Ikkyu wrote:How can a person prove that enlightenment exists, or that Bodhisattvas or Buddhas exist? What empirical evidence is there that any of the sutras, suttas, tantras and whatnot are true? I mean, most Buddhists are non-theistic. I too am a skeptic and was lead to believe that there isn't a personal god/sky-daddy watching over us, as the idea isn't supported by scientific fact. What real, hard evidence is there that bodhisattvas exist, that enlightenment is possibility or that rebirth can happen either? Outside of philosophical conjecture is it really possible to prove this? And if can't be proven, why become a monk and give your life to something that might not be true?
I'm not saying that these things aren't true, but before I take precepts I would like some evidence that Buddhism is actually something more than a dried up philosophy. I mean, claiming that you're a supremely enlightened individual is a pretty big deal, am i right? I'm considering the precepts but I'm still a skeptic. So prove me wrong.
Sometimes I feel like the stone Buddha, sometimes like the bird and sometimes like the waving hands.
Thank you for sharing this echoing image. I like Zen too.
Many people are giving you many, many excellent answers. Not just intellectual answers but friendly sharing from the heart. If you think about their answers and try to imagine a kindly old person in front of you saying these answers to you in a gentle voice, I think it will help. If you have been keeping all these strong questions inside you, then it is very natural for you to have them all come out at once when you find friendly ears on Dharma Wheel. I am an old guy and retired, so I have time to add my 2 cents to the other answers.
It is truly difficult to figure things out and so I am hoping that my figuring things out for me, may make things easier for you. In order to be a careful listener I am going to repeat what you have said and then answer one at a time.
How can a person prove that enlightenment exists, or that Bodhisattvas or Buddhas exist?
Let's say that you and your friend have never tasted chocolate, and then one day your friend gets some chocolate in the mail and he texts you and say hey Ikkyu, someone just sent me some chocolate in the mail and I ate some, and it really tastes incredibly good. You really have to try some - It has a wonderful taste - nothing like rice and tofu. Then you go to your friends house and try some and it is really good. Did you have to prove scientifically that the chocolate would taste good before you went and tried some? No, you trusted your friend's advice and then got the benefit of tasting chocolate yourself. This is called direct experience. Until you taste chocolate yourself it is only an idea.
If another friend calls you up and says, hey Ikkyu, I heard that you have some chocolate and that it tastes good, but I am happy with my rice and tofu and further says, I am not going to drive 40 Km over to visit you to try some, unless you can prove to me that it will taste good. Do you start explaining how chocolate is made or how taste works, how nerve receptors work, how sensation is transmitted to the brain, how the brain works with neurons and ganglia to process the sensation of the taste into a smile of enjoyment. No - you tell your friend to come and have some chocolate. Then they come to visit, try some chocolate and get a big grin on their face.
So Buddhist chocolate is called experiance, and the people who want to share it with you might be called Bodhisattva's. In English, we have a saying "the proof is in the pudding." This means that when you taste the pudding all your needs for a reasoned proof are answered. When you sit in your Zen hall, and meditate, this is a taste of Buddhist pudding. The more you practice, the more you taste the pudding.
You also might reason that if so many people are spending so much time, money and effort to find enlightenment, then don't you think that maybe there might be something to this? Do yo think all these people are just fools following other fools.
No, you look at what works for the people you think are happy and then you try to do the same for yourself, so you can be happy.
There also is an argument that if you believe that enlightenment, Bodhisattvas and Buddhas exist, then you will be much happier, than if you do not believe this, and that this could be true whether or not they actually exist. So if you get the benefit if you believe, who cares whether enlightenment, Bodhisattvas and Buddhas actually exist or not. It doesn't matter. Getting the benefit is what matters. Happiness is better than unhappiness.
This is explained in a wonderful book about happiness, by an ex Buddhist scientist, Matthieu Ricard:http://www.amazon.com/Happiness-Guide-D ... 891&sr=1-1
Amazon describes this book as "A molecular biologist turned Buddhist monk, described by scientists as "the happiest man alive," demonstrates how to develop the inner conditions for true happiness."
I think you might really like this book because it is a first person account by a real scientist as to why Buddhism makes him and others happy: no blind faith here.
What empirical evidence is there that any of the sutras, suttas, tantras and whatnot are true? I mean, most Buddhists are non-theistic.
I too am a skeptic and was lead to believe that there isn't a personal god/sky-daddy watching over us, as the idea isn't supported by scientific fact.
If I can get useful information that allows me to be happier (have less suffering) out of any book, then that book contains a useful truth for me. If I can see that by following some advice in a book that my life is made better then that book has empiric proof that there is some truth in it. If the sutras, suttas, tantras and whatnot give you some useful information, then run with that truth. If they are not useful, don't read them. I have several hundred books on Buddhism but I don't read any of them any more. I keep them around in case I have to look something up for someone. I would much rather have a piece of pudding / chocolate - actual experience.
As far as God goes, (in America we believe she is black and has a very bad attitude problem (JUST A JOKE
)) I believe, from direct experience that if I pray to the universe, I feel good and can get a feeling that the universe echoes me. Maybe this is just my projection - but guess what - it doesn't matter if God exists. If I pray, and it gets me some benefit, I do it, and the same with enlightenment, Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. If I provisionally try on these beliefs (without any scientific proof whatever) and I find some benefit in my life, then I use that belief for my benefit. Does it really exist? Is it really true? Who cares! I get to enjoy my chocolate. This works for me.
You can call this belief system, "the tasty hard evidence empirical reward of provisional non-empirical no-evidence faith; tasty reward of provisional faith, TRPF, in abbreviation"
Now can I have some chocolate (direct experience?)
What real, hard evidence is there that bodhisattvas exist, that enlightenment is possibility or that rebirth can happen either?
Outside of philosophical conjecture is it really possible to prove this?
I gave an answer to the first two above (it doesn't matter, if TRPF works) and as to rebirths, there are many stories of Tibetan Tulkus recognizing people and things from past lives. Whether these results can be duplicated in double blind scientific studies, would be interesting.
And if can't be proven, why become a monk and give your life to something that might not be true?
Maybe because the TRPF of becoming a Buddhist monk could make you much happier than the alternatives. I spent some time living in a Burmese monastery and I only met one sourpuss unhappy monk. When I asked him the simplest questions about Buddhism, he could not answer any, so maybe he was a free-food monk and not a Buddhist monk. I think most monks are really happy. It is not the path I have chosen, but I can understand, respect and support their choice. Being a monk or a nun resolves many issues in life and gives more time for practice.
I'm not saying that these things aren't true, but before I take precepts I would like some evidence that Buddhism is actually something more than a dried up philosophy.
Dried up philosophical Buddhism exists and works for some people, and juicy experiential Buddhism exists and works for some people. Lord Buddha taught 84,000 (means a lot of) different teachings so there would be something for everybody. Personally I like the Tibetan Dzogchen juicy school which is based on direct experience and need not be based on Buddhism. When people discuss about Dzogchen (and there is a lot of this on Dharma Wheel, it is more like a free for all than a genteel philosophical debate. For me it works because it includes all the other systems and I like it because it makes me smile a lot
. The question of whether it is true or if any part of it can be proven scientifically, never comes up as an issue. If it helps me to be happier and explains things to me so I do not have to think or worry about them, this works for me.
I mean, claiming that you're a supremely enlightened individual is a pretty big deal, am i right?
WHO IS SAYING THAT??? HOW CAN THERE BE TWO OF US???
--- just a joke
I have never met anyone, Buddhist or otherwise, who claimed to be a supremely enlightened individual.
Whether I am enlightened is not a question that I have ever thought about, even for a moment.
I also never have thought about trying to become enlightened, or whether Buddhas or Bodhisattvas exist, even for a moment.
I'm considering the precepts but I'm still a skeptic. So prove me wrong.
It is completely up to you if you take precepts or not. I am not omniscient to say if this will help you or not. Only you can say this. Maybe a Teacher whom you have respect for can give you good advice as to what would help your spiritual journey.These are not important questions to me. I am really happy if I don't burn things on the stove. I am really happy if I can have some peace of mind.
These things matter to me.
What matters to you is up to you!
I belong to the fundamentalist Buddha-Seed-low-seat school (which doesn't exist.)
I carry a big umbrella for the birds.
May this be of use to someone!
The happy stone Buddha,