The Secular Buddhist

Theravāda in the 21st century - modern applications of ancient wisdom

Re: The Secular Buddhist

Postby Sanghamitta » Thu Feb 23, 2012 7:40 pm

kirk5a wrote:
Sanghamitta wrote:Ask whoever wrote it.

If, as you suggest, not reinforcing wrong views matters, if that's not "irrelevant" then it seems the "secular Buddhist" has something to consider.


Having made it plain ( to the best of my ability ) that I think that Dhamma is not found by discursive thought, whether "secular " or "religious ", you are inviting me to explore that view by means of discursive thought...? :smile:
Sorry..

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Re: The Secular Buddhist

Postby kirk5a » Thu Feb 23, 2012 7:48 pm

ancientbuddhism wrote:This statement and what follows it dares to discuss the real elephant in the room of presumptive traditional Buddhism , that of the myth of rebirth.

I think it goes beyond questioning. To me it looks like the author thinks anatta proves there can be no rebirth.
"When one thing is practiced & pursued, ignorance is abandoned, clear knowing arises, the conceit 'I am' is abandoned, latent tendencies are uprooted, fetters are abandoned. Which one thing? Mindfulness immersed in the body." -AN 1.230
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Re: The Secular Buddhist

Postby daverupa » Thu Feb 23, 2012 8:04 pm

kirk5a wrote:
ancientbuddhism wrote:This statement and what follows it dares to discuss the real elephant in the room of presumptive traditional Buddhism , that of the myth of rebirth.

I think it goes beyond questioning. To me it looks like the author thinks anatta proves there can be no rebirth.


It's not the case that everyone will be using the term "rebirth" in the same way, and this will lead to confusion and vexation. It's possible to accept or reject the explanation given in the Milindapañha (na ca so na ca añño), or to accept or reject the various Upanisadic visions of samsara, but the key aspect for a secular Buddhist seems to be that this question lies beyond the accepted epistemological range within which the Dhamma is to be practiced.

The secular idea of "Creeping Brahmanism" is implicated here, and it might do to give it a thread of its own.
    "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: The Secular Buddhist

Postby kirk5a » Thu Feb 23, 2012 8:32 pm

daverupa wrote:the key aspect for a secular Buddhist seems to be that this question lies beyond the accepted epistemological range within which the Dhamma is to be practiced.

But as that secular Buddhist demonstrates, she does not, in fact, regard it as "beyond the accepted epistemological range." She thinks "rebirth cannot be observed" (by her) AND "it isn't possible, anyhow" (owing to various ruminations concerning neurology, a misapprehension of anttta, etc.) :jumping:
"When one thing is practiced & pursued, ignorance is abandoned, clear knowing arises, the conceit 'I am' is abandoned, latent tendencies are uprooted, fetters are abandoned. Which one thing? Mindfulness immersed in the body." -AN 1.230
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Re: The Secular Buddhist

Postby ancientbuddhism » Thu Feb 23, 2012 8:43 pm

daverupa wrote:
kirk5a wrote:
ancientbuddhism wrote:This statement and what follows it dares to discuss the real elephant in the room of presumptive traditional Buddhism , that of the myth of rebirth.

I think it goes beyond questioning. To me it looks like the author thinks anatta proves there can be no rebirth.


It's not the case that everyone will be using the term "rebirth" in the same way, and this will lead to confusion and vexation. It's possible to accept or reject the explanation given in the Milindapañha (na ca so na ca añño), or to accept or reject the various Upanisadic visions of samsara, but the key aspect for a secular Buddhist seems to be that this question lies beyond the accepted epistemological range within which the Dhamma is to be practiced.

The secular idea of "Creeping Brahmanism" is implicated here, and it might do to give it a thread of its own.


Good post, and with regard to Creeping Brahmanism I have crossed some lines implying this here on DW that I usually choose not to because it confronts popular teachers.

Now I must be off to write more of my own Creeping Annihilationism.
Fingers walk the darkness down
Mind is on the midnight
Gather up the gold you've found
You fool, it's only moonlight.
If you try to take it home
Your hands will turn to butter
You better leave this dream alone
Try to find another. – Townes Van Zandt ‘Lungs’

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Re: The Secular Buddhist

Postby ancientbuddhism » Thu Feb 23, 2012 8:47 pm

kirk5a wrote:
daverupa wrote:the key aspect for a secular Buddhist seems to be that this question lies beyond the accepted epistemological range within which the Dhamma is to be practiced.

But as that secular Buddhist demonstrates, she does not, in fact, regard it as "beyond the accepted epistemological range." She thinks "rebirth cannot be observed" (by her) AND "it isn't possible, anyhow" (owing to various ruminations concerning neurology, a misapprehension of anttta, etc.) :jumping:


The Buddha's caution against making assumptions beyond ones own epistemological range are so frequent I won't bother quoting them.
Fingers walk the darkness down
Mind is on the midnight
Gather up the gold you've found
You fool, it's only moonlight.
If you try to take it home
Your hands will turn to butter
You better leave this dream alone
Try to find another. – Townes Van Zandt ‘Lungs’

Secure your own mask before assisting others. – NORTHWEST AIRLINES (Pre-Flight Instruction)

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Re: The Secular Buddhist

Postby daverupa » Thu Feb 23, 2012 9:07 pm

kirk5a wrote:
daverupa wrote:the key aspect for a secular Buddhist seems to be that this question lies beyond the accepted epistemological range within which the Dhamma is to be practiced.

But as that secular Buddhist demonstrates, she does not, in fact, regard it as "beyond the accepted epistemological range." She thinks "rebirth cannot be observed" (by her) AND "it isn't possible, anyhow" (owing to various ruminations concerning neurology, a misapprehension of anttta, etc.) :jumping:


And yet she writes, "I see no reason to consider anything after death, since I can not test and explore that situation."

This seems to echo throughout secular thought, alongside various strong claims which may be unwarranted - but, granting that such strong claims about post-mortem states are unwarranted, views both against and for "rebirth" (however formulated) are positions without support, ones which are consistently dealt with along skeptical lines within secular Buddhism. Furthermore, ongoing investigation into the heterogeneity of the SuttaVinaya (to say nothing of the Tipitaka, or the Canon) is getting reflected through a growing awareness among secular Buddhists of the historical progression of the received texts, including those texts which might postdate the Buddha, those which might be misunderstood by the early commentators, and so forth.

Accepting the textual corpus in toto as being homogenous & infallible is not tenable, on this approach, and one of the casualties of this seems to be the growing impossibility of a casual acceptance of national traditions in place of text and practice.
    "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: The Secular Buddhist

Postby kirk5a » Thu Feb 23, 2012 9:32 pm

daverupa wrote:And yet she writes, "I see no reason to consider anything after death, since I can not test and explore that situation."

Well she's just saying something self-contradictory. She just did consider it and come to a conclusion regarding it. That approach is one thing that seems to echo throughout "secular thought," so it seems to me. Purported agnosticism is actually just a smokescreen for positions against. Then, let's see what we can weed out of the teachings owing to historical reasoning, cultural biases, misinterpretation and so forth....

there can be no such thing as rebirth, or reincarnation after death, for there is no one to be reborn. Consciousness, a function of the brain, and the manufacturer of the feeling of self, dies with the death of the body.
"When one thing is practiced & pursued, ignorance is abandoned, clear knowing arises, the conceit 'I am' is abandoned, latent tendencies are uprooted, fetters are abandoned. Which one thing? Mindfulness immersed in the body." -AN 1.230
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Re: The Secular Buddhist

Postby daverupa » Thu Feb 23, 2012 10:25 pm

kirk5a wrote:Well she's just... Purported agnosticism is actually just a smokescreen... let's see what we can weed out of the teachings...


:anjali:
    "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: The Secular Buddhist

Postby retrofuturist » Thu Feb 23, 2012 10:32 pm

Greetings,

I find in such discussions it's relevant to consider what someone considers themselves to be 'first and foremost', because this invariably shapes how 'secondary interests' are framed.

The classic situation we see on forums a lot is 'Buddhism' and 'Vegetarian'. If some considers themselves 'Vegetarian' first and foremost, this then shapes their application of Buddhism. If there is any conflict or tension, they steer towards that which they align themselves with 'first and foremost'. In other words, their Buddhism has to fit into the Vegetarianism. If someone's preferences were altered, and they were 'Buddhist' first and foremost then their Vegetarianism would have to fit into their Buddhism.

None of this is essentially right or wrong, but it's how people prioritise the relative importance of their chosen belief systems (incl. religious, philosophical, scientific, political etc.) and how they go about integrating them into a "path" (eightfold or otherwise).

Metta,
Retro. :)
If you have asked me of the origination of unease, then I shall explain it to you in accordance with my understanding:
Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


Exalted in mind, just open and clearly aware, the recluse trained in the ways of the sages:
One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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Re: The Secular Buddhist

Postby Kim OHara » Thu Feb 23, 2012 10:45 pm

daverupa wrote:... ongoing investigation into the heterogeneity of the SuttaVinaya (to say nothing of the Tipitaka, or the Canon) is getting reflected through a growing awareness among secular Buddhists of the historical progression of the received texts, including those texts which might postdate the Buddha, those which might be misunderstood by the early commentators, and so forth.
Accepting the textual corpus in toto as being homogenous & infallible is not tenable, on this approach, and one of the casualties of this seems to be the growing impossibility of a casual acceptance of national traditions in place of text and practice.

In fact, accepting the whole textual corpus as being "homogenous & infallible" has to be a faith-based acceptance because it doesn't stand up to critical examination. And the same applies to accepting any of the national traditions as being homogenous & infallible.
Some people - most people, in fact - are perfectly happy not to have to think about doctrine, and that's absolutely fine: they will walk the path under the guidance of their teachers, and they will make progress along it. But the others, the questioners, are likely to practise something like Secular Buddhism or Skeptical Buddhism, whether they discover it for themselves or are lucky enough to find a group of like-minded people who have already done some of the work for them.

:namaste:
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Re: The Secular Buddhist

Postby Goofaholix » Thu Feb 23, 2012 11:42 pm

retrofuturist wrote:I find in such discussions it's relevant to consider what someone considers themselves to be 'first and foremost', because this invariably shapes how 'secondary interests' are framed.

The classic situation we see on forums a lot is 'Buddhism' and 'Vegetarian'. If some considers themselves 'Vegetarian' first and foremost, this then shapes their application of Buddhism. If there is any conflict or tension, they steer towards that which they align themselves with 'first and foremost'. In other words, their Buddhism has to fit into the Vegetarianism. If someone's preferences were altered, and they were 'Buddhist' first and foremost then their Vegetarianism would have to fit into their Buddhism.

None of this is essentially right or wrong, but it's how people prioritise the relative importance of their chosen belief systems (incl. religious, philosophical, scientific, political etc.) and how they go about integrating them into a "path" (eightfold or otherwise).


This is a good point.

I asked myself though what to secular Buddhists consider themselves first and foremost; skeptics, scientific, Nikayan Buddhists, humanists, materialists... ?

I think the answer is most secular Buddhists consider themselves Meditators first and foremost, or more specifically Insight Meditators.

Personally if I ever had to choose between Buddhist religion and Insight meditaion I'd choose the latter. having said that I don't think you can really have one without the other and be fully following the eightfold path.
"Proper effort is not the effort to make something particular happen. It is the effort to be aware and awake each moment." - Ajahn Chah
"When we see beyond self, we no longer cling to happiness. When we stop clinging, we can begin to be happy." - Ajahn Chah
"Know and watch your heart. It’s pure but emotions come to colour it." — Ajahn Chah
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Re: The Secular Buddhist

Postby retrofuturist » Thu Feb 23, 2012 11:49 pm

Greetings,

Goofaholix wrote:Personally if I ever had to choose between Buddhist religion and Insight meditaion I'd choose the latter.

For me, the "primary priority" is understanding and adhering to Buddhavacana, whilst other things like being an insight meditator, Theravadin, Buddhist etc. are secondary to that.... which, if nothing else, goes to show that there is similar diversity and prioritisation going on in the domain of Theravada!

:group:

Metta,
Retro. :)
If you have asked me of the origination of unease, then I shall explain it to you in accordance with my understanding:
Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


Exalted in mind, just open and clearly aware, the recluse trained in the ways of the sages:
One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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Re: The Secular Buddhist

Postby Buckwheat » Fri Feb 24, 2012 1:05 am

My top priority is the cessation of suffering. Although, I'm ignorant and stubborn so this is going to be a long ride.
Sotthī hontu nirantaraṃ - May you forever be well.
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Re: The Secular Buddhist

Postby Goofaholix » Fri Feb 24, 2012 1:11 am

retrofuturist wrote:For me, the "primary priority" is understand and adhering to Buddhavacana, whilst other things like being an insight meditator, Theravadin, Buddhist etc. are secondary to that.... which, if nothing else, goes to show that there is similar diversity and prioritisation going on in the domain of Theravada!


I think many secular Buddhists believe their interpretation is closer to Buddhavacana, and many religious Buddhists believe their interpretation is Buddhavacana.

So your answer is a bit like when asked "which version of events do you believe is true?" and you reply "the true one".

I'm guessing though what you mean is that your "primary priority" is a literal interpretation of the texts of the Pali Canon that are generally considered reliable.
"Proper effort is not the effort to make something particular happen. It is the effort to be aware and awake each moment." - Ajahn Chah
"When we see beyond self, we no longer cling to happiness. When we stop clinging, we can begin to be happy." - Ajahn Chah
"Know and watch your heart. It’s pure but emotions come to colour it." — Ajahn Chah
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Re: The Secular Buddhist

Postby retrofuturist » Fri Feb 24, 2012 2:08 am

Greetings Goof,

Goofaholix wrote:I'm guessing though what you mean is that your "primary priority" is a literal interpretation of the texts of the Pali Canon that are generally considered reliable.

Whilst I'm sure you didn't mean it as such, "literal" is a bit loaded since there's much in it that not intended to be "literal", or for which a "literal" interpretation might be a bit facile, but otherwise you're pretty much on the money.

I consider myself first and foremost a student of the Buddha (a savaka), and take the Sutta and Vinaya Pitakas as the "primary" means by which to receive my teacher's teachings, because they are the oldest extant records of my teacher's words. Other interpretations, explanations, opinions etc. from the broader world of Buddhism are "secondary" in the sense that I'm happy to listen to / consider / adopt them if they accord with reason and aren't in conflict with the primary. Often they accentuate the understanding of the primary (which is great), but that tiered hierarchy is always in place, and acceptance of the "secondary" is conditional upon non-conflict with the "primary.

To apply a visual, the leaves must connect to the branch, and the branch must connect to the trunk... if there is any disconnect, the branch and/or leaf will drop off. The trunk however, is firmly rooted into the ground - it ain't going anywhere.

It's good to call out the hierarchial distinctions in the interests of clarity, and of anyone who identifies themselves as a "secular Buddhist", I'd be interested to know their systematic hierarchies too... it seems that some have a (secondary) interest in making the Dhamma fit their (primary) vision of the physical sciences, which is something that they're entirely welcome to do, but I cannot endorse.

Metta,
Retro. :)
If you have asked me of the origination of unease, then I shall explain it to you in accordance with my understanding:
Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


Exalted in mind, just open and clearly aware, the recluse trained in the ways of the sages:
One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


Dharma Wheel (Mahayana / Vajrayana forum) -- Open flower ~ Open book (blog)
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Re: The Secular Buddhist

Postby Dan74 » Fri Feb 24, 2012 2:30 am

Of course the only trouble with that is that none of the authors of your secondary sources would likely accept that their teachings conflict with those of the Buddha.

So it becomes more of a question of the depth and accuracy of understanding/realisation of the teachings.

Sometimes we may reject a teaching because of a misunderstanding of what they are trying to convey. Sometimes we may reject a teaching because we are not yet ready to comprehend what they are saying. And sometimes we may reject a teaching because our understanding is actually superior to that of the author.

But it is never really a question of matching strings, some sort of a cut-and-dry "check against Buddhavacana", is it?

Especially if one is prepared to accept that the Dhamma is about liberating rather than about enunciating truths, so of necessity it must be contextual and its truth is in its liberating power rather than residing in some absolute. Thus it is of necessity relative to the audience, the context, the culture, etc. Much of this is shared and universal, but not all.
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Re: The Secular Buddhist

Postby mikenz66 » Fri Feb 24, 2012 3:05 am

Dan74 wrote:Of course the only trouble with that is that none of the authors of your secondary sources would likely accept that their teachings conflict with those of the Buddha.

Exactly. The differences are a matter of opinion and interpretation. (In my opinion :tongue: ).

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Re: The Secular Buddhist

Postby retrofuturist » Fri Feb 24, 2012 3:31 am

Greetings Dan,

Dan74 wrote:Of course the only trouble with that is that none of the authors of your secondary sources would likely accept that their teachings conflict with those of the Buddha.

Of course. For example, there are many teachers who regard the Abhidhamma as an actual teaching of the Buddha. There are many teachers who regard the Mahavihara commentaries as definitive and infallible. Extending the scope beyond Theravada, you've got teachers who believe the Mahayana Sutras were spoken by Gotama. What they teach is predicated upon assumptions I do not share. They take as primary that which I take as secondary, tertiary and so on etc. It doesn't matter to me whether they think it's Buddhavacana or not, as it's not them that needs to walk my path, and that's rightly what is my concern.

Dan74 wrote:So it becomes more of a question of the depth and accuracy of understanding/realisation of the teachings.

Or in the example above, agreement on what "the teachings" are that are to be taken as in scope in the first place.

Dan74 wrote:But it is never really a question of matching strings, some sort of a cut-and-dry "check against Buddhavacana", is it?

That depends on where Buddhavacana sits on your hierarchy and priority of beliefs/systems, I guess. If it is the central pivotal matter, then it's like the simile I gave of the leaf, branch and tree. Inherent in being a savaka, is that the Buddha is my teacher, and that I am attempting to actualise the teachings he taught. My faith in Buddhavacana and its liberating power is such that it has now become virtually a "cut-and-dry check against Buddhavacana", since personal experience/application has never invalidated the sutta teachings (as per that poll I've got going at the moment, where 70-75% seem to have had similar experiences of reliability of sutta).

If I do come across an inconsistency, I'll resolve it if/when it arises. To paraphrase what Ben said in the poll, if there's ever been fault in understanding, it lies with myself or my interpretation rather than Buddhavacana itself.

Until then...

:buddha1:

Metta,
Retro. :)
If you have asked me of the origination of unease, then I shall explain it to you in accordance with my understanding:
Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


Exalted in mind, just open and clearly aware, the recluse trained in the ways of the sages:
One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


Dharma Wheel (Mahayana / Vajrayana forum) -- Open flower ~ Open book (blog)
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Re: The Secular Buddhist

Postby mikenz66 » Fri Feb 24, 2012 4:02 am

Hi Retro,
retrofuturist wrote: My faith in Buddhavacana and its liberating power is such that it has now become virtually a
"cut-and-dry check against Buddhavacana", since personal experience/application has never invalidated the sutta teachings.

Of course I, and I would think most people here, maintain exactly the same thing. The Buddha is their ultimate teacher, the suttas are the ultimate source of their Dhamma, they practise according to the suttas, and their personal experience is consistent with the suttas.

However, clearly in some cases our interpretations of the suttas differ. This doesn't worry me in the slightest, since our interpretations depend on our backgrounds and are, in any case, provisional.

The only thing that would worry me would be claims that one particular approach to interpreting the suttas is inherently more in line with what the Buddha taught than other approaches. This, as I said, is entirely a matter of opinion.

Personally, I think that recognising that one's interpretations and Dhamma practice is shaped by one's background (preconceptions) is essential to progress. (In my opinion :)).

:anjali:
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