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."
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.