Many thanks for raising these issues in what is turning into quite an exchange. I for one would like to express my thanks and appreciation towards you; it has certainly given me a lot to think about, even if some of the detail escapes me.
I have sometimes reflected on what religious people do when they encounter the truth-claims of other religions and traditions. This is a situation that now arises constantly, mainly due to the internet. It seems there are three broad responses. The first is fundamentalism: "We are right, and the others are not". The second is something like mysticism, along the lines of "On a higher level, we are all right, but we cannot see it yet". The third is a type of pragmatic anti-foundationalism, which denies the significance of truth-claims and objectivity within one's own tradition, and focuses on practice, on what works, on the "how" rather than the "what" or the "why". This is of course in line with the so-called "pragmatic turn" in western academic philosophy, and is best represented in Christian theology by the work of Don Cupitt. It is also, I think, one reason for the increasing popularity of Buddhism in the west. Within the Pali Canon and accepted commentaries there is a great deal of material which supports such a stance. It enables Buddhist practitioners to say, in effect, "I won't get involved in all that ontological wrangling about what is. I am merely following a path that I have found to work on a phenomenological or personal level".
You have received quite a lot of this type of response on this thread. For myself, I find quite a lot in the Buddha's teaching which is properly foundational. The Buddha does not merely prescribe what to do in accordance with dependent origination, he also appears to be saying what there is, independent of what we might do about it. I have already suggested http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .irel.html
and there are of course formulations of Mundane Right View such ashttp://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html
and statements about the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha such ashttp://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .nypo.html
In addition, as you have already rightly pointed out, although the specific instantiations of dependent origination are (obviously!) contingent, the principle itself cannot be. Even if everything the Buddha said was in the form of "if p, then q
", then it is the specific terms - the p
and the q
- which are contingent, rather than the principle itself. To argue otherwise is to fall into self-contradiction. How long, for example, does impermanence last for?
Where we part company, however, is in our responses to any idea of the absolute, or the unconditioned. Conceiving this way or that way about our (obviously mental) perception of the unconditioned seems to me to be part of our mental conditioning. Hence my recommendation of the Mulapariyaya Sutta:http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html
The practice of meditation leads me to question why this conception or that conception or indeed any conception is necessary. My mind wants to do it, maybe, but I know that it is not always a good idea to let my mind do what it wants.
So I would be interested to know why you feel one (Christian, Thomistic) conception is such that we are somehow compelled or even advised to accept it. I ask this not to set out my stall, or far less a linguistic trap, but in a mood of genuine curiosity to see if there is something I am missing.