Atheism is an Unskillful False Dhamma

A discussion on all aspects of Theravāda Buddhism

Re: Atheism is an Unskillful False Dhamma

Postby Nyana » Sat Mar 24, 2012 6:00 am

Goofaholix wrote:
Ñāṇa wrote:This has already been explained to you multiple times.


I think not.

Again, neither theism nor atheism is an accurate classification of Buddhism. Satischandra Chatterjee and Dhirendramohan Datta, An Introduction to Indian Philosophy:

    In modern Indian languages, "āstika" and "nāstika" generally mean "theist" and "atheist", respectively. But in Sanskrit philosophical literature, "āstika" means "one who believes in the authority of the Vedas" or "one who believes in life after death". ("nāstika" means the opposite of these).... In the second sense, even the Jaina and Buddha schools are "āstika", as they believe in life after death. The six orthodox schools are "āstika", and the Cārvāka is "nāstika" in both the senses.
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Re: Atheism is an Unskillful False Dhamma

Postby nowheat » Sat Mar 24, 2012 8:01 am

I love you folks for your ability to go on for three or four pages arguing over the word "atheism". Can't even agree on terms "for the sake of discussion" so how can we communicate?

Ñāṇa wrote:To be more clear: Atheism (in the broad sense of the term as already stated), moral nihilism, materialism, physicalism, and so on, are each an unskillful false dhamma. None of them are compatible with the Buddhadhamma.


Is atheism, then, a lack of belief in X? What is X? Is lack of belief in a creator God the atheism you're talking about? Do you allow for a creator god in your own belief system? Or are you talking about lack of belief in the small and deluded devas? Or in karma? in the efficacy of action? All of these, some of these, none of these, more than these?

What is it about the atheism that you object to as being Unskillful False Dhamma that makes it unskillful? I understood that part of the point (I think it was yours, could have been someone else's) was that it is divisive, and I agree with that wholeheartedly.

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Re: Atheism is an Unskillful False Dhamma

Postby Goofaholix » Sat Mar 24, 2012 8:21 am

Ñāṇa wrote:In modern Indian languages, "āstika" and "nāstika" generally mean "theist" and "atheist", respectively. But in Sanskrit philosophical literature, "āstika" means "one who believes in the authority of the Vedas" or "one who believes in life after death". ("nāstika" means the opposite of these).... In the second sense, even the Jaina and Buddha schools are "āstika", as they believe in life after death. The six orthodox schools are "āstika", and the Cārvāka is "nāstika" in both the senses.


It might be better if you use the term "āstika" and "nāstika" then as they equate to what you are talking about, but if the definition those two terms given above is correct then they clearly don't correspond to the english dictionary definition of "theist" and "atheist". While I agree with you that the "theist" and "atheist" dichotomy isn't really relevant to Buddhism it was you who chose to use it, and to label one group of Buddhists as atheists create a false dichotomy when most Buddhists in the west consider themselves athiests.

You'll see here though http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C4%80stik ... C4%81stika that Buddhism is classed nāstika so if you want to translate nāstika as atheist that's fine with me as you've proven my point.

Perhaps non-theist is better, though I'm not sure what it achieves.
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Re: Atheism is an Unskillful False Dhamma

Postby Spiny O'Norman » Sat Mar 24, 2012 9:21 am

Goofaholix wrote:The a- negates, it doesn't affirm, in this case it negates theism.


Yes, atheism implies disbelief while theism implies belief. Arguably both disbelief and belief are unskillful because they both involve attachment to views.

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Re: Atheism is an Unskillful False Dhamma

Postby Spiny O'Norman » Sat Mar 24, 2012 9:22 am

Goofaholix wrote:Perhaps non-theist is better, though I'm not sure what it achieves.


Yes, and perhaps "non-theist" is covered by "agnostic"?

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Re: Atheism is an Unskillful False Dhamma

Postby Kare » Sat Mar 24, 2012 9:41 am

Spiny O'Norman wrote:
Goofaholix wrote:The a- negates, it doesn't affirm, in this case it negates theism.


Yes, atheism implies disbelief while theism implies belief. Arguably both disbelief and belief are unskillful because they both involve attachment to views.

Spiny


Do I believe in the Flying Spaghetti Monster? No. So according to your explanation this is disbelief, which is unskilful because it involves attachment to views.
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Re: Atheism is an Unskillful False Dhamma

Postby Kim OHara » Sat Mar 24, 2012 9:56 am

:clap: :clap:
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Re: Atheism is an Unskillful False Dhamma

Postby Mr Man » Sat Mar 24, 2012 10:19 am

Now would rational thought be a false dhamma?

I wonder if the "natthika-di??hi" of the Buddha's time was a much stronger "view" than the re-birth skepticism that some Theravada Buddhist of today have.
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Re: Atheism is an Unskillful False Dhamma

Postby Nyana » Sat Mar 24, 2012 11:16 am

Mr Man wrote:I wonder if the "natthika-di??hi" of the Buddha's time was a much stronger "view" than the re-birth skepticism that some Theravada Buddhist of today have.

More relevant is the rebirth denial of atheists who claim to be "Buddhists." Stephen Batchelor, No Future in a Parrot's Egg:

    I reject karma and rebirth not only because I find them unintelligible, but because I believe they obscure and distort what the Buddha was trying to say.
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Re: Atheism is an Unskillful False Dhamma

Postby Nyana » Sat Mar 24, 2012 11:21 am

Goofaholix wrote:...to label one group of Buddhists as atheists....

There are no Buddhist atheists. It's a contradiction in terms. Alan Wallace, Distorted Visions of Buddhism: Agnostic and Atheist:

    To ignore the most compelling evidence of what the Buddha taught and to replace that by assertions that run counter to such evidence is indefensible. And when those secular, atheistic assertions just happen to correspond to the materialistic assumptions of modernity, it is simply ridiculous to attribute them to the historical Buddha.

Goofaholix wrote:You'll see here though http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C4%80stik ... C4%81stika that Buddhism is classed nāstika

Nāstika in this context means not believing in the authority of the Vedas.
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Re: Atheism is an Unskillful False Dhamma

Postby vinasp » Sat Mar 24, 2012 11:30 am

Hi everyone,

There are two kinds of knowledge:

1. Direct knowledge.

2. Indirect knowledge.

I am looking at a book on the table in front of me, I see a blue patch against a brown background. What I am seeing, the blue patch, is direct knowledge. Direct knowledge is certain, it is beyond any doubt.

I know that there is a country called Japan. I know this from books, newspapers, television and so forth. I have never been there or seen that country for myself. I trust that the information in the books is true. This is indirect knowledge.

But not everything in the books and newspapers is in fact true, some of it is mistaken or deliberate deception.

Indirect knowledge is true, justified belief.

So, if you believe something, and there is good evidence for it, and it is also true - then it counts as indirect knowledge.

But what about the things that some people believe, for which, there is little or no evidence? These are unjustified beliefs, they do not count as knowledge, they are delusions.

So all knowledge is belief and it is not possible for someone to have no beliefs.

I believe that the earth is a sphere. There is much evidence for this. If someone suggests that the earth is actually flat, then I reject that idea, because it does not fit with everything else which I believe.

The Human Being is limited in many ways, our senses have limited range, and we are confined to a fleeting present in time. There are limits to what we can know with good evidence. But most people go way beyond these limits, and claim to know things which are beyond anything which can be known.

Regards, Vincent.
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Re: Atheism is an Unskillful False Dhamma

Postby Nyana » Sat Mar 24, 2012 11:50 am

vinasp wrote: So, if you believe something, and there is good evidence for it, and it is also true - then it counts as indirect knowledge....

The Human Being is limited in many ways, our senses have limited range, and we are confined to a fleeting present in time. There are limits to what we can know with good evidence. But most people go way beyond these limits, and claim to know things which are beyond anything which can be known.

Sure. Theravādins who have gone for refuge in the three jewels have a number of reliable sources for ascertaining valid knowledge:

    1. the Pāli Tipiṭaka
    2. the written & verbal testimony of noble persons
    3. inferential perception
    4. direct perception

By using these reliable sources we can come to accept the validity of Buddhist teachings which are central to the Buddha's awakening and the knowledge of other awakened arahants as well, even though we don't have direct perception of these knowledges ourselves:


Moreover, by correctly engaging in the noble eightfold path it is possible to personally realize these higher knowledges. But first, one has to abandon the limitations of accepting the false dhammas of atheistic and materialistic views.
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Re: Atheism is an Unskillful False Dhamma

Postby vinasp » Sat Mar 24, 2012 12:11 pm

Hi Nana,

Here is a passage from DN 2:

""With his mind thus concentrated, purified, and bright, unblemished, free from defects, pliant, malleable, steady, and attained to imperturbability, he directs and inclines it to the modes of supranormal powers. He wields manifold supranormal powers. Having been one he becomes many; having been many he becomes one. He appears. He vanishes. He goes unimpeded through walls, ramparts, and mountains as if through space. He dives in and out of the earth as if it were water. He walks on water without sinking as if it were dry land. Sitting cross-legged he flies through the air like a winged bird. With his hand he touches and strokes even the sun and moon, so mighty and powerful. He exercises influence with his body even as far as the Brahma worlds."

Do you believe this?

Regards, Vincent.
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Re: Atheism is an Unskillful False Dhamma

Postby Lazy_eye » Sat Mar 24, 2012 1:02 pm

Ñāṇa wrote:Theravādins who have gone for refuge in the three jewels have a number of reliable sources for ascertaining valid knowledge:

    1. the Pāli Tipiṭaka
    2. the written & verbal testimony of noble persons
    3. inferential perception
    4. direct perception


Unfortunately, though, #1 and #2 constitute reliance on authority, which is not at all a solid basis for ascertaining valid knowledge. Authorities who are right on some questions can be mistaken about others. Even the Tipitaka contains passages here and there which are demonstrably wrong.

Claims made from direct experience ("I saw it myself, and this is what I saw!") can also be unreliable, even when the witness is reporting their experience in good faith. They may have misinterpreted their experience or made some cognitive error. Similarly, inferences can be faulty.

A funny example of faulty reasoning is the ghost and the lampshade story -- the credulous observer is convinced that his house is haunted because a lampshade appears to be moving as if tampered with by a ghost; however, he has failed to account for an electric fan below which is pumping currents of air in the direction of the lampshade.

But first, one has to abandon the limitations of accepting the false dhammas of atheistic and materialistic views.


One should not, however, surrender his or her critical thinking skills or encourage other people to do so. That would be harmful and unwise.
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Re: Atheism is an Unskillful False Dhamma

Postby Nyana » Sat Mar 24, 2012 1:23 pm

vinasp wrote: Do you believe this?

It doesn't matter what I believe. However, I can assure you that I haven't developed samādhi to the rarefied level of jhāna mastery, which, of course, is necessary to induce iddhis. But at any rate, with proper context the activity that this passage is describing might not be quite as far out as it may seem to someone's modernist, materialist influenced sensibilities. Sue Hamilton, Identity and Experience: The Construction of the Human Being According to Early Buddhism:

    Of all of these supernormal abilities, only one, the creation of the body, is specifically stated to be manomaya [mind-made]. But just as the mind-made body required that the bhikkhu, having achieved the stated meditative level, "apply and bend-down his mind" in order to create such a body, so in the description of every single one of the other abilities, it clearly states that first the bhikkhu has to apply and bend-down his mind. The difference seems to be that the body is created by the mind whereas the other supernormal abilities are activities of the mind: in the former case, the mind produces something; in the latter case the mind does something.

Still remarkable, yes. But not impossible.
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Re: Atheism is an Unskillful False Dhamma

Postby Kare » Sat Mar 24, 2012 1:47 pm

"With his hand he touches and strokes even the sun and moon, so mighty and powerful."

Do you believe this?
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Re: Atheism is an Unskillful False Dhamma

Postby Nyana » Sat Mar 24, 2012 2:08 pm

Lazy_eye wrote:
Ñāṇa wrote:Theravādins who have gone for refuge in the three jewels have a number of reliable sources for ascertaining valid knowledge:

    1. the Pāli Tipiṭaka
    2. the written & verbal testimony of noble persons
    3. inferential perception
    4. direct perception


Unfortunately, though, #1 and #2 constitute reliance on authority, which is not at all a solid basis for ascertaining valid knowledge. Authorities who are right on some questions can be mistaken about others.

If one has gone for refuge in the three jewels and has practiced their teachings faithfully and accurately for a sufficient number of years, and if the dhamma has demonstrated reliability and veracity on a number of points, it is possible to accept the three jewels as reliable sources of valid knowledge regarding instruction in all essential practice injunctions required for full awakening. And these injunctions include instruction on right view.

Lazy_eye wrote:Claims made from direct experience ("I saw it myself, and this is what I saw!") can also be unreliable, even when the witness is reporting their experience in good faith. They may have misinterpreted their experience or made some cognitive error. Similarly, inferences can be faulty.

Yes, of course. This is where the aid of a knowledgeable and skillful teacher is helpful. Otherwise there can be blind spots which can remain unknown and unacknowledged.

Lazy_eye wrote:One should not, however, surrender his or her critical thinking skills or encourage other people to do so. That would be harmful and unwise.

Agreed.
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Re: Atheism is an Unskillful False Dhamma

Postby Nyana » Sat Mar 24, 2012 2:17 pm

Kare wrote:"With his hand he touches and strokes even the sun and moon, so mighty and powerful."

Do you believe this?

It doesn't matter what I believe.
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Re: Atheism is an Unskillful False Dhamma

Postby Lazy_eye » Sat Mar 24, 2012 3:09 pm

Ñāṇa wrote:If one has gone for refuge in the three jewels and has practiced their teachings faithfully and accurately for a sufficient number of years, and if the dhamma has demonstrated reliability and veracity on a number of points, it is possible to accept the three jewels as reliable sources of valid knowledge regarding instruction in all essential practice injunctions required for full awakening.


In that case, there is a stage of practice at which agnosticism -- in the "weak" form which Daverupa cited in another thread -- would be appropriate. As you suggest, it may take years of dedicated practice and study, all the time testing the dhamma's reliability and veracity, before the necessary degree of conviction is reached.

Until then, one would have to say "it is currently not possible for me to know whether rebirth is true". That's different from saying "it is impossible to ever know" or "no, rebirth is definitely not true" -- both of these positions clearly being incompatible with the dhamma as it has come down to us.
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Re: Atheism is an Unskillful False Dhamma

Postby Nyana » Sat Mar 24, 2012 3:48 pm

Lazy_eye wrote:In that case, there is a stage of practice at which agnosticism -- in the "weak" form which Daverupa cited in another thread -- would be appropriate. As you suggest, it may take years of dedicated practice and study, all the time testing the dhamma's reliability and veracity, before the necessary degree of conviction is reached.

Until then, one would have to say "it is currently not possible for me to know whether rebirth is true". That's different from saying "it is impossible to ever know" or "no, rebirth is definitely not true" -- both of these positions clearly being incompatible with the dhamma as it has come down to us.

Agreed. As I mentioned the other day on another thread, if someone has a sincere interest in Buddhism then I think they should be willing to keep an open mind on the question of rebirth, and at least accept that this is a significant teaching of the Buddhadhamma, even while they remain agnostic themselves.

On a related note, one of the trends that I've noticed over the years is that there is a certain significant subset of Westerners who are drawn to the Pāli dhamma and Theravāda who are more comfortable with the rational, analytical, and objective perspective than with the intuitive, holistic, subjective perspective. And it's sometimes the case that people who highly value rationalism are suspicious of the more visionary, subjective perspective. But I think both aspects are equally valuable and it's worthwhile -- even necessary -- to work towards integrating both. Awakening requires developing the optimal mental qualities for practice, both cognitive and affective, the rational and the visionary.
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