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.
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.
Dechen Norbu wrote:I would like to introduce a few thoughts about this issue that may explain why I think doubting rebirth of karma may be problematic for the practitioner.
I’m convinced it all comes down to the metaphysic assumptions we absorbed when growing up. Seems strange?
Let’s examine the following. What would be the most intuitive belief regarding the nature of mind? That it is physical or not physical? You would have to agree that the second is much more intuitive. Of course it’s also more intuitive the flatness of the Earth and that the sun moves around it. This doesn’t mean that the Earth is flat nor that the Sun revolves around it.
So, why do we doubt what we can clearly see? Education. We have been taught that the Earth is more or less round and it revolves around the Sun. These are facts.
Are we then to assume that mind being an emergent function of the brain is also a fact? No. Yet, it’s this belief that is passed as a scientific fact or that we have good reasons to BELIEVE (this is hope) that one day it will become a fact. What is a fact is that according to many authors, it won’t.
So, the problem is that we are taking a metaphysical predilection as being a scientific fact. All known cases of emergent properties of natural phenomena, both the phenomena itself and its emergent properties, functions included, can be simultaneously seen using a single mode of observation. However, when we use instruments to observe neural events and all those electrochemical functions, we do not detect mental events. And when introspectively we observe mental events, we don’t detect the electrochemical reactions happening.
Neural correlates aren’t mental states. In fact, modern neuroscience has no idea on how the brain produces the “emergent property” of consciousness. However, their faith that one day such will be known, passes to the public as a certainty, not a hope, a belief built upon metaphysical assumptions.
So we are taught to believe that our mind is an emergent property of the brain and this hinders the possibility of accepting rebirth. But this is only difficult for those who have been, pardon for the word, intoxicated by the metaphysics of physicalism.
The fact is that we have a non physical dimension that we experience every single day, our consciousness. It has no mass, spin, charge, any physical property.
We intuitively assume that the death of the body may not mean the death of the mind, unless we have been exposed to scientific materialism ad convinced by it.This is the main problem, not only not accepting rebirth or karma. We start practicing Dharma while stuck in a metaphysical system of beliefs that actually is incompatible with it. In the same way that we only observe nature according to our method of questioning, the same will happen when we observe our mind. Stuck in Physicalism, it may happen that our practice is barren from the start. Thus the importance of having an open mind.
Scientifically, we don’t know the nature, origin or fate of consciousness. There’s a lot of intellectual sleights of hand when neuroscientists try to explain consciousness in term of neural correlates. If you still feel compelled to believe what they say regarding consciousness, search for the many logical flaws in their reasoning. They abound and are critical. See with what they come up to to solve the hard problem. Technical gibberish, filled with unsubstantiated claims, hope in the work of future scientists, that as far as we know haven't yet born. They ask you to take this on faith, but using the proper tone and language. You are being taken as fools. The fact is that for science, consciousness remains a huge mystery.
The actual theories of consciousness remind the epicycles used by medieval scholars to explain the movement of celestial bodies while trying to maintain the geocentric model. Their insistence upon it, when taken to the extreme, may lead to absurds like saying mental events or consciousness don't even exist. This was behaviorism at its best, in the 50's. But this position was so ridicule that even Skinner retracted such ideas later. There were a few years though, that most psychologists, especially in the USA, believed such nonsense! We thought it was gone, though. But with the arising of neurosciences, I fear we are once again walking towards a similar direction. Nowadays, the kind of experiences conducted in Psychology labs, apart the technological apparatus, remind me more and more of such dark days for the study of the mind (term nearly banned from any scientific discussion in those days). I even fear if Psychology doesn't shake off this neuroscientifc trend, there will come a day in which this branch of science may be seen as a minor curiosity, previous to the arising of the "all mighty neurosciences".
I'm sad, now.
coldmountain wrote:Hello Dechen Norbu,
I definitely see where you're coming from; it took me a while to see that the "emergent" theory of consciousness is something of a sleight of hand. The problem for me is that substance dualism also has its problems, in that it provides no explanation for why so-called "mind" interacts with so-called "matter." It has driven me to this point at least, where I see reality as being composed of sets of experiences, or that the universe is experiential in some sense (panpsychism or pan-experientialism). But the fact is the mind and brain by all observation are inextricably linked -- what happens to the brain happens to the mind and vice versa -- even if there is more to the brain (and indeed, to reality) than what can be objectively described, it is still pretty far from arriving at rebirth. Perhaps I still haven't gotten far enough from physicalism.
coldmountain wrote:I'll ask you the same question, then, to gain and understanding of where you're coming from. Is this based on actual experience - experience that you know is not mistaken (i.e. based on not acknowledging the complexity of the brain).
Is it also the academic consensus that we are living in the "degenerate age" and other such teleological beliefs?
coldmountain wrote: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?
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.
coldmountain wrote:Perhaps I still haven't gotten far enough from physicalism.
Just for clarification, what you explained above is a distinctively Vajrayana perspective, right? Is anything similar found in (sutric) Mahayana or Theravada?
My studies, such as they are, have mostly been in Ch'an and Theravada and I don't recall encountering a similar schema. In Theravada, as I understand it, consciousness re-arises along with the material aggregates -- there's no point at which it can be said to be separated from them, unless one is reborn into a "formless realm". Even those Theravada teachers who accept an intermediary or bardo-like state insist it involves some sort of subtle body.
Meditation masters are experts of the mind. In the scientific community we only have experts of the brain. The problem is that you seem under the impression that they are the same. Now, you can rely in the experts of the brain, who seem to know very little about the mind, or try to learn something from the experts of the mind.
An ethnocentric approach, by this I mean the impossibility that other civilizations made any discoveries of real value to our understanding, is unwise. Nevertheless it's rather common.
I know that through meditation one comes to be able to see and perceive things that were unavailable prior to yogic cultivation.
That's an irrelevant question.
There is no academic consensus on such things. Generally speaking most people think we are in an age of progress and development.
To preface, everything involving one's mind is involves belief. The idea that one has "personal experience" of anything is a belief system. Mental experience is always a meditated second-order cognition. Sense cognitions are non-conceptual.
That being said, I have some unclear recollections of past lives. Those experiences where stronger during the time I spent in Central Tibet.
I am certain that given sufficient time, and opportunity I could enhance those memories. But having memories of past lives is not the point of Dharma practice. But if you do sufficient practice, then you will verify the existence of dhyana realm devas too, and so on, as have many people who have spent time cultivating the jhanas in the Vipassana system. This is because cultivating dhyana affects one's sense organs and puts their experiential sphere in the form realms even though someone is physically located in the desire realm. I have a little of this experience as well. However, nothing that will stand up to so called "empirical" double blind studies. Recall of past lives cannot be scientifically tested for because it depends on developing certain meditative skills. But enough people have developed those skills and confirmed similar phenomena over the course of Buddhist history.
Of course, skeptics will dismiss such findings as narrative driven.
But beyond that, you have to recall that Buddha's insight into dependent origination was predicated on his recollection of his own past lives. This is an unalterable fact.
Only to a physicalist. To a Tibetan Doctor is suggests that mind inhabits the brain as well as the rest of nervous system and has no fixed location within the body, moving about the body wherever there is a pathway.
Rebirth and evolution are non-contradictory.
Namdrol wrote:That being said, I have some unclear recollections of past lives. Those experiences where stronger during the time I spent in Central Tibet.
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