that magical thinking exists even today. I know many people who sincerely believe that the Heart Sutra is magical and who assume that by studying it some of that magic will rub off on me. And when I shrug and say, "magic isn't real", they are genuinely dismayed. Just because some people are attracted to the idea does not mean that magic is real or the magical thinking is appropriate to decision making. Generally speaking, magical thinking leads to poor decisions. 

Seeing Conze's work on Prajñāpāramitā in the light of his earlier work, as he suggested, is instructive. He is already using the terms "God", "the One", and "the Absolute" as synonyms when talking about mysticism in his 1934 presentation to the Aristotelian Society. Clearly he is drawing on several different traditions: Christianity, Neoplatonism, German idealism, and Theosophy. He even cites Mahāyāna Buddhism in passing. It is useful to read this paper since it helps us understand Conze's turn to Buddhism in terms of his earlier embrace of mysticism, which he defines as a state of "complete union with God, with the One". One can see much of his later attitude to Prajñāpāramitā in these earlier works. In another early essay, Conze notes, for example, the tendency of Mahāyāna Buddhism (amongst other ideologies) to what he calls mystical pantheism:

"Mysticism develops into mystical pantheism under two conditions, namely, that the state of ecstasy is considered to give a true, the only true image of reality, and further that the one object of ecstasy is expressly stated to include all reality." (1935: 212)

He also says:

"Generally mystical pantheists do not devote much attention to the consequences of their ideas on logical thinking, its categories and laws." (1935: 212)

This describes the later Conze and the way he writes about the Heart Sutra in 1946. For Conze, the mystical pantheist, "nothing except the One and infinite Absolute" exists and:

"All differences are then absolutely reduced to nought. Since contradictions are not possible without differences, the [law of noncontradiction] is meaningless and inapplicable." (1935: 212)

In effect, Conze shoehorns the epistemic rhetoric of Prajñāpāramitā into his own idiosyncratic mystical metaphysics. In my article I called this Conze's idiodoxy. Behind all of Conze's meandering thought is a conviction that reality is magical.

Now I could work through Conze's argument, taking it point by point. But we can short circuit this discussion by taking a step back. Conze's argument is, in immortal words of Michael Palin, "a series of connected statements intended to establish a definite proposition". Conze's aim is to discredit logic itself and to propose magic as the viable alternative, but in doing so he used a logical argument. Moreover, his target is specifically the principle of noncontradiction. "The validity of thought has a social origin and meaning... the delusion that a supersocial validity can be reached [using logic] has its social roots" (1934: 42).

In Conze's view, validity is merely a matter of belief. And belief is a matter of social convention. In his view if we all decided that logic was not valid, then it would not be. And this is how he imagines the world working prior to the systematisation of reasoning in ancient Athens. He argues that before logic, people lived by magical thinking rather than using reason. And moreover logic is inimical to magic:

Magic and logic are irreconcilable and unintelligible in terms of one another... this mutual hostility between them makes it impossible to regard magic as a form of logic or logic as a form of magic. (1934: 33)

In other words, there is a contradiction between magic and logic. And this concrete contradiction is central to Conze's argument that the principle of contradiction is not valid. Worse, if we say that the principle of noncontradiction does not hold, then it is equally valid to say that it does hold. If we allow contradiction, the result is nonsense. Conze wants to distinguish magical thinking from logical thinking, but a consequence of his conclusion is that logical thinking is magical thinking. In other words Conze is deeply confused about logic. And as noted there is nothing dialectical about this approach. Conze is not interested in synthesis, he is interested in defending magic.

Some will say that in jumping to the end I have misrepresented Conze's argument. So, even though the conclusion is self-defeating and based on false assumptions, I want to loop back for a brief look at that argument. There is some merit in locating logic or at least reasoning in the social sphere. Long time readers of mine will recall my enthusiasm for the work of Hugo Mercier and Dan Sperber (2011, 2017). Like Conze, Mercier and Sperber attack the classical understanding of reasoning. However, they do not share Conze's ulterior motive.

Classically, reason is a faculty of pure logic, free from external influences such as emotions, beliefs, or social conditions. Mercier and Sperber show that evidence has been accumulating from the mid 1960s decisively showing that this faculty doesn't exist. We can use logic, but most of us do not use it routinely. What we call reasoning has two aspects in their thought. In their earlier work (2011) they made the case that reasoning evolved to assist group decision making. Members of a group will propose different courses of action and then the group will use reason to weigh the relative merits of each proposition. In this view reasoning is social and even argumentative. By contrast, individual problem-solving tends to be based on "on intuitions of relevance." (Mercier & Sperber 2017: 43). The later work (2017) characterises reasoning as a process of producing reasons for actions after the fact. The evidence on reasoning shows that our decision making is based on many unconscious inferential processes. We decide and then, if need be, we produce reasons that seem to plausibly account for our behaviour. 

This critique by Mercier and Sperber is compelling but it is a critique of the classical view of reason. It is not, as I understand it, a critique of logic per se. Logic is affected by fuzziness and quantum uncertainty or indeterminacy but it is more or less intact as a way of validating reasoning processes. It is simply that people don't actually use logic that much unless trained to do so and then mostly in formal situations: e.g. when presented with a syllogism in a logic class. Mercier and Sperber are not interested, per Conze, in eliminating logic in favour of magic. Logic, in its modern guise, is intact. Rather it is the idea of humans as logic users that comes into question. The inferential processes we do use are not magic, they are heuristic. They are rules of thumb for surviving in the wild.


When we take Conze seriously as a philosopher we rapidly encounter all kinds of problems. It is no wonder, therefore, that his later works on Prajñāpāramitā were so confused and misleading. It is not simply that Conze did not pay attention to detail (by his own admission) with the result that his editions are faulty. It is not that his translations are execrable, barely qualify as English, and misrepresent the source texts in numerous ways. All of this is true. But taking into account his earlier work we can see Conze as pursuing an agenda that preceded and guided all his work on Buddhist texts and his interpretation of Mahāyāna Buddhism. 

His agenda is anachronistic. Conze imagines a golden age of magical thought and pines for it though he missed it by at least 2500 years. Worse, there is simply no evidence for his assertion that before logic was formalised in Athens people relied on magical thinking. Moreover, the argument is based on a now discredited understanding of what reasoning is. We evolved the capacity for speech, reasoning and inferential decision-making processes as part of becoming anatomically modern humans in Africa ca 200,000 years ago. These attributes didn't suddenly appear in Athens in 500 BC.

Magical thinking was undoubtedly present in the human intellect before the modern era and indeed well beyond it. Some people still childishly want magic to be real (and want Buddhism to be magical). An intellectual who rejects logic in favour of magical thinking now looks quaintly ridiculous. So does a Marxist who rejects materialism and dialectical arguments, nor less a Marxist who was bourgeoisie in his bones and never lost the attitudes and values of the German upper classes.

The eleventh century Persian polymath, Avicenna (aka Ibn Sina) had a plan for dealing with people who share Conze's rejection of Aristotle's law of noncontradiction, i.e.

“The obdurate one must be subjected to the conflagration of fire, since ‘fire’ and ‘not fire’ are one. Pain must be inflicted on him through beating, since ‘pain’ and ‘no pain’ are one. And he must be denied food and drink, since eating and drinking and the abstention from both are one and the same.”—Avicenna (2005: 43).

It was this that inspired my paraphrase of the easily misunderstood old Zen maxim "If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him." If you meet Conze on the road burn him, beat him, and starve him until he admits that burning is different from not burning, beating is different from not-beating, and starving is different from not starving. 

Unfortunately, we cannot put Conze the man through the ordeal of fire. We can, however, read and critically evaluate his oeuvre. If, as his acolytes say, Conze is a scholar of the highest rank, a veritable genius, with insight into the true nature of reality, then this critical examination can only further glorify His presence amongst us. However, if I am right then critical evaluation will topple Conze and the pedestal that devotees have placed him on. Very few people ever take the time to read Conze at all, let alone critically. Which means that his mistakes go unnoticed by the majority even when they have been pointed out in print. I have searched in vain for any mention of his philosophical works, any attempt to compare his earlier and later phases, or any critical evaluation of his contribution.

In writing critically about Conze, I see two main responses. One from scholars who work in or near Prajñāpāramitā, which is "about time someone said this". However, for the most part people are unwilling to openly criticise Conze. A few examples exist of people listing faults in his editions or translations, but these are almost inevitably accompanied by supplication and homage to Conze. I don't bow before false idols. 

The other response is from Conze acolytes who see my critical reflections as mere "hostility". This group appear to be shocked to discover a dissenting voice and view it as an expression of emotion rather than intellect. For true believers it seems to be difficult to imagine anyone who refuses to assent to Conze's self-confessed greatness. And this means that they don't engage with the content of my literary and philosophical criticism. In this sense, support for Conze has a cult-like quality to it. In the light of this, I have begun to see this aspect of my work as an attempt to normalise criticism of Conze so that we can get it all out in the open. 

In reality, I'm not particularly interested in Conze, Mahāyāna, or the Heart Sutra. These are simply vehicles for writing. My personal approach to Buddhism is far more rooted in Pāli texts and my understanding of early Buddhism gained through exploring ideas on those texts. Until discovering Conze's mistakes in the Heart Sutra, unnoticed by all and sundry for 70 years, I saw myself as following in the footsteps of Richard Gombrich and Sue Hamilton (Richard having been an informal mentor since we met in 2006). I have a certain amount of animus towards bullies but I'm mostly just shocked by the disparity between the poor quality of Conze's work and the superlatives that continue to be heaped on him. I'm more motivated by trying to resolve the cognitive dissonance created by this disparity than about hatred of Conze. 



Aristotle. 1933. Aristotle in 23 Volumes, Vols.17, 18, translated by Hugh Tredennick. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. Reprinted 1989. As found on the Perseus Website.

Avicenna. 2005. The Metaphysics of The Healing. Translated by Michael E. Marmura. Provo, Utah. Brigham Young University Press.

Attwood, J. 2020. "Edward Conze: A Call to Reassess the Man and his Contribution to Prajñāpāramitā Studies." JOCBS 19: 22–51. http://jocbs.org/index.php/jocbs/article/view/223

Conze, E. 1932. Der Satz vom Widerspruch: Zur Theorie des Dialektischen Materialism. Hamburg. Reprinted 1976 by Frankfurt: Neue Kritik.

———. 1934. "Social Implications of Logical Thinking". Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, 35, 23-44. Retrieved February 4, 2021, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/4544248

———. 1935. "The Objective Validity of the Principle of Contradiction." Philosophy, 10(38): 205-218.

———. 1937" Social Origins of Nominalism ," Marxist Quarterly (January-March, 1937), pp. 115-124. Reprinted in Further Buddhist Studies.

———. 1953. “The Ontology of the Prajñāpāramitā.” Philosophy East and West 3(2): 117-129.

———. 1979. Memoires of a Modern Gnostic. Parts I and II. Privately Published.

———. 2016. The Principle of Contradiction. Translated by Holger Heine. Lanham MD: Lexington Books.

Gottlieb, Paula. 2019. "Aristotle on Non-contradiction", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Edited by Edward N. Zalta https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/spr2019/entries/aristotle-noncontradiction

Heine, Holger. 2016. "Aristotle, Marx, Buddha: Edward Conze's Critique of the Principle of Contradiction." In Conze (2016: xiii-lxiii).

Mercier, Hugo & Sperber, Dan. (2011) 'Why Do Humans Reason. Arguments for an Argumentative Theory.' Behavioral and Brain Sciences. 34: 57 – 111. doi:10.1017/S0140525X10000968. Available from Dan Sperber's website.

Mercier, Hugo & Sperber, Dan. (2017) The Enigma of Reason: A New Theory of Human Understanding. Allen Lane.

Trueman, Carl R. 2010. Histories and Fallacies: Problems Faced in the Writing of History. Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway.

05 March 2021

An Alternative Wikipedia Entry for the Heart Sutra

Although there have been some recent improvements on the Wikipedia Heart Sutra article (which now mentions my work thanks to an anonymous contribution - not me I hasten to add), I would still like to rewrite it from scratch because it is written by a certain type of religious person for other people of that same type. It's not a proper "neutral point of view" encyclopedia article and it relegates modern research to obscurity while promoting conservative Japanese religious scholars who attack dissent from the tradition. 

Before diving in I want to make a point about the title of the text. Heart Sutra is an English translation of the abbreviated Chinese title, Xīnjīng 心經. The standard Sanskrit title is Prajñāpāramitāhṛdaya, or Heart of Perfected Paragnosis. Note that Prajñāpāramitā texts routinely leave the word sūtra out of their titles. Some editors insist on treating the word sūtra as Sanskrit, i.e. Heart Sūtra. This means that we are translating xīn 心 into English and 經 jīng into Sanskrit. Since "sutra" is an Anglicised word that occurs in all the major British and American English dictionaries, there is no need to translate it into Sanskrit. The English translation of Xīnjīng 心經 is Heart Sutra.

Heart Sutra

The Heart Sutra (Chinese Xīn jīng 心經; Sanskrit Prajñāpāramitā-hṛdaya) is a Chinese Buddhist text composed mainly of excerpts from the much larger Móhēbānrěbōluómì jīng «摩訶般若波羅蜜經» or Large Perfection of Paragnosis Sutra (aka Large Sutra). There are also Sanskrit and Tibetan versions. The Heart Sutra is perhaps the most widely known and popular text in Mahāyāna Buddhism and is revered as an object of religious significance and magical power, and is considered to contain a summary of the Buddhist teachings on the perfection of paragnosis (Skt. prajñāpāramitā). There are more than 60 published translations into English.


The principle version is prose consisting of 266 characters, most of which are copied from the Large Prajñāpāramitā Sutra, translated by Kumārajīva (404 CE) as Móhēbānrěbōluómì jīng «摩訶般若波羅蜜經» (T 223), with a few modifications introduced by Xuanzang (602-664). Note that the title varies across the manuscript tradition and has varied over time, the common feature being the word heart (Chinese xīn 心; Sanskrit hṛdaya).

The main text is followed by a short spell or dhāraṇī (usually, though mistakenly, referred to as a mantra) that appears to have been copied from Tuóluóní jí jīng «陀罗尼集經» (T 901) a translation of the Dhāraṇīsamuccaya completed in 654 CE by Atikūṭa (a Buddhist monk from India). As with the text as a whole, the dhāraṇī is associated with magical powers of protection but it is also considered by some to be a kind of mnemonic reflecting the internal structure of the text.

The Heart Sutra has long been associated with Xuánzàng 玄奘 (602-664), the Chinese Buddhist monk remembered primarily as a pilgrim and translator. The Biography of Xuánzàng (T 2053), composed in 688 CE by Yàncóng 彥悰 (possibly on the basis of earlier work by Huìlì 慧立) provides some clearly apocryphal back-story for the Heart Sutra. Details included in the Biography became the foundation of the received origin myth of the text. These include Xuánzàng being gifted the Heart Sutra before leaving China and using it as magical protection while crossing the Gobi Desert. A later source suggests he translated the text in 649 CE but this conflicts with other stories and historians have cast doubt on this part of the story.

However, the Biography also provides the first reliable literary mention of the Heart Sutra when it reprints a letter dated 656 CE in which Xuánzàng presented a scroll to Emperor Gāozōng 高宗 (r. 649–683 CE) and his consort Wǔ Zhào 武曌 (624–705 CE, later Empress Wǔ Zétiān 武則天). The same letter is preserved in another document making this plausible (Kotyk 2019).

The earliest physical evidence of the Heart Sutra is a votive stele from Fangshan: the standard text is engraved on a stone slab, with a colophon naming the donor and his family and dated 13 March 661 CE (Attwood 2019). The earliest extant commentaries on the Heart Sutra are attributed to Xuanzang's student, Kuījī 窺基 (632–682), and his colleague, Woncheuk 圓測 (613–696). Although undated they must have been composed before the end of the 7th Century. Both acknowledge that the text is not a sutra and treat the work as an epitome of Yogācāra Buddhism.

The Heart Sutra belongs in a distinctively Chinese genre of texts known as "digest texts" (chāo jīng 抄經). A digest text is a collection of copied passages, originally designed to provide an abstract or summary of a larger text. Many hundreds of digest texts were composed in China and circulated independently. By the Tang dynasty (beginning in 618 CE), compilers of catalogues of Buddhist texts were hostile to these indigenous texts and they began to be purged from the Chinese Canon. However, a number of them, including the Heart Sutra, were not recognised as indigenous texts and were retained. In the case of the Heart Sutra, the Sanskrit "original" played a major role in disguising the true origins of the text.

The standard text was translated into Sanskrit before the end of the 7th Century. Long considered to reflect a Sanskrit original, the Sanskrit translation incorporates some Chinese idioms, conventions, and calques which betray its origins in China. Jan Nattier's 1992 study demonstrated this but it took some time to be accepted. Further work by Matthew Orsborn (aka Huifeng) and Jayarava Attwood have helped to validate Nattier's methods and confirm her conclusions. However, Japanese scholars, beginning with FUKUI Fumimasa have resisted Nattier's conclusion.

Probably in the early eighth century, the standard text was expanded twice, creating two extended Heart Sutra texts: one in Chinese (T 252) and a second in Sanskrit. Recension two was translated into Tibetan and is popular with Tibetan Buddhists; it has also been translated back into Chinese three times (T 253, T 254, T 257). The Chinese canon also preserves a translations into Chinese from Tibetan (T 255) and transliteration of an early Sanskrit version using Chinese characters (T 256).

There is also a version of the standard text apocryphally attributed to Kumarajīva (T 250) but now thought to have been composed in the 8th Century. This attribution was first challenged in 1932 by MATSUMOTO, but was cemented in 1991 with an article by WATANABE Shōgo calling T 250 a "fake text" (Japanese: gikyō 偽経).

The Dunhuang cache of Buddhist texts included almost 200 Heart Sutra texts in Chinese and Tibetan. There is no published study of the Dunhuang Heart Sutra texts, but some preliminary work has been presented at a conference by Ben Nourse. There is no standard text translation found in the Tibetan Kanjur, however several were found at Dunhuang. The cache includes a some variant texts including hybrids of the standard and extended versions.

Although there is no evidence of the Heart Sutra from India, the Kanjur preserved a total of eight commentaries which purport to be Tibetan translations of commentaries composed by India pandits who travelled to Tibet during the Pala Dynasty (9th - 12th Century CE). Most of these are heavily influenced by Tantric Buddhism. It's possible that the Heart Sutra was unknown in India and went directly from China to Tibet, probably via Dunhuang (which was controlled by Tibet during the 8th-9th centuries). This would account for the complete lack of physical or literary evidence for it amongst surviving Buddhist documents in India. Not only is it not found in manuscripts, it is not even quoted in anthologies and not mentioned in any Indian commentarial literature.


The Heart Sutra is used by Buddhists in several different ways: for its magical powers of protection, as a liturgical text, as a focus for studying prajñāpāramitā, and decoratively. There is some crossover between these categories. Sometimes the dhāraṇī is chanted separately, in which case it is thought to invoke the soteriological and protective power of the text and the corpus of prajñāpārmaitā as a whole (when Prajñāpāramitā is represented as a female bodhisatva, she has her own mantras).

As apotropaic magic the text is chanted by believers for its prophylactic effect of warding off evil. The text may also be chanted to mitigate the effects of karma. As a liturgical text, the Heart Sutra is chanted as an invocation of the soteriological powers thought to reside in prajñāpāramitā texts. Copying the text is also seen as an effective soteriological practice in line with injunctions contained in the early Prajñāpāramitā texts. Tantric practitioners have made ritual practices focussed on the text as deity. In this situation the text is sometimes also associated with Mañjuśrī bodhisatva.

Both chanting and copying the text may crossover with the decorative uses which see calligraphy of the Heart Sutra printed on many different objects and items of clothing. Religious study of the Heart Sutra focuses on the apparently paradoxical nature of the contents.

Many Buddhists report having felt a sense of mystical connection with the Heart Sutra, even (or perhaps especially) when it is heard for the first time in an unfamiliar language).

The Heart Sutra crops up in some pop culture references. It is chanted during the film The Little Buddha and seen in the 2003 Korean film Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter...and Spring. Schopenhauer mentions Prajñāpāramitā briefly at the end of book IV of his The World as Will and Representation, although his take on Buddhism is pessimistic and nihilistic.


The Heart Sutra is an epitome of the philosophy of the perfection of paragnosis or prajñā-pāramitā. In this context we can take this to refer to the knowledge gained by bringing sensory experience to a halt (nirodha) and dwelling in the subsequent contentless awareness (śūnyatā). Hence, it is knowledge beyond ordinary sensory experience (paragnosis).

The message of the Heart Sutra is often reduced to a series of negations, partly because of readings of another prajñāpāramitā sūtra, the Vajracchedikā Prajñāpāramitā. Based on essays by D. T. Suzuki in 1935 and Conze in 1946, the essence of Prajñāpāramitā is presented as contradiction (entailing a repudiation of Aristotle's law of non-contradiction). In Conze's formulation, the contradiction—A is not-A—is an expression of the Absolute. The term Absolute is not found in Buddhism per se, and Conze uses it rather vaguely, but it appears to bear a resemblance to the One of Neoplatonism, the absolute found in the Theosophical writings of Helena Blavatsky, and absolute being as found in German Idealists such as Fichte and Schelling. Schopenhauer may also have been an influence. However, this appeal to contradiction has some antiquity as we see evidence of scribes adding extra negations to their copies of the text as early as the 8th Century. Conze's Absolute is ineffable and beyond intellectual understanding and can only be expressed as contradiction or paradox. Conze and Suzuki leverage the confusion caused by asserting the truth of contradictions to undermine opposition while reinforcing their own position of authority. One cannot argue with someone who refuses to acknowledge that logic applies and is convinced that they have an understanding that others can never attain.

A major breakthrough came in 2014 with the publication of an article by Matt Orsborn (then writing as Shi Huifeng). He pointed out that an expression from the Large Sutra which originally meant "through the yoga of nonapprehension" (anupalambhayogena) had been mistranslated when the Sanskrit Heart Sutra was made. Kumārajīva translated it as yǐwúsuǒdégù 以無所得故 in Chinese. However, it was translated back into Sanskrit as aprāptitvād "because of being in state of nonattainment". (See also Attwood 2020a). And this mistaken meaning was then read back into the Chinese text cementing the error.

In pointing out the mistake, Orsborn also pointed out some implications of repairing the error. Reading yǐwúsuǒdégù 以無所得故 as "through the yoga of nonapprehension" makes it seem to be qualifying the negations that precede it (an impression reinforced by how the term is used in the Large Sutra). Indeed, the negations are qualified twice, first by "in emptiness" and second by "through the yoga of nonapprehension". The yoga of nonapprehension appears to relate to a practice of withdrawing attention (Pāli: amanasikāra) from sense experience resulting in an altered state known as "dwelling in emptiness" (suññatāvihāra). Compare, for example, the Pāli Cūḷasuññata Sutta MN 121). Here we think that suññatā (Skt śūnyatā) in fact refers to the absence of sensory experience in this altered state. And this enables us to see the negations as phenomenological statements, i.e. in the absence of sensory experience, brought about through the withdrawal of attention, there are no skandhas because the skandhas are what generate sensory experience, there are no internal sensory spheres (aka sense faculties; indriya) or external sensory spheres (aka sense objects; ālambhana). And so on.

When the Heart Sutra says "there is no form", it is not a metaphysical statement about reality. It is not saying that form per se does not exist. Rather it is a tautology: in the state characterised by the absence of sensory experience, there is no sensory experience. Importantly, the meditator remains conscious in this state, but they are without any intentional stance, or content of awareness. Thus, they can remember being in that state (tatha-gata).

Subsequently, it was discovered that the famous lines that equate form and emptiness had been changed when the Smaller (or 8000 line) Sutra was expanded to the Larger (or 25000 line) Sutra (Attwood 2017). The original Sanskrit pericope has rūpaṃ māyā "form is an illusion". This as a metaphor based on a much older simile from early Buddhism which likens sensory experience to various hollow, ephemeral, and fleeting phenomena such as foam on a river, a dream, a lightning bolt, and a māyā or "illusion". When the word māyā was changed to śūnyatā the sentence made considerably less sense, but we can understand it to convey the same sentiment, i.e. that sensory experience is hollow, because we can bring it to a halt in meditation without loss of consciousness.

In other words, the whole drift of this text, and likely of the other prajñāpāramitā literature points to the phenomenological and epistemic conclusions that emerge from the absence of sensory experience while conscious. The text has metaphysical implications, but it is not a metaphysical treatise, i.e. it is not concerned with the nature of reality, but rather with the nature of sensory experience. This line of reasoning has a parallel in Sue Hamilton's reading of the Pāli suttas, especially in the context of the khandhas.


A basic genealogical diagram of the Heart Sutra shows the development of the standard text in Chinese:

Pañcaviṃśatisāhasrikā Prajñāpāramitā

Móhē-bānrěbōluómì jīng (T 223)

Bānrěbōluómì xīn jīng (T251)


The standard version in Chinese and Sanskrit were both further developed giving us the diversity of texts mentioned above.

Nattier, Orsborn, and Attwood have individually proposed a number of corrections to the existing editions in both Sanskrit and Chinese. At one level we can simply correct the mistakes in Conze's Sanskrit edition and note the Chinese idioms as part of the received tradition. And we can correct the misreading of the Chinese text that the Sanskrit caused. This would give us fully parsible and translatable texts. While most of the necessary changes have been published, they have yet to be incorporated into the editions.

Moreover at present no translation or study of the text that incorporates the new information has been forthcoming.



Móhē bānrěbōluómì dàmíngzhòu jīng «摩訶般若波羅蜜大明呪經» = Mahāprajñāpāramitā-mahāvidya-sūtra. T 250, attrib. Kumarajīva ca 400. [date and authorship are apocryphal].

Bānrěbōluómìduō xīn jīng «般若波羅蜜多心經» = Prajñāpāramitā-hṛdaya-sūtra. T 251, attrib. Xuanzang, 649. [date and authorship are apocryphal]

Dà Táng dà Cí'ēnsì sānzàng fǎshī chuán xù «大唐大慈恩寺三藏法師傳序» A biography of the Tripiṭaka Master of the Great Ci’en Monastery of the Great Tang Dynasty (T 2053). Translated into English by Li Rongxi (1995).

Attwood, Jayarava. (2017). "Form is (Not) Emptiness: The Enigma at the Heart of the Heart Sutra."Journal of the Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies, 13,52–80. http://jocbs.org/index.php/jocbs/issue/view/15/showToc.

Attwood, Jayarava. (2019). ‘Xuanzang’s Relationship to the Heart Sūtra in Light of the Fangshan Stele.’ Journal of Chinese Buddhist Studies, 32: 1–30. http://chinesebuddhiststudies.org/previous_issues/jcbs3201_Attwood(1-30).pdf

Attwood, Jayarava. (2020). “The History of the Heart Sutra as a Palimpsest.” Pacific World. Series 4, no.1: 155-182. https://pwj.shin-ibs.edu/2020/6934

Attwood, Jayarava. (2021).”Losing Ourselves in the Heart Sutra: A new reading of the ancient scripture surfaces a forgotten Buddhist practice.” Tricycle Magazine (Spring): 83-4, 104-6. https://tricycle.org/magazine/heart-sutra-history/

Hamilton, Sue. (2000). Early Buddhism: A New Approach. London: Routledge.

Huifeng, Shi. (2014). “Apocryphal Treatment for Conze’s Heart Problems: Non-attainment, Apprehension, and Mental Hanging in the Prajñāpāramitā Hṛdaya.” Journal of the Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies. 6: 72-105. http://www.ocbs.org/ojs/index.php/jocbs/article/view/75

Kotyk, Jeffrey. (2019). ‘Chinese State and Buddhist Historical Sources on Xuanzang: Historicity and the Daci’en si sanzang fashi zhuan 大慈恩寺三藏法師傳’. T’oung Pao 105(5-6): 513–544. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1163/15685322-10556P01

Li Rongxi (1995) A Biography of the Tripiṭaka Master of the Great Ci'en Monastery of the Great Tang Dynasty. Numata Center for Buddhist Translation and Research.

Nattier, Jan (1992). ‘The Heart Sūtra: a Chinese apocryphal text?’ Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies. 15 (2) 153-223. Online: http://archiv.ub.uni-heidelberg.de/ojs/index.php/jiabs/article/view/8800/2707

19 February 2021

Modern Interpretations of the Khandhas: Saṅkhāra

This is the fourth installment in my series of essays on two modern interpretations of the skandhas. Tilmann Vetter's The Khandha Passages in the Vinayapiṭaka and the Four Main Nikāyas and Sue Hamilton's Early Buddhism: A New Approach were both published in the year 2000. After the rūpa essay was published I found Rupert Gethin's article: “The Five Khandhas: Their Treatment In The Nikāyas And Early Abhidhamma” (1986) which is a valuable document for being a succinct description of what the Sutta-Piṭaka and Abhidhamma say without much extra exegesis or interpretation. 

When I embarked on this task I was optimistic and I thought it might help clarify some things that had long been unclear for me. Sadly, this has not been the case. I am no longer optimistic; very little has been clarified, the methods used by the two main authors leave much to be desired. This realisation comes just as Vetter is hitting his stride and his attempt to explain saṅkhārā and his translation, "impulses", takes up more than half of his entire summary of the khandhas (36 pages!).

In any case, we now come to the khandha of saṅkhārā (The only khandha that is routinely plural). The problem we have with saṅkhārā is that everyone agrees how the word is used, but no one can make sense of why this word is used this way. As Gethin (37) says, the saṅkhārā are "primarily defined in terms of will or volition (cetanā)" and we can relate this to the famous phrase "cetanā is what I call kamma" (AN 6.63). Thus the saṅkhārā are somehow connected to karma (I will say something about this below). However, Gethin also points out that the Nikāyas "describe [saṅkhārā] as putting together (abhisaṃkharonti) each of the khandhas in turn into something that is put-together (saṃkhata) (37). The latter is a reference to the Khajjanīya Sutta that I will also address below. 

Bodhi (2000: 45) tells us that the word saṅkhārā can be analysed as a verb karoti "make" (√kṛ) with a prefix saṃ- that usually means "together" or "complete". In Latin, "to make" is facere and the cognate prefix is con-, so saṅkhāra is very like our word confection. Given the difference between the etymological meaning and the usage in Buddhism, especially in the khandhas, we ought to be alert for our old friend the etymological fallacy (which has been a feature of these essays). Bodhi points to five different contexts in which the word is used. As a khandha, Bodhi translates saṅkhārā as "volitional formations". Another common translation is "karmic formations". Translators who use these phrases as translation are trying to link the two different meanings of the word—volition and confection—in one phrase. The result is rather awkward.

A quick digression on the kha in saṅkhara. If we switch to Sanskrit, the skandha is saṃskārāḥ and through abhisaṃskaronti we get things that are saṃskṛta. But the verb is karoti (√kṛ). The extra s in saṃ-skāra and saṃ-skṛta is there because in Indo-European the root is *sker. The s is largely dropped in Vedic and Sanskrit but reappears when some suffixes are added. Sanskrit /sk/ becomes /kh/ in Pāli, so saṃskārāḥ becomes saṇkhārā but /k/ is unchanged so a Sanskrit word like sūtrakāra "the author of the sutra" (where -kāra is also from √kṛ) becomes suttakāra in Pāli. 



Vetter's method is now settled. He begins by consulting the Khajjanīya Sutta (SN 22.79). And this is vexing because, as I have now repeatedly shown, this text is not a reliable source. It is fool's gold, shiny but not valuable. For the first time, Vetter moves deeper into the Khajjanīya Sutta and considers another  passage. Vetter declares there is no good translation into English and instead gives a German translation that he doesn't bother to translate into English. Fortunately, in that very same year, 2000, Bhikkhu Bodhi's translation of the Saṃyutta Nikāya came out:

Kiñca, bhikkhave, saṅkhāre vadetha? Saṅ­kha­ta­mabhi­saṅ­kha­ron­tīti kho, bhikkhave, tasmā ‘saṅkhārā’ti vuccati. Kiñca saṅ­kha­ta­mabhi­saṅ­kha­ronti? Rūpaṃ rūpattāya saṅ­kha­ta­mabhi­saṅ­kha­ronti, .... (SN III.87). 
“And why, bhikkhus, do you call them volitional formations? ‘They construct the conditioned,’ bhikkhus, therefore they are called volitional formations. And what is the conditioned that they construct? They construct conditioned form as form...” (Bodhi 2000: 915)

Note that what is explained here is not the volitional part, only the formations part. Gethin points to a few other suttas that have this formula. But it's a pericope—the same passage repeated—rather than more on the theme. Vetter's explanation looks post hoc to me. The heart of it is: 

saṅ­kha­ta­m abhi­saṅ­kha­ron­tī ti kho, bhikkhave, tasmā ‘saṅkhārā’ti vuccati. 

They construct (abhisaṁkharonti) the constructed (saṅkhata) therefore (tasmā) they are called (vuccati) the constructs (saṅkhāra). 

It doesn't take much thought to see that this is completely unrelated to karma. Vetter says this is difficult to translate. The first part is not. What is difficult is the repeated formula that comes next. In Bodhi's translation: "They construct conditioned form as form" (rūpaṃ rūpattāya saṅ­kha­ta­m abhi­saṅ­kha­ronti). 

We know the agent must be saṅkhārā since the verb is in the 3rd person plural, which makes rūpaṃ the patient and saṅkhatam an adjective or predicate. So the basic sense is that the "volitions construct appearance" ([saṅkhārā] rūpaṃ abhisaṅkharonti). But this is nonsense, even in Buddhism. We have volitions in response to sense experience, especially in response to the positive and negative hedonic qualities of experience. This is saying the opposite, i.e. that volition is what makes form. To repeat, this is nonsense. 

Worse we still have yet to explain rūpattāya. One of the difficulties is that rūpattā is an abstract noun, which I am at a loss to translate directly into English: "form-ness"? We tend to treat rūpa as abstraction in the first place, both as the traditional translation "form" and in my preferred translation "appearance". We know this partly because when we use form in this sense we don't include articles. It is not "a form" or "the form" but just "form". My grammar checker doesn't deal with abstract nouns very well and pings me on this every time. And I think this might explain why Bodhi's translation does not distinguish between rūpa and rūpattā. Effectively they mean the same thing in Buddhist English. I have my doubts that they mean the same thing in Pāli, but I don't understand what the distinction is. 

Unfortunately, rūpattāya is a degenerate case ending that could be instrumental, dative, ablative, or genitive. Not all of which can fit, though, so we have some options: the saṅkhārās construct form through form-ness (ins), for form-ness (dat), from formness (abl), or saṅkhārās construct form that is formness (indirect object). The latter is apparently how Bodhi reads it, but as I say he translates both rūpa and rūpattā as "form". His explanation follows the commentary (2000: 1071-2 n.113), i.e. the passage means that form "becomes conditioned form in accordance with its nature". This doesn't seem remotely connected to the khandhas or their functions. Nor does it link saṅkhārā to karma. Form is conditioned when considered as the object of the eye, but we are talking khandhas. In what sense does the rūpakhandha become a conditioned thing? It is conditioned.

Once again the Khajjanīya Sutta (SN 22.79) is tempting because it appears to offer an explanation of the khandhas that is lacking elsewhere, but once again the explanation turns out to be impenetrable or nonsensical. My view is that the suttakāra did not know why the word saṅkhārā was used in this context and tried to make something up based on the obvious etymology. But this does not shed any light on how the word saṅkhārā is used in Pāli. But it did start an long running attempt to shoehorn the literal meaning of saṅkhārā into explanations of the khandhas

Vetter carries on for 36 pages of learned discourse, looking at literally all the ways in which the word is used, with examples. But he never manages a convincing explanation. Working through all of this has become intensely irritating because it appears to be wilfully ignorant of the manifold textual and linguistic problems. Bodhi can be forgiven because he is a senior Theravādin monk with responsibilities and is thus naturally an apologist for the tradition. Vetter has no such excuse for failing to read this material critically. 

So I'm just going to move on. And yet this brings me no joy.


As Hamilton says, "The order of the khandhas is never explained, but they are almost invariably (the single exception being to accommodate the metre of a verse) in the order given above; that is, body, sensations, apperception, volitional activities, consciousness." (72). We are slightly surprised, then, when in the succeeding pages she describes her understanding of body, sensations, apperception, and consciousness, and then introduces "The fifth khanda of volitional activities" (78). Because it is not the fifth khandha, it is the fourth khandha

Hamilton describes saṅkhārā as "one's affective response to what one is experiencing" (78). She rightly notes the centrality of karma in Buddhist soteriology and of volitions to karma: "The aim of the path of Buddhism is to arrive at a point when the fuel of continuity is blown out, and it is volitions that are that fuel." (78). 

But affect is not equivalent to volition: affect is a very much broader category. Whether used in a technical or lay sense, affect is a general way of talking about emotional or felt responses to sensory experience (the word literally means "to have an effect"). Volition is related in the sense that emotions usually lie behind actions. The problem is that Pāli doesn't really have this EMOTIONS ARE AGENTS metaphor.  In fact, as I have noted elsewhere, Pāli doesn't consider emotions separately from what we would call cognitive activity. Pāli makes a distinction between physical (kāyika) and mental (cetasika) events, but does not distinguish emotions as a distinct category. 

Hamilton then draws attention to none other than the passage from the Khajjanīya Sutta just discussed. In her account, abhisamkharonti means "to volitionally construct". Except that this is not what the word means or how it is used. Here volitionally is an adverb that Hamilton has tacked onto the verb, in a way that looks tendentious - it suits her argument to translate it this way. 

This is not the only problem we encounter in the details of Hamilton's account of saṅkhārā. In her view: 

"the khandhas that are described as being volitionally constructed need to be interpreted in the sense that together they represent the entire human being. So it is one's volitional activities that determine one's future coming-to-be in its entirety. (80). 

And yet two pages earlier:

Understanding them as the individual physical and mental 'parts' of which a human being is comprised misses two crucial points. First, that it is collectively that they operate, and second, perhaps even more importantly, that what they represent is one's cognitive system: the apparatus by means of which we have all our experiences. The point is not to offer an analysis of all that we are... Rather, they are what one needs to understand about oneself in one is to achieve liberation from the cycle of lives as the Buddha did. (78) 

These two passages seem to contradict each other. And the main drift of Hamilton's argument is in favor of the second reading. The khandhas do not represent the entire human being, they represent what we need to understand in the pursuit of liberation. Specifically they tie the perceptual/cognitive process to karma. 

But of course, Hamilton has the same problem as Vetter in using this passage, i.e. that it is deceptive because the khandhas are not "volitionally constructed". Neither rūpa nor vedanā are volitional. Except, while dwelling in emptiness (suññatā-vihāra), we are bound to experience both without having any say in the matter. We have free won't over rūpa and vedanā if we practice meditation, but we don't have free will.

And at this point I feel like I'm getting nowhere. So again, I'm going to move on. 

How Does Saṅkhārā Relate to Karma?

As we saw above we can make the link between saṅkhārā and karma via cetanā. This is because saṅkhārā are often described in Pāli in terms of the six kinds of cetanā. For example, in the Upādānaparipavatta Sutta (SN 22.56):

katame ca, bhikkhave, saṅkhārā? chayime, bhikkhave, cetanākāyā – rūpasañcetanā, saddasañcetanā, gandhasañcetanā, rasasañcetanā, phoṭṭhabbasañcetanā, dhammasañcetanā. (SN III.60)

And what, monks, is volition? Monks, there are six kinds of intention: intention towards appearance, sounds, smells, tastes, tangibles, and mental events. 

The text switches from cetanā to sañcetanā but there is no discernible change in meaning. But there is no logic here. No one, as far as I can see, can explain why a word the denotes confection can connote volition. Where is the link? The connection between cetanā and karma is much easier. Which brings us back to the Nibbedhika Sutta (AN 6.63):

cetanāhaṃ, bhikkhave, kammaṃ vadāmi. cetayitvā kammaṃ karoti – kāyena vācāya manasā. (A III.409)

Monks intention is what I call karma. Having intended one acts, with body, voice, or mind. 

Hence, volition is karma. As Vetter notes, this is only one way of talking about karma and not the most common. The equation cetanāhaṃ kammaṃ vadāmi occurs only once in the Nikāyas though it is clearly important as it is picked up by later writers, especially Nāgārjuna (in his MMK chapter on karma). 

But how are saṅkhārā equated with volition? 

I think there is a more direct link between saṅkhārā and karma, and this draws inspiration from work by Joanna Jurewicz (2005) on how Pāli might have borrowed terms from Vedic religion. This is made easier if we move the discussion into Sanskrit again, in which case saṅkhārā becomes saṁskārāḥ.

Saṃskāra is a word familiar to anyone who knows about Vedic culture, where it means a rite of passage. In this context saṃskāra means something like occasion or consecration. It is a feature of words from √kṛ that their meaning is highly context dependent. The prefix saṃ- does not just mean "together" it also means "complete" and from this we get the sense of "perfected". So saṃskāra can mean "finishing, refining, perfecting" and it is used in many figurative ways such as "purification, cleansing, preparing, or rearing of animals". 

 There are typically sixteen rites of passage (saṃskārāḥ) for a twice-born Hindu (for an overview see for example, Klostermaier 1994: 183-92). In fact, different texts prescribe different numbers of sacraments, but sixteen is the most common number. The saṁskāra are rituals conducted at certain points in the life of orthodox Hindus, including birth, naming, first haircut, marriage, and death. The rite of passage puts the finishing touch on the stage of life. It helps to refine the recipient's life and helps them attain the purity required for mokṣa

As Klostermaier says, "It is through the performance of saṃskāras that all Hindus practice the karma-mārga, the Path of Works" (1994: 192). The karmamārga  was previously introduced by Klostermaier in two chapters (9 and 10) and is contrasted with the jñānamārga (path of knowledge). The karmamārga is prescribed for people (men) who follow the householder's life of that Zorba the Greek called the "full catastrophe": wife, children, house, property, business. The jñānamārga is for those who renounce the household life and seek mokṣa or liberation from rebirth. 

Thus a saṃskāra is an occasion on which karma is performed by those pursuing the karmamārga as prescribed by the Dharmaśāstra texts outlining the dharma or religious duties of someone who follows some form of Vedic religion. Buddhists borrowed this idea and incorporated it with little change into their own doctrines. It has been changed mainly by the emphasis on the internalisation and ethicisation of religion; i.e. the focus for Buddhists was not the external performance of ritual actions aimed at manipulating the world, but was instead internal—volitional—and aimed at the world of experience. If one makes no effort at purifying one's intentions, one performs karma that leads to rebirth, i.e. one follows the karma-mārga. Buddhism holds out the possibility that by purifying one's intentions one does not perform karma, and one eventually brings rebirth to a halt. Not being reborn, one is free from suffering, since suffering is associated with embodiment.

The attempts—ancient and modern—to fit the semantic meaning of "confections" or "formations" to saṅkhārākhandha seem to me to be a red herring based on the etymological fallacy (the idea that the meaning of a word can only be obtained by examining the morphology, the past use, and the meaning of the parts of the word. Because the word is not defined this way in this case, such attempts are at best confusing and unconvincing. At worst they are nonsensical.

In this context saṅkhārā seems to straight-forwardly mean volitions (cetanā), i.e. contributions to karma that fuel rebirth. And since understanding how we create karma is central to Buddhist soteriology, this makes sense.



Bodhi. 2000. The Connected Discourses of the Buddha: A Translation of the Saṃyutta Nikāya. Wisdom.

Gethin, Rupert. 1986. “The Five Khandhas: Their Treatment In The Nikāyas And Early Abhidhamma.” Journal Of Indian Philosophy 14(1): 35-53.

Hamilton, Sue. 1996. Identity and experience: the constitution of the human being according to early Buddhism. London: Luzac Oriental.

Hamilton, Sue. 2000. Early Buddhism: A New Approach. London: Routledge.

Jurewicz, Joanna. (2005) "Playing with Fire: The pratītyasamutpāda from the perspective of Vedic thought." In Buddhism: Critical Concepts in Religious Studies, Vol. I, edited by Paul Williams. Psychology Press. Originally published 2000 Journal of the Pali Text Society 26 pp. 77-103.

Klostermaier, Klaus K. 1994. A Survey of Hinduism. 2nd Ed. State University of New York Press.

Vetter, Tilmann. 2000. The Khandha Passages in the Vinayapiṭaka and the Four Main Nikāyas. Wien Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften.

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