The Secular Buddhist

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

Re: The Secular Buddhist

Postby retrofuturist » Fri Feb 24, 2012 4:07 am

Greetings Mike,

mikenz66 wrote: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 :)).

Yes, and this is the point I was making of hierarchies and priorities.

For example, do you shape your "background (preconceptions)" to the Dhamma, or do you shape the Dhamma to your "background (preconceptions)"? How far are you prepared to relinquish views for the Dhamma? Do you surrender to the Dhamma?

These are questions to be addressed by the individual for themselves.

How far is the average Secular Buddhist prepared to go? Do they hold their "Secularity" as primary to the Dhamma itself?

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 » Fri Feb 24, 2012 4:19 am

retrofuturist wrote: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.

Hi, Retro,
That's a very fair comment but (as someone who is close to being a SB) I would like to expand on it a bit.
Science is systematic and testable (and constantly re-checked) and is therefore extremely reliable in its sphere of competence - especially the physical sciences - so as far as I am concerned anything that is flatly contradicted by well understood scientific knowledge is probably just plain wrong and (at the least) requires a lot of supporting evidence before I will accept it. God created the world in a week in 4004 BC? No way.
However - and let's make that a big However :tongue: - there is a lot of stuff which science doesn't try to cover or doesn't do very well at all. It's mainly stuff that goes on in people's heads. That's where the dhamma is focused and does (IMHO) an excellent job. I accept most of that and suspend judgement on the rest, pending further study.
Then there are grey areas in between, where the 'soft' sciences like psychology try to say something useful about what goes on in our heads or where Buddhism tries to make factual statements about physical realities beyond the knowledge of ancient India. There, I tend to accept whichever seems to have the best argument.

That isn't (to my way of thinking) 'making the Dhamma fit the physical sciences' as you might say, although I do test the dhamma against the sciences. It is more like accepting the best of both bodies of expertise.

:namaste:
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Re: The Secular Buddhist

Postby Goofaholix » Fri Feb 24, 2012 4:23 am

retrofuturist wrote: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.


Probably the most well known secular Buddhist is Stephen Batchelor, listening to his Dhamma talks he is obviously very well studied and bases his practise primarily on the oldest scriptures, however his interpretation of them is often very different from what is common in traditional Buddhism. I'm sure he can make equal claim to Buddhavacana being of primary importance, I don't know whether he's right or not but I find much of his interpretation make sense and hangs together quite well.

I believe he is keenly interested in coming to an understanding of what the historical Buddha was really like and what he really thought was important, something I'm sure you and I share. Listening to his Dhamma talks I can see it's not a matter of cherry picking but trying to understand scripture without the "benefit" of 2500 years of Buddhist baggage.

Off the top of my head I don't know of any Buddhist who puts physical sciences first, I'm sure there are some.
"Whenever we feel that we are definitely right, so much so that we refuse to open up to anything or anybody else, right there we are wrong. It becomes wrong view. When suffering arises, where does it arise from? The cause is wrong view, the fruit of that being suffering. If it was right view it wouldn't cause suffering." - Ajahn Chah
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Re: The Secular Buddhist

Postby Ferox » Fri Feb 24, 2012 4:35 am

oi.. this debate reminds me of the boredom college debates on philosophy, I think i'll go meditate instead lol. imo I see far to much intellectualism and not enough insight in this thread. I could care less if there was a type of Buddhism that believed the Buddha was an alien and everyone is supposed to dance around the fire. I follow my own path and I'm working on seeing things as they really are. Others are doing the same, they may find it wrong, or right, or may abandon the path all together to find another, who knows.. it is their own path to deal with, let us worry about our own paths and not feel that Buddhism is something tangible that " needs to be defended" from those who might " ruin the right way".
-just one more being treading the ancient path of Dhamma-
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Re: The Secular Buddhist

Postby rowboat » Fri Feb 24, 2012 4:51 am

Kim: However - and let's make that a big However - there is a lot of stuff which science doesn't try to cover or doesn't do very well at all. It's mainly stuff that goes on in people's heads.


Yes, "goes on in people's heads," or is perhaps otherwise only internally accessible e.g. memory of former births, the iddhis, the 31 Realms, devas, gandhabbas, yakkhas, petas.

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Rain soddens what is covered up,
It does not sodden what is open.
Therefore uncover what is covered
That the rain will not sodden it.
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Re: The Secular Buddhist

Postby Dan74 » Fri Feb 24, 2012 5:00 am

Retrofuturist wrote:For example, do you shape your "background (preconceptions)" to the Dhamma, or do you shape the Dhamma to your "background (preconceptions)"? How far are you prepared to relinquish views for the Dhamma? Do you surrender to the Dhamma?

These are questions to be addressed by the individual for themselves.

How far is the average Secular Buddhist prepared to go? Do they hold their "Secularity" as primary to the Dhamma itself?


Preconceptions is what Buddhavacana (if it exists) gets filtered through whether we like it or not. Until nibbana, delusion remains and shapes everything including how we read and understand the Dhamma.

Personally I imagine the Buddha would rather we make use of all available means for liberation than fervently adhere of what survives of what got passed down as his teachings. Everything around us is teaching the Dhamma 24/7 for those with minds open to hearing it.

But I think it is admirable and marvelous when we focus on the oldest surviving teachings and realize their guidance in their lives. What is not admirable nor wholesome, however, is when we become attached to our view and judge other views to be wrong or lesser, because then we get sidetracked from practice and descend into hubris and closed-mindedness.
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Re: The Secular Buddhist

Postby retrofuturist » Fri Feb 24, 2012 5:17 am

Greetings all,

Goofaholix wrote:Off the top of my head I don't know of any Buddhist who puts physical sciences first, I'm sure there are some.

I'm thinking of the example where peoples views on rebirth, and what they will and will not accept, are rooted in beliefs about the brain and its functioning etc. Whereas the Buddha said it's a good mundane view to hold and gave pragmatic reasons (e.g. MN 60, MN 117 from memory) for why it is so. Those reasons are independent of biology etc.

I get the impression some people are scared of being deceived and manipulated by spiritual traditions and that science provides them with some kind of safety net. Maybe in time they'll relinquish the net, who knows. I know plenty of people (my wife included) who say they believe in science, not religion. What that entails for their spirituality (which is not addressed by physical sciences), well, that's for them to discern.

Dan74 wrote:What is not admirable nor wholesome, however, is when we become attached to our view and judge other views to be wrong or lesser, because then we get sidetracked from practice and descend into hubris and closed-mindedness.

True, but we can only watch our own minds. What we need to do is follow the N8P as best we can, and encourage others... not worry about other's faults.

Ferox wrote:let us worry about our own paths and not feel that Buddhism is something tangible that " needs to be defended" from those who might " ruin the right way"

I agree with this sentiment. People must fabricate their own path based on a multitude of factors. I'd like to think that this discussion is about the means of that fabrication, and how we do that based on our broader beliefs and priorities, as opposed to "defending the true Dhamma". Those who know me well will know I'm not an advocate of the "attack" and "defend" mentality... hence why I have no issues with those who might call themselves "secular Buddhists"... I'm just interested in knowing what the pursuit of "secular Buddhism" entails for the "secular Buddhist".

Kim O'Hara wrote:That isn't (to my way of thinking) 'making the Dhamma fit the physical sciences' as you might say, although I do test the dhamma against the sciences. It is more like accepting the best of both bodies of expertise.

Well since both disciplines are based on observation of reality, ideally it would be nice if they aligned all the time... but, if they don't, there's going to need to be some kind of acceptance/rejection, synthesis or compromise go on in order to maintain consistency (assuming consistency is a priority!) Which discipline takes precedence if/when that situation arises will be for you to resolve.

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 nowheat » Fri Feb 24, 2012 5:24 am

kirk5a wrote: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....


Dana, whose post we are discussing here, is -- as far as I can tell after several years of hanging out with her -- not in the least bit agnostic, so I'm not sure it's fair to tar agnostic Buddhists (like myself) with her stance.

My agnosticism isn't "purported" or a smokescreen for positions against. Dana's certainty isn't being painted (by her) as agnosticism. It needs to be recognized -- I say again -- that Secular Buddhists are not all alike, so please don't confuse her atheism with agnostic Buddhists' approaches.

My stance is that as long as we do not know about God or rebirth or whatever cosmological order there may be, it is not useful to base behavior on guesses. Even if one end of the spectrum seems more likely than another, given whatever evidence we have within our individual experience and study of the research that has been done, it is not useful to speculate and it is divisive to take a dogmatic stance. Dogmatic atheism is just as damaging to human relationships as any dogmatic belief in the other directions -- and while some may find their positions so satisfying that it engenders a desire to try to convert others by insisting our opposites-in-belief are just plain stupid or ignorant or haven't yet practiced as hard as we have or lack the goodness of faith or whatever we choose to be their failing -- none of that is helpful.

If a cosmology is true -- and has any effect on us at all -- it will prove itself to us regardless of whatever stance we choose to take based on speculation in ignorance beforehand. There is much to be done in this life, right here, right now, and that is challenge enough without wasting energy.

And it is just plain way, way easier to get along with people if we aren't forever arguing "You're wrong, I'm right. Only this is true, and nothing else," over things that are unprovable through just argument.

What does seem to me to work well is the approach the Buddha took: be gracious to those who are struggling and doing their best to be good people -- be hard on anyone whose belief system is clearly directing them to harm others and encourage them to find any one of the better paths. Keep clearly stating that there is *this* path, and it doesn't deal with anything you can't see for yourself, and keep asking the people who defend speculative views to ask themselves to check the basis for their views. This is what the Buddha did, pointing out how often we believe what others tell us, or take some event as evidence when we might just not be seeing things clearly enough.

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Re: The Secular Buddhist

Postby Buckwheat » Fri Feb 24, 2012 5:37 am

rowboat wrote:
Kim: However - and let's make that a big However - there is a lot of stuff which science doesn't try to cover or doesn't do very well at all. It's mainly stuff that goes on in people's heads.


Yes, "goes on in people's heads," or is perhaps otherwise only internally accessible e.g. memory of former births, the iddhis, the 31 Realms, devas, gandhabbas, yakkhas, petas.

:anjali:


My concern with this one is that human memory is ridiculously flawed. First, in laying down the memory our experience is heavily colored by emotions and imperfect attention to detail. Then, if everything is going well we remember half the story and make up the rest to fit with how we want the memory to be remembered (this is automatic... it is not a decision to lie. The brain searches for ways to fill gaps in memory). That process is verifyable by direct experiemce (scientific repeatable experiments). The thing is we don't remember facts the way a computer does. We remember impressions of experiences. This is great for humanity and compassion but horrible for accuracy.

Between the scientific research on memory and my own personal experience with its convincing distortions, I barely trust my own memory let alone other peoples memory. I'm not sayin this disproves these things (rebirth, realms, etc.) but it does take the air out of the primary evidence for them.

I wrote the scientific aspects of this post from memory, but I did learn about this stuff and I promise I'm not consciously lying. so, if anything is unfactual it just goes to prove my point.
Disciples, this I declare to you: All conditioned things are subject to disintegration – strive on untiringly for your liberation.

Sotthī hontu nirantaraṃ - May you forever be well.
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Re: The Secular Buddhist

Postby Dan74 » Fri Feb 24, 2012 5:49 am

retrofuturist wrote:
Dan74 wrote:What is not admirable nor wholesome, however, is when we become attached to our view and judge other views to be wrong or lesser, because then we get sidetracked from practice and descend into hubris and closed-mindedness.

True, but we can only watch our own minds. What we need to do is follow the N8P as best we can, and encourage others... not worry about other's faults.


Yes and no. Worrying about others' faults is not usually constructive, true. But giving each other feedback - as we are doing here - can be useful. "If the shoe fits" as they say. Sometimes we are off the mark, sometimes we misunderstand where the other person is coming from, but honest and direct feedback coming from where we are now as sentient beings on the path, is the way to go, I think.
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Re: The Secular Buddhist

Postby ground » Fri Feb 24, 2012 5:56 am

That there is a lay buddhist leading a housholder's life who is not a secular buddhist such is impossible. :tongue:
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Re: The Secular Buddhist

Postby nowheat » Fri Feb 24, 2012 6:03 am

retrofuturist wrote:I'm thinking of the example where peoples views on rebirth, and what they will and will not accept, are rooted in beliefs about the brain and its functioning etc. Whereas the Buddha said it's a good mundane view to hold and gave pragmatic reasons (e.g. MN 60, MN 117 from memory) for why it is so.

What I believe about rebirth is irrelevant to reading MN 60 and MN 117. MN 117 says rebirth is an inferior right view to the Buddha's own system, and MN 60's logic is broken by the insertion of dogmatic beliefs. I would read them that way if I devoutly *believed* in rebirth. I read both suttas as not being an endorsement of rebirth at all, but MN 117 is, at least, accepting of some of the common beliefs of the day as being held by moral people who are doing their best to understand what's going on -- but it's still not the best path to be on, the Buddha's teachings are preferable.

retrofuturist wrote:
Dan74 wrote:What is not admirable nor wholesome, however, is when we become attached to our view and judge other views to be wrong or lesser, because then we get sidetracked from practice and descend into hubris and closed-mindedness.

True, but we can only watch our own minds. What we need to do is follow the N8P as best we can, and encourage others... not worry about other's faults.


There is another line to consider here, though. From my post above hopefully you can recognize that I am supportive of other people's beliefs when those beliefs support moral behavior -- supportive up to a point, that is, I'm not going to say "I am sure you are right, there is X" (whatever their belief is that is not my belief) but I will say "I can see how you would perceive it that way, and I can see how that it's a useful way of seeing things".

But I follow the Buddha in this, too: suggesting that there might just be an even better way to see things than what you have there with belief X.

We can take respect for others' views too far. But it is an admittedly dicey line to draw between respect and "please have a look at this other way to see it". It is difficult.

People must fabricate their own path based on a multitude of factors. I'd like to think that this discussion is about the means of that fabrication, and how we do that based on our broader beliefs and priorities, as opposed to "defending the true Dhamma".

There's that line -- and how do I draw that? How do I try to show you what I understand the Buddha to be saying without it being me defending what I perceive as -- if not "the true dhamma" then at least an improvement on the norm? It would be dishonest of me to do anything other than present what I have seen as "I believe this is both more accurate and more useful."

Those who know me well will know I'm not an advocate of the "attack" and "defend" mentality... hence why I have no issues with those who might call themselves "secular Buddhists"... I'm just interested in knowing what the pursuit of "secular Buddhism" entails for the "secular Buddhist".


I can't (as you know) speak for all secular Buddhists (and I think I am really only pretending to be secular, since my understanding of the word "secular" has it as "nothing to do with religion" whereas for me, Buddhism is a religion) but I can tell you about the experience of one among them. But first I want to go back and see if there was a post back there with specific questions.

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Re: The Secular Buddhist

Postby nowheat » Fri Feb 24, 2012 6:04 am

TMingyur wrote:That there is a lay buddhist leading a housholder's life who is not a secular buddhist such is impossible. :tongue:

:clap: :clap: :clap:

You literalist you.

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Re: The Secular Buddhist

Postby Buckwheat » Fri Feb 24, 2012 6:05 am

Hi Retro,
How did you come to accept the teachings of the Buddha as your top priority?

You make a good point that priorities must be examined. I think for me I was always miserable and looking for ways to be happy. As I ruled out every other road to happiness I tested the dhamma. It seems to work pretty well. But for me the highest priority is long term welfare and happiness. If that is through dhamma or mahayana or atheism I could care less. If I am happy in a healthy way then that is the gold standard in my book. The cessation of suffering.

Of course, being a student of the Buddha seems to be the most effective method for the cessation of suffering.
Disciples, this I declare to you: All conditioned things are subject to disintegration – strive on untiringly for your liberation.

Sotthī hontu nirantaraṃ - May you forever be well.
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Re: The Secular Buddhist

Postby Buckwheat » Fri Feb 24, 2012 6:28 am

Ferox wrote:oi.. this debate reminds me of the boredom college debates on philosophy, I think i'll go meditate instead lol. imo I see far to much intellectualism and not enough insight in this thread. I could care less if there was a type of Buddhism that believed the Buddha was an alien and everyone is supposed to dance around the fire. I follow my own path and I'm working on seeing things as they really are. Others are doing the same, they may find it wrong, or right, or may abandon the path all together to find another, who knows.. it is their own path to deal with, let us worry about our own paths and not feel that Buddhism is something tangible that " needs to be defended" from those who might " ruin the right way".

Hi Ferox,
I see this as a very important discussion. Buddhism in the west is still in its infancy. It seems this generation will have a huge role in determining what cultural baggage gets attached to it. If we do a good job we could be one generation in a very long chain. However if we let it devolve by not holding to some core priciples then Buddhism could end up face down in the gutter, unable to liberate anybody from suffering and only deluding people further.

That makes this Secular Buddhism movement seem risky to some of us. Certainly there are some brilliant and wise people in the movement but there are also people who are perfectly capable of destroying a 2600 year tradition. Our role is to help each other decide who are the brilliant and wise people so that we can all move quickly toward liberation.
Disciples, this I declare to you: All conditioned things are subject to disintegration – strive on untiringly for your liberation.

Sotthī hontu nirantaraṃ - May you forever be well.
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Re: The Secular Buddhist

Postby rowboat » Fri Feb 24, 2012 6:35 am

retrofuturist wrote:Greetings all,

Goofaholix wrote:Off the top of my head I don't know of any Buddhist who puts physical sciences first, I'm sure there are some.

I'm thinking of the example where peoples views on rebirth, and what they will and will not accept, are rooted in beliefs about the brain and its functioning etc. Whereas the Buddha said it's a good mundane view to hold and gave pragmatic reasons (e.g. MN 60, MN 117 from memory) for why it is so. Those reasons are independent of biology etc.

I get the impression some people are scared of being deceived and manipulated by spiritual traditions and that science provides them with some kind of safety net. Maybe in time they'll relinquish the net, who knows. I know plenty of people (my wife included) who say they believe in science, not religion. What that entails for their spirituality (which is not addressed by physical sciences), well, that's for them to discern.

Dan74 wrote:What is not admirable nor wholesome, however, is when we become attached to our view and judge other views to be wrong or lesser, because then we get sidetracked from practice and descend into hubris and closed-mindedness.

True, but we can only watch our own minds. What we need to do is follow the N8P as best we can, and encourage others... not worry about other's faults.

Ferox wrote:let us worry about our own paths and not feel that Buddhism is something tangible that " needs to be defended" from those who might " ruin the right way"

I agree with this sentiment. People must fabricate their own path based on a multitude of factors. I'd like to think that this discussion is about the means of that fabrication, and how we do that based on our broader beliefs and priorities, as opposed to "defending the true Dhamma". Those who know me well will know I'm not an advocate of the "attack" and "defend" mentality... hence why I have no issues with those who might call themselves "secular Buddhists"... I'm just interested in knowing what the pursuit of "secular Buddhism" entails for the "secular Buddhist".

Kim O'Hara wrote:That isn't (to my way of thinking) 'making the Dhamma fit the physical sciences' as you might say, although I do test the dhamma against the sciences. It is more like accepting the best of both bodies of expertise.

Well since both disciplines are based on observation of reality, ideally it would be nice if they aligned all the time... but, if they don't, there's going to need to be some kind of acceptance/rejection, synthesis or compromise go on in order to maintain consistency (assuming consistency is a priority!) Which discipline takes precedence if/when that situation arises will be for you to resolve.

Metta,
Retro. :)


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Rain soddens what is covered up,
It does not sodden what is open.
Therefore uncover what is covered
That the rain will not sodden it.
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Re: The Secular Buddhist

Postby Buckwheat » Fri Feb 24, 2012 6:42 am

I have a question for the secular Buddhists in the room. Do you believe that it is possible to attain Nirvana, the deathless state devoid of suffering, unshakable and pure in conduct?

The reason I ask is its something I always wrestle with yet it never comes up in faith or supernatural debates. Nirvana is a remarkable and transcendent state in which suffering shall never return. Sounds almost magical to me even if I do have some faith that the Buddha really attained such a state.

Or do you believe that we just get a little more pure and happy and then a little more pure and happy and then we die? There would be nothing immoral with that but I'm not sure it would qualify as Buddhism.
Disciples, this I declare to you: All conditioned things are subject to disintegration – strive on untiringly for your liberation.

Sotthī hontu nirantaraṃ - May you forever be well.
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Re: The Secular Buddhist

Postby mikenz66 » Fri Feb 24, 2012 6:44 am

Hi Retro,
retrofuturist wrote:
Kim O'Hara wrote:That isn't (to my way of thinking) 'making the Dhamma fit the physical sciences' as you might say, although I do test the dhamma against the sciences. It is more like accepting the best of both bodies of expertise.

Well since both disciplines are based on observation of reality, ...

Hmm, that's not your usual line about it all being subjective experience, etc... Did I miss something? :popcorn:

:anjali:
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Re: The Secular Buddhist

Postby nowheat » Fri Feb 24, 2012 6:47 am

Buckwheat wrote:I have a question for the secular Buddhists in the room. Do you believe that it is possible to attain Nirvana, the deathless state devoid of suffering, unshakable and pure in conduct?

The reason I ask is its something I always wrestle with yet it never comes up in faith or supernatural debates. Nirvana is a remarkable and transcendent state in which suffering shall never return. Sounds almost magical to me even if I do have some faith that the Buddha really attained such a state.

Or do you believe that we just get a little more pure and happy and then a little more pure and happy and then we die? There would be nothing immoral with that but I'm not sure it would qualify as Buddhism.


Is this question about *belief* or *faith*? You ask about belief, but your personal answer is *faith*.

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Re: The Secular Buddhist

Postby mikenz66 » Fri Feb 24, 2012 6:50 am

Hi Buckwheat,
Buckwheat wrote:I have a question for the secular Buddhists in the room. Do you believe that it is possible to attain Nirvana, the deathless state devoid of suffering, unshakable and pure in conduct?

I think that this is the really important question, much more important than details surrounding ideas such as rebirth or which particular suttas or other teachings you follow.
Buckwheat wrote:... Or do you believe that we just get a little more pure and happy and then a little more pure and happy and then we die? There would be nothing immoral with that but I'm not sure it would qualify as Buddhism.

:anjali:
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