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Dhamma Wheel • View topic - Buddhism as a "rational" religion.

Buddhism as a "rational" religion.

A discussion on all aspects of Theravāda Buddhism

Buddhism as a "rational" religion.

Postby sshai45 » Tue Jul 03, 2012 10:34 pm

Hi.

I'm wondering about this. How is it that Buddhism can claim itself to be a more "rational" religion? Some seem to make this claim because it includes "atheism" -- it doesn't believe in a God. Yet it has no problem accepting many concepts that would be considered by a scientist and rationalist to just as laughable as theism -- karma, rebirth, the Buddhaverse, magic, etc. What gives?
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Re: Buddhism as a "rational" religion.

Postby David N. Snyder » Tue Jul 03, 2012 10:43 pm

"Buddhism" doesn't claim anything. :tongue: Some Buddhists might make the claim, but certainly not all.

Magic? See:

http://www.buddhisma2z.com/content.php?id=110

Astrology: http://www.buddhisma2z.com/content.php?id=30
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Re: Buddhism as a "rational" religion.

Postby sshai45 » Tue Jul 03, 2012 10:55 pm

David N. Snyder wrote:"Buddhism" doesn't claim anything. :tongue: Some Buddhists might make the claim, but certainly not all.

Magic? See:

http://www.buddhisma2z.com/content.php?id=110


Yet I've heard claims like the one mentioned in the title, and I've also heard a lot about the "rational" approach to things within Buddhism. Consider, e.g., this thread:

viewtopic.php?f=14&t=13029&start=0

Primitive man found himself in a dangerous and hostile world, the fear of wild animals, of not being able to find enough food, of injury or disease, and of natural phenomena like thunder, lightning and volcanoes was constantly with him. Finding no security, he created the idea of gods in order to give him comfort in good times, courage in times of danger and consolation when things went wrong. To this day, you will notice that people become more religious at times of crises, you will hear them say that the belief in a god or gods gives them the strength they need to deal with life. You will hear them explain that they believe in a particular god because they prayed in time of need and their prayer was answered. All this seems to support the Buddha’s teaching that the god-idea is a response to fear and frustration. The Buddha taught us to try to understand our fears, to lessen our desires and to calmly and courageously accept the things we cannot change. He replaced fear, not with irrational belief but with rational understanding.


If it is not rational to accept the idea of a God, how is it rational to accept rebirth, or the Buddhaverse (Gasp!)?

About magic, Buddhism definitely accepts "psychic powers" as real, something that science unquestionably rejects and for which all attempts to seek out evidence have turned up absolutely nothing withstood rigorous scrutiny. Some may call "psychic powers" a form of "magic" -- I've seen it before.
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Re: Buddhism as a "rational" religion.

Postby tiltbillings » Tue Jul 03, 2012 10:57 pm

Buddhaverse?
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
SN I, 38.

Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine.
People live in one another’s shelter.

dheamhan a fhios agam

"We eat cold eels and think distant thoughts." -- Jack Johnson
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Re: Buddhism as a "rational" religion.

Postby David N. Snyder » Tue Jul 03, 2012 11:06 pm

tiltbillings wrote:Buddhaverse?


I had to google it.
http://www.imaging.robarts.ca/~lgardi/h ... verse.html

Apparently a Mahayana concept?

Don't blame us, we're Theravadins. :tongue:
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Re: Buddhism as a "rational" religion.

Postby sshai45 » Tue Jul 03, 2012 11:10 pm

"Buddhaverse" is a term I use to refer to "the universe, as conceived of in the Buddhist Cosmology".

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buddhist_cosmology
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Re: Buddhism as a "rational" religion.

Postby daverupa » Tue Jul 03, 2012 11:15 pm

sshai45 wrote:"Buddhaverse" is a term I use to refer to "the universe, as conceived of in the Buddhist Cosmology".

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buddhist_cosmology


That'd more appropriately be the six sense spheres, i.e. 'the world'. Anything else is quite beside the point.
    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting oneself one protects others? By the pursuit, development, and cultivation of the four establishments of mindfulness. It is in such a way that by protecting oneself one protects others.

    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting others one protects oneself? By patience, harmlessness, goodwill, and sympathy. It is in such a way that by protecting others one protects oneself.
- Sedaka Sutta [SN 47.19]
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Re: Buddhism as a "rational" religion.

Postby tiltbillings » Tue Jul 03, 2012 11:33 pm

sshai45 wrote:"Buddhaverse" is a term I use to refer to "the universe, as conceived of in the Buddhist Cosmology".

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buddhist_cosmology
Yes, well, it is more or less the cosmology of the time, to which the Buddha applied his understanding, that is, the universe is something that functions in terms of interdependent conditionality, and there is no singular thingie in it that is uncaused and changing that acts upon the universe. To do justice to the Buddha's teachings one need not take stuff such as that cosmology literally; rather, one needs to understand the underlying principles of interdependent causality.
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
SN I, 38.

Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine.
People live in one another’s shelter.

dheamhan a fhios agam

"We eat cold eels and think distant thoughts." -- Jack Johnson
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Re: Buddhism as a "rational" religion.

Postby James the Giant » Wed Jul 04, 2012 12:21 am

sshai45 wrote:....How is it that Buddhism can claim itself to be a more "rational" religion?...

Maybe some of it is because of what the Dalai Lama said:
My confidence in venturing in science lies in my belief that as in science so in Buddhism, understanding the nature of reality is pursued by means of critical investigation: if scientific analysis were conclusively to demonstrate certain claims in Buddhism to be false, then we must accept the findings of science and abandon those claims.
Dalai Lama XIV, The Universe in a Single Atom: The Convergence of Science and Spirituality.

He's not Theravadan, but he has become one of the spokesmen for Buddhism in the west.

Also I think a lot of the impression that it is a more "rational" religion comes from a very flexible interpretation of the Kalama Sutta
The criterion for acceptance
"Come, Kalamas. Do not go upon what has been acquired by repeated hearing; nor upon tradition; nor upon rumor; nor upon what is in a scripture; nor upon surmise; nor upon an axiom; nor upon specious reasoning; nor upon a bias towards a notion that has been pondered over; nor upon another's seeming ability; nor upon the consideration, 'The monk is our teacher.' Kalamas, when you yourselves know: 'These things are good; these things are not blamable; these things are praised by the wise; undertaken and observed, these things lead to benefit and happiness,' enter on and abide in them.

In the western world especially, some people have taken that as support for a rationalist, scientific materialist position... which is perhaps going too far.
But, saying that, I personally like to err on the side of skepticism, and stay away from magic and stuff that does not fit with my pre-existing scientific worldview. Buddhism works fine for me like that.
I believe in rebirth because of the data presented by Ian Stevenson, I believe in karma because I can see it works at the mundane non-magical level of psychology, and I believe in the practical side of Buddhism, how to live life. Plus meditation rocks.
Then,
saturated with joy,
you will put an end to suffering and stress.
SN 9.11
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Re: Buddhism as a "rational" religion.

Postby pilgrim » Wed Jul 04, 2012 1:34 am

sshai45 wrote:Hi.

I'm wondering about this. How is it that Buddhism can claim itself to be a more "rational" religion? Some seem to make this claim because it includes "atheism" -- it doesn't believe in a God. Yet it has no problem accepting many concepts that would be considered by a scientist and rationalist to just as laughable as theism -- karma, rebirth, the Buddhaverse, magic, etc. What gives?


Buddhism's claim to be more rational is relative to the claims of other religions.

Factual claims of theistic religions are central to the religion but are totally wrong. Factual claims of Buddhism are not central to Buddhism. Where they are shown to be wrong ( eg Mt Sumeru), they are not relevant to the core message.

Buddhist doctrine does not claim to be handed down by a god which one must believe or suffer dire consequences. It is a set of instructions taught by the Buddha to achieve a goal - the cessation of suffering. Disbelief of any of the Buddhist teachings ( such as karma, etc) per se, has no consequences.

The focus of theistic religions is an omnipotent god and events claimed to be of great significance. None of this is supported by evidence or rational thought. The focus of Buddhism , the 4 noble Truths, is a philosophical concept that can be supported by rational argument.

After-life Doctrines of theistic religions are not supported by any evidence and can be demonstrated to be unjust and irrational. Reincarnation or Rebirth is the only after-life theory that is supported by some scientifically gathered evidence.

Theistic claims of salvation actively goes against the known laws of the universe (original sin, soul, eternal life, etc). Buddhist methods of salvation or liberation is based on an observation of universal laws and then negotiating them sucessfully.
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Re: Buddhism as a "rational" religion.

Postby greggorious » Wed Jul 04, 2012 2:51 am

Science doesn't reject Karma, re-birth, or even God. MATERIALISM rejects these things, not science.
"The original heart/mind shines like pure, clear water with the sweetest taste. But if the heart is pure, is our practice over? No, we must not cling even to this purity. We must go beyond all duality, all concepts, all bad, all good, all pure, all impure. We must go beyond self and nonself, beyond birth and death. When we see with the eye of wisdom, we know that the true Buddha is timeless, unborn, unrelated to any body, any history, any image. Buddha is the ground of all being, the realization of the truth of the unmoving mind.” Ajahn Chah
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Re: Buddhism as a "rational" religion.

Postby JBG » Wed Jul 04, 2012 5:32 am

Rational practice, irrational results.
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Re: Buddhism as a "rational" religion.

Postby Way~Farer » Wed Jul 04, 2012 7:04 am

Rationality is highly over-rated, IMO. Given that the world exists, and we're in it, we can discover all manner of useful things by rational means - no question about that. But when it comes to the big questions of religion and philosophy, reason has limited usefulness. What we feel intuitively is of great importance when it comes to questions of those kinds.

Consider the mainstream account of how humanity evolved. At the end of the day, this is held to happen for no reason, other than the fortuitous combination of material elements, and the urge to survive, which somehow is thought to have spontaneously developed out of that. Don't get me wrong, I am not for a minute advocating any kind of creationism. But the mainstream view is not particularly rational, insofar as it believes that things happen for no reason. This exact view is criticized in the Brahmajāla Sutta.

Herein, bhikkhus, a certain recluse or a brahmin is a rationalist, an investigator. He declares his view — hammered out by reason, deduced from his investigations, following his own flight of thought — thus: 'The self and the world originate fortuitously.'
from Access to Insight.

In fact, the materialist view of the Universe (which is held to be the mainstream by many people) is that everything we see is the result of material forces and that everything will eventually return to that. Why this is called 'rational' beats me.
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Re: Buddhism as a "rational" religion.

Postby Ben » Wed Jul 04, 2012 7:24 am

sunyavadin wrote:Rationality is highly over-rated, IMO. Given that the world exists, and we're in it, we can discover all manner of useful things by rational means - no question about that. But when it comes to the big questions of religion and philosophy, reason has limited usefulness. What we feel intuitively is of great importance when it comes to questions of those kinds.

Consider the mainstream account of how humanity evolved. At the end of the day, this is held to happen for no reason, other than the fortuitous combination of material elements, and the urge to survive, which somehow is thought to have spontaneously developed out of that. Don't get me wrong, I am not for a minute advocating any kind of creationism. But the mainstream view is not particularly rational, insofar as it believes that things happen for no reason. This exact view is criticized in the Brahmajāla Sutta.

Herein, bhikkhus, a certain recluse or a brahmin is a rationalist, an investigator. He declares his view — hammered out by reason, deduced from his investigations, following his own flight of thought — thus: 'The self and the world originate fortuitously.'
from Access to Insight.

In fact, the materialist view of the Universe (which is held to be the mainstream by many people) is that everything we see is the result of material forces and that everything will eventually return to that. Why this is called 'rational' beats me.


Why should there be a reason that life evolved the way it did?
Learn this from the waters:
in mountain clefts and chasms,
loud gush the streamlets,
but great rivers flow silently.

Taṃ nadīhi vijānātha:
sobbhesu padaresu ca,
saṇantā yanti kusobbhā,
tuṇhīyanti mahodadhī.

Sutta Nipata 3.725

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Re: Buddhism as a "rational" religion.

Postby tiltbillings » Wed Jul 04, 2012 7:28 am

Ben wrote:
sunyavadin wrote:Rationality is highly over-rated, IMO. Given that the world exists, and we're in it, we can discover all manner of useful things by rational means - no question about that. But when it comes to the big questions of religion and philosophy, reason has limited usefulness. What we feel intuitively is of great importance when it comes to questions of those kinds.

Consider the mainstream account of how humanity evolved. At the end of the day, this is held to happen for no reason, other than the fortuitous combination of material elements, and the urge to survive, which somehow is thought to have spontaneously developed out of that. Don't get me wrong, I am not for a minute advocating any kind of creationism. But the mainstream view is not particularly rational, insofar as it believes that things happen for no reason. This exact view is criticized in the Brahmajāla Sutta.

Herein, bhikkhus, a certain recluse or a brahmin is a rationalist, an investigator. He declares his view — hammered out by reason, deduced from his investigations, following his own flight of thought — thus: 'The self and the world originate fortuitously.'
from Access to Insight.

In fact, the materialist view of the Universe (which is held to be the mainstream by many people) is that everything we see is the result of material forces and that everything will eventually return to that. Why this is called 'rational' beats me.


Why should there be a reason that life evolved the way it did?


    "What are we to make of a creation in which the routine activity
    is for organisms to be tearing others apart with teeth of all types-
    biting, grinding flesh, plant stalks, bones between molars, pushing the
    pulp down the gullet with delight, incorporating its essence into one's
    own organization, and then excreting with foul stench and gasses the
    residue. Everyone reaching out to incorporate others who are edible to
    him. The mosquitoes bloating themselves on blood, the maggots, the
    killer-bees attacking with a fury and a demonism, sharks continuing to
    tear and swallow while their own innards are being torn out-not to
    mention the daily dismemberment and slaughter in "natural" accidents
    of all types: an earthquake buries alive seventy thousand bodies in Peru,
    automobiles make a pyramid heap of over fifty thousand a year in the
    U.S. alone, a tidal wave washes over a quarter of a million in the
    Indian Ocean. Creation is a nightmare spectacular taking place on a
    planet that has been soaked for hundreds of millions of years in the
    blood of all its creatures. The soberest conclusion that we could make
    about what has actually been taking place on the planet for about three
    billion years is that it is being turned into a vast pit of fertilizer. But the
    sun distracts our attention, always baking the blood dry, making things
    grow over it, and with its warmth giving the hope that comes with the
    organism's comfort and expansiveness." "

    --Ernst Becker THE DENIAL OF DEATH 1975, p. 282-283
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
SN I, 38.

Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine.
People live in one another’s shelter.

dheamhan a fhios agam

"We eat cold eels and think distant thoughts." -- Jack Johnson
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Re: Buddhism as a "rational" religion.

Postby Way~Farer » Wed Jul 04, 2012 7:38 am

Ben wrote: Why should there be a reason that life evolved the way it did?


I am interested in the idea that the evolutionary process is one in which the Universe is actually 'waking up to itself'. After all, it has spawned these creatures who are capable of weighing it and measuring it. But at the same time - certain irony here - we seem to take this for granted, as if it all just happened by dumb luck.


It is significant that in Buddhism, only the human being is able to realize Nibbana, is it not? Animals and beings in other realms, cannot. Not even the Gods can.
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Re: Buddhism as a "rational" religion.

Postby James the Giant » Wed Jul 04, 2012 8:00 am

sunyavadin wrote:After all, it has spawned these creatures who are capable of weighing it and measuring it. But at the same time - certain irony here - we seem to take this for granted, as if it all just happened by dumb luck.

You are falling into the trap of the Anthropic Principle, which is human-centric, somewhat similar to thinking we are the centre of the universe, and the sun revolves around the earth. It does not. But it looks that way.

Which do you think it more likely...
A) That the universe fits us perfectly?
or
B) That we fit the universe perfectly?

Douglas Adams used the metaphor of a living puddle examining its own shape, since, to those living creatures, the universe may appear to fit them perfectly, while in fact they simply fit the universe perfectly, as a consequence of having grown up inside it.
And only in a universe where life and thinking beings have arisen, will there be living beings capable of observing it.
A universe where intelligent life has not arisen, will go unbeheld.
Last edited by James the Giant on Wed Jul 04, 2012 8:01 am, edited 1 time in total.
Then,
saturated with joy,
you will put an end to suffering and stress.
SN 9.11
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Re: Buddhism as a "rational" religion.

Postby tiltbillings » Wed Jul 04, 2012 8:01 am

sunyavadin wrote:
Ben wrote: Why should there be a reason that life evolved the way it did?


I am interested in the idea that the evolutionary process is one in which the Universe is actually 'waking up to itself'. After all, it has spawned these creatures who are capable of weighing it and measuring it. But at the same time - certain irony here - we seem to take this for granted, as if it all just happened by dumb luck.


    The emergence of intelligence, I am convinced, tends to unbalance the ecology. In other words, intelligence is the great polluter. It is not until a creature begins to manage its environment that nature is thrown into disorder. Until that occurs, there is a system of checks and balances operating in a logical and understandable manner. Intelligence destroys and modifies the checks and balances even as it tries very diligently to leave them as they were. There is no such thing as an intelligence living harmony with the biosphere. It may think and boast it is doing so, but its mentality gives it an advantage and the compulsion is always there to employ this advantage to its selfish benefit. Thus, while intelligence may be an outstanding survival factor, the factor is short-term, and intelligence turns out to be the great destroyer. -- written by a crazy character in SHAKESPEARE'S PLANET, a sci-fi novel by Clifford Simak, 1976
.
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
SN I, 38.

Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine.
People live in one another’s shelter.

dheamhan a fhios agam

"We eat cold eels and think distant thoughts." -- Jack Johnson
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Re: Buddhism as a "rational" religion.

Postby Way~Farer » Wed Jul 04, 2012 8:38 am

James the Giant wrote: You are falling into the trap of the Anthropic Principle, which is human-centric, somewhat similar to thinking we are the centre of the universe, and the sun revolves around the earth. It does not. But it looks that way.

Which do you think it more likely...
A) That the universe fits us perfectly?
or
B) That we fit the universe perfectly?

Douglas Adams used the metaphor of a living puddle examining its own shape, since, to those living creatures, the universe may appear to fit them perfectly, while in fact they simply fit the universe perfectly, as a consequence of having grown up inside it.
And only in a universe where life and thinking beings have arisen, will there be living beings capable of observing it.
A universe where intelligent life has not arisen, will go unbeheld.


I'm familiar with the argument. But I don't think the anthropic principle is 'a trap' unless you're looking for a way to escape the idea that our existence might not be fortuitous. It might suit us a great deal more to believe that it is.

One of the motivations for 'the multiverse', fantastic as it might seem, is that it does provide an explanation for the uncanny fact that the universe is just such that it gives rise to living beings, when it seems it really might not have done. In other words, in all the other versions of the Universe, the laws of physics might not hold, no living things could eventuate, and so on. So people are seriously prepared to engage in the most fantastic speculations, to avoid the implications of the 'anthropic principle'.

Me, I think this is what the Mahayahanists called 'prapanca', conceptual proliferation.

Anyway - back to the point. If you believe, like Camus and Sartre, like a lot of 20th Century philosophy, that the universe is basically dumb, that we are simply pond slime made good, there is not much of a basis for 'rationality', in the end, is there? We are just smart monkeys who ought to have no reason to believe that anything we believe is true, as distinct from just useful, from the viewpoint of survival of the genome, and so on. So, I am saying that 'the viewpoint of modernity' is really not ultimately rational, because it can't really conceive of any kind of over-arching raison d'etre. This is reflected all over the place in modern life, isn't it? Isn't that why one begins to study something like Buddhism?
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Re: Buddhism as a "rational" religion.

Postby Ben » Wed Jul 04, 2012 9:40 am

sunyavadin wrote:
Ben wrote: Why should there be a reason that life evolved the way it did?


I am interested in the idea that the evolutionary process is one in which the Universe is actually 'waking up to itself'. After all, it has spawned these creatures who are capable of weighing it and measuring it. But at the same time - certain irony here - we seem to take this for granted, as if it all just happened by dumb luck.


It is significant that in Buddhism, only the human being is able to realize Nibbana, is it not? Animals and beings in other realms, cannot. Not even the Gods can.


If you have the time and inclination, I recommend you read Richard Dawkins' "The Greatest Show on Earth: the evidence for evolution". It is eloquent and extraordinary. It debunks many myths, misrepresentations and assumptions regarding evolution.

It is significant that in Buddhism, only the human being is able to realize Nibbana, is it not?

Not really. Devas can certainly practice and attain Nibbana in the deva realm as can some beings in pure abodes. Apparently, Mahabrahmas cannot. Though, I have heard from some Burmese teachers that the human realm provides the most conducive environment for practicing the path.
kind regards,

Ben
Learn this from the waters:
in mountain clefts and chasms,
loud gush the streamlets,
but great rivers flow silently.

Taṃ nadīhi vijānātha:
sobbhesu padaresu ca,
saṇantā yanti kusobbhā,
tuṇhīyanti mahodadhī.

Sutta Nipata 3.725

Compassionate Hands Foundation (Buddhist aid in Myanmar) • Buddhist Global ReliefUNHCR
Buddhist Life Stories of Australia
e: ben.dhammawheel@gmail.com
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