What is the essence of a religion? That is, how can we tell whether someone is a "real" Christian, Hindu, Muslim, Jew, Buddhist, or whatever? What degree of supposed heresy is beyond the bounds of a belief system?
These are tough questions to answer, in part because they are religion-specific.
Hinduism seems to be a lot more accomodating of alternative viewpoints than Christianity is. Yet Mormons usually are considered to be Christian, even though they stretch the gospel truth (so to speak) in some far-out directions.
I got to thinking about this after having a comment interchange with Todd on my "Buddhist atheism irks B. Alan Wallace" post. In his last comment, Todd claimed that there is a consensual core to Buddhist teachings on which all real Buddhists agree.
Brian, you wrote, "....Bachelor's position is as defensible as Wallace's."
Again, this seems to evade Wallace's main issue, which is simply this: "There would be nothing wrong if Batchelor simply rejected the authenticity of the Buddha’s enlightenment and the core of his teachings, but instead he rejects the most reliable accounts of the Buddha’s vision and replaces it with his own, while then projecting it on the Buddha of his imagination."
Wallace is simply citing "the most reliable" accounts, those accounts on which there is complete consensus in Buddhism.
On what does Batchelor base his revisionisms?
"Since there is no evidence that Buddhism was ever agnostic, any assertions about how it lost this status are nothing but groundless speculations, driven by the philosophical bias that he brings to Buddhism."
Well, I'm not a Buddhist scholar. I just enjoy reading Buddhist literature (mostly of the agnostic/atheist variety, such as "Buddhism Without Beliefs," "Land of No Buddha," and Zen'ish writings).
My impression is that there's a heck of a lot of room under the Buddhist tent.
After all, to me the essence of Buddhism is finding a way to deal with the downsides of the human condition, a.k.a. suffering, unfulfilled desires, and other causes of us saying "Ouch!"
This also is how Stephen Bachelor sees Buddhism. Here's some quotes from his "Confession of a Buddhist Atheist" (namely, him).
Gotama's awakening involved a radical shift of perspective rather than the gaining of privileged knowledge into some higher truth. He did not use the words know and truth to describe it. He spoke only of waking up to a contingent ground -- "this-conditionality, conditioned arising" -- that until then had been obscured by his attachment to a fixed position.
While such an awakening is bound to lead to a reconsideration of what one "knows," the awakening itself is not primarily a cognitive act. It is an existential readjustment, a seismic shift in the core of oneself and one's relations to others and the world. Rather than providing Gotama with a set of ready-made answers to life's big questions, it allowed him to respond to those questions from an entirely new perspective.
To live on this shifting ground, one first needs to stop obsessing about what has happened before and what might happen later. One needs to be more vitally conscious of what is happening now. This is not to deny the reality of past and future. It is about embarking on a new relationship with the impermanence and temporality of life.
Instead of hankering after the past and speculating about the future, one sees the present as the fruit of what has been and the germ of what will be. Gotama did not encourage withdrawal to a timeless, mystical now, but an unflinching encounter with the contingent world as it unravels moment to moment.
This sure sounds Buddha-like to me.
Recently I started using the Zen Timer iPhone app during my morning meditation and I feel more enlightened already. Every minute or two I enjoy moving from head-phoned silence to a marvelously realistic bell sound of a Tibetan singing bowl.
There is the bell. Then there isn't. Then there is. And so the meditation goes, just as life goes. Stuff coming and going. Experiences arriving and leaving.
If this isn't Buddhism 101, I've just spent $1.99 on an iPhone app that should have "Zen" stricken from its name. Yet many Buddhists persist in believing that the Buddha's focus was on a supernatural realm, just as other religions teach.
Bachelor has a different take on the Buddha's teachings which resonates well with me.
Gotama declared that his awakening to the contingent ground of life went "against the stream." It was counterintuitive. It went against the instinctive sense of being a timeless witness of one's experience. It contradicted the belief in an eternal soul and, by implication, in the transcendent reality of God.
Rather than disassociating oneself from the world in order to achieve union with God, Gotama encouraged his followers to pay close, penetrating attention to the rise and fall of the phenomenal world itself. The way in which he presented the practice of meditation turned the received wisdom of the day on its head.
Instead of instructing his students to turn their attention inward to contemplate the nature of their soul, he told them to be acutely aware of their bodies, to be calmly mindful of whatever was impacting one's senses in that very moment, noticing its emergence and disappearance, its ephemerality, its impersonality, its joy and its tragedy, its allure, its terror.
There's nothing here about karma that extends over multiple lives, rebirth, and the survival of consciousness in some form after one's death. Yet some Buddhists consider these supernatural notions as essential to their faith, which leads them to view Bachelor -- who doesn't believe in them -- with deep suspicion as an "unreal" Buddhist.
He talks in his most recent book about what happened when "Buddhism Without Beliefs" was published in 1997.
Instead of being the non-contentious introduction to Buddhism that was initially conceived, Buddhism Without Beliefs triggered what Time magazine, in its cover issue on Buddhism in America the following October, called "a civil but ferociously felt argument" about whether it was necessary for Buddhists to believe in karma and rebirth.
I had proposed in the book that one could hold an agnostic position on these points, i.e., keep an open mind without either affirming or denying them. Naively perhaps, I had not anticipated the furor that this suggestion would create.
The ensuing controversy showed that Buddhists could be as fervent and irrational in their views about karma and rebirth as Christians and Muslims could be in their convictions about the existence of God. For some Western converts, Buddhism became a substitute religion every bit as inflexible and intolerant as the religions they rejected before becoming Buddhists.
Strange. Paradoxical. Illogical. Yet not surprising.
The essence of Buddhism is recognizing the contingency, interrelatedness, and ever-changing nature of life. But the human desire to survive as an ego-encapsulated being is strong.
Just because someone says "I'm a Buddhist" doesn't mean they've left behind the supernatural fantasies that the Buddha warned against embracing.
I feel strangely elated the next morning as I visit the shrine in Kushinagar that marks the place where Gotama died. A black stone statue of the reclining Buddha, draped with a yellow robe, lies along the length of the somber room.
...This is where Gotama would have lain down between the sal trees, received Subhadda, and uttered his last words. And this is where those who had not yet achieved freedom of mind "wept and tore their hair, raising their arms, throwing themselves down, twisting and turning, crying 'All too soon! All too soon! The Buddha has passed away!'
While others endured it mindfully and said, 'All compounded things are impermanent -- what is the use of all this fuss?'"
I thought the main criticism of bachelor was that by reinterpreting the Buddhist cannon in a way that made sense to his mind, he was creating a sort of philosophical Buddhism - with a western focus on conceptualization, rather than the more mystical core of actually directly perceiving budha nature or our supposed original nature that of interconnected unity or non-self.
I don't claim to understand much of the specific jibber jabber, but I thought the real aim of all these traditions was to get away from our traditional mode of conceptual thinking (which the western analytical scientific mind is supposedly prone to). I think the criticism of bathelor is that his more rationalistic philosophical version goes against this.
Posted by: George | October 18, 2010 at 11:28 PM
Brian, I never claimed there is a consensual core to Buddhist teachings on which all "real" Buddhists agree.
However, on this point, Wallace is correct, when he wrote about "the countless times the Buddha spoke of the immense importance of rebirth and karma, which lie at the core of his teachings as they are recorded in Pali suttas."
Because, "From a modern academic perspective, the most historically reliable accounts we have of the Buddha’s life and teachings are found in the Pali canon. Most Theravada, Mahayana, and Vajrayana Buddhists acknowledge the authenticity of these Pali writings....."
Posted by: Todd | October 19, 2010 at 08:42 AM
George, I've read all of Bachelor's books and don't have the impression that he's an extreme rationalist. He's big into meditation, and has done a lot of Zen practice. If anything, B. Alan Wallace seems more intellectual, as his writings strike me as considerably denser.
Bachelor's basic critique of Buddhism isn't that it should be more rational and philosophical. Rather, he wants Buddhism to be more like how he sees the original vision of the Buddha to be.
Namely, focused on the direct immediate experience of what is here and now -- not tied up with supernatural speculation about what happens after death and immaterial superpowers/consciousness.
Posted by: Blogger Brian | October 19, 2010 at 08:50 AM
Todd, sorry if I misunderstood you. I just figured that if there is a consensual core to Buddhism on which all Buddhists agree, and this includes the supposed claim that the Buddha was never agnostic, then Bachelor's stance that the Buddha didn't affirm the existence of God or the supernatural would make him an "unreal" Buddhist.
It seems clear that lots of Buddhists are atheists and agnostics. Lots of Buddhists (including Zen practitioners) don't believe in the supernatural: karma extending over past lives, rebirth, survival of one's consciousness after death.
So I don't think it is justifiable for Wallace to say that we know what the Buddha actually taught, or that a belief in supernaturalism is necessary to embrace Buddhism.
Just like in Christianity there are Protestants and Catholics, who have differing views on what Jesus taught, so in Buddhism there is much disagreement on what the Buddha taught.
Wallace strikes me as a fundamentalist who wants every Buddhist to toe the party line, much as the Pope accused Meister Eckhart of heresy in the Middle Ages. I, along with many others, happen to prefer Eckhart's take on Christianity, and I also prefer Bachelor's take on Buddhism to Wallace's much more religious stance.
Posted by: Blogger Brian | October 19, 2010 at 09:02 AM
Again,Wallace's main point of contention is not that "we know what the Buddha actually taught, or that a belief in supernaturalism is necessary to embrace Buddhism.",
but rather, a caution against rampant and prejudiced revisionism:
"A legitimate option is simply to adopt those theories and practices from various Buddhist traditions that one finds compelling and beneficial and set the others aside. An illegitimate option is to reinvent the Buddha and his teachings based on one’s own prejudices." By the way, the former option also happens to be one that is often recommended by teachers such as the Dalai Lama.
Posted by: Todd | October 19, 2010 at 09:46 AM
"A legitimate option is simply to adopt those theories and practices from various Buddhist traditions that one finds compelling and beneficial and set the others aside."
"An illegitimate option is to reinvent the Buddha and his teachings based on one’s own prejudices."
--Is it possible that both the above mention options are not needed. Could the Buddha get rid of both?
Posted by: Roger | October 19, 2010 at 10:27 AM
Todd, not to belabor this point (but I guess I will...)
What bothers me about Wallace's attitude is his words, "based on one's own prejudices." This strikes me as absurdly pretentious and fundamentalist.
No one knows what the Buddha really taught or said. As I noted before, oral traditions were communicated for hundreds of years before being written down.
Now, different sorts of Buddhists take those writings and derive different meanings from them. Zen Buddhists are very different from the sorts of Buddhists who chant "Namu abida butsu" and believe Buddhas hear them in some supernatural realm and will usher them to a glorious paradise when they die.
Wallace has his prejudices. Bachelor has his own. Thus, each to his own in Buddhism. We can't say that one person is in tune with "genuine" Buddhism and another person isn't, because there isn't any benchmark of what the Buddha actually taught.
The best touchstone, of course, is reality. This is where Bachelor's Buddhism surpasses Wallace's, because it isn't supernatural. Neuroscience tells us that meditation changes the brain. It can affect the way we experience life, leading to less stress, anxiety, and suffering, and more happiness.
For Bachelor (and me), this is the core of Buddhism: how we deal with the external and internal problems of the world that cause us distress, suffering, pain.
Bachelor doesn't just make up his own entirely subjective view of Buddhism. He quotes from Buddhist writings and interprets them in his own fashion, just as Wallace does. As I said before, only a Christian fundamentalist would say that only Catholics are following Jesus, or only Protestants are. These are just different ways of practicing Christianity.
Likewise, Buddhism is a big tent which has room for people like Bachelor and Wallace to happily co-exist. My gripe with Wallace is that he tries to denigrate Bachelor's entirely reasonable take on Buddhism as inauthentic and illegitimate, not acknowledging that his own take on Buddhism is based on his own prejudices.
Again, the best referee in this dispute is reality -- if one believes that the Buddha taught a way of getting more in touch with what is real. I think Bachelor wins that contest.
Posted by: Blogger Brian | October 19, 2010 at 10:49 AM
I think Roger has said it best:
"--Is it possible that both the above mention options are not needed. Could the Buddha get rid of both?"
--I think the "Buddha" most likely got rid of everything. It is those that followed who have made something out of nothing.
Posted by: tucson | October 19, 2010 at 11:54 AM
No, the best referee in this dispute is the Buddhist teachings themselves(Dharma/Dhamma), which include the undisputed, consensually accepted Pali literature combined with more than 2,500 years of practice and development.
"Reputable scholars of Buddhism, both traditional and modern, all agree that the historical Buddha taught a view of karma and rebirth that was quite different from the previous takes on these ideas. Moreover, his teachings on the nature and origins of suffering as well as liberation are couched entirely within the framework of rebirth. Liberation is precisely freedom from the round of birth and death that is samsara."
Has Batchelor discovered something more authentically "Buddhist" than this? We may like his take on "reality" better than Buddhism's, which is fine, but that is no reason to try to re-write the history and practice of Buddhism according to our own whims.
The Dalai Lama has also agreed that Buddha/Buddhism might be wrong when contradicted by scientific findings. But we can just admit they are wrong. There's no need to misrepresent the entire tradition.
"...if scientific analysis were conclusively to demonstrate certain claims in Buddhism to be false, then we must accept the findings of science and abandon those claims."--Dalai Lama
Posted by: Todd | October 19, 2010 at 12:19 PM
Todd, I see your point. But is Buddhism supposed to be locked into a pre-scientific faith-based view of reality forever? The Buddha didn't know about neuroscience, evolution, the big bang, and many other areas of modern science.
Christianity has moved beyond a belief that the Earth is the center of the universe. Yet most Buddhists still hold to a belief that the consciousness of a human being is somehow so central to the cosmos that it continues on after death.
Also, I still think that Bachelor is on solid ground in questioning whether we have good reason to believe that after several hundred years of oral communications, what is now called "Buddhism" bears a close resemblance to what the Buddha taught.
And even if it does, if Buddhism is to be something than a faith-based religion like Christianity and Islam, it needs to start founding its beliefs on reality, not on sacred scriptures.
Here's a challenge for Buddhists to provide evidence that reincarnation and karma are real:
I doubt that anyone has been able to respond to the challenge. So why should Buddhists believe in this stuff, when they don't believe in many other unscientific views that the Buddha and others of his time held?
Posted by: Blogger Brian | October 19, 2010 at 12:38 PM
oh right, yeah I don't really claim to know much about budhhism, but I have just read a book by Suzuki (that great motorcycle inventor) comparing Christian mysticism, eckhart, with zen and shin.
I think I prefer the eastern stuff to the Christian stuff, but I do wonder if your preferred version of budhism and taoism is perhaps so far removed from the core mystical direct experienced, that it perhaps goes against the very conceptual philosophical analyzing mind that it tries to avoid.
I too struggle with the karma and reincarnation and wierd cosmologies but perhaps they are metaphors fir some sort of psychological state - tho I doubt the mystics would agree with even this
Posted by: George | October 19, 2010 at 02:53 PM
"But is Buddhism supposed to be locked into a pre-scientific faith-based view of reality forever? The Buddha didn't know about neuroscience, evolution, the big bang, and many other areas of modern science."
Right, that is why Wallace wrote, "A legitimate option is simply to adopt those theories and practices from various Buddhist traditions that one finds compelling and beneficial and set the others aside."
Posted by: Todd | October 19, 2010 at 03:20 PM
Where do Rajinder moles go upon death ?
Posted by: Mike Williams | October 19, 2010 at 03:52 PM
What happened when Gurinder saw this website ?
Posted by: Mike Williams | October 19, 2010 at 04:27 PM
Todd, I've enjoyed our interchange. It reminds me of the old saying about fishing: "The worst day fishing is better than the best day working."
Likewise, for me the worst thing about Buddhism is better than the best thing about the monotheistic religions -- Christianity, Islam, Judaism.
I find these debates about the essential nature of Buddhism interesting, but they don't affect my basic affection for this wonderful philosophy/life practice.
I'm sure we agree on that.
Posted by: Blogger Brian | October 19, 2010 at 06:11 PM
Thank you for the opportunity Brian, and thanks also to Zakk_Zakk for his input.
Posted by: Todd | October 20, 2010 at 05:42 AM
So, to keep the -ism in Buddhism, and -ist in Buddhist, one would need to accept the only option of simply adopting those theories and practices from various Buddhist traditions that one finds compelling and beneficial and set the others aside.
This would be the Religion of Buddhism. And the follower of such religion would be a Buddhist. Ok, that sounds fine.
Posted by: Roger | October 20, 2010 at 10:58 AM
"rampant and prejudiced revisionism"
Good post by Todd
Same thing happend when Jesus died. The apostles debated if all new Christians
should become Jews first. There were
great arguments over this and a division
The man whom had the greatest impact
on Christianity was Paul of Tarsus. He
never saw Christ. He revised the Christian
logic decades after Christ died and won
Take a modern day master such as Ramana
Maharshi. Basically he was translated into English by a fellow named Goodman.
He transliterated Ramana into his ideas
of what Ramana was saying. Not on purpose.
For Goodman to have done it correct, he would have had to have been enlightened.
To understand Nisargadatta and Ramana
is very difficult due to the rhetoric
they had to deal with from questioneers.
That's why Ramesh Balsekar was refreshing.
He had perfect control of the English language. But, still uses words like Awareness, which have different meanings
than we are used too.
The complete stripping of all rhetoric
was achieved by Bernedette Roberts in her classic book, The Realization of No Self.
Buddha, when asked if there was an afterlife, would not answer the question.
The official documentary on TV recently
also stated this.
Ramana, when asked if there was an afterlife, aked the questioneer back,
"Are you sure you were ever born ?"
How can we get off the cycle of births and deaths if there never was any self ?
What we escape is the "belief" there ever
was a cycle of births. Just like we escape
the "idea" we ever had a self.
But, unenlightened people, until they realize no self, will think it means
getting off charasi the wheel.
There was never any wheel, or self.
Man is the only animal with these delusions.
Enlightenment cannot be, if a self never
Any process to discover ones self, or realize ones self, is futile.
"Give a savage a watch and he believes
it has a soul."
"There is no God, therefore Jesus cannot be."
Quote Mother Teresa, whom died recently
Posted by: Mike Williams | October 21, 2010 at 02:32 AM
The Fuzzy and Nebulous Concepts
These religious concepts dominate
civilised human beings.
Take a Radhasoami, a Mormon, a Krishna, a Buddhist.
Take any you can think of.
There is no clear cut thinking in any religion, or yoga.
Look at how fast cults seperate and devide.
How many Christian Churches, how many Muslim sects, how many Radhasoami groups, how many Buddhist groups.
No sooner do they start up, then they branch off and devide.
Right now Summa Ching Hai has the fastest growing Radhasoami group in the world.
But, although she uses the five name initiation, she discarded the name Radhasoami. Rajinder and
Kirpal also tried to hide from it.
Instead they call Radhasoami Pad Anami Lok.
Summa Ching Hai was initiated by Thakar Singh in New York and spent 6 months there. Thakar was a Kirpal successor. She is so
rich they call her the material girl. She donated $500,000 in one chunk to a USA
Quan Yin Method is what Summa Ching Hai calls Radhasoami Yoga, or surat shabda yoga, now.
From Radhasoami, to Anami Parush, to Quan Yin Method in little over one hundred years since Salig Ram invented the RS faith. And, lets not forget Paul Twitchell,
a Kirpal initiate, whom invented ECKANKAR.
Yogananda Group gives the same initiation as RS and has Sat Lok as highest.
There were thousands of masters in Buddha's time.
Many in Jesus time, including John the Baptist.
One of the 12 apostles went to India.
We know Girdhari Das was Swami Ji's master and Tulsi Sahib was Girdhari's master. But, Girdhari Das was a branch off master (usurper) not recognised by the Tulsi Group.
Kirpal tried to connect the last Sikh Guru
with the Radhasoami lineage, but failed.
But, he had the right idea.
Posted by: Mike Williams | October 21, 2010 at 03:23 AM
All these millions, billions of people through the ages via a myriad of religions, yogas, paths, cults, masters, gurus, avatars, priests and popes, imams and rabbis, rites, rituals, saints, shamans, psychics, brujos, witches and and more.
For one reason. To perpetuate a self they are terrified will be lost for eternity at death. A self they desperately seek to perpetuate that exists only in imagination.
Posted by: tucson | October 21, 2010 at 08:38 AM
"To perpetuate a self they are terrified will be lost for eternity at death. A self they desperately seek to perpetuate that exists only in imagination."
We humans are in a bad spot. We turn over any rock in hopes of finding the eternal.
We do not worry about the universe being eternal, we only worry about our 'selfs'.
Posted by: Mike Williams | October 21, 2010 at 11:29 AM
The strongest instinct programmed into every living being including human beings is the survival instinct. Life struggles to survive, very few organisms choose to overcome this instinct, perhaps only humans.
Posted by: George | October 21, 2010 at 01:38 PM
I can't really understand what the nondualist position is.
It seems to be that there are no things, no subjects or objects, and yet here we are in a world which plainly consists of things.
If there is only one sort of universal mind, why do we all have subjective thoughts, sensory inputs and perspectives.
Subjective consciousness is surely what is in the world of jibber jabber known as 'self'.
So if there is no self or subjective consciousness, why can't you read my thoughts, nor I yours and why if there is only one universal mind or consciousness is it manifested individually in so many different forms, albeit illusorily?
It just makes no sense
Posted by: George | October 21, 2010 at 01:51 PM
George, I also get confused about nondualism. But the neuroscientific notion that the "self" does not exist makes a lot more sense to me.
"No self" doesn't equate to "no subjectivity." It just means that what we are isn't an ego-encapsulated distinct entity, separate from everyone and everything else.
We're connected to the world by many different sorts of matter/energy interchanges. Yes, evolution has resulted in our brain having an advanced variety of subjectivity, where we are not only conscious but also self-aware of being conscious.
There's good scientific reason to consider, though, that our sensation of "me-ness" as a distinct entity is an illusion. Again, this isn't exactly non-dualism -- more like non-religious Buddhism.
Posted by: Blogger Brian | October 21, 2010 at 08:19 PM
If a subject looks, subject sees an object. When a subject is seen looking at an object the subject becomes an object and is no longer a subject. When a subject looks at itself, it no longer sees anything because there can't be anything to see since the subject, not being an object as subject, can't be seen. This is known as "mirror-void". It is the absence of anything seen, of anything seeable, which subject is. What we are is the looking, the seeing, the sensing, the perceiving, but there is no looker, seer, etc.
At this point the mind still tries to grasp at something to understand, to make "mirror-void" a thing that can be known, to make sense of. But It is not an it. It is the transcendence of subject and object, just this-as-it-is-ness. All that can be said is that total absence is the presence of all that seems to be. And that won't help much either as the mind strains to grasp something that can't be understood in relativity. It can't be known objectively. Hence, our frustration in trying to make sense out of it.
Posted by: tucson | October 21, 2010 at 08:48 PM
There is no universal consciousness. There
is only universal energy.
There is no universal mind. No such thing
as mind exists. Mind is a mystical term.
Consciousness is the end result effect of evolution, not the cause of evolution.
Only with living beings did consciousness
occur. So, consciousness will be personal
to the entity.
There is also no higher consciousness and
no higher Self.
Duality and non duality. If a person
realizes no self, there can be no others.
Such a person see everything as him self.
The body is not a line of demarcation.
For such a person to try and save his soul would be a funny idea, if he sees everyone as himself.
Your point on evolution survival instinct
is very good. We transfer it to a soul which
P.S. Thankyou to Tara and tucson
Posted by: Mike Williams | October 22, 2010 at 01:31 AM
It still does not answer the question, which is why do I think different thoughts to YOU and why can't I read YOUR thoughts nor you mine?
Even if these subjective thoughts are illusory, why are they manifested seperately at all?
I think therefore I am.
Who or what is doing this thinking if not I, and why is this thinking not the same for all if not purely subjective?
Posted by: George | October 22, 2010 at 03:16 AM
Also insofar as interconnectivity goes, we need to be accurate.
My consciousness in not connected to your consciousness, just as my brain is not connected to your brain. Indeed we not only each have unique fingerprints, but unique brains.
One of the reasons for thus uniqueness is the random mutations of our DNA and another is the complex environmental inputs that affect us all individually which explains why identical twins do not think the same thoughts. Indeed you need to share rhe sane brain, siamese twins, to think the same thoughts.
Why overcomplicate what is cleary self-evident and has emperical proof for, by instead inventing a nondual reality which not only raises more questions than it solves, but also for which there is no emperical evidence for whatsoever?
Posted by: George | October 22, 2010 at 03:30 AM
Could you describe a "nondualist" position?
Just take one, and decribe it in detail. Make sure that your description has absolutely no "dualist" content. I want to see if I can get confused in a similiar manner. Thanks for your help.
Posted by: Roger | October 22, 2010 at 07:56 AM
Well I guess it is the lack of a consistent accurate definition which frustrates me most. There appear to be gradations of nondualists.
Some nondualists, for example tAo seem reluctant to go further than the most barren of definitions, ie 'not-two' (I suspect because he realizes there are potential problems with any further qualifications), Brian appears to goes slightly further in believing everything is ultimately interconnected, Mike appears to go slighly further in defining this oneness as universal energy, and Tucson perhaps goes the furthest towards mysticism in stating this oneness is universal mind.
Posted by: George | October 22, 2010 at 10:19 AM
George, a clarification on my view:
I don't believe that everything in the cosmos is connected with everything else (in any discernible fashion, at least). This seemingly would make existence into a sort of chaotic "mush," since me picking up a cup of coffee could lead to changes that would make a supernovae explode five billion light years away.
Rather, I accept the scientific proposition that everything in the universe has interchanges of matter/energy with other things in the universe. Nothing stands alone, separate and distinct, like an immortal soul or eternally existing consciousness.
Posted by: Blogger Brian | October 22, 2010 at 10:29 AM
All those descriptions, you mentioned, are dualistic terms. Any definition is going to be dualistic. That said, you, me, and the others can make sense out of any dualistic conversation. If clarity is needed, then you, me, others will ask questions. Clarity, in dualistic conversation, many times, does come about. No need to be concerned, just pray that the Texas Rangers win tonight. Please do that!!! GO RANGERS!!!!!
Posted by: Roger | October 22, 2010 at 10:35 AM
Roger it would language, concepts and thoughts itself are dualstic dependng on the definition so who knows what is trying to be said or understood. Seems pointless. There is no way to confirm or deny what is being said because nothing is being said.
Posted by: George | October 22, 2010 at 12:09 PM
A sage named Hui Hai said:
"Perceptions employed as a base for building up positive concepts are the origin of all ignorance."
(as far as the intuitive perception of the truth of non-duality or no-self is concerned)
"Apperceiving that there is nothing to perceive is deliverance."
Objects have no existence other than as a perception in mind.
You may believe that things actually have objective, separate existence, but do you know that for sure?
Mind also has no objective existence except as a conceptualized perception.
This statement has no existence other than as a conceptualized perception.
You may say, Who made the statement?
What is meant by 'Who'? 'Who' is also a conceptualized perception and there never was one outside mind, nor any 'Who' to ask the question or any 'Who' to answer it.
'Who' is a figure of speech, a theory, a symbol.
So, what is there? Such a question cannot be asked if there is not a subject to ask it. Where is the 'who' to ask it? 'Who' would answer it?
The absence of question and answer, indicating the absence of any entity to ask or not ask, to answer or not answer, is release from relativity.
That's the answer ;)
Posted by: tucson | October 22, 2010 at 02:41 PM
"Some nondualists, for example tAo seem reluctant to go further than the most barren of definitions, ie 'not-two' (I suspect because he realizes there are potential problems with any further qualifications)"
George, let me please clairify to you that i am, most certainly, not a "nondualist". in fact, i don't subscribe to the non-dualist philosopy at all.
I am foremost a Vaishnava -- a devotee of the supreme personality of godhead, Bhagavan Sri Krsna.
I subscribe to a qualified dualism, not non-dualism.
i follow the Brahma-Madhva-Gaudiya sampradaya of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu... and in that sense, i very much subscribe to the theological doctrine known as 'achintya-bheda-abheda tattva', or 'inconceiveable simultaneous oneness and difference'.
more info here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Achintya_Bheda_Abheda
Acintya-bheda-ābheda is a school of Vedanta which represents the philosophy of 'inconceivable one-ness and difference', in relation to the power, creation, and creator - Sri Krsna, svayam bhagavan - and also between Krsna and his various energies... within the Gaudiya Vaishnava tradition.
In Sanskrit "achintya" means 'inconceivable', "bheda" translates as 'difference', and "abheda" translates as 'one-ness'. This philosophy was taught by Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, and differentiates the Gaudiya tradition from the other Vaishnava Sampradayas.
Sri Caitanya's philosophy of acintya-bhedābheda-tattva completed the progression to devotional theism. Rāmānuja agreed with Śaṅkara that the Absolute is one only, but he had disagreed by affirming individual variety within that oneness. Madhvacharya had underscored the eternal duality of the Supreme and the Jīva. He maintained that this duality endures even after liberation. Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, in turn, specified that the Supreme and the jīvas are "inconceivably, simultaneously one and different" (acintya-bheda-abheda). Chaitanya strongly opposed Śaṅkara's philosophy for its defiance of Vyāsadeva's siddhānta.
Ishvara, Krsna, is simultaneously "one with and different from, His creation". In this sense Vaishnava theology is not pantheistic as in no way does it deny the separate existence of God (Vishnu or Krsna) in His own personal form. However, at the same time, creation (or what is termed in Vaishnava theology as the 'cosmic manifestation') is never separated from God. Krsna always exercises supreme control over his creation. Sometimes directly, but most of the time indirectly through his different potencies or energies (prakrti).
Posted by: tAo | October 22, 2010 at 03:33 PM
" Krsna always exercises supreme control over his creation."
The Radhasoami Tradition actually comes
from a base of Krishna.
Salig Ram, founder of RS faith, transposed
Radha Soami from Radha Krishna. He was
brought up Hindu, as opposed from his master
Swami Ji, whom was Sikh.
Oddly enough, one of Swami Ji's brothers
was named Brindraban. There is a city in India named this, which is known for
Krishna type masters.
I was initiated by one of these masters many
years ago. They have you produce a manufactured image of Krishna and feel
love and affection for it.
Very much like Radhasoamis use the form of their master.
During my initiation, I saw the radiant form
of Krishna dancing.
But, a dog barked outside the building
and all of a sudden I saw a dancing dog.
So, I learned early on what Faquir Chand
said was correct. The radiant form is
created in ones mind.
Since I have been initiated by most RS groups, I have met people from every group
whom see the radiant form of their master.
Since all RS groups now days have fake masters this pretty much
tells the story.
It is funny RS considers Krishna the Devil,
or Kal. This would mean RS has a higher
devil in Radha Swami.
At what point does one get past Satan
to God with yoga ?
If Satan does exist, he certainly has found a way to get us to worship him with surat shabda yoga.
If Krishna has complete control of this world, he must have fallen asleep.
It's funny people always ask me if I believe
in God. They never ask me if I believe
Satan could exist.
I have indeed seen an evil force in this world. One which I cannot reconcile with logic. This force has power and can create
things such as inner experience.
I believe Kirpal and Darshan were the most
evil people I have ever met.
It was as if Satan was looking through their eyes.
I know this is not my usual pragmatic post.
But, I prefer to tell people what I have seen and let them figure out what I cannot.
I am an atheist and do not believe in God.
But, Jesus was quoted as saying, " In the
last days Satan will come in the form of preaching love."
These masters preach love and exude hate.
They do the most horrible things. They rationalise all their wicked actions.
Posted by: Mike Williams | October 22, 2010 at 08:35 PM
(Continuing with my Krishna initiation)
It was at the East West Center in Los Angeles. This master with a mile long name
I can't remember now, without digging up his book.
I was studying Aurobindo at the time along
with Gurdjieff and Ouspensky.
This master exuded all sorts of love in
the room he was talking to people. Beautiful smiles and gestures. He looked
like a Saint of love.
After the session, he walked out to the car
down below and sat in the passengers seat.
He had a growl on his face and was disturbed.
I started asking him questions very politely.
He was not only rude, but mean as a snake.
I was completely shocked. Every pore of his body exuded contempt.
This was my exact experience with Darshan.
Beautiful on camera, a deranged man off camera.
The Saints know how to pose. They learn
this craft early on.
Although Charan lied like a champ in
his Beas books, Kirpal surpassed him.
Kirpal was the greatest liar I have ever discovered in my search.
Absolutely lied about everything.
No conscience whatsoever.
I am very convinced he was a severe schizophrenic.
A complete madman. He was a mean bastard off camera with contempt for mankind.
Posted by: Mike Williams | October 22, 2010 at 09:19 PM
How does Dzogchen fit into all this?
Posted by: tucson | October 22, 2010 at 09:57 PM
"it would language, concepts and thoughts itself are dualstic dependng on the definition so who knows what is trying to be said or understood. Seems pointless. There is no way to confirm or deny what is being said because nothing is being said."
Now, in our subject/object realm, we can make sense out of things. All is an illusion, however, in duality many things/ processes can be made sense of.
That said, the TEXAS RANGERS need to keep winning!!!!!!!
Posted by: Roger | October 23, 2010 at 07:33 AM
Dzogchen talked of the unconditioned state.
That's a good idea since conditioning is
what causes the notion of the self and
The Zen were one of the largest contributors
to the Mitsubishi aircraft building plant
during WW 11 in Japan.
When I got out of USC I was an accountant
working on Wilshire Blvd in LA.
I dove my fancy sports car to work and
wore silk ties, 3 piece suits, and lizard skin shoes.
When I exited the freeway there was a Buddhist monk house. Scores of people in
Orchard (orange) colored robes were always
walking around the neighborhood.
They would play in a big sand box in back of
this old white house with a rake curving designs.
They had had problems with the neighbors
I didn't know about.
So one day I pulled my car into their driveway.
I get out and walk to the back of the house
where the sand box is located. They had spent all day putting a design in the sand.
I took my foot and messed up all their sand
while they stood there stunned. I thought
they had passed my test.
At least till the Zen master ran out the back door and cracked me accross the back of my neck with his stick.
I turned around and smiled at him.
He had failed the test.
Posted by: Mike Williams | October 23, 2010 at 08:01 AM
Bwtween Zen and the jnani
In the same situation the Zen master failed
the test, the jnani would not have.
Being spontaneous does not make one right.
For the subconscious reacts in its old patterns.
The jnani having no self and not even a subconscious notion of it, would not have reacted that way.
The jnani would have raced out the back door
and presented me with an ice cold Budweiser
and a White Owl cigar.
As he would have lit my cigar, he would have said something to the effect, "I've
been waiting a long time for someone to do that."
Posted by: Mike Williams | October 23, 2010 at 08:23 AM
After messing up the image, in the sand, the Zen master should have come out and kissed you on the cheek. After all, it was just a symbolic illusion, nothing more. In addition, as an act of kindness, the master person should have wiped any sand off your foot, then offered you lunch.
Posted by: Roger | October 23, 2010 at 08:29 AM
interesting, but I too would like to know the answer to Tucsons follow-up question?
Also, surely you also see why ppl struggle with seemingly contradictory definitions like 'inconceivable oneness and difference'
Posted by: George | October 23, 2010 at 12:38 PM
George (and blog readers), that is why it is prefaced by "inconceivable".
some additional resources:
Bhagavad Gita (with purports) - listen online in audio-book format:
Bhagavad Gita in text format:
Sri Isopanishad - main index of links to verses and purports:
main index of links to verses and purports:
Bhaktivedanta books - complete & available for reading online:
regarding dzogghen: dzogchen simply pertains to the primal nature of awareness.
Posted by: tAo | October 23, 2010 at 04:44 PM
Hello folks, sorry to be dragging this back to the start of the comments but I got here about a week late. Just a couple of comments, if I may.
Todd quoted Wallace saying, "A legitimate option is simply to adopt those theories and practices from various Buddhist traditions that one finds compelling and beneficial and set the others aside. An illegitimate option is to reinvent the Buddha and his teachings based on one’s own prejudices." I'd like to point out that a lot of words get shaped around objections to "Cafeteria Buddhism" and the way these new age types tend to pick and choose from Buddhism; I find it a little ironic to have someone defending the traditional understanding of Buddhism encouraging others to pick and choose.
I do recognize that Todd is suggesting it's okay to pick and choose, but it's not okay to rewrite history with comments like, "Reputable scholars of Buddhism...all agree that the historical Buddha taught a view of karma and rebirth that was quite different from the previous takes on these ideas. Moreover, his teachings on the nature and origins of suffering as well as liberation are couched entirely within the framework of rebirth." Wouldn't any scholar who said the Buddha didn't teach karma and rebirth not have a good reputation with folks like Wallace? Anyway, the Buddha didn't teach a view of anything; he taught that we shouldn't hold views at all. Ipso facto, he didn't teach a different view of karma and rebirth, but he did redefine them to mean something else, something not requiring that we hold a view. As for his teachings on suffering being "couched entirely within the framework of rebirth" dependent origination, which is a teaching on the origin of suffering, doesn't mention rebirth or karma.
After the above quote, Todd said, "Has Batchelor discovered something more authentically 'Buddhist' than this?" and a bit later, "There's no need to misrepresent the entire tradition."
That last word is intriguing. I don't see Batchelor as misrepresenting tradition, but he perhaps disagrees with what the Traditions say the Buddha taught (and not all of what the traditions say, just a portion of it). What is most authentically the Buddha's may be different from what is authentically Buddhist (the latter covers a lot of territory; we need to try to figure out how well the two match up).
What's missing from the discussion going on between the Traditions and what they seem to see as Western Revisionists is a call for a fresh look at the Pali canon and some crisply applied scholarship. I am confident that a perfectly consistent doctrine is still in there, somewhat laden in dust, under which we find it muddied by its transmission through time, but still visible, and modern techniques like philology, archeology, and so on can find it. The conservative nature of the traditions is a blessing to us all; I find the accuracy of canon astounding after thousands of years (the more so the more I study it) but it's now fixed in place, digitized all over the globe; the danger of any significant change to the words is now past. Never before have individuals been able to have the whole work and all the varieties that were transmitted to distant lands before them; never before has there been the ability to have the best minds of our time who are interested in Buddhism join forces across the globe and study the text to see what's there -- rather than settling for being told what we should see there.
Posted by: Star | October 24, 2010 at 12:32 AM
".......never before has there been the ability to have the best minds of our time who are interested in Buddhism join forces across the globe and study the text to see what's there -- rather than settling for being told what we should see there."
---So, I am among the 'lesser' minds that will be told what to see there, by the 'best' minds of our current time, who are interested in Buddhism. Why did it happen, that I should get stuck with the 'lesser' mind and thus be enslaved(settled) with being told what I should see there? Poor me, I am the lesser of the internet bunch. Well, today I shall prepare to get settled.
Posted by: Roger | October 24, 2010 at 11:42 AM
How do we know what the Buddha said or didn't say, taught or didn't teach? How do we know this character even existed as such...THE Buddha?
Many buddhists or buddhist scholars think they know, but it is most likely a tradition that they have been taught to believe, or believe to be authentic through opinion based on research that will always be questionable. In other words, whatever the consensus is, it is just an idea, an opinion, something dreamed up.
The words of this supposed Bhuddha person were not put into writing until four centuries after his death and in a language different than his. Four hundred years, different language! What more can I say?
So, whatever words were recorded, they were not his. He is credited with so many different words by various scholars that if he had said them all he probably died of a throat hemorrhage.
Buddhism is based on tradition, superstition and faith whose origin cannot be accurately traced with certainty. Therefore, Bhuddism is blind faith and faith is unreliable unless the veracity of it can be ascertained...you watch a carpenter frame a house, so you know he can do it. You frame a house so you know you can do it.
Any belief is potentially false unless it is based on direct perception. How do we know the perception is direct and true? Certainly, as far as anyone reading this is concerned, these words are false because I said them. See for yourself whatever there is to see or not see and know if it is true or not. You are on your own. No one can help you. The only truth is your truth.
If you are suffering due to the desire for truth and the lack of it, there is one thing. Hope. This may be mincing words, but hope is less delusional than faith. It is honest.
Posted by: tucson | October 24, 2010 at 03:48 PM
tuscon: Have you spent much time reading the suttas? I started reading them several years back with about the same views you express here. I am increasingly surprised at how faithfully those who passed the Pali suttas on managed to preserve a logical doctrine; not perfectly, and definitely not in the exact words of the Buddha, but the ideas are there: the doctrine as presented, and the underlying story, and the "voice" of the person doing the teaching is very consistent. I've never seen a committee come up with anything that works this well and is as uniformly presented. If the Buddha didn't exist then it seems to me the fictional character had to have been made up by one person or at most a very small group of contemporaneous collabors and in that case whomsoever made up the Buddha his story must have been as brilliant as the Buddha and then some (to have made up the story of his life's events to fit together on top of coming up with the insight).
"Buddhism is based on tradition, superstition and faith whose origin cannot be accurately traced with certainty. Therefore, Buddhism is blind faith"
Yes, Buddhism is a tradition filled with superstition that requires faith. But what the Buddha taught, as described in the suttas,is not "a tradition" but is insight and skills like your carpenter's into working with wood. Buddhism is only blind faith as far as apprentices' faith in their teacher's ability to show them how to hammer in a nail. Get that first nail in, no more faith is needed; now we can have confidence in our own ability and can be as willing as any craftsman or scientist to keep on testing. I'd much rather check my understanding of what's in the suttas by testing it in my life, and seeing how well it works in the lives of those I've come to know who also follow it, than aim to reduce suffering with either faith or hope.
Posted by: star | October 24, 2010 at 09:28 PM
Hello Roger. I wrote a response in which I played off your submission to slavery with my own naivete, encouraging you to not see yourself as a lesser mind, but in the end it seems to me being arch and clever is not a useful tool when trying to communicate.
I am not sure how you read, in what I wrote, that I was saying that the greatest minds of our times should come up with an answer and enforce others into slavery to their ideas. No group of great minds I've ever encountered even comes up with an answer they all agree on, never mind an interest in forcing others to accept views they don't agree with. (I have read about people who have really good minds who do this, but the class of thinkers I'm calling "great" want others to check their work, not accept blindly.)
Is there really something to fear in having experts from a variety of fields take a fresh look at Buddhism? Do you envision something like an attempt at creating a New World Order of Buddhists who will destroy the traditions? In your opinion, could cross-discipline experts in Sanskrit and Vedism, in archeology and Pali, in memetics and philology, find something so convincing that the traditional understanding would be wiped out? If it did, how do you imagine it might come about, and what would the consequences be, what would you see as the harm that was being done?
If there is something to fear, can you express it without sarcasm or use of metaphors (like slavery) so a straightforward mind like mine will be able to understand that fear? Maybe fear is not the right word; please substitute whatever is suitable. My questions may come off as vague or even impertinent but that's only because I genuinely can't understand what it is that you are seeing that generated your sarcastic comment, and I would really like to know what it is you see.
Posted by: Starsitter Quality | October 24, 2010 at 10:43 PM
Star (and others),
I don't know if THE Buddha existed or not, but I agree with you that "the underlying story", as you put it, "the bottom line", as I would put it, has remained consistent at least in certain traditions for a very long time possibly even long before the supposed time of THE Buddha. Buddhism has a lot to offer. It is a great way worthy of the respect it receives.
But, until the moment that you drive the nail of truth for yourself, whatever you believe about Buddhist teachings remains faith, conceptual and possibly/probably delusion.
People, usually religious types, occasionally ask me what I believe. Anything that I say is actually misleading because I don't believe anything except this moment and that doesn't require belief. I understand something, but I can't explain it to anyone's satisfaction or mine for that matter. It isn't anything to be or that can be explained.
Anyway, even though it creates different conceptual pictures depnding on the person's idea of Buddhism, I say I am sort of an informal, non-practicing Buddhist and hope that is good enough for them and they leave it at that. I am even worse talking about this stuff than I am writing about it.
For a while I tried saying I was sort of a non-dualist or advaitist just to see how it would work out, but it got me into hot water trying to explain what I meant by that, so I went back to the Buddhist label. People are more comfortable with that term. It's a familiar word like christian, jew, muslim or even mormon. I like Buddhism and have affinity with it, but really I'm nothing at all.
Posted by: tucson | October 25, 2010 at 12:30 AM
Thanks for your message.
You did mention,
“I have read about people who have really good minds who do this, but the class of thinkers I'm calling "great" want others to check their work, not accept blindly.”
---So, a class of “great” thinkers wants others to check their work, and not accept blindly? Therefore a class of “regular” thinkers would require blind acceptance.
"Is there really something to fear in having experts from a variety of fields take a fresh look at Buddhism?"
---What is this "something" you're identifying as fear? Nothing wrong with taking a fresh look at something. Is the "fresh" look going to be better than a ‘greatest’ look? I’m guessing an expert only generates something fresh.
"Do you envision something like an attempt at creating a New World Order of Buddhists who will destroy the traditions?"
--Nothing wrong with traditions. Why would I want to envision something like an attempt at creating a New World Order of Buddhists who will destroy the traditions? Do I have to be an expert to do that kind of envisioning? Maybe so, I’m just regular.
"In your opinion, could cross-discipline experts in Sanskrit and Vedism, in archeology and Pali, in memetics and philology, find something so convincing that the traditional understanding would be wiped out?"
---IMO, any kind cross-disipline expert could/can find something. Who would these cross-disipline experts be trying to convince? As a “lesser” thinker, do I need something to be convinced of being wiped out?
"If it did, how do you imagine it might come about, and what would the consequences be, what would you see as the harm that was being done?"
---I’m just a “lesser” class of thinker, so I would hire a “greater” thinking expert to do my imagining. Don't forget, i'm just regular.
"If there is something to fear, can you express it without sarcasm or use of metaphors (like slavery) so a straightforward mind like mine will be able to understand that fear?"
---Star, not sure if you are a “greater” thinking expert, however, if so, could you train me as to what this “something” to fear is? Thanks for any help you can bring my way. In addition, what is a mind?
Can a mind really become staightforward?
"Maybe fear is not the right word; please substitute whatever is suitable."
---I don’t know another word. I need trainng from an expert. After my training, I will then be convinced of another word. I will then be settled into a better class. I will like this.
Posted by: Roger | October 25, 2010 at 08:46 AM
Hey tucson, I know what you mean about the difficulty of communicating our own understanding, especially of such deep concepts, but I'm thankful for all the people who don't give up trying despite the slipperiness (emptiness) of words or I'd never have been exposed to the wisdom found in Buddhism. All the different ways people have of expressing what they see are useful, because no one approach can reach everyone. I agree that "Buddhist" is a flexible label, but it can be a good starting place from which to refine understanding down to the individual level.
You say you don't believe anything, but I believe you're mistaken. ; ) You believe in possibilities. You believe it's possible what's presented as "the Buddha's teachings" are older than the Buddha. You believe he may not have existed at all. Maybe what you mean is that you don't have confidence in the Buddha being an historical person who lived sometime around 500 BCE?
Posted by: star | October 25, 2010 at 10:36 AM
Hello again Roger. Your answers seem unfocused enough to me that I'm having a hard time understanding just what you're saying. So, rather than continuing at length here, I'd like to ask you to give me an honest answer to my question below, because I have no desire to take up time or space for entertainment value alone.
Honestly, now, is this:
"So, a class of 'great' thinkers wants others to check their work, and not accept blindly? Therefore a class of “regular” thinkers would require blind acceptance."
a question based on your deepest understanding of my question, or are you playing with me? If the former, then I'm glad to chat with you further about these subjects, but unless Brian posts a note saying he's okay with us taking over the thread with sheer volume, it would be best if we carry on the conversation privately (you can post a note to my blog using your email address and I'll contact you). If the latter, and these last two posts represent your best ability to move a conversation forward, then, well, never mind. If the truth lies somewhere between, perhaps we can talk.
Posted by: star | October 25, 2010 at 11:05 AM
Thanks again for your message. Best wishes to you.
You did mention,
"Your answers seem unfocused enough to me that I'm having a hard time understanding just what you're saying."
---Yes, I'm capable of generating unfocused answers. Likewise, having a hard time understanding(what is said) occurs all the time.
"....because I have no desire to take up time or space for entertainment value alone."
---Okay. Would a 'greater' class of thinker feel that way too? I'm prepared to be separated.
".....but unless Brian posts a note saying he's okay with us taking over the thread with sheer volume,...."
---Yes, Brian could and can post a note. I have done my share of hijacking. I am prepared to be deleted.
"If the latter, and these last two posts represent your best ability to move a conversation forward, then, well, never mind."
---As a 'lesser' thinker, the last two posts would be a representation a 'best' ability to engage in movement. And, there may be something to this 'never' mind. Or no-mind.
Posted by: Roger | October 25, 2010 at 11:58 AM
Star wrote: "Maybe what you mean is that you don't have confidence in the Buddha being an historical person who lived sometime around 500 BCE?"
--I read somewhere that the Buddha may have been the last of seven or so Abbots or Patriarchs of a Nepalese tradition. Apparantly these teachings are well documented in Nepal and may have been brought to full fruition by Sakyamuni. However, several independent traditions at the time, originating from different patriarchs, may have been preserved and somehow combined or confused with those of Sakyamuni at a later time. Some of these may have ended up as the Pali Scriptures, or not.
It may be that the Buddha OR one of the other Patriarchs transmitted teachings to certain disciples that re-emerged later as Mahayana. But even if it was transmitted by Sakyamuni it is also possible that he inherited the teachings or doctrine from an older source as well. There may be a long series of prehistoric Buddhas extending way into the distant past before the "Buddha".
Practically speaking, all this doesn't matter. Whatever the origin, there is a consistent and cohesive body of teachings available now that can be studied and followed, the truth of which will be known when a person knows it and not until then.
Posted by: tucson | October 25, 2010 at 01:22 PM
Star wrote "I do recognize that Todd is suggesting it's okay to pick and choose, but it's not okay to rewrite history with comments like, "Reputable scholars of Buddhism...all agree that the historical Buddha taught a view of karma and rebirth that was quite different from the previous takes on these ideas. Moreover, his teachings on the nature and origins of suffering as well as liberation are couched entirely within the framework of rebirth.""
I was not "rewriting history" but quoting directly from Wallace.
Also, to claim that "dependent origination, which is a teaching on the origin of suffering, doesn't mention rebirth or karma." is completely wrong:
Posted by: Todd | November 01, 2010 at 10:36 AM
Hey Todd. I wasn't saying that you rewrote history. I was saying that you said that it's not okay to rewrite history. Perhaps I should edit that line:
"I do recognize that Todd is suggesting it's okay to pick and choose, --> and he is also suggesting that <-- it's not okay to rewrite history with comments like..."
Sorry for the confusion
Posted by: Star | November 02, 2010 at 05:31 PM
For Todd (part two):
I see that your defense of dependent origination as a teaching on karma and rebirth points to a wiki where others state their understanding of dependent origination as a teaching on karma and rebirth. I don't disagree that this is the traditional understanding, I simply haven't found evidence for it in the suttas. My study of the suttas and the times indicates to me that the dependent origination was framed in terms of the Vedic cosmology current at the time, which was about ritual and world building, and not about karma and rebirth (which appear to have been introduced later into the Vedanta).
I'd be grateful if you could show me that I'm "completely wrong" by showing evidence in the suttas of the Buddha doing a sermon on dependent origination in which he explains it in terms of karma or rebirth.
One of the first things I noticed, that gave me a clue that dependent origination wasn't describing traditional, cyclic "samsara" is that while it is detailed forward, and detailed backwards, it never, ever, goes around to form a wheel (so it's not "the wheel of life").
Posted by: Star | November 02, 2010 at 05:44 PM
wouldn't this be evidence for Karma/Rebirth teachings in the Suttas?
Posted by: Todd | November 04, 2010 at 03:16 PM
@Todd. That might well be, I haven't looked at it beyond noticing that there is nothing to do with dependent origination in it. My point was refuting Wallace's statement that the Buddha's "couched entirely within the framework of rebirth", and I said that dependent origination, which was something the Buddha taught repeatedly, was not couched in terms of rebirth, therefore the Buddha's entire teaching was not couched in terms of rebirth.
Posted by: Star | November 04, 2010 at 10:36 PM
"From the cessation of clinging/sustenance comes the cessation of becoming. From the cessation of becoming comes the cessation of birth. From the cessation of birth, then aging & death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, & despair all cease. Such is the cessation of this entire mass of stress & suffering."
Without rebirth, there can't really be a "cessation of birth."
Posted by: Todd | November 05, 2010 at 08:11 AM
Yes, that is a piece of dependent origination, but it's being explained by the Buddha in terms of Vedic theories, not karma and rebirth; there is no word for "rebirth" in it anywhere, nor karma.
If you are interpreting step 11 "birth" (jati) as literal birth, then 10 other events happened before you were born for which you are responsible/which are responsible for your birth -- in fact *all* events that cause birth/rebirth happen prior to your actual life (so you would then have no control of them in your life), and then in step 12 you age and die, and that is the end (it doesn't go around again).
I am aware that many Traditional schools suggest this is a description of three lifetimes, but the suttas don't actually explain it that way -- Traditional teachers have to kluge up many different bits to make it almost seem to work out as three births.
Posted by: Star | November 05, 2010 at 10:56 AM
But of course there can be "cessation of birth" without "rebirth"! What the Buddha is talking about, what he is always talking about, is the birth of anatta, not the birth of a baby. He is pointing out the birth of our sense of having an eternal, unchanging, separate self -- only he is always unwilling to lend it the concreteness it would require to say "birth of a false self" (plus there was no concept for "false self" -- that was what he was trying to explain by pointing to it, by trying to get us to see it for ourselves). He was describing it as more or less as we see it now -- a construction, something we can see if we look but can't get a grip on -- like fire, a process, "selfing" (an ugly modern coinage). This is why when the Buddha is asked, "Who suffers?" he doesn't talk about that which is reborn with birth from a mother's womb as being what suffers, instead he says, "Wrong question!" and goes on to to point out the process (dependent origination) which creates suffering. The whole of dependent origination is describing a process that "births" suffering -- not "births" someone who suffers.
Posted by: Star | November 05, 2010 at 10:56 AM
Todd and Star,
"This is why when the Buddha is asked, "Who suffers?"
--Who actually asked that question? I can see asking questions about birth and suffering, however, why would there be a need to ask the Buddha such.
Posted by: Roger | November 05, 2010 at 11:39 AM
The question was usually posed by a wanderer and was part of the ongoing debate over the atta.
Posted by: Star | November 05, 2010 at 12:31 PM
The Personification of Impersonal Energy
Energy can neither be created nor destroyed.
We are made of energy and feel a connection
with this eternal substance of our bodies
We 'feel' eternal. The energy that makes
up our bodies and brains will live forever.
This same energy will make up the bodies
and brains of other creatures, that now currently we are composed of.
It can come back as a snail, a bird, a
fish. Look at your hand and imagine the
exact same energy that composes your hand now, reforming as a bird, after your death.
The bird will have a body and brain using
the exact same material that made your
body and brain while you were alive.
Your body produces waste and this goes
to the ocean. Your waste was your body and brain for awhile. They say your body
is regenerated every eight years. So, already the original energy you were at birth has changed many times now.
Your excrement goes to Long Beach (as we
say in Los Angeles). The ocean plants absorb
your excrement as do worms. Fish eat the
sea plants and worms.
Fisherman catch the fish and send it to
Ralphs Grocery stores.
You buy the fish and eat it.
Are you eating your 'self' ?
Or, do they just sell alot of crap at Ralph's ?
Posted by: Mike Williams | November 06, 2010 at 05:20 AM
The Buddha that lived some 500 BCE. I wonder why a particular wanderer would choose the Buddha to ask questions of. What did the wanderer see in the Buddha? I'm not finding fault with the Buddha. So, I am a wanderer, around 500 BCE, and living on the same street as the Buddha, and was aware of the Buddha. Why would I choose to ask the Buddha such questions? Nothing wrong with asking the Buddha questions? Why not JoeBlo in the next house? What was unique about the Buddha at that time?
500 BCE is just a guessimation for conversation purposes.
Posted by: Roger | November 06, 2010 at 08:27 AM
@Roger: The Buddha was not the only person being asked these questions. India has a long tradition of public debate. In those days before television and internet, their "news media" consisted of wanderers who walked from place to spread their teaching, or their teacher's teachings. There were special days at the full and half moons set aside for doing public devotion and debate. You can think of it as being like the old "town square" where people used to stand on "soap boxes" and lecture whomever would stand long enough to listen.
Why would they ask the Buddha? Because he quickly gained a reputation for being a good teacher with a system that worked. Before long he had the attention of various rajas. And most of all when people came to hear him speak, they found him to be an astute judge of people, able to talk to each person "in their own language" and they also found that he practiced what he preached -- he was always calm, though he didn't suffer fools gladly.
Posted by: Star | November 06, 2010 at 02:22 PM
Star, how then, according to your interpretation of the Suttas, does the "cessation of birth" occur? I have already been born once, and if I am already NOT going to experience rebirth after "the breaking up of this body," then why would I follow an eightfold path to bring about "cessation of birth," when birth has already ceased for me after I was born?
"And what is birth? Whatever birth, taking birth, descent, coming-to-be, coming-forth, appearance of aggregates, & acquisition of [sense] media of the various beings in this or that group of beings, that is called birth."
Posted by: Todd | November 06, 2010 at 11:23 PM
"With the break-up of the body, after death, he reappears in the company of human beings."
"These are the five rewards of generosity: One is dear and appealing to people at large, one is admired by good people, one's good name is spread about, one does not stray from the rightful duties of the householder, and with the break-up of the body at death, one reappears in a good destination, in the heavenly worlds."
Posted by: Todd | November 06, 2010 at 11:46 PM
Todd (re the 11:23 posting)Part 1 of 2:
"Cessation of birth" is not the literal birth out of the body of the mother; it's the birth of the *constructed self* as seen through the lens of the Vedic understanding of the world at the time, that is: the Vedic understanding that one is born again after death into the next world (which is interpreted by different sects different ways, e.g. the world of the gods, or of the ancestors, or with Brahma). In the Vedic system, a man builds this world and lives in it until he uses up accumulated credit (merit) in that world and then falls back to be reborn again.
When the Buddha describes the cause of suffering in terms of this Vedic belief system he's describing something that is visible and evident *in this life* -- that you and I can see without needing to die first -- which is us creating that self, and recreating that self. He talks about it using terms that were familiar to his listeners, but he is describing something far more subtle -- whereas they were thinking in terms of the "atta" (self/soul) being reborn the Buddha was thinking in terms of something less concrete, the anatta (not self/soul) being reborn -- and it was not a "thing" but a process that could be stopped.
Posted by: Star | November 07, 2010 at 09:58 AM
(Part 2 of 2)
Based on our actions and the views they are drawn from, we send ourselves into hells until we use up the "bad merit" or work it off by cleaning up our act and living a more moral life; or we send ourselves into heavenly realms by doing good works (good, but still literally self-serving since the aim is "to do good works to get a good rebirth" it's still self-centered). Any of these are things we do for a while, until we choose to change course. Each time we change direction we are reborn but we still may have to deal with the consequences of the old life for a while. So why follow the eightfold path? Because its real goal is to stop creating the problematic constructed self (constructed from the aggregates) *in this life* so you can stop the erratic world-building that makes your life seem like a living hell (sometimes) or a heaven (sometimes) that you will always fall from.
Posted by: Star | November 07, 2010 at 09:59 AM
Todd (re the 11:46 posting) Part 1 of 2 (sorry I am so long-winded)
What we need to understand about the Buddha's explanations as captured in the suttas is that he is not always speaking at one consistent level to everyone he talks to. He speaks to a variety of people, from his most insightful disciples, to disciples who are almost enlightened, to those who are in the middle, and (most often) to his newest recruits. He also spends a lot of time speaking to people who are devotees of other ways of looking at the world, and when he does this he doesn't start his discussion with them from the understanding that his most enlightened monks have -- perhaps you know how counterintuitive Buddhism can be: it would not make sense to start talking from where the Buddha is in his understanding, so he speaks to people from where they are. He is, fairly often, not even overtly trying to make converts, but simply to give good advice that the person he is talking with will understand, and if his reputation as offering good and practical teachings is enhanced, then that helps the dharma in the long run. So for example...
Although I couldn't find the full sutta your quoted snippet comes from on the web, I could find the two that surround it, and in the one just before it, the same words appear ( http://tinyurl.com/genlSiha ). The context is that he is talking to a general, not someone he's likely to try to convince to give up the householder's life and go forth as a monk. So when asked, and he explains the benefits of giving gifts, he's simply speaking to the general in terms he'll understand, giving him good advice that has nothing to do with adding a convert, though at the end the General affirms his faith in the Buddha based on the teacher's knowledge of the one thing the General can't have experienced.
Posted by: Star | November 07, 2010 at 10:53 AM
(Part 2 of 2)
If you look at the reasoning the Buddha gives for giving gifts, it's pretty obvious that this is not what his particular path is about: (1) that people will consider you charming if you do (2) that other good people will admire you (3) that your reputation will be enhanced and spread (4) that you won't have to be ashamed when rubbing elbows with the hoi polloi (5) you'll get a good location after you die (note: not described as "rebirth" -- but rather described as the *same* individual surviving death going on to a good location). All five of these are self-serving reasons, and self-serving is *not* what the Buddha teaches as his particular path -- though he is fine with it for laymen if it's "self-serving grounded in morality". Nonetheless, the General, having seen for himself that #1-4 are true in his experience, he will take on faith that #5 is correct, too. There's not really any practical way for the Buddha to explain to this fellow, in a brief conversation, that the existence after death in another world is a metaphor for something far more subtle and complex.
I have seen the Buddha give similar talks to generic groups of monks, which could be giving them a sermon they can preach to others (since he sent his monks out, no two together, to spread wisdom), or starting them from where they are. When he is talking about his deeper insights, he doesn't couch them in terms like these self-serving reasons for being generous.
Posted by: Star | November 07, 2010 at 10:55 AM
Thanks for your reply. You mentioned,
"Cessation of birth" .....; it's the birth of the *constructed self* as seen through the lens of the Vedic understanding of the world at the time, that is: the Vedic understanding that one is born again after death into the next world (which is interpreted by different sects different ways, e.g. the world of the gods, or of the ancestors, or with Brahma).
---Could the deconstruction of the "self" occur in life now? This deconstruction would be the "death" and thus a rebirth into a "no-self." Would this simple discussion need various interpretations?
Posted by: Roger | November 07, 2010 at 11:36 AM
@Roger. Yes, the letting go, fading away, total cessation of that deconstructed self is what the Buddha is talking about when he talks about the fading of the aggregates of clinging. He's not calling it a self -- and really *I* shouldn't call it a self except that it's a convenient term to use. I'm pretty sure the Buddha didn't see the end of the process of creating the "constructed self" as "death" though -- the people in his time and place didn't do opposites as much as they did positives and negatives -- clinging, not clinging; death, the absence of death. This is why "nibbana" is called "the deathless".
Posted by: Star | November 07, 2010 at 04:40 PM
"the anatta (not self/soul) being reborn -- and it was not a "thing" but a process that could be stopped." semi quote Buddha
Existentialists would like the word process.
When knocking down dominos, they fall in a row forever along a preset route.
Take one domino out of the rows of the preset route and they all stop falling.
Just one removed domino stops everything.
When Alexander the Great approached the Gordian Knot, he was asked if he could untie it. No one had ever done it.
He took out his sword and cut it in half.
To understand the self, everything need
not be known about the self. The conscious,
or unconscious (which is just as petty as the conscious)need not be all brought to the surface and delt with.
Realization is not a session in a psychologists office.
Only one thing need be known.
The pattern of the dominos is broken
with one simple piece of knowledge.
It is only hypnosis that keeps us from
seeing it. Nothing else.
The Guru cannot help us.
But, the magician whom snaps his fingers
to bring one out of the trance.....
That magician can only be you.
Posted by: Mike Williams | November 08, 2010 at 01:47 AM
Thanks for your comment.
The process (fading away) of the constructed self, is very interesting. In addition, the constructed 'self' would be the product of human brain consciousness, a self perceived awareness. For conversation purposes, we can throw around various words and terms.
Is there a word for the event of total destruction of the constructed self? In addition, is this event even possible? This would be an absolute no-self, no-thing-ness.
Nothing against Buddhism. I'm having difficulty in referencing back to the Buddha regarding this specific discussion. Is the Buddha and Buddhist literature really needed?
Posted by: Roger | November 08, 2010 at 07:35 AM
Star, so, in your interpretation, is the *constructed self* ever born from a womb? If so, how many times? Only once?
Also, I do not think there is a consensus as to what the "Vedic" view was 2,500 years ago. Some scholars have noted that karmic rebirth is never mentioned in the Vedas, that it was,in fact, later taken from Jainism/Buddhism.
Posted by: Todd | November 08, 2010 at 08:20 AM
@Todd: With reference to MN.26-30 it looks as though the constructed self is not present at birth. MN 38.30 would seem to indicate the Buddha puts it at a point in life after fascination with toys ends, so beginning in the teen years seems likely. This would be consistent with the start of the Brahminical education of boys (which varies by class).
There certainly is a lot of conflicting theory out there about what people thought and did in the Buddha's day. I actually agree that rebirth wasn't part of the Vedic view at the Buddha's time -- nor atman, either; those seem to have come from the other predominant culture (Magadhan). Karma, however, was part of the Vedic view in its sense as "ritual action". I've read every book I've been made aware of that I could get my hands on about the Vedic view, and am tying what's in the suttas to current thought, at least whenever the two fit comfortably.
Posted by: Star | November 08, 2010 at 12:46 PM
@Roger. According to the suttas, the word for the absence of the constructed self is nibbana, and it seems the preferred word for its sudden happening is "enlightenment" and for its slow happening is "awakening". As for "is it possible" I have no direct evidence for it being possible so I can't speak from experience; I can say that if we think of it as some altered state of mind it seems pretty fantastic, but I don't feel any need, myself, to expect that it's anything special. From my own experience in practice, I can see that clinging less and less makes me calmer and calmer and less greedy. Even if I still have a long, long way to go, it doesn't seem impossible to me that one could reach a state where our default sense of self was gone. Brian mentioned someone who chose to stop believing in "free will" and her experience seems as though it might be the same as nibbana. http://hinessight.blogs.com/church_of_the_churchless/2010/10/we-all-may-be-living-selflessly-.html
You asked, "Is the Buddha and Buddhist literature really needed?" My question is, "Needed for what?" If you are limiting the question to "living without a self" then according to the author mentioned in the post I cited above, perhaps not. But the Buddha's system is more than just brain science.
Posted by: Star | November 08, 2010 at 01:03 PM
@Todd: I also forgot to say that if you have a source that disagrees with something I say about Vedic beliefs, I'd be grateful if you'd pass it on.
Posted by: Star | November 08, 2010 at 02:26 PM
Thanks again for your comment. You are a good person.
"According to the suttas, the word for the absence of the constructed self is nibbana, and it seems the preferred word for its sudden happening is "enlightenment" and for its slow happening is "awakening."
---Do you know what happens, the exact moment after the "enlightenment" event occurs? How would one flip out of such event?
"I can say that if we think of it as some altered state of mind it seems pretty fantastic,....."
--I would think that an "altered state of mind" would not be enlightenment. A no-mind may be such. But then enlightenment is just a word, used in conversation. And yes, nothing particularly special.
"From my own experience in practice, I can see that clinging less and less makes me calmer and calmer and less greedy. Even if I still have a long, long way to go, it doesn't seem impossible to me that one could reach a state where our default sense of self was gone."
---So, one needs to engage in practice to cling less and become calmer? In Buddhism, you are told that you have a long long way to go? Therefore, you are on a path of practice to gain an achievement. Maybe, in a particular state of mind, one concludes that they have a long long way to go. That is, from point A to point B. Is this Buddhism? I'm not finding fault with Buddhism or you.
Posted by: Roger | November 09, 2010 at 07:35 AM
"I'm not finding fault with Buddhism or you." I appreciate that, nor am I finding fault with you when I say that the distance between your understanding and what Buddhism is about may be too great for us to bridge with the language we have between us in the amount of time I have; but I still have some time to share.
For example, you said, "But then enlightenment is just a word, used in conversation. And yes, nothing particularly special." Which I read as you saying *the word* enlightenment is nothing special, when I was saying that what I am defining as enlightenment, is nothing special. But I may well be misunderstanding you.
And you ask, "Do you know what happens, the exact moment after the "enlightenment" event occurs? How would one flip out of such event?" yet I'm pretty sure I have said I have no experience in that area so I can't know anything about it, much less what it would mean to "flip out" of it.
You said, "So, one needs to engage in practice to cling less and become calmer." But 'needs' is not the correct word. One engages in practice which teaches us to cling less and has the result of us becoming calmer. The incorrect assumption in "needs" seems to have drawn from you the conclusion that the practice has a specific goal. If there is any such goal, the goal is to become goal-free.
Posted by: Star | November 09, 2010 at 12:07 PM
Thanks again Star,
We are just blogging, there is no requirement for you to continue to respond.
"......when I was saying that what I am defining as enlightenment, is nothing special."
---Yes, that is what I was saying too.
".....I have said I have no experience in that area so I can't know anything about it, much less what it would mean to "flip out" of it."
---I don't have any experience in that area too.
"One engages in practice which teaches us to cling less and has the result of us becoming calmer."
---Nothing wrong with practicing. Would 'clinging' increase, and becoming 'calmer' decrease if I didn't engage in practice?
"The incorrect assumption in "needs" seems to have drawn from you the conclusion that the practice has a specific goal."
---Nothing wrong with practicing to reach a goal. I'm not finding fault with that. That said, I'm guessing that you have been taught, through teachings that engaging in a practice, you will go from a high clinging to a lower clinging. I'm guessing that you repeat your pracice? If so, why do you have a 'need' to do that? How do you decide to practice, with no need to?
---Finally, this is just blogging, you are not required to respond. We can end this. I will just travel to the next blogger, and blog onward. Best wishes to you. Again, Star, you are a good person.
Posted by: Roger | November 10, 2010 at 08:39 AM
Star, regarding rebirth in the Pali texts: "According to the Pali texts, conception occurs when three things are simultaneously present: the mother (i.e., a fertile egg), the father (a sperm cell), and the gandhabba (the kammic energy of the being that is seeking rebirth). If all three successfully coincide, human consciousness arises in the fertilized ovum and rebirth occurs. For a description of this process, see the Mahatanhasankhaya Sutta (MN 38). See Bhikkhu Bodhi's translation of this sutta (along with helpful footnotes) in "The Middle Length Discourse of the Buddha" (Boston: Wisdom Publications, 1995)."
Posted by: Todd | November 10, 2010 at 09:40 AM
@Todd. Those who have interpreted the Pali texts for years seem to have lost the context for some things, and then jumped to conclusions based on too little information and too much dogma.
Which is my way of pointing out that the gandhabbas, the celestial musicians, were the beings women asked for help with conception, and who were blamed when a pregnancy failed. When I look at the Pali in the texts that are quoted to indicate that some "being" descends into the womb, I see nothing to indicate that's what the Buddha is saying. With what I have learned of Vedic mythology, I suspect the gandhabbas represent the "unknown" factors in "all things being favorable and all else being equal, it still seems to be the case that sometimes the woman conceives, and sometimes she doesn't".
Posted by: Star | November 10, 2010 at 04:44 PM
You said, "We are just blogging, there is no requirement for you to continue to respond."
Ah, well, I have a couple of weeks more free, I just don't want you to think when I quit that I'm upset with you or whatever.
"Nothing wrong with practicing. Would 'clinging' increase, and becoming 'calmer' decrease if I didn't engage in practice?"
Maybe you could try it and find out?
"Nothing wrong with practicing to reach a goal."
Not if you're wanting to learn to play a concerto, there's not. But clinging to a goal is still clinging, and kind of defeats the effort to stop clinging. ; )
"I'm guessing that you have been taught, through teachings that engaging in a practice, you will go from a high clinging to a lower clinging. I'm guessing that you repeat your practice? If so, why do you have a 'need' to do that? How do you decide to practice, with no need to?"
I have tested it for myself and found it to be true that this practice reduces clinging which results in greater peace. I don't "need" to repeat the practice but I do so because the more I practice the better able I am to do many things that matter to me, particularly in the area of dealing with others.
Posted by: Star | November 10, 2010 at 05:03 PM
"I have tested it for myself and found it to be true that this practice reduces clinging which results in greater peace. I don't "need" to repeat the practice but I do so because the more I practice the better able I am to do many things that matter to me, particularly in the area of dealing with others."
--I can believe, when you say it works and is true, for reducing clinging and results in greater peace.
Posted by: Roger | November 11, 2010 at 08:12 AM
Star, so, according to your interpretation, do the Pali scriptures say there is physical rebirth after "the break-up of the body, after death" or not?
Posted by: Todd | November 11, 2010 at 10:24 AM
Todd, in my understanding of the Buddha's teaching as presented in the Pali canon, whether there is or is not rebirth after the breakup of the body is not stated; it's not an issue. The Buddha teaches how to end suffering in this life. He is not a materialist or annihilationist, and he is not an eternalist. Also, he states that people should not base their views on too little information.
Whether there is or is not rebirth after the breakup of the body is irrelevant to ending suffering, and is not something beneficial to spend time debating.
Posted by: Star | November 11, 2010 at 04:16 PM
It may or may not be an issue, but it is CERTAINLY stated a number of times in the Pali Canon:
"....on the break-up of the body, after death, reappears in the company of the Four Great Kings. Then, having exhausted that action, that power, that status, that sovereignty, he is a returner, coming back to this world."
"Having given this gift with the thought, 'Giving is good,' on the break-up of the body, after death, reappears in the company of the Devas of the Thirty-three. Then, having exhausted that action, that power, that status, that sovereignty, he is a returner, coming back to this world."
— AN 7.49
Posted by: Todd | November 11, 2010 at 09:36 PM
Indeed it is, Todd. I'm going to go two rounds with this one. The first on this sutta in particular, and the next on "the breakup of the body" as found all over the place in the suttas.
My expectation when I read the part you quoted was that the Buddha would be talking to an outsider or layman. I followed your link which leads to an excerpt; it has the Buddha talking to Sariputta, possibly his most savvy disciple. That surprised me. So I dug out AN 7.49 and it frames the story: "Once, when the Buddha was staying near Campa... a company of lay-disciples from Campa visited the venerable Sariputta..." and they ask him questions about giving, and he brings them to the Buddha. Sariputta does the asking, and the Buddha addresses his responses to Sariputta, but the talk is for the benefit of laymen.
Over and over when these bits come up, the framing story will tell us why the Buddha was talking in terms outside his own teaching: he is addressing new converts, starting from where they are; he is addressing lay people who aren't ever going to need his deepest teaching; he's just giving good advice to someone and not trying to convert them at all. Over and over. Not every time (not every story provides context) but it happens with such consistency that I'm *pretty* sure there's a reason for it.
Posted by: Star | November 11, 2010 at 10:15 PM
The thing about the Pali canon is this: It came from oral tradition. Scholars who study similar works that have been passed on have noticed certain things that are signs of oral transmission, things like "pericopes" (that I might call "boilerplate") chunks of text that get repeated mostly verbatim from one sermon to another... sometimes ending up inside of a talk where they patently make no sense. This happens because people get confused and things get mixed up.
And that's just one effect. There are many effects of both the oral transmission and even the written, and two thousand years of it being translated from one language to another and so on. If it was a perfect representation of what the Buddha said, *that* would be miraculous -- unbelievable, given that humans are involved.
Even if "after the breakup of the body he will be born in X heaven" were found 50% of the time to be the Buddha talking to Sariputta when the two were alone in the jungle, and the other 50% were with laypeople, new disciples, and just folks wanting advice, I would have to ask myself what was going on here, because the "breakup of the body" phrase does *not* convey information consistent with the Buddha's core teaching.
But the fact that such a large number of these show evidence of him talking to outsiders indicates to me that what appears to be an inconsistency is because he was not conveying his message from the perspective of his own understanding, but from theirs -- so it's not inconsistent at all, because the parts about "the breakup of the body" are not *his* (and, in fact, they aren't even the point of his message). It is simply the Buddha "speaking their language" -- using their idiom, their frames of reference, to convey important information on another matter entirely.
Posted by: Star | November 11, 2010 at 10:36 PM
Sorry: part three of two, then off to bed for me, I swear. It's just that I didn't complete my 50% thought. The thing is this: I find the Buddha's core message very consistent, unusually consistent, startlingly consistent. And not just the core message, not just the four noble truths and eightfold path, but the three marks, and dependent origination, causation... And when I encounter him saying, "I am not an eternalist" and an eternalist is someone who believes in karma and rebirth and in finding a way to escape from the cycle; and when I hear him tell us we shouldn't even wonder who we were in a past life or who we'll be in the next after we've heard him talk on Dependent Origination; when I hear him chastise his monks for debating things they haven't personally experienced, I have to assume that if the suttas have him telling me I have to believe there are heavens to live in after I die, he is either inconsistent, or something is going on in the text that I'm not understanding.
When I started reading suttas my belief was that they were massively corrupted. That "the breakup of the body" talk was inconsistent with his core message so it had to be added every time. But I now see that that is not what was going on. It turns out that not only was the man a brilliant thinker, he was a brilliant teacher, with a knack for knowing how to get his point across in a way his listeners would understand.
Posted by: Star | November 11, 2010 at 11:20 PM
Star, in Buddhism, "an eternalist" does NOT mean "someone who believes in karma and rebirth and in finding a way to escape from the cycle," first of all:
But thank you very much for taking the trouble to make your position clear. You clearly seem to be arbitrarily rejecting as "outside his own teaching" rebirth and karma, while choosing other teachings you happen to agree with as being Buddha's "core teaching."
Why would the Buddha have falsely taught something like karmic rebirth, when that was not even part of the Vedic world view at the time?
Also, in the Brahmajala Sutta, Buddha specifically rejected as wrong "Ucchedavada", i.e., the idea that there is no rebirth after the breaking up of the body.
Posted by: Todd | November 12, 2010 at 07:33 AM
Todd, can you please define in your own words your understanding of what made the Buddha's belief system differ from eternalism? I'm finding the link you provided is too general to be of use in this discussion. Thanks if you can take the time.
But in the meantime, I'm not being arbitrary at all. The Buddha clearly puts both karma and rebirth in his list of tainted views in MN 117 ("There are fruits & results of good & bad actions. There is this world & the next world." is a phrase clearly stated to be one of many views that are associated with generating self-view via the asavas). Why would he teach a tainted view as his own?
Posted by: Star | November 12, 2010 at 01:46 PM
"Also, in the Brahmajala Sutta, Buddha specifically rejected as wrong "Ucchedavada", i.e., the idea that there is no rebirth after the breaking up of the body."
Yes he did. And what does he give as the basis for his rejection of that view?
Posted by: star | November 12, 2010 at 01:59 PM
Actually, he said the denial of karma and rebirth is wrong view:
"There is no fruit or result of good or bad actions. There is no this world, no next world, no mother, no father, no spontaneously reborn beings; no priests or contemplatives who, faring rightly & practicing rightly, proclaim this world & the next after having directly known & realized it for themselves.' This is wrong view." MN 117
Posted by: Todd | November 12, 2010 at 08:30 PM