Buddhism as Existential Nihilism

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Buddhism as Existential Nihilism

Postby tomamundsen » Fri Feb 11, 2011 9:15 pm

Hello,

I know that obviously the Buddha taught against the other, less subtle forms of Nihilism. However, I recently read The Words of My Perfect Teacher, wherein the author very explicitly states multiple times that life in Samsara is without meaning. This sounds exactly like Existential Nihilism - "Existential nihilism is the belief that life has no intrinsic meaning or value." (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nihilism#E ... l_nihilism). No?

I know that the Mahayana path has the goal of liberating all beings, so some sort of meaning is imputed upon our existence. But, that doesn't say anything about life having any _inherent_ meaning.
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Re: Buddhism as Existential Nihilism

Postby ground » Fri Feb 11, 2011 9:32 pm

tomamundsen wrote:But, that doesn't say anything about life having any _inherent_ meaning.


Why should there be "inherent meaning"? Should that be something different from what just is?

Like you say "meaning is imputed".

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Re: Buddhism as Existential Nihilism

Postby Blue Garuda » Fri Feb 11, 2011 9:54 pm

tomamundsen wrote:Hello,

I know that obviously the Buddha taught against the other, less subtle forms of Nihilism. However, I recently read The Words of My Perfect Teacher, wherein the author very explicitly states multiple times that life in Samsara is without meaning. This sounds exactly like Existential Nihilism - "Existential nihilism is the belief that life has no intrinsic meaning or value." (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nihilism#E ... l_nihilism). No?

I know that the Mahayana path has the goal of liberating all beings, so some sort of meaning is imputed upon our existence. But, that doesn't say anything about life having any _inherent_ meaning.


It's very general point. 'Life' 'meaning' etc. need definition.

The emptiness of inherent existence is not nihilism. Thus 'meaning' or 'value' are also lacking in inherent existence. It is logic rather than imputation. ;)
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Re: Buddhism as Existential Nihilism

Postby Karma Dondrup Tashi » Fri Feb 11, 2011 10:05 pm

The key word is "intrinsic". A thing gains its meaning and value since it is dependent upon, and upon which depends, an infinite number of other things. On a more basic level a sentient thing is meaningful and valuable because it represents an opportunity for me to exercise compassion.
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Re: Buddhism as Existential Nihilism

Postby White Lotus » Fri Feb 11, 2011 10:20 pm

Existential Nihilism can be understood in may relative ways. the way i like to understand it is as the aphorism... everything is nothing, nothing is everything... but this still comes short of reality... the only thing that can be said about awareness is that it is awareness. the cup of tea is the cup of tea. whether it exists or not or whether or not it is completely empty all depends on your own seeking.

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Re: Buddhism as Existential Nihilism

Postby shel » Sat Feb 12, 2011 2:27 am

tomamundsen wrote:I recently read The Words of My Perfect Teacher, wherein the author very explicitly states multiple times that life in Samsara is without meaning.

Religiosity demands that spiritual life is meaningful, and non-religious life is not. Your Perfect Teacher is not teaching nihilism, just knows how to play the game.
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Re: Buddhism as Existential Nihilism

Postby Tilopa » Sat Feb 12, 2011 3:43 am

tomamundsen wrote:Hello,
I recently read The Words of My Perfect Teacher, wherein the author very explicitly states multiple times that life in Samsara is without meaning. This sounds exactly like Existential Nihilism - "Existential nihilism is the belief that life has no intrinsic meaning or value." (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nihilism#E ... l_nihilism). No?


The author is referring to the fact that samsaric existence is transient, brings no lasting happiness, is endlessly repititive and completely pervaded by suffering. If that's what existential nihilism also says then yes, they are the same.
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Re: Buddhism as Existential Nihilism

Postby catmoon » Sat Feb 12, 2011 6:56 am

Life only has as much meaning as you give it. It is an empty container. You may fill it or not as you please.
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Re: Buddhism as Existential Nihilism

Postby ground » Sat Feb 12, 2011 7:06 am

There is a stirring. When there is this stirring and attention contact comes to be. From contact there arises feeling, perception and volition. And since there is feeling, perception and volition there is consciousness. Once there is consciousness there is the arising of mind-objects, the arising of self and other. With the arising of self and other the longing for meaning comes to be. With these as conditions meaning is imputed.

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Re: Buddhism as Existential Nihilism

Postby Pema Rigdzin » Sat Feb 12, 2011 12:21 pm

tomamundsen wrote:Hello,

I know that obviously the Buddha taught against the other, less subtle forms of Nihilism. However, I recently read The Words of My Perfect Teacher, wherein the author very explicitly states multiple times that life in Samsara is without meaning. This sounds exactly like Existential Nihilism - "Existential nihilism is the belief that life has no intrinsic meaning or value." (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nihilism#E ... l_nihilism). No?

I know that the Mahayana path has the goal of liberating all beings, so some sort of meaning is imputed upon our existence. But, that doesn't say anything about life having any _inherent_ meaning.


Patrul Rinpoche is not teaching any kind of nihilism, I assure you. What he was doing in that text (or I should say what his teacher was doing) is trying to arouse in the reader a sense of disillusionment with samsara, because its basis is misapprehension and clinging and therefore it can never be what we want it to be - and until now we've been fooled by it time and time again, only for suffering to ripen every time.

Over and over, we experience the suffering of not getting what we want, the suffering of getting what we want but then losing it, the suffering of getting what we don't want, and the suffering of suffering itself, such as all kinds of pains and illnesses and so on. Even though we may at times experience the ripening of some good karma and feel like our existence is heavenly, it eventually ends despite all our grasping and fighting to keep that heavenly experience going. In this way, even the temporary happiness and bliss in samsara is a cause of suffering.

So samsara can only ever ultimately bring dissatisfaction because it is compounded and based in ignorance, whereas enlightenment is uncompounded and based in the wisdom of our true nature and can only ever be bliss for those who realize it. The way to realize it, according to the Buddha, is by practicing what he taught. Patrul Rinpoche's aim was to ignite in us the intense determination to stop being fooled by samsara and to realize buddhahood for ourselves and all beings by getting with the program and practicing the Buddha's Dharma.
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Re: Buddhism as Existential Nihilism

Postby shel » Sat Feb 12, 2011 7:47 pm

Pema Rigdzin wrote:
tomamundsen wrote:Hello,

I know that obviously the Buddha taught against the other, less subtle forms of Nihilism. However, I recently read The Words of My Perfect Teacher, wherein the author very explicitly states multiple times that life in Samsara is without meaning. This sounds exactly like Existential Nihilism - "Existential nihilism is the belief that life has no intrinsic meaning or value." (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nihilism#E ... l_nihilism). No?

I know that the Mahayana path has the goal of liberating all beings, so some sort of meaning is imputed upon our existence. But, that doesn't say anything about life having any _inherent_ meaning.


Patrul Rinpoche is not teaching any kind of nihilism, I assure you. What he was doing in that text (or I should say what his teacher was doing) is trying to arouse in the reader a sense of disillusionment with samsara, because its basis is misapprehension and clinging and therefore it can never be what we want it to be - and until now we've been fooled by it time and time again, only for suffering to ripen every time.

Over and over, we experience the suffering of not getting what we want, the suffering of getting what we want but then losing it, the suffering of getting what we don't want, and the suffering of suffering itself, such as all kinds of pains and illnesses and so on. Even though we may at times experience the ripening of some good karma and feel like our existence is heavenly, it eventually ends despite all our grasping and fighting to keep that heavenly experience going. In this way, even the temporary happiness and bliss in samsara is a cause of suffering.

So samsara can only ever ultimately bring dissatisfaction because it is compounded and based in ignorance, whereas enlightenment is uncompounded and based in the wisdom of our true nature and can only ever be bliss for those who realize it. The way to realize it, according to the Buddha, is by practicing what he taught. Patrul Rinpoche's aim was to ignite in us the intense determination to stop being fooled by samsara and to realize buddhahood for ourselves and all beings by getting with the program and practicing the Buddha's Dharma.

Does the Buddha's Dharma exist in samsara? If it does, and life in samsara is meaningless, that means that the Buddha's Dharma is meaningless.

It's a distortion of the First Noble Truth to say that life is meaningless.
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Re: Buddhism as Existential Nihilism

Postby Tilopa » Sat Feb 12, 2011 8:58 pm

shel wrote:Does the Buddha's Dharma exist in samsara? If it does, and life in samsara is meaningless, that means that the Buddha's Dharma is meaningless. It's a distortion of the First Noble Truth to say that life is meaningless.

You have completely missed the point so here it is again: samsaric existence is transient, brings no lasting happiness, is endlessly repititive and completely pervaded by suffering. For that reason Buddha said it is meaningless. The first NT explains this very clearly but it doesn't mean our life has no purpose. Quite the opposite in fact - it becomes highly meaningful when we cultivate the path of wisdom and compassion and help others as much as possible in whatever way we can.
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Re: Buddhism as Existential Nihilism

Postby tomamundsen » Sun Feb 13, 2011 1:03 am

Tilopa wrote:
shel wrote:The first NT explains this very clearly but it doesn't mean our life has no purpose. Quite the opposite in fact - it becomes highly meaningful when we cultivate the path of wisdom and compassion and help others as much as possible in whatever way we can.

Hi Tilopa,

Thanks for your replies. :anjali:

I do agree with everything you say, but what I was getting at is whether the teaching claims that life has no _inherent_ meaning. And by what you have said here, I still don't see that. Sure, the teachings bring meaning to our life. But, without following the path, there would be no meaning. So, we are assigning meaning to our lives with the Buddhadharma. But, inherently, as far as I can tell, there is no meaning to Samsara. Just endless wandering in ignorance. In that way, Buddhism is a particular form of Nihilism.
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Re: Buddhism as Existential Nihilism

Postby shel » Sun Feb 13, 2011 4:03 am

Tilopa wrote:
shel wrote:Does the Buddha's Dharma exist in samsara? If it does, and life in samsara is meaningless, that means that the Buddha's Dharma is meaningless. It's a distortion of the First Noble Truth to say that life is meaningless.

You have completely missed the point so here it is again: samsaric existence is transient, brings no lasting happiness, is endlessly repititive and completely pervaded by suffering. For that reason Buddha said it is meaningless. The first NT explains this very clearly but it doesn't mean our life has no purpose. Quite the opposite in fact - it becomes highly meaningful when we cultivate the path of wisdom and compassion and help others as much as possible in whatever way we can.

I haven't missed that point. My point is that it's not a good point. You can easily dismiss my point by showing where the Buddhas says that life is meaningless. Saying that life is dissatisfaction or suffering is one thing, saying that it's meaningless is quite another. If you can't appreciate the difference no problem, but I recommend looking into the matter more closely.
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Re: Buddhism as Existential Nihilism

Postby Tilopa » Sun Feb 13, 2011 5:33 am

tomamundsen wrote:.... the teachings bring meaning to our life. But, without following the path, there would be no meaning. So, we are assigning meaning to our lives with the Buddhadharma.

Exactly.
.....as far as I can tell, there is no meaning to Samsara. Just endless wandering in ignorance.

Yes correct again.
....Buddhism is a particular form of Nihilism.
I guess it depends on your definition of nihilism. :buddha1:
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Re: Buddhism as Existential Nihilism

Postby Dexing » Sun Feb 13, 2011 6:49 am

tomamundsen wrote:I do agree with everything you say, but what I was getting at is whether the teaching claims that life has no _inherent_ meaning. And by what you have said here, I still don't see that. Sure, the teachings bring meaning to our life. But, without following the path, there would be no meaning. So, we are assigning meaning to our lives with the Buddhadharma. But, inherently, as far as I can tell, there is no meaning to Samsara. Just endless wandering in ignorance. In that way, Buddhism is a particular form of Nihilism.


Which particular form?

I agree with what you say here. There is no "great meaning" to Saṃsāra. However, to be a Nihilistic view would require that one deny that there is an underlying reality or anything beyond Saṃsāra. Buddhism in any form does not teach that.

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Re: Buddhism as Existential Nihilism

Postby tomamundsen » Sun Feb 13, 2011 7:28 am

Dexing wrote:Which particular form?


Existential Nihilism - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Existentia ... l_nihilism - "Existential nihilism is the belief that life has no intrinsic meaning or value."
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Re: Buddhism as Existential Nihilism

Postby Adamantine » Sun Feb 13, 2011 7:44 am

tomamundsen wrote:I do agree with everything you say, but what I was getting at is whether the teaching claims that life has no _inherent_ meaning. And by what you have said here, I still don't see that. Sure, the teachings bring meaning to our life. But, without following the path, there would be no meaning. So, we are assigning meaning to our lives with the Buddhadharma. But, inherently, as far as I can tell, there is no meaning to Samsara. Just endless wandering in ignorance. In that way, Buddhism is a particular form of Nihilism.


Existential Nihilism still believes that this life is all there is: in fact I believe according to Camus this was an optimistic realization.
What I think Buddhism usually associates with Nihilism is the belief that there is nothing other than our direct experience- similar to scientific materialism.
No continuity after death, and because there is no karma then one's actions don't matter much from a moral or ethical standpoint.

In Buddhism, one sees the illusory dreamlike nature of life-appearances, but this doesn't invalidate the relative suffering that beings experience. Through discerning dependent-origination and karma one sees how everything is relational, and one's only sensible response is that of vast compassion and love for all. Renunciation based on sadness about the pervasive suffering rooted in a fundamental misperception of reality is not nihilism. Especially when there is an understanding that there is a way out of suffering and ignorance: namely wisdom, and bliss. So the meaning of life becomes about cultivating a direct awareness of how things actually are, not how they appear to us-- removing the obscurations to truth.
Contentment is the ultimate wealth;
Detachment is the final happiness. ~Sri Saraha
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Re: Buddhism as Existential Nihilism

Postby Dexing » Sun Feb 13, 2011 7:46 am

tomamundsen wrote:
Dexing wrote:Which particular form?


Existential Nihilism - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Existentia ... l_nihilism - "Existential nihilism is the belief that life has no intrinsic meaning or value."



Right, in that case, my statement stands: While there is no "great meaning" other than what one imagines, to be a Nihilistic view would require that one deny that there is an underlying reality or anything beyond Saṃsāra. Buddhism in any form does not teach that.

I'm also not sure why life needs to have intrinsic meaning, and why it is seen as such a negative thing if it doesn't. Wishful thinking? Longing to understand the experience of suffering? Too much thinking....

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Re: Buddhism as Existential Nihilism

Postby White Lotus » Sun Feb 13, 2011 3:47 pm

it has often been said in mahayana that to one who truly understands this life, samsara is actually nirvana. hence meaning.

best wishes, White Lotus.
in any matters of importance. dont rely on me. i may not know what i am talking about. take what i say as mere speculation. i am not ordained. nor do i have a formal training. i do believe though that if i am wrong on any point. there are those on this site who i hope will quickly point out my mistakes.
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