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October 18, 2010

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Yes, Todd, he did. He said the denial of rebirth is wrong view. But, I ask again, on what basis? This is the point you and many other traditional Buddhists miss.

(CAPS in the following not as shouts but as emphasis)

When he says "denial of rebirth is wrong view" he doesn't then say, "Because rebirth is a FACT." He doesn't say they are wrong and then say, "You must believe in rebirth."

If you really examine MN 117 you'll see that he says there is WRONG VIEW and there are TWO KINDS OF RIGHT VIEW: one with TAINTS and one THAT LEADS TO LIBERATION.

The one with taints includes a description of sacrificial rites; includes karmic merit systems; includes going to another world after death; includes many of the other belief systems of the day including "spontaneously generated beings". And he DESCRIBES THESE VIEWS AS TAINTED. He specifically describes them as views that generate the aggregates of clinging (that generate the false sense of self). Bhikkhu BODHI even says that the aggregates are what he is describing as the result of these "right views -- with taints".

Then the Buddha describes his own system, the untainted one, the one that has factors of the path, the one that leads to liberation, and it is *not* described as including rebirth.

The Buddha is always primarily concerned with reducing suffering here and now. Because of this he works with others in what I call a "moral arc" -- the world is not black and white. There are some REALLY BAD VIEWS that lead to immoral behavior, and he has no kind things to say about these. There are some PRETTY GOOD VIEWS which lead to moral behavior that is self-serving though and won't actually end your suffering and then there is HIS WAY.

Now if I may, Todd, I'd like to go back to two of your comments and ask you about them. First the big one that needs comment from me:

You asked, "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?"

There are a few assumptions in that question that are just a little skewed from my understanding, which result in a "Mu" answer. I'll need to address the off-center bits.

First of all, there was nothing in the least "false" about what the Buddha taught; secondly, the term "Vedic" could apply either to only those who study the Vedas or to all people who lived in those days (as one might say "The people of the Christian era" and include non-Christians among those people).

As represented in the suttas, brahmins had the concept of "karma" but it was limited to ritual action; they had a concept for continuation of the self after death in "another world" the quality of which world was determined by their ritual actions in this world. The conception of "karma" in a broader context than ritual, and the idea of rebirths in a variety of heavens and hells, or the possibility of rebirth as animals or -- best of all -- another chance as humans -- was not part of the Vedic system but was part of the other half of the culture of the day, the non-brahminical folk. So it was part of the worldview of the time, but not specifically the Vedic worldview.

If I rephrase your question as "If the Buddha was not teaching that karma and rebirth were things we had to believe in, why did he talk about them so much when Brahmins didn't believe in karma and rebirth anyway?" then I can answer:

The Buddha spoke of karma and rebirth so much despite it not being part of the Vedic worldview because the Brahmins were only one element of his society -- yes, they were powerful, yes, they were getting more so -- but the Vedic system was only then encroaching on northeastern India -- it was moving from west to east and this area was the front of the push east. There was a large portion of the population that had different views, and theirs included multiple doctrines centering around karma and rebirth. It was the warp and woof of society.

So just like when a Christian friend comes to me in grief over the death of a member of their family, and asks for advice, I might suggest that they pray, because I know this will be a comfort to them, though I don't believe in the efficacy of prayer to a deity in any sense other than its soothing effects on the praying individual, the Buddha speaks very often to people who believe in karma and rebirth using terms they understand. I'm not going to tell my friend that their loved-one had no self and so nothing was actually lost, because they are far, far from any place where that would provide comfort to them. When the Buddha is asked for advice, he does not cling so tightly to his own doctrine that he feels the need to describe everything in terms of it whether it's helpful to the person he's talking to or not. Doing the most effective thing to end their suffering is foremost in his mind -- no doubt he balances in-the-moment with long-term suffering, and he makes the wisest choice he can for each individual.

If we have a very dogmatic view of how the Buddha should behave, and that view is based in our Christian moral systems, we will see the Buddha as lying when he talks in terms of karma and rebirth; we will see *me* as lying when I suggest that my friend pray.

When I first started reading the suttas and encountering stories in which the Buddha seemed to be telling untruths, it made me really uncomfortable. There is the story about how King Ajatasattu came to him after locking up his dad, King Bimbisara, and allowing him to starve to death. The King comes to confess, says the sutta, and the Buddha takes his confession and sends him away with kind and soothing words, then turns to his monks and says, effectively, "...but he killed his father, so really, he's screwed." I really disliked that story, when I read it from the perspective of my upbringing in Christianity. I didn't like the sense that he was not telling the *whole* truth to the young King. But a closer reading shows that's not what was going on. (I actually had to have help from a Theravadan to see that my original interpretation was a misunderstanding. I am simply providing it as an general example of how modern viewpoints of "true or false" might not be well applied to the way the Buddha handled things.)

Second, there was your statement that I "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.' "

Would you please tell me what you understand to be the Buddha's "core teaching"? I will be surprised if we have any great difference beyond the Buddha's "position" on rebirth.

I will start with these, then we can see if you agree on them and add others:

* That nothing in our world except nibbana arises without cause

* That everything that arises from causes is impermanent (anicca)

* That because everything arises from causes and is therefore impermanent there is no eternal, unchanging, separate self (anatta)

* That the source of our suffering is the impermanent nature of all constructed things (which excepts nibbana) and our ignorance of the situation (dukkha)

aka "The Four Noble Truths" that derive from the above:

That everyone suffers, that suffering has a cause (which is, essentially, ignorance of the above); that we can end that suffering; that the way to end that suffering is taught through learning the skills and gaining the knowledge passed on in the eightfold path.

That the eightfold path encompasses

wisdom: (1) understanding the above (2) intention to practice with the understanding above
morality consistent with the above: (3) in speech (4) in action (5) in livelihood
concentration: (6) skillful effort directed towards (7) mindfulness and (8) concentration

That we build up something we interpret as our selves (in the Buddha's day as an eternal, separate, unchanging self which was called the "atta") but when we look for it we only find transient components that seem to form a self but really don't -- anatta.

That Dependent Origination describes the chain of events that causes us to suffer through our ignorance.

These are things I "happen to agree with" -- do you "happen to agree with" them too?

Dear Brian:

I'm sorry to be taking up so much of your blogspace with comments in this thread. I hope you don't mind.

--
star

star, no problem. I find the dialogue between you and Todd interesting, even though I can't follow all of the Buddhist scripture intricacies.

Along that line, your discussion strikes me as being a lot like how different Christian denominations argue over the meaning of Bible passages.

Except, those passages are translations. And the "original" isn't really the direct words of Jesus, but what people recollected many decades after he died. In the case of Buddha, that would be hundreds of years.

So it seems to me that citing "scripture" in defense of one position or another is a subjective philosophical exercise, as no one knows what the actual unadulterated teachings of the Buddha were.

My attitude, as echoed in my recent post about Gotama vs. Buddha, is that reality is a better touchstone for argument. That is, what evidence is there that X is real? Or, what evidence is there that X promotes human flourishing?

Of course, there could be a conflict between what is real and what promotes human flourishing. Believing in life after death or reincarnation, for example, can make people feel better about the finitude of life. But what is the evidence for this? And is it better to live life truly with some distress, or falsely with reassurances?

star,

Your continued comments are ok.

Is it necesaary to cling to the (atta, anatta, dukkha, nibbana) words? Could this be a type of clinging? Same for always referencing back to the Buddha? I think you could express yourself without such clinging. You are a good person.

@Roger. Well thank you, but yes. It's necessary to reference back to the Buddha because that is what we are talking about, is the Buddha. We are talking about what his followers understand he taught, and what they pass on to others. Also, he has a perfectly ordered teaching when it is understood. Taking out pieces causes it to be less effective.

Are the Pali words necessary? No. As long as you don't mind a paragraph of exposition to explain them each time I want to use one. There are no single-word or even short phrases that well represent those words.

Sorry!

Thanks for your patience, Brian, I appreciate it. You're right that there are similarities between this argument and those between many other denominations, and differences. I would put this particular debate's difference as it being on something extremely fundamental, comparable to "Is there a reward for obeying God or not?" It's not a small issue.

I have spent about three years on these suttas, and I started out thinking, as you seem to, that it being hundreds of years between the possible life of the Buddha and the first written renditions, and a thousand years to the oldest copy we have, would mean that it would be such a modified mish-mash as to be nonsensical. But that's not what's there. I am reading with an understanding of linguistics, history, and human nature (especially meme theory) that those passing on these suttas in the past didn't have, and with that it becomes pretty easy to see patterns emerging and this is what I see: there is a consistent message -- really, really consistent (useful, verifiable too) -- and it's told in a consistent voice, and there is a consistent tale, and many of these things (especially the voice and the tale) have clearly gone unnoticed by those passing this on over the centuries because the commentaries will flat out tell a whole different story than what's easy to see when you have all these suttas spread out before you. We have an advantage nowadays that monks didn't, in being able to look at the whole vast body of work and compare and knit pieces together. I am sure that anyone who has a background in critical thinking, and the study of languages, who approached this stuff without being indoctrinated first and spent enough time on it would come to more or less the same conclusions I have. I long for some disinterested Pali scholar (yeah right) who knows nothing about Buddhism (yeah right) to come along and do just that.

As for "no one knows what the unadulterated teachings of the Buddha were" I have two problems with this. (1) No one knows the origin of the universe, either. Does that mean we should stop trying to figure it out? Just because the task isn't easy and may never get completely answered doesn't mean we should quit looking before we start. (2) There is no way that the consistent teaching, voice, and history can be apparent 2,000 years later if they do not have as their source one or at most a small group of people putting it together at one point in time. Unless a miracle happened (equivalent of a virgin birth) and somehow a committee formed across space and time and created a cohesive fiction to pass on a really elegant view of human interaction with the world. But humans don't work that way.

But if we started from a consistent insight and voice and history and passed it along mouth to ear, pen to paper, paper to hand, for 2,000 years, over divergent paths, through differing schools, with few of them having knowledge of what came before or what the others were doing, if most of those people passing it along were trying really really hard to pass it on accurately (and only a rare few were seriously deluded) you'd get what we've got. I am constantly astounded by how consistent it is. Humbled, even, by those who passed it on.

But anyway, thanks again for the forum and your patience. Anytime you want to drop in a question, please do (or want to kick me out, please do!).

--
star

Star (and readers),

As Roger says, you are a good person, but I think you are missing the forest for the trees. Nothing wrong with scholarly analysis of scriptures and doctrine if that is your thing, but the heart of the matter is that there is no enlightenment to be attained by anyone and nothing objective exists. That's buddhism reduced to its lowest common denominator. It is so simple that there is nothing to it.

Out of that simple thing many schools, doctrines, dogmas, practices and disciplines have evolved but it all is just a dog chasing its tail. You don't have to be in a mountaintop monastery full of candles, statues, prayer wheels and incense, shaving your head, wearing orange robes and chanting sutras all day. Buddha is anyone, everyone and no-one. God is, but will never be found. If you find God, whack him with a spatula, because as an object that can't be him. This is why Buddhism is thought to be "godless".

Sages have been saying this for a long time. Take Hui Hai who was an 8th century ch'an master you may know about. He said, "Illumination means the realization that Illumination is not something to be attained."

Illumination is not some 'thing' because it is not an object and it is not to be attained because we are 'it' already. If we search for 'it' who is it that finds 'it'?

There aren't two 'you's' are there? Who is the one that knows the other? Which is which? Whatever we find is not 'it'. The seeker is the found. We can't find this which we are by searching no matter how many scriptures, sutras and palis we read.

I almost hate to say this because it has become so cliche', but the eye can't see itself. Nothing illustrates the matter more clearly. Imagine an eye spending its life trying to see itself. Imagine an 'I' trying to see itself.

Hui Hai said, "There is neither illumination nor absence of illumination, neither bondage nor liberation from bondage."

There isn't anyone to be bound or freed. There is only just this- this here now as it is. And because this immediate moment, this spontaneous immediacy, is not at all as an object, it therefore is not as subject either (which would then be another object). See what I mean? There is no one outside of 'this as it is' to make an object out of 'this as it is' except an imaginary entity.

Whatever we conceive as 'me' is what seeks liberation, but it has never been bound and therefore will never be freed.

When 'I' no longer refers to 'it', that is, subject to its object, there is no longer any bondage nor any freedom because, as such, these kinds of concepts are irrelevant. Just 'I' and no one to say it.


@tucscon, member of the good person club here : )

You said, "Nothing wrong with scholarly analysis of scriptures and doctrine if that is your thing, but the heart of the matter is that there is no enlightenment to be attained by anyone and nothing objective exists. That's buddhism reduced to its lowest common denominator. It is so simple that there is nothing to it."

If I define "lowest common denominator" to mean "reduced to the lowest point people take it to, to the point where it no longer contains the original meaning" then you are correct. But BuddhISM isn't one thing, and I don't follow the BuddhISMs that have "reduced" the teaching to a point where it subverts the original insight.

I actually woke up this morning thinking about Brian's post, thinking that I wanted (as usual) to add one more thing and it was this: That when Stephen Batchelor's book "Buddhism Without Beliefs" told me things about the Buddha that others hadn't ever told me, I finally realized that I needed to do what he said the Buddha taught and do a little fact checking. I realized that I cared enough to actually go and see for myself, go to the source material. This is why I've spent years on studying the Suttas: because I needed to see for myself, and what I have seen is that there's really good information there: scratch the surface and it looks good; go deeper and it still looks good.

If I were to reduce what the Buddha taught down to its essence it would be this: be as sure as you can of the difference between what you know and what you think you know before making judgments that matter.

You, my friend tucson, may believe that the essence of the Buddha's teaching is that nothing objective exists, but he doesn't say that in the suttas. A conclusion to be drawn from "nothing objective exists" would be "therefore moral action affects nothing" which would not fit with the Buddha's teaching.

I absolutely agree with you that the practice of Buddhism is not about shaved heads, robes, and remote monasteries. On the other hand I do not find your discussion of "There aren't two you's" and "There isn't anyone bound to be freed" that results in conclusions like, "Whatever we conceive as 'me' is what seeks liberation, but it has never been bound and therefore will never be freed" to be so tangled that it's not useful.

And it's certainly not reflected in my practice (that which I generally conceive of as "me" has no wish to be liberated at all, would much rather I avoid that cushion entirely).

All the Zennish focus on emptiness, all the cozy New Agey takes on Buddhism as all about oneness and interconnection, all the abhidharmic parsing, all the talk about Absolute Reality, and all the schools of Buddhism whose takes on it I've had a brief look at, all of these do not tell me a single thing of use to me that isn't in the original Pali. What's there is clean, clear, based on experience, and grounded in a sensible system that comes by its morality as a natural consequence.

Spending a whole lot of time thinking about what objective reality is, if it is, who gets liberated, or doesn't is just more haring after unprovable views of things and is not helpful to the job at hand: reducing suffering. If anything actually matters, if anything is "real" it is this: humans experience suffering. What steps do we take to reduce that? Is there a way of looking at the world that helps reduce suffering? If there is it is irrelevant whether it is "based on reality" or not.

This addresses Brian's point about: "Believing in life after death or reincarnation, for example, can make people feel better about the finitude of life. But what is the evidence for this? And is it better to live life truly with some distress, or falsely with reassurances?"

Brian's point is a good one. We're not talking about "reducing suffering in the moment" -- being comforted by rebirth for example -- we're talking about an overall strategy that does least harm/helps most on both the individual and group level. That's not easy to come up with, but the Buddha did, and it's grounded in experience, not fairy tales.

Star,

As a faithful club member, it's the 'cookbooking' of various life topics, that was my point. Would life be a little better, when we don't cookbook our way through it. Referencing back to chapter and verse in the Buddha's cookbook, and seeking approval from such. Is it possible that the Buddha prepared a misguided peanut butter sandwich. Oh, and can I be club president?

Good Person Star (and readers),

I enjoyed Roger's comment about Buddha's Cookbook.

Star said: "If I define "lowest common denominator" to mean "reduced to the lowest point people take it to, to the point where it no longer contains the original meaning" then you are correct."

--What I meant by LCD is the core truth at the basis of many Buddhist teachings which otherwise appear different. That would be the actual "original meaning" as you put it. The "LCD" is the ultimate kernel of truth at the basis of Buddhism. LCD may be a poor choice of terminolgy depending on who hears it. I just thought I'd try it out.

Star said: "But BuddhISM isn't one thing, and I don't follow the BuddhISMs that have "reduced" the teaching to a point where it subverts the original insight."

--But isn't the "original insight" of the Buddha what a seeker of truth is after? Why confuse the issue with all the peripheral stuff? Unless you like peripheral stuff. This not meant to crticize what you like.

Star said: "If I were to reduce what the Buddha taught down to its essence it would be this: be as sure as you can of the difference between what you know and what you think you know before making judgments that matter.

--I don't agree with that. I think the essence would be closer to not making any judgements at all.

Star said: "A conclusion to be drawn from "nothing objective exists" would be "therefore moral action affects nothing"

--Moral action is relevant in relativity, but the realization inherent in Buddhism is beyond relativity and conceptual thought. When I say "nothing objective exists" it refers to the absence of the concept of the entity who would view things as separate objects. If "I" realize "I" do not exist as an object then objects no longer remain as such, for there is no object to objectivise them. They are "suchness" as some buddhists like to say.

Star said: "On the other hand I do not find your discussion of "There aren't two you's" and "There isn't anyone bound to be freed" that results in conclusions like, "Whatever we conceive as 'me' is what seeks liberation, but it has never been bound and therefore will never be freed" to be so tangled that it's not useful.

--I think if you continue your studies you will understand what I mean and the words won't seem so tangled. This is not meant condescendingly, and I agree with you. When speaking of these things words usually fall short and obfuscate what is being pointed to.

Star said: "And it's certainly not reflected in my practice (that which I generally conceive of as "me" has no wish to be liberated at all, would much rather I avoid that cushion entirely)."

--Then what is your practice for? It seems by your statement that you already understand that "me" is purely a conceptual state. How could a concept (practicer) affect its source? If all apparent action, and thus all practice, has its origin in Source, who then practices? Source? Source would be practicing being Source or trying to get to what it already is.

Star said: "If anything actually matters, if anything is "real" it is this: humans experience suffering. What steps do we take to reduce that? Is there a way of looking at the world that helps reduce suffering?"

--Yes. Instead of looking AT the world, look AS the world. That is Illumination if anything at all can be said about such a thing. Then, while suffering exists and always will in relativity, the one who suffers is not paramount and suffering is perceived differently. Not without compassion, but without attachment. Manifestation is as it is. What can 'you' do about it once you realize the 'you' that would do anything is a fiction?

Star said: "All the Zennish focus on emptiness.."

--Emptiness does not mean nothing, it means the absence of a central focal point of perception, any particular point of origin, any 'this' as opposed to 'that'.

Oh Roger. Here I go, delving into the dangerous land of metaphor in which I give a clever answer to what I *think* your charming metaphor just said, and perhaps we end up to be not talking about the same thing at all.

I spent a lot of my life not following cookbooks which resulted in me having to throw lots of stuff out and start over, poisoning people, and turning out just bad food. "Winging it" is what most of us do. Maybe it works for you. Didn't work all that well for me.

On the other hand, I don't think the Buddha is presenting a cookbook. He's showing us cooking methods and providing the tools to learn how to do each technique. What we make with the skills is up to us.

"But isn't the "original insight" of the Buddha what a seeker of truth is after? Why confuse the issue with all the peripheral stuff? Unless you like peripheral stuff. This not meant to crticize what you like." One man's "peripheral stuff" is another's "original insight".

You said: "I think the essence would be closer to not making any judgements at all." I said "Be as sure as you can of the difference between what you know and what you think you know before making judgments that matter." It seems to me we were saying the same thing, I was just being a little more pointed.

"I think if you continue your studies you will understand what I mean and the words won't seem so tangled."
I understand what you mean. I understand emptiness. My disagreement doesn't come from ignorance it comes from understanding. I simply disagree that concerning myself with "who" is doing the practice is in any way helpful. Like:

"Source would be practicing being Source or trying to get to what it already is."
But Process gets in the way. My practice is to stop Process.

If seeing it in terms of who is doing the work and no one is, is helpful to you, that's a good thing, tucson; if it works for you it's fine. It's just that in my reading of the suttas the Buddha isn't talking about "who" anatta is or "who" is left or whether nothing is left when we've stopped that process. And he speaks to me clearly enough without it that I don't need it. But there are 6 billion different points of view in the world, and not every one of them is going to find the way the Buddha put it as represented in the Pali suttas gives them the insight they need to see what he's saying. And because that's so, I absolutely respect the other schools out there, wonderful that they find other ways to express it. Those just don't work for me.

@Roger. Oh, I just finally understood that you want to be president of the good persons club, not the cookbook or crooked peanut butter sandwich club (sorry, I an be a little slow on the uptake). I didn't feel qualified re: president of cookbook or peanut butter clubs. But I second the motion to make you president of the good persons club.

Yes, the Star(good person)club.

Nothing wrong with reading books and such. At some point, using the brain/mind as our self contained 'cookbook' may have some sort of advantage. Using books in our library as reference manuals would be fine, and at times necessary. Obtaining advice from others is ok.

Referencing back to ones brain/mind when approaching life may be more enjoyable. If I have a problem(suffering), the last thing I want to do is go to the ______'s book to get guidance and approval. I need to be my guide, "much" of the time.


Star said: "My practice is to stop Process."

I'm tired of saying what I have to say. Here is what someone said somewhere:

"Abandonment of a phenomenal center constitutes the only practice, and this abandonment is not an act of 'will' performed by an identified subject. It is a non-action which leaves noumenon in control of phenomenal activity and free from interference by an imaginary 'self'."

"Noumenon" may be an unfamiliar term. It is damn hard for me to explain as I understand it and I'm probably going to fail miserably. Here goes..

Phenomena is appearance. We all get that. It is whatever is not absent. Noumenon is phenomenally absent but IS present as 'Source' of phenomena and thus is present even though it is absent as any sort of 'thing'. Noumenon, having no conceptual or objective existence is a symbol of the Origin of coneption and thus the manifest universe. If that is understood, then read the first paragraph again.

(this tucson character is an inhabitant of the Twilight Zone).

Perhaps the reader is familiar with the Toltec terms "tonal" and "nagual" as presented by Castaneda in his series of books and elsewhere.

Tonal= phenomena
Nagual= noumenon

Tucson,

I the exchanges above, I wonder what happen to the non-dualism aspect of Buddhism. There appears to be more dualism, as taught, from someone's particular Buddhist literature. I'm gussing, this is why Buddhism may have splintered into other groups that focused more towards nondualism, or non-conceptuality.

I reserve the right to be wrong.

Roger,
I reserve the right to agree with you.

IMNSHO (in my not so humble opinion) there is really nothing to Buddhism, but that wouldn't be very entertaining. So, people with incomplete understanding started to create all these concepts, practices, goals (enlightenment), observances, behaviors-both correct and incorrect, and the myriad of other things associated with Buddhism and what they think the Buddha Dude taught. This is not to say that I think there is no "god", realization, ultimate ground of being, etc. It is just that there is nothing to do about it, or anything accurate to be said about it including what I just said. Duality is contradictory. I think whatever is True can't be captured.

One time, I saw how things were. The mystery unraveled and all was clear. Then I recognized that I was Recognizing and as soon as that happened Recognition disappeared. You can't hold on to it, grasp it as they say. It just is and there is no second.

@tucson. It may well be that our problem lies in vocabulary/POV. Maybe we both see and understand the same thing but approach it from different ends and so it comes out sounding different. But at any rate, someone (named Nanavira Thera) said:

"The assutavā puthujjana identifies himself with the individual or the creature, which he proceeds to regard as 'self'. He learns, however, that the Buddha has said that 'actually and in truth neither self nor what belongs to self are to be found'. Since he cannot conceive of the individual except in terms of 'self', he finds that in order to abolish 'self' he must abolish the individual; and he does it by this device. But the device, as we have seen, abolishes nothing."

http://nanavira.xtreemhost.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=35&Itemid=63

Perhaps you would agree that though there is no self to let go of, when everything that needs to be let go of has been, an individual still exists?

On the other hand, I would love it if you would quote a sutta, tucson, in which the Buddha says anything like "It is just that there is nothing to do about it..." or "but the heart of the matter is that there is no enlightenment to be attained by anyone and nothing objective exists. That's buddhism reduced to its lowest common denominator. It is so simple that there is nothing to it." I ask this because what I hear you saying gets very close to the "heart of the matter" = what the Buddha REALLY taught was that there is nothing to be done, no work, no study, nothing to learn.

This is the fundamental difference between what I hear you saying and what I am saying. Maybe the difference is that I am working from the Pali canon, which is older, and closer to what he originally said, and you are working from later traditions that came to their own conclusions about what he was REALLY talking about. And as I have said, your understanding may be perfect for you; it may work well for you to do nothing, and that's fine. But not all of us are able to live in the way Buddha suggested so easily as you, apparently, are, without effort, without doing anything.

Similarly, Star, I would love it if you could quote a sutta in which the Buddha says anything like "there is, oh monks, in truth only one birth for everyone, and no kamma" or "after the break up of this body, there is no further birth or kamma for anyone, no matter how they have lived."

Brian wrote earlier that we are both "citing "scripture" in defense of one position or another".

The difference is that I am not "citing scripture" to say there is or is not Karmic Rebirth in reality, but simply to show that the preponderance of evidence, historical, textual, and otherwise, overwhelmingly indicates that Buddhism, and apparently Buddha, if he was a historical person, TAUGHT that there is Karmic Rebirth.

@Todd. Why would I quote suttas to support a position I'm not taking? I've never said the Buddha made any statements even remotely like, "there is, oh monks, in truth only one birth for everyone, and no kamma" or "after the break up of this body, there is no further birth or kamma for anyone, no matter how they have lived."

So why would you ask me to offer suttas supporting that position, if I don't believe that's what he said?

Star and Todd, I keep coming back to my basic question: Are karma extending over multiple lives and rebirth real, or not?

Let's suppose that an ancient "Einstein" had existed thousands of years ago. His teachings about relativity theory had only been passed down in oral form. For many hundreds of years people debated what his original teachings really were, not reaching agreement.

Then someone has a brilliant idea: let's leave that debate to historians. Us practical types are only concerned with one question. Is what this "Einstein" said true?

So experiments are devised to test his theories -- the theories hypothesized by both sides of the debate. And it turns out that one way of talking about gravity, relativity, and such is true, while the other isn't.

This is exactly what scientists did when the real Einstein revealed his equations concerning the general theory of relativity. Experiment ended up confirming his theory.

To me, what separates Buddhism from regular religions is its focus on experimentation. Doing such and such to experience the reality of this and that. If there is no way to confirm that karma and rebirth are realities, what's the point of endlessly debating what the Buddha might or might not have said hundreds of years before people wrote down what he might or might not have said?

It seems clear that there isn't any way to prove the reality of karma and rebirth, or someone would have done it in the past few thousand years. So it has to be taken on faith, like other religious tenets. That's fine, for those who like their Buddhism religious'y. But those who favor experimentation won't be interested much in the blind faith side of Buddhism.

Quite true, Brian. The problem is that what's being described is not objective, it's subjective, and at this point in time we don't have very good methods for getting objective data on subjective experience. So a disciple of Todd's teacher can say, "I reached enlightenment following this path of belief in rebirth" and a disciple of my teacher can say, "I reached enlightenment following this path that neither believes nor disbelieves in rebirth" and at this point, at least, we have no objective way of knowing if either statement is true.

It would be quite interesting to round up folks from either school who might be enlightened and see if there is an objective test that can back up their subjective experience -- there might well be. Hard to know without trying. The ability to try this is one reason to discuss alternative understandings of what the Buddha taught.

Another -- my reason -- is because if what I see the suttas saying is true, there aren't going to be very many enlightened individuals to run tests on, because a belief in rebirth holds them back; this is what the Buddha taught, that we need to give up clinging to unprovable views and that's what rebirth is.

Given that we don't have the means to test because this isn't an issue based in objective experience, but subjective, we don't have the option of doing what you suggest here. That being the case, should those of us who see that there is a different way, which seems a better way, just go take care of our own selves? Tempting, but I cannot be that selfish because what my teacher has taught me creates a connection to others that causes me to want to help reduce suffering.

So then I have this new problem. How do I as an individual get anyone to even listen to this other way if I treat it as just an idea I came up with, shorn of its origins? Who will care? It's unprovable. But if there is good evidence -- and there is, and it's growing -- that it is part of a system of thought that was arrived at through the insight of a 2,500 year old sage, it has gravitas, and people might actually listen.

This thread started from me asking what Wallace and thinkers like him are afraid of when folks like myself suggest that the Buddha may have taught something other than what they think he did, and that question remains.

"It seems clear that there isn't any way to prove the reality of karma and rebirth, or someone would have done it in the past few thousand years. So it has to be taken on faith, like other religious tenets. That's fine..."

That's only fine if you want to practice a faith.

I'm not sure I was clear in that last post that the reason I was talking about objective vs subjective is because proof of rebirth would come from objective data, but what I am saying about the difference between Todd's understanding and mine is not about something provable objectively. For the very reasons you state here, Brian, a belief in rebirth is about faith. And faith based on a lack of evidence is the antithesis of what the Buddha taught.

It seems as though my point keeps being misunderstood as me saying that the Buddha did not believe in rebirth and karma and so the debate here is about whether karma and rebirth are real or not. I must be doing a terrible job of communicating.

What I am saying is that the Buddha did not state his beliefs other than that he had found a great insight that reduced suffering -- which is not a belief actually, he knew from his experience and those of his students that this is what he had found.

I am saying that he did not teach that a belief (faith) in rebirth after death was necessary for liberation; he taught quite the opposite, that a belief in that which you cannot be certain of will hold you back from liberation.

And that is important. Because in this day and age, his original insight is still valid, and is very much needed in the world we live in -- a system that teaches us to see more accurately, so we can sort truth from propaganda, has to be a big help. If that system is on offer to the world as being "all about seeing accurately and taking nothing on faith" but it always comes with the caveat "except you have to believe in rebirth" -- think the critical thinkers out there are going to go for that if that's all they're hearing? And if that caveat is actually the reverse of what the Buddha taught, well that's a lovely bit of irony but it's just wrong to leave it like that.

Actually, Brian, I have not been addressing the question of "Are karma extending over multiple lives and rebirth real, or not?"

I honestly do not know the answer to that one.

Star, regarding the "path that neither believes nor disbelieves in rebirth," Wallace has already endorsed this approach, when he 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."

The problem I have (and Wallace seems to have) is with the following:

Batchelor "proceeds to explain who the Buddha REALLY was and what he REALLY taught, often in direct opposition to the teachings attributed to the Buddha by all schools of Buddhism."

Todd, I realize your intention isn't aimed at learning whether karma and rebirth are real. But if there is no way of knowing whether they are or not, it seems like this makes the discussion into how I put it before -- an exercise in historical analysis of oral and written "texts," not an exploration of the Buddha's core teaching, which I've always thought was aimed at the practical elimination/reduction of human suffering.

More informally... if Buddha supposedly was the only dude in the history of the world who knew beyond a shadow of a doubt whether karma and rebirth are real, doesn't this make him into a sort of Jesus? Meaning, someone who has a unique revelation which you either accept or reject on faith.

Star,

Once in awile I write a long thing on this blog, in this case in response to some of the things you presented, and I screw up and lose it. Why does that happen only when I write something I think is good?

Now that I am finished with my tantrum for doing this and picking up the pieces of the other computer I threw against the wall and pulling out what hair I have left (which means my beard), and buying bandages for my wife and dog who bore the brunt of my wrath (I have a green belt from 1970 in Tae Kwon Do, heeeeyaaaahh), I am a little worn out, especially after the flying, spinning back kick that missed her head and went through the wall destroying a valuable painting in the process, not to mention my foot.

So, I will condense it to this: I pretty much agree with what you presented to me.

Why didn't I think of that in the first place and save myself all this trouble?

Well, Brian, that would be a big "If". I do not know for sure what all Buddha knew beyond a shadow of a doubt.

In fact, I have compelling reasons to doubt that Buddha was omniscient or infallible. There's no evidence, for example, that he had infallible knowledge of the Universe:

http://www.westernbuddhistreview.com/vol4/was_the_buddha_omniscient.html

So, maybe he was mistaken about Karma/Rebirth, and, in fact, the Dalai Lama has also conceded this as a possibility.

However, I am also skeptical when some claim that Batchelor or others have somehow made a kind of rediscovery "of the historical Buddha and his message” or have, through their own speculations, discerned the REAL teachings or the REAL Buddha.

Okay, this brings up another extremely important point that I wanted to bring up. Buddhism (like Jainism, Vedanta, Yoga, etc.) is not, nor has ever been, a kind of one-person revelation, but an ongoing practice tradition of meditators seeking enlightenment. It has never been all about just one guy named Gotama, but it has always claimed to be a re-discovery of ancient truths.

In the Pali scriptures, Buddha is said to have mentioned a number of previous Buddhas. Also, the bodies of teachings known as Buddhism or Buddha Dharma include teachings from numerous individuals, including Nagarjuna, Bodhidharma, Padmasambhava, Hui Neng, Dogen Zenji, Milarepa, etc., etc., up to and including modern day teachers.

Todd, you quoted, "Batchelor "proceeds to explain who the Buddha REALLY was and what he REALLY taught, often in direct opposition to the teachings attributed to the Buddha by all schools of Buddhism.""

It may be that Batchelor states what his understanding is without presenting enough evidence; I grant that possibility. Is that what you object to?

Is it fair game to posit that the Buddha taught something different if one presents evidence, then?

Brian, you said, "But if there is no way of knowing whether they are or not, it seems like this makes the discussion into how I put it before -- an exercise in historical analysis of oral and written "texts," not an exploration of the Buddha's core teaching, which I've always thought was aimed at the practical elimination/reduction of human suffering."

But it's not just an exercise in historical analysis. It's about finding the teaching that works best. One that is based on early misunderstandings that have been perpetuated (which retards liberation by inadvertently fostering self-view) vs seeing if what most any newcomer to Buddhism notices at a glance as inconsistent in the traditional teaching is, indeed, an inconsistency and if it's there because the teaching is misunderstood, and the original (lost) way is the better way (one that fosters non-clinging to unproven views that would speed liberation from suffering).

It is, exactly, about the Buddha's core teaching -- on anatta, on anicca, on how dukkha comes about -- and it is about exploration to reduce human suffering -- but the option to try replacing the illogic of Traditional interpretations with the logic that is in the suttas as a better way gets lost in the shouting about people who are rewriting history.

I am not sure why all the shouting; if the Traditions are correct and that is the Buddha's way and the best way, that will prove out in time; if, instead, the consistent message can be seen in the suttas, and tested, and it turns out to be correct and the best way to reduce suffering, isn't that what anyone who values the dharma would want?

@tucson: Sorry I wasn't there; if you'd only been able to sit and tell me all you'd written all that damage would have been avoided. I hope you and yours recover soon from those flying fists and feet.

@Todd. Yes, the Pali canon does have the Buddha telling stories of his past incarnations as a Buddha, and there are Jataka tales too. In the Pali canon he also teleports from here to there, and flies through the sky and walks on water. Do you take all that literally? Or (an alternative I've heard) do you assume he believed he was capable of such feats? How are you interpreting those?

You mention many later commenters on Buddhism, who made great contributions in terms of clarifying points and often writing with great poetic beauty (not all of which I agree with); but I'm not sure what you are saying in bringing them up? That Buddhism is often reinterpreted? That reinterpretation should be an acceptable part of its history, and so why all the shouting, maybe?

Star,

You mentioned,

"Another -- my reason -- is because if what I see the suttas saying is true, there aren't going to be very many enlightened individuals to run tests on, because a belief in rebirth holds them back; this is what the Buddha taught, that we need to give up clinging to unprovable views and that's what rebirth is."

---Yes, rebirth, a word that could mean, "the giving up of clinging to unprovable views." This could be an Awakening(another fun word) one could use. This process of 'unclinging' for me is more of a hobby, than a way of life. Now, I can pratice my hobby, however I don't see it(for me) as a way of life. I have a few other hobbies, and other activites while living life.
---Star, I think you are a very knowledgeable, kind and sincere person. Just keep doing your thing.

@Roger. Well thanks; the nice thing about having knowledge as a hobby is there's always more to know. Like my hobby of amateur astronomy, the fun is in being reminded how little I am/my knowledge is.

May all your hobbies be one, and all of it fun.

Star,

Nagarjuna, Bodhidharma, Padmasambhava, Hui Neng, Dogen Zenji, Milarepa, Atisha, Je Tsong Kha pa, etc., are not simply considered to be "later commenters on Buddhism" who interpreted or "reinterpreted" Buddhism, but some are believed to have been Buddhas themselves, and, at any rate, are PART of Buddhadharma, not just commentators on Buddhadharma.

OK, Todd, but how is that relevant to this conversation? That's what I'm not getting.

The relevance to this conversation is that it looks to me like you are not providing much evidence that you really know "the Buddha taught something different" from "the Traditions."

For example, you mentioned that the Pali Canon "the Buddha telling stories of his past incarnations as a Buddha". The Pali Canon mentions a number of previous, and at least one future, Buddha. These are not past incarnations of Buddha.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_the_twenty-eight_Buddhas

Also, you maintained that an eternalist is "someone who believes in karma and rebirth and in finding a way to escape from the cycle." Everyone I know who is learned about Buddhism knows that is not what “eternalism” (sassatavada) means:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sassatavada

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pakudha_Kaccayana

According to the Pali Canon, there were other teachers at the same time as Buddha, including Ajita Kesakambali, who taught that “with death, all is annihilated,” Purana Kassapa, who taught that there is no Karma, and Sañjaya Belatthaputta, who was Agnostic, and the Buddha described all of their views as wrong and distinguished them from his own views.

When I pointed out the passages that depict the Buddha describing rebirth after “the break-up of the body,” you replied, in effect, that, yeah, Buddha said that but he didn’t really mean it, or yeah, Buddha said that, but it was outside of his “core” teaching.

If that were the case, then why hasn’t there ever been a Buddhist tradition that agreed with your interpretation of the Pali Canon? You can’t be suggesting that ALL of Buddha’s disciples and followers have misunderstood him for 2,500 years, and now you have suddenly somehow discerned Buddha’s true, “core” message??

Todd, if by "suddenly discerned" the "Buddha's true core message" you're implying I'm doing a major overhaul of the Buddha's doctrine, then no, that's not what I'm saying at all. I posted what I'd say is the vast majority of the "true core message" in a previous comment -- and asked you to verify whether you agree with that much or not -- do you?

In your understanding, were the Jains eternalists or annihilationists?

I don't simply say "after the breakup of the body" isn't core teaching; I'm not pronouncing it wrong by fiat without reason -- I explain why it is there in the suttas, that he answers questions in terms the listener will understand.

I do have evidence that the Buddha didn't teach rebirth as required to gain enlightenment, that he in fact says that a belief in karma and other worlds causes self-clinging, and that the Theravadan school misunderstands this, but it's not something that can be stated briefly.

I'm not suggesting ALL of anyone anything; nor would I suggest that "no one ever" anything. How would I know if there had "ever been a Buddhist tradition" that agreed with my interpretation, if it didn't survive? If those with a vested interest in clinging to their view stomp out dissent of any kind? So, no, I'm not suggesting that all of the Buddha's disciples misunderstood him. I'm suggesting that the vast majority of his disciples understood the majority of what he said.

But this one important difference in emphasis is so obvious when looked at with an open mind, I would expect that others would have seen it, or at least glimpses of it, in the past (I have an advantage in having access to the notes of Vedic scholars to help with perspective, as well as insights by others who are studying the canon with a fresh perspective -- I didn't "invent" this perspective in isolation -- I saw it by combining the insights of many others into history and human methods of transmitting ideas). I also expect that it would be very difficult in times past for a lone individual to convince others to even listen -- there would have been just as much shouting then as now, I'd imagine -- but at least these days, the case can be heard more widely than in just the monasteries closest to any lone monks who might have glimpsed it in the past.

On the other hand every newcomer to Buddhism I've ever talked to sees the inconsistency of the present Traditional understanding -- if there is no eternal self, what can be reborn after the breakup of the body? And if unused karmic results are conveyed forwarded by some... *unknown* whatever ... but I won't experience it, why should I care about that any more than I should care about any other being in the future? (Answer: I shouldn't... caring about any "*unknown* whatever" to do with this life that gets reborn after I die, more than I care about the futures of any other being is clinging to self.) If newcomers in our age can see it, surely others of the Buddha's disciples have seen it too -- but how much support for questioning were they given, do you suppose? How much access to the breadth of the canon?

(-more-)

Part 2 of 2

The 2,500 years is not all that significant given two things: (1) an idea that is replicated that has a mistake introduced gets replicated with the mistake in future copies -- so the twist in meaning only has to happen once and be successful in replicating to carry on happily for generations and (2) (as in the paragraph above) the nature of information transmission in humans for most of that 2,500 years has given a great advantage to small elites in keeping their dear understanding, the ideas they've invested their lives in, alive, and repressing any competitors.

The thing about memes (replicating ideas) is that they take advantage of human nature every way they can. So a teaching that is hard to convey, and difficult to do is going to have less success moving forward than a teaching that is easy to convey and easy to do. Rebirth and karma were well understood; money in the alms bowl is an easy way to gain advantage in the next world; being assured of some sort of continuity is very comforting. Having no comfort of self-continuity, no promises into the secrets of the universe, nothing to do but work hard and apply the teaching to your actual life is not a high-replication-value meme.

Which is also why I'm not worried for the survival of the Traditions as religious concept. The Buddhism the Theravadans and others offer is easier to convey at entry level, and has many of the hook-points that will keep it popular. No alternative view that has little comfort-value at its front door (you have to dig a bit more deeply to find its comforts); is hard to explain and just requires lots of hard (but worthwhile) work; for *no* promised reward extending beyond this lifetime for good works done now is going to supplant Tradition. Probably no one but agnostics and atheists will even want to look past "no promise...".

Star, yes, it is well known that Jains were considered to be eternalists in the Pali Canon.

Jainism really does teach an eternal unchanging self that undergoes rebirth and karma.

Buddhism teaches that an ever changing mind stream undergoes rebirth and karma.

I agree that the Four Noble truths, eightfold path, and dependent origination are core teachings, but so are the teachings about the nature of samsara, i.e., the cycles of rebirth/karma.

Star, your comments on this "Who is the Real Buddha?" subject are wonderfully thoughtful, well-written, and insightful. I don't claim to be able to follow all of the intricacies of the discussion, but enjoy the broad themes that keep popping up.

In my reading of popular Buddhist books, I indeed am struck by the seeming contradiction between all of this "no self" stuff, and the traditional teachings about rebirth. The attempts to explain that an individual self isn't reborn, but rather a stream of mental cause and effects, or such, seem more than a little belabored.

And why do Tibetan Buddhists search far and wide for the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama after one dies if there is no such thing as the rebirth of an individual person?

Like you said, extinction of our consciousness is scary. Religious teachings which promise some form of life after death are going to be a lot more appealing than the "death is the end" variety. So this is a likely explanation for why most Buddhists like to believe that rebirth is real, even if it isn't of an enduring "self."

Star, in response to your question about what I myself agree with, I actually think Stephen Batchelor himself has summed up my position better than I have:

“The Buddha accepted the idea of rebirth. It is said that as part of his awakening he recalled the entire chain of births that preceded the present one. Later he described, sometimes in detail, how actions committed in the past determine experiences in this life and how actions committed now will determine the quality of one’s afterlife. He spoke of the process of awakening in terms of how many rebirths remain until a person is freed from the cycle of compulsive birth and death.”

".....the evidence does not suggest that he held an agnostic view on the matter.”

--Buddhism Without Beliefs, pp. 34-35

@Todd, yes, I remember Stephen Batchelor saying something to the effect of the Buddha being a product of his times as regards rebirth. I am bemused to find myself in the position of taking a more extreme stance than the fellow who keeps taking all the flack for rewriting Buddhism. When I went to read suttas, I either expected to find out Batchelor was mistaken and Tradition was accurate in all ways, or Batchelor was right and the Buddha's position was less dogmatic than Tradition has him; I definitely didn't expect to come to the conclusion that Batchelor was being conservative. But I go with the evidence in front of me, along with testing it in my practice.

So what, to your thinking, distinguishes the Buddha's teaching from eternalism? That that which goes forward changes? that it is dependently arisen (not separate)? that it is impermanent?

And what is your personal view of rebirth?

@Brian. Yes! And I confess to being very fond of the Theravadan view of rebirth, the sheer complexity required to have rebirth tie in some way to us in this life, yet have no self to move on. It's like looking at a fractal. The bottom line problem with it is it is not visible here and now, karma's results coming from the past can't be seen through direct experience, nor can the way our karma's results move into the future, and yet the Buddha repeatedly says his dharma is visible to all who look.

Thank you for the pointer in your "Killing the false Buddha" post, to Glenn Wallis who has the sense of it. The Buddha's teaching was not ornate, only the fuzziness of language and the loss of historical context make it seem that way. The Buddha offered up his teaching in terms that were perfectly clear in his day: he had a brand new concept but only had the language of his times to describe it. There is no (permanent, separate, changeless) self to be reborn, and yet he does describe the birth of something that we mistake for the self. Calling it "no self" or "not self" give it more concreteness than I think he intended but there was no word for "process" in his day -- so he pointed to the fire and said "It's like that. It clings to its fuel. When the fuel is removed, where does it go?" Vedic fire was not about extinguishment, it was about immanence -- always there, potential in everything. Just so this anatta, this not-self. Remove the fuel -- it's gone! Restore the fuel -- it's back! Rebirth was a great metaphor for it. We can still relate to the feeling today, with that sense that after some major event that shakes us apart, we choose a new direction (intention) and are reborn, starting anew. Even the metaphors of heavens and hells match our moods -- they didn't have a good range of emotion and mood words in the suttas -- how else would he describe it but ... do a good deed you feel as though you're in heaven; do bad deeds you end up living in your own personal hell.

Star, Buddha's thinking (as described in the Pali Canon) distinguishes the Buddha's teaching from eternalism.

Everyone who knows much of anything at all about Buddhism knows that Rebirth/Karma is not the same as eternalism. This fact is so well known, in fact, that I cannot believe we are even discussing it:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pakudha_Kaccayana

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sassatavada

http://www.buddhanet.net/budsas/ebud/whatbudbeliev/111.htm

Also, Star, regarding your question about my personal view of rebirth, I wrote earlier to Brian that I honestly do not know for sure. It is a question that I struggle with.

I have met people who claim to remember their previous lives. However, I can claim with absolute certainty that I myself have no such recollections.

In the Pali Canon, Buddha definitely claimed to remember his previous lives via his meditation. Even Batchelor agrees on this point.

Also, to say that "there was no word for "process" in his day" is ridiculous. Pali, Sanskrit, and Ardha Magadhi have words for "process" and "becoming." "bhava," for example, means the process of becoming.


Another

"Also, to say that 'there was no word for "process" in his day' is ridiculous. Pali, Sanskrit, and Ardha Magadhi have words for 'process' and 'becoming.' 'bhava,' for example, means the process of becoming."

I didn't say they had no words for processes -- they had the word for "burning" for example, which is a process; they had words for things that were examples of processes -- I said they didn't have a word for "process". So describing the production of our suffering "as a process" wasn't something they could do. However they could give an *example* which we can see is describing a process, and people could understand via, for example, similes.

What I see in the dictionaries under "process" all actually have a definition involving movement, so they are "process" only in the sense of "proceeding from point A to point B" not in the sense of some invisible chain of events. But I'd love it if you could point out a word in Pali that actually meant "process" -- not an example of process or proceeding as in "going places". Or maybe you have a sutta in which he uses a word that pretty clearly must be translated as "a process"?

"Bhava" is a good word, though, being an example of a dynamic process. I take it in its Vedic context to mean getting down to the bare essence of atta, having stripped away all the nonsense until the man is a living, breathing embodiment of Brahma and gnows it -- "becoming one with Brahma" is such an eloquent phrase. Would you give it a different definition?

"Everyone who knows much of anything at all about Buddhism knows that Rebirth/Karma is not the same as eternalism. This fact is so well known, in fact, that I cannot believe we are even discussing it."

What we are discussing is the difference between "what everyone knows" because they have accepted dogma, and "what we might know by studying the suttas, and using our minds independently of indoctrination, and checking this against our own experience."

But if you and I are going to discuss the differences, if any, between the Buddha's philosophy and eternalism, I would need for you to be answering my questions about it yourself, rather than giving me links. It may be that the distinction I'm trying to make is too fine and you'd never agree with it anyway, in which case perhaps we should set it aside. But I'm willing to work towards it if you can give me your understanding of how eternalism differs from the Buddha's teaching.

"...regarding your question about my personal view of rebirth, I wrote earlier to Brian that I honestly do not know for sure. It is a question that I struggle with." Thank you for the honesty of your answer, I appreciate it. In a related but not-quite-the-same question, I wonder how you perceive the Buddha's descriptions in the suttas of him teleporting vast distances to chat with disciples, flying through the air, and such. Do you take that literally -- do you believe he did those things? Do you disbelieve he did those things? Or what?

"I have met people who claim to remember their previous lives. However, I can claim with absolute certainty that I myself have no such recollections." I myself have been spoken to by someone I love after he died suddenly, so I understand the vivid reality of such an experience and have great empathy with anyone who has subjective experiences of these sorts.

"In the Pali Canon, Buddha definitely claimed to remember his previous lives via his meditation. Even Batchelor agrees on this point." As far as I'm concerned, anyway, what Batchelor thinks isn't really relevant; I'm not accepting anyone's view if I don't find good evidence for it in the suttas -- and I don't on this point either.

My reasons for not accepting mentions of the Buddha's past lives in the suttas as evidence that he believed in literal past lives are numerous, are not simple, and not obvious (if they were then they'd be in the "everyone knows" category, right?). To mention just one of many points: I have seen the Buddha's description of his enlightenment in a few places in the canon, and in more of them, they describe his insights in the three watches of the night as being about dependent origination with no reference to seeing his past births; why would there be different versions? I can think of several reasons, some of which would be consistent with "he believed" but many of which would be consistent with "maybe he didn't".

I can remember my past lives, too. Once, I was born into a struggling family; later I was born into a family that was modestly successful and comfortable; still later I was born into a family that really had difficulty supporting itself in the absence of a father. In one life I was a student at a university; in another I was a wanderer who lived hand-to-mouth on the road; in yet another I was a sailor; in another a businesswoman; and in yet another, I was a mother. In each of these, I could see how the previous life had led to the creation of the next life, how my actions in one were important to my future incarnation. That has always been easy to see.

Since coming to understand Buddhism better I can now see the arising and passing away of other beings in similar fashion to my own, how some actions lead them to heavenly destinations and how others lead them to hells. If I can see this, I imagine the Buddha -- who seems to have had greater insight into people than I have -- could see it too.

Richard Gombrich describes Joanna Jurewicz's insights into the way people thought in those days as: "The Vedic poets did not just think *about* the salient elements of their physical surroundings, such as cattle, soma and fire; they thought *with* them, by means of them."

I am suggesting that the Buddha's descriptions of his past lives were understood, in his time, as him describing his understanding of *this life* in terms of cyclic birth -- the concept of (to put it crudely) us creating ourselves was a new one, and this would be the only way he could describe it, really -- in then-familiar terms. The context for his statements was lost as rebirth/karma took hold in the society as a whole, which they seem to have been on the cusp of doing during his lifetime.

No, Star, in Buddhism, "bhava means the continuity of life and death, conditioned upon "grasping" (upādāna), the desire for further life and sensation. This bhava is the condition for the arising of living beings in particular forms, through the process of birth (jāti).

Bhava is the tenth of the Twelve Nidānas, the links in the cycle of Pratītyasamutpāda or Dependent Arising.

Bhava (Becoming) is dependent on upādāna (clinging) as a condition before it can exist.

"With clinging as condition, becoming arises".

Bhava is also the prevailing condition for the next condition in the chain, Birth (jāti).

"With becoming as condition, birth arises.""

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bhava#In_Buddhism

Another good Sanskrit word is "krama," which means 'process', 'order' or 'succession'

Another one: "Citta-saṃtāna (Sanskrit) has been defined as "literally, 'the stream of mind,' a general term used to indicate the continuity of the personality of an individual in the absence of the permanently abiding "self" (ātman) that Buddhism denies."[13] Citta holds the semantic field of "that which is conscious", "the act of mental apprehension known as ordinary consciousness", "the conventional and relative mind/heart".[14] Citta has two aspects: "...Its two aspects are attending to and collecting of impressions or traces (Sanskrit: vāsanā) cf. vijñāna."[14] Saṃtāna or santāna (Sanskrit) holds the semantic field of "eternal", "continuum", "a series of momentary events" or "life-stream"

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mindstream#Terms

My point is that there are surely a number of Pali & Sanskrit words for "process."

What is the main, central and pivotal point of the doctrine attributed to the Buddha?

It is, when the doctrine is fundamentally understood and realized, perfectly clear that no entity has ever existed, exists, or ever could exist and therefore there is nothing that could reincarnate or transmigrate. What could there be to reincarnate? Some I-concept thing?

Another fundamental point of Buddha's doctrine is that there are not objective 'things' because the I-concept 'thing' that would perceive appearance as an object does not itself exist as an object that could objectify appearance!!. There aren't any 'things' and never were. So, can we then understand that there is no 'thing' to reincarnate?

For the same reason there is no reincarnation there is no free-will and self-determination because the person/entity that would exert free-will is mythological. 'We' do not live. There is just living.

But to those of you for whom this may be disconcerting it can also be said another way as in the Bhagavad Gita:

"There never was a time when I did not exist, nor you, nor any of these kings. Nor is there any future in which we will cease to be. (B.G. II 12)

If there were time and it were eternal, how could the moment of our birth have ever arrived as time would go infinitely into the past as well as future. Are we afraid of the eternity prior to our birth? It wasn't so bad was it? Same with the eternity after our death. But time is purely conceptual. It seems impossible to us in our current perceptual state, but there is only now. Never was there anything else, which is supported by the verse quoted above in the Gita.

So:

We have all been and are Ceasar and Cleopatra. A T-rex munching on a brontosaurus. Nixon, Napoleon, a one legged 10th century sheepherder. We are one life and simultaneously the many. We are the denizens of a planet in galaxy 45cn that exist in the star year 9934. We are the whole damn thing and no particular thing at all.

@Todd: "No, Star"...? and then you go on to describe bhava in Buddhism when I'd asked if you agreed about its definition in Vedism? OK. But I wasn't discussing it in terms of Buddhism because so far you stick to what you've been told about what words mean and I'm trying to show you that there's evidence to support misinterpretation in the Theravadan understanding of words and concepts.

I'm also not talking about Sanskrit, since it is a later and more complex language, related to what the Buddha spoke but with words and concepts represented in its vocabulary he is less likely to have used.

So we still don't have a Pali word for "a process" though we have words that are examples of processes, and no evidence provided here that the Buddha spoke in terms of "a process" but only provided examples of them.

Maybe it's time for us to retire this; my impression is that you're not actually hearing what I'm saying and we've probably beaten the subject past anyone else's interest in it.

@tucson. If your premise was correct your reasoning would be flawless, but it's not. You may reach the correct conclusion about there being nothing to be reborn, but you get there by an invalid path that has conclusions that can be drawn from it that can be harmful.

"What is the main, central and pivotal point of the doctrine attributed to the Buddha? It is, when the doctrine is fundamentally understood and realized, perfectly clear that no entity has ever existed, exists, or ever could exist... "

No, it is not perfectly clear if the doctrine is fundamentally understood and realized that no entity has ever existed. Unless you're equating "entity" with "atta" or "eternal, unchanging, separate self". An entity exists, in one case known here as "tucson": regardless of whether you have managed to be liberated or not, an entity exists. The Buddha also did not say that the anatta does not exist (though he worked hard to refrain from giving it concreteness) only that it is not the atta in that it is *not* eternal, unchanging, separate; it is impermanent, and dependently arisen. That doesn't mean anatta is not *real*. Like a program that runs a robot is not concrete but it is real and can have consequences, there *is* anatta until you stop the process/program that's running. And even after you stop anatta there *is* an still an entity there.

"Another fundamental point of Buddha's doctrine is that there are not objective 'things' because the I-concept 'thing' that would perceive appearance as an object does not itself exist as an object that could objectify appearance!!. There aren't any 'things' and never were. So, can we then understand that there is no 'thing' to reincarnate?"

That's modern nihilism, not Buddhism, if you're saying that there is nothing really out there. We don't get perfect accuracy in our perception of the subjective, but that doesn't mean there is no object.

The Buddha in the Pali canon, at least, does not say that the objective world does not exist. In fact he says that objects *must* exist, as well as working senses, and consciousness directed at those objects, for the whole process that creates anatta to come into being.

I think you may be mistaking "emptiness" for "no 'objective' things" (or we are defining the terms differently). Things don't have an essential nature; no actual objects have an essential nature -- they are all dependently arisen and therefore changeable, and therefore impermanent. This doesn't mean they aren't *real* objects. That's what emptiness is: no essential nature in anything. And because this is true we will never grasp the essential natures of anything (because there is nonesuch), we will never have perfect grasp of what *is* out there -- but that doesn't mean it's not out there, and that doesn't mean we shouldn't try to figure out how things work -- each individual object may be empty, but there is still reasonably predictable cause and effect or science would be impossible, and practicing Buddhism to reduce suffering would do no good, either.

"For the same reason there is no reincarnation there is no free-will and self-determination because the person/entity that would exert free-will is mythological. 'We' do not live. There is just living."

This is the sort of faulty reasoning from mistaken premises I'm talking about. Maybe you're working with some other philosophical system here but you're not describing what the Buddha taught. His entire system depends on humans having choices. Your reasoning here can lead people to conclude there is no need to practice meditation or make wise choices -- no do-er, no doing, so nothing really matters -- no one home, no free choices, and a shiv stuck into some stranger does nothing but move molecules aside (according to a nihilist of the Buddha's day), so there's nothing morally wrong with it according to that system.

Star, last night I had posted a second reply, but it did not get posted. That is why it seemed I was not hearing you.

However, your reply to Tuscon raises another question I had been meaning to ask you: if you ask me what is the difference between rebirth/karma and eternalism, I will ask you, what is the difference between your interpretations and nihilism?

First of all I don't think anyone knows for sure what Buddha said. It doesn't matter though unless you are a scholar trying to authenticate scriptures. If that's your gig, fine. Do it.

But if you want to grab the "Bull" by the horns, it's kind of like arguing about how to ride a bull instead of just riding the thing. Who was the first cowboy to use and develop the modern hand wrap? Was he from Montana or Texas? Which rosin provides the best grip? Is the Texas method more valid than the Montana method? Is the shoulder spur more effective than the rib spur? Is it chicken-shit to wear a helmet and defy tradition? Are helmet wearers heretics who defile the original purity of remaining on the back or a violently undulating, slobbering, shit-covered bull for eight seconds wearing just jeans and a big hat? I don't know. Just ride the goddamn bull. If you stay on you stay on. End of story.

What I am talking about is not nihilism although I can see how it would be misunderstood that way. It is non-objective relation. Neither this nor that. Wei Wu Wei in Chinese...action without action. How does one successfully explain 'neither this nor that'? It is choiceless perception of this that is, which is, but not as we customarily see "It". "It" is no 'thing' but is not nothing either. Nothing is another 'thing'. I simultaneously am and am not. Is there a word for that? How about "amamnot"? Ramana Maharshi used to call it "I-I".

There has never been an objective being. This is the core of the matter as it has been seen through the ages regardless of what one dude may have said 2400 years ago. From that intuitive perception complete understanding dawns. Nothing else is needed, for all comprehension lies within that.

This understanding is complete. It is the ultimate understanding because only non-objectivity itself can know it. Nothing more need be said.

"Knowing that, the rest is known."
--from an upanishad

Ah, sorry for the lost post, Todd.

How I personally interpret what the Buddha teaches about nihilism and eternalism vs his point about karma and rebirth is this: clinging to any view that is not anchored in what one can observe personally in combination with what "the wise" say is bound to be a hindrance. Neither eternalism nor nihilism have good evidence in my life, nor is there proof of them in science (not possible to "prove a negative"), so I am not going to base my choices on them as if they are real. NEITHER am I going to base my choices on them as if they are UNTRUE. Just as the Buddha did, I am not going to concern myself with unprovable cosmologies but I WILL concern myself with the results of believing these things. So, for example, if I can see that nihilism leads to amoral behavior, I will say that that's not a wise way to go. If I see that eternalism leads to amoral behavior, I will say that's not a way to go either.

When I was a little girl I had a problem with Christianity's take that one had to go through Jesus to get to heaven. I could never accept that two people, the first who believed in Jesus, misbehaved, confessed sins would get into heaven but the one who never heard of Jesus but led a moral life would end up in limboland... I always used to say I didn't want to work for a God who worked that way. So I think I have always been a follower of what the Buddha taught (in that sense anyway).

What the Buddha teaches about karma and rebirth in my understanding, is what we can see in the evidence of our own lives here and now: that people suffer as a consequence of their own ignorant actions (and of the ignorant actions of others but we don't have personal responsibility for that any more than we do in suffering from acts of nature -- but we do have responsibility for our karmic acts' effects on others). Rebirth I see as being about how we create ourselves anew with every change of direction we take in life. Acceptance of cosmologies on faith are not helpful in sorting that out (in fact are a hindrance). In my personal view, what follows from this is that when I think about what happens "after the breakup of my body" I am concerned not for *my* future rebirth, but for the unused fruits of my life's karma on everyone else in the future. I have not seen strong evidence in the suttas that the Buddha pointed this out, though I see hints (in references to "old kamma" and "tendencies") but I'm still reading.

So the position is an agnostic one but not agnostic in the common sense of "Don't know, don't wanna know" nor of Sanjaya's "Don't know and don't dare take a position" but in the sense of "I admit I don't know everything so I am going to work with what I can know, not what I can't."

There may be Buddhist rebirth. The Muslims may be right. The nihilists may be right. Christians may be right. I have no way of knowing at this point which is. So I am going to set all that aside until I have good evidence or see and test in my life.

Does that answer your question?

Star, your comment above is a wonderful overview of a "pragmatic" approach to Buddhism. As noted before, it fits with my admittedly fairly shallow and non-scholarly understanding of what the Buddha taught. He seemed to be a practical sort of guy who didn't want to waste time debating unanswerable questions unrelated to suffering and the human condition.

tuscson said, "First of all I don't think anyone knows for sure what Buddha said. It doesn't matter though unless you are a scholar trying to authenticate scriptures. If that's your gig, fine. Do it." If it doesn't matter, why do you bring it up? And to clarify* when I talk about what the Buddha said, taught, thought, I am always coming from the perspective of my understanding of the Pali canon. If you have a pedantic nature and require it, I will be sure to illuminate that for you each time, if you like. ; )

* although, with my comment that "The Buddha in the Pali canon, at least, does not say that the objective world does not exist" I thought I was being pretty clear.

But you would have it both ways. Chastise me for the shortcut of saying, "The Buddha says," while on the other hand, you will tell us precisely what he taught as if you (believe you) read his mind. "Another fundamental point of Buddha's doctrine is that there are not objective 'things'..." I wonder if you could please provide us with any evidence from the oldest material we have of the Buddha's talks, that this is was a fundamental point of the Buddha's doctrine?

"What I am talking about is not nihilism although I can see how it would be misunderstood that way." Please explain the difference between the nihilism the Buddha objected to (as he is represented in the Pali canon), and your not-nihilism; if you would be so kind as to do it in your own words as though you're talking to someone who has never studied philosophy, just to a regular jill on the street like me, I'd appreciate it.

"Wei Wu Wei in Chinese..." "Ramana Maharshi" "from an upanishad"
"This is the core of the matter as it has been seen through the ages regardless of what one dude may have said 2400 years ago." Well if that's your gig, fine. If your understanding is that there's never been objective being, and you base this on Wei Wu Wei and Ramana Maharshi and the Upanishads; and your impression of the essence of the Buddha's teaching is that it's just exactly that, fine up to the point that you go mis-representing what the Buddha taught when, as represented in the oldest works we have about his teaching (aka "the Pali canon"), it is not. And he was pretty specific about it.

As I said some time back, if this philosophical system works for you, fine. I would love to hear details of how you fit "non-objective relation", "no entity has ever existed", "no free-will and self-determination" into your daily life; how it applies to the consequential choices you are faced with day-to-day. Hedonist that I am by nature, I know where it would take me. Perhaps you can explain it to me plainly enough to make it clear why I shouldn't just call you every creative name I can think of that might even remotely apply, since there aren't any consequences for doing so that haven't already been determined and you're not real anyway.

The thing is, my concern is actually more with getting an accurate understanding of what the Buddha taught (as represented in the oldest works we have, such as they are, that recorded his teachings) and conveying it in a useful way to uneducated, non-philosophical, just plain pragmatic folks like myself*, complete with its very useful application to the choices we make in daily life, because it's really pretty easy for me to understand how it applies, to see how the moral system holds up, and to see evidence of how well it works.

* a tip of the hat to Brian

Star, you wrote:
"Rebirth I see as being about how we create ourselves anew with every change of direction we take in life."

Well, I will ask you in your own words, "I wonder if you could please provide us with any evidence from the oldest material we have of the Buddha's talks, that this is was a fundamental point of the Buddha's doctrine?"

Similarly, I think your claim that a Buddhist need not believe in rebirth/karma "after the breaking up of the body" is "fine up to the point that you go mis-representing what the Buddha taught when, as represented in the oldest works we have about his teaching (aka "the Pali canon"), it is not."

Brian, my approach to Star's posts has nothing to do with how they "fit" with my understanding, but with how well they are supported, or not, by evidence from the Pali literature.

In fact, among Star, Tuscon, and myself, I seem to be the one who is not trying to impose my own prejudices or preferences on the Buddha (or whoever authored the Pali Canon) or "tell us precisely what he taught as if you (believe you) read his mind."

The evidence is that there are many references to rebirth in the early Buddhist scriptures:

"I designate the rebirth of one who has sustenance, Vaccha, and not of one without sustenance. Just as a fire burns with sustenance and not without sustenance, even so I designate the rebirth of one who has sustenance and not of one without sustenance."

"Vaccha, when a being sets this body aside and is not yet reborn in another body, I designate it as craving-sustained, for craving is its sustenance at that time."--Kutuhalasala Sutta

Star said: " tuscson said, "First of all I don't think anyone knows for sure what Buddha said. It doesn't matter though unless you are a scholar trying to authenticate scriptures. If that's your gig, fine. Do it." If it doesn't matter, why do you bring it up?"

---I bring it up because I want to clarify my intent is not to say anything is wrong with your deep analysis of scripture. Nothing personal. We all have our interests. Again, if it's your gig, go for it.

Star said: "And to clarify* when I talk about what the Buddha said, taught, thought, I am always coming from the perspective of my understanding of the Pali canon."

---This is fine. Keep it up if you like. I come from my perspective which seems to agree, as far as I can tell, with Ch'an masters who came along centuries after Buddha. Still, they are refered to as Buddhists. So, my "bottom line" in Buddhism comes more from them than the Pali stuff. I am a little more versed in the Heart Sutra and Diamond Sutra.

Star said: "If you have a pedantic nature and require it, I will be sure to illuminate that for you each time, if you like. ; )"

---Thank you for not calling me a naive idiot as a few bloggers have done. Although that would be OK too. I can take it. I have nothing invested in this. Bring it on.

Star said: " * although, with my comment that "The Buddha in the Pali canon, at least, does not say that the objective world does not exist" I thought I was being pretty clear.But you would have it both ways."

---The only thing I feel pretty sure of is that we don't know for sure what the character "Buddha" said.

Star said: "Chastise me for the shortcut of saying, "The Buddha says," while on the other hand, you will tell us precisely what he taught as if you (believe you) read his mind."

---My intent is not to chastise you, but I guess it comes off that way as my understanding of Buddhism is different. Unfortunately this is a blog interaction and not a one on one converstion, so the non-confrontational nature of my attitude is not apparant. If we were chatting over a beer or a strawberry smoothie you would see that I am really a swell guy ;)"

Star said: "Another fundamental point of Buddha's doctrine is that there are not objective 'things'..." I wonder if you could please provide us with any evidence from the oldest material we have of the Buddha's talks, that this is was a fundamental point of the Buddha's doctrine?"

--Actually, I don't care or require any authority for what I experience or express in reaction to your comments. It is just my reaction which clears my mind more than anyone else's apparantly. Good therapy. Thanks Doc.

Star said: " Please explain the difference between the nihilism the Buddha objected to (as he is represented in the Pali canon), and your not-nihilism; if you would be so kind as to do it in your own words as though you're talking to someone who has never studied philosophy, just to a regular jill on the street like me, I'd appreciate it."

--First of all, I am sticking to my opinion that we don't know for sure what Bhudda said. Second, I already was speaking as if talking to your average Joe on the street in my own words as best I can.

Star said I said: "Wei Wu Wei in Chinese..." "Ramana Maharshi" "from an upanishad" "This is the core of the matter as it has been seen through the ages regardless of what one dude may have said 2400 years ago."

--I was hoping to illustrate that what I am attempting to say is nothing new or original. Not that I require any authority.

Star said: "Well if that's your gig, fine. If your understanding is that there's never been objective being, and you base this on Wei Wu Wei and Ramana Maharshi and the Upanishads; and your impression of the essence of the Buddha's teaching is that it's just exactly that, fine up to the point that you go mis-representing what the Buddha taught when, as represented in the oldest works we have about his teaching (aka "the Pali canon"), it is not. And he was pretty specific about it."

---Again. Who is Buddha and what did he say? We really don't know. People think they know what verses in the Bible mean and it is the word of God or Christ. How do we know who said them or that it is the word of God/Christ? And then people interpret "the word of God" in all kinds of different ways. My take on the Buddha is my take, granted. So, you may be right that when I say the bottom line in Buddhism is such and such I may be being pesumptuous. I don't really know what Buddha said.

Star said: "As I said some time back, if this philosophical system works for you, fine. I would love to hear details of how you fit "non-objective relation", "no entity has ever existed", "no free-will and self-determination" into your daily life; how it applies to the consequential choices you are faced with day-to-day."

--No way to really explain it. Life just happens. One way that may point you in the direction of where I am coming from is to understand that "you" are transparent. Just be transparent. How? I don't know. It just happens.

"Hedonist that I am by nature, I know where it would take me. Perhaps you can explain it to me plainly enough to make it clear why I shouldn't just call you every creative name I can think of that might even remotely apply, since there aren't any consequences for doing so that haven't already been determined and you're not real anyway."

---I would say, "I am not the universe. The universe is I. I do not experience, I am experience. I am not the subject of an experience: I am that experience. "I" am awareness. Nothing else can I be or can exist. The absence of both presence and absence is the inconceivable truth." To me, this means a lot. To you it may be crap. OK, to you I'm full of crap. No big deal. That's what I have to say. By the way, nothing wrong with a little hedonistic pleasure if it comes your way. People think they have to behave a certain way. I don't think so, but being nice seems to make life easier.

Star said: "The thing is, my concern is actually more with getting an accurate understanding of what the Buddha taught (as represented in the oldest works we have, such as they are, that recorded his teachings) and conveying it in a useful way to uneducated, non-philosophical, just plain pragmatic folks like myself*, complete with its very useful application to the choices we make in daily life, because it's really pretty easy for me to understand how it applies, to see how the moral system holds up, and to see evidence of how well it works."

'nuff said.

for what its worth and as a general reader, its been a very interesting informed discussion on budhism generally in all its various guises.

and i even learnt something about the alternative cowboy grips from Tucson who sounds like an old ranch hand.

I said, "Rebirth I see as..."
Todd said, " I wonder if you could please provide us with any evidence from the oldest material..."

I don't think I ever said the Buddha quoted *me*. "Rebirth *I* see as" means *I* see as, not the Buddha saw as. You had asked me how I interpreted it, and I gave you my personal interpretation. Was that not what you wanted? I am trying to be very clear when I give my personal take on things (how I approach the teachings in my life), as opposed to when I offer up, "Buddha says" which is when I'm stating how I understand the Buddha (as represented in the Pali canon) was describing things. I wouldn't state how he was seeing "rebirth" because I haven't got enough evidence pointing to an actual answer yet. Maybe there's a solid answer in there, maybe not. Meanwhile I just offered my interpretation, which was what I thought you'd asked for. Sorry.

Re: Vaccha the Brahmin's question... In the framing story, at this point he is not yet a disciple of the Buddha's. He observes that all the Big Name Teachers of his time tell where various disciples go after death, and so does Gotama, except when it's an arahant. The Buddha says that when a disciple is still fueling rebirth, he says where they go, but an arahant is not fueling rebirth, so he doesn't. This is absolutely consistent with what I've said before about his talking to people in the idiom they are accustomed to; Vaccha is new to the teachings, so he speaks in common terms. The Buddha has announced widely that arahants are liberated, so obviously they're not experiencing rebirth. Still, it's a puzzle why he might leave the man with the impression he meant it literally. Seems like lying, doesn't it. But in the canon the puzzle is solved, as the Buddha has given us the reason he does here:

MN 68: "What do you think, Anuruddha? What purpose does the Tathagata see that when a disciple has died, he declares his reappearance thus: 'So-and-so has reappeared in such-and-such a place...'?

"Anuruddha, it is not for the purpose of scheming to deceive people or for the purpose of flattering people or for the purpose of gain, honour, or renown, or with the thought, 'Let people know me to be thus,' that when a disciple has died, the Tathagata declares his reappearance... Rather, it is because there are faithful clansmen inspired and gladdened by what is lofty, who when they hear that, direct their minds to such a state, and that leads to their welfare and happiness for a long time." (from the Wisdom Pubs edition, translated by Bhikkhus Nanamoli/Bodhi)

"... my approach to Star's posts has nothing to do with how they "fit" with my understanding, but with how well they are supported, or not, by evidence from the Pali literature." Different POV: Your approach is to repeat what you've been told so your understanding has already been shaped. I haven't any evidence in what you've offered of an original insight of your own; this is not a criticism, just an observation. You're following the Theravadan party line, so the work has already been done for you in making it "fit" since these are the same people who have been passing on the suttas for two thousand years or so. I've addressed these points in the past (about transmission of the teaching, and memes and so on) but I've not noticed you responding. Do you assume the whole of the Pali canon was passed on without error? (This is why I asked you about teleportation and flying through the sky and other miracles described in the canon.)

"The evidence is that there are many references to rebirth in the early Buddhist scriptures"
Yes, and I have quoted a scholar from the period who states that people of the time thought via correspondence between this and that. I can quote several more if you'd like, especially on the ways in which brahminical thought was entirely about the resemblance between... well, everything. Between this world and the one above, between father and son in this world. Their whole culture was framed in terms of metaphor. That the Buddha mentions it many times is not surprising -- it was a perfect metaphor for his purposes, and he used it repeatedly because it worked; those who had just a little dust in their eyes understood the counterintuitive brand new concept he was describing about creation of a self in flux. But he also says that a belief kamma and merit, a belief in "the other world" and so on are tainted views that cause an individual to keep churning out those clingy bits of self.

But you say I'm not providing enough evidence? Well, I had said I had support in the suttas for "the Buddha did not teach rebirth as part of his path" but that it was lengthy. Politeness required that I not go asking you to grind through it unless you show willing, and you didn't respond, Todd, so I haven't offered it. But I will if you're willing to read it with an open mind.

@tucson. No, I don't think you're full of crap, I just think you have a perfect view from inside your own head and it's difficult for you to put it into words, just as the Buddha (as represented in the Pali canon) seems to have found it a bit challenging to describe. I'm sorry you can't explain how morality works in that system beyond "just let it happen" or whatever. Not an introductory-level moral system, apparently.

I had hoped that enough of my sense of humor might come through in these posts that you'd know I am a swell guy too, but my humor is so dry it tends to blow away before it gets to the other person in a conversation with me.

Star, my reply to your question "about teleportation and flying through the sky and other miracles described in the canon" was the one that got lost last night.

Briefly, you had asked two questions, one, do I take that literally, and two, do I believe he did those things? Do I disbelieve he did those things?

To the second question, I had to simply reply that I do not know if the Buddha did those things. Maybe he did. Maybe he did not.

To the first question, my reply is that yes, I think those accounts were written with the intention of being taken quite literally.

Star, if you have "support in the suttas for "the Buddha did not teach rebirth as part of his path,"" yes, please share it with me, even if it is quite lengthy.

I do not mind if you post it as a link.

There is no existence of any objective thing at all.

There is no existence of anything sensorially perceived and conceived as an object. Not even the suffering of pain, or a drugged unconscious state.

There is no existence of any objective entity writing this nor the existence of the words being written.

Why? Because whatever is subjected to space and time is nothing other than an appearance in mind.

You are probably asking, "Well then, just who is it that is writing this?"

I am, as I am responsible for every appearance whatsoever. Every sentient being can say this too whether it be horse, bull, bug, rattlesnake or vice-president.

In the void of intrinsic nature, so it is,
and "I", whoever says it, am the immanent phenomenal appearance whose transcendence **noumenally is what I am.

What is the barrier to understanding in a nutshell (or ballsack)?:

Objectifying what is functioning as seeing, hearing, feeling, living, writing. I am not writing. I am the action of writing and as such "I" am no "where" to be found.

**Noumenon is not phenomenally present, but it isn't absent either. It is pure potential and as such it is neither present nor absent. It cannot have any existence except as a symbol of the origin of conception from which appearance springs.

tucson, nicely said. I understand more clearly now where you're coming from when you say there's no existence of any objective thing. Meaning (I guess) that everything is known through subjective consciousness, rendering the existence of "objective" things impossible.

Star,

"I had hoped that enough of my sense of humor might come through in these posts that you'd know I am a swell guy too,..."

---WOW, Star, I thought you were a gal.

@tucson. That's clear enough, yes, but I don't find it particularly useful. It's a little like questions of how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. Might be fun to discuss and think about if that's your thing, but I am not finding practical application in it.

The Buddha is perhaps saying something *like* that, from which we might conclude that we can never *directly experience* the objective, but he (as he is represented in the Pali canon) does not say there is no object out there and that you are not real, and for good reason, I think, in that it is too easily understood to lead to conclusions that result in behavior that will lead to harm.

I wish you well with your philosophy.

"that everything is known through subjective consciousness, rendering the existence of "objective" things impossible."

---In a subject/object realm, I can create a 'known' through a supposed self-awareness concsiousness, and thus objectify things into a dualistic possiblity. This is done all the time. In non-duality (just a word) there would be 'no' thing to create a 'known' and no concept of self-awareness activity that would objectify things.
That said, I am in a subject/object realm when I blog in this blog. This blogging activity isn't anything bad.

@Todd. Thanks. I guessed your comments on "flying through the air" and so on had gotten lost. But I don't think you answered my last question about "Do you assume the whole of the Pali canon was passed on without error?"

When reading my post on "The Buddha didn't teach rebirth as part of his path" will you please do me a favor, and just read it and give a good long try to understanding what it's saying *without* reference to the commentarial notes on the sutta from other sources? It's not a big deal if you read the full sutta in whatever editions you like (although translators do slant understanding with their choice of words -- a subject I have much to say on but we haven't discussed here -- lucky for y'all) but going straight to the commentary before giving what I'm saying your fullest attempt to see its point only serves to prejudice the effort. Even listening to the Bodhi transcript I link to in the article will prejudice you -- it's there as proof that I accurately cite him.

A few posts after the one I link to below, I have a post called "The Kalama Sutta: In the News" in which I link to an article called "Is Obama The Antichrist? Why we believe propaganda" -- it's about how easily our minds are influenced by even small and unlikely things -- and it's the reason I ask you to consciously avoid some of that slanting until you process what I'm saying.

Anyway, here's the link:
http://justalittledust.com/blog/?p=104
and thanks in advance for your willingness to give it a fair hearing.

I'd like to point out, for perspective's sake, that what I say the Buddha is saying, and what Tradition says the Buddha is saying are almost exactly the same thing. The difference is only one of emphasis. Tradition puts emphasis on developing the mundane views -- of rebirth for example -- and on gaining merit towards a good rebirth. What I am saying is that the Buddha put his emphasis on letting go of views that are centered on one's own advantage like merit for merit's sake (for the sake of a good rebirth). His entire point was about letting go of (literal) self-interest.

@Roger. I am an old lady. I was using "swell guy" because it was the phrase tucson had used, and was using it in the same sense my daughter uses "Duuuude..." when she's talking to her girlfriends.

Star,

You are a nice, very knowledgeable, sincere, young at heart, lady. Tucson is a nice guy too.

You mentioned,

"His entire point was about letting go of (literal) self-interest."

--The Buddha, imo, would be saying, let go of the concept of the Self. However, in duality, one can have various dualistic interests. Blogging can be interesting.
Was the Buddha trying to obtain a 100% state of no-Self, a state of 100% nonconceptuality?

Okay, Star, so is what the Pali Canon says, when it describes the Buddha recalling his past lives, almost exactly the same as what what you say the Buddha is saying?

"When my mind was thus concentrated, purified, bright, unblemished, rid of imperfection, malleable, wieldy, steady, and attained to imperturbability, I directed it to knowledge of the recollection of past lives.

I recollected my manifold past lives, that is, one birth, two births, three births, four births, five births, ten births, twenty births, thirty births, forty births, fifty births, a hundred births, a thousand births, a hundred thousand births, many eons of world-contraction, many eons of world-expansion, many eons of world-contraction and expansion: There I was so named, of such a clan, with such an appearance, such was my nutriment, such my experience of pleasure and pain, such my lifespan; and passing away from there, I was reborn elsewhere; and there too I was so named, of such a clan, with such an appearance, such was my nutriment, such my experience of pleasure and pain, such my lifespan; and passing away from there, I was reborn here.

Thus with their aspects and particulars I recollected my manifold past lives.

This was the first true knowledge attained by me in the first watch of the night."

Star said: "That's clear enough, yes, but I don't find it particularly useful."

--Well, it probably isn't very useful if your objective is to discern what exactly the historical character Buddha actually taught, or if you are concerned with right-living, morality and how to live a pure life, but it may be useful in shedding the extremities of sutras, doctrines and scriptures and getting to the heart of the matter.

I mean, we can read all the recipies and bake the cake different ways, but I am talking about eating the cake...the actual eating of the actual cake.

In this case, however, eating the cake is not an act of volition. There is not (imo) a step by step series of actions such as the eightfold path that is sure to lead to a mouthful of cake. Rather, you suddenly find yourself with a mouthful of cake.

I think you can, however, set up the conditions where a mouthful of cake is more likely to manifest. So, in that sense exercises like meditation and ridding the mind of extraneous and unnecessary concepts may be helpful. Just going around with the idea of transparency may lead to actual transparency.

The Heart Sutra is a rather well known and respected Buddhist scripture written maybe a few hundred years after Buddha which is about as close to his lifetime as any sutra I am aware of (but I am no scholar).

It is agreed by experts that the Heart Sutra says the following numbered statements in all translations (followed by my interpretations):

1) The five skandha are voidness.

tucson: The five functional aspects of appearance are noumenon (formless source).

2) Each of them is voidness and voidness is each.

tucson: Each appearance is its source (noumenon) and its source is appearance.

3) Each is not separate from voidness and voidness is not separate from each.

tucson: Each appearance is not separate from source and source is not separate from appearance.

4) Whatever each is, voidness is and whatever voidness is, each is.

tucson: Whatever each appearance is, is its source and whatever its source is, each appearance is.

5) Voidness of all things is uncreated and indestructible.

tucson: Noumenon (source) is unaffected by creation and destruction.

6) In voidness none of the five skandha exist.

tucson: In or as source (noumenon) no appearance exists as an appearance.

7)In voidness no 'thing' exists.

tucson: In or as source (noumenon) (transparency) no appearance exists as such. That is, as an object.

8) This is the way a bodhisattva sees or understands.

tucson: For those not familiar, a bodhisattva is one who sees non-objectively or with transcendent subjectivity and the absence of objective being. In other words, a bodhisattva sees as Buddha sees.

The Heart Sutra does not deal with the 'nature' of objects, rather it deals with the 'seeing' of them as they truly are, as a bodhisattva sees.

Star said about what i said in a comment above: "That's clear enough, yes, but I don't find it particularly useful. It's a little like questions of how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. Might be fun to discuss and think about if that's your thing, but I am not finding practical application in it."

tucson: --You see, in my view intense scriptural and scholarly analysis of Buddhism is a little like what you just said quoted directly above.

Star said: "The Buddha is perhaps saying something *like* that, from which we might conclude that we can never *directly experience* the objective,"

--We can directly experience "the objective" non-objectively AS the FUNCTIONING of appearance.

Star said: "but he (as he is represented in the Pali canon) does not say there is no object out there and that you are not real,"

--What is not real is our customary way of perceiving appearance. If an object is not perceived as an object, then it does not exist as such. Yet, the so called object does exist as it exists functionally.

Star said: "and for good reason, I think, in that it is too easily understood to lead to conclusions that result in behavior that will lead to harm."

--What conclusion from this could lead to harm? What kind of harm and behaviors? The only conclusion from this is that life is as-it-is non-illusorily perceived.

I wish you well with your philosophy.

--In other words, my philosophy lacks any practical usefulness and thus is bogus. That's OK. You are still in the good person club.

We all have to see our own truth for ourselves regardless of what buddha or anyone else said or says. Who else would know it?

@Roger.

(literal) self-interest = concept of the Self

Well, more or less, anyway. I'm using less formal language with "self-interest" and in this case I use it because "concept of the Self" seems to imply actively thinking up a concept of the Self whereas self-interest seems to happen all by itself, without us even actively thinking about ourselves.

I don't have a problem with dualities as long as we are aware that they are concepts. Same goes for blogging.

All I know about what the Buddha was trying to obtain is what he says (in the Pali canon) which was that he was trying to find a way to free people of suffering. My personal opinion is that what he describes of his experience is that he obtained a 100% state of anatta, which I don't see as equating with *no* self -- he was still an individual -- but what he describes seems near-as-dammit to be existence free of that "false self that we mistake for ourselves" (which = anatta).

@Todd

"...so is what the Pali Canon says, when it describes the Buddha recalling his past lives, almost exactly the same as what what you say the Buddha is saying?"

Parsing that question leaves me with a "Mu" answer. So let me see if I can rephrase that to say what I think you're asking; then answer what I think you're asking. That way if I misunderstood your question that should be clear in my rephrasing.

"Star, to your way of thinking, is the way the Buddha makes his statements about rebirth in the Pali Canon -- which, to me and most Buddhists, is clearly him describing his actual past lives -- is that almost exactly the phrasing he would be using as a metaphor to describe something that wasn't his actual past lives?"

More or less yes. Reserving room for there to have been some modification in the texts as they moved through time -- though I think not much in the parts where he talks about his past lives.

But for the most part, for the sense of it, yes. Just as I described my life in an earlier comment, in terms of having been born into a struggling family, then a middle-class family, having been a wanderer, and a sailor. When we see dependent arising in our own lives, isn't this more or less what we see? I write fiction, so I may be more creative and playful with my renditions of those past lives than another person, but it's certain the Buddha wasn't a bore when talking to an audience. He also had live-presence on his side. He could use pacing and body language, and checking for understanding in his audiences, to see if they were getting what he was saying. The instances of him describing his past lives that I've seen (that I recall off the top) all seem to relate to his original insight into dependent arising. They are just another way of describing what he saw. Working within my current pet theory, that he addressed some of his talks to believers in karma/rebirth, and some to brahmins, but dependent origination is couched in brahminical cosmology, I would very tentatively put forth a theory that perhaps he sometimes uses the recollection of his past lives for an audience that includes karma/rebirthers, since they wouldn't get the vedic-based 12-step system as easily. That would explain why some renditions have his enlightenment insights in the watches of the night all in terms of the vedic 12-step, and other renditions add rebirth. Clearly I'm going to have to add that to my list of things to check, to see if that's supported in the suttas or not.

Did I answer the right question? or miss the mark?

Star, that was the question, yes.

I think it is a ludicrous stretch to suggest that the quote I provided above was somehow originally intended to be just a colorful description of Gotama Siddhartha's younger days.

This is what I mean when I say that the preponderance of textual evidence simply does not support such an interpretation.

Star, perhaps I need a refresher on what your interpretation is, precisely, because perhaps I am misunderstanding your point of view.

Are you simply suggesting that belief in karma/rebirth is not a requirement, or an essential teaching, for practicing Buddhism? If so, then we have no disagreement. In fact, on this point, Wallace and Batchelor do not really have any disagreement.

Or are you really trying to say that karma/rebirth, understood as extending over numerous births, either was not really part of Buddha's teaching (as presented in the Pali Canon), or was a misunderstanding of his teachings, or was some textual corruption, or was just something the Buddha really was not trying to convey?

This latter position would be something that is clearly not supported by the textual evidence.

My objective in discussing your philosophy is not to discern anything to do with the Buddha. My objective began as trying to figure out if what you're saying is what the Buddha says as I understand it; then to determine whether your philosophy offers something I would find useful to myself and others in getting along in life without doing harm to others. Also, simply to understand someone else's point of view.

--What is not real is our customary way of perceiving appearance.
Yes. Well, I'd leave out the word "appearance" but okay.

--If an object is not perceived as an object, then it does not exist as such.
As a discrete object as you have defined it, true. But that does not mean that it does not exist period, undefined by your perceptions. Or, as you put it, "the so called object does exist as it exists functionally."

Star said: "and for good reason, I think, in that it is too easily understood to lead to conclusions that result in behavior that will lead to harm."
--What conclusion from this could lead to harm? What kind of harm and behaviors? The only conclusion from this is that life is as-it-is non-illusorily perceived.
When you go about saying that nothing exists, and no one has free will, it leads to conclusions about no need to work at anything, and lack of concern for others; it's all predetermined and no one exists to get hurt anyway. That nothing is real and we have no free will, it seemed to me, was what you had been saying prior to your most recent comment, and that is what I based my comment on.
In this comment though, you've expressed yourself clearly enough for me to think you are *not* saying "nothing exists". So far my understanding is still that you are saying that there is "no free will, no self-determination" -- and so I cannot avoid those same concern, that this stance leads people to think there is no need to work at anything, and no one is harmed by bad behavior that couldn't be avoided anyway.

Star said: "I wish you well with your philosophy."
--In other words, my philosophy lacks any practical usefulness and thus is bogus. That's OK. You are still in the good person club.
You are, of course, free to read whatever you wish into my good wishes for you. 'Cause you have free will.

Star,

"All I know about what the Buddha was trying to obtain is what he says (in the Pali canon) which was that he was trying to find a way to free people of suffering."

---Yes, I would agree with you. I can see the Buddha wanting to free people of suffering.

and

"My personal opinion is that what he describes of his experience is that he obtained a 100% state of anatta, which I don't see as equating with *no* self -- he was still an individual..."

---Yes, I too can see the Buddha trying to obtain a 100% state of non-duality(non-conceptuality) et. al. This trying, would be through some sort of meditation practice. The "no-self" is another way of saying non-conceptuality.
So trying to approach a state of non-duality and living life would be the Buddha. In duality, I am an individual, and living life free(trying) of suffering.
IMO, the Buddha really never acheived a 100% state. The Buddha was an individual (human being) like you and me.

@Todd:

"I think it is a ludicrous stretch to suggest that the quote I provided above was somehow originally intended to be just a colorful description of Gotama Siddhartha's younger days."

Not a "colorful description of Gotama's younger days" but a metaphor for them. I did a colorful description of my actual past. He does the whole as a metaphor, an obvious and extremely stretched, overarching metaphor. At a guess I'd bet he was making reference to the way other teachers talked about their past lives -- since he uses humor quite a lot in his teachings, I'd venture a guess that he was being ironic. That sort of over-the-top storytelling is one of his hallmarks.

"Are you simply suggesting that belief in karma/rebirth is not a requirement, or an essential teaching, for practicing Buddhism?"

"Or are you really trying to say that karma/rebirth, understood as extending over numerous births, either was not really part of Buddha's teaching (as presented in the Pali Canon), or was a misunderstanding of his teachings, or was some textual corruption, or was just something the Buddha really was not trying to convey?"

Yes and yes. To both.

The Buddha used rebirth as a tool. It was the finger pointing to the moon. It was not the moon.

He was trying to convey that belief in karma/rebirth was a good view (better than the wrong views he condemned) but that it was not a liberative view -- so he was "trying to convey" something about it, just not that it was necessary to his path.

The way it is interpreted now is a misunderstanding of his teachings -- entirely inconsistent with impermanence and not-self. What he was describing with karma and rebirth was HOW we create our own suffering, instead we have somehow come to take it as a necessary belief to end suffering.

It was "a part of his teaching" in that he talked about rebirth, but not "a part of his teaching" in that he was not requiring a belief in rebirth as part of his path. Sometimes he talked about it as if absolutely real -- when giving advice to those who believed in it, he would couch his answer within their familiar framework -- you can see this in the suttas -- you've provided me with examples yourself. Sometimes he used it to describe how we create our own suffering; as a metaphor for the actions of anatta in our lives, as a variant on dependent origination. Sometimes he suggested that it was a better view than the wrong views -- just as he didn't flatly condemn sacrifice.

And yes, there is undoubtedly some textual corruption too -- how could text be transmitted for 2000 years without it? Scholars have pointed out that it is there, and all the things that happen with works passed on that way are going to have happened: when we have too few people to memorize all the texts, the challenging/obscure ones are the ones that get dropped; when translating from one language to another, or even updating to modern phrasing, we are going to clarify what's being said in a way that best matches our understanding of what's being said -- we have to, that's what we're supposed to do.

In MN 117 the Buddha says there are wrong views, which include denial of sacrifice, denial of karma, denial of rebirth, denial of the spontaneous arising of beings -- in the positive, these were common views of the day -- sacrifice works, karma works, Prajapati arose spontaneously at the creation of the cosmos and he's important. Then he says there are two kinds of right view: tainted and supramundane. Tainted right views are the positive views. The Theravadan system says that these tainted right views were the Buddha's views. Theravadans, in fact, use this sutta as one of their strongest arguments that he said you must believe in rebirth. But this is because they are approaching it with the belief that's what he taught. He used the words "right view" so, gosh, we *have* to believe that, right? They twist the understanding of "tainted" to try to fit it to their beliefs about the sutta when it says what it says quite clearly. The way in which these right views are tainted is in that they cause the sense of self, they are a part of the system that breeds anatta. The views, themselves, are tainted. They twist the meaning of "There is what is offered, what is given, what is sacrificed" to BE the Buddha's teaching -- and he really didn't spend significant amounts of time on how great sacrifice was.

I don't blame you for being convinced by the Theravadan take, Todd. More than 2,000 years of transmitting these texts has smoothed them quite a lot, so that all the meanings blend as well as they can be blended. I have had 2-1/2 years of looking for a completely integrated doctrine, a system without inconsistencies, in the teachings -- and I'm putting my arguments up against 2,000 years of people who dedicated their lives to this study, who have offered you their reasoning for things. Over that many years every objection that's ever been raised has found an answer of some sort even if it's a really shaky answer (like the Buddha's teaching includes sacrifice, as above, and he teaches that you must hold a tainted view).

But until you can give me evidence in the suttas of what it is that gets reborn, and the Buddha doesn't contradict it elsewhere, then what underlies the Theravadan view of the teaching is, to use your words, a ludicrous stretch.

@Roger

---...The "no-self" is another way of saying non-conceptuality...IMO, the Buddha really never acheived a 100% state. The Buddha was an individual (human being) like you and me.

Please rethink these two statements. You are defining what the Buddha really meant by anatta as non-conceptuality (apparently without individuality), and then saying he didn't achieve it.

Could it be that he achieved what he says he achieved, and did not achieve what you say he did not achieve, and the reason for this is, that what he says he achieved and what you say it is are different?

Star,

Correct, this is(imo) the separation of duality and non-duality. Don't forget, I am no expert on the Buddha and Buddhism.

I can only guess, regarding these matters.

In duality:

The Buddha is a human being, with his brain, is self-aware, and wants to reduce suffering through non-dualistic non-thinking. He is an individual, who lives life and engages dualistic activities. Everyday dualistic activities are not bad things. Some activitites can be. That's the dualism.

In non-duality:

The Buddha (i'm guessing) would 'realize' that to reduce suffering, one would need to reduce conceptuality as much as one can(in the mind).
True, there is a better way to write this.

In non-duality, there would be no concept of self, things, ego, various forms of suffering, etc. Suffering would be reduced by such no-mindedness. The Buddha probably thought to use meditation to reduce this clinging to conceptuality(duality).

This would be my uneducated understanding of the Buddha. I don't need to interpret the various traditions of Buddhist literature.

Star, actually it seems that you twist the understanding of "tainted" to try to fit it to your beliefs about the sutta when it says what it says quite clearly.

the views of rebirth/karma are saasava (sa=with, asava=effluents), or "with effluents" because they describe Samsara, cyclic existence. They are not descriptions of Nibbana (Nirvana)or of full enlightenment.

"And what is the right view that is without effluents, transcendent, a factor of the path?"

Notice, Star, that the answers to this question are not a series of statements that support your interpretations. Rather, they are a series of faculties and efforts, such as are developed through meditation and self-discipline:

"The discernment, the faculty of discernment, the strength of discernment, analysis of qualities as a factor for Awakening, the path factor of right view of one developing the noble path whose mind is noble, whose mind is free from effluents, who is fully possessed of the noble path. This is the right view that is without effluents, transcendent, a factor of the path."

And then, to make it even more clear as to what the Buddha (again, according to the Pali teachings) advises:

"One tries to abandon wrong view & to enter into right view: This is one's right effort. One is mindful to abandon wrong view & to enter & remain in right view: This is one's right mindfulness. Thus these three qualities — right view, right effort, & right mindfulness — run & circle around right view."

The text here does not suggest us to abandon wrong views and also abandon "right view that has effluents," but rather to "to abandon wrong view & to enter & remain in right view."

If right views (with or without effluents)are not liberative, then why would there be advice to "enter AND REMAIN in right view"?

Could it be any clearer than that?? Why else would there be all the refutations of Sañjaya Belatthaputta’s agnostic views, Purana Kassapa’s nihilistic views, Ajita Kesakambali’s materialistic views, Mahavira’s (Nigantha Nataputta’s) Jain views, Pakudha Kaccāyana’s eternalistic views, and Makkhali Gosala’s Ajivika views?

Finally, to suggest that the descriptions of Buddha's previous births are just some kind of irony or metaphor is really just prejudiced speculation. There's no textual evidence in the Pali Canon to support it.

It's not that i am following a Theravadin "take." I'm just pointing out those portions of the text which really seem to speak for themselves.

@george, who said, "for what its worth and as a general reader, its been a very interesting informed discussion on budhism generally in all its various guises."

How did I miss that comment? I'm glad you're getting something out of it, george. It gives me hope that this conversation is interesting to more than just the few participants (yourself now included).

@Todd. I also have been wondering what your understanding is of what happened to the Buddha after he died. Did he continue to exist? Cease to exist? Both exist and not exist? Neither exist nor not exist?

To some degree I am poking fun here (using a famous set of questions from the suttas that the Buddha always refused to answer), and to some degree I am serious. If there is literal rebirth (in the Buddha's system as outlined in the Pali canon), and if the point of the Buddha's path (ditto) is to be liberated from the samsaric cycle of rebirth after the breakup of the body, then what happens to a fully-enlightened one after the breakup of the body *is* important to distinguish it from eternalism and annihilationism.

@Roger. I think the only point you're missing is that the Buddha (as represented in the Pali canon) does not posit that the individual disappears just because the dualistic view disappears. There is still a mass of muscle and bone that others will identify as "that person over there" moving around and acting for all the world as if he is self-willed. Your sense of his individuality, and my sense of his individuality, doesn't have to disappear for his dualistic view of the world to disappear. He still experiences the world, still mentions his bad back so others will understand why he's so quiet, for example, but that doesn't mean he is not always acting in the world from a different base than you or I.

Think of it as languages and translation. When we are beginning to understand the path, we translate between our current understanding and that understanding. When The Fully Enlightened One acted and spoke in the world, he translated the other way -- from a non-dual view into a dualistic view. He could quite easily speak our language of dualism -- he was born to it -- but that didn't mean he based his actions or being on dualistic ways of looking at the world.

Star, I think this about covers the answer to that question:

http://www.berzinarchives.com/web/en/archives/sutra/level4_deepening_understanding_path/interferences/fourteen_questions_which_buddha_rem.html

@Todd. I wrote a lengthy reply to your lengthy reply but it gets so technical that I don't think it would be edifying to anyone but thee and me, and I'm pretty sure we're at "never the twain shall meet" point anyway. You have confidence in your understanding, and I think it's a fine one. As I've said before, the difference is really one of emphasis on the path, with my understanding being that the emphasis should be on what we can experience for ourselves, and get verification of from other sources; and on letting go of everything that causes clinging to that sense of self; in the Theravadan tradition the emphasis is on developing morality and merit and includes faith when one has no evidence of rebirth. In general the practice is the same, only the emphasis is different.

It's been great discussing this with you; I've appreciated your patience.

Star,

"I think the only point you're missing is that the Buddha (as represented in the Pali canon) does not posit that the individual disappears just because the dualistic view disappears."

---I don't think the 'individual' disappears too. How much the mental 'dualistic" view disappears, may occur, I don't know. I'm not a Buddhist, so I would not reference back to what the Buddha did or didn't do or say.


"There is still a mass of muscle and bone that others will identify as "that person over there" moving around and acting for all the world as if he is self-willed. Your sense of his individuality, and my sense of his individuality, doesn't have to disappear for his dualistic view of the world to disappear."

---Correct, the mass of b/m is there. Our sense of indviduality is there, I didn't say it disappeared. Exactly, how much of a 'dualistic view' actually disappears?


"When The Fully Enlightened One acted and spoke in the world, he translated the other way -- from a non-dual view into a dualistic view."

---The "Fully Enlightened One" title is just a title. And, yes, I could see the Buddha translating from the non-dual into the dualistic. However, the non-dual translations would require dualistic language, to be expressed.


"He could quite easily speak our language of dualism -- he was born to it -- but that didn't mean he based his actions or being on dualistic ways of looking at the world."

---Yes, I can see the Buddha(as a human being) born into duality and learning the language of dualism. And yes again, he and others would not base his/her actions(mental/physical) on the dualistic ways of looking at the world. Suffering could be reduced by nondualistic 'minded' view point.


As stated before, I would not need to go back to the Buddhist literature, to confirm these issues. IMO, this back and forth debate between you and Todd is rather silly.
I'm still a big fan of yours.

I think Glenn Wallis sums up my position fairly well in his BUDDHIST MANIFESTO:

"I will begin by saying that I am not interested in the old philologists’ project of separating out the original (good) teachings of Gotama from later (bad) accretions. 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. "

@Roger. I used to think that spending a lot of time talking about sports was (some word comparable to) silly but then I learned more about how interest in sports fits in human culture. It is probably "rather silly" to you simply because you aren't interested in it. If you had found Buddhism as useful to your life as I have; if its use to you had been delayed by the sparseness of teachers able to describe it; if linguistics had been a primary love of yours all your life; if mysteries hidden in words had always given you joy; and if you could then see both what I see in these suttas and see the almost mathematical precision and beauty of the doctrine hidden under so many layers of dust, you would perhaps not find it silly but stunning.

@Todd: Going back to the beginning, quoting you quoting someone else.

"I think Glenn Wallis sums up my position fairly well ... 'I am not interested in the old philologists’ project of separating out the original (good) teachings of Gotama from later (bad) accretions....that project is no longer viable.'"

Which is all well and good, and I'm glad for you both that you've settled that in your own minds, found peace with it and moved on. But my original point remains, with the same response to your agreement with Glenn Wallis, as to Wallace.

The spirit of critical thinking, of scientific thinking, encourages others to try to shoot down/disprove one's theories, it doesn't attempt to silence debate.

Just because you and Glenn Wallis have given up does not mean it's not worth someone else doing. And just because you can't see something doesn't mean it's not there.

Star, has anyone tried to silence debate?
I have just been identifying speculations as speculations, and not confusing them with well informed, well supported, conclusions.

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.

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