Is Buddhism just as irrational as other beliefs?

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Is Buddhism just as irrational as other beliefs?

Postby DaftChris » Fri Dec 07, 2012 3:32 pm

Even though I'm a Tibetan Buddhist, Im still skeptical when it comes to it's more fantastical elements: such as the higher & lower realms as well as literal Karma. Nevertheless, I still, personally, believe in Rebirth; as I believe there is enough sufficient evidence to support such.

However, from the more hardcore skeptics, they can claim that we Buddhists who, assuming we had another belief before, reject our previous religion in favor of this type of Buddhism are simply just leaving one bag of irrationality and superstition for another. Such as Sam Harris. who believes that Buddhism "needs to be saved from Buddhists". It's enough to simply follow the precepts and live a good life; why believe in things that ignorant people from the past believed?

Do you think this is true?
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Re: Is Buddhism just as irrational as other beliefs?

Postby ground » Fri Dec 07, 2012 3:54 pm

Non-belief is not believing that what others believe is not true. Why? Non-belief simply is non-surrender to speculative thought. :sage:
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Re: Is Buddhism just as irrational as other beliefs?

Postby Jikan » Fri Dec 07, 2012 4:02 pm

I'm not familiar with Sam Harris, so I can't comment on his position specifically.

I can say that I think people need to use their brains and their hearts in practice. For instance, much of Buddhist history as presented in traditional texts is basically fiction. It may be helpful fiction, but it should not be confused with material history. This includes the history of some contemporary teachers...

viewtopic.php?f=69&t=7613#p90660

You need to use your head.

When it comes to practice, though, you need to use your heart. When we reflect on all beings as having been our mothers in the past, it is not some kind of metaphysical or doctrinal position that is at stake, at least not most importantly. What matters is the condition of the heart that reflection produces. It is a method.

How real is a hell realm? Well, ask an addict who has hit rock bottom. I once met a man who was in recovery who introduced himself as "My name is *** ****** and I have been through hell." I believed him: he surely has. Samsara is like that. It is very convincing. The great Garchen Rinpoche describes from his own life experience what it's like to go through a hungry ghost realm in the film For The Benefit of All Beings in a way that is completely plausible, at least as plausible as the pain of a stubbed toe or the hurt of a heartache.

All that shit comes and goes. It is not permanent. It cannot be trusted. It is not ultimately real. It is certainly convincing, temporarily. If you understand this at the level of the heart, so to speak, you can carry the teaching around in all your interactions with others and it becomes very significant. If it's a belief system as someone like Harris might suggest, then it's a belief system with the purpose of softening the heart and firming the resolve of people who engage with it. It's not about convincing oneself of the One True Faith for the sake of believing in the One True Faith.

That's all I got. I'd like to know what others have been through.
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Re: Is Buddhism just as irrational as other beliefs?

Postby Indrajala » Fri Dec 07, 2012 4:38 pm

DaftChris wrote:However, from the more hardcore skeptics, they can claim that we Buddhists who, assuming we had another belief before, reject our previous religion in favor of this type of Buddhism are simply just leaving one bag of irrationality and superstition for another.


On what charge is Buddhism irrational?

Many sceptics are adept at building up straw men and attacking them. For those who understand their spirituality and its history, such people are like bellows: breathing hot air, but nothing substantial being said.

The present day prevailing ideology and worldview, which is more or less materialism, has plenty of its own irrational beliefs. For instance, that matter and energy are all that truly exist and anything else experienced is merely an epiphenomenon or in some extreme arguments an illusory process in the brain.

This is an arbitrary belief and they can try to say it is scientific and based on observation, but in our daily lives we observe a lot of phenomena which are neither material nor part of our reality perceived through the senses. It is quite logical to accept the existence of (non-physical) patterns, logic, numbers, feelings, emotions and mystic experiences as many have a clearly causal role to fulfil in the universe.

To believe reality is just chunks of matter floating around in space is quite arbitrary.

It's enough to simply follow the precepts and live a good life; why believe in things that ignorant people from the past believed?


This assumes that we know more than our ancestors did.

A lot of knowledge gained through yogic means are unavailable to common people and must be understood through the testimonies of reliable sources. If, for example, you do not have experience of the formless realm, then you have only to either reject it or accept the testimonies of reliable sources like the Buddha and others.

The idea if linear progress is built into modernity where people believe that we know a lot more than our ancestors did and that we can safely reject whatever primitive ideas they had. We indeed know more about some aspects of experience and reality owing to the massive resources poured into exploring the physical universe, though on the other hand other areas are neglected and not really available to be explored through physical sciences.

"Truth" is generally decided by prevailing ideas and common agreement. The reason for example that astrology is largely rejected as false is not because anyone tested it out, but simply because orthodoxy decided so. The same goes for the existence of ghosts, spirits, gods and other realms.

Nevertheless, plenty of people (including many forerunners of contemporary western civilization like Ptolemy) swear by astrology. Sane, healthy people around the world continue to have ghost experiences. Many others have visions of gods and so on. Yogis experience other realms.

Contemporary materialism is quite rigidly orthodox, dogmatic and hostile (the last quality was unfortunately inherited from its parent Christianity). Quite often it seems that the evidence is made to match the theory rather than the other way around. If you need an example of this, look at how a lot of academic studies of the paranormal are never taken into consideration despite it qualifying as evidence.

The other issue is that science, like any other human institution, is subject to human flaws. Falsification and cherry picking of data for various purposes such as funding and career advancement occur, quite often actually in the field of medical tests. Other areas are likewise subject to the same problem. This is why I don't necessarily take scientific canon as entirely foolproof.

Other areas of Buddhism like karma are metaphysical and demonstrated through analogy, inference and personal experience. It being subtle and profound, you cannot test for it as you would other aspects of causality.

If you study philosophy, even western philosophy, a lot of this becomes apparent and the purported monopoly on truth the sceptics and their lot claim to have vanishes.
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Re: Is Buddhism just as irrational as other beliefs?

Postby Indrajala » Fri Dec 07, 2012 4:41 pm

By the way, this might be of interest to you (an article I wrote):

http://huayanzang.blogspot.tw/2012/09/g ... ience.html
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Re: Is Buddhism just as irrational as other beliefs?

Postby Johnny Dangerous » Fri Dec 07, 2012 5:49 pm

I would not listen to Sam Harris or any of his ilk on the subject of religion or philosophy. The "New Atheist" intellectual leaders solidify their position by making a simplified caricature or straw man of religion that they constantly mock, while failing to acknowledge at all that their strictly materialist view of the world simply makes any non-materialist philosophy irrelevant anyway. In addition, they are poorly informed on many of the teachings as far as I can tell. Buddhism without all the "trappings" he and others complain about is just self help, if you don't believe in Karma or rebirth..all you need is death to liberate you, not Buddhism, so why bother?

Think about the limits of materialism philosophically...we are all just insane primates who acquired language and are now trapped in this world of thought that bears no resemblance to the "reality" since the fact is that it is all just neurons bouncing around, because of course "reality" can be reduced to wholly physical phenomena, even though that is certainly not anything like our experience of the world. Does that intuit as any more rational than Buddhism? Does it gel with your own direct experience of life? Do you experience reality as the materialist describe it?

I posted a Sam Harris article and we talked about it a bit in the lounge section, personally I think his view of Buddhism is silly, and I wonder why someone like him is even interested in it. in his article "Killing The Buddha" he basically ays that he wants Buddhism to be a kind of subordinate philosophy to materialism (since by his reading materialism is indisputable) that exists mainly to help people with their "subjective" realities..because of course, subjective reality is not really important - we just spend all of our time there, no big deal.
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Re: Is Buddhism just as irrational as other beliefs?

Postby Myoho-Nameless » Fri Dec 07, 2012 6:06 pm

Buddhism does not need any help from Non Buddhists. Mr Harris if memory serves is a New Atheist, and we need HIM like we need Jesus.
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Re: Is Buddhism just as irrational as other beliefs?

Postby viniketa » Fri Dec 07, 2012 6:10 pm

Jikan wrote:It may be helpful fiction, but it should not be confused with material history.


Dear Jikan - I am fascinated. Could you please explain what is "material history"?

Thank you.

:namaste:
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Re: Is Buddhism just as irrational as other beliefs?

Postby duckfiasco » Fri Dec 07, 2012 6:39 pm

Hi, Chris! First, let me share your pain as a chronic skeptic and pathological intellectual :rolling:

First, Buddhism encourages an approach not usually found in other religions. Ideas and methods, such as deities or visualizations, are not taken as ends in themselves. Somehow putting "Chenrezig is on my head" in the same category of knowledge as "you can't drive past a stop sign without stopping" would be utterly useless. Why? Because such knowledge is extremely specific to situations, and neatly contained in its context. Think of the many people whose ideas of generosity will be apparent when given a specific opportunity to donate or asked about it, but then who armor their ideas and identities against the world 95% the rest of the time. Generosity is contained to very specific situations and social contexts. Or of Christians who become kind and loving with God watching in church every Sunday... then seem to forget all about it the rest of the time. We need something a little broader here so we don't just become the same confused, pained beings now wearing fancy Tibetan robes.

Nearly every apparently supernatural aspect of Buddhism serves a specific purpose. They are skillful means, often designed to lessen the solidity of our experiences and our ideas. Seeing Chenrezig everywhere makes us less willing to divide ourselves against others, to see ourselves as the perpetual heroes beset by a hostile world. Rational, factual, evidence-based belief is simply irrelevant. It's like asking a musician to materially prove that practicing piano is of benefit or use to anyone while smugly pointing at an oscilloscope and saying "see, there is no music, just vibrations in the air." Doubt is good if it fuels curiosity and determination. Doubt can easily become a hindrance, however.

The formative point for me was realizing that I trust the Buddha. I trust the highly realized teachers. They seem to be onto something. The meager applications of the dharma in my life have been of tremendous benefit already. It's helped me consider that perhaps teachings like the realm of Dewachen are simply tools that I'm not ready for. In fact, if you try to squeeze an idea into what you know already and it doesn't fit, that's a telltale sign right there that it needs to be put on the shelf for later, or perhaps never. You have to understand 2+2 or even x^2 before the quadratic formula will be of any use. One step at a time!

This burning doubt and desire to factually prove things is part of the path for people like you and me. Use it, fully accepting your own limitations. Don't dive into the advanced yogic ideas and because you fail decide they're superstitious. Start with what's in reach. Will tirelessly focusing on my breath for 30 minutes every day for months produce any changes? Sounds interesting, let's give it a shot and look closely. Will making my logic-fact brain shut up for a sec so I can generate Chenrezig do anything beneficial? What the hell, let's see.

Best of luck to you. I hope this wasn't too rambling, I wrote this before dashing out the door :twothumbsup:
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Re: Is Buddhism just as irrational as other beliefs?

Postby Matt J » Fri Dec 07, 2012 7:31 pm

I for one would say that any belief is irrational, Buddhist or otherwise.

Which then begs the question: What the criterion for the truth? How do we know if something is true? Is it an agreement between people? That it enhances love? That is stirs the emotions? That it pleases the mind?
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If only there is no picking or choosing
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Re: Is Buddhism just as irrational as other beliefs?

Postby Ukigumo » Fri Dec 07, 2012 10:15 pm

DaftChris wrote:It's enough to simply follow the precepts and live a good life; why believe in things that ignorant people from the past believed?


I didn't know the point of Buddhism was to "live a good life"; I thought the point of Buddhism was liberation from suffering.

The precepts are obviously part of that, but following them actually doesn't make a whole lot of sense outside the context of karma and rebirth.

As I noted in another thread, in these conversations it's interesting that only Buddhist views are subject to skeptical scrutiny. Most self-described atheists and skeptics have a whole host of metaphysical views and assumptions, which they usually do not bother to justify. As Huseng points out, these metaphysical views often contradict our experience. And like all metaphysical views, they are actually not supported by science.

Science studies those aspects of the world that are susceptible to being measured and tested by its methods; doing such does not thereby prove, or even suggest, that those aspects of the world are all that exist. Yet self-described rationalists like Harris take this as an article of faith; they believe that the only objects which are real are those which are the subject matter of scientific inquiry, and that therefore the only knowledge which is valid is that knowledge which obtained via the methods of science. This is an entirely circular and self-justifying belief, since the methods of science themselves cannot prove their own validity. It's a bit like a Christian saying that the Bible is the ultimate guide to truth because the Bible itself says so.
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Re: Is Buddhism just as irrational as other beliefs?

Postby Ukigumo » Fri Dec 07, 2012 10:26 pm

Matt J wrote:Which then begs the question: What the criterion for the truth? How do we know if something is true? Is it an agreement between people? That it enhances love? That is stirs the emotions? That it pleases the mind?


Great question. Shakyamuni Buddha's response has always struck me as the most reasonable and profound answer to this problem:

"So, as I said, Kalamas: 'Don't go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, "This contemplative is our teacher." When you know for yourselves that, "These qualities are unskillful; these qualities are blameworthy; these qualities are criticized by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to harm & to suffering" — then you should abandon them.' Thus was it said. And in reference to this was it said.

"Now, Kalamas, don't go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, 'This contemplative is our teacher.' When you know for yourselves that, 'These qualities are skillful; these qualities are blameless; these qualities are praised by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to welfare & to happiness' — then you should enter & remain in them."


Kalama Sutta

The rational-skeptic, Stephen Batchelor crowd loves to cite this Sutta as some kind of proof that the Buddha was a "Free Thinker" by Modern standards. But they conveniently neglect the fact that logical conjecture, inference, analogies, agreement through pondering views and probability - all favorite methodologies of the skeptics - are rejected just as thoroughly as reports, legends, tradition, and scripture. They also ignore the fact that the Sutta explicitly recommends adopting what is praised by the wise - which for Buddhists, presumably means what was praised by the Buddha (whom we have taken refuge in) and other enlightened teachers.

Ultimately the criteria for truth is what stands up against our own experience, taking into account as well the teachings of the Buddhas. If we haven't been able to test a teaching against our experience, then we should trust the wisdom of the Buddha and provisionally accept that teaching until we are able to experience and know it directly. At the very least it seems to me that for a Buddhist, Buddhist teaching should trump materialist metaphysical speculation unless we have direct, experiential knowledge that a teaching is wrong. For some reason though many Western Buddhists are more inclined to accept the beliefs and preferences of their surrounding culture when they contradict Buddhist teaching.
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Re: Is Buddhism just as irrational as other beliefs?

Postby Karma Dondrup Tashi » Fri Dec 07, 2012 10:41 pm

Matt J wrote:I for one would say that any belief is irrational, Buddhist or otherwise.

I believe you may be right.
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Re: Is Buddhism just as irrational as other beliefs?

Postby icylake » Fri Dec 07, 2012 11:09 pm

in zen,seon buddhism , in many cases, "rational"means "differntiating mind" so irrational, i think :meditate:
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Re: Is Buddhism just as irrational as other beliefs?

Postby Astus » Fri Dec 07, 2012 11:59 pm

Besides the encyclopaedic abhidharma, the psychological yogacara and the epistemological pramana teachings, there is a writing of the madhyamaka founder Nagarjuna (c. 2nd century CE), the Vigrahavyavartani ("The Dispeller of Disputes"), where you can see how the bases of rationality - logic and epistemology - is questioned and shown to be without any substantial foundation to rely on. So the question really is: what are rationality and irrationality if not simply conceptual constructs? The Buddha taught that grasping at such fixed views, believing them to be the exclusive truths, is the very source of all pain and dissatisfaction in life. Realising them to be what they really are, i.e. mental products, leads to freedom, compassion and wisdom.
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Re: Is Buddhism just as irrational as other beliefs?

Postby seeker242 » Sat Dec 08, 2012 12:23 am

DaftChris wrote:
However, from the more hardcore skeptics, they can claim that we Buddhists who, assuming we had another belief before, reject our previous religion in favor of this type of Buddhism are simply just leaving one bag of irrationality and superstition for another. Such as Sam Harris. who believes that Buddhism "needs to be saved from Buddhists".


They can claim a lot of things and they do. I don't see how any of it is relevant to my own personal practice though. What Sam Harris, and the like, thinks does not really have anything to do with me. Skeptics will be skeptics and do their own thing regardless. None of my business really! Is Buddhism just as irrational? I don't know, but I don't care either so it's not a problem. :smile:
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Re: Is Buddhism just as irrational as other beliefs?

Postby Jinzang » Sat Dec 08, 2012 3:16 am

As a general rule, people promoting "rationalism" are actually promoting naturalism. Which is fine, it's a perfectly defensible philosophical position. But you have to recognize that it is philosophy and not science. Too often the proponents of "rationalism" act as if any contrary position is unscientific. And that simply isn't so.

If you want to doubt the existence of Mount Meru or yakshas, feel free, these are empirical questions. But if you want to deny the existence of mind as anything other than matter, you need to be aware that this is philosophy, not science. And Buddhism is not unscientific for saying so.
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Re: Is Buddhism just as irrational as other beliefs?

Postby Jikan » Sat Dec 08, 2012 1:01 pm

viniketa wrote:
Jikan wrote:It may be helpful fiction, but it should not be confused with material history.


Dear Jikan - I am fascinated. Could you please explain what is "material history"?

Thank you.

:namaste:


Sure, I mean the history for which we have a material archive: texts, artifacts, bodies you can count, pain you can describe qualitatively and quantitatively and attribute to various determinations and causes. I mean this in distinction to idealist historiography, which posits the movements and transformations of things and bodies as epiphenomena to changes in mindstuff (think of vulgar versions of Hegel such as Tarnas' Passion of the Western Mind).

In the former, you get a description of samsara if the historian has done his or her job. In the latter, you get theology, with historical evidence selected to "prove" the doctrinal position.

Gross overgeneralization, but that's the gist of the distinction I'm making there.

:offtopic:
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Re: Is Buddhism just as irrational as other beliefs?

Postby lobster » Sat Dec 08, 2012 2:27 pm

Great answers guys.

Most of the people here are Buddhists and it might be irrational for them all to be considered superstition free. We have to go by results. For most of us Buddhism creates results. So does science. Superstition produces alleged results.

Sam Harris from the few lectures, videos and interviews I have seen is making progress and providing insight. Maybe he will never be as 'enlightened' as the superstitious but then maybe he will . . .

I have heard outrageous claims for Buddhist masters, Buddhist astrology and Buddhist hagiography. They would stretch the credulity of a child awaiting Father Christmas.

. . . must be about time to chant for an imaginary yidam to pay a visit . . . :popcorn:
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Re: Is Buddhism just as irrational as other beliefs?

Postby futerko » Sat Dec 08, 2012 2:54 pm

The basic, conventional model for beliefs is that they are based upon identity - the schema being: spirituality (informs) -> identity (informs) -> beliefs -> values -> behaviour.
This suggests that beliefs are somehow secondary and based upon notions of self, which in itself seems to suggest that reason plays a subsidiary role (hence the term "rationalisation"?).
In Buddhist terms these are seen as obscurations, so theoretically Buddhism is more open to the idea that beliefs should not be influenced by selfish interest, in practice however, the issue of identifying oneself with a certain spirituality would seem to prove a tough obstacle to overcome.
we cannot get rid of God because we still believe in grammar - Nietzsche
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