Searle’s Master Insight and the Non-Dual Solution of the Sixth Patriarch: Sorting Through Some Problems of Consciousness

Comparative Philosophy 8 (1):82-93 (2017)
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The Platform Sutra, which dates back to the seventh century C.E., is one of the classic documents of Chinese philosophy and is the intellectual autobiography of Hui Neng, the Sixth Patriarch of Ch’an Buddhism. In the Platform Sutra, the Sixth Patriarch demonstrates that the spiritual and intellectual problems of consciousness stem from a false adherence to the dualistic standpoint. The Sixth Patriarch utilizes ingenious arguments to demonstrate how one can escape the problems of dualism. An example of a constructive engagement between Chinese philosophy and Searle is to compare and contrast the arguments of Hui Neng with those of Searle. The Sixth Patriarch and Searle both reach a rather similar solution to the problem of dualism—to stop counting. In the case of the Sixth Patriarch, his solution possesses the goal of enabling the reader to achieve a spiritual liberation. Searle, in contrast, addresses the troubling epistemological problems of dualism. Searle proposes a causal monism: he claims consciousness is a state of the brain, that it is caused by processes in the brain, that it is a feature of the brain, and that it is all these at the same time. This article aims to highlight Searle’s arguments and impressive insights; it also aims to show the connection between Searle’s master insight concerning the non-duality of consciousness and the Sixth Patriarch’s realization that the difficulties of understanding consciousness stem from the formulation of the description itself.

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Robert E. Allinson
Soka University


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