Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Rule of Identity

Logically speaking, the East and West can be seen as follows:

West: A = A
East: A does not = A

The Rule of Identity is the basis for Western logic, along with the Rule of the Excluded Middle and the Law of Non-contradiction.  In terms of math and science, they work.  Using this logic, the West has harnessed the awesome power of nature to create modern lives which would rival the splendor of the highest ancient emperor.  Unfortunately, it has also allowed a level of environmental impact previously unseen. 

This rule does not exist in certain Eastern thought.  In Buddhist thought, A does not = A.  In the Diamond Sutra, for instance, you hear things along the lines of “Minds are not minds and that is why they are called minds.”  In Buddhist logic, there is no self, either in persons or in things.  This is due to the observation that nothing has an unchanging, independent nature. 

One classic way to demonstrate this is to take something into the sum of its parts.  A person’s body, for instance, isn’t a body but two arms, two legs, a torso and a head.  A head is actually a skull, skin, eyes, ears, and so on.  You will not find a head or a body in any one or even all of its parts. 

A second classic way to consider multiple points of view.  A person is too small to see if you see it from the moon, but huge from the view of the ant.  A person is one thing to his or her mother, another to the enemy, another to the song bird outside the window.

A third is the consider all the factors that shade into one another.  A person needs the earth, with the proper mix of air, soil, and sunshine in order to live.  A person cannot exist apart from a habitable environment, so how can one say that there is a person apart from that environment?

I’ve gone through many of these in my prior posts.

This isn’t to say that A = A should be discarded.  This is simply one view of things.  When an infinite number of variables are ignored, it does appear that A = A.  In a certain, limited, singular realm, this can lead fantastic results: airplanes, atomic bombs, and computers. 

This Buddhist view, one could say, is the rule of totality.  This rule also applies to practice.  In Zen, it is said that the dharma gates are infinite, yet I vow to enter them all.  This is totality.  How can I then say that one dharma gate is superior to another?  Yet on the other hand, one needs to consider also the limited view.  One needs to apply the right remedy to the right sickness.


  1. This description of the west is based on "classic logic," an old and out of date logic that is taking forever to evolve. Check Fuzzy Logic And Quantum Logic. They more effectively take into account that logic is relative.

  2. Great Blog!
    I'm on the same path as you!
    Tao and Zen:)
    We should speak sometime:)

  3. Isn't attachment to the thought "logic is relative. " following the A=A formula Mr. Oxygen?