Buddhism and Enlightenment

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Buddhism and Enlightenment

Postby Astus » Fri May 17, 2013 4:15 pm

"Enlightenment is man's emergence from his self-imposed nonage. Nonage is the inability to use one's own understanding without another's guidance. This nonage is self-imposed if its cause lies not in lack of understanding but in indecision and lack of courage to use one's own mind without another's guidance.
...
I have emphasized the main point of the enlightenment--man's emergence from his self-imposed nonage--primarily in religious matters... Above all, nonage in religion is not only the most harmful but the most dishonorable."

(Immanuel Kant: What Is Enlightenment?)

Questions:

How do the ideas of Enlightenment affect our attitude toward Buddhism?

Are we prone to submission to authority or to independent thinking?

How much freedom is there for a Buddhist practitioner in the matters of Dharma?

Is Buddhism already Enlightened or does it need to be reformed?
"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)

“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; T51n2076, p461b24-26)
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Re: Buddhism and Enlightenment

Postby Jikan » Fri May 17, 2013 4:44 pm

Excellent topic, Astus. beside or maybe before the questions you pose, I'd like to make two observations.

*I think the discussions we've had elsewhere at DW on "Critical Buddhism" are relevant to this discussion, insofar as the claim is made that Nagarjuna is a critical philosopher and Buddhism is understood as critical philosophy (and "critical" is understood more or less in Kantian terms)

*I think M Foucault's essay on Kant's essay on Aufklärung is also relevant, because Foucault shows how this idea of enlightenment is carried forward through the nineteenth century into the present as a project of self-perfectibility. There's a continuity from the kinds of practices described in, say, Spinoza's Ethicsto the interventions Foucault would later describe as the care of the self, different kinds of disciplines, and so on.

I bring these points up because I think they show how relevant and significant this question you've posed is.

:anjali:
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Re: Buddhism and Enlightenment

Postby lobster » Fri May 17, 2013 5:02 pm

:popcorn:

Any system needs updating and reinvigorating.
Unenlightened and complicit practitioners peddle expertise without realisation, shamelessly and without awareness.

What can be done? More enlightenment? :oops:
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Re: Buddhism and Enlightenment

Postby dude » Fri May 17, 2013 5:13 pm

Astus wrote:"Enlightenment is man's emergence from his self-imposed nonage. Nonage is the inability to use one's own understanding without another's guidance. This nonage is self-imposed if its cause lies not in lack of understanding but in indecision and lack of courage to use one's own mind without another's guidance.
...
I have emphasized the main point of the enlightenment--man's emergence from his self-imposed nonage--primarily in religious matters... Above all, nonage in religion is not only the most harmful but the most dishonorable."

(Immanuel Kant: What Is Enlightenment?)

Questions:

How do the ideas of Enlightenment affect our attitude toward Buddhism?

Are we prone to submission to authority or to independent thinking?

How much freedom is there for a Buddhist practitioner in the matters of Dharma?

Is Buddhism already Enlightened or does it need to be reformed?



What ideas, Kant's ideas?

A practitioner in what role or capacity?

How can any -ism be enlightened?
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Re: Buddhism and Enlightenment

Postby oushi » Fri May 17, 2013 5:33 pm

Astus wrote:How do the ideas of Enlightenment affect our attitude toward Buddhism?

It defines it totally.
Astus wrote:Are we prone to submission to authority or to independent thinking?

All depends on what we are looking for.
Astus wrote:How much freedom is there for a Buddhist practitioner in the matters of Dharma?

Less and less until nothing is left.
Astus wrote:Is Buddhism already Enlightened or does it need to be reformed?

Nothing can be reformed, or transformed into enlightenment, because of that, Buddhism is a path (or set of paths) that fits its purpose.
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Re: Buddhism and Enlightenment

Postby Nothing » Fri May 17, 2013 6:18 pm

Astus wrote:How do the ideas of Enlightenment affect our attitude toward Buddhism?

One defines the other.
Astus wrote:Are we prone to submission to authority or to independent thinking?

It depends if one could see clearly.
Astus wrote:How much freedom is there for a Buddhist practitioner in the matters of Dharma?

Gradual process until one aligns with it.
Astus wrote:Is Buddhism already Enlightened or does it need to be reformed?

Buddhism is a path leading to Enlightenment, no need to be reformed.
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Re: Buddhism and Enlightenment

Postby lobster » Fri May 17, 2013 10:48 pm

Buddhism is a path leading to Enlightenment, no need to be reformed.


It has not worked for you. It has not worked for the majority of practitioners, some with decades of practice.
No reform? Perhaps as a mantra? :oops:

What reforms are required?
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Re: Buddhism and Enlightenment

Postby jeeprs » Fri May 17, 2013 11:05 pm

It is worth noting that 'Enlightenment' in the Buddhist context first came into use as the translation of the term bodhi by Rhys Davids of the Pali Text Society. The word was used partially out of the belief that Buddhism was nearer the ideals of the European enlightenment that was the Christianity of the day. Rhys Davids often expressed the view - common at that time - that Christianity had degenerated through history and was no longer representative of its original pristine form. He felt that Theravada Buddhism was nearer to that form. It is also interesting to note that both the Rhys Davids (his wife took over editorship after his death) were hostile towards Mahayana and Tibetan Buddhism, for the same reason, namely that they believed these represented degenerations of the 'original' Buddhist message.

This was an aspect of what came to be called 'Protestant Buddhism', which was basically a type of revivalist and 'returning to the roots' movement that came largely out of Ceylon in the late 19th century. At that time its proponents believed that Buddhism was much nearer in spirit of the European Enlightenment because:

* Buddhism did not assert nor depend on the existence of God;
* It possessed a moral ideal which was not dependent on superstition but which could be construed as ‘natural law’;
* It posited no God or Gods who were able to subvert or alter this law;
* It depended on individual working out their own salvation;
* It was based on the heroic achievements of a human individual who found truth through his own efforts

All that said, however, the word bodhi doesn't really have a direct translation in the Western philosophical lexicon. Nor do I think it has any ready equivalent in Kant. So it can be argued that this whole approach was a consequence of the West's ongoing need for spiritual sustenance, after its own tradition had been undermined by scientific rationalism.
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Re: Buddhism and Enlightenment

Postby Konchog1 » Fri May 17, 2013 11:16 pm

jeeprs wrote:It is worth noting that 'Enlightenment' in the Buddhist context first came into use as the translation of the term bodhi by Rhys Davids of the Pali Text Society. The word was used partially out of the belief that Buddhism was nearer the ideals of the European enlightenment that was the Christianity of the day. Rhys Davids often expressed the view - common at that time - that Christianity had degenerated through history and was no longer representative of its original pristine form. He felt that Theravada Buddhism was nearer to that form. It is also interesting to note that both the Rhys Davids (his wife took over editorship after his death) were hostile towards Mahayana and Tibetan Buddhism, for the same reason, namely that they believed these represented degenerations of the 'original' Buddhist message.

This was an aspect of what came to be called 'Protestant Buddhism', which was basically a type of revivalist and 'returning to the roots' movement that came largely out of Ceylon in the late 19th century. At that time its proponents believed that Buddhism was much nearer in spirit of the European Enlightenment because:

* Buddhism did not assert nor depend on the existence of God;
* It possessed a moral ideal which was not dependent on superstition but which could be construed as ‘natural law’;
* It posited no God or Gods who were able to subvert or alter this law;
* It depended on individual working out their own salvation;
* It was based on the heroic achievements of a human individual who found truth through his own efforts

All that said, however, the word bodhi doesn't really have a direct translation in the Western philosophical lexicon. Nor do I think it has any ready equivalent in Kant. So it can be argued that this whole approach was a consequence of the West's ongoing need for spiritual sustenance, after its own tradition had been undermined by scientific rationalism.
So Rhys Davids believed that original Christianity:
* Did not assert nor depend on the existence of God;
* It posited no God or Gods who were able to subvert or alter Natural Law;
* It depended on individual working out their own salvation?
Equanimity is the ground. Love is the moisture. Compassion is the seed. Bodhicitta is the result.

-Paraphrase of Khensur Rinpoche Lobsang Tsephel citing the Guhyasamaja Tantra

"All memories and thoughts are the union of emptiness and knowing, the Mind.
Without attachment, self-liberating, like a snake in a knot.
Through the qualities of meditating in that way,
Mental obscurations are purified and the dharmakaya is attained."

-Ra Lotsawa, All-pervading Melodious Drumbeats
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Re: Buddhism and Enlightenment

Postby jeeprs » Sat May 18, 2013 12:58 am

What I said was that "Protestant Buddhism" offered the possibility of a religion that seemed more compatible with Enlightenment beliefs, on the basis of those characteristics. Those bullet points were in Verhoeven, M. J. (2001). "Buddhism and Science: The Boundaries of Faith and Reason." Religion East and West(1): 77-97 (Dharma Realm Buddhist University), referring to early Buddhist emissaries such as Suzuki and Dharmaphala.
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Re: Buddhism and Enlightenment

Postby jeeprs » Sat May 18, 2013 2:12 am

Rhys Davids compared the development of religious cult of Buddhism to that of the growth of the Church around Jesus. He generally referred to 'the Buddha' as 'Gautama', and to Christ as simply 'Jesus', as he saw the transformation of 'Jesus' into 'Jesus Christ' as analogous of the transformation of 'Gautama' into 'the Buddha':

In particular, the Buddhist texts showed how a charismatic human being, a great humanist philosopher who had risen up against the ritual, priestcraft, and institutional religion of his time, had over time been deified by his followers. The extraordinary similarities in their [Jesus' and Gautama's]lives, the parallel events, strengthened his case. Buddhism was a "religion whose development runs entirely parallel with that of Christianity, every episode, every line of whose history seems almost as if it might have been created for the very purpose of throwing the clearest light on the most difficult and disputed questions of thde origins of the European faith".


T. W. Rhys Davids, quoted in Defining Modern Buddhism: Mr and Mrs Rhys Davids and the Pāli Text Society, Judith Snodgrass, Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East.
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Re: Buddhism and Enlightenment

Postby Konchog1 » Sat May 18, 2013 2:24 am

humanist
Merely a pleasant way to say human-centric materialist :tongue:
Equanimity is the ground. Love is the moisture. Compassion is the seed. Bodhicitta is the result.

-Paraphrase of Khensur Rinpoche Lobsang Tsephel citing the Guhyasamaja Tantra

"All memories and thoughts are the union of emptiness and knowing, the Mind.
Without attachment, self-liberating, like a snake in a knot.
Through the qualities of meditating in that way,
Mental obscurations are purified and the dharmakaya is attained."

-Ra Lotsawa, All-pervading Melodious Drumbeats
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Re: Buddhism and Enlightenment

Postby lobster » Sat May 18, 2013 9:31 am

Nothing can be reformed, or transformed into enlightenment, because of that, Buddhism is a path (or set of paths) that fits its purpose.


Enlightenment can be transformed into reformed Buddhism.
Purpose is not the way, nor the path less skilful. :namaste:

Can Buddhism become more skilful? If you think there is no enlightenment in reform, what attaches to such enlightenment or its empty platitudes and experiences? :thinking:

Time to move on. Sit still while the builders do nothing for you . . . :yinyang:

:popcorn:
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Re: Buddhism and Enlightenment

Postby oushi » Sat May 18, 2013 10:27 am

lobster wrote:Enlightenment can be transformed into reformed Buddhism.

It has been done many times, that is why we have such a variety of paths.
lobster wrote:Can Buddhism become more skilful?

"More skilful" is something relative, so the answer is, yes and at the same time no.
lobster wrote:If you think there is no enlightenment in reform, what attaches to such enlightenment or its empty platitudes and experiences?

Ideas.
lobster wrote:Sit still while the builders do nothing for you . . .

Build while sitting. If your are waiting for somebody else to create a perfect path for you, then it may take awhile. :smile:
A perfect path would be a path enabling you to create your own path fitting you precisely. You apply a method while retaining self trust and relaying on your own experience. It is doable, but a great work is needed.
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Re: Buddhism and Enlightenment

Postby Nothing » Sat May 18, 2013 11:36 am

lobster wrote:It has not worked for the majority of practitioners, some with decades of practice.

A blind man cannot lead a blind man out of the forest.
No reform? Perhaps as a mantra?

Or a simple "belief" but people belief in their "own opinions" rather than the teachings yet creating more obstructions by the deluded self.
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Re: Buddhism and Enlightenment

Postby lobster » Sat May 18, 2013 11:58 am

oushi wrote:It is doable, but a great work is needed.


:woohoo:

Here we go. Here we go. Here we go.
GATE GATE PARAGATE PARASAMGATE BODHI SVAHA

:popcorn:
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Re: Buddhism and Enlightenment

Postby seeker242 » Sat May 18, 2013 12:25 pm

Astus wrote:"Enlightenment is man's emergence from his self-imposed nonage. Nonage is the inability to use one's own understanding without another's guidance. This nonage is self-imposed if its cause lies not in lack of understanding but in indecision and lack of courage to use one's own mind without another's guidance.
...
I have emphasized the main point of the enlightenment--man's emergence from his self-imposed nonage--primarily in religious matters... Above all, nonage in religion is not only the most harmful but the most dishonorable."

(Immanuel Kant: What Is Enlightenment?)

Questions:

How do the ideas of Enlightenment affect our attitude toward Buddhism?

Are we prone to submission to authority or to independent thinking?

How much freedom is there for a Buddhist practitioner in the matters of Dharma?

Is Buddhism already Enlightened or does it need to be reformed?


Those are rather personal questions aren't they? Meaning they can be completely different. Perhaps even complete opposites, depending on which particular person you ask, with all of them being true. The first thing that comes to mind when I read them is "Well, that depends on the particular practitioner's perceptions, ideas, beliefs, etc."
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Re: Buddhism and Enlightenment

Postby Astus » Sat May 18, 2013 8:10 pm

How do the ideas of Enlightenment affect our attitude toward Buddhism?

While there is no clear definition of what those ideas are, I use Kant's short essay as a convenient reference here. The idea of freedom from sacred/traditional dogma, the superiority of reason, the individual as a capable thinker - these are among the outstanding novelties of the Enlightened view. The world we now live in reflects in many ways the manifestation of those ideas, like universal education, freedom of speech and religion and the general use of scientific methods. Buddhism in the West appeared as a rational philosophy - even its status as a religion is debated - and something that is in harmony with modern democratic, humanistic and scientific values.

The religious, magical and ritual elements of Buddhism are usually neglected by Westerners, instead Buddhism is taught as a personal path that emphasises inner reflection, peace, rational investigation and meditation.

Thanissaro Bhikkhu writes in the section on iddhipada (in Wings to Awakening),

Because of their association with supranormal powers, the bases of power have generally been slighted in Western writings on Buddhism. If we count the five strengths as identical with the five faculties, the bases of power are the only set in the Wings to Awakening that has not yet been the subject of a book in the English language. The situation in Asia, however, is very different. There, the bases of power have been extrapolated from their specific context and are frequently cited as guides to success in general.

If you look through the topics on this forum it is hard to find any thread where the magical powers are discussed, especially not as actual attainments of the ordinary practitioners. Even the values of different actions in terms of merit and demerit are rarely talked about, not to mention the possible retribution in future lives. It may be that many accept the possibility of supernormal powers and other worlds, these things are not considered the core aspects of Buddhism. At the same time, especially Mahayana and Vajrayana texts, are full of extraordinary and wondrous events where buddhas appear in the sky and simple laymen conjure visions of other worlds.

Are we prone to submission to authority or to independent thinking?

Although it is a common enough response to "ask a teacher" (i.e. neither you nor me are good enough to even guess), the majority of Western Buddhist communities are independent from any Asian institution, however, it is actually normal in Buddhism that traditionally lacks a central hierarchy. Western Buddhist teachers who lack "correct transmission" are often disregarded as incompetent or even as charlatans. Besides the issue of authorisation, there is also the idea of a gap between "scholars" (pandita) and "practitioners" (yogin). Since Buddhism is understood as an inner path, an experiential enterprise, there is little use of books and studies on such a path. If people want enlightenment they shouldn't just go to the library (or a website) and study, but rather they should visit an enlightened teacher and do lot of meditation practice. This attitude defines what kind of Buddhism is popular in the West. People go to a Dharma centre to meditate and not to be instructed about the finer points of the sutras and shastras. They rather spend $600 for a five-day retreat with a well known guru than to buy the four-volume translation of the Abhisamayalamkara with commentaries for $345.

From an Enlightenment perspective, everybody should be able to study the Buddha's teachings and arrive at correct conclusions. The tendency is, however, more Romantic, where reason has almost no role, and one should follow ancient traditions.

How much freedom is there for a Buddhist practitioner in the matters of Dharma?

Can we accept that an ordinary human being can understand the Dharma? And can he do that on his own? What if his interpretation doesn't agree with another's? If the Sakyapa view disagrees with the Gelugpa, that's all right, since they are both respected traditions. If Mr Jones disagrees with His Holiness the Dalai Lama, well, who is this Mr Jones? Because the emphasis is on the person, the teachings are valued by the reputation of the teacher instead of the actual content presented. Although we can say that everybody is free to believe whatever they like, without the proper pedigree they are not taken seriously. Teachers are assessed not by what they teach but by who they are, in fact, you can't even measure a teacher since you are not a master yourself.

Is Buddhism already Enlightened or does it need to be reformed?

Since it is already accepted that Buddhism is in harmony with the modern ideas of rationality there is no need to question that. Buddhism is as good as it is. That is, as we have transformed it to our expectations. No magic, no philosophy, but only the inner realisation taught by proper masters. Because the thought that it is Enlightened is taken for granted, we are free to be Romantics. Thus, there is the illusion of freedom of thought, of individuality and science-friendliness, and with that the opposite is happily embraced.
"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)

“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; T51n2076, p461b24-26)
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Re: Buddhism and Enlightenment

Postby dude » Sat May 18, 2013 9:24 pm

Astus wrote:How do the ideas of Enlightenment affect our attitude toward Buddhism?

While there is no clear definition of what those ideas are, I use Kant's short essay as a convenient reference here. The idea of freedom from sacred/traditional dogma, the superiority of reason, the individual as a capable thinker - these are among the outstanding novelties of the Enlightened view. The world we now live in reflects in many ways the manifestation of those ideas, like universal education, freedom of speech and religion and the general use of scientific methods. Buddhism in the West appeared as a rational philosophy - even its status as a religion is debated - and something that is in harmony with modern democratic, humanistic and scientific values.

The religious, magical and ritual elements of Buddhism are usually neglected by Westerners, instead Buddhism is taught as a personal path that emphasises inner reflection, peace, rational investigation and meditation.

Thanissaro Bhikkhu writes in the section on iddhipada (in Wings to Awakening),

Because of their association with supranormal powers, the bases of power have generally been slighted in Western writings on Buddhism. If we count the five strengths as identical with the five faculties, the bases of power are the only set in the Wings to Awakening that has not yet been the subject of a book in the English language. The situation in Asia, however, is very different. There, the bases of power have been extrapolated from their specific context and are frequently cited as guides to success in general.

If you look through the topics on this forum it is hard to find any thread where the magical powers are discussed, especially not as actual attainments of the ordinary practitioners. Even the values of different actions in terms of merit and demerit are rarely talked about, not to mention the possible retribution in future lives. It may be that many accept the possibility of supernormal powers and other worlds, these things are not considered the core aspects of Buddhism. At the same time, especially Mahayana and Vajrayana texts, are full of extraordinary and wondrous events where buddhas appear in the sky and simple laymen conjure visions of other worlds.

Are we prone to submission to authority or to independent thinking?

Although it is a common enough response to "ask a teacher" (i.e. neither you nor me are good enough to even guess), the majority of Western Buddhist communities are independent from any Asian institution, however, it is actually normal in Buddhism that traditionally lacks a central hierarchy. Western Buddhist teachers who lack "correct transmission" are often disregarded as incompetent or even as charlatans. Besides the issue of authorisation, there is also the idea of a gap between "scholars" (pandita) and "practitioners" (yogin). Since Buddhism is understood as an inner path, an experiential enterprise, there is little use of books and studies on such a path. If people want enlightenment they shouldn't just go to the library (or a website) and study, but rather they should visit an enlightened teacher and do lot of meditation practice. This attitude defines what kind of Buddhism is popular in the West. People go to a Dharma centre to meditate and not to be instructed about the finer points of the sutras and shastras. They rather spend $600 for a five-day retreat with a well known guru than to buy the four-volume translation of the Abhisamayalamkara with commentaries for $345.

From an Enlightenment perspective, everybody should be able to study the Buddha's teachings and arrive at correct conclusions. The tendency is, however, more Romantic, where reason has almost no role, and one should follow ancient traditions.

How much freedom is there for a Buddhist practitioner in the matters of Dharma?

Can we accept that an ordinary human being can understand the Dharma? And can he do that on his own? What if his interpretation doesn't agree with another's? If the Sakyapa view disagrees with the Gelugpa, that's all right, since they are both respected traditions. If Mr Jones disagrees with His Holiness the Dalai Lama, well, who is this Mr Jones? Because the emphasis is on the person, the teachings are valued by the reputation of the teacher instead of the actual content presented. Although we can say that everybody is free to believe whatever they like, without the proper pedigree they are not taken seriously. Teachers are assessed not by what they teach but by who they are, in fact, you can't even measure a teacher since you are not a master yourself.

Is Buddhism already Enlightened or does it need to be reformed?

Since it is already accepted that Buddhism is in harmony with the modern ideas of rationality there is no need to question that. Buddhism is as good as it is. That is, as we have transformed it to our expectations. No magic, no philosophy, but only the inner realisation taught by proper masters. Because the thought that it is Enlightened is taken for granted, we are free to be Romantics. Thus, there is the illusion of freedom of thought, of individuality and science-friendliness, and with that the opposite is happily embraced.




"If Mr Jones disagrees with His Holiness the Dalai Lama, well, who is this Mr Jones? Because the emphasis is on the person, the teachings are valued by the reputation of the teacher instead of the actual content presented. Although we can say that everybody is free to believe whatever they like, without the proper pedigree they are not taken seriously."

So the Buddha was just kidding when said "Rely on the Law and not upon persons." ?
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Re: Buddhism and Enlightenment

Postby jeeprs » Sun May 19, 2013 12:20 am

Astus wrote: The idea of freedom from sacred/traditional dogma, the superiority of reason, the individual as a capable thinker - these are among the outstanding novelties of the Enlightened view. The world we now live in reflects in many ways the manifestation of those ideas, like universal education, freedom of speech and religion and the general use of scientific methods. Buddhism in the West appeared as a rational philosophy - even its status as a religion is debated - and something that is in harmony with modern democratic, humanistic and scientific values.


I think there has to be a tension between these points and the Buddhist outlook. In much Enlightenment thinking, there is an underlying presumption that science ought to replace 'religion' as the source of normative judgement. However science is not directly concerned with ethical questions - it is mainly concerned with measurement, prediction and exploration of the natural world. The scientific attitude has been generally associated with the tendency towards positivism in philosophy, which is the rejection of metaphysics and many other facets of traditional philosophy.

‘Positivism’ was a term devised to differentiate the empirical and natural sciences - 'positive sciences' - from prevailing religious and metaphysical philosophies of the age. Auguste Comte, who coined the word, saw a progression in the development of society from the ‘theological’ to the ‘scientific’ phase, in which data derived from empirical experience, and logical and mathematical treatments of such data, provide the exclusive source of all authentic knowledge. The general conception of the evolution of society from theological to scientific - a model which might be called ‘historical positivism’ - has remained an important component of the modern outlook. In this world-view, the mechanistic model and the idea that the underlying reality of the Universe was matter was, then, the culmination of the idea of Progress. In important respects, science assumes the role that was previously occupied by religion, to become something like a 'religion of scientism' which has recognizable exponents in modern society.

Secular thinking, conceived a systematic philosophy which does not make recourse to anything metaphysical, accepts the natural sciences as the umpire of reality, understanding of which is always to be sought in objective terms. Within this view, individuals are free to practice within any religious or spiritual tradition of their liking, with the proviso that it ought not to be harmful to others. But note that this radically subjectivizes the question of the validity of the truth claims of any such traditions. In practice, it is impossible to differentiate such truth claims from matters of opinion, because they are basically subject to individual conscience and beyond the purview of the objective sciences.

What I think is lacking in all of this is a model which accomodates the fact of spiritual enlightenment. There was really no idea of such a thing in the ecclesiastical traditions that the Enlightenment reacted against, where 'spiritual enlightenment' in the Eastern sense was generally the subject of ecclesiastical censure and persecution. If such an understanding is to be found, I think it has to be sought through comparitive religion, anthropology, and the study of what William James called 'the varieties of religious experience'. And I think if you do study it that way, with an open mind (which is a very hard thing to come by in regards to this question) you can see the outlines of what 'spiritual awakening' across many different cultural traditions really consists of.

One of the groundbreaking popularisers of comparitive religion, Huston Smith, addressed this in his book Forgotten Truths in which he says that in all the sacred traditions, there are "levels of being" such that the more real is also the more valuable; these levels appear in both the "external" and the "internal" worlds, "higher" levels of reality without corresponding to "deeper" levels of reality within. On the lowest level is the material/physical world, which depends for its existence on the higher levels. On the very highest/deepest level is the Infinite or Absolute, which might be identified as God in the theistic traditions. (The key point, the single most important understanding that was lost in the European Enlightenment, was the notion of a 'hierarchy of being'.)

Basically his Forgotten Truths is an attempt to recover this view of reality from materialism, scientism, and "postmodernism." It does not attempt to adjudicate among religions (or philosophies), it does not spell out any of the important differences between world faiths, and it is not intended to substitute a "new" religion for the specific faiths which already exist.

Nor should any such project be expected from a work that expressly focuses on what religions have in common. Far from showing that all religions are somehow "the same," Smith in fact shows that religions have a "common" core only at a sufficiently general level. What he shows, therefore, is not that there is really just one religion, but that the various religions of the world are actually agreeing and disagreeing about something real, something about which there is an objective matter of fact, on the fundamentals of which most religions tend to concur while differing in numerous points of detail (including practice).

I would hope that some kind of common vision is beginning to emerge from the Western encounter with Buddhism as well as from other sources. If we are able to construct a cosmology within which the fact of spiritual awakening retains the pivotal importance that it has always had for Buddhism, there is no reason why this can't accomodate, and also counter-balance, anything which the objective sciences discover. In its absence, however, we are facing only ever-increasing and more sophisticated forms of avidya which is a threat to both the human and natural environment.

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(See Bikkhu Bodhi A Buddhist Response to Contemporary Dilemmas of Human Existence).
He that knows it, knows it not.
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