Is modernity bad for practice?

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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby tobes » Wed Nov 28, 2012 10:45 am

jeeprs wrote:
Shel wrote:Moral intrinsic reality in Buddhism is based in cause and effect, yes? That's how it is in the scientific-secular view also.


I beg to differ. The idea of the laws of science do not extend at all to questions of ethics. According to the secular-scientific worldview, ethics are grounded in Darwinian principles, in other words, they serve only the purposes of survival. In fact, there is no purpose other than survival. According to the strict scientific materialists, life itself originated fortuitously. (Interestingly, this very idea is criticized as ucchevavada in the Brahmajāla Sutta. Bikkhu Bodhi actually remarks 'this has become the dominant outlook of the present-day materialist, which he takes to be the dictum conclusively proven by modern science’ in his commentary on same.)

The divorce between science and ethics, or facts and values, goes back to David Hume, and his famous distinction between 'is' and 'ought'. Since then the predominant view of Western philosophy is that the Universe is absent of any intrinsic meaning or purpose. These are strictly human notions and are attributable solely to evolutionary requirements.

I have argued this point at length on secular forums, of course there is a divergence of views, but those who identify themselves as atheist generally always insist that the notion of morality is a human invention that can be explained in evolutionary terms. As a Buddhist, I feel obliged to disagree with that outlook.


I think it is quite a stretch to argue that Buddhism espouses an intrinsic morality.

What grounding do interpretation, value and meaning have - beyond a merely conventional and nominal grounding?

It seems to me that the key issue is the status of language and concepts - and even in the Sarvastivadan Abhidharma, these are denied any intrinsic reality.

It follows that meaning and value - necessarily linguistic imputations - are similarly denied any intrinsic reality.

It follows that intrinsic morality must also be denied this basis. Or to rescue your position somewhat, even if it is intrinsic, we certainly can't say that it is.

It is no coincidence that Hume has often been considered the western thinker closest to the Buddha, particularly on account of his view of the self.

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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby jeeprs » Wed Nov 28, 2012 11:11 am

I had always thought that 'sila' means 'morality' and was fundamental to Buddhism. Am I mistaken to believe that? What about 'my position' needs to be 'rescued'?

So really you are agreeing with western materialist views of the nature of dharma?

//edit// I said 'intrinsic meaning', not 'intrinsic morality', in the context of whether the universe is intrinsically meaningful. I am the view that the Buddhist idea of 'yathabutham', 'to see things as they really are', has an ethical dimension, which is why ethical precepts form an important part of the Buddhist training. In distinction to this, the Western scientific view is that 'things as they really are', are completely unrelated to the human perspective. This was discussed in a text I studied this year, Fuller, P. (2005). The Notion of Ditthi in Theravada Buddhism.

I might also add I think the comparison between David Hume and Buddhism, simply on the basis of a few remarks of his about 'not being able to ascertain an existing self', is entirely specious. In all other respects, his philosophical outlook was about as far removed from Buddhism as Scotland from the Gangetic Plains.
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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby Indrajala » Wed Nov 28, 2012 2:16 pm

shel wrote:How can modernity be blamed for that? Any reliable statistics on the quantity of arhats and first-stage or above bodhisattvas in the premodern world?


You said there are a lot of spiritual practitioners.

Their quality is not necessarily any better for having been born into modernity.

The history suggests practitioners at the very least had less distractions than we do now in premodern times. The Indian literature and travel journals suggest arhats were not so rare to encounter in ancient India.
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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby viniketa » Wed Nov 28, 2012 2:58 pm

jeeprs wrote:I had always thought that 'sila' means 'morality' and was fundamental to Buddhism. Am I mistaken to believe that?


Just a short interjection: Śīla means "discipline". To the extent that discipline become codified into a set of instructions, it may be referred to as "ethics" and, as such, serve as a basis for moralizing.

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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby shel » Wed Nov 28, 2012 7:32 pm

jeeprs wrote:I said 'intrinsic meaning', not 'intrinsic morality', in the context of whether the universe is intrinsically meaningful. I am the view that the Buddhist idea of 'yathabutham', 'to see things as they really are', has an ethical dimension, which is why ethical precepts form an important part of the Buddhist training. In distinction to this, the Western scientific view is that 'things as they really are', are completely unrelated to the human perspective. This was discussed in a text I studied this year, Fuller, P. (2005). The Notion of Ditthi in Theravada Buddhism.

Again I'm curious about what you believe the intrinsic meaning or purpose in the Universe is according to Buddhism? Is it to "see things as they really are"?

"Things as they really are" is at best a philosophical view. It is not a scientific view. It seems, JJeeprs, that you may not appreciate the reality that science is essentially pragmatic in nature. It's merely a method to learn about phenomena in order to understand and manipulate, which can help to fulfill human needs. It may or may not help to fulfill the human need for meaning, that's normally the domain of religion. If scientific principles render some religious principle less meaningful then, well, that's the way it is. The religion will need to mature in richness and meaning, or it will fade away.
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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby Johnny Dangerous » Wed Nov 28, 2012 7:37 pm

Was just thinking...If modernity is so bad for practice, why are so many beings born as human beings now? I've heard it put forth that the fast spread of the Dharma in the modern age is a possible reason, as far fetched as this sounds to modern sensibilities.. For those that consider themselves "rebirth literalists' this seems like a tricky question to answer if we are going to bag on modernity. Somehow evidently there are all these beings with the karma to be born as humans..

As a disclaimer, I am not saying I fully accept the above as true, just wondering how someone who does fully accept literal rebirth of consciousness would explain it.
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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby ground » Wed Nov 28, 2012 8:49 pm

At least modernity provided the internet and thus endless opportunities for blabla/papanca about nothing and anything. :sage:
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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby jeeprs » Wed Nov 28, 2012 9:27 pm

Shel wrote:It seems, jeeprs, that you may not appreciate the reality that science is essentially pragmatic in nature. It's merely a method to learn about phenomena in order to understand and manipulate, which can help to fulfill human needs.


No, Shel, I understand that perfectly well. I am not talking about science as such, but the scientific-secular worldview which is essentially materialist and which regards all spirituality, including Buddhist, as basically meaningless. The fact that this is a contentious statement, on a Buddhist forum, simply illustrates how insidious its influence is, and one of the reasons that modernity is indeed bad for practice.
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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby Thrasymachus » Wed Nov 28, 2012 9:29 pm

The internet lets you access vast amounts of info: the only cost is it adapts you neurologically to be shallow, and incapable of sustained concentration, so most just pursue Justin Bieber type celebrity gossip. The internet lets you connect with over a billion a people: the only cost is that in any highly digitized society, hardly anyone goes outside much in real life, and by that I mean where you can see the moon at night or the sun by daytime. So instead of talking to real people in person, you just spend much more time hiding behind pixels and pretend that that is being interconnected.

Whatever technology gives it also takes away or sabotages on some level. For example most watch too much television to try to live vicariously as it is impossible for them to live how they really would want, but the more you watch it, the more you can no longer be alone with your thoughts, and the more you need to watch it to escape from yourself. There were lots of complaints and much whining here in Northern New Jersey, amongst those who lost their power for a mere few days during the recent Hurricane Sandy. Ellul points this out in his critique, modern people have a peculiar disease where they can explain away all the negative effects of technological civilization predicated on a search without telos for better technique. Modern man can focus only on the alleged and touted benefits, or else he would have to take action, rather than continue inaction. They are willing to become more sick, more feeble, lose more, rather than to do anything about it.

@shel:
Science is about developing a world-view of domination, not developing theoretical knowledge or impartial observation. The purpose of science is to dominate the world mentally, divide it into precepts, so man can do more work against the earth with increasingly better instruments powered by iteratively greater power sources, and to dominate better his fellow man.
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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby shel » Wed Nov 28, 2012 10:05 pm

jeeprs wrote:
Shel wrote:It seems, jeeprs, that you may not appreciate the reality that science is essentially pragmatic in nature. It's merely a method to learn about phenomena in order to understand and manipulate, which can help to fulfill human needs.


No, Shel, I understand that perfectly well. I am not talking about science as such, but the scientific-secular worldview which is essentially materialist and which regards all spirituality, including Buddhist, as basically meaningless. The fact that this is a contentious statement, on a Buddhist forum, simply illustrates how insidious its influence is, and one of the reasons that modernity is indeed bad for practice.


I seem to find the statement misleading rather than contentious. You say that "I am not talking about science" but a "scientific-secular worldview." So what can apparently be derived from this is that you are only talking about secular views. Secular views are by definition non-religious, so there is no argument.

What you don't seem to account for, and what modernity provides for, is that individuals can separate secular and religious views. A good example of this might be the separation of church and state, a concept that many countries have adopted. This may or may not diminish the meaning of spirituality, including Buddhist meaning, depending on the individual.

Furthermore, materialism is a philosophical position. Do you really think that most people anywhere have studied and agree with this philosophical position? If you were to visit your local main street and ask passersby what happens when we die, do you think that most of them would give a reasoned argument for philosophical materialism. Probably not, right?

And I will ask for the third and hopefully last time, what do you believe the intrinsic meaning or purpose in the Universe is according to Buddhism?
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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby shel » Wed Nov 28, 2012 10:14 pm

Thrasymachus wrote:Science is about developing a world-view of domination, not developing theoretical knowledge or impartial observation. The purpose of science is to dominate the world mentally, divide it into precepts, so man can do more work against the earth with increasingly better instruments powered by iteratively greater power sources, and to dominate better his fellow man.


Please correct me if I'm mistaken but I think the desire in our kind to dominate existed long before the emergence of science, and long before modernity.
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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby Masaru » Wed Nov 28, 2012 10:37 pm

Thrasymachus wrote:Whatever technology gives it also takes away or sabotages on some level. For example most watch too much television to try to live vicariously as it is impossible for them to live how they really would want, but the more you watch it, the more you can no longer be alone with your thoughts, and the more you need to watch it to escape from yourself. There were lots of complaints and much whining here in Northern New Jersey, amongst those who lost their power for a mere few days during the recent Hurricane Sandy. Ellul points this out in his critique, modern people have a peculiar disease where they can explain away all the negative effects of technological civilization predicated on a search without telos for better technique. Modern man can focus only on the alleged and touted benefits, or else he would have to take action, rather than continue inaction. They are willing to become more sick, more feeble, lose more, rather than to do anything about it.

@shel:
Science is about developing a world-view of domination, not developing theoretical knowledge or impartial observation. The purpose of science is to dominate the world mentally, divide it into precepts, so man can do more work against the earth with increasingly better instruments powered by iteratively greater power sources, and to dominate better his fellow man.


This seems to be along the sames lines as what you've stated here:
http://cyber.eserver.org/unabom.txt
Ted Kaczynski wrote:The Industrial Revolution and its consequences have been a disaster for the human race. They have greatly increased the life-expectancy of those of us who live in "advanced" countries, but they have destabilized society, have made life unfulfilling, have subjected human beings to indignities, have led to widespread psychological suffering (in the Third World to physical suffering as well) and have inflicted severe damage on the natural world. The continued development of technology will worsen the situation. It will certainly subject human beings to greater indignities and inflict greater damage on the natural world, it will probably lead to greater social disruption and psychological suffering, and it may lead to increased physical suffering even in "advanced" countries.
A certain man said to the priest Shungaku, "The Lotus Sutra Sect's character is not good because it's so fearsome." Shungaku replied, "It is by reason of its fearsome character that it is the Lotus Sutra Sect. If its character were not so, it would be a different sect altogether."
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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby Lhug-Pa » Wed Nov 28, 2012 10:42 pm

Technology as it is currently implemented helps people to achieve domination of others more 'effectively'. And dominating others is generally animalistic behavior, therefore many contemporary 'scientists' are basically monkeys in lab-coats. An authentic human being wouldn't invent technologies to genetically target Palestinians for example.

https://www.google.com/search?q=bio+wea ... 80&bih=268

Now I know that some might say that all of us are nothing more than clothes-wearing evolved monkeys; however the Buddha Dharma teaches that it is possible to go beyond selfish & animalistic "survival of the fittest" type of behavior, the Buddhist view being contrary to the "survival of the fittest" type of world-view of most secularists, atheists, modernists, materialists, etc.

Now I myself am currently nothing more than a clothed monkey, however being open-minded to the possibility of all beings having Buddha Nature that allows us to go beyond animalistic behavior, is a step towards ending the vicious cycle of "survival of the fittest".
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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby shel » Wed Nov 28, 2012 10:51 pm

Lhug-Pa wrote:Technology as it is currently implemented helps people to achieve domination of others more 'effectively'.

What could be more effective than legal slavery, as practiced in premodern centuries.

Now I know that some might say that all of us are nothing more than clothes-wearing evolved monkeys; however the Buddha Dharma teaches that it is possible to go beyond selfish & animalistic "survival of the fittest" type of behavior, a view that is contrary to the "survival of the fittest" type of world-view of most secularists, atheists, modernists, materialists, etc.

I can assure you, Ljug-Pa, that people do not generally regard themselves as stupid animals. That's not to say we don't often act the part.
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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby Sherab Dorje » Wed Nov 28, 2012 10:59 pm

Lhug-Pa wrote:Technology as it is currently implemented helps people to achieve domination of others more 'effectively'. And dominating others is generally animalistic behavior, therefore many contemporary 'scientists' are basically monkeys in lab-coats...Now I know that some might say that all of us are nothing more than clothes-wearing evolved monkeys; ... Now I myself am currently nothing more than a clothed monkey, however being open-minded to the possibility of all beings having Buddha Nature that allows us to go beyond animalistic behavior, is a step towards ending the vicious cycle of "survival of the fittest".
Monkeys, and other animals in general, do not invent genetically tailored biological weapons, this is a VERY human pastime. Domination in animals nomally has to do with survival, in human societies we have domination for the sake of domination. Again, very human behaviour. Domination in animal societies is normally individual to individual and physical, in human societies we have domination via proxy.
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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby tobes » Wed Nov 28, 2012 11:05 pm

[This is a response to jeepers - having technical difficulties with quoting]


Of course sila is fundamental to Buddhism; or more precisely the various Buddhist paths. It is no mistake to believe that.

However, I think it may be a mistake to conflate the tremendous importance of sila soteriologically, with some kind of ultimate or intrinsic status.

That is, morality is not intrinsic - it is empty. Which means that conventionally, it is nominal, constructed, contextual, intersubjective. It exists in that way, not as an intrinsic phenomena. There is no 'intrinsic moral law' as there is for Kant and most of the theism's.

It could perhaps be argued that the relationship between dependent co-arising and karma works as a kind of natural law - in a stoic kind of sense that there is a certain kind of natural order to the universe, in which, ethical action demands attunement. Perhaps this is what you are alluding to?

Am I agreeing with western material views of the dharma? Well, no. Nowhere in Buddhism is the dharma asserted to be some intrinsic thing - in fact, the nominal and conventional nature of both language and the (Buddhist) truths asserted in language are constant features of just about every Buddhism.

There is nothing materialist about the assertion that concepts do not have an intrinsic status.

The question of meaning is even more clear cut: meaning is always, merely, an imputation. Seeing reality for what it is should not be thought of as an expression of meaning - it surely goes far beyond that.

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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby Thrasymachus » Wed Nov 28, 2012 11:09 pm

There is a paradox, if you take a modern man, he is poor at learning the dharma or anything else that requires single-pointed focus, but that is likely what attracted him in the first place: his unease with his existence, his discomfort being in his own skin. If you took a so called primitive, he would be much better at it, but for the same reason, he would have little need of it.

@Shel:
If domination was always the case, will always be, or was there before is immaterial. Science is a corpus of knowledge, a methodology whereby the processes of the cosmos are reduced to small, palpable concepts by humans. We are told this out of impassioned pursuit, but this is not so. The knowledge thus obtained is meant to be utilized, to be acted upon.

There is a great series on television called Tribal Odyssey. One on program they had some Pacific islands primitive tribe. The whole entire episode was about how they cut down a tree for a canoe, so they had a whole celebration replete with songs, dancing, prostrations and ceremony to satiate the Spirit of the Trees. Sure their society was no utopia, they likely had domination, but how much could they have? At most they could conquer the next tribe. The United States and a few key allies meanwhile administer, oppress and rob most the globe and the average American shares an unwarranted level of consumption and has the average body mass of 1.5 people. Yet still we are an intensely dissatisfied people for the all that trouble, effort and misery. Our science has freed us from their type of denigrated superstition, but when they did a tiny bit of work for an entire tribe to make a canoe or a few canoes, they stopped and sang and celebrated to please their spirits. To modern tastes, it seems a waste and inefficient to go to all that trouble for something that likely doesn't objectively exist. In our minds it considered much better to work faster with no stop to please pesky animistic spirits, even if the only those few enjoying the fruits of surplus labor enjoy all that wealth.

@Masaru:
I have read most or all of the Unabomber's Manifesto. Ellul is a more insightful read, but I would still recommend Kaczynski's work, perhaps because it is free, less dense and easier to understand for the uninitiated.
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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby Lhug-Pa » Wed Nov 28, 2012 11:40 pm

.
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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby Masaru » Wed Nov 28, 2012 11:42 pm

gregkavarnos wrote:
Lhug-Pa wrote:Technology as it is currently implemented helps people to achieve domination of others more 'effectively'. And dominating others is generally animalistic behavior, therefore many contemporary 'scientists' are basically monkeys in lab-coats...Now I know that some might say that all of us are nothing more than clothes-wearing evolved monkeys; ... Now I myself am currently nothing more than a clothed monkey, however being open-minded to the possibility of all beings having Buddha Nature that allows us to go beyond animalistic behavior, is a step towards ending the vicious cycle of "survival of the fittest".
Monkeys, and other animals in general, do not invent genetically tailored biological weapons, this is a VERY human pastime. Domination in animals nomally has to do with survival, in human societies we have domination for the sake of domination. Again, very human behaviour. Domination in animal societies is normally individual to individual and physical, in human societies we have domination via proxy.
:namaste:


:soapbox:

Typically, individual humans who are hesitant due to their own conjecturing and doubts are unable to rise to positions of great power in human groups precisely because the reality presented to an individual in these positions is far from tidy, and human group dynamics are often more unforgiving of weakness in a leader than any tyrant could ever be towards the group. Things must be done, people expect them to be done and the reality of most of humankind is that they don't want to be bothered with ugly realities. That's what leaders are for.

I don't think there is a great deal of difference in the drive for domination between sapient and non-technological homonids. I seriously doubt that gorillas in the wild even have the capacity to conjecture over the ethical justifiability of their actions. The alpha is dominating the group because it "feels" right to do so and the group is following him for the same reason. It feels safe. The only difference between this behavior and say, human class warfare, religious persecution or ethnic cleansing is that the quality and quantity of thought directed towards carrying out these biological directives is greater than that exercised by other homonids.

Throughout human history, most activity that wasn't directed towards surviving was directed towards "monkeying around" in the backyard of our primitive desires. The Buddha's insights represent a zenith of human endeavor (and for us Hokke Buddhists, possibly even the evolutionary pull of a living universe) for those few who began to take the newly developed curiosity and intelligence of our species, the "peacock's feathers" of the race, and turn it inwards towards the source of consciousness.

If modernity is a hindrance to practice, it is because of the ways we collectively permit ourselves to be corralled into constricting ideas and patterns of behavior, not because of the presence or absence of technological innovations. It's like asking whether it's less healthy to eat dung with a fork instead of chopsticks. If modernity is hindering you, turn off the smart phone, cancel your cable or satellite subscription, (poison for the psyche, if you ask me,) and get some self control. Animals don't really think about what they do. Neither do most people. I think we, as Buddhists, have a responsibility to do otherwise.

Individually, how we interact with modernity determines whether or not it is a hindrance. Collectively, the influence of Buddhists can be a cause for the transformation of modernity into a society much more conducive to spiritual development.
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A certain man said to the priest Shungaku, "The Lotus Sutra Sect's character is not good because it's so fearsome." Shungaku replied, "It is by reason of its fearsome character that it is the Lotus Sutra Sect. If its character were not so, it would be a different sect altogether."
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Re: Is modernity bad for practice?

Postby jeeprs » Wed Nov 28, 2012 11:43 pm

Shel wrote:Furthermore, materialism is a philosophical position. Do you really think that most people anywhere have studied and agree with this philosophical position? If you were to visit your local main street and ask passersby what happens when we die, do you think that most of them would give a reasoned argument for philosophical materialism. Probably not, right?


What I am saying is that the influence of materialism, as an outlook on life, is pervasive, and it is insidious. As to 'belief in an afterlife', I think it would be dangerous to generalize, but I am confident in saying that materialism generally rejects any such idea out of hand and that the majority of people who self-identify as 'scientific' would be inclined to the view called in the texts ucchevavada.

Furthermore nihilism is pervasive in modern society. Many people are scared of any kind of spiritual commitment, and also 'spiritually illiterate', with no kind of background against which they can even interpret spiritual teachings. Of course if you asked people 'what do you think nihilism means' they won't have a clue. But it doesn't mean they don't implicitly see the world that way. (See 'If it feels right....'.)

And I will ask for the third and hopefully last time, what do you believe the intrinsic meaning or purpose in the Universe is according to Buddhism?


Awakening.

Tobes wrote:It could perhaps be argued that the relationship between dependent co-arising and karma works as a kind of natural law - in a stoic kind of sense that there is a certain kind of natural order to the universe, in which, ethical action demands attunement. Perhaps this is what you are alluding to?


In some respects stoicism is very close to Buddhism.

Think about the very idea of the 'law of karma'. That is something any Buddhist accepts as axiomatic, isn't it? Where in post-Enlightenment thinking is there a way to account for such a 'law'? How would a scientist account for such a law? Mainstream science really only recognizes one fundamental level of law, and that is physical law. So there is no way to provide for the notion of 'karma' as 'consequences of intentional actions' within a strict scientific framework, without reducing it to some physical basis, or interpreting it in some kind of Darwinian way. From the secular viewpoint 'karma' can only ever be seen as a social construct of some kind. (Of course, Sheldrake provides such a mechanism via his morphic fields, but then, he's not materialist.)


Nowhere in Buddhism is the dharma asserted to be some intrinsic thing - in fact, the nominal and conventional nature of both language and the (Buddhist) truths asserted in language are constant features of just about every Buddhism.


My point was the characteristic materialist view that the Universe is essentially meaningless, and that human life is simply a fortuitous occurrence within it.

That is clearly rejected in Buddhism (as per Doctrines of Fortuitous Origination (Adhiccasamuppannavāda): Views 17–18 in the Brahmajāla Sutta) without however asserting any kind of 'creationist' view which is the usually contrary view in Western thinking. (I was puzzled about this for a while, but I am starting to understand the 'middle way' in regard to this question.)

I understand what you're saying about avoiding what I would call the 'reification of dharma'. My take on that, is that reification is the opposite problem to nihilism. It is basically a form of 'eternalism'. If you try and point out a 'moral principle' as like 'God's law', then, I agree, Buddhism does not do that. It does not externalize or objectify the notion of 'holy law' in that way. It is up to the practitioner to practice it or 'real-ize' it.

Nevertheless, one of the common translations of 'dharma' is, in fact, 'law'. The Lotus Sutra is commonly published as 'the sutra of the Good Law'. So I still think that 'dharma' can be understood as a universal principle, or law, with the caveat that it ought not to be reified.

Some deep philosophical questions here I know but I hope we can find some common ground.
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