How can Buddhists be so sure of themselves?

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Re: How can Buddhists be so sure of themselves?

Postby Ikkyu » Fri Jun 08, 2012 10:35 pm

David N. Snyder wrote:
Ikkyu wrote:Here's a conjecture:

1. Buddhism and its associated practices work at making people free from suffering, which is ostensibly its purpose.
2. Buddhism asserts the existence of Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, enlightenment, rebirth, etc.
2. Therefore Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, enlightenment, rebirth, etc. exist (simply because their invocations, etc. make people free from suffering)?


[As you probably know], the conclusion does not follow. But maybe the conclusion doesn't need to follow. If one follows the path and sees benefit in a reduction of suffering, then one should continue on the beneficial path and possibly see the fruits and validity of the other metaphysical items later.


You make a good point. But in this case, is it OK for me to take precepts and tread the Buddhist path even if I have some serious doubts about it? I mean, I know there's a Zen proverb that suggests a student in the Way should have "great doubt"... however it also says one must have "great faith", which I can't seem to muster up.

I would like to take precepts because, as I've said, I do feel the Dharma is in many ways one of the best philosophies. (This is coming someone who has compared and contrasted Sartrean existentialism, absurdism, Nietzschean philosophy, Plato, continental philosophy, comparative religion and much else.) I just don't know if its disrespectful for me to go into this half-assed and half-heartedly.
"Nothing can be known, not even this."
-- Arcesilaus (but I'm not sure)
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Re: How can Buddhists be so sure of themselves?

Postby Seishin » Fri Jun 08, 2012 10:43 pm

Ikkyu wrote:
You make a good point. But in this case, is it OK for me to take precepts and tread the Buddhist path even if I have some serious doubts about it? I mean, I know there's a Zen proverb that suggests a student in the Way should have "great doubt"... however it also says one must have "great faith", which I can't seem to muster up.


I do not see any problem. :smile:

Gassho,
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Re: How can Buddhists be so sure of themselves?

Postby Astus » Fri Jun 08, 2012 10:45 pm

Ikkyu wrote:Again, this whole "merit" business seems dubious at best. How does one "transfer" something immaterial that is probably non-existent -- and more likely a philosophical abstraction -- to someone else? How does this make sense in the context of reality, which Buddha-dharma claims to be so well acquainted with?

Rebirth is another thing that is paradoxical to the enth degree. If consciousness is destroyed upon the moment of death, as we know it is, how do some "aggregates" recreate it from non-existence? If there is no self that is reborn, then where does the consciousness/awareness come from? The concept of skandhas such as "mental formation" and "consciousness" being everlasting, transferable principles seems silly. We know why consciousness exists: it's called brain function. When the brain and the network of neurons in it die so does consciousness.


Merit transference sounds mystical, but really it isn't. It means that one recognises another's act and agrees with it, thus generating identical mental factors as if he had done it.

As for rebirth, the paradox you state is for this view that everything ends at the time of death. This extreme view in Buddhism is called annihilationism. As you also mentioned, there is no eternal self in the Buddha's teaching, and that is the other extreme view of eternalism. But Buddhism is not the same as materialism, it does not say that the mind is just some specific biological functions of the body. In fact, the existence of mind does not depend on the body. Thoughts are what generate further thoughts. We see, hear, smell, taste and feel based on the body's faculties, but what we see is identified by thoughts, and once one knows what one sees one has further thoughts about it based on that concept. You don't need any special education to understand this, just see it for yourself in your own experience. And since what at death stops functioning is only the body, the mind does not end with it. That's how there is rebirth eventually.

You see, if you want Buddhism to conform to the education you have received previously, you will struggle a lot with it, and either succeed in understanding the teaching of the Buddha or believe that it is nonsense and thus fail. Put aside your current opinions and look at Buddhism with fresh eyes and open mind. It is like learning a new language. If you start learning Japanese, but you want it to have the same grammatical structure as English, you will inevitably fail to comprehend the way the Japanese language works. So, as long as you want Buddhism to conform to your existing concepts, you are unable to actually see it for what it is.
"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)

"Neither cultivation nor seated meditation — this is the pure Chan of Tathagata."
(Mazu Daoyi, X1321p3b23; tr. Jinhua Jia)

“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; T2076p461b24-26)
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Re: How can Buddhists be so sure of themselves?

Postby David N. Snyder » Fri Jun 08, 2012 10:47 pm

Ikkyu wrote:I would like to take precepts because, as I've said, I do feel the Dharma is in many ways one of the best philosophies. (This is coming someone who has compared and contrasted Sartrean existentialism, absurdism, Nietzschean philosophy, Plato, continental philosophy, comparative religion and much else.) I just don't know if its disrespectful for me to go into this half-assed and half-heartedly.


Go for it. Many of us started as skeptics and gradually took on more Buddhist principles when the time was right.
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Re: How can Buddhists be so sure of themselves?

Postby Astus » Fri Jun 08, 2012 10:47 pm

Ikkyu wrote:You make a good point. But in this case, is it OK for me to take precepts and tread the Buddhist path even if I have some serious doubts about it?


Absolutely. Doubts about the teachings remain until one has truly experienced the depths of the Dharma. It is a gradual process. One step at a time is perfectly enough. Just keep walking.
"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)

"Neither cultivation nor seated meditation — this is the pure Chan of Tathagata."
(Mazu Daoyi, X1321p3b23; tr. Jinhua Jia)

“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; T2076p461b24-26)
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Re: How can Buddhists be so sure of themselves?

Postby sangyey » Fri Jun 08, 2012 10:47 pm

Faith is the cause for taking refuge and being the gateway to the Dharma. There are three kinds:

http://www.rigpawiki.org/index.php?title=Faith
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Re: How can Buddhists be so sure of themselves?

Postby duckfiasco » Fri Jun 08, 2012 10:51 pm

I think many of your questions are similar to someone being incredulous that astronomers can tell the composition and age of stars with spectroscopy and other sciences. If you don't understand the foundations and layers that support the more advanced principles, they'll seem like nonsense or non sequiturs. Not to mention that kind of knowledge is useless to someone not really interested in astronomy.

When you consider that Buddhism is not merely a new way of quantifying the physical world (hence why asking for empirical proof of some things is a bit odd), but rather a worldview entirely different from our usual inside/outside, me/others, true/false set of dichotomies, it becomes even more difficult to fit it into our nice little system of logical compartments.

I really recommend a patient, step-by-step approach. Do what you find helps you and others. They're pretty much the same thing anyway. Then your horizons of investigation will expand.
The Perfect Way knows no difficulties
Except that it refuses to make preferences;
Only when freed from hate and love,
It reveals itself fully and without disguise.
- Sengcan (tr. Suzuki)
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Re: How can Buddhists be so sure of themselves

Postby Wayfarer » Fri Jun 08, 2012 11:07 pm

You can realize the benefits of the path progressively. That is, you can directly experience and realize changes to your quality of mind and life from the teachings and their practice. Such changes are not a matter of faith because you realize them I'm the first person.

Also if you look at the core teachings objectively, they don't rely on belief in miracles in the sense that (say) Christianity does. You can start from the premise that 'craving is the cause of suffering' which is empirically demonstrable. If you think through the consequences to that principle it provides an important component of the path.
Learn to do good, refrain from evil, purify the mind ~ this is the teaching of the Buddhas
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Re: How can Buddhists be so sure of themselves?

Postby Wayfarer » Fri Jun 08, 2012 11:17 pm

One other point. Don't get hung up on externals. I endeavor to practice meditation daily - OK I miss some days- and constantly read and reflect. To me the point of my formal 'going for refuge' was simply a means to bolster my sense of identity with the 'community of like-minded', which is the Sangha (edit - and also to make a public acknowledgement of intention, something to live up to - end edit). But it's not a matter of 'belief' as far as I am concerned. The whole practice, start to finish, is based on the understanding of the reality of life as it is lived by humans.
Last edited by Wayfarer on Fri Jun 08, 2012 11:28 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: How can Buddhists be so sure of themselves?

Postby Anders » Fri Jun 08, 2012 11:27 pm

Ikkyu wrote:Rebirth is another thing that is paradoxical to the enth degree. If consciousness is destroyed upon the moment of death, as we know it is, how do some "aggregates" recreate it from non-existence?


We don't know that at all.

If there is no self that is reborn, then where does the consciousness/awareness come from?


This kind of question is just born out of being too ingrained in assumptions of self. Consciousness is a causally produced phenomena, the same way the body is. You don't need to postulate a self to have a causal model wherein consciousness has causes that aren't rooted in the body. This is dependent origination.

The concept of skandhas such as "mental formation" and "consciousness" being everlasting, transferable principles seems silly. We know why consciousness exists: it's called brain function. When the brain and the network of neurons in it die so does consciousness.


Again, we don't know that at all. This is just a philosophical assumption on your part. Once you apply proper scientific and philosophical rigour and recognise the distinctions between philosophy and science, it's pretty clear that there are issues of philosophical interpolation involved in such assertions.
"Even if my body should be burnt to death in the fires of hell
I would endure it for myriad lifetimes
As your companion in practice"

--- Gandavyuha Sutra
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Re: How can Buddhists be so sure of themselves?

Postby Wayfarer » Fri Jun 08, 2012 11:32 pm

Neurobiology cannot yet explain gross mental maladies, let alone provide any kind of 'explanation' of things like talent, latent capabilities, and the like. The belief that this can all be 'explained' in terms of peptides and neurochemicals is just that - a belief, based on putting science in the slot formerly occuPied by you-know-who.
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Re: How can Buddhists be so sure of themselves?

Postby Anders » Fri Jun 08, 2012 11:33 pm

Ikkyu wrote:You make a good point. But in this case, is it OK for me to take precepts and tread the Buddhist path even if I have some serious doubts about it? I mean, I know there's a Zen proverb that suggests a student in the Way should have "great doubt"... however it also says one must have "great faith", which I can't seem to muster up.

I would like to take precepts because, as I've said, I do feel the Dharma is in many ways one of the best philosophies. (This is coming someone who has compared and contrasted Sartrean existentialism, absurdism, Nietzschean philosophy, Plato, continental philosophy, comparative religion and much else.) I just don't know if its disrespectful for me to go into this half-assed and half-heartedly.


You take refuge in whatever you have confidence in. Karma is not some jealous god that will rain Bad Stuff on you because what you take refuge in is selective. Refuge, the precepts et al is just a contract you make with yourself. You can take the precepts without taking refuge too if that's what you want.

If it is, in your own words, 'half-assed and half-hearted', then maybe it is better to wait until you've clarified some of this stuff for yourself. There's no rush or imperative to do either.
"Even if my body should be burnt to death in the fires of hell
I would endure it for myriad lifetimes
As your companion in practice"

--- Gandavyuha Sutra
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Re: How can Buddhists be so sure of themselves?

Postby dharmagoat » Fri Jun 08, 2012 11:47 pm

Anders wrote:Once you apply proper scientific and philosophical rigour and recognise the distinctions between philosophy and science, it's pretty clear that there are issues of philosophical interpolation involved in such assertions.

A good point, Anders. Although these issues may seem petty to a scientist, they are of great significance to a philosophical system such as buddhism.
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Re: How can Buddhists be so sure of themselves?

Postby Anders » Sat Jun 09, 2012 12:21 am

dharmagoat wrote:
Anders wrote:Once you apply proper scientific and philosophical rigour and recognise the distinctions between philosophy and science, it's pretty clear that there are issues of philosophical interpolation involved in such assertions.

A good point, Anders. Although these issues may seem petty to a scientist, they are of great significance to a philosophical system such as buddhism.


They are of interests to scientists and philosophers of science too. I have a lot of interest in the philosophy of science and issues like these have pertinence there. Imo, one of the strengths of science is its methodical rigour. It's important to have a clear understanding of what constitutes scientific claims and what are philosophical claims. Undue philosophical bias in the method risks weakening the strength of its explanations. And scientistic adherents (among which can be found both lay students and actual scientists) presenting philosophical claims as scientific only muddle things further

I can understand the materialist bias. If it could somehow be proven that materialism is the case, it would make the universe as a whole lot easier to explain. And given the overwhelming success of the physical sciences over the past 120+ years, it's compelling to think that since the physical sciences have been so competent in describing and predicting the patterns of the physical universe that we should be able to explain everything as physical phenomena. But I think it is pertinent to take a step back and make the very obvious observation that maybe this bias is not so justified when it comes to explaining mental phenomena.

I think one of the areas where this bias is straining scientific rigour and risk becoming more about materalist justification than the best explanation for the data is NDE. Some hoops being jumped through in a field like this. Imo, science is sometimes too afraid to explain things in ways that raise too many new questions. Following Kuhn, such attitudes aren't surprising within normal science but if we want to keep progressing we can't be too shy about these things. Quantum science raised tons of questions that couldn't be answered for decades and some we still can't answer and really shook the foundations of normal science (Einstein of course famously opposed the copenhagen interpretation on what is basically philosophical bias. He didn't believe in a universe where god throws dice and spent his remaining years unsuccesfully trying to come up with a theory that could back this up. A bit of a waste really).
"Even if my body should be burnt to death in the fires of hell
I would endure it for myriad lifetimes
As your companion in practice"

--- Gandavyuha Sutra
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Re: How can Buddhists be so sure of themselves?

Postby LastLegend » Sat Jun 09, 2012 1:29 am

Teachings are important to study...study/listen to dharma talks and read sutras. Reflect. Don't get too caught up with words. If don't get it, read again and again until you get it. Investigate. Understanding will clear some doubts. But doubt seems to be a common theme which I think arises due to being impatience/expectation.
NAMO AMITABHA
NAM MO A DI DA PHAT (VIETNAMESE)
NAMO AMITUOFO (CHINESE)
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Re: How can Buddhists be so sure of themselves?

Postby KeithBC » Sat Jun 09, 2012 2:40 am

Ikkyu wrote:
Lhug-Pa wrote:By applying the Scientific Method by actually doing the practices everyday and observing.

For those who are too stuck in their intellect to actually take action (or who haven't studied the practices enough to implement them), studying comparative Esotericism shows that all traditions have the same core doctrines and that this could not be mere coincidence nor merely a product of materialistic evolution.


Yes, I agree that the scientific method should be applied in order to understand and prove the existence or non-existence of phenomena. And yes, empirical evidence does show that Buddhist practices do benefit people in great ways. However, although visualizations, meditations, mantras and dokusans may give someone happiness and well-being both mentally and physically, I still have yet to come across proof that beings such as Buddhas and Bodhisattvas actually exist.

Isn't it presumptuous to assume that human beings are really powerful enough to attain the highest state of being possible... that so-called "enlightenment" or bodhi? How do you know we aren't meant to suffer to some degree? What if suffering is actually a natural part of life that goes hand in hand with happiness? Even if it isn't, what makes Buddhists believe it is actually possible to get rid of it completely?

The scientific method exists because it is impossible to prove anything to be true. Science is how we acquire knowledge when proof is impossible. Ideas can be proved false, but never true.

I have yet to come aceoss proof that you exist, or even that I exist. Nevertheless, the evidence suggests that it is a good working theory that we do (working on the purely relative level - the question of ultimate existence is for another thread). Similarly, the evidence that you have listed suggests that it is a good working theory that buddhas and bodhisattvas exist.

If the highest states of being are possible, then they are attainable. If they are not attainable, then they are not possible. How can it be otherwise?

How can you talk about being "meant" to suffer? Who means us to suffer? That implies an intentionality to the universe, which implies an omnipotent deity. (A demon, actually, if that is its intention.) You have to realize that the Christian world view, with its assumption that phenomena have a deity's intentions behind them, does not apply to Buddhism. Viewing another religion through that glass distorts the view.

What makes us believe that it is possible to get rid of suffering is the experience of meeting people who have done it and show the evidence of it, and the experience of applying the teachings and watching our own suffering reduce in response.

Om mani padme hum
Keith
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Re: How can Buddhists be so sure of themselves?

Postby Wesley1982 » Sat Jun 09, 2012 2:41 am

Ikkyu wrote:
Wesley1982 wrote:
How can Buddhists be so sure of themselves?


Properly and correctly invoking the blessing of a Buddha would naturally build up confidence.


I still don't understand how the Buddha's blessings, or any act of "blessing" to begin with are any more supportable by scientific evidence than the Bible, Qur'an or Scientology.


In most cases - supernatural or paranormal phenomena elude scientific terms.
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Re: How can Buddhists be so sure of themselves?

Postby dharmagoat » Sat Jun 09, 2012 9:50 am

If the Dharma is like medicine, as my lama once described it, and if we trust our physician, then we simply take it as it is given. If it works, we realise that our physician was right in administering it. If not, we may then choose to change our physician. At no point do we actually need to understand how the medicine actually works. It is all ultimately about trust. For some of us that can be the most difficult part.
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Re: How can Buddhists be so sure of themselves?

Postby AlexanderS » Sat Jun 09, 2012 1:36 pm

I can recommend "The Quantum and The lotus" by Mathieu Ricard.

It won't prove the points, but it offers insight by a very realized practioner and an authentic highly intelligent man.

you can youtube, penor rinpoche rainbow, and a see a circular rainbow appearing at his funeral/cremation.

Rainbows in one way or another, seem to appear a masters deaths, often on a clear sky.

You can find lots of little things, where you can try and fit the bits and pieces together.

If you can get close to highly respected master, I think faith in the teachings will come naturally.
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Re: How can Buddhists be so sure of themselves?

Postby Malcolm » Sat Jun 09, 2012 1:54 pm

Ikkyu wrote:[b]What real, hard evidence is there that bodhisattvas exist, that enlightenment is possibility or that rebirth can happen either?


None. Zip. Zero. Nada.

This is why Buddhism is a religion.

But wisdom is not scientific.
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