The-Thing-In-Itself

Before we enter into the Kantian connection with the Madhyāntavibhāga, it needs to be shared what Stcherbatsky’s notion of “Yoga” entailed, for it is a most profound one:

Yoga: the mystic power produced by intense concentrated contemplation of a single point or idea. This power capable of producing a radical change in the composition of individual existences by suppressing the operation of elements composing a normal existence. Individuals with a highly developed faculty of concentration (Biguan—inclusion mine) and having much practiced it considered to be purified.  This power capable of transferring human beings out of this world of gross bodies into higher mystic worlds where it becomes the predominant faculty controlling the character of life and the composition of individual existences (the gradually reduced number of elements entering into cooperation for producing an individual personal life [or, the deconstruction of the skandhas—inclusion mine]). The ultimate end of this process of suppression is Nirvana. (From his Conception of the Buddhist Nirvana)

The Kantian Transcendental dialectic figures most prominently in Stcherbatsky’s analysis of the “Absolute” in the Madhyāntavibhāga:

There are thus two Absolutes, the absolute Particular and the absolute Universal, the extreme concrete and particular and the extreme abstract and Universal, the limit, so to speak, from the bottom and the limit at the top. Between them we must locate the relative Reality of the phenomenal Universe. All phenomenal objects are interrelated and related to the two limits between which they must find their place. One of them is the point-instant (kṣaṇa) of reality, the other represents its eternal (nitya) Whole : the one is particular (sva-lakṣaṇa), the other Universal (sāmānya-lakṣaṇa): the one is a single element (dharma), the other represents their totality (dharmatā); the one is “the” Real (vastu=sat), the other is the Reality (satya); the one is interdependent (paratantra), the other independent and Absolute (parinipṣanna); the one is paramārtha-sat, the other—paramātha-satya. Applying Kantian terminology we could perhaps say that the one is transcendental (śuddhalaukika), the other transcendent (pariśuddha, lokottra). (Stcherbatsky, MAV, pg. 5)

For Stcherbatsky the “particular Absolute” is recognized as the particular “Thing-in-itself”; this is quite different from the “Universal Absolute” which represents the Transcendent Pure Reality. As such the latter is NOT the “Thing-in-itself” as the former particularization. He refers to the particular Thing-in-itself as the [Constructor of phenomena], that “contains the non-existence of duality, (its absolute non-existence.)” Hence, the former particular-Absolute is considered as “transcendental”, while the latter Universal Absolute is the “Transcendent” itself. This has a lot of bearing on the Kantian formulation of the Thing-in-itself, something that many philosophers and adamant critics of Stcherbatsky fail to properly recognize.

The Kantian Thing-in-itself

Kant’s Transcendentalism makes the assertion that we cannot “know” an object “in itself”, but can only know its “relation” to us. This is the same with every empirical object we encounter. This empirical object only comes within our sphere of recognition by a “particular form” that we impose upon it which emanates from the a priori forms of our own awareness. Hence, we can only “grasp” its relational properties, whereas its own “intrinsic-makeup” are way beyond our cognitive abilities. Thus, it is the particular Absolute (which we just referred to) [the Thing-in-itself], that underlies all empirical reality. In his Buddhist Logic Part II (pg. 41), Stcherbatsky states, “Translating this phrasing into Kantian terminology we could say that the empirical object consists of an uncognizable substratum, the [thing in itself], and a superstructure which our reason imposes upon it according to its own categories of understanding.” Another Kantian term is the noumenon, close to the thing-in-itself,  in the sense that it can never be qualified by experience; whereas phenomenon is the thing as it appears to one who perceives it as dictated categorically by those aforementioned a priori forms of one’s own sensibility—hence, a superimposition through one’s own narrow lens of perception. For Vasubandhu, this is known as the distinction between the ineffable and what is considered as samsaric. But it is here that things become quite sticky—for while the term “phenomena” can be considered as self-evident, Kant’s “highly nuanced” term noumena is not—since for Kant it does not necessarily mean “things as they are independently appearing to us, but rather things AS “they are understood by pure thought.” The term even becomes bifurcated for him into negative and positive, as he states:

If by ‘noumenon’ we mean a thing so far as it is not an object of our sensible intuition, and so abstract from our mode of intuiting it, this is a noumenon in the negative sense of the term.

But if we understand by it an object of a non-sensible intuition*, we thereby presuppose a special mode of intuition, namely, the intellectual, which is not that which we possess, and of which we cannot comprehend even the possibility. This would be ‘noumenon’ in the positive sense of the term. (From Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, First Edition) *beyond the senses, inclusion mine

This all leads us to our focus on the Madhyāntavibhāga wherein it is now critical to understand that when we refer to the “Transcendent”, we mean THAT which (in IT’s Absolute Stature) is not a part of understanding or experience, hence “no-thing”. Whereas “Transcendental” refers to the particular-Absolute, and thus cognizable as the “Constructor of phenomena, the particular Thing-in-itself.” However, as we shall discover, the former can “be intuited” (via a special mode of (spiritual—{inclusion mine} intuition) and hence is noumenally (as well as mystically) positive. Quite a twist here in the Kantian sense, since he rejected the above positive mode in the second edition of his work, whereas we will still make use of it in the sense it appeared in that marvelous first edition.

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