Stephen Batchelor - A Critique of "Buddhism Without Beliefs"

No holds barred discussion on the Buddhadharma. Argue about rebirth, karma, commentarial interpretations etc. Be nice to each other.

Re: A Critique of "Buddhism Without Beliefs"

Postby Indrajala » Thu May 05, 2011 2:58 pm

Aemilius wrote:If you attain enlightenement, there is no more rebirth. Thus we have buddhism without rebirth.

Also, the teaching about 62 views destroys belief in karma and rebirth, as true reality. It is only a form of selfview.


You twist words, Aemilius.

There is no more rebirth when the causes for it cease. That does not mean from that point on you have a Buddhism sans rebirth. It merely means that the goal of Buddhism, which recognizes rebirth as the problem to be overcome, has been accomplished.

Where do you get the idea that a teaching about sixty-two views turns one into a nihilist?
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Re: A Critique of "Buddhism Without Beliefs"

Postby Indrajala » Thu May 05, 2011 3:06 pm

coldmountain wrote:Every tradition -- except the possibility of whatever becomes of Buddhism in the West. Buddhism is becoming an authentically Western religion and inevitably will adopt the concerns that face Western people.


Sure, but if you have a "Buddhism" with teachers saying there really is no rebirth or karma, then they are not practising or teaching Buddhadharma. It might resemble it, but it would be false adharma and a sign of our degenerate times. In reality we already have self-proclaimed "Buddhist teachers" spouting such falsities as dharma.


Then what is it that I've been studying and "gaining much from" if there is no Buddhism apart from re-birth?



Clearly you are enjoying some parts of Buddhism, but by your own admission you don't accept some basic core doctrines such as karma and rebirth.


Well it seems apparent to me that there are teachers who manage to preach Buddhism without delving into rebirth - whether they believe in it or not. Besides, Buddhism is a very broad label - 2,500 years old and spread all over Asia - I don't think it is possible for any one person to claim to represent what "the" form of Buddhism is, that falls into the essentialist fallacy.


There is no fallacy when I say that all Buddhist traditions have accepted karma and rebirth as core teachings of Buddhadharma. Some other key core teachings would be impermanence, the Four Noble Truths, the Eightfold Path and anātman. These are all found in every single Buddhist tradition throughout history. There is nothing essentialist about this. Naturally there are varying opinions on the mechanics and deeper meanings behind such concepts, but nevertheless every Buddhist tradition has said concepts which can be said to represent what the form of Buddhism is.
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Re: A Critique of "Buddhism Without Beliefs"

Postby Lazy_eye » Thu May 05, 2011 3:41 pm

coldmountain wrote:This is a very long thread, but I thought I might toss in some thoughts as a Westerner who has inherited a critical, empirical mindset. I am personally not so inspired by Batchelor's presentation of Buddhism, but I think it has its place. Not everyone is going to be convinced of certain metaphysical claims, yet the Dharma is broad enough to include a person no matter where he or she is coming from. To suppose that someone isn't Buddhist unless one is convinced of re-birth, I think negates so many uniquely Buddhist insights into the existential realities of life. Even without rebirth, we still need a way to live and a truth to embody, and Buddhism is a very deep and original tradition which shows us how to do just that.


I think the core issue here is "what does it mean to take refuge?" A Buddhist is someone who takes refuge in the Buddha, dharma and sangha -- that's the basic definition that almost everyone will agree on. But the dharma is vast. It encompasses everything from the three marks of existence and the four noble truths to explanations of why earthquakes happen, not to mention various cosmological stuff that few people today would take seriously.

But if we decide that we don't believe certain things, then the question arises: why this and not that? Where do we draw the line? Who can be the arbiter? One answer is provided by the Dalai Lama, who has said (quoting Alan Wallace here) that "if compelling scientific evidence refutes any Buddhist assertion, Buddhists should abandon their own discredited assertion" and that "if scientific research illuminates errors in Buddhist doctrine, Buddhists should be grateful for such assistance in their own pursuit of truth."

The question then arises: is there compelling evidence against post-mortem rebirth? Batchelor and other agnostics/atheists would probably say yes. Others would say no.

My own judgment is that the verdict's still out. If we can seriously entertain such wild possibilities as parallel universes or an infinity of logically possible universes, including ones where "our" experiences are repeated again and again throughout time, along with every conceivable variation, then there's no particular reason to reject rebirth out of hand. What we can say, rather, is that there's no scientific framework for it and that it's not implied or necessitated by anything we have discovered in physics or biology -- it doesn't explain any scientific question that's out there. But that may finally have more to do with the parameters of science than the ultimate nature of reality. The world is a very weird place.
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Re: A Critique of "Buddhism Without Beliefs"

Postby kirtu » Thu May 05, 2011 4:10 pm

coldmountain wrote:To suppose that someone isn't Buddhist unless one is convinced of re-birth, I think negates so many uniquely Buddhist insights into the existential realities of life. Even without rebirth, we still need a way to live and a truth to embody, and Buddhism is a very deep and original tradition which shows us how to do just that.


For better or worse this is going to be the jumping off point for most Western Buddhists.

Lazy_eye wrote:[
The question then arises: is there compelling evidence against post-mortem rebirth? Batchelor and other agnostics/atheists would probably say yes. Others would say no.


The only direct evidence of rebirth comes from one's personal experience. There's really no way around this. Most people apparently do not have any such personal experiences.

If we can seriously entertain such wild possibilities as parallel universes or an infinity of logically possible universes, including ones where "our" experiences are repeated again and again throughout time, along with every conceivable variation, then there's no particular reason to reject rebirth out of hand.


Multiple universes go back a ways. You seem to be describing Hugh Everett's multiple worlds interpretation based on quantum theory.

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Re: A Critique of "Buddhism Without Beliefs"

Postby Lazy_eye » Thu May 05, 2011 5:35 pm

kirtu wrote:Multiple universes go back a ways. You seem to be describing Hugh Everett's multiple worlds interpretation based on quantum theory.

Kirt


Everett, and Tegmark. Paul Davies provides a layman's overview of current cosmological theories in The Goldilocks Enigma. He himself leans towards the idea that there is some "overarching law or principle that constrains the universe/multiverse to evolve towards life and mind", and that the universe in effect creates itself. Interestingly, he doesn't rule out the possibility of omniscience at some stage in the cosmic process.
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Re: A Critique of "Buddhism Without Beliefs"

Postby coldmountain » Thu May 05, 2011 7:33 pm

Huseng,

Sure, but if you have a "Buddhism" with teachers saying there really is no rebirth or karma, then they are not practising or teaching Buddhadharma. It might resemble it, but it would be false adharma and a sign of our degenerate times. In reality we already have self-proclaimed "Buddhist teachers" spouting such falsities as dharma.


Buddhism's meaning for me lies chiefly in the salvation it teaches through its fundamental ontological vision of sunyata and prajnaparamita and the practices that seek their realization. These are of paramount importance to me and are what I seek guidance in. Having already come out of one form of religious fundamentalism, and having arduously worked to understand a place for spirituality in the modern world, I'm not about to replace one form of fundamentalism for another. I did not get to Buddhism in the first place by not asking questions and accepting everything someone or some tradition says at face value, so I do not approach Buddhism as an all-or-nothing phenomenon or accept dubious teleologies. Civilization is young and our knowledge of the world is constantly evolving, and Buddhism is remarkably suited to adapt to change because it has developed astounding ways of embodying truth without clinging to fixed views. So I do not wish to debate my candidacy for being called a Buddhist, needless to say I don't accept the tacit essentialism of the position you have taken; all I know is that I follow the Buddha Way to the best of my capacity and hope to carry whatever insights gained by it to my death, and if anything lies after that then so be it, and if nothing, then I can consider myself lucky to have encountered the Dharma in this life. If Buddhism is just another form of religious faith in doctrines that have no means of verification, then how is it any different from faith in divine revelation?

That's all I have to say with regard to that.


Lazy_eye asks:
But if we decide that we don't believe certain things, then the question arises: why this and not that? Where do we draw the line? Who can be the arbiter?


This might be an arresting question for religious views that are based on a divine revelation, but "enlightened" does not necessarily mean "infallible." It is possible for someone with deep realization to have wrong views on something. It is natural for the religious mind to venerate its sages and take them to be superhuman, but this doesn't mean we need to take every single tradition and statement surrounding this or that person at face value - as with the superstitious explanations for earthquakes that you mention. We do have brains, and we're not supposed to accept things just because it happens to be floating about. Why "this" and not "that"? Because what is of value can be realized with the practice of wisdom and will be refined and proved in its own way.
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Re: A Critique of "Buddhism Without Beliefs"

Postby coldmountain » Thu May 05, 2011 9:18 pm

Just wanted to give a couple more thoughts. Lazy_eye, you said,

Lazy_eye wrote:The question then arises: is there compelling evidence against post-mortem rebirth? Batchelor and other agnostics/atheists would probably say yes. Others would say no.

My own judgment is that the verdict's still out.


I agree that the possibility is there, but I'm also personally very wary of such claims because of the undeniable neurological complexity of memory and cognition. Being someone who tries not to overreach the facts, I'm unable to muster faith in positive claims since I am personally aware of no known, verifiable mechanism or process by which rebirth could take place, and you'd think by now that some kind of objective evidence would have turned up. Simply saying "it must be known by firsthand experience" doesn't really do me any good. That said, I have no commitment to materialism as a metaphysical worldview; I am a pan-psychist/pan-experientialist - the Cartesian split between mind and matter seems wholly inadequate to me, yet, this obviously does not equate to personal survival of consciousness after death, so the verdict will have to remain out for me as well until I encounter some solid evidence.
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Re: A Critique of "Buddhism Without Beliefs"

Postby James418 » Thu May 05, 2011 9:29 pm

Huseng wrote:
coldmountain wrote:To suppose that someone isn't Buddhist unless one is convinced of re-birth, I think negates so many uniquely Buddhist insights into the existential realities of life.


You need not force yourself to accept rebirth and karma. However, you simply cannot claim to really be practising Buddhadharma without those two fundamental core teachings. You can still gain much from studying Buddhism even while being sceptical about the reality of karma and rebirth, but don't try to preach a Buddhism without rebirth and karma.

Asserting that someone cannot be Buddhist unless he accepts rebirth, I think falls into essentialist trappings, in which one supposes that there is any one thing which makes one a Buddhist, and that there is only one expression of Dharma (and Dharma is ultimately nothing less than Reality itself).


From the beginning of Buddhism in India to the present day every tradition across history has accepted rebirth and karma as real and true though their explanations for the mechanics behind said phenomena inevitably differ.


Does anyone think that we should distinguish between something that is known and something that is believed ?
My teachers all stressed that Buddha's teaching is not considered a revelation or something to be believed. Careful testing along the Way was always advocated.
I do agree with Huseng about keeping the integrity of the teaching - but my opinion, for what it's worth, is that Buddhism is more concerned with knowing, rather than belief. If it is a belief we should recognise that fact.
Does that make sense? Probably not. I'll give up now. Good night! :anjali:
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Re: A Critique of "Buddhism Without Beliefs"

Postby coldmountain » Thu May 05, 2011 9:41 pm

James418 wrote:
Huseng wrote:
coldmountain wrote:To suppose that someone isn't Buddhist unless one is convinced of re-birth, I think negates so many uniquely Buddhist insights into the existential realities of life.


You need not force yourself to accept rebirth and karma. However, you simply cannot claim to really be practising Buddhadharma without those two fundamental core teachings. You can still gain much from studying Buddhism even while being sceptical about the reality of karma and rebirth, but don't try to preach a Buddhism without rebirth and karma.

Asserting that someone cannot be Buddhist unless he accepts rebirth, I think falls into essentialist trappings, in which one supposes that there is any one thing which makes one a Buddhist, and that there is only one expression of Dharma (and Dharma is ultimately nothing less than Reality itself).


From the beginning of Buddhism in India to the present day every tradition across history has accepted rebirth and karma as real and true though their explanations for the mechanics behind said phenomena inevitably differ.


Does anyone think that we should distinguish between something that is known and something that is believed ?
My teachers all stressed that Buddha's teaching is not considered a revelation or something to be believed. Careful testing along the Way was always advocated.
I do agree with Huseng about keeping the integrity of the teaching - but my opinion, for what it's worth, is that Buddhism is more concerned with knowing, rather than belief. If it is a belief we should recognise that fact.
Does that make sense? Probably not. I'll give up now. Good night! :anjali:


Thanks for your thoughts, James. I certainly do not wish to do any damage to the tradition; my skepticism is, in my view (and hope), balanced by a sincere gratitude to what I do find helpful and profound within the tradition. I'm really just concerned with what I can know - I wonder how many Buddhists simply "believe" in certain tenets without actually basing it on justified knowledge?
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Re: A Critique of "Buddhism Without Beliefs"

Postby Chaz » Thu May 05, 2011 10:05 pm

I find this discussion facinating and it brings me to this question.

While I wouldn't doubt for a second that Rebirth and Karma can both be seen as central and perhaps even indispensable in the Buddha's teaching. I thinks it's close to impossible to get even a rudimentary understanding of Buddhadharma without some understanding of how the teachings relate to Rebirth and Karma (among other things).

Now, is this the same as belief? I would say no. Understanding a teaching and believeing it are two different things. I understand the Judeo/Christian teachings on the creation of the Universe, but that doesn't mean I believe in it.

Must a person actually believe in Rebirth and Karma to be a Buddhist?
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Re: A Critique of "Buddhism Without Beliefs"

Postby James418 » Thu May 05, 2011 10:42 pm

Chaz wrote:I find this discussion facinating and it brings me to this question.

While I wouldn't doubt for a second that Rebirth and Karma can both be seen as central and perhaps even indispensable in the Buddha's teaching. I thinks it's close to impossible to get even a rudimentary understanding of Buddhadharma without some understanding of how the teachings relate to Rebirth and Karma (among other things).

Now, is this the same as belief? I would say no. Understanding a teaching and believeing it are two different things. I understand the Judeo/Christian teachings on the creation of the Universe, but that doesn't mean I believe in it.

Must a person actually believe in Rebirth and Karma to be a Buddhist?


I think that the teaching and the practice go hand in hand, because the Buddha's teaching starts out with the self-evident i.e. suffering exists and then heads off into what seems totally incredible (and also inspiring - at least to me).

In other words I think of it like a map. As you practice, you pass the sites along the Way, you can recognise them, get out of the car, and take some photographs - so to speak :smile: As long as the map is kept in it's entirety, I think you're set.

The real danger is when someone who hasn't traversed the path to the end starts altering the contents of the map. I mean, there is a flat earth society that refuses to admit the World is round - but imagine if they could alter navigation charts!

But, when the time comes, and you have walked the Way to the end, maybe you will see the map in a different way. Perhaps it isn't "totally" accurate when you are enlightened - who knows! But I don't know, obviously, and I only ever knew one person who did - and they wouldn't say! Curses! lol
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Re: A Critique of "Buddhism Without Beliefs"

Postby LastLegend » Thu May 05, 2011 11:34 pm

There are certain things that cannot be explained by philosophy, thinking, reasoning, etc. So you gonna have to accept the teachings, practice, and experience for yourself...cultivate the path to become Buddha, and you will become Buddha eventually. That is karma. To become Buddha is even Karma, if you don't believe in Karma, you cannot become Buddha because you won't cultivate the path to become Buddha. It is not the case that cultivating the path to become Buddha will lead you to become a monkey. No such thing. If you grow oranges, you will have oranges. You cannot have apples. This is Karma. But on a broader scale, it is very complex that no one can really understand until we become Buddhas. So you are going to have to take Buddha's words (truly an Enlightened Being) for granted. When you practice, you will observe and experience to see for yourself.
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Re: A Critique of "Buddhism Without Beliefs"

Postby zengammon » Fri May 06, 2011 1:16 am

Chaz wrote:I find this discussion facinating and it brings me to this question.

While I wouldn't doubt for a second that Rebirth and Karma can both be seen as central and perhaps even indispensable in the Buddha's teaching. I thinks it's close to impossible to get even a rudimentary understanding of Buddhadharma without some understanding of how the teachings relate to Rebirth and Karma (among other things).

Now, is this the same as belief? I would say no. Understanding a teaching and believeing it are two different things. I understand the Judeo/Christian teachings on the creation of the Universe, but that doesn't mean I believe in it.

Must a person actually believe in Rebirth and Karma to be a Buddhist?


No. We all have various struggles with the Path. We have this in common with each other. But, it's one thing to struggle; it's another to try to change the essence of the thing to suit ones' comfort or world view. It seems to me that if Buddha's discovery had been that there wasn't rebirth and karma, he would have just kept his mouth shut.

The new scholarship that I have seen is only reinforcing this point. See Richard Gombrich, "What the Buddha Thought."

"For the Buddha, the idea of karma is inextricably connected with the idea of rebirth." Inextricably

and:

"....I can introduce karma as a positive doctrine. I believe that it is not only fundamental to the Buddha's whole view of life, but also a kind of lynchpin which holds the rest of the basic tenets together by providing the perfect example of what they mean."

So, as huseng indicated: a rejection of karma and rebirth is unavoidably a rejection of buddhism, because these things are the thing itself.

best wishes,
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Re: A Critique of "Buddhism Without Beliefs"

Postby Malcolm » Fri May 06, 2011 1:19 am

Chaz wrote:
Must a person actually believe in Rebirth and Karma to be a Buddhist?



Yup. It's called "taking refuge in the Dharma".

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Re: A Critique of "Buddhism Without Beliefs"

Postby coldmountain » Fri May 06, 2011 2:31 am

Namdrol wrote:
Chaz wrote:
Must a person actually believe in Rebirth and Karma to be a Buddhist?



Yup. It's called "taking refuge in the Dharma".

N


Well, if that's the case (and I wouldn't say it is), then it doesn't look too good for Buddhism, since according to this understanding it has hinged itself upon a totally unverifiable belief, in which case the entire dharma is reduced to one giant appeal to authority. This seems to be one of the things that the Buddha himself rejected from vedantic religion: unverifiable claims to revelation. If you already have to be a Buddha before you can get any kind of verification of a claim, then I can't see what good it does anybody.

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Re: A Critique of "Buddhism Without Beliefs"

Postby Malcolm » Fri May 06, 2011 2:52 am

coldmountain wrote:
Namdrol wrote:
Chaz wrote:
Must a person actually believe in Rebirth and Karma to be a Buddhist?



Yup. It's called "taking refuge in the Dharma".

N


Well, if that's the case (and I wouldn't say it is), then it doesn't look too good for Buddhism, since according to this understanding it has hinged itself upon a totally unverifiable belief, in which case the entire dharma is reduced to one giant appeal to authority. This seems to be one of the things that the Buddha himself rejected from vedantic religion: unverifiable claims to revelation. If you already have to be a Buddha before you can get any kind of verification of a claim, then I can't see what good it does anybody.



Peace,
Mike



Hi Mike:

Past lives are verifiable. You just have to meditate a lot. Just as the Buddha did. You don't have to be a Buddha to verify rebirth. You just have remember your past lives very well, as the Buddha did prior to his awakening. Recall of past lives is a mundane skill accruing from meditation. It does not require attainment of awakening. It does require some degree of attainment of meditative stabilization.

Dharma is not solely based on appeals to authority. The Buddha suggested that anyone can develop these powers of the mind -- such as recall of one's past lives and so on -- such teachings are too pervasive in Buddhist literature to be doubted that this is really what the Buddha intended i.e. that the Dharma was taught in order to free people from continual rebirth in samsara.

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Re: A Critique of "Buddhism Without Beliefs"

Postby Indrajala » Fri May 06, 2011 3:16 am

coldmountain wrote:Buddhism's meaning for me lies chiefly in the salvation it teaches through its fundamental ontological vision of sunyata and prajnaparamita and the practices that seek their realization.


Prajñāpāramitā and śūnyatā go hand in hand with rebirth. When the Bodhisattva understands prajñāpāramitā and śūnyatā their compassion and wisdom are made non-dual which means they strive for countless aeons to be of ultimate benefit to all sentient beings. That means taking rebirth again and again.

In any case, according to Nāgārjuna realization of śūnyatā requires appropriate mental fitness which is gained through mastery of dhyāna. Recollection of past lives is an effect of high calibre training in dhyāna.


These are of paramount importance to me and are what I seek guidance in.


Those are generally considered high level trainings and teachings. In general one starts in Buddhism with simple, but essential, activities like generosity, morality and taking refuge in the Triple Gem. This forms the foundation for being able to accurately and actually pursue higher teachings. It is unwise to jump to the higher teachings without having a firm basis and conviction in Buddhadharma and the Buddha.


Having already come out of one form of religious fundamentalism, and having arduously worked to understand a place for spirituality in the modern world, I'm not about to replace one form of fundamentalism for another.



Your use of the word "fundamentalism" is unjustified when directed at what I'm speaking about. I understand your fear and disgust with some religions in the world today, but understand that Buddhism still has actual core teachings which for most have to be accepted as legitimate without having actually verified their validity. The verification of their validity does come eventually when one has suitable abilities to verify them. Buddhism says you actually can verify the validity of the teaching on rebirth and recollect past lives, but this comes through years of yogic training. At the present moment you might not be able to do it, but you need to develop the mental machinery to do it. Until such time there is nothing wrong with deferring to a valid testimony of the Buddha.

Take the following quote from the Pali canon for example:

"Excellent, Sariputta. Excellent. Those who have not known, seen, penetrated, realized, or attained it by means of discernment would have to take it on conviction in others that the faculty of conviction... persistence... mindfulness... concentration... discernment, when developed & pursued, gains a footing in the Deathless, has the Deathless as its goal & consummation; whereas those who have known, seen, penetrated, realized, & attained it by means of discernment would have no doubt or uncertainty that the faculty of conviction... persistence... mindfulness... concentration... discernment, when developed & pursued, gains a footing in the Deathless, has the Deathless as its goal & consummation."

SN 48.44
PTS: S v 220
CDB ii 1689
Pubbakotthaka Sutta: Eastern Gatehouse


This means we can verify all these teachings like rebirth and karma, but for most of us this isn't possible immediately.






So I do not wish to debate my candidacy for being called a Buddhist, needless to say I don't accept the tacit essentialism of the position you have taken


Stop accusing me of essentialism. It is getting old. I am pointing out a fact that is accepted by the academic community. I am an academic in ivory towers. Scholars of Buddhism agree that karma and rebirth are two teachings that have existed in every single Buddhist tradition in history. There is no "tacit essentialism" in that. There might be some new group of people who come and claim themselves "Buddhist" while rejecting most of what the Buddha taught, but that would be a new historical precedent.


If Buddhism is just another form of religious faith in doctrines that have no means of verification, then how is it any different from faith in divine revelation?


Like I pointed out above, you can verify all the teachings, but first you need to build up your mental machinery so as to comprehend and realize these things for yourself. If you don't have such mental fitness as of yet then you can't verify a lot of teachings. In which case you defer to a valid testimony of someone like the Buddha. This is called Śabda-pramana -- knowing through the testimony of a valid source.
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Re: A Critique of "Buddhism Without Beliefs"

Postby Lazy_eye » Fri May 06, 2011 3:34 am

coldmountain wrote:I agree that the possibility is there, but I'm also personally very wary of such claims because of the undeniable neurological complexity of memory and cognition.


Just a quick question -- why do you feel the aforesaid neurological complexity makes rebirth implausible? Rebirth posits a process by which beings arise and pass away; it doesn't hinge on any particular model of the brain.

If the ongoing process of dependent origination results in a human birth, then a human brain comes with it, along with its various faculties of memory and cognition. If this life is succeeded by rebirth as a deva, then that reborn being gets some other (better) mental organs. In case of an animal rebirth, an animal's mental organs develop.

One of the beneficial things about the rebirth teachings, I feel, is that they point us towards our commonalities with other forms of sentient life -- the fact that all beings in samsara, from the most primitive to the most developed, share the same basic predicament.

It seems to me that neurological complexity would pose an issue if the Buddha had taught that we have some kind of immortal soul which floats from existence to existence with its cognitive functions intact. But that's not the case. In (the Pali Canon's) MN 38, he rebukes his disciple Sati for believing that "the same consciousness" transmigrates from life to life. And in the same sutta, he makes it clear that conscious experience occurs via the associated sense organs (and by extension the brain).

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Re: A Critique of "Buddhism Without Beliefs"

Postby coldmountain » Fri May 06, 2011 4:06 am

Namdrol wrote:Hi Mike:

Past lives are verifiable. You just have to meditate a lot. Just as the Buddha did. You don't have to be a Buddha to verify rebirth. You just have remember your past lives very well, as the Buddha did prior to his awakening. Recall of past lives is a mundane skill accruing from meditation. It does not require attainment of awakening. It does require some degree of attainment of meditative stabilization.

Dharma is not solely based on appeals to authority. The Buddha suggested that anyone can develop these powers of the mind -- such as recall of one's past lives and so on -- such teachings are too pervasive in Buddhist literature to be doubted that this is really what the Buddha intended i.e. that the Dharma was taught in order to free people from continual rebirth in samsara.

N


Hi Namdrol,

My only question in response to this is, is this something you have verified in personal experience or is all this itself an expression of a belief?
coldmountain
 
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Re: A Critique of "Buddhism Without Beliefs"

Postby coldmountain » Fri May 06, 2011 4:16 am

Lazy_eye wrote:
coldmountain wrote:I agree that the possibility is there, but I'm also personally very wary of such claims because of the undeniable neurological complexity of memory and cognition.


Just a quick question -- why do you feel the aforesaid neurological complexity makes rebirth implausible? Rebirth posits a process by which beings arise and pass away; it doesn't hinge on any particular model of the brain.

If the ongoing process of dependent origination results in a human birth, then a human brain comes with it, along with its various faculties of memory and cognition. If this life is succeeded by rebirth as a deva, then that reborn being gets some other (better) mental organs. In case of an animal rebirth, an animal's mental organs develop.

One of the beneficial things about the rebirth teachings, I feel, is that they point us towards our commonalities with other forms of sentient life -- the fact that all beings in samsara, from the most primitive to the most developed, share the same basic predicament.

It seems to me that neurological complexity would pose an issue if the Buddha had taught that we have some kind of immortal soul which floats from existence to existence with its cognitive functions intact. But that's not the case. In (the Pali Canon's) MN 38, he rebukes his disciple Sati for believing that "the same consciousness" transmigrates from life to life. And in the same sutta, he makes it clear that conscious experience occurs via the associated sense organs (and by extension the brain).

Best regards,

Rob


I noted the complexity of the brain also for another reason: it challenges any naive realism. Someone who isn't aware of how complex the brain is might uncritically believe that some experience or some memory belongs to a past life or whatever. There's also the fact that all of our experiences seem to have neural correlates, which strongly suggests mutual identity between mind and brain.

As for rebirth, there are many questions as to how the process could actually take place. What is it that transfers from one life to the next? How does one's mind transfers, when the brain undeniably has a lot to do with what is experienced in the mind? What testable evidence is there that there is such a transfer (you would expect information to pass from one life to the next, and information is measurable). The questions seem to stack up with little explanatory power within the theory itself. How do moral choices (karma) impact which life one is reborn into? Is it limited to a choice of beings on earth? If so, how does the mechanism responsible for rebirth choose which life one is born into on earth? All life on earth is readily explained in evolutionary biological terms and does not need any such superfluity to explain how things work.
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