Brief definition:

Whatever it may be that impacts on our experience but does not appear to be part of that experience itself. An open way of talking about “reality” in the everyday sense, whilst avoiding the metaphysical connotation that “reality” often quickly gathers.

Detailed discussion:

The concepts of ‘conditions’ and ‘adequacy to conditions’ play an important role in Middle Way philosophy. These are philosophically hedged terms that provide a tentative way of referring to truth beyond our experience, that is also compatible with the full recognition that we are limited by our experience. We do not have access to how things really are beyond our experience, and it is remarkably easy to slip into imprecise language that incorporates the assumption that we do have access to how things really are – it is important to guard against such slippage. Nevertheless, objectivity needs not a guarantee, but a direction. Things from beyond our mind and perceptions do constantly impact on us, often in unexpected ways, and objectivity consists in an ability to respond more adequately to those pressures from beyond. The term ‘conditions’ seems the best way of referring to the way things appear to affect us from beyond our experience, without appealing to any kind of supposed “reality” as an epistemological foundation.

The term ‘conditions’ is not limited to, or reducible to, ‘external conditions’. Conditions that we perceive as being beyond ourselves are often inextricably combined with ones from ‘within’ ourselves. Conditions may be physical, social, economic, psychological, or spiritual. To address internal conditions, it may be important for us to avoid addressing outward “reality” for the time being as a necessary defence mechanism, for example to prevent excessive stress. It may also be necessary to temporarily suppress internal conditions (e.g. anger) so as to deal with pressing external issues. Addressing ‘conditions’ as a whole means finding the best available balance between the addressing of inner and outer conditions in the circumstances.

The concept of adequacy to conditions is equivalent to objectivity, and refers to our capacity to understand, investigate, anticipate, and respond appropriately to new experiences that affect us, arising from the perceived external world, from others, or from our own psyches. Adequacy to conditions can also be understood in terms of psychological integration – or more specifically in terms of integration of meaning, desire or belief -, which enable different energies within us to work together in responding to conditions. Such integration is linked to the avoidance of dogmatic beliefs, the development of provisional beliefs, and the development of more concentrated and more emotionally positive states, all of which assist in the adequacy of our response to new conditions. For example, we could have a better or worse response to a conflict with a colleague, an unexpected episode of depression, or the apparent falsification of a cherished theory, given greater integration and thus greater adequacy to those conditions.

The concept of adequacy to conditions should not be confused with other theories about causality or conditionality. For example, it does not depend on a particular metaphysical account of cause (except that we are likely to be more objective if we avoid commitment to such metaphysical accounts). Our adequacy of response to conditions does not depend on a concept of causation as being real or ideal, or even as being linear or mutual (though most Westerners could pragmatically use reflection on mutual causality to reduce their unacknowledged attachment to concepts of linear causality). The concept of conditions here should also not be confused with the Buddhist doctrine of conditionality or pratityasamutpada, as although, again, some Western Buddhists may have made some use of this concept to help liberate them from attachment to concepts of linear causality, pratitysamutpada has itself been made into a metaphysical construction by many Buddhists.

“Conditions” are not a truth about the universe, and there is no justification for a “doctrine of conditionality” as often presented in Buddhism. Nor should conditions be assumed to be in any way personal, ordered, or providentially organised for our benefit: all such assumptions about conditions in general are metaphysical dogmas. Reference to conditions is just a pragmatic way of recognising that “reality” is bigger than we think it is. As soon as “conditions” become more than that, then they start to betray that pragmatic purpose. We need some such term to maintain the balance of the Middle Way, and avoid the possible lapse into idealism that would follow if we were to try to give up all language referring to what lies beyond our experience.


About Robert M Ellis

Robert M Ellis is the founder and chair of the Middle Way Society, and author of a number of books on Middle Way Philosophy, including the introductory 'Migglism' and the more in-depth 'Middle Way Philosophy' series. He has a Christian background, and about 20 years' past experience of practising Buddhism, but it was his Ph.D. studies in Philosophy that set him on the track of developing a systematic account of the Middle Way beyond any specific tradition. He has earned his living mainly by teaching, and more recently by online tutoring.

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