Dōgen on Rebirth

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Lazy_eye
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Re: Dōgen on Rebirth

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Johnny Dangerous wrote: Tue Jun 11, 2024 6:06 am
Why do you think sunyata nullifies karma?

Emptiness is the ultimate state of things, it doesn’t contradict conventional cause and effect, from a Buddhist point of view in fact cause and effect can only operate because phenomena are empty and interdependent.
I don't think that. Karma-vipaka is conventional reality, sunyata is ultimate reality.

Questions like "why was Mozart a child prodigy," "why am I having all this bad (or good) luck," "why do I connect with Jim but not with Greg," and so on belong to conventional reality and can be explained in terms of karma. This is discussed all the time in Buddhism—for example in Liaofan's Four Lessons. Questions like this assume a self that is capable of being a child prodigy (or not), having friendships, experiencing good or bad luck, etc.

It was proposed that instead we approach them via sunyata (transcendent knowledge). But in that case, the provisional teaching becomes superfluous. There is no need for multiple explanations when one will do.

I have probably just misunderstood Padma’s point, however.
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Re: Dōgen on Rebirth

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Lazy_eye wrote: Tue Jun 11, 2024 2:16 pm
It was proposed that instead we approach them via sunyata (transcendent knowledge).
Sunyata refers to the emptiness of phenomena, meaning that objects lack intrinsic reality: they do not arise by themselves out of nowhere and only occur as the temporary composite of whatever conditions produce them.

Since this principle applies to or crosses all arising phenomena, it can be called transcendent. Understanding sunyata therefore gives one some insight into the true nature of everything. It’s not so much that the knowledge itself is transcending anything. All you have to know here is one thing: that the nature of everything is sunyata. It’s what you know (sunyata) which is transcendent.
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Re: Dōgen on Rebirth

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Lazy_eye wrote: Mon Jun 10, 2024 10:25 pm You seem to be saying that a simple understanding of sunyata and D.O. is enough to answer these questions. In that case, wouldn't the same be true for explaining Mozart and other child prodigies?
Then we should begin by asking how is it that anyone can play the piano at all, and whatever answer we go with, to work from there, and not automatically assume that Mozart’s extraordinary abilities were anything more than an extreme degree of that. Personally, I think children are for the most part born with completely open minds and that adults cloud them up, and that maybe Mozart’s mind didn’t get clouded up so early on. Maybe every baby starts out as a potential prodigy but most of them never realize it. Sort of like the survival rate of baby sea turtles.

When I was three or four years old, I looked at a glass thermometer we had in our bathroom. This is the type that has mercury in it and numbers printed on one side. And I saw that it therefore resembled a lead pencil, yet it wasn’t a pencil. And it occurred to me then that a thing is only what it is to the degree that it isn’t something else. In other words, a thermometer is a pencil except that it is glass rather than wood, and contains a line of mercury rather than lead, and the markings on the side are different, and instead of writing with it, you take temperatures with it. But if one didn’t know the difference, one might easily mistake one for the other.

I like to think that this was a kind of rudimentary understanding of sunyata, that phenomena only arise conditionally. And I’d like to think that this is some wisdom I brought with me from a past life. But it very well could simply be the normal process by which a child learns to distinguish one object from another, what things they shouldn’t put into their mouths and so on, and is part of the process of generalization, learning to apply standard rules to different situations.

The other consideration is that we had pencils and a thermometer in our house. Mozart had a piano. And while he was obviously a very bright and talented child, most of his compositions are structurally very simple and repetitive. One of the ways you can recognize a Mozart composition is, if you hear every bar repeat itself then it’s probably Mozart: 123A, 123B, 123A,123B and so on.

The tricky thing about bringing karma into the equation is that any aspect you are discussing is also another bunch of component parts.

In other words, the teachings may say something like having anger or greed in this life causes such and such in the next life. But anger and greed are very general terms. They are in fact abstract concepts. Anger is made up of different things going on at the same time.

It’s the same with terms such as “talent” or “genius”. This doesn’t mean that there is no such thing as anger, talent, or genius, but although you can say “this is talent” you can’t say “talent is this.”. You can’t identify a “thing” that is talent inherited from one life to the next.

One might ask, “what about DNA?” But DNA itself isn’t talent, and inherited DNA didn’t die and then reappear.
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Re: Dōgen on Rebirth

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Lazy_eye wrote: Tue Jun 11, 2024 2:16 pm
Johnny Dangerous wrote: Tue Jun 11, 2024 6:06 am
Why do you think sunyata nullifies karma?

Emptiness is the ultimate state of things, it doesn’t contradict conventional cause and effect, from a Buddhist point of view in fact cause and effect can only operate because phenomena are empty and interdependent.
I don't think that. Karma-vipaka is conventional reality, sunyata is ultimate reality.

Questions like "why was Mozart a child prodigy," "why am I having all this bad (or good) luck," "why do I connect with Jim but not with Greg," and so on belong to conventional reality and can be explained in terms of karma. This is discussed all the time in Buddhism—for example in Liaofan's Four Lessons. Questions like this assume a self that is capable of being a child prodigy (or not), having friendships, experiencing good or bad luck, etc.
I’d disagree that these questions assume a self, they assume causes and conditions.
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Re: Dōgen on Rebirth

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PadmaVonSamba wrote: Tue Jun 11, 2024 3:52 pm Then we should begin by asking how is it that anyone can play the piano at all, and whatever answer we go with, to work from there, and not automatically assume that Mozart’s extraordinary abilities were anything more than an extreme degree of that. Personally, I think children are for the most part born with completely open minds and that adults cloud them up, and that maybe Mozart’s mind didn’t get clouded up so early on. Maybe every baby starts out as a potential prodigy but most of them never realize it. Sort of like the survival rate of baby sea turtles.

When I was three or four years old, I looked at a glass thermometer we had in our bathroom. This is the type that has mercury in it and numbers printed on one side. And I saw that it therefore resembled a lead pencil, yet it wasn’t a pencil. And it occurred to me then that a thing is only what it is to the degree that it isn’t something else. In other words, a thermometer is a pencil except that it is glass rather than wood, and contains a line of mercury rather than lead, and the markings on the side are different, and instead of writing with it, you take temperatures with it. But if one didn’t know the difference, one might easily mistake one for the other.

I like to think that this was a kind of rudimentary understanding of sunyata, that phenomena only arise conditionally. And I’d like to think that this is some wisdom I brought with me from a past life. But it very well could simply be the normal process by which a child learns to distinguish one object from another, what things they shouldn’t put into their mouths and so on, and is part of the process of generalization, learning to apply standard rules to different situations.

The other consideration is that we had pencils and a thermometer in our house. Mozart had a piano. And while he was obviously a very bright and talented child, most of his compositions are structurally very simple and repetitive. One of the ways you can recognize a Mozart composition is, if you hear every bar repeat itself then it’s probably Mozart: 123A, 123B, 123A,123B and so on.

The tricky thing about bringing karma into the equation is that any aspect you are discussing is also another bunch of component parts.

In other words, the teachings may say something like having anger or greed in this life causes such and such in the next life. But anger and greed are very general terms. They are in fact abstract concepts. Anger is made up of different things going on at the same time.

It’s the same with terms such as “talent” or “genius”. This doesn’t mean that there is no such thing as anger, talent, or genius, but although you can say “this is talent” you can’t say “talent is this.”. You can’t identify a “thing” that is talent inherited from one life to the next.

One might ask, “what about DNA?” But DNA itself isn’t talent, and inherited DNA didn’t die and then reappear.
All very well explained--and, as it happens, pretty much the way I think about this topic as well. Sunyata was what drew me to Buddhism in the first place--it has seemed true to me for as long as I can remember, though prior to engaging with Buddhism, I didn't know what it was called. It's interesting that you remember your thermometer/pencil perception so well and that it led to a significant realization (maybe one that you were prepared for already). I mean, kids often notice these kinds of things, but they usually don't see the interesting questions suggested by these resemblances and differences.

I've done some college and graduate work in music, and one of the things that becomes apparent in music history is that we can't really understand composers like Mozart (or Chopin or Liszt or whoever) without understanding a whole slew of conditions and circumstances. For instance, the way keyboard instruments were being developed in the 18th century, leading to the modern-day piano. Or the way tonic-dominant tonality was being perfected. Or the fact that music was the family business. And so on. Not in any way dismissing his individual talent, but the circumstances were what allowed the talent to ripen.

Anyway, thank you for your response(s), and my apologies for obtuse questions. I have a habit of overthinking and making things more complicated than they need to be, as you observed.
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Re: Dōgen on Rebirth

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Johnny Dangerous wrote: Tue Jun 11, 2024 4:43 pm I’d disagree that these questions assume a self, they assume causes and conditions.
Ok. But then why do we say "I am the owner of my karma?"
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Re: Dōgen on Rebirth

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Lazy_eye wrote: Wed Jun 12, 2024 12:13 am
Johnny Dangerous wrote: Tue Jun 11, 2024 4:43 pm I’d disagree that these questions assume a self, they assume causes and conditions.
Ok. But then why do we say "I am the owner of my karma?"
That's pointing out that causes have effects, not saying anything about the reality or necessity of self. This is similar to when people take the line also from the Dhammpada talking about "making an island for oneself" etc...it is simply using conventional language to discuss something, not making a pointed philosophical statement about self.
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Re: Dōgen on Rebirth

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Lazy_eye wrote: Wed Jun 12, 2024 12:13 am
Johnny Dangerous wrote: Tue Jun 11, 2024 4:43 pm I’d disagree that these questions assume a self, they assume causes and conditions.
Ok. But then why do we say "I am the owner of my karma?"
If you find a brick lying next to a brick wall with one missing, you’d say “this brick belongs to that wall” even though the reality is that there is no “wall” other than the construct of bricks. To say the wall “owns” the bricks would personify it. But that’s precisely what we do when we refer to our individual karma. Our samsaric existence is the personification of it.

We say, “this is my karma” in much the same way. What we are at any moment is the mortaring together of whatever karmic “bricks” have been accumulated. Other than that, there is no thing that owns the karma any more than there is anything in the wall that owns the bricks.
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Re: Dōgen on Rebirth

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PadmaVonSamba wrote: Wed Jun 12, 2024 1:49 am
Lazy_eye wrote: Wed Jun 12, 2024 12:13 am
Johnny Dangerous wrote: Tue Jun 11, 2024 4:43 pm I’d disagree that these questions assume a self, they assume causes and conditions.
Ok. But then why do we say "I am the owner of my karma?"
If you find a brick lying next to a brick wall with one missing, you’d say “this brick belongs to that wall” even though the reality is that there is no “wall” other than the construct of bricks. To say the wall “owns” the bricks would personify it. But that’s precisely what we do when we refer to our individual karma. Our samsaric existence is the personification of it.

We say, “this is my karma” in much the same way. What we are at any moment is the mortaring together of whatever karmic “bricks” have been accumulated. Other than that, there is no thing that owns the karma any more than there is anything in the wall that owns the bricks.
Ok, that works for me. I like the brick analogy. Thanks, both!
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