Buddhism and Enlightenment

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Re: Buddhism and Enlightenment

Postby tobes » Sun May 19, 2013 1:09 am

I think it is very difficult - if not impossible - for us to deny the Kantian injunction.

In fact I think it is very difficult to even conceive of an epistemic framework which is not informed in one way or another, by Kant's epistemology.This is not to say that all contemporary Buddhists are or ought to be Kantians; it is rather that once there has been a Copernican revolution, it is very difficult to imagine a sun revolving around a flat earth.

I suppose what I am saying is that the way 'we' approach, study, read, learn, practice 'the dharma' is probably greatly informed by a sense of where rationality is necessary and useful, and where its limits precisely lie. I think it was Thurman who made the argument that without Kant, westerners would not be able to 'get' Madhyamika - and I agree.

There are of course enormous tensions particularly in the Varjayana, between the Kantian injunction to saphere aude with the injunction to follow whatever the guru says. Does one go with ones own understanding or does one forsake it on faith that the guru knows more? I think that tension is very real for a lot of genuine practitioners, and that tells us a great deal about the influence of Kant on contemporary Buddhist practice. :anjali:
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Re: Buddhism and Enlightenment

Postby Astus » Sun May 19, 2013 1:13 am

Jeeprs,

Your arguments against positivism are fine, however, it came after Enlightenment, as a possible consequence, but definitely not the only one. The majority of the Enlightenment thinkers were at least believers in God and some devout Christians. And just as you wrote about finding a unity in religions, some of them, like Leibniz and Voltaire, imagined a unified and universal religion. So, just to be clear, Enlightenment ideas are generally not materialists.
"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 lobster » Sun May 19, 2013 1:16 am

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.


:twothumbsup:

With sufficient realisation even the most grounded enlightenment results in such emergence. The nature and expression is natural and an inevitable consequence of metta and service.

There is considerable agreement in what constitutes enlightenment in Buddhism. In many ways it is a good beginning. Does it draw in the excessively superstitious, scientific and atheistic and meld their potential? The assumption that Western Buddhism will be a watered down, or hand on from cultural dead ends is reformable.
This means teachers and practitioners grounded in the West offering alternatives that enable, empower and supersede the limitations of previous generations.

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Re: Buddhism and Enlightenment

Postby Astus » Sun May 19, 2013 1:18 am

tobes wrote:I think it was Thurman who made the argument that without Kant, westerners would not be able to 'get' Madhyamika - and I agree.

There are of course enormous tensions particularly in the Varjayana, between the Kantian injunction to saphere aude with the injunction to follow whatever the guru says. Does one go with ones own understanding or does one forsake it on faith that the guru knows more?


Or perhaps it is because of using Kant and other Western philosophers to interpret teachings like Madhyamaka that people - at least those who are somewhat philosophically educated - misunderstand Nagarjuna.

Yes, that tension is one of the big issues I'm trying to look into here. :)
"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 jeeprs » Sun May 19, 2013 1:40 am

Astus wrote:Jeeprs,

Your arguments against positivism are fine, however, it came after Enlightenment, as a possible consequence, but definitely not the only one. The majority of the Enlightenment thinkers were at least believers in God and some devout Christians. And just as you wrote about finding a unity in religions, some of them, like Leibniz and Voltaire, imagined a unified and universal religion. So, just to be clear, Enlightenment ideas are generally not materialists.


Agreed. Actually it was Liebniz who coined the 'perennial philosophy'. But the question of scientific materialism is the axis around which many of the most vexed questions revolve.

Tobes wrote:I think it was Thurman who made the argument that without Kant, westerners would not be able to 'get' Madhyamika - and I agree.


That's the main reason I liked T R V Murti's Central Philosophy of Buddhism (even though Ven. Huifeng says it is out-dated, but it was published in 1955, so that is to be expected.) But I think Murti does a good comparitive analysis of aspects of Madhymaka and Kant. In fact I think I only been able to 'get' Kant (and Schopenhauer) through Buddhist philosophy and meditative perspectives (contra Thurman.)

The hard questions are for instance the reality of celestial beings. They are also depicted in all the cultures (compare, for instance, traditional iconography of Sophia and the goddess Prajñāpāramitā.) I think in the Enlightenment context, belief in all such beings was generally suspended, if not outright rejected, insofar as they had become identified with the iconography of Catholicism. So they were rejected both by the Protestantism and by secularism. I think that is one of the reasons for the unease around aspects of Tibetan deity and guru worship which can't help but see such practices as a throwback to medieval thinking. I personally have come to accept the reality of celestial beings, so I guess that makes me a believer, but it is not, I hope, a matter of blind faith. As I said in my mentioined in my earlier post, if the 'hierarchy of being' is restored, at least there is a framework within which ideas of this kind can be situated.
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Re: Buddhism and Enlightenment

Postby Jnana » Sun May 19, 2013 1:42 am

tobes wrote:I think it was Thurman who made the argument that without Kant, westerners would not be able to 'get' Madhyamika - and I agree.

This may be the case for a subset of westerners who come to the Buddhahdarma after already having studied western philosophy. But for those who haven't, Kant is quite unnecessary.
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Re: Buddhism and Enlightenment

Postby Jnana » Sun May 19, 2013 1:55 am

jeeprs wrote:That's the main reason I liked T R V Murti's Central Philosophy of Buddhism (even though Ven. Huifeng says it is out-dated, but it was published in 1955, so that is to be expected.) But I think Murti does a good comparitive analysis of aspects of Madhymaka and Kant.

Murti's Central Philosophy of Buddhism is indeed outdated. In Nāgārjuna's Madhyamaka: A Philosophical Introduction Jan Westerhoff gives a summary of Andrew Tuck's historical overview of the western philosophical interpretations of Nāgārjuna. Westerhoff says:

    Western interest in Nāgārjuna as a philosopher is a comparatively recent phenomenon, going back little more than a century. In itself this attention constitutes only a part of Nāgārjunian scholarship, a substantial portion of which concerns itself with problems of philology, textual history, or the study of religion. A concise overview of the specifically philosophical investigation of Nāgārjuna in the West has been presented by Andrew Tuck. Tuck argues that its history can be divided into three phases, corresponding to three Western philosophical frameworks against which Nāgārjuna used to be interpreted. First is the Kantian phase, then the analytic phase, and finally a post-Wittgensteinian one.

Fortunately, one can now learn how to study and practice Madhyamaka directly from westerner teachers who themselves have studied and practiced under the guidance of Asian mādhyamika masters.
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Re: Buddhism and Enlightenment

Postby tobes » Sun May 19, 2013 5:16 am

Astus wrote:
tobes wrote:I think it was Thurman who made the argument that without Kant, westerners would not be able to 'get' Madhyamika - and I agree.

There are of course enormous tensions particularly in the Varjayana, between the Kantian injunction to saphere aude with the injunction to follow whatever the guru says. Does one go with ones own understanding or does one forsake it on faith that the guru knows more?


Or perhaps it is because of using Kant and other Western philosophers to interpret teachings like Madhyamaka that people - at least those who are somewhat philosophically educated - misunderstand Nagarjuna.

Yes, that tension is one of the big issues I'm trying to look into here. :)


I took Thurman's point to be: not that one needs to explicitly adopt a Kantian epistemology to get Madhyamika, but rather, that before Kant 'the west' per se would not be able to understand the middle way.

I think he's quite right.
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Re: Buddhism and Enlightenment

Postby tobes » Sun May 19, 2013 5:22 am

jeeprs wrote:
Astus wrote:Jeeprs,

Your arguments against positivism are fine, however, it came after Enlightenment, as a possible consequence, but definitely not the only one. The majority of the Enlightenment thinkers were at least believers in God and some devout Christians. And just as you wrote about finding a unity in religions, some of them, like Leibniz and Voltaire, imagined a unified and universal religion. So, just to be clear, Enlightenment ideas are generally not materialists.


Agreed. Actually it was Liebniz who coined the 'perennial philosophy'. But the question of scientific materialism is the axis around which many of the most vexed questions revolve.

Tobes wrote:I think it was Thurman who made the argument that without Kant, westerners would not be able to 'get' Madhyamika - and I agree.


That's the main reason I liked T R V Murti's Central Philosophy of Buddhism (even though Ven. Huifeng says it is out-dated, but it was published in 1955, so that is to be expected.) But I think Murti does a good comparitive analysis of aspects of Madhymaka and Kant. In fact I think I only been able to 'get' Kant (and Schopenhauer) through Buddhist philosophy and meditative perspectives (contra Thurman.)



Ven. Huifeng is very right ~ Murti's work is definitely interesting, but his comparison of Madhyamaka and Kant (and Hegel) seems to me to quite catastrophically mischaracterise emptiness as the absolute behind all appearances. i.e. it refies emptiness to be a 'something.'


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Re: Buddhism and Enlightenment

Postby tobes » Sun May 19, 2013 5:30 am

Jnana wrote:
tobes wrote:I think it was Thurman who made the argument that without Kant, westerners would not be able to 'get' Madhyamika - and I agree.

This may be the case for a subset of westerners who come to the Buddhahdarma after already having studied western philosophy. But for those who haven't, Kant is quite unnecessary.


I don't think that is the point Thurman is trying to make. He's not saying 'you can't get Madhyamaka without first studying Kant.' He's saying: the epistemological breakthrough that Kant made, has provided the right conditions for Madhyamaka to make sense and be a relevant and fruitful trajectory to pursue in the west.

The sense of epistemology here is not so much the actual discipline of it, but rather, the background or implicit horizon in which we understand things. Thurman's claim is that if we were still in a Medieval/Aristotelian kind of epistemic paradigm, a subtle metaphysics which problematises being/nonbeing would be impossible to understand.

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Re: Buddhism and Enlightenment

Postby tobes » Sun May 19, 2013 5:41 am

Jnana wrote:
jeeprs wrote:That's the main reason I liked T R V Murti's Central Philosophy of Buddhism (even though Ven. Huifeng says it is out-dated, but it was published in 1955, so that is to be expected.) But I think Murti does a good comparitive analysis of aspects of Madhymaka and Kant.

Murti's Central Philosophy of Buddhism is indeed outdated. In Nāgārjuna's Madhyamaka: A Philosophical Introduction Jan Westerhoff gives a summary of Andrew Tuck's historical overview of the western philosophical interpretations of Nāgārjuna. Westerhoff says:

    Western interest in Nāgārjuna as a philosopher is a comparatively recent phenomenon, going back little more than a century. In itself this attention constitutes only a part of Nāgārjunian scholarship, a substantial portion of which concerns itself with problems of philology, textual history, or the study of religion. A concise overview of the specifically philosophical investigation of Nāgārjuna in the West has been presented by Andrew Tuck. Tuck argues that its history can be divided into three phases, corresponding to three Western philosophical frameworks against which Nāgārjuna used to be interpreted. First is the Kantian phase, then the analytic phase, and finally a post-Wittgensteinian one.

Fortunately, one can now learn how to study and practice Madhyamaka directly from westerner teachers who themselves have studied and practiced under the guidance of Asian mādhyamika masters.


Tuck's book is excellent. I have no dispute at all with the claim that early western engagements with Madhyamaka were badly distorted by the lens of transcendental idealism. It wasn't just Murti; the great Russian scholar Stcherbastsky also viewed Madhyamaka as very similar to Kant and Hegel.

The argument I'm making is not that Madhyamaka is commensurable with Kant; but rather, that the epistemological paradigm ushered in by Kant has made it possible for Madhyamaka to be system and practice of interest to westerners.

I think we need to ask: why is there such interest in such a system? Why is there is so much written on it compared with other Indian schools? Why do so many westerners consider it to be a suitable way?

I think the answer to these questions has something to do with the need for a rational system which is extremely sophisticated logically, metaphysically and epistemologically, but which leaves open the door to do away with all of those tools.

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Re: Buddhism and Enlightenment

Postby jeeprs » Sun May 19, 2013 7:52 am

I've read Tucks book and Westerhoff's. I know Murti is out of fashion, but I don't agree he makes that kind of gross error. One of my tutors last year still recommends his book, with some caveats. (I want to study Karl Brunnholzl's books but would probably benefit from reading them with a teacher.)

As to why Nagarjuna gets so much attention, probably because his thinking is timeless - and is also a critical philosophy rather than a belief system. But his is still a basically religious philosophy. Maybe one of the attractions is that some people seem to think it can be reconciled with, or actually is, a form of positivism.
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Re: Buddhism and Enlightenment

Postby jeeprs » Sun May 19, 2013 11:15 am

for instance Kalupahana.

On the more general question of Nagarjuna's appeal to the modern academy, I found this article on that exact topic by Richard P Hayes.

Actually reading that article, which has a review of Murti's main ideas, the limitations are clearer now. But at the time I read that book, in about 1980, it was one of those books that really had a big impact at the time - not least because it allowed me to imagine some kind of East-West synthesis.
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Re: Buddhism and Enlightenment

Postby Astus » Sun May 19, 2013 12:29 pm

tobes wrote:I took Thurman's point to be: not that one needs to explicitly adopt a Kantian epistemology to get Madhyamika, but rather, that before Kant 'the west' per se would not be able to understand the middle way.

I think he's quite right.


Nagarjuna could be interpreted quite well in the context of Plato and Aristotle. Madhyamaka is a good criticism of both abhidharma and the idealist-substantialist philosophies.

Madhyamaka might be popular among Western philosophers because it is viewed as logic and linguistics, a methodology instead of an actual statement, a counter-metaphysics. It another thing about Buddhism that many like to think of the Buddha as someone who labelled metaphysical questions meaningless/unanswerable, so it leaves our precious presumptions about the world intact.
"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 PadmaVonSamba » Sun May 19, 2013 12:38 pm

:good:
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.
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Re: Buddhism and Enlightenment

Postby dude » Sun May 19, 2013 1:23 pm

tobes wrote:I think it is very difficult - if not impossible - for us to deny the Kantian injunction.

In fact I think it is very difficult to even conceive of an epistemic framework which is not informed in one way or another, by Kant's epistemology.This is not to say that all contemporary Buddhists are or ought to be Kantians; it is rather that once there has been a Copernican revolution, it is very difficult to imagine a sun revolving around a flat earth.

I suppose what I am saying is that the way 'we' approach, study, read, learn, practice 'the dharma' is probably greatly informed by a sense of where rationality is necessary and useful, and where its limits precisely lie. I think it was Thurman who made the argument that without Kant, westerners would not be able to 'get' Madhyamika - and I agree.

There are of course enormous tensions particularly in the Varjayana, between the Kantian injunction to saphere aude with the injunction to follow whatever the guru says. Does one go with ones own understanding or does one forsake it on faith that the guru knows more? I think that tension is very real for a lot of genuine practitioners, and that tells us a great deal about the influence of Kant on contemporary Buddhist practice. :anjali:


I most vehemently disagree. When did the Buddha say "I'm right, everybody else is wrong. Do what I say whether you believe it or not"?
On the contrary, the Buddha DID say "Don't believe it just because teachers say it, and that goes for what I say too."
To subjugate one's own capacity for critical thinking in deference to the supposed authority of the teacher is spiritual slavery, and in fact to turn away from what the Buddha taught.
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Re: Buddhism and Enlightenment

Postby LastLegend » Sun May 19, 2013 2:43 pm

I agree with dude.
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Re: Buddhism and Enlightenment

Postby greentara » Mon May 20, 2013 12:52 am

But isn't the biggest problem, fixed views: attempting to apply a formula to what is essentially, a mystery?
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Re: Buddhism and Enlightenment

Postby tobes » Mon May 20, 2013 2:37 am

dude wrote:
tobes wrote:I think it is very difficult - if not impossible - for us to deny the Kantian injunction.

In fact I think it is very difficult to even conceive of an epistemic framework which is not informed in one way or another, by Kant's epistemology.This is not to say that all contemporary Buddhists are or ought to be Kantians; it is rather that once there has been a Copernican revolution, it is very difficult to imagine a sun revolving around a flat earth.

I suppose what I am saying is that the way 'we' approach, study, read, learn, practice 'the dharma' is probably greatly informed by a sense of where rationality is necessary and useful, and where its limits precisely lie. I think it was Thurman who made the argument that without Kant, westerners would not be able to 'get' Madhyamika - and I agree.

There are of course enormous tensions particularly in the Varjayana, between the Kantian injunction to saphere aude with the injunction to follow whatever the guru says. Does one go with ones own understanding or does one forsake it on faith that the guru knows more? I think that tension is very real for a lot of genuine practitioners, and that tells us a great deal about the influence of Kant on contemporary Buddhist practice. :anjali:


I most vehemently disagree. When did the Buddha say "I'm right, everybody else is wrong. Do what I say whether you believe it or not"?
On the contrary, the Buddha DID say "Don't believe it just because teachers say it, and that goes for what I say too."
To subjugate one's own capacity for critical thinking in deference to the supposed authority of the teacher is spiritual slavery, and in fact to turn away from what the Buddha taught.


I'm not sure what you're so vehemently disagreeing with. Your statements seem to endorse and encapsulate precisely what I'm saying: that it is almost impossible for westerners to deny the Kantian injunction.

The Buddha regularly said that he was right and that everybody else was wrong. Check out the Brahmanimantanika sutta (MN 49) where he goes to a high Deva realm and tells Brahma that he's wrong.

The question of telling everybody to 'do what I say whether you believe or not' is somewhat more nuanced. I agree that the Buddha did not generally exhort people to follow him in such a way. However, he did clearly claim spiritual authority, and did clearly advise people to follow his way, according to a manifold of epistemic techniques - not simply critical thinking. In fact many people claim that the privileging of critical thinking as the primary method is a real western/protestant imputation on Buddhism. I would argue, a Kantian imputation - the exemplary protestant philosopher.

Perhaps the last bit is more controversial - but I've certainly encountered on numerous occasions the injunction that one should unquestionably follow the lama's advice over one's own critical thinking. Without judging it as good or bad/ right or wrong, it is pretty evident in the Varjrayana tradition.

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Re: Buddhism and Enlightenment

Postby dude » Mon May 20, 2013 5:19 am

I would have expected it to be perfectly obvious what I was objecting to.
The purport of my further comments may be less obvious, but no real dialog is possible without first making clear what is being said and its meaning agreed upon.
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