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October 18, 2010


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Todd asked, "...has anyone tried to silence debate?"

Your support of the statement, "Given what we now know of the textual history of the Buddhist canons (e.g., that they are heavily edited translations of older oral compositions), that project is no longer viable..." sounds to me like someone stating that debate (at least with you, on this subject) is not worthwhile.

And, do you hear Wallace encouraging dialog with words like, "illegitimate option" "people who are intent on reshaping the Buddha in their own images" "an expression of arrogance" "Reputable scholars ... all agree" (by implication putting opposing scholars in the "disreputable" camp) "thinly disguised prejudice" "'near enemies' of Buddhism"? I don't. I hear attempts to discredit opposition, particularly by assigning motives for their actions as if he knows their intent.

A person doesn't have to say "Shut up" to have the effect of silencing debate. Language that discredits and discounts people with opposing views, and assigns motives they don't necessarily have to their actions is a method of silencing the opposition not by gagging them but by encouraging others to not take them seriously or value their contribution to debate.

And then there's your initial statement which seemed to be in support of Wallace when you said his post was "a caution against rampant and prejudiced revisionism". Also that it was about trying "... to re-write the history and practice of Buddhism according to our own whims."

But back to the present, you also said, "I have just been identifying speculations as speculations, and not confusing them with well informed, well supported, conclusions."

This is how you see it; this is not how I see it. I have no wish to debate about debating in this forum, however. You can drop me a post on my blog and mark it "Not For Publication"; that will give me your email address and we can talk privately, if you wish.

"I do not think I am being unreasonable when I suggest that the learned opinions of both Wallis and Wallace are much better informed than yours or mine."

I don't know either gentleman well enough to have an opinion on how well informed they are; I found Wallis to be entirely reasonable in the piece you quoted. I found Wallace to be caught in his own delusions in the piece Brian cites in the original post. My favorite Wallace quote from that pieces was this one: "This, of course, is the attitude of all dogmatists: they are so certain of their beliefs that they regard anyone who disagrees with them as being so stupid or ignorant that they can’t recognize the obvious." Physician, heal thyself.

I found Wallace to be entirely reasonable when he suggested the option to simply "adopt those theories and practices from various Buddhist traditions that one finds compelling and beneficial and set the others aside."

Because if the "evidence" offered for your interpretation includes just dismissing references to rebirth "after the breaking up of the body, after death" by saying, "Gotama" didn't REALLY mean that, he was just adjusting to his audience, etc., then I'm not sure such evidence really should be taken seriously, because one could apply the same "evidence" to anything in the Pali Canon that one wants to dismiss in order to make the text fit a preconceived notion.

You are right, Todd, when you say "I'm not sure such evidence really should be taken seriously, because one could apply the same 'evidence' to anything in the Pali Canon that one wants to dismiss in order to make the text fit a preconceived notion."

I have seen it argued that the Buddha did not teach that there is no soul -- quite the contrary. That when he said, "Be your own refuge" -- because he was using the word "atta" in there -- he was specifically saying you must believe in the atta, the soul; that the uniqueness in his teaching was just in his assignment of intention as key, and also in the "anatta" -- false self -- that we had to let go of that false self to see the actual soul. With a little jiggling of language and concepts this might be supportable in the Pali canon. That being the case, that the vagueness of the language allows for jiggling to support different concepts, the Buddha teaching belief in rebirth as necessary to his path is just another one of those concepts. What's left is to judge them on their merits and my choice is to suspect that the Buddha's teaching was internally consistent -- don't take things on faith and that includes rebirth -- and on the evidence of practical application.

If picking and choosing which parts of Buddhism you want to adopt and leaving out the parts that make you uncomfortable work for you, that's fine. Most people who do adopt what's known as "Cafeteria Buddhism" draw from other religions as well, since all religions have good and useful bits, which to my mind makes Cafeteria Buddhists religious mutts (not Buddhists); but mutts are healthier dogs on the whole than purebreds so there's nothing inherently wrong with that.

As it happens, what I have read in the Pali canon makes it clear to me that picking and choosing isn't necessary. As it happens, there's evidence that what the Buddha taught is actually an internally consistent whole in which he does NOT say -"Do not blindly accept on faith things you have no evidence for"- and then turn around and say -"except, of course, you must believe in rebirth"-. If you need to believe that he did, effectively, say that, and then turn around and doubt rebirth, then that's what you need to do, I guess, and I'm not going to say that's wrong, it's just not necessary for me, given my experience.

It looks to me, judging by your phrasing about dismissing "in order to make it fit a preconceived notion" as though you are unable to get past the view that I am bending what's there to fit, and I can easily see how one can come to think so, but it isn't the case. I remain astounded by what's there, but I have the experience of expecting to find Traditional interpretations and having something totally unexpected hit me in the face; you do not have my experience of it, so no fault in you that your view of events is more convincing to you than what I tell you my experience is. According to the Buddha (as I see him represented in the Pali canon) that's just the way we tend to see things -- with our own point of view being what seems most "true" -- and it's very difficult to do otherwise.

You and I have dominated three pages of comments on this thread with this discussion, but in your last analysis, all of the points I made that all fit together into a logical, context-sensitive whole are apparently dismissed because you can't accept that Gotama may have spoken to people using phrases his listeners were familiar with, but modern students have lost context for. I have not heard your logical explanation of why, when we take a close look at the Pali canon, when we look at his mentions of rebirth we find that he is most consistently talking to laymen and outsiders about it, not to his brightest pupils; why he feels the need to say he's not telling kin of a monk's future birth to "scheme" or to "deceive" but is doing it just to "inspire". I don't hear your logical reasoning for fertility deities (gandhabbas) being taken for the "being" coming from the last life "descending into the womb" in explanations of the Pali texts when there's nothing in the text to support it being a "being descending into the womb" and the part of chance being played by the (known to non-Buddhists) fertility deity is logical -- as if that isn't a good example of just what I'm talking about: loss of context resulting in misinterpretation to fit a pre-existing belief in what it was the Buddha taught.

I'm not "just dismissing" anything; the pieces fit together and support each other so there is no need to "just dismiss". Neither do I interpret what's gone before -- the interpretation of all these texts as supporting the Buddha teaching that rebirth is necessary to his path -- as intentionally twisting what's there to fit a "preconceived notion." I understand that for a hundred generations texts have been interpreted, translated, and attempts made to explain every bit in terms of "the Buddha taught belief in rebirth as necessary to his path" with no *intention* needed on anyone's part to try to make it fit; it's been a natural process as far as I can see. But that is not in the same realm as my experience: my experience is expecting one thing and seeing another, and then every time I look at the texts having that "other" jump out at me. You can interpret that as some part of my self having an agenda that's fooling me into seeing it that way and blinding me to the effect -- I can see how that could be so -- but I can equally well see how it might just be that what I'm seeing is actually there, and there is no better way to sort out which is the case than to keep studying, and to keep putting it to the test in life.

Star, if all you've been saying here is that the Buddha did not say "you must believe in rebirth" to follow the eightfold path and reach enlightenment, then I have no disagreement with you, and maybe I have misunderstood your position. I also don't think he said one "must believe in rebirth".

All along, I thought you've been saying that the Buddha himself did not "really" teach that there is rebirth.

What did the Buddha teach, regarding rebirth? Not someone's opinion, just what the Buddha taught. Let's make this as simple as can be.

Well, Roger, for that, it seems the best source is the Pali literature.


Thanks Todd for the wikipedia reference,

"Rebirth in Buddhism is the doctrine that the evolving consciousness (Pali: samvattanika-viññana)[1][2] or stream of consciousness (Pali: viññana-sotam,[3] Sanskrit: vijñāna-srotām, vijñāna-santāna, or citta-santāna) of a person, upon the death or dissolution of the aggregates (P. khandhas, S. skandhas), becomes one of the contributing causes for the arising of a new group of skandhas. The consciousness arising in the new person is neither identical to, nor entirely different from, the old consciousness, but forms part of a causal continuum or stream with it. The basic cause for this persistent re-arising of personality is the abiding of consciousness in ignorance (Pali: avijja, Sanskrit: avidya); when ignorance is uprooted, rebirth ceases."

----The statement,
"abiding of consciousness in ignorance"

---What is the definition of ignorance? And, how is this 'ignorance' uprooted?

I'm guessing, Star has moved on to other websites. Too bad, I liked her.

Have a look at the lives of men like Chogyam Trungpa with his drunkenness and rape and Urgyen Trinley Dorje with his designer sunglasses, and practically every Buddhist I've ever met with their elitism and the exclusivity and frippery that is rife throughout Tibetan Buddhism, and the tragic moral laxity of many of its so-called "masters" and you'll have a pretty clear picture of why I walked away from Buddhism. I hand copied countless sutras, prayed and meditated, took refuge, etc. and tried numerous times to establish a link with a teacher. The first "lama" who became my teacher was the Taiwanese fakir Sheng Yen Lu of the "True Buddha" society. The second was Lama Karma Tsultrim Gyatso, who renounced his vows the first time a middle aged divorcee batted her eyes at him. They got married, then divorced 2 months later. Then there are all the "I'm way too good to talk to you" lamas. So, without so much as an ounce of guilt or genuine dharma experience I packed up all my sutras, paraphenalia and Buddhist nonsense in a box and left it near the entrance to a Buddhist "center" in Barre, Ma. I walked away and stopped looking for transcendental wisdom in ordinary shmoes wearing robes. In fact, I've just about become satanic in my views. I can believe that human beings are all about themselves and that most religion in a sham because my empirical experience gives me grounds for no other belief. People perfer to wallow in the darkness and call it holy so they can sneer down their noses at all us ordinary schmucks and say, "Oh, but I'm friends with the lama, so I'll recieve the Dharma LONG before you, peasant!" Well......you all can have it. I'll be on my way.

Enjoyed reading this post, and the accompanying comments.

I especially enjoyed Star’s comments here. I found Star’s explanation of why the Buddha’s teaching sound somewhat different at different times and in the different Sutras very helpful and plausible : it isn’t necessarily simply a corruption of the texts, it is that the Buddha would preach to different people at different times, and fashion his message in words and contexts that would appeal best to his audience at that particular gathering.

- - -

I’m nowhere as learned in Buddhist lore/theology or Pali texts as some people here seem to be, but here’s my ten cents, basis simply common sense. I’m afraid my common sense view goes against the thesis of Brian’s original post.

I would say that the Buddha did definitely believe in rebirth. If he didn’t so believe, then his teachings don’t make any kind of sense. (Which is not to say that rebirth itself is true, of course. I’m only saying that the Buddha must have believed in rebirth.)

tucson said as much in this thread, back when, but let me develop my argument if I may in my own words :

If the world is truly a mass of suffering, as the Buddha believed/discovered, then surely the easiest way out would be to simply kill oneself painlessly? Why this whole rigmarole, leading finally to Nirvana, if we’re not taking rebirth as a given? “Nirvana” simply means extinguishment, and what better way than a quick no-fuss suicide to extinguish oneself?

Also, if there is no rebirth, and if this life is the only one, then why on earth would the Buddha want to spend his own life tucked away in some hut in some forest? Even if he himself had, through his years of asceticism, gotten used to that kind of lifestyle, why would he advise his followers to take that route, to waste their one single life? Monasticism makes no sense (at any rate, LIFE-LONG monasticism certainly does not make sense) unless you believe in rebirth in some form (or at least believe in the possibility of rebirth in some form).

Three possibilities, then : (1) Buddha must either have believed in rebirth (or at least, the possibility of rebirth). Or, (2) He had a screw loose, was actually deranged. Or, (3) He was one selfish and cynical b******, who had gotten used to his own personal forest-dwelling lifestyle, and simply encouraged his followers to become monks to get free servitors and to generally become the widely acclaimed Wise Teacher.

Of these possibilities, the first seems most likely to me, that he believed in rebirth. (Whether WE are to believe in rebirth is, naturally, an entirely different question.)

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