Believing and Knowing

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Believing and Knowing

Postby Wayfarer » Fri Mar 15, 2013 12:55 pm

I write as someone from a Christian social background, but with Buddhist convictions. As it happens, Buddhist meditation has greatly assisted my understanding of my ancestral faith, albeit in ways that my actual ancestors might not really understand. But I feel many of the same kinds of feelings that my Christian brothers feel about their relationship with God, but in my case I conceive it in Buddhist terms of no-thing-ness and compassion and 'inter-being' (to use Thich Nat Hanh's phrase).

So sometimes I wonder what is the real difference between these two ways, which are very much part of my own psyche. And I think the real difference is, Buddhism is not about believing.

Now this doesn't mean I don't 'believe' in Buddhism. Obviously in order to get up in the morning and sit in meditation for some period of time, which I do more often than not, requires some belief that doing this is better than not doing it. And I have read and experienced enough Buddhist teaching to believe that the principles are tried and true, that if you apply them they work. But 'belief' is simply the means to actually getting down to practice - it is what it takes to get you to commit to the (often apparently fruitless) task of siting meditation, studying Buddhist teachings, and the like.

Where Christianity is different is that 'belief' is given real instrumental value. You have to believe, and believe very particular things in a very specific way. The ability to believe, and even to believe things that most people would regard as impossible, is regarded as essential to faith. 'Believe and you will be saved', as they say - even if you don't really understand what 'saved' actually means.

I am not writing this post to rubbish that idea. I don't wish to express disrespect towards Christianity. I am simply pointing out that the key difference with the Buddhist attitude is that 'belief', whilst it might be an important aspect of the overall practice, is not the sine qua non, the essential point, of the whole affair. Buddhists 'believe' in the Buddhist teaching, but only insofar as it is necessary to practice it, at which point the consequences of the practice start to become evident. At that point, it is no longer about 'believing', but 'seeing' - understanding the way that 'actions bring results', and related principles. So it really is a path of knowing, rather than believing.

That, I believe, is the essential difference.

Now, again, this is not said to belittle or cast aspersions on Christian belief. After all, within the Indian religious traditions, the path of bhakti or devotion to the Divine has always been revered. Perhaps in some ways Christianity is a bhakti path (although I suppose there are also Christian jñāni's too). But overall the emphasis in 'belief' is very characteristic of the Christian approach. I think this is one of the reasons that there are so many stresses and strains in Western culture concerning 'faith and science' and the like. The religion has strong requirements about the necessity of believing very specific things, some of which are definitely not in accordance with scientific discoveries.

Anyway, to summarize, I think one main difference between Christianity and Buddhism is the distinction between 'believing' and 'knowing' in the sense of 'knowing the cause of sorrow and end of sorrow'. And one can make this distinction, without belittling Christianity but understanding it as a different kind of philosophical outlook.
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Re: Believing and Knowing

Postby oushi » Fri Mar 15, 2013 2:41 pm

Your view on "belief" is flawed and that is the source of confusion. Buddhism is not about understanding, it relies on belief in the same way as Christianity does. It is the highest form of activity, because that which is sought after is unknowing itself, thus belief is a perfect tool. I highly recommend "The cloud of unknowing" which will drastically reshape you view on belief in Christianity. Few moments ago, I posted this in a different topic. Look how the interviewed master speaks about the most important thing in ones life : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G6KyQIo9Q7M&feature=youtu.be&t=40m3s
Understanding is just an idea, and belief is trust. Being trustful you open to knowing. Through understanding, you are being selective.

That, I believe, is the essential difference.

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Re: Believing and Knowing

Postby LastLegend » Fri Mar 15, 2013 4:09 pm

Some Pure Land practitioners when they first heard of Pure Land, they immediately believed wholeheartedly and started practicing without doubt or even going through Dharma teachings. These practitioners are said to have high capacities.
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Re: Believing and Knowing

Postby shel » Fri Mar 15, 2013 5:27 pm

jeeprs wrote:Anyway, to summarize, I think one main difference between Christianity and Buddhism is the distinction between 'believing' and 'knowing' in the sense of 'knowing the cause of sorrow and end of sorrow'. And one can make this distinction, without belittling Christianity but understanding it as a different kind of philosophical outlook.


You don't know the end of sorrow, therefor what you have is belief rather than knowing.
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Re: Believing and Knowing

Postby Sherab Dorje » Fri Mar 15, 2013 6:09 pm

I believe :tongue: that the difference is between belief and realisation rather than belief and knowing.

In mainstream Christianity, as you said, one needs only to believe/have faith in order to achieve liberation (though there are some few sects that are gnostic). In Buddhism belief/faith is important too (especially in Pure Land sects). Knowledge (gnosis) though, is not enough. Realisation is the key to liberation. You see, even Pure Landers are not (essentially) liberated through their faith, they are reborn in Amitabhas Pure Land where they then achieve (realise) enlightenment.
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Re: Believing and Knowing

Postby PadmaVonSamba » Mon Mar 18, 2013 4:08 pm

I think, Oushi's statement, "Buddhism is not about understanding, it relies on belief in the same way as Christianity does" is not entirely accurate. In the Abrahamic tradition (Islam, Judaism, Christianity) one's faith is put to the test, and this is a recurring theme in both the old and new testament. God creates all of these situations in which doubt arises, and the human participant must rely on trust and faith. This sort of faith is not really an issue in Buddhism, except, I would say, as a method of fully letting go of what is sometimes referred to as ego clinging, and in the Pure land Traditions, as self-power.

In many of the commentaries on Pure Land Buddhism published since its introduction to the English-speaking world, efforts have been made toward identifying a distinction between faith as understood in Christianity, and "faith" as a word used to translate a sort of conviction based on one's own personal experience in Buddhism.

I mention Pure Land Buddhism here only because it is often seen, even by Buddhists of other traditions, as the most "faith-based". All Buddhist traditions share what might be called a "letting-go point". But this is not entirely the same thing as a "leap of faith" in the Christian context. Similar in some aspects, perhaps, but not identical.

In Buddhist (Mahayana) Pure land practice, especially in the Japanese traditions, all self-generated efforts at liberation are regarded as convoluted attempts by people foolishly relying on their own calculating minds. Focusing on Buddha Amitabha and one-pointedly chanting his name mantra, abandoning every other method, thus is regarded by its adherents as the most direct path.

There is a Christian bumper sticker that says "Let go and let God" which expresses that idea of faith, and I think, comes very close to describing this path as well. In Alcoholic 12-step programs, "Higher Power" however one regards that, is a similar notion. The point is that by letting go of what we are clinging to allows us to move freely, and at some point you just have to do that. It isn't a matter that the dock post is holding onto the boat, keeping it from traveling, but that the boat is anchored to the dock post. You cut the rope, the dock doesn't go anywhere. It doesn't matter any more. The boat is free.

In the Zen tradition, for example, in the Practice of Koan or riddle, if one uses one's "rational mind" (that intellectual safety net that tells us squares always have four corners and four sides) to solve the Koan, the Koan remains unsolvable. Only when we stop theorizing about apples and actually take a bite out of one do we actually have a direct realization of apples.

It is not so much an issue of cutting through the intellectual process itself, but of cutting through that clinging to the intellectual process, so that that direct seeing is realized, that one is able to really free oneself from the same habits of conceptualizing things that bind us to samsara in the first place.

In the Vajrayana tradition, deity visualization, in which complex personifications of the mind's enlightened qualities (compassion, wisdom, etc.) are first generated -- and then dissolved, is another method of approaching this. One sees that just as the reality of the visualizations are created in the mind, so is the reality of our everyday world. Mind is not abandoned, but is used to observe awareness itself. From this, a point arises when direct experience becomes spontaneous, effortless. Again, it is a matter of setting aside the way we usually go about approaching things, which is very limited, really, and allowing for a different way, something that is not limited by rational calculations, but which is infinite, to kick in.

In this sense, there is some similarity to faith, or "belief" as you describe, in the Christian tradition. But Buddhism really doesn't rely on anything one would call "blind faith". Faith in Buddhism is a matter of conviction established through practice (meditation) and constant, direct personal experience.

But perhaps, underlying it all, must be some faith in the idea that perfect cessation of suffering, buddhahood, liberation, nirvana, whatever you want to call it, that something is there that you can work towards...that this is really true. Otherwise there is really no motivation. But this can also be established intellectually, and from direct experience. We see that all beings strive to be free from the things that torment them in one way or another, whether it is a bug hiding under a leaf during a storm, or a person popping pills in order to deal with stress, or just wiggling around in your chair to be more comfortable than you are now. So, we don't have to "believe" this. We can know this.
That might be where the difference is.
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Re: Believing and Knowing

Postby oushi » Mon Mar 18, 2013 11:24 pm

To clarify, it is not about faith in ideas. It is not a lesser brother of wisdom. It is a device allowing to let go of the grasping intellect. People don't like to believe because they feel insecure, not in control, and that is the gate one needs to pass. It is gateless, because it is deprived of conceptualization and ideas. Great unknown. Christianity makes use of Gods helping hand, by remaining humble until grace comes. Thus it is not about belief in supernatural, but belief in grace that is given to a humble contemplative. This belief allows people to remain patient and unagitated by confused mind, focusing on their love to God that is, and will remain unknown.
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Re: Believing and Knowing

Postby LastLegend » Mon Mar 18, 2013 11:56 pm

If I am not mistaken, in the Chan tradition, there is such thing called Great Doubt. Great Doubt is the Doubt that one has through contemplating eternal questions such as, "What was I before my parents give birth to me?" or contemplating Koans. The practitioners are to constantly have this Doubt in his mind by contemplating days and nights non-stop to the point where he even forgets what he does, eat, sleep, walk, etc-forgetting oneself. At that point, he is on the verge of seeing through the mind. What does Great Doubt does to the brain? It erases all the habits of conceptual/dualistic thinking, and the mind is only focusing on the Doubt now.
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Re: Believing and Knowing

Postby LastLegend » Tue Mar 19, 2013 12:20 am

As for Pure Land, faith can have many meanings and they all are correct, to my understanding. But one meaning is that faith is to believe in one's own nature that is no difference than that of Amitabha and that when reciting Amitabha is no difference than looking at one's own nature; so this means faith in Amitabha is faith in oneself; at the same time there is connection/relationship with Amitabha. It's like lighting one's mind with Amitabha. In this respect, there is not much any difference from Chan training either. But if one is to follow the path of Pure Land, one has to vow to take rebirth in Amitabha's Pure Land. If a Pure Land practitioner with supreme capacities, he/she will realize one pointed concentration (equivalent to seeing through the nature of the mind in Chan), and can manifest at will and does not need the presence of Amitabha when she/he is ready to leave to Pure Land.

The way I see it is simple. Cause and effect...reciting Buddha will become Buddha, in this case Amitabha and all Buddhas share the same nature of mind and other perceived qualities. It follows then that reciting Mara will become Mara. Like when we are angry, we are in tune with the hell realms thus experience similar experience that of hell, burning sensations in the body and discomforts.

Not selling that Chan and Pure Land are the same in methods, but in essence of employing the mind towards liberation they are the same; and in some respects ( as one one mentioned above) they are the same in terms of looking at nature of the mind, only through recitation/mindfulness of Amitabha with Pure Land while great Doubt with Chan. In fact, in essence all Dharmas are the same that is having one taste of liberation.
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Re: Believing and Knowing

Postby greentara » Tue Mar 19, 2013 2:25 am

Oushi, "belief in grace that is given to a humble contemplative. This belief allows people to remain patient and unagitated by confused mind, focusing on their love to God "
Yes I can agree with the above comment; yes it comes down to 'not my will but thine' or 'I am a feather on the breathe of God' On this divine path you can't pretend you have surrendered, it's either total where individuality has vanished or you're playing a sham devotional game.
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Re: Believing and Knowing

Postby Wayfarer » Tue Mar 19, 2013 5:44 am

PadmaVonSamba wrote:It is not so much an issue of cutting through the intellectual process itself, but of cutting through that clinging to the intellectual process, so that that direct seeing is realized, that one is able to really free oneself from the same habits of conceptualizing things that bind us to samsara in the first place.


I generally agree with your post there. But I don't think the difference will ever be a hard-and-fast distinction. Furthermore as has been pointed out, there are more 'devotional' schools of Buddhism, such as Pure Land, which put great emphasis on faith.

But what prompted the question is this. I have friends that I occasionally 'talk philosophy' with. One of them remarked, 'but of course, you're a believer'. When I asked him what he meant, he said 'well, you're Buddhist aren't you?' I said 'well, I practice Buddhist meditation. But it's not the same thing as "believing in God"". I don't think it was a distinction he was able to get. But I was trying to say that this commitment to meditation and the experiential results that come from it, aren't really a matter of belief in the same way that Christians seem to understand it. It doesn't really require commitment to the whole package - the mythological creation myth, the reconciliation, and so on. Seems to me Christians really put a lot of emphasis on believing those things in a very specific way. I think the 'belief' content of the kind of Buddhist philosophy I have, seems a lot less definite.

On the other hand, I have realized that, as I'm not a 'materialist', I do accept the possibility there are higher beings and higher realms. So I guess it would seem like belief to a lot of people. It's just that I think Buddhism does retain that element of reasoning, cause-and-effect, and learning from experience, that is different to the approach in a lot of Christian schools. And ultimately, the Buddha does know, and points out what you need to know, even if to all intents, it becomes 'belief' for some of us, at some point.

Actually there are different layers in the Bible itself. There is one verse that says 'believe and be saved' but another which says 'you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free'. I think the gnostic side of Christianity - not necessarily 'gnosticism' as such - does have that kind of experiential wisdom. But I don't think I ever would have started to understand that, without Buddhist meditation. :D
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Re: Believing and Knowing

Postby Kim O'Hara » Tue Mar 19, 2013 6:31 am

jeeprs wrote:... But what prompted the question is this. I have friends that I occasionally 'talk philosophy' with. One of them remarked, 'but of course, you're a believer'. When I asked him what he meant, he said 'well, you're Buddhist aren't you?' I said 'well, I practice Buddhist meditation. But it's not the same thing as "believing in God"". I don't think it was a distinction he was able to get. But I was trying to say that this commitment to meditation and the experiential results that come from it, aren't really a matter of belief in the same way that Christians seem to understand it. It doesn't really require commitment to the whole package - the mythological creation myth, the reconciliation, and so on. Seems to me Christians really put a lot of emphasis on believing those things in a very specific way. I think the 'belief' content of the kind of Buddhist philosophy I have, seems a lot less definite.

On the other hand, I have realized that, as I'm not a 'materialist', I do accept the possibility there are higher beings and higher realms. So I guess it would seem like belief to a lot of people. It's just that I think Buddhism does retain that element of reasoning, cause-and-effect, and learning from experience, that is different to the approach in a lot of Christian schools. And ultimately, the Buddha does know, and points out what you need to know, even if to all intents, it becomes 'belief' for some of us, at some point.

Actually there are different layers in the Bible itself. There is one verse that says 'believe and be saved' but another which says 'you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free'. I think the gnostic side of Christianity - not necessarily 'gnosticism' as such - does have that kind of experiential wisdom. But I don't think I ever would have started to understand that, without Buddhist meditation. :D

Hi, Jeeprs,
A few years ago I put a lot of time into looking for the crucial difference between "belief" and "knowledge" and ... couldn't find one!
The closest I got was to think of them as zones on a certainty-spectrum: belief is less well supported by experience than knowledge is. I know that I am sitting in a chair right now ---- I know that Canberra is the capital of Australia ---- I know that the moon is made of rock ---- I know (or believe) that germs cause disease ---- I believe that the weather in Ulan Bator is generally pretty miserable --- I believe that the Christian God doesn't actually exist ---- and so on.
Let me know if you can do better than that!

:namaste:
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Re: Believing and Knowing

Postby Wayfarer » Tue Mar 19, 2013 7:47 pm

The point is, for Christians, Protestants in particular, all you can do is 'beleve'. It doesn't matter what you do or don't do - believing is the only requirement. Even then you don't know if you're 'saved' - you simply have to believe it, although if you're not one of The Elect, then it really won't make any difference.
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Re: Believing and Knowing

Postby PadmaVonSamba » Tue Mar 19, 2013 8:06 pm

jeeprs wrote: I have friends that I occasionally 'talk philosophy' with. One of them remarked, 'but of course, you're a believer'. When I asked him what he meant, he said 'well, you're Buddhist aren't you?' I said 'well, I practice Buddhist meditation. But it's not the same thing as "believing in God"". I don't think it was a distinction he was able to get. But I was trying to say that this commitment to meditation and the experiential results that come from it, aren't really a matter of belief in the same way that Christians seem to understand it. It doesn't really require commitment to the whole package - the mythological creation myth, the reconciliation, and so on. Seems to me Christians really put a lot of emphasis on believing those things in a very specific way. I think the 'belief' content of the kind of Buddhist philosophy I have, seems a lot less definite.
Well, the thing is, 'belief' in what one cannot directly prove (to one's own satisfaction) is not a prerequisite in Buddhism. You don't have to believe that Shakyamuni was really born out of his mother's side, or stated walking immediately or that lotuses sprang up from his foot prints. You can practice dharma, follow the principles of cause & effect, practice compassion and so on. Even if one dos not take Amitabha's Pure Land, or any of the god realms or ghost or hell realms literally, this really doesn't matter. The point is that you can test out the dharma teachings for yourself and see if they have any validity or not. So, it isn't really about faith or belief, but about application.

The other thing is, people lump things together in categories.
Who ever said Buddhism was a religion?
People who categorize things came up with that.
So "you are a believer" only applies if one is going by
some set of categories that someone once made up.
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Re: Believing and Knowing

Postby Wayfarer » Tue Mar 19, 2013 10:25 pm

PadmaVonSamba wrote:So, it isn't really about faith or belief, but about application.


Bravo. My feeling exactly.
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Re: Believing and Knowing

Postby oushi » Wed Mar 20, 2013 9:15 am

What is belief? If we believe in something, what does that mean? Does it mean that we have insufficient information? Or rather we do not desire to investigate it more? If I say: "I believe you" does it indicate that I have to bring more effort and investigate, or rather it means that I trust you, and I'm dropping the desire to intellectualize about it?
We have 2 types of belief. First related with information, the second one with trust. Both are present in both religions. Making "cross" comparison, will probably bring bad results.
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Re: Believing and Knowing

Postby Wayfarer » Wed Mar 20, 2013 9:34 am

Oushi wrote:You can be a Christian believer while not believing in walking on water.


Not so! You are required to believe in miracles. If you don't believe in miracles, you are not orthodox. Nowadays, it is not as important as it used to be but in pre-modern times, holding the right beliefs in the right way was sometimes a matter of life and death.

I went to an Anglican school and at every service, we recited the Nicene Creed. I don't want to malign the Nicene Creed, but it is a statement of 'things that a Christian must believe'. And these are not optional. The Nicene Creed was the result of working out a definitive statement of orthodoxy, which means 'right belief'.

The questions you are asking are quite reasonable, and the kind of questions that philosophy encourages, but it is easy to loose sight of the non-negotiability of the Christian 'articles of faith'.

Of course Buddhism has its belief systems too, and in some manifestations is quite similar. Belief is part of human nature. But at the centre of the Buddhist teaching is an emphasis on understanding the principle of dependent origination and such principles which can be realized in experience It is a different kind of principle.
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Re: Believing and Knowing

Postby oushi » Wed Mar 20, 2013 10:30 am

jeeprs wrote:Not so! You are required to believe in miracles. If you don't believe in miracles, you are not orthodox.

Orthodoxy as a word (etymology) comes from the first type of belief (uncertainty caused by the lack of information). So, orthodoxy is a set of beliefs inherited from past generations of Christians. You believe in something others believed. Thus you create a space for middleman, which is quickly occupied by clergy. In this way, specific traditions are created like Catholics, or mentioned Anglican church.
We can say that Christianity is free and diverse set of beliefs, which are pointing to the experience of belief. This experience is important, not a collection of examples creating a doctrine. If you want to be a Christian orthodox, you will have to gather beliefs of every tradition... still you will miss the point.
Concluding, Christianity is about belief (as an experience) not orthodoxy (as set of interpretations). Christian is a believer not believing in anything particularly. This is where it meets with Buddhist practice.
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Re: Believing and Knowing

Postby Wayfarer » Wed Mar 20, 2013 10:34 am

Well I'm not disagreeing with you, but I think your answer illustrates very well why you're drawn to Buddhism rather than Christianity. :smile:
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Re: Believing and Knowing

Postby oushi » Wed Mar 20, 2013 10:37 am

jeeprs wrote:Well I'm not disagreeing with you, but I think your answer illustrates very well why you're drawn to Buddhism rather than Christianity. :smile:

Am I? :smile:
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