The Problem With Buddhist Philosophy

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Re: The Problem With Buddhist Philosophy

Postby Astus » Sun Apr 03, 2011 11:36 pm

Namdrol wrote:I am suggesting that there is a constant danger of "Dharma ossification".

On the contrary, Tibetans have managed to do so with spectacular success. There has not been a new idea in Tibetan Buddhism since about 15th century. Tibetan Buddhism is intellectually frozen. I would venture it is the same with all forms of Buddhism.


My view of Buddhist history is that Gautama presented the essentials to his disciples (early scriptures) from which came a gradual explanation of the many aspects until around the 13th century, the time when Buddhism established itself throughout Asia and practically disappeared in India. Then on there were no significantly new teachings but only continuing the tradition. In terms of Dharma-age - in my interpretation - the pre-sectarian period was the True Dharma, the sectarian period was the Semblance Dharma and from the 13th century on it is the Declining Dharma age; however, this carries too bad connotations to take it seriously.

I'm not sure if philosophical creativity is necessarily the measure of a living tradition. Hakuin's reform in Japanese and Gyeongheo's reform in Korean Zen didn't mean new ideas but rather a restoration - or reinvention - of old teachings. But it was a reform nevertheless. Same could be said of Theravada monks starting dhutanga communities in Thailand.

In the Mahaparinibbana Sutta the Buddha said,

"But in any doctrine & discipline where the noble eightfold path is found, contemplatives of the first... second... third... fourth order are found. The noble eightfold path is found in this doctrine & discipline, and right here there are contemplatives of the first... second... third... fourth order. Other teachings are empty of knowledgeable contemplatives. And if the monks dwell rightly, this world will not be empty of arahants."

It is the guarding and practising the path that keeps the teaching alive. There is also a series of talks on the future dangers (AN 5.77-80), later selected by King Asoka into his edicts, that address matters monks should take heed of in order to develop on the path. Another sutta (SN 20.7) warns about the dangers of not listening to the very teachings of the Buddha but instead to "discourses that are literary works — the works of poets, elegant in sound, elegant in rhetoric, the work of outsiders, words of disciples" thus causing the disappearance of the Buddha's teachings. And if we look at Nagarjuna's works their aim is not to establish some new thought but to turn people back to the path itself, this is the expression of the very practical spirit of the prajnaparamita sutras. The same sentiment is found in other teachings that were later regarded as new schools, the attempt to return to the original teachings: not the words themselves but the insight. Isn't that what the upadesha teaching is about in Tibet, a direct discourse? But of course no teaching can avoid formalisation and eventual rigor mortis. That is impermanence. What keeps the Dharma alive is enlightenment, it is revived every time a person gains insight into the truth of the teaching.

So, what is intellectual liveliness? Does the pure citta of Ajahn Chah, the Juingong of Daehaeng Sunim or the Humanistic Buddhism of Yinshun qualify as such? I can't really tell. What do you say?
"There is no such thing as the real mind. Ridding yourself of delusion: that's the real mind."
(Sheng-yen: Getting the Buddha Mind, p 73)

“Don’t rashly seek the true Buddha;
True Buddha can’t be found.
Does marvelous nature and spirit
Need tempering or refinement?
Mind is this mind carefree;
This face, the face at birth."

(Nanyue Mingzan: Enjoying the Way, tr. Jeff Shore; T51n2076, p461b24-26)
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Re: The Problem With Buddhist Philosophy

Postby devilyoudont » Mon Apr 04, 2011 12:30 am

^I'm sure I don't know what you imagine "enlightenment" to be.

In all probability, I'm even more radical than Namdrol. Buddhism was never intended to be a static body of Teachings leading to enlightenment. The Buddha even gave instructions on how to change the Vinaya when needed, but these days traditions hesitate to revive nun's lineages from divergent Vinayas. Yes, I've gone over the usual arguments, but I honestly don't understand this reticence except as an instance of unmitigated traditionalism, an overriding concern in modern Buddhism. ...which brings us to an idea that I think is a deliberately distorted, ultra-conservative interpretation of the Kalama Sutta pushed as a legitimate "teaching" that parallels the American political tactic of pushing unconstitutional ideas with the justification of "defending the constitution", the very epitome of clinging to Self. You know the one I mean. What such people forget is that the Buddhadharma is born from the union of wisdom and means. Buddhists need to transcend this attitude if we are to walk the path of the fully enlightened and not merely the path of preserving the path of the previously enlightened.

Suck it up, people. You'll never have progress without minor disagreements like this. Buddhism isn't Hinduism, where Creation has done his job and lies dormant for an eon, leaving the forces of Destruction and Preservation to do their thing until its all gone, when he wakes up and starts over. Compare that myth to the Nikaya story of the two men discovering a ruin. Rummaging inside, they each find a rope. On the way back, they find two bags of gold. One drops the rope and hefts the gold, but the other says "My rope is good enough for me." Upon returning, the first becomes rich, the other remains poor. That's right, no surprise reversal. No glorification of complacent idiocy. The Buddha wasn't here to steal your money. He was here to help you realize the true nature of existence.

How do Tibetans compare to this parable? They invite doctors from the four corners of the world, let them have a debate, systemize their methods, and close the book. "Okay, that's Medicine, folks! Nothing else to see here!" Ever heard of the Thai monk who went on a quest to Burma to discover how exactly enlightenment is attained? You won't find enlightenment by adhering to what remains of the teachings as strictly as possible, the path of uncritical atavism. You'll find it in developing them and helping others extend their understanding. Not their understanding of what you imagine to be "Buddhism". Their understanding.
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Re: The Problem With Buddhist Philosophy

Postby Sherab » Mon Apr 04, 2011 12:43 am

Namdrol wrote:
Will wrote:Skip the metaphors Malcolm, just give a sappy solution to the problem as defined by you.



For example, in order to become expert in Madhyamaka, first you have to become expert in Abhidharma. Now, Abhidharma is interesting, but at least in Mahayāna, no one practices according to Abhidharma any more.

Many parts of the Mula require that one becomes educated in tenets no one accepts anymore anyway.

There are many other problems of this sort.

It would seem to me that Abhidharma itself needs some upgrade. Coming from a science background, things like the particles being composed of elements of earth, water, fire and air sounded rather weird to my ears. It also makes me wonder whether a yogi with direct perception actually sees particles as comprising of earth, etc.
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Re: The Problem With Buddhist Philosophy

Postby Malcolm » Mon Apr 04, 2011 12:45 am

devilyoudont wrote:
How do Tibetans compare to this parable? They invite doctors from the four corners of the world, let them have a debate, systemize their methods, and close the book. "Okay, that's Medicine, folks! Nothing else to see here!"



That is quite an exaggeration -- basically it is not true.

Tibetan medicine is still continuing to evolve in ways in which Dharma tenet systems does not.
http://www.bhaisajya.net
http://atikosha.org
འ༔ ཨ༔ ཧ༔ ཤ༔ ས༔ མ༔

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Re: The Problem With Buddhist Philosophy

Postby devilyoudont » Mon Apr 04, 2011 12:51 am

Sherab wrote:It would seem to me that Abhidharma itself needs some upgrade. Coming from a science background, things like the particles being composed of elements of earth, water, fire and air sounded rather weird to my ears. It also makes me wonder whether a yogi with direct perception actually sees particles as comprising of earth, etc.

This, however, is a legitimate misunderstanding IMO. You're confusing an analysis of direct perception with particles of "matter" observed through high magnification instruments. These lie in two different, incommensurable domains.
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Re: The Problem With Buddhist Philosophy

Postby devilyoudont » Mon Apr 04, 2011 12:52 am

Namdrol wrote:That is quite an exaggeration -- basically it is not true.

Tibetan medicine is still continuing to evolve in ways in which Dharma tenet systems does not.

You know more about it than I do.

(Hold on, was this also the case in Tibet?)
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Re: The Problem With Buddhist Philosophy

Postby Malcolm » Mon Apr 04, 2011 1:08 am

devilyoudont wrote:
Namdrol wrote:That is quite an exaggeration -- basically it is not true.

Tibetan medicine is still continuing to evolve in ways in which Dharma tenet systems does not.

You know more about it than I do.

(Hold on, was this also the case in Tibet?)



Yes, that was part of my point -- but also that in studying Tibetan medicine, I realized that the way we are receiving Tibetan Buddhism is very static and taxonomic, and in more dynamic Dharma systems like Dzogchen and mahāmudra, the desiccated approach of tenet systems is very bad for explaining process and transformations. Meditation is actually a transformative process. Not a tenet.
http://www.bhaisajya.net
http://atikosha.org
འ༔ ཨ༔ ཧ༔ ཤ༔ ས༔ མ༔

" The one who teaches the benefits of peace,
he is said to be a ṛṣī; the others are the opposite of him."

-- Uttaratantra
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Re: The Problem With Buddhist Philosophy

Postby devilyoudont » Mon Apr 04, 2011 1:23 am

Namdrol wrote:Yes, that was part of my point -- but also that in studying Tibetan medicine, I realized that the way we are receiving Tibetan Buddhism is very static and taxonomic, and in more dynamic Dharma systems like Dzogchen and mahāmudra, the desiccated approach of tenet systems is very bad for explaining process and transformations.

In that case, change things! Throw yourself into practice until new expressions of the dharma emerge from your own consciousness. I've always been an adherent of tathagatagarbha.

Namdrol wrote:Meditation is actually a transformative process. Not a tenet.

Indeed. It's also irreplaceable and should overrule any dogma, which are only means of presentation, not realization itself.

Do you think Tibetan Buddhism became fossilized as a result of politicization, adherence to certain doctrines becoming mixed with notions of allegiance to the state?
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Re: The Problem With Buddhist Philosophy

Postby devilyoudont » Mon Apr 04, 2011 2:04 am

devilyoudont wrote:It's also irreplaceable and should overrule any dogma, which are only means of presentation, not realization itself.

I mean it! You see, I have a theory. You know why Buddhist philosophy was vibrant in India? Because Indians had the strength to abandon Buddhism rather than betray their true understanding. The conviction it takes to remain a Buddhist despite this freedom is sorely missing from modern Buddhism. These days, Buddhists seem to incur "guilt" when thoughts or sentiments arise that appear anti-Buddhist at first sight. Just look at these forums, we obsess over these meaningless conundrums instead of investigating these matters with rigor and philosophic detachment.

We desperately need to lose this counterproductive attachment to systems of dogma. Where did this attitude come from? Surely it wasn't an invention of the oh-so-evil Tibetans, Protestants, or any other group we'd care to blame. Let's face it, it's our fault, us practitioners, and we need to get over it. Seriously, why bother even from an ideological perspective? Buddhism is logically sound, and its (core) teachings* are scientifically unfalsifiable. Therefore, no phenomena you witness through your sense organs or the mind-door can rationally disprove Buddhism. Whatever seems anti-Buddhist/non-Buddhist/counter-Buddhist just seems that way to you because of impurities in your own mind. That which appears to be adversity is really an opportunity to further your understanding, and possibly the dharma.

(*Where they are falsifiable, well, the benefits of meditation are borne out by experiments. (Wow, I never speak this loosely.))
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Re: The Problem With Buddhist Philosophy

Postby Malcolm » Mon Apr 04, 2011 2:12 am

devilyoudont wrote:I mean it! You see, I have a theory. You know why Buddhist philosophy was vibrant in India? Because Indians had the strength to abandon Buddhism rather than betray their true understanding.


Buddhist philosophy was also vibrant in Tibet once too -- then sectarian politics sealed the new translation schools in intellectual mausoleums.
http://www.bhaisajya.net
http://atikosha.org
འ༔ ཨ༔ ཧ༔ ཤ༔ ས༔ མ༔

" The one who teaches the benefits of peace,
he is said to be a ṛṣī; the others are the opposite of him."

-- Uttaratantra
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Re: The Problem With Buddhist Philosophy

Postby devilyoudont » Mon Apr 04, 2011 2:25 am

Namdrol wrote:Buddhist philosophy was also vibrant in Tibet once too -- then sectarian politics sealed the new translation schools in intellectual mausoleums.

Yes, and the intellectual climate of the modern West is a golden opportunity to revive the lost tradition of openness. Why shouldn't you be one of its sung or unsung patriarchs? :smile:
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Re: The Problem With Buddhist Philosophy

Postby retrofuturist » Mon Apr 04, 2011 3:02 am

Greetings,

Namdrol wrote:The problem with Buddhist philosophy in general (I only really understood this after studying Tibetan Medicine) is that Buddhists often become stuck in dry, fixed categorizations. The way it is presented, there is very little engagement with process in Buddhist dharma language.

Dharma language is often quite presented overly taxonomical ways, and as such, people who indulge in Buddhist philosophy tend to resemble brittle taxidermists or dry intellectual morticians -- always trying to pretty up the cadavers of Buddhist tenets of which they are fond.

Buddhism is a living tradition -- not a bunch of tenet systems in a book. It is an evolving system, the sum of two and a half millennia of both awakened and unawakened people engaging with the meaning of Buddha's awakening, and the awakening of those who came after the Buddha.

Buddhism did not spring out fully formed, like Athena from Zeus' forehead. It evolved, slowly, adapting itself to time and place.

If Buddhism is to survive and continue to be relevant, it must evolve and meet the demand of those who are newly trying to engage with the meaning of awakening.

Otherwise, Buddhism is in danger of becoming a museum piece.

:good:

(though of course, the de-evolution of the aforementioned Buddhist philosophy, regardless of its sectarian/geographical origins, could well constitute evolution from the perspective of Buddhism)

Maitri,
Retro. :)
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Re: The Problem With Buddhist Philosophy

Postby plwk » Mon Apr 04, 2011 3:24 am

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Re: The Problem With Buddhist Philosophy

Postby plwk » Mon Apr 04, 2011 3:37 am

Otherwise, Buddhism is in danger of becoming a museum piece

Isn't it already happening in some places?
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Re: The Problem With Buddhist Philosophy

Postby ground » Mon Apr 04, 2011 3:39 am

It is good to return to the suttapitaka and skip all this philosophical scholary fabrication. This is my lesson learned from tibetan buddhism.

kind regards
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Re: The Problem With Buddhist Philosophy

Postby plwk » Mon Apr 04, 2011 3:56 am

It is good to return to the suttapitaka and skip all this philosophical scholary fabrication. This is my lesson learned from tibetan buddhism.
One man's meat, another man's poison....huh

From Image Page 25, on Candragomi:
'Ah Nagarjuna's texts,
For some people are medicine,
But are poison for others,
But Maitreya and Asanga's texts
Are medicine for everyone'
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Re: The Problem With Buddhist Philosophy

Postby ground » Mon Apr 04, 2011 4:19 am

plwk wrote:
It is good to return to the suttapitaka and skip all this philosophical scholary fabrication. This is my lesson learned from tibetan buddhism.
One man's meat, another man's poison....huh


Of course. And my statement does not mean at all a rejection tibetan buddhism as a whole and I won't deny that one can derive benefit from its philosophical elaborations. I mean at least to recognize the drawbacks and where it may lead to is a great benefit.

And of course the drawbacks of philosophy in tibetan buddhism can be found in scholary approaches of other traditions as well.

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Re: The Problem With Buddhist Philosophy

Postby Sherab » Mon Apr 04, 2011 4:38 am

Namdrol wrote:
devilyoudont wrote:I mean it! You see, I have a theory. You know why Buddhist philosophy was vibrant in India? Because Indians had the strength to abandon Buddhism rather than betray their true understanding.


Buddhist philosophy was also vibrant in Tibet once too -- then sectarian politics sealed the new translation schools in intellectual mausoleums.

The tendency to be sealed in intellectual mausoleums as you so eloquently put is not unique to the new translation schools. I see it in all schools of Buddhism from Theravada to Chinese Mahayana to the Tibetan traditions. I also see it in other religions as well. I think it is a tendency of being human to cling to one's view.

Back to Buddhism ... I think inherent in the historical Buddha's teachings is the highest philosophical view. But due to differences in understanding of what the Buddha taught, these differences manifest in different philosophies. Apart from the inevitable deviations here and there, I see these philosophies getting closer to the Buddha's intention as time progresses.
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Re: The Problem With Buddhist Sangha

Postby Will » Mon Apr 04, 2011 5:35 am

plwk wrote:
Do not know if any suttas talk about a Dharma ending age

These?... Saddhammapatirupaka Sutta Ani Sutta Anagata-bhayani Sutta Bhikkhu-aparihaniya Sutta Anagata-bhayani Sutta Kimila Sutta


Many prostrations; these are excellent sources - from the first one:

These five downward-leading qualities tend to the confusion and disappearance of the true Dhamma. Which five? There is the case where the monks, nuns, male lay followers, & female lay followers live without respect, without deference, for the Teacher. They live without respect, without deference, for the Dhamma... for the Sangha... for the Training... for concentration. These are the five downward-leading qualities that tend to the confusion and disappearance of the true Dhamma


So the problem is not philosophy but poor quality Buddhists.
Revealing one essence: this means the inherently pure, complete, luminous essence, which is pure of its own nature. -- Fa-tsang
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Re: The Problem With Buddhist Philosophy

Postby Tsongkhapafan » Mon Apr 04, 2011 7:16 am

Namdrol wrote:On the contrary, Tibetans have managed to do so with spectacular success. There has not been a new idea in Tibetan Buddhism since about 15th century. Tibetan Buddhism is intellectually frozen. I would venture it is the same with all forms of Buddhism.

N


But surely the point is, the meaning of the teachings doesn't change but the presentation has to to adapt to a particular culture and their karma. There shouldn't be any new ideas because the path to enlightenment is very clear - the removal of the two obstructions, which are delusion-obstructions and the obstructions to omniscience. There are many different traditions that present how to do this, but essentially you can't change the Four Noble Truths so I wouldn't expect the meaning of Buddhism to change, only the presentation.

Also, the life of the teachings comes from people putting them into practice rather than treating them as mere intellectual knowledge, so if Buddhism is becoming a museum piece it's because, due to the degeneracy of this age, there are very few realized beings and very few practitioners.
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