Ontological tension.

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Reductor
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Ontological tension.

Postby Reductor » Tue Aug 17, 2010 6:24 am

This is split from another thread.

5heaps wrote:
thereductor wrote:It occurred to me that certain ontological conclusions could be drawn from what the Buddha taught, but that by doing so we depart from the directly experiential.

can you give an example of what you had in mind


When I posted, I had the concept of non-duality in mind. But since I'm not familiar with all the details of that subject it wouldn't be fair for me to discuss it at length. Allow me to demonstrate my meaning in a different way.

Suppose a person were to read the suttas in a selective manor, attending only to those discourses that spoke of continued existence between lives. What would the likely conclusion be for that person? In all likelihood they would conclude that there is some essence/soul/self that links all these lives together. If they then sat down and meditated, looking for this essence, would they find it?

Suppose now that a person were to ignore all talk of continued existence, instead attending only to the talk of dependent arising, cessation and final extinction. What would the conclusion be for one that read in such a selective manor? It seems possible, to me, that they would come away with an annihilationist view. If they're a modern scientific sort then they may opine that mind is merely an emergent property and leave it at that. Would meditation further uproot such a view? Heck, would someone with such a view meditate?

If we grab hold of one ontological extreme or the other (eternalism or annihilationism) then we would be unlikely to practice the path to its culmination. Then why did he teach in a manor that creates this tension in views? I would contend that he left them side by side and unreconciled for the very reason that it doesn't matter which is true: only suffering and its end matter, regardless of the time scale involved. In that sense these teachings of his might be meant to confound both ontological positions altogether, as they are usually a distraction from the task he wanted us to undertake.

What do the other members think?
Michael

The thoughts I've expressed in the above post are carefully considered and offered in good faith.

And friendliness towards the world is happiness for him who is forbearing with living beings. -- Ud. 2:1
To his own ruin the fool gains knowledge, for it cleaves his head and destroys his innate goodness. -- Dhp 72


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Re: Ontological tension.

Postby curiousgeorge » Tue Aug 17, 2010 6:53 am

Well, you're description seems to change my interpretation of the quote... that taking someone's word for it in an insufficient substitute for direct experience. Of course, guidance can help us to shape our experience and to seek out experience that will drive us forward. I think this is still ultimately the answer to your question.


Regarding your explanation, there is the old Zen koan, "What is the sound of one hand clapping' - the answer being to slap the monk as hard as you can. I've always taken this to mean that you cannot take something out of context and hope to understand it. Thus the resultant, flawed understanding leads to flawed decision making, which results in flawed results. These results are unsatisfactory, and lead to negative feelings which drive violent action.

Thus, if someone takes only part of the Buddhas teachings separately, they are doing it wrong. Simple as that.

Secondly: You drew things out to a conclusion that is logical for you, but not the only conclusion possible. Modern scientific sorts to quite a bit of meditating, even with a reductionist view of the mind, because it works. People all over the world for all faiths have discovered the same thing, and do it for the same reason. For example, recently I talked to a famous musician who described the process he uses to resolve inner conflict to get ready to play as "a sort of meditation". Again, you cannot take one aspect away from a whole person and hope to make anything like accurate predictions of their behaviour.

Thirdly: To me, the reasons why the Buddha would include debate and controversy into his teachings seems self evident. These things serve to promote critical thinking skills, reduce faith based practice, and cause students to rely on experience for answers. Thus the teaching ultimately promotes the direct experience necessary for understanding.

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Re: Ontological tension.

Postby jcsuperstar » Tue Aug 17, 2010 7:38 am

i have friends who absolutely believe in some implicate order to the universe that allows no room for randomness. so if say they dream about a green car and later that day they see a green car it must mean something, my answer is yeah, it means you saw a green car :toilet: the brain is, it seems, hardwired to make connections, even if there is no real connection there, this is why we are so prone to stereotyping, it helps saves energy we could be wasting by thinking :tongue: but seriously pattern recognition is a very helpful tool in evolution, but unfortunately for some people it goes too far. and when you go poking your head into books looking for something specific, even if its not meant to be there (or you're even aware you're looking for it), you'll probably find it. we must always be honest ,foremost, with our selves, and be mindful of the mind and its mental processes or else we can go making connections we shouldn't and basing our practice off of ideas that are off base and thus lead us off track to any real progress.
สัพเพ สัตตา สุขีตา โหนตุ

the mountain may be heavy in and of itself, but if you're not trying to carry it it's not heavy to you- Ajaan Suwat

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Re: Ontological tension.

Postby Shonin » Tue Aug 17, 2010 8:41 am

Ontology schmontology
- The Buddha

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Re: Ontological tension.

Postby jcsuperstar » Tue Aug 17, 2010 8:46 am

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
สัพเพ สัตตา สุขีตา โหนตุ

the mountain may be heavy in and of itself, but if you're not trying to carry it it's not heavy to you- Ajaan Suwat

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Re: Ontological tension.

Postby Shonin » Tue Aug 17, 2010 9:37 am

jcsuperstar wrote:There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.


Maybe so, but you don't know what they are, Hamlet,
Let's focus on what we can actually experience.

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Re: Ontological tension.

Postby PeterB » Tue Aug 17, 2010 10:06 am

Or in Professor A.J. Ayers paraphrase.."There are more things in your philosophy than are dreamt of in heaven and earth "
:smile:

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Re: Ontological tension.

Postby m0rl0ck » Tue Aug 17, 2010 12:00 pm

thereductor wrote:
What do the other members think?


I think that sincere practice with a genuine spirit of inquiry will show you the same reality experienced by the buddhas, saints, patriarchs and sages.

I dont see that belief has much to do with it.
"When you meditate, don't send your mind outside. Don't fasten onto any knowledge at all. Whatever knowledge you've gained from books or teachers, don't bring it in to complicate things. Cut away all preoccupations, and then as you meditate let all your knowledge come from what's going on in the mind. When the mind is quiet, you'll know it for yourself. But you have to keep meditating a lot. When the time comes for things to develop, they'll develop on their own. Whatever you know, have it come from your own mind.
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/thai ... eleft.html

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Re: Ontological tension.

Postby T3G » Wed Aug 18, 2010 1:33 pm

Shonin wrote:
jcsuperstar wrote:There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.


Maybe so, but you don't know what they are, Hamlet,
Let's focus on what we can actually experience.


Nice comeback to Bill Shakespeare's 'Hammy,' Shonin. I laughed out loud. Thanks.

T3G

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Re: Ontological tension.

Postby 5heaps » Thu Aug 19, 2010 4:53 am

thereductor wrote:If we grab hold of one ontological extreme or the other (eternalism or annihilationism) then we would be unlikely to practice the path to its culmination. Then why did he teach in a manor that creates this tension in views? I would contend that he left them side by side and unreconciled for the very reason that it doesn't matter which is true: only suffering and its end matter

asserting that the Buddha "creates tension" is bizarre since by teaching anatta and anicca Buddha reduces the two extremes to 0 ontological status - they dont exist. if there is any appearance of tension it is from our own tendency to grasp to the extremes, with which we were born and have always operated under. also i cannot recall any examples where Buddha is consistently teaching either of the extremes as truth.

Shonin wrote:Maybe so, but you don't know what they are, Hamlet,
Let's focus on what we can actually experience.

"actually experience"? what a horrible thing to say. can we experience atoms? seemingly not, but they are there.
A Japanese man has been arrested on suspicion of writing a computer virus that destroys and replaces files on a victim PC with manga images of squid, octopuses and sea urchins. Masato Nakatsuji, 27, of Izumisano, Osaka Prefecture, was quoted as telling police: "I wanted to see how much my computer programming skills had improved since the last time I was arrested."

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Re: Ontological tension.

Postby Reductor » Thu Aug 19, 2010 7:39 am

5heaps wrote:
thereductor wrote:If we grab hold of one ontological extreme or the other (eternalism or annihilationism) then we would be unlikely to practice the path to its culmination. Then why did he teach in a manor that creates this tension in views? I would contend that he left them side by side and unreconciled for the very reason that it doesn't matter which is true: only suffering and its end matter

asserting that the Buddha "creates tension" is bizarre since by teaching anatta and anicca Buddha reduces the two extremes to 0 ontological status - they dont exist. if there is any appearance of tension it is from our own tendency to grasp to the extremes, with which we were born and have always operated under. also i cannot recall any examples where Buddha is consistently teaching either of the extremes as truth.


I was not suggesting that the Buddha taught either eternalism, annihiliationism or a mix of the two. I'm suggesting that there are two mode of discourse in the suttas which, when taken singularly, provided plenty of fodder for those that cling to either ontological view, as either mode of discourse could be appealed to in order to promote or bolster that view. But it is seems to me that by teaching both an inter-life continuance and a here-and-now POV that a balance is struck, in that both ontological views we might adhere too are frustrated.

With that said, it is interesting that while DO suggests that interlife is true (depending on how you read it) and could be seen as an ontological statement, its true value is not ontological at all. It is, as I'm certain you'll agree, about the continuation of suffering, a very present 'something' we experience regardless of which of the two ontological views we have a proclivity toward.

So, to clarify my point: the Buddha rejected both eternalism and annihilationism, positing instead a conditional and impersonal cycle of suffering. However, he also taught in a mode that suggests a personal form of inter-life continuation which was not explicitly reconciled with his more immediately here-and-now teachings. It is in reference to this that I say that he taught in a manor that leaves 'tension'. I'm also suggesting that this tension serves to undermine all ontological positions of self that a person might wish to take, and that this could well have been intentional - to challange the views of those that happened across the Dhamma, encouraging them to rethink their underlying assumptions.

This is all speculation on my part, as I'm sure you've concluded already. What I'm really interested in here is why it is that talk about rebirth is such a source of conflict; between those that favor more 'literal' views verses those that take it as metaphor (or between adherents, rejectors and agnostics). Moreover, this conflict has gotten me to think about which form of resolution we as practitioners are best served by: remain noncommittal, reject one half, or embrace all of it? How to reject one half without undermining confidence in the Buddha? And if one forces themselves to accept a teaching they don't really feel comfortable with, deep down inside, wouldn't that also undermine their confidence in the Buddha, albeit more subtly? Perhaps agnosticism is the safest bet? Perhaps a refusal to commit to either view is a sign of non-committal toward the practice too? :stirthepot:

But really, I dunno. I'm just shooting the breeze. :D

Oh, and with that in mind, perhaps the mods could move this to the free-for-all forum. How about it?
Last edited by Reductor on Thu Aug 19, 2010 7:42 am, edited 1 time in total.
Michael

The thoughts I've expressed in the above post are carefully considered and offered in good faith.

And friendliness towards the world is happiness for him who is forbearing with living beings. -- Ud. 2:1
To his own ruin the fool gains knowledge, for it cleaves his head and destroys his innate goodness. -- Dhp 72


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Re: Ontological tension.

Postby PeterB » Thu Aug 19, 2010 7:41 am

5heaps wrote:
thereductor wrote:If we grab hold of one ontological extreme or the other (eternalism or annihilationism) then we would be unlikely to practice the path to its culmination. Then why did he teach in a manor that creates this tension in views? I would contend that he left them side by side and unreconciled for the very reason that it doesn't matter which is true: only suffering and its end matter

asserting that the Buddha "creates tension" is bizarre since by teaching anatta and anicca Buddha reduces the two extremes to 0 ontological status - they dont exist. if there is any appearance of tension it is from our own tendency to grasp to the extremes, with which we were born and have always operated under. also i cannot recall any examples where Buddha is consistently teaching either of the extremes as truth.

Shonin wrote:Maybe so, but you don't know what they are, Hamlet,
Let's focus on what we can actually experience.

"actually experience"? what a horrible thing to say. can we experience atoms? seemingly not, but they are there.

And you know that they are there ...how ?

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Re: Ontological tension.

Postby mikenz66 » Thu Aug 19, 2010 10:11 am

PeterB wrote:And you know that they are there ...how ?

Hey, that's my line...

Some scientists used to be realists (Einstein for example...).

Mike

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Re: Ontological tension.

Postby 5heaps » Thu Aug 19, 2010 11:08 am

PeterB wrote:And you know that they are there ...how ?

having observed very small physical things + logic

something ultimate needs to be there (at the root of aggregations of grosser particles) or else action is not possible, for there would be nothing which is substantial. there would be an infinite regress of trying to complete something that works, and nothing would ever be established. it would be like trying to push an elevator button except you couldnt because it could never finished being pressed, because theres nothing there.

schmucks figured this out and so they thought they had their ultimate, and things could finally work again... but then they made their ultimate really really really ultimate. so ultimate that everything had to be made that way, even things that were nonphysical and perhaps had some role to play in the ultimate's nature of being ultimate (shhhh dont say that).

mikenz66 wrote:Some scientists used to be realists (Einstein for example...).

doesnt invalidate atoms just changes how they exist
A Japanese man has been arrested on suspicion of writing a computer virus that destroys and replaces files on a victim PC with manga images of squid, octopuses and sea urchins. Masato Nakatsuji, 27, of Izumisano, Osaka Prefecture, was quoted as telling police: "I wanted to see how much my computer programming skills had improved since the last time I was arrested."

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Re: Ontological tension.

Postby mikenz66 » Thu Aug 19, 2010 8:37 pm

5heaps wrote:
mikenz66 wrote:Some scientists used to be realists (Einstein for example...).

doesnt invalidate atoms just changes how they exist

All I can say is that a theory of atoms exists that agrees with available data...

Mike

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Re: Ontological tension.

Postby AdvaitaJ » Fri Aug 20, 2010 1:05 am

Some of the issues raised have been of increasing interest in my practice lately. The analogy of the "100% positive eye witness" to a crime who is later proved to have been wrong comes to mind. The mind is powerful and I've often wondered if I'm training it to see what I've been instructed to expect. I've decided that, as in any good science experiment, repeatability is my best defense against self-delusory training.

With regards to the "tension" in the Buddha's teaching, there's certainly a vacuum there. I am of the opinion that part of the Buddha's realization is something he decided could not be communicated and must be experienced -- so he showed us the path and knew that when/if anyone got that far, they'd understand. Perhaps the Buddha, superb teacher that he was, simply could "not find the words". When reading other's description of advanced attainment (Sariputta, for example), I'm always checking to see if they offer a bit more description of the "fruit" than the Buddha did.

Regards: Jim
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Re: Ontological tension.

Postby m0rl0ck » Fri Aug 20, 2010 2:00 am

thereductor wrote:Moreover, this conflict has gotten me to think about which form of resolution we as practitioners are best served by: remain noncommittal, reject one half, or embrace all of it? How to reject one half without undermining confidence in the Buddha? And if one forces themselves to accept a teaching they don't really feel comfortable with, deep down inside, wouldn't that also undermine their confidence in the Buddha, albeit more subtly? Perhaps agnosticism is the safest bet? Perhaps a refusal to commit to either view is a sign of non-committal toward the practice too? :stirthepot:



Refusal to commit to views in such matters is the only way to go, it is the practice imo. After all isnt it about non-clinging? Views are just more attachments. The resolution is to practice and experience truth rather than to take up speculative views which are good for nothing but to reinforce the fetter of self identity and cause conflict.

EDIT: besides which views absolutely ruin your practice, if you are sitting there thinking about what you should or shouldnt believe, you are doing it wrong.
"When you meditate, don't send your mind outside. Don't fasten onto any knowledge at all. Whatever knowledge you've gained from books or teachers, don't bring it in to complicate things. Cut away all preoccupations, and then as you meditate let all your knowledge come from what's going on in the mind. When the mind is quiet, you'll know it for yourself. But you have to keep meditating a lot. When the time comes for things to develop, they'll develop on their own. Whatever you know, have it come from your own mind.
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/thai ... eleft.html

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Re: Ontological tension.

Postby curiousgeorge » Sat Aug 21, 2010 8:59 pm

5heaps wrote:
PeterB wrote:And you know that they are there ...how ?

having observed very small physical things + logic

something ultimate needs to be there (at the root of aggregations of grosser particles) or else action is not possible, for there would be nothing which is substantial.


But E=MC2 meaning that matter is energy - and there are some very weird things going on, such as *negative* mass electrons, etc. Meaning that sometimes the opposite of something is there. Not only nothing, but an un-nothing. The realness we experience in general doesn't have anything to do with things touching, but rather with the interaction of energy fields. (at least, like you said, this has been induced and deduced, and supported experimentally)

But as far as molecules go, they have photographs. A while back, IBM arranged molecules to spell "IBM" and photographed it. So we can see them and move them around individually.

You can look at something "directly" using an electron microscope. It is an amplification of our senses, So far as you trust the laws of the universe to be constant, then that should hold up to scrutiny. The alternative as I understand it would be some version of nihilism.

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Re: Ontological tension.

Postby curiousgeorge » Sat Aug 21, 2010 9:20 pm

Lightning wit strikes again:


There is always ontological tension when something is misunderstood!

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Re: Ontological tension.

Postby rowyourboat » Sat Aug 21, 2010 9:26 pm

The Buddha taught people of different aptitudes/skills/faculties. Hence the teaching is sometimes different. Sometimes deeper. Hence the confusion, even though each level of description is correct, for us on the other side one side might seem more right than the other, depending on our tendencies (theorist, meditator, our view on ceasing to exist, not seeing total dukkha hence not seeing the total solution etc etc).

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