Why makes Buddhism true ?

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Re: Why makes Buddhism true ?

Postby Wayfarer » Sun Mar 31, 2013 5:00 am

Monktastic wrote:It seems to me that concepts are simply empty displays of rigpa, just as any texture or color is. Whether we decide to reify them after that is our choice. The Buddha showed that we can get on "just fine" without doing that. Hence my suggestion to leave reason in its proper place, instead of using it as an arbiter of truth.

(Obviously I am not arguing against the use of concepts in a relative sense, just as I wouldn't argue against the use of emotions or other appearances. But in a deeper sense, it seems to me that reason is no more meaningful than emotion or color.


I think reason is a fine 'arbiter of truth'. Whilst I agree that Buddhism points at a realm beyond discursive reason, that has to be understood carefully. I think if we dismiss reason it is actually easy to fall prey to irrationality. This happens in religious cultures, when they become ritualized or used to 'create good fortune' or 'ensure propitious events in the future' and so on. Buddhism is not immune to that. In such matters, I would always appeal to reason.

So I tend to side with the scientific analysts when it comes to dealing with questions within the domain of science. I see that as an implication of 'the two truths'. The two truths doctrine recognizes that there are conventional or empirical truths and that within this realm scientific analysis and reason are appropriate. There is also a realm beyond conventional truth (which, incidentally, is not really understood at all in traditional Western philosophy,) which is the subject of the 'higher teaching' and the subject of wisdom, rather than knowledge in the form of scientia.

But 'mistaking the relative for the absolute' is one of the pitfalls of this worldview, and a very easy thing to do. So I think being dismissive of reason or science is a consequence of 'mistaking the relative for the absolute'. Within the context of relative or conventional truth, science rules. And indeed you can surpass reason but I don't think you can deny it (a very difficult point, I acknowledge.)

I do see that in our day and age science is treated as 'an aribiter of what is real' - and I think we both are criticizing that idea. Therefore you will read, for instance, that researchers who study topics such as past-life memories, or psychic phenomena, are regarded as pseudo-scientific because of what they study. There are certain kinds of explanations, theories and ideas that are regarded as respectable subjects for scientific analysis, and other types of explanations and theories that are not. So science will happily consider 'the multiverse' or 'the many worlds interpretation' but it will never consider 'other realms of being' because this is said to be a 'religious concept'.

I personally accept that there is a hierarchy of types of understanding (similar to Plato's). In a very simplified diagrammatic form it is like this (from Ken Wilber):

Image

With Plato, I would put mathematical reasoning on approximately the same level as 'soul' or 'the subtle realm', as this is the realm of the pure ideas and forms.

PadmaVonSambha wrote:What the term "objectivity" refers to in science, is that an event can be experienced by two or more witnesses and the description of what is witnessed is the same, and furthermore, that various mitigating circumstances can be eliminated from that observation in order to determine the actual cause of that event, and the same event can be replicated using the same circumstances repeatedly.


Excellent point. This is why 'the criterion of objectivity' is held in such high regard in modern thinking. What is said to be 'objective' is understood to be 'really existent'. However as I pointed out above, physics itself has undermined this through such discoveries as the Uncertainty Principle, and also through the speculative nature of current cosmology. It seems the question of what is 'really there', which before Einstein seemed almost resolved, has become more mysterious than ever. Now many are are simply left clinging to the hope that science will deliver the answers, even if there are these many massive conundrums around the nature of matter/mind/life.
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Re: Why makes Buddhism true ?

Postby Alfredo » Sun Mar 31, 2013 5:59 am

Sorry for taking so long to respond. After 24 hours of posts, I hardly know where to begin!

First, the term "religion" is often criticized as vague. This is fair enough, since there are many phenomena on the borderline, and no clear, generally-accepted means of deciding whether something is "religious." On the other hand, the term does seem useful in pointing to common, if not universal, patterns of human behavior. So I call Buddhism a "religion" because other people call it one, and because it has rituals, supernatural beliefs, etc., similar to other phenomena that are called "religions." Others apparently object to calling Buddhism "religious" on the grounds that it differs from "religions" in some crucial way (perhaps because it is true).

The OP suggested (I think wrongly) that Buddhism is more "logical" than "other" religions. I pointed out that this kind of talk originated in the 19th century Theravadin reaction against British imperialism. Western culture being multivalent, Buddhist modernists have often appealed to some aspects (such as Enlightenment values, including science and skepticism; another possibility would be Romantic / counter-Enlightenment ones, such as New Age woo) against others (such as Christianity). In doing so, they have selected certain aspects of their own tradition to emphasize, over others which are equally traditional (such as spirit propitiation). Our ensuing discussion has focused on the questions of whether science is rational, whether reason is good (as much Buddhist tradition assumes), and whether seemingly irrational beliefs such as magic might actually be "rational" in some way.

The OP's main point, however, was that Buddhism--like other religions--arose within a particular historical setting which has influenced (if not determined) its teachings. This is odd if we assume Sakyamuni Buddhism to have been omniscient, and his teachings to have been perfectly preserved, but I think he is quite correct. (No?) While few Buddhists would claim Buddhism, or any particular subgroup, to represent the exclusive source of truth (as the OP sometimes says), many if not most would consider their own tradition to be higher / better / truer than the others. On that note, a few recent writers have claimed Buddhism itself to qualify as a sort of science--the observations of meditating yogis are said to partake of a similar empirical ethos--although I have never yet heard a good explanation as to why the observations of Buddhist yogis ought to be believed over those of Hindu yogis. Science too may suffer from unexamined cultural assumptions and conformist pressures, but nothing like to this extent.

Padma von Samba asks how I interpret the Buddhist teachings of reincarnation, karma, spirits, and so forth. I do not claim to know the truth of any of these matters. Nor am I capable of reconstructing what Sakyamuni Buddha taught about these things (for this I rely on scholars of early Buddhism), not to speak of determining whether he was correct. Later Buddhists have obviously disagreed on many aspects of the tradition. Practically all accept that consciousness continues after death, to eventually be reborn (reincarnation); and that the effects of our "good" and "bad" actions will rebound upon this consciousness after death as well (karma). I recognize that tension exists between these pan-Indic beliefs, and certain key Buddhist teachings such as anatman. Most Buddhist societies (in common with numerous non-Buddhist ones) recognize classes of rituals said to be effective in placating or enlisting the aid of supernatural beings (about which a bewildering variety of traditions exist), and a class of religious specialists (often monks) who are thought to be best qualified to perform these rituals. At the same time, other strains of Buddhist discourse assign such activities to a lesser level than say, "meditation."
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Re: Reason and Experience...

Postby Indrajala » Sun Mar 31, 2013 6:21 am

PadmaVonSamba wrote: I don't think we can blame science, which is a quest for knowledge, as much as we can blame our own ignorance, and the fact that scientific discovery only exists in the context of ignorance.


Likewise, you can't blame the bible for the evils committed and enabled by the Church in the past. Nevertheless, many people lump Christianity, the Bible, the Church and all the evils together. The same will inevitably happen with science in my reckoning.

I don't think of science as evil, though I do believe much of its knowledge could have remained unknown to humanity for the better. The human condition might have been temporarily improved, but at the cost of the planet's ecosystem and countless lives of other species. We need only consider how many billions of little animals have been used for scientific experiments. Nevertheless, what's done is done and we can't change that, though in time the evils enabled by science will sting a lot harder and people will inevitably come to resent it.

I am thrilled that scientists are developing a way to reverse FragileX syndrome, which causes my son's disability.


While I wish your son didn't suffer such an illness, we should be aware that science has also enabled massive overpopulation of our species through biology, the green revolution, immunization programs and cures for various diseases that used to keep our population in check.

The ugly truth is that for all those developments, we might actually suffer more in the long-term than if they hadn't existed. Overpopulation and the consequential overshoot of our material resource base might prove more painful and devastating (both to us and our non-human companions on the planet).

There's a lot of faith that technology and science will save us from our collective sins (I am always reminded, "You don't know if a new technology will be invented!"), but technology as a vessel for faith and hope is unwise as we approach resource limits with no realistic alternatives in sight.
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Re: Why makes Buddhism true ?

Postby PadmaVonSamba » Sun Mar 31, 2013 2:29 pm

Alfredo wrote:First, the term "religion" is often criticized as vague. This is fair enough, since there are many phenomena on the borderline, and no clear, generally-accepted means of deciding whether something is "religious." On the other hand, the term does seem useful in pointing to common, if not universal, patterns of human behavior. So I call Buddhism a "religion" because other people call it one, and because it has rituals, supernatural beliefs, etc., similar to other phenomena that are called "religions." Others apparently object to calling Buddhism "religious" on the grounds that it differs from "religions" in some crucial way (perhaps because it is true).


Well, I'll tell ya,
There is one ritual that has been passed down in my family. Once a year, we bake a cake. We put candles on it, we light those candles, and whoever has a birthday (according to the Gregorian calendar) can make a wish and blow out those candles, and the wish is said to come true!!! I am not sure what religion this is, but I know it must be a religion, because all major religions light candles and have some sort of wish or prayer, and many have a special kind of bread, or cake, that plays a very important role in the process. Also, there is no way of verifying if the wishes come true or not because the wisher is forbidden from saying what the wish actually is. They can say it came true or didn't, but this cannot be objectively validated. So there is that whole blind faith element involved as well.

Otherwise, I appreciate your thoughtful posts. You bring up a lot of valid points. The actual meanings of some of these "buddhist superstitions" when actually understood to be based on logical deduction (similar to the theory of dark matter), may not be as similar to religious dogma as you assume.
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Re: Why makes Buddhism true ?

Postby Alfredo » Sun Mar 31, 2013 3:56 pm

Thanks for your kind words. I love your birthday cake example, and am definitely going to steal it!
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Re: Why makes Buddhism true ?

Postby PadmaVonSamba » Sun Mar 31, 2013 7:20 pm

Alfredo wrote:Thanks for your kind words. I love your birthday cake example, and am definitely going to steal it!

wow...that was my wish!
I guess it's real after all.
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Re: What makes Buddhism true ?

Postby Wayfarer » Sun Mar 31, 2013 11:16 pm

“If scientific analysis were conclusively to demonstrate certain claims in Buddhism to be false, then we must accept the findings of science and abandon those claims.”


― Dalai Lama XIV, The Universe in a Single Atom: The Convergence of Science and Spirituality.

Certainly all traditions have to come to grips with scientific truths, but science addresses questions within a particular domain. As soon as that is lost sight of, and scientific analysis is claimed to be the only valid form of knowledge, then you tip over into 'scientism' and scientific atheism.

The domain of higher truth is one that every individual has to discover for his/her self. So it is not objective in the sense of 'measurable by instruments' but it is also not subjective in the sense of 'pertaining only to the individual'. It is, if you like, a 'science in the first person'.

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Re: Why makes Buddhism true ?

Postby David N. Snyder » Sun Mar 31, 2013 11:38 pm

newagegeek wrote:If Buddhism is the *true* religion why is not widespread ?


It is widespread; throughout most of Asia and in parts of every other continent. But widely accepted does not make something true; that would be the fallacy of argumentum ad populum, believing in something simply because it is accepted by the majority. For most of human history it was believed by the majority that the earth was only 6,000 years old. Now we know this is not the case.

newagegeek wrote:Why Buddha was specifically born in India, and taught only to Indians ? He could have made several appearances and taught to every single being in the world. But Buddha who is the Teacher of the gods and men, appealed only to a very narrow regional audience (of North India to be precise).


The Buddha didn't have access to planes, trains, automobiles or the internet. He did advocate for his teachings to go far and wide:

"Wander forth, O bhikkhus, for the welfare of the multitude, for the happiness of the multitude, out of compassion for the world, for the good, welfare, and happiness of devas and humans. Let not two go the same way. Teach, O bhikkhus, the Dhamma that is good in the beginning, good in the middle, good in the end, with the right meaning and phrasing." Samyutta Nikaya 4.453
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Re: Why makes Buddhism true ?

Postby David N. Snyder » Sun Mar 31, 2013 11:43 pm

PadmaVonSamba wrote:Once a year, we bake a cake. We put candles on it, we light those candles, and whoever has a birthday (according to the Gregorian calendar) can make a wish and blow out those candles, and the wish is said to come true!!! I am not sure what religion this is, but I know it must be a religion,


Is it chocolate? Can I join that religion?

Some parts of Buddhism may not look that different from other religions and may not look that rational, but the essence of suffering and the way out of suffering as outlined in the Four Noble Truths is quite rational, in my opinion. See my article here:
Rational teachings of Buddha
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Re: Why makes Buddhism true ?

Postby Indrajala » Mon Apr 01, 2013 3:03 am

Trying to reconfigure Buddhism and make it suitable to rationalism and/or present day science reminds me of how Indian Buddhists adopted a lot of ideas from Brahmanism to justify their own existence in a changing, and sometimes increasingly hostile, environment (a watered down version of caste is one example). Whether it was necessary or not aside, a lot of teachings and scriptural content changed as a result.

This seems to be happening again as Buddhists try to justify themselves and make their religion(s) sufficiently acceptable in the eyes of the prevailing ideology. It started in the 19th century with Buddhist Modernism and continues to this day. The Dalai Lama's statement quoted above is especially instructive.

It goes beyond just science as well. Buddhist ideas are modified to be in line with feminism, democracy and many other contemporary, largely liberal, values despite long histories of Buddhist religions having many practices and ideologies contrary to modern liberal values (for instance, the inferiority of the female gender and a lack of democratic decision making processes historically).

I think this is inevitable, but if not done consciously and reasonably a lot of core ideas will be warped or simply dropped because they are distasteful to contemporary minds.
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Re: Why makes Buddhism true ?

Postby Dechen Norbu » Thu Apr 04, 2013 12:50 am

Do you want the God honest truth?
Buddhism is just a religion like any other.
If you are lucky, maybe you'll find a Buddhist who teaches you Dharma. Dharma is not a religion. It is much more than that. And if you are even luckier maybe you become a Dharma student (instead of a Buddhist) and a practitioner.
If you are lucky, you'll never need to ask such questions again.
But who knows if you'll be lucky? Not me.
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Re: Why makes Buddhism true ?

Postby Sherab Dorje » Thu Apr 04, 2013 9:56 am

Problem is Dechen, that teachings that satisfy the Four Dharma Seals tend to be found within Buddhism.

Realistically though, any Buddhism that does not satisfy the Four Dharma Seals is not Buddhism. It's a cheap knock off, not the real thing.

So I would not say that Buddhism is a religion, more that it is a number of related yet independent/different religions.
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Re: Why makes Buddhism true ?

Postby PadmaVonSamba » Thu Apr 04, 2013 2:58 pm

Dechen Norbu wrote:Do you want the God honest truth?
Buddhism is just a religion like any other.
If you are lucky, maybe you'll find a Buddhist who teaches you Dharma. Dharma is not a religion. It is much more than that. And if you are even luckier maybe you become a Dharma student (instead of a Buddhist) and a practitioner.
If you are lucky, you'll never need to ask such questions again.
But who knows if you'll be lucky? Not me.


The teachings of the buddha.
and Buddhism
are of course, related, but are not the same thing.
Buddhism is what has evolved over time as a means of preserving and transmitting the teachings
and in doing so has developed quite elaborately meaning that it has developed traditions.
In that sense, "Buddhism is just a religion like any other" because all religions exist as a means of preserving and transmitting their teachings.
Any"ism" does that.
It becomes the institutionalization of intangible concepts.

So, while it is a point well taken,
I think it is a moot point, nonetheless.
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