How to respond to theistic/deistic arguments from a Madhyamaka point of view?

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How to respond to theistic/deistic arguments from a Madhyamaka point of view?

Post by ServantOfManjusri »

Bit of a long and philosophically complex set of questions here. I have a friend who is a deist and they know some arguments for why a God-like first cause of the universe exists, and I have ran into some issues with aspects of the Madhyamaka view on the subject of these arguments. It would be great if some people here knew how to respond. Here are the main issues with it:

1) Issues with Madhyamaka's usage of an 'infinite chain of casualty' as a concept
The point of the cosmological argument is that an infinite chain of causes is impossible as this would lead to an infinite regression of causes, which is considered impossible. I have heard Buddhists say that infinite regression isn't an issue for Madhyamikas, and it is actually embraced. What is the logic for an infinite regression of causes being possible?

2) Issues with infinite past, and with samsara having no beginning
Samsara having no beginning, and the universe being eternal (not our specific universe, but the overall 'universe' where everything exists), means that there is an infinite past. This poses some issues. The fact that we should all be buddhas now can possibly be explained by saying that there is a multiverse, and using this multiverse, or another concept, to say that there is an infinite number of beings. But a bigger issue is that if there is an infinite past, then there must have been an infinite number of past events, which means it is impossible to get to the present. How is this resolved from the Buddhist point of view? How can there be an infinite past number of events?

3) The fine-tuning argument
From the Madhyamaka point of view, how is the universe's fine-tuning explained? I'm talking about the constants of existence itself, and how precisely they are 'tuned' to allow existence to happen. Would this be due to the karma of the previous universe conditioning the constants of the universe that comes after it? Or would a multiverse explain this better?

4) The issue of how Madhyamaka doesn't explain why existence actually exists
I have heard that infinite regression of causes explains why the parts exist, but it doesn't explain why overall, something exists instead of nothing. The parts are explained, but not the whole. Is the fact that the whole's existence isn't explained an issue? In deism, it is simply that everything exists due to a first cause that necessarily exists. But obviously, there is no first cause in Buddhism, meaning there is no necessary existence that explains everything. So existence just overall exists with no real explanation of how or why it does, which can be difficult to contemplate. I guess maybe the fact that everything has always existed explains it to an extent, but existence itself still isn't explained.

5) Karma's apparent perfection without an intelligent mind behind it
Karma can create things and manifest results based on moral actions and intentions, and it works perfectly. Some Buddhists compare it to gravity, as in it is just a natural law like the laws of physics. But its workings often have to do with morals and ethics, which are more complex than physical laws like gravity. My friend says that Hinduism and Sikhism make more sense as they believe there is an intelligent mind to ensure that karma works properly, but in Buddhism, there isn't that. So how does it work like it does? is there an explanation for how karma, rebirth, and even enlightenment exist and operate effectively without any mind or intelligence behind them? Because surely it isn't just by chance that these exist. And it can't be due to a necessary energy that has creating these things as its nature, as Buddhism doesn't accept this.

These are what I can think of at the moment. Any attempt to answer any of these many points is greatly appreciated. Thanks.
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Re: How to respond to theistic/deistic arguments from a Madhyamaka point of view?

Post by PadmaVonSamba »

For there to be a creator,
Some thing must exist in a defined state
that can be established as ‘created’.
Since everything arises conditionally
and is constantly changing,
No defined state can be established
for anything to be called ‘created’.
If no thing is created, there is no creator.
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Re: How to respond to theistic/deistic arguments from a Madhyamaka point of view?

Post by Johnny Dangerous »

These all just seem like logical fallacies based on certain assumptions :shrug:
2) Issues with infinite past, and with samsara having no beginning
Samsara having no beginning, and the universe being eternal (not our specific universe, but the overall 'universe' where everything exists), means that there is an infinite past. This poses some issues. The fact that we should all be buddhas now can possibly be explained by saying that there is a multiverse, and using this multiverse, or another concept, to say that there is an infinite number of beings. But a bigger issue is that if there is an infinite past, then there must have been an infinite number of past events, which means it is impossible to get to the present. How is this resolved from the Buddhist point of view? How can there be an infinite past number of events?
Past, present and future are just relative designations, they do not exist outside of samsaric beings “timing out” of events based on their perceptions.

The relative reality is an endless concatenation, but the idea that it comes or goes anywhere is just appearance, it has no beginning, middle or end and indeed there is no reason to believe that it should, outside of convention.
3) The fine-tuning argument
From the Madhyamaka point of view, how is the universe's fine-tuning explained? I'm talking about the constants of existence itself, and how precisely they are 'tuned' to allow existence to happen. Would this be due to the karma of the previous universe conditioning the constants of the universe that comes after it? Or would a multiverse explain this better?
This is based on assumptions I’m not familiar with, in short “reality” is mainly the “evolutionary action” (I.e. karma) of sentient beings, so in Buddhism in the main it is absurd to posit a static reality that is not at least partially constructed by the mind, collective “reality” does not exist as an inherent thing.
1) Issues with Madhyamaka's usage of an 'infinite chain of casualty' as a concept
The point of the cosmological argument is that an infinite chain of causes is impossible as this would lead to an infinite regression of causes, which is considered impossible. I have heard Buddhists say that infinite regression isn't an issue for Madhyamikas, and it is actually embraced. What is the logic for an infinite regression of causes being possible?
Similar to the previous question..Cause and effect are only relatively distinguished, and have no inherent existence.
5) Karma's apparent perfection without an intelligent mind behind it
Karma can create things and manifest results based on moral actions and intentions, and it works perfectly. Some Buddhists compare it to gravity, as in it is just a natural law like the laws of physics. But its workings often have to do with morals and ethics, which are more complex than physical laws like gravity. My friend says that Hinduism and Sikhism make more sense as they believe there is an intelligent mind to ensure that karma works properly, but in Buddhism, there isn't that. So how does it work like it does? is there an explanation for how karma, rebirth, and even enlightenment exist and operate effectively without any mind or intelligence behind them? Because surely it isn't just by chance that these exist. And it can't be due to a necessary energy that has creating these things as its nature, as Buddhism doesn't accept this.
Believing a first cause is needed for karma is totally arbitrary, or at least just as arbitrary as “natural law”, there’s nothing to respond to there.
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Re: How to respond to theistic/deistic arguments from a Madhyamaka point of view?

Post by PadmaVonSamba »

ServantOfManjusri wrote: Thu Feb 22, 2024 9:19 pm

5) Karma's apparent perfection without an intelligent mind behind it
Karma can create things and manifest results based on moral actions and intentions, and it works perfectly. Some Buddhists compare it to gravity, as in it is just a natural law like the laws of physics. But its workings often have to do with morals and ethics, which are more complex than physical laws like gravity. My friend says that Hinduism and Sikhism make more sense as they believe there is an intelligent mind to ensure that karma works properly, but in Buddhism, there isn't that. So how does it work like it does? is there an explanation for how karma, rebirth, and even enlightenment exist and operate effectively without any mind or intelligence behind them? Because surely it isn't just by chance that these exist. And it can't be due to a necessary energy that has creating these things as its nature, as Buddhism doesn't accept this.
Thank You. This paragraph summarizes all of the misunderstandings about karma.

The thing to keep in mind is that things like greed, dishonesty, and so on, which are regarded as sins in belief systems with creator gods or “laws of the universe” don’t exist that way in Buddhism. There is no “thing” in itself that is either greed or generosity that you turn on or off with the result being a reward of a positive of negative rebirth. This is true if for no other reason than all phenomena, even behaviors of the mind, are composites. What we vaguely label “greed” is a complex combination of momentary processes. Which one is the bad one? You can’t calculate it that way.

So-called moral or ethical actions that we refer to as this or that “thing” such as “greed” are all aspects or extensions of self-grasping, and that is why they lead to positive or negative rebirth. It is possible to practice almost as much self-grasping with generosity as with greed. So, the “thing” as it appears on the surface is not the problem. Self-attachment, self-grasping, that’s the real culprit. The causes and effects are all personally generated.

It is the habitual mental pattern of self-grasping or self-attachment by the individual alone which binds one to samsara, and not because the universe is dishing out predetermine karmic rewards and punishments.

What does ‘rebirth’ mean? I think we can agree that as a concept, it refers to some notion of a continuous “identity” that continues when one material body ends and another begins. Regardless of whether you regard that identity as mind, or soul, consciousness, atman, illusion, or whatever. It’s still the “experience”.

It is an undeniable experience of continuity (in fact, you’d have to be experiencing a sense of continuity even to deny having that experience!).
But there really isn’t any thing continuing. There’s only the previous cause producing the next effect.

Even if (as the Buddhist teachings suggest), this experience of continuity is nothing but a dream-like illusion, the experience occurs nonetheless. It is this experience of continuity which is arguably what is being reborn, or reoccurring.
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Re: How to respond to theistic/deistic arguments from a Madhyamaka point of view?

Post by PadmaVonSamba »

ServantOfManjusri wrote: Thu Feb 22, 2024 9:19 pm
1) Issues with Madhyamaka's usage of an 'infinite chain of casualty' as a concept
This is only problematic if you are referring to an infinite regression of inherently existent objects (of awareness). We think that a chair must have a creator, because we think some essential “thing” truly exists which is “chair”. We gej we see that a “chair” is constantly arising due to immediately occurring conditions, then where’s the regression?
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Re: How to respond to theistic/deistic arguments from a Madhyamaka point of view?

Post by Johnny Dangerous »

PadmaVonSamba wrote: Thu Feb 22, 2024 11:51 pm
ServantOfManjusri wrote: Thu Feb 22, 2024 9:19 pm
1) Issues with Madhyamaka's usage of an 'infinite chain of casualty' as a concept
This is only problematic if you are referring to an infinite regression of inherently existent objects (of awareness). We think that a chair must have a creator, because we think some essential “thing” truly exists which is “chair”. We gej we see that a “chair” is constantly arising due to immediately occurring conditions, then where’s the regression?
Yeah, this is the issue with most of these claims I think, they assume cause and effect are somehow inherently real, and ultimately different from one another.

You *might* level a claim like that at Thervadins, but for Madhyamaka specifically it’s a complete non-issue.
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Re: How to respond to theistic/deistic arguments from a Madhyamaka point of view?

Post by Javierfv1212 »

So I am going to respond from a general Buddhist POV since I think these are important questions for all Buddhists. However, the way a Madhyamika would respond is by picking apart each argument, like modern Atheist thinkers do. Perhaps the most important such thinker today is Graham Oppy (Arguing about Gods etc). But if you want a good run down, I would check out the youtuber Majesty of Reason. His videos are amazing. Of course, this is not Buddhist, but I think Buddhists can avail themselves of all these critiques and should be familiar with them. See: https://www.youtube.com/c/MajestyofReason

Anyyways, regarding the specific points.

>Infinite regress and infinite past i.e. cosmological argument

So, I think the best response here is to bite the bullet. Infinite regresses are not actually inherently irrational. Indeed, negative numbers regress infinitely for example, and its not a problem. There is a lot said in modern analytical phil about regresses. The main problem is what is sometimes called "vicious" regresses. So, at best, a Buddhist just has to show their regress is not vicious. For more see: https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/infinite-regress/

Also for more on cosmological argument stuff, really look up that Majesty of Reason youtube channel. He lays out all the issues with infinite past and regress critiques and many other critiques of the various cosmological arguments (there are legion). He has an entire playlist about this stuff, its really fascinating and I learned a lot of cool philosophy things watching them! A basic overview can be found in this video of his:

and of course there's always SEP - https://plato.stanford.edu/ENTRIES/cosm ... -argument/

>Fine tuning

There are several non-theist responses to fine tuning. One answer is just that we don't have a full understanding of cosmology at the moment (especially the stuff going on at the beginning of the universe) so at best we are dealing with incomplete models. For more, see: https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/fine-tuning/

and also see the fine tuning section of this MR video


A Buddhist can go two ways here, one way is we can reject fine tuning shows anything, if we agree with all the counterarguments against it. However if one thinks there is something to fine tuning, then the Buddhist cosmological model is also an answer. This is the model in which the universe arises out of the collective karma of all sentient beings. So, the Buddhist can affirm fine tuning too, and just reject that it's the work of a single creator deity. Instead it's caused by all mindstreams (btw this helps explain the problem of evil better since this is more compatible with an imperfect world).

>Why existence actually exists

Ok so, in any system there are going to be basic foundational theses, or "brute" facts. For theism or deism, God is one such brute fact or axiom. Why does God exist? He just does, his existence is thus said to be brute. Buddhism just doesn't have a God. So why does the world exist in our system? Because the seeds in the alayavijñana of mindstreams project it. Why do mindstreams exist (conventionally of course)? Previous mindstreams. Why do mindstreams exist at all? They just do, this is a brute fact in our system and its not an issue by itself.

>Karma's perfection

But is it? Nowhere in Buddhist sources does it say it works perfectly. Indeed only a Buddha knows the workings of karma. Furthermore, bad karma never ripens right away or even in the next life. So what does perfect mean here anyways? Do you mean that bad actions always lead to bad results? But how does this require a god? Eating bad food always leads to unhealthy results, but do you need a god for that? Perhaps you think that in the case of karma since it's mental not physical, you need a god? But why? What makes physical causation inherently different? I don't see this argument as having any force tbh ...
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Re: How to respond to theistic/deistic arguments from a Madhyamaka point of view?

Post by Vajrasvapna »

ServantOfManjusri wrote: Thu Feb 22, 2024 9:19 pm Bit of a long and philosophically complex set of questions here. I have a friend who is a deist and they know some arguments for why a God-like first cause of the universe exists, and I have ran into some issues with aspects of the Madhyamaka view on the subject of these arguments. It would be great if some people here knew how to respond. Here are the main issues with it:

1) Issues with Madhyamaka's usage of an 'infinite chain of casualty' as a concept
The point of the cosmological argument is that an infinite chain of causes is impossible as this would lead to an infinite regression of causes, which is considered impossible. I have heard Buddhists say that infinite regression isn't an issue for Madhyamikas, and it is actually embraced. What is the logic for an infinite regression of causes being possible?

2) Issues with infinite past, and with samsara having no beginning
Samsara having no beginning, and the universe being eternal (not our specific universe, but the overall 'universe' where everything exists), means that there is an infinite past. This poses some issues. The fact that we should all be buddhas now can possibly be explained by saying that there is a multiverse, and using this multiverse, or another concept, to say that there is an infinite number of beings. But a bigger issue is that if there is an infinite past, then there must have been an infinite number of past events, which means it is impossible to get to the present. How is this resolved from the Buddhist point of view? How can there be an infinite past number of events?

3) The fine-tuning argument
From the Madhyamaka point of view, how is the universe's fine-tuning explained? I'm talking about the constants of existence itself, and how precisely they are 'tuned' to allow existence to happen. Would this be due to the karma of the previous universe conditioning the constants of the universe that comes after it? Or would a multiverse explain this better?

4) The issue of how Madhyamaka doesn't explain why existence actually exists
I have heard that infinite regression of causes explains why the parts exist, but it doesn't explain why overall, something exists instead of nothing. The parts are explained, but not the whole. Is the fact that the whole's existence isn't explained an issue? In deism, it is simply that everything exists due to a first cause that necessarily exists. But obviously, there is no first cause in Buddhism, meaning there is no necessary existence that explains everything. So existence just overall exists with no real explanation of how or why it does, which can be difficult to contemplate. I guess maybe the fact that everything has always existed explains it to an extent, but existence itself still isn't explained.

5) Karma's apparent perfection without an intelligent mind behind it
Karma can create things and manifest results based on moral actions and intentions, and it works perfectly. Some Buddhists compare it to gravity, as in it is just a natural law like the laws of physics. But its workings often have to do with morals and ethics, which are more complex than physical laws like gravity. My friend says that Hinduism and Sikhism make more sense as they believe there is an intelligent mind to ensure that karma works properly, but in Buddhism, there isn't that. So how does it work like it does? is there an explanation for how karma, rebirth, and even enlightenment exist and operate effectively without any mind or intelligence behind them? Because surely it isn't just by chance that these exist. And it can't be due to a necessary energy that has creating these things as its nature, as Buddhism doesn't accept this.

These are what I can think of at the moment. Any attempt to answer any of these many points is greatly appreciated. Thanks.
Sarva Mangalam
Madhyamaka-Yogacara responses:
1 - Well, I would also use the concept of mathematics. To me, samsara resembles a non-linear system. The emergence seems random, but it's not entirely so. Now, infinite regression is support by some today cosmology. The argument against it arises because we experience birth, leading us to anthropomorphize the universe. However, this falls into the problem of explaining the origin of a creator god.

2 - The dharmakaya has been emptiness of dualistic clinging since the beginning, only obscured by negative emotions and dualistic clinging. The reason why people are not Buddhas is this cover up.

3 - They are not fine-tuned; only some universes can support life. Universes teeming with life could be seen as the result of positive actions, free from negative emotions. However, conditioned existence still subjects beings to dukkha.

4 - Buddhism does not attempt to explain why conditioned existence is as it is. By inference, we might accept conditioned existence. Meanwhile, the argument of a creator god doesn't solve the issue of the origin from nothing, as the creator god would also have an origin from nothing.

5 - I've noticed that some Buddhists understand karma in a Manichaean way. Good and bad actions don't carry the same meaning for Buddhist philosophers like Nagarjuna and Vasubandhu, who explain ethics more akin to how the Stoics would. The twelve nidanas represent the Buddha's response to the Vedas; the cycle of samsara begins with ignorance of clinging to the notion that changeable beings and phenomena have true existence. The 8000 verses Prajnaparamitra even talk about conditioned and unconditioned happiness.
Last edited by Vajrasvapna on Fri Feb 23, 2024 1:26 am, edited 3 times in total.
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Re: How to respond to theistic/deistic arguments from a Madhyamaka point of view?

Post by Astus »

There are two situations where one is occupied by such questions:
- as a mere mental exercise for amusement, in which case it's simply meaningless and futile, a type of wrong speech (samphappalāpa)
- as a way to establish a specific set of rules and regulations, precepts and practices, in other words a doctrine to be followed

The first case needs no answer. The latter case, like the view of eternalism and the assumption of a creator, are refuted in various ways. For instance, positing a creator, believing in determinism, or denying causality are all doctrines that reject the possibility of personal development and a way to be free from suffering (AN 3.61)

1) Issues with Madhyamaka's usage of an 'infinite chain of casualty' as a concept
2) Issues with infinite past, and with samsara having no beginning
3) The fine-tuning argument
4) The issue of how Madhyamaka doesn't explain why existence actually exists


Those show a misunderstanding and misapplication of the teachings. Views about the eternal/temporary and finite/infinite nature of the world are meaningless (MN 63) and based on the mistaken views of substantial existence (SN 41.3). So Nagarjuna wrote:

"Other than as the imputation of a convention
What world is there in fact
Which would exist or not?
For this reason the Buddha,
Except for keeping silent, said nothing
About the fourfold format: having or
Not having a limit, both, or neither."

(Precious Garland, v 114-115)

5) Karma's apparent perfection without an intelligent mind behind it

Although that is very much like the cosmological views of the previous four, it is an opportunity to redirect one's attention of imaginary entities and worlds out there somewhere back to the very process of conceiving beings and universes. Karma is about what goes on in one's heart, the craving to find and remain in a pleasant experience, the hatred of encountering and being in unpleasant situations, and the confusion regarding the uncertainty of all the changes happening. Views give the illusion of a fixed existence, of knowing one's place, of being somebody. And those very same views cause one to suffer, because our actual physical and mental world of experiences (the five aggregates) keeps changing. So, the entirety of the Buddhist teachings are aimed at liberating one's heart from the endless cycle of pain and trouble.

'If one has the thesis of real entities,
Awful and vicious views arise,
Which give birth to attachment and aversion;
From this contentions ensue.
This is the cause of all dogmatic views;
Without it no afflictions will arise;
So if this is understood thoroughly,
All views and afflictions will cease.
“Who understands this?” one might wonder;
It’s those who see dependent origination.
The supreme knower of reality has taught
That dependent arising is unborn.
For those who are suppressed by false knowledge
And grasp the untrue to be true,
In them arises from attachment
A series of grasping and contentions.
Those who are great beings,
They have neither thesis nor contention;
For those who have no thesis,
How can there be opposing thesis?'

(Sixty Stanzas of Reasoning, v 46-50)
1 Myriad dharmas are only mind.
Mind is unobtainable.
What is there to seek?

2 If the Buddha-Nature is seen,
there will be no seeing of a nature in any thing.

3 Neither cultivation nor seated meditation —
this is the pure Chan of Tathagata.

4 With sudden enlightenment to Tathagata Chan,
the six paramitas and myriad means
are complete within that essence.


1 Huangbo, T2012Ap381c1 2 Nirvana Sutra, T374p521b3; tr. Yamamoto 3 Mazu, X1321p3b23; tr. J. Jia 4 Yongjia, T2014p395c14; tr. from "The Sword of Wisdom"
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Re: How to respond to theistic/deistic arguments from a Madhyamaka point of view?

Post by PadmaVonSamba »

Johnny Dangerous wrote: Thu Feb 22, 2024 10:32 pm Believing a first cause is needed for karma is totally arbitrary, or at least just as arbitrary as “natural law”, there’s nothing to respond to there.
Well, maybe not completely arbitrary.
Karma isn’t something that exists beyond something related to humans and other beings.
And what is a being? At any given moment, they are simply the sum total of individual karma. A “being” doesn’t really “have” karma but rather “is” that karma. Whatever a being “is” is a karmic result.
So, the deist would argue that since there is no karma without beings and no beings without karma, that one cannot spontaneously occur and then produce the other.
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Re: How to respond to theistic/deistic arguments from a Madhyamaka point of view?

Post by PadmaVonSamba »

ServantOfManjusri wrote: Thu Feb 22, 2024 9:19 pm Issues with infinite past, and with samsara having no beginning
Samsara having no beginning, and the universe being eternal (not our specific universe, but the overall 'universe' where everything exists), means that there is an infinite past.
Oops. Be careful, because this assumption creates the premise for negating what is about to be argued next. Don’t step into that trap!

If the eternal universe is “infinite” then concepts of past/present/future don’t have any ultimate meaning. They only apply to specific events relating to each other (such as dinosaurs coming before airplanes).
But “infinite” can also refer to infinitely larger things being composed of infinitely smaller things and doesn’t have to only refer to linear time.
This poses some issues. The fact that we should all be buddhas now
???
:jawdrop:
I wasn’t aware of…
…this is a fact? I must have missed the memo.
Let’s leave that assumption for later.
But a bigger issue is that if there is an infinite past, then there must have been an infinite number of past events, which means it is impossible to get to the present.
Ooops! There it is. The trap.
If there is an infinite past (eternal universe) then past and present only exist relative to each other. It’s like traveling on a highway. I passed that fuel station an hour ago and now I’m at my hotel. For me, the fuel station is in the past and the hotel is in the present. But ultimately both exist right now.
And here we both are, right now.

Of course, there is the argument that we never really teach this present moment because the previous moment can be split forever, and that we can get closer and closer and closer without ever actually arriving. But that doesn’t actually apply to time, because there is no separately existent “present” to reach. “Present” is wherever we are right now. If we can never get beyond “closer” then “closer” is the present.

How is this resolved from the Buddhist point of view? How can there be an infinite past number of events?
By “infinite” you might mean either of two things.
One is that there is no limit to things which might have occurred.
The other is that everything which possibly might have occurred must have, and that there is no limit to that.

If “infinite” implies the second thing, then “everything” must include this very moment, which we call the present. Again, here we are.

If “infinite” implies the first thing, then perhaps there are a billion possible combinations which might have arisen but never did.
—But that has no bearing on whether there is a present moment or not.
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Re: How to respond to theistic/deistic arguments from a Madhyamaka point of view?

Post by PadmaVonSamba »

ServantOfManjusri wrote: Thu Feb 22, 2024 9:19 pm
3) The fine-tuning argument
I'm talking about the constants of existence itself, and how precisely they are 'tuned' to allow existence to happen.
I have no idea what that even means.

What is “fine tuning”?

What is “allow existence to happen”?
If something doesn’t happen, it doesn’t exist. Outside if happening, there’s no existence. They are same thing.

It’s like asking “how does existence exist”? It’s not a logical question. “Existence” only refers to the relative arising of objects (of awareness).

Think of it this way:
Suppose you have a big empty room. Like a box. There’s nothing in it. This represents the concept of absolutely nothing having ever occurred. No creation, no big bang. It all just didn’t.
Now, consider that same big box room completely full of hard cement. Totally solid. This represents an ‘eternal universe’ where absolutely everything has happened. It all just did. all of it!

Ultimately there is no difference between the two because within each there is no relativity. There is no time or space. Either way, all of nothing, is what “exists”.
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Re: How to respond to theistic/deistic arguments from a Madhyamaka point of view?

Post by Kai lord »

ServantOfManjusri wrote: Thu Feb 22, 2024 9:19 pm Bit of a long and philosophically complex set of questions here. I have a friend who is a deist and they know some arguments for why a God-like first cause of the universe exists, and I have ran into some issues with aspects of the Madhyamaka view on the subject of these arguments.
Try avoiding arguing with theists as from my experiences, its not only unproductive and complete waste of time as they wouldn't be changing their mind or beliefs, negativities will be developed in your relationship (with them)

Also there are lots of great arguments against an omnipotent being in Buddhism, you don't have to resort to using those abstract arguments in madhyamaka.

For example, lots of theists define god as an unchanging permanent almighty being. So any buddhist arguments against a permanent self, works against the rationality for the existence of such beings.

Next your friends clearly defined god as a being with cognitive processes to perform certain actions like creation, judgement, etc. So such being must surely possesses one or more of the five aggregates. In that case you can employ buddhist arguments against the permanence of compound phenomena like the aggregates or cognitive processes.

Finally if your friends resort to using the standard theist defense of how god works in a mysterious way or transcend all logic or mortal understanding. You can simply rebuke that they are equally as ignorant of their god nature as you and so their faith of such being is built on pure imagination rather than reasoning.
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Re: How to respond to theistic/deistic arguments from a Madhyamaka point of view?

Post by Ayu »

In addition, e.g. the Bodhisatva vows in Vajrayana recommend not to explain emptiness to people who are not ready for it.
And we can assume that people who are grounded in theism are definitely not ready for getting Madhyamaka.
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Re: How to respond to theistic/deistic arguments from a Madhyamaka point of view?

Post by Vajrasvapna »

I came across an atheist's counter-argument to the Aristotelian idea of the unmoved mover/initial cause, with parallels with Indian culture. This counter-argument aligns with Buddhism and current cosmology. It suggests placing space and time as the unmoved mover, where instead of a cause, we would have a ground for the functioning of the universe.
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Re: How to respond to theistic/deistic arguments from a Madhyamaka point of view?

Post by Sherab »

ServantOfManjusri wrote: Thu Feb 22, 2024 9:19 pm Bit of a long and philosophically complex set of questions here. I have a friend who is a deist and they know some arguments for why a God-like first cause of the universe exists, and I have ran into some issues with aspects of the Madhyamaka view on the subject of these arguments. It would be great if some people here knew how to respond. Here are the main issues with it:

1) Issues with Madhyamaka's usage of an 'infinite chain of casualty' as a concept
The point of the cosmological argument is that an infinite chain of causes is impossible as this would lead to an infinite regression of causes, which is considered impossible. I have heard Buddhists say that infinite regression isn't an issue for Madhyamikas, and it is actually embraced. What is the logic for an infinite regression of causes being possible?

2) Issues with infinite past, and with samsara having no beginning
Samsara having no beginning, and the universe being eternal (not our specific universe, but the overall 'universe' where everything exists), means that there is an infinite past. This poses some issues. The fact that we should all be buddhas now can possibly be explained by saying that there is a multiverse, and using this multiverse, or another concept, to say that there is an infinite number of beings. But a bigger issue is that if there is an infinite past, then there must have been an infinite number of past events, which means it is impossible to get to the present. How is this resolved from the Buddhist point of view? How can there be an infinite past number of events?

3) The fine-tuning argument
From the Madhyamaka point of view, how is the universe's fine-tuning explained? I'm talking about the constants of existence itself, and how precisely they are 'tuned' to allow existence to happen. Would this be due to the karma of the previous universe conditioning the constants of the universe that comes after it? Or would a multiverse explain this better?

4) The issue of how Madhyamaka doesn't explain why existence actually exists
I have heard that infinite regression of causes explains why the parts exist, but it doesn't explain why overall, something exists instead of nothing. The parts are explained, but not the whole. Is the fact that the whole's existence isn't explained an issue? In deism, it is simply that everything exists due to a first cause that necessarily exists. But obviously, there is no first cause in Buddhism, meaning there is no necessary existence that explains everything. So existence just overall exists with no real explanation of how or why it does, which can be difficult to contemplate. I guess maybe the fact that everything has always existed explains it to an extent, but existence itself still isn't explained.

5) Karma's apparent perfection without an intelligent mind behind it
Karma can create things and manifest results based on moral actions and intentions, and it works perfectly. Some Buddhists compare it to gravity, as in it is just a natural law like the laws of physics. But its workings often have to do with morals and ethics, which are more complex than physical laws like gravity. My friend says that Hinduism and Sikhism make more sense as they believe there is an intelligent mind to ensure that karma works properly, but in Buddhism, there isn't that. So how does it work like it does? is there an explanation for how karma, rebirth, and even enlightenment exist and operate effectively without any mind or intelligence behind them? Because surely it isn't just by chance that these exist. And it can't be due to a necessary energy that has creating these things as its nature, as Buddhism doesn't accept this.

These are what I can think of at the moment. Any attempt to answer any of these many points is greatly appreciated. Thanks.
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1) There are two truths: relative and ultimate. The two truths must be seen as the totality of our reality. The ultimate is not describable by any language of the relative. The relative is a manifestation of the ultimate. In the ultimate, there is no arising or ceasing of anything, and no production of anything. We can conceptualized it as eternal, static and also singular, although it is neither one nor many. Being “eternal and static”, there is no space and time as understood in the relative. Since the relative is a manifestation of the ultimate, and the ultimate has no space and time, space and time in the relative must be unbounded in order to preserve the totality of reality which is ‘voidness’-‘basic knowing’ (strong-rig). Similarly, since there is no arising and ceasing nor production of anything in the ultimate, casual chains in the relative must be beginningless and endless to preserve the totality of reality.

Another way to look at this is to consider this simplistic analogy of the poles of the earth. Take the north pole. It is a point on earth where all the longitudes converges. However, when the earth is projected onto a flat plane, the longitudes go to infinity. So, the appearance of infinity can change with a change in the point of view or reference frame.

2) The relative regime that we are in emerges from the ultimate regime. It emerges with an infinite past and ‘progress’ to an infinite future. This is necessitate by the need to preserve the totality of reality.

3) When talking about the fine-tuning of the universe, it usually refers to the fine structure constant. The universe must have an underlying structure for it to exist in any stable form. This structure has to be natural. For example, the circle is a structure. The ratio of its circumference to its diameter is pi. We do not consider pi to be fine-tuned. Similarly, there is no need to consider the fine structure constant as being finely tuned. It emerges naturally.

4) This issue does not arise if the two truths is the totality of reality. Madhyamaka approaches reality from the side of the relative truth to point to the ultimate truth. The relative regime is manifested from the ultimate regime. The ultimate is talked about in Dzogchen as being of three aspects: essence, nature and compassion. The essence aspect is voidness. The nature aspect is to manifest. And the compassion aspect is the manifestation.

5) Karma must be unfailing because of the natural structure of reality. If not, that reality is unstable. If the physical realm is governed by causality, the mental realm (where karma is created) too must be governed by causality. I.e. the relative realm as a whole must be governed by causality. The preservation of karma means that the totality of karma in the relative realm is zero. This is compatible with the ultimate realm being devoid of karma. With the totality of karma in the relative as zero and the ultimate being devoid of karma, the totality of reality is preserved.
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Re: How to respond to theistic/deistic arguments from a Madhyamaka point of view?

Post by Vajrasvapna »

Quoting Nagarjuna himself about creator god:
"If all living beings are the sons of God, He should use happiness to cover suffering and should not give them suffering. And those who worship Him should not have suffering but should enjoy happiness. But this is not true in reality."
"If God is self-existent, He should need nothing. If He needs something, He should not be called self-existent. If He does not need anything, why did He [cause] change, like a small boy who plays a game, to make all creatures?"
"Again, if God created all living beings, who created Him? That God created Himself, cannot be true, for nothing can create itself. If He were created by another creator, He would not be self-existent."
"Again, if all living beings come from God, they should respect and love Him just as sons love their father. But actually this is not the case; some hate God and some love Him."
"Again, if God is the maker [of all things], why did He not create men all happy or all unhappy? Why did He make some happy and others unhappy? We would know that He acts out of hate and love, and hence is not self-existent. Since He is not self-existent, all things are not made by Him."
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Creator_i ... ilosophers
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Re: How to respond to theistic/deistic arguments from a Madhyamaka point of view?

Post by PadmaVonSamba »

Since god-theory is based on circular reasoning, debating with a theist is pointless.
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Re: How to respond to theistic/deistic arguments from a Madhyamaka point of view?

Post by ServantOfManjusri »

Thanks everyone for all the answers. I understand that this is a very complex topic, but I do think it is very important. The issues I had here have been for the most part cleared up. But I do have 2 questions:
In addition, e.g. the Bodhisatva vows in Vajrayana recommend not to explain emptiness to people who are not ready for it.
I understand this, I don't intend to explain proper ultimate truth, but surely this stuff is ok, yeah? Stuff about infinite past, contingency and necessity, cosmological arguments, all this. Would this count as emptiness or just Buddhist cosmology?
I came across an atheist's counter-argument to the Aristotelian idea of the unmoved mover/initial cause, with parallels with Indian culture. This counter-argument aligns with Buddhism and current cosmology. It suggests placing space and time as the unmoved mover, where instead of a cause, we would have a ground for the functioning of the universe.
Would this be acceptable in Buddhism? A necessary existence like this? I am thinking of accepting something like this, but it seems to violate dependant origination and possibly the 3rd Dharma Seal. I know that Vasubhandu accepted that space and tathata are compounded and uncreated, and just exist with no parts or causes. Would this view be close to a necessary being like the one explained in the quote above? Because accepting space or some aspect of existence as a necessary existence seems fairly logical and answers the contingency arguments like Aquinas's 1st Way, but I'm not sure that it is acceptable in Buddhism. I have heard many say that any first cause that the universe rests on is not acceptable, and that there is nothing necessary or 'unmoved' in Buddhism.
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Re: How to respond to theistic/deistic arguments from a Madhyamaka point of view?

Post by PadmaVonSamba »

ServantOfManjusri wrote: Sat Mar 16, 2024 4:26 pm
I came across an atheist's counter-argument to the Aristotelian idea of the unmoved mover/initial cause, with parallels with Indian culture. This counter-argument aligns with Buddhism and current cosmology. It suggests placing space and time as the unmoved mover, where instead of a cause, we would have a ground for the functioning of the universe.
Would this be acceptable in Buddhism? A necessary existence like this? I am thinking of accepting something like this, but it seems to violate dependant origination and possibly the 3rd Dharma Seal.
What possible difference does it make?
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