Knowing through authoritative testimony (śabda-pramāṇa)?

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Knowing through authoritative testimony (śabda-pramāṇa)?

Postby Indrajala » Tue Nov 16, 2010 1:22 pm

Richard King in his work Indian Philosophy An Introduction to Hindu and Buddhist Thought states the following on page 14:

One of the obstacles confronting a proper consideration of classical Indian thought as a legitimate form of philosophising is the widely held belief that Indian thought is culturally specific (in contrast to European universalism), and fundamentally bound to a particular religious world-view. One feature likely to be pounced upon in such a context is the acceptance of authoritative testimony (śabda) as a valid means of knowledge (pramāṇa) by many schools of Indian thought. The modern western philosopher tends to view this as evidence of the theological and context-specific nature of 'traditional' (i.e. non-westernised) Indian thought. such an attitude, of course, ignores the cultural particularity of western philosophical traditions.


This really struck me worth bringing up for discussion here.

I have observed that in general across time and cultures most Buddhist thinkers have accepted śabda-pramāṇa as valid and made use of it. The MW Dictionary defines the term simply:
(H3) śábda--pramāṇa [p= 1052,3] [L=212729] n. verbal testimony or proof. oral evidence MW.


I'm unaware of it being specifically identified in East Asia, but nevertheless the general idea is that if it is in a sutra it is true (of course there being some sutras more true than others depending on the doxography).

Now, be that as it may, as Richard King aptly points out, the issue is that in the general, western philosophical mindset, śabda-pramāṇa is unacceptable. There are also people who self-identify as Buddhist who deny the Buddha as a valid and authoritative testimony of truth.

One example that comes to mind of a Buddhist affirming the Buddha as a valid source of knowledge is Dharmakirti who argues for the reality of rebirth by establishing the Buddha as a valid authority. It is by his testimony that we know rebirth to be real.

For the Buddhist this should be axiomatic, but nevertheless a lot of westerners don't accept śabda-pramāṇa. I imagine it summons in their minds an image of blind faith and unreasonable dogmas. Nevertheless, it is a perhaps a cultural bias that many westerners suffer when attempting to grasp Buddhism. Being that much of Buddhism, no matter the tradition really, is based on experience gained through yogic insights, one has to accept that until one is able to experience such things the only option is to accept the valid testimony of those who have them.

There is even scriptural evidence to support what I'm saying here.

Consider the following:

"Excellent, Sariputta. Excellent. Those who have not known, seen, penetrated, realized, or attained it by means of discernment would have to take it on conviction in others that the faculty of conviction... persistence... mindfulness... concentration... discernment, when developed & pursued, gains a footing in the Deathless, has the Deathless as its goal & consummation; whereas those who have known, seen, penetrated, realized, & attained it by means of discernment would have no doubt or uncertainty that the faculty of conviction... persistence... mindfulness... concentration... discernment, when developed & pursued, gains a footing in the Deathless, has the Deathless as its goal & consummation."

SN 48.44
PTS: S v 220
CDB ii 1689
Pubbakotthaka Sutta: Eastern Gatehouse


So, here's the question for everyone, what do you think of śabda-pramāṇa? Is it possible to know something through the valid testimony of an authoritative source such as the Buddha?
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Re: Knowing through authoritative testimony (śabda-pramāṇa)?

Postby Luke » Tue Nov 16, 2010 2:53 pm

One feature likely to be pounced upon in such a context is the acceptance of authoritative testimony (śabda) as a valid means of knowledge (pramāṇa) by many schools of Indian thought.


Huseng wrote:So, here's the question for everyone, what do you think of śabda-pramāṇa? Is it possible to know something through the valid testimony of an authoritative source such as the Buddha?

Hmm, I would say, "Yes," in general.

But I separate things into two categories:
1) When the Buddha or another enlightened Buddhist master says something.

2) When a non-enlightened expert (such as Einstein) says something.

In the first case, I usually believe the person speaking absolutely because of my faith in Buddhism.

In the second case, I will think that the person speaking is most likely correct (if they are talking about their field of expertise), but I leave open the possibility that the person might be mistaken (for example, Einstein thought that much of quantum physics was "wrong," but it has been proven to be quite correct over the past century).
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Re: Knowing through authoritative testimony (śabda-pramāṇa)?

Postby Jnana » Tue Nov 16, 2010 6:19 pm

Huseng wrote:So, here's the question for everyone, what do you think of śabda-pramāṇa? Is it possible to know something through the valid testimony of an authoritative source such as the Buddha?

There's nothing wrong with śabdapramāṇa if one has already taken refuge in the three jewels and accepts the authority of whatever testimony is being presented. But for discussing dharma with non-Buddhists or Buddhists who don't accept the authority of whatever verbal or textual source is being considered, the only pramāṇa-s which can be used to demonstrate the validity of śabda are direct perception (pratyakṣa) and inference (anumāna).
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Re: Knowing through authoritative testimony (śabda-pramāṇa)?

Postby ground » Tue Nov 16, 2010 7:56 pm

Huseng wrote:So, here's the question for everyone, what do you think of śabda-pramāṇa? Is it possible to know something through the valid testimony of an authoritative source such as the Buddha?


Seems to be a strange question considering that there would be no path if the Buddha had not taught one.

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Re: Knowing through authoritative testimony (śabda-pramāṇa)?

Postby 5heaps » Wed Nov 17, 2010 1:37 pm

i am very interested in this type of pramana. it is actually a very sophisticated way of knowing. as i understand it, its the incontrovertible knowing of something hidden, so its similar to full inference, but it happens differently than inference. instead of relying on a logical sign, it relies on the practitioners skill in being able to determine certain qualities in their teacher and then making use of it.

its difficult to accept or understand i think because we arent really capable of this sort of skillful determination of other's good qualities. actually we're unfamiliar with these good qualities in general since there is an overwhelming lack of them here. also we are generally utterly devoid of any ascertainment of our mental activity. thus there is the absolutely ridiculous question such as "how do you tell the difference between a christian nut and the yogi" sort of thing, as though there could be any equivalence between them; as if a yogi is not able to ascertain the faintest traces of confusion/distortion, conceptuality, invalid cognition, etc. its akin to say mathematicians cant perform mathematical calculations because there is no difference between a mathematical proof and a religious nut spouting nonsense. this sort of pramana gets very very interesting and very relevant once we really make progress ourselves, particularly after studying pramana in depth (takes a good 5 years).

but even if we dont accept it at all, it isnt at all necessary in trying to understand/working with Dignaga's/Dharmakirti's apoha, emptiness, buddhist logic, etc
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Re: Knowing through authoritative testimony (śabda-pramāṇa)?

Postby Will » Wed Nov 17, 2010 3:37 pm

As long we consider "knowing" to be simple acceptance for thinking purposes.

I disagree with 5heaps (and Huseng too, I think?) that this sabda-pramana grants full wisdom-understanding.

Even yogic direct perception seems more like a refined siddhi, whereas Buddha knows in some completely accurate manner. I am not sure, without looking it up, whether the "buddha-eye" is the same as Buddha's annutarasamyaksambodhi. I suspect not, because the buddha-eye can be developed by bodhisattvas (maybe arhats too).

The greater problem is "Buddhists" who cannot accept anything beyond the 5 senses and our ordinary thinking mind. Without granting the truth of invisible beings & realms & psychic powers, they naturally cannot compute a being who is all-knowing, much less rely on all the teachings of such a Buddha.
Last edited by Will on Wed Nov 17, 2010 4:09 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Knowing through authoritative testimony (śabda-pramāṇa)?

Postby Indrajala » Wed Nov 17, 2010 3:56 pm

Will wrote:The greater problem is "Buddhists" who cannot accept anything beyond the 5 senses and our ordinary thinking mind. Without granting the truth of invisible beings & realms & psychic powers, they naturally cannot compute a being who is all-knowing, much less rely on all the teachings of such a Buddha.


Indeed.

I think in our present day one thing very difficult to accept is yogic insight as a valid means of knowing.

In theory anyone can attain insights through yogic practises which means it is reproducible, but just not in the sense we would generally expect it to be (such as in a laboratory where everyone both inside and outside of the project can analyze the data). One has to train one's mind in such a way to make it capable of perceiving otherwise unperceived things and states. One can't collectively observe such things with a party of peers, but rather one has to experience it oneself and in order to do so a lot of mental training is required.

It isn't even an individual issue -- most of society promotes a worldview and way of thinking that largely disagrees with the fundamentals of what Shakyamuni taught (for example the default ideology is secularism coupled with materialism). Even in East Asia there is little serious thought given to past and future lives even amongst Buddhists. In western countries ideas like karma are either misunderstood or not really accepted even by self-identifying Buddhists. If you're brought up in a society that promotes a cosmology and way of thinking at odds with Buddhism, then really accepting what Shakyamuni taught will prove difficult.
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Re: Knowing through authoritative testimony (śabda-pramāṇa)?

Postby Luke » Wed Nov 17, 2010 4:20 pm

Huseng wrote:If you're brought up in a society that promotes a cosmology and way of thinking at odds with Buddhism, then really accepting what Shakyamuni taught will prove difficult.

I agree, but which cosmology and way of thinking are you referring to?

If you're referring to the cosmology of modern, western science, I don't think there's any conflict at all. There are many proposed cosmological models and some fit better with Buddhism than others.

If you're referring to the way of thinking of modern science, again I don't think there is so much of a conflict. Science systematically investigates the physical world. Buddhism systematically investigates the mind.
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Re: Knowing through authoritative testimony (śabda-pramāṇa)?

Postby Will » Wed Nov 17, 2010 4:28 pm

Luke: Science systematically investigates the physical world. Buddhism systematically investigates the mind
.

Just here is the conflict; science does not just "investigate" it promulgates the "fact" that invisible realms & beings cannot exist. Except their instrumentation goes far, far, beyond the 5 senses capability into the truly invisible.

They also deny any higher knowing ability of the mind.

Perhaps if a deva shows up on some detector, then they might loosen up.
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Re: Knowing through authoritative testimony (śabda-pramāṇa)?

Postby Indrajala » Thu Nov 18, 2010 2:46 am

Luke wrote:
Huseng wrote:If you're brought up in a society that promotes a cosmology and way of thinking at odds with Buddhism, then really accepting what Shakyamuni taught will prove difficult.

I agree, but which cosmology and way of thinking are you referring to?

If you're referring to the cosmology of modern, western science, I don't think there's any conflict at all. There are many proposed cosmological models and some fit better with Buddhism than others.

If you're referring to the way of thinking of modern science, again I don't think there is so much of a conflict. Science systematically investigates the physical world. Buddhism systematically investigates the mind.


The cosmology of materialism. We're just cheap chemical concoctions not any different than a machine. No past or future lives, no higher or lower realms. Life is essentially meaningless. We're here by virtue of genetic mutation and natural selection.
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Re: Knowing through authoritative testimony (śabda-pramāṇa)?

Postby ground » Thu Nov 18, 2010 4:12 am

IMO it boils down to just one phenomenon: faith.
Doubt is an obstacle.

Ultimately faith and knowing are identical. Only the appearance of "self" and "other" causes "faith" and "knowing" to appear as if different.

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Re: Knowing through authoritative testimony (śabda-pramāṇa)?

Postby ground » Thu Nov 18, 2010 4:21 am

"Monks, there are these five hindrances. Which five? Sensual desire as a hindrance, ill will as a hindrance, sloth & drowsiness as a hindrance, restlessness & anxiety as a hindrance, and uncertainty as a hindrance. These are the five hindrances.

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html


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Re: Knowing through authoritative testimony (śabda-pramāṇa)?

Postby plwk » Thu Nov 18, 2010 4:22 am

Perhaps if a deva shows up on some detector, then they might loosen up.

http://www.newadvent.org/bible/mat016.htm
A wicked and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given unto it...

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Re: Knowing through authoritative testimony (śabda-pramāṇa)?

Postby Indrajala » Thu Nov 18, 2010 7:04 am

TMingyur wrote:IMO it boils down to just one phenomenon: faith.
Doubt is an obstacle.

Ultimately faith and knowing are identical. Only the appearance of "self" and "other" causes "faith" and "knowing" to appear as if different.

Kind regards


Faith is believing what you know ain't true.

That's why we should have conviction instead. Conviction based on reasonable evidence and experience. We can make a good reasonable case that Shakyamuni did indeed know what he was talking about. You shouldn't just believe in karma and rebirth because somebody said so, but reflect and contemplate on it and test it out. Find evidence that supports such claims.

Some years ago I realized I had taken rebirth for granted. I was raised in a kind of New Agey kooky family, so rebirth was a kind of dining table speculation. But then I was challenged to support such a claim and it really made me think long and hard. What evidence did I have to support such a view beyond my own sense of it being valid and true?

It prompted me to investigate a lot of arguments about rebirth such as Dharmakirti's refutation of materialism. I also looked into the research of Ian Stevenson and Jim Tucker, both of whom have researched extensively cases of children with accurate memories of past lives.

I don't have scientific evidence for rebirth, but I can make a very strong case for it and for me it is a realistic view backed up with reason and evidence. In that sense it isn't faith, but conviction. One tests out what Buddha taught and cultivates conviction that the teacher was truly wise and enlightened.
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Re: Knowing through authoritative testimony (śabda-pramāṇa)?

Postby ground » Thu Nov 18, 2010 7:30 am

Huseng wrote:
TMingyur wrote:IMO it boils down to just one phenomenon: faith.
Doubt is an obstacle.

Ultimately faith and knowing are identical. Only the appearance of "self" and "other" causes "faith" and "knowing" to appear as if different.

Kind regards


Faith is believing what you know ain't true.


I do not agree.

Actually the words "is" and "are" appear so categorical sometimes, right?

As if a concatenation of symbolic alphabetic characters could be more than just that. :)

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Re: Knowing through authoritative testimony (śabda-pramāṇa)?

Postby Luke » Thu Nov 18, 2010 6:17 pm

Huseng wrote:Some years ago I realized I had taken rebirth for granted. I was raised in a kind of New Agey kooky family, so rebirth was a kind of dining table speculation. But then I was challenged to support such a claim and it really made me think long and hard. What evidence did I have to support such a view beyond my own sense of it being valid and true?

It prompted me to investigate a lot of arguments about rebirth such as Dharmakirti's refutation of materialism. I also looked into the research of Ian Stevenson and Jim Tucker, both of whom have researched extensively cases of children with accurate memories of past lives.

Hi Huseng,

Ian Stevenson's work also greatly increased my belief in rebirth.

Could you recommend some similar sources of semi-scientific evidence for karma which isn't just New Age fluff?

For some reason, I have a much harder time convincing myself about karma than about rebirth.
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Re: Knowing through authoritative testimony (śabda-pramāṇa)?

Postby Indrajala » Fri Nov 19, 2010 4:25 am

Luke wrote:
Huseng wrote:Some years ago I realized I had taken rebirth for granted. I was raised in a kind of New Agey kooky family, so rebirth was a kind of dining table speculation. But then I was challenged to support such a claim and it really made me think long and hard. What evidence did I have to support such a view beyond my own sense of it being valid and true?

It prompted me to investigate a lot of arguments about rebirth such as Dharmakirti's refutation of materialism. I also looked into the research of Ian Stevenson and Jim Tucker, both of whom have researched extensively cases of children with accurate memories of past lives.

Hi Huseng,

Ian Stevenson's work also greatly increased my belief in rebirth.

Could you recommend some similar sources of semi-scientific evidence for karma which isn't just New Age fluff?

For some reason, I have a much harder time convincing myself about karma than about rebirth.


How about sources of scientific evidence? :smile:

First take a look at this department at the University of Virginia:

http://www.medicine.virginia.edu/clinic ... types-page

They also deal with Near Death Experiences (NDE), apparitions and other paranormal phenomena in a scientific and systematic way. They definitely are not New Age types -- they're scholars.

Jim Tucker is probably the most prominent scholar of children who claim to remember past lives. His book might be of interest to you:


Life Before Life: A Scientific Investigation of Children's Memories of Previous Lives

http://www.amazon.com/Life-Before-Scien ... 066&sr=8-1

Unfortunately his research gets little attention as was the case with Ian Stevenson who lamented that scientists often refused to even consider for a moment his findings. Some people think Stevenson's research methods were poor and misguided, but then we also have Jim Tucker and others who are documenting the same phenomena. Some children have accurate memories of past lives, but the odd thing is that they forget them around the age of six or seven.

Intriguing stuff.

The thing to point out here is that the evidence for reincarnation more or less destroys countless mainstream theories and ideas. Present day psychology models (at least the ones sanctioned by the state) only account for one life and inevitably there is speculation about genetic influences, "genetic memory" and any number of factors, but no thought is given to past lives because that's "religious thinking" and not "scientific thought". Moreover, that a personality could transit from one life to another essentially destroys the standing theories in much of materialist biology of how consciousness and sentience are.

There is a lot of emotional investment in such theories. Moreover, if there is evidence for rebirth as a real and actual phenomena, then the whole "religion" vs "science" dichotomy has to be revisited. The current unquestionable Brahmins of modern civilization who dictate what is real and what is unreal will be toppled.

The issue is that rebirth is seen as "religious" and in intellectual circles "religious" tends to equal "unrealistic". Any scholar or scientist who would assert the reality of rebirth risks being slandered and run out out on a rail. Single life materialism is the default ideology everyone is expected to follow. The state doesn't recognize other ideologies as valid.

At least there are a few good scholars like Stevenson and Tucker willing to go out on the edge and scientifically research this stuff.
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Re: Knowing through authoritative testimony (śabda-pramāṇa)?

Postby Luke » Fri Nov 19, 2010 4:01 pm

Thanks for the info, Huseng, but I think you misread my post. I enjoy and am already aware of scientific investigations into rebirth.

My question was: Do you know of any scientific research which tries to prove or find evidence for the general principle of karma?

I've heard some people ramble on a bit about conservation of energy, but I've heard little beyond that.
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Re: Knowing through authoritative testimony (śabda-pramāṇa)?

Postby Indrajala » Fri Nov 19, 2010 5:22 pm

Luke wrote:Thanks for the info, Huseng, but I think you misread my post. I enjoy and am already aware of scientific investigations into rebirth.

My question was: Do you know of any scientific research which tries to prove or find evidence for the general principle of karma?

I've heard some people ramble on a bit about conservation of energy, but I've heard little beyond that.


I most certainly did misread your post. :smile:

Oh well I'm sure what I posted will be useful to somebody. :namaste:

Karma itself just means volitional action. The result is called vipaka. One problem is that the Buddha explained what karma-vipaka is, but we don't have a record of him explaining the internal mechanics behind it which resulted in countless theories about it.

The early Theravadins asserted that actions simply persisted unripened until
meeting with causes for fruition-- but did not account for continuity of of
a link between between cause and result, i.e. a action happening lon in the
past ripening now .

The Sammityas conceived of dharma called the "indestructable", which was a
dharma which while not mental, accompanied the mind until either coming to
fruition through cause and condition or death. At death, one special
indestructable, different from all the rest, and based upon the state of
mind of the dying person at the moment of death, determined whether that
person would take rebirth in a higher or lower realm.

The Kashmiri Sarvastivadins asserted that the result of karma persisted like
a debt.

Sautrantikas asserted that actions created traces on the mind continuum which came to fruition by when
the mind met with specific circumstance which would allow for the ripening
of a result of action.


I think one can investigate and put forth a good case for it in metaphysics, but I don't know how one would setup an experiment for it. Moreover, there are multiple theories about how karma works.
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Re: Knowing through authoritative testimony (śabda-pramāṇa)?

Postby Ogyen » Sat Nov 20, 2010 4:27 am

śabdapramāṇa is part of my world view.

If you have seen it, known it, realized it, then there is no doubt in your mind. If you have not seen it known it, or realized it you must take it on account of those masters who have. They are masters the way students are children throwing a philosophical tantrum.

perhaps rumi was onto something:

Silence is an ocean. Speech is a river.
Rumi

My heart has burned with passion and has searched forever for this wondrous beauty that I now behold.
Rumi

Just a couple lines that you made me think of. Thank you for the dance with transparency.

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