Sam Vega, thanks for your thoughtful reply.
Sam Vega wrote:So I would be interested to know why you feel one (Christian, Thomistic) conception is such that we are somehow compelled or even advised to accept it. I ask this not to set out my stall, or far less a linguistic trap, but in a mood of genuine curiosity to see if there is something I am missing.
Underlying assumptions taken for granted is the reason. I understand that the Buddha explained only stress and the ending of stress, but there are underlying assumptions which are never explained through reason, which we must go outside of the system to find. The most fundamental is that all beings desire lasting happiness. Now the Thomists actually come in with an answer based on logic. That logic is that it comes from our connection to Pure Being/Pure Happiness. So inasmuch as we possess being, we desire happiness. Sort of like happiness is the full expression of who we are. From this flows a very consistent teaching of who we are, what we are to do, etc. To them, all is not process, but being undergoing process, so there is something fundamental going on. They would say that it can't be ignored, and that these questions can be answered eventually. Now the Buddha may have said that we never get to that happiness with inquiry into questions like the ultimate source of being or happiness. He may say that it is an ineffective tool. The truth may be that his path gets you to that reality as the ultimate via negativa -- strip away everything to attain everything. But I don't see the fundamental desire of humans to ask Why? as a defect which should be shunned, or is counter to progress in holiness and freedom from suffering. That is, of the four ways to answer a question, I think way four (lay aside the question) is a matter of peceived prudence, not a matter of metaphysical assertion through silence.
And while it isn't a logical proof, I find the practice of 99.5% of Buddhists affirming this reality to ask fundamental questions, and even answer them in contradiction to the silence. And I think that is because there are other underlying assumption which are taken for granted. Rebirth is taken for granted. There is no explanation or foundation for it within the system. But this teaching forms the basis of the understanding of karma, and also the disidentification of the self with the body (since every life has a different body, except if it is immaterial), which leads to further questions about whether we are unique or just one display of the ONE. Others would say that the other goals (like union with God) lead to a favorable rebirth, and then we are back on that rebirth assumption. So I see these aspects as part of the faith of Buddhism, which indeed they are, and present us with questions which internally cannot be answered. At least that is my experience so far. Based on reasonable history evidence, my faith is Christian because of the preannouncements of Jesus. But philosophically I draw from many sources, including the Buddha. (Mind that the Buddha never heard the teachings of Judaism, nor did live in the Christian era, so he is judged purely on the merits of his life and teachings with what he had available to him.)
So studying, say, Aristotle or Thomas Aquinas is refreshing then. Their view, which can be argued of course, is that rational inquiry is a valid and good expression of our humanity, and leads us further on the goal of our existence (which happens to be the same as what the Buddha said -- eternal unchanging happiness -- read below, if anything for a good review of what Christians hold in this regard). Even Thomas Aquinas had a mystical experience toward the end of his life which led him to say all his great work was mere straw (mihi videtur ut palea). So I do support that direct experience is greater than rational inquiry, but I also hold that the experience needs to be informed so it doesn't go shipwreck on our subjective experience. I don't find them in conflict, though, and ultimately I think the Buddha's teaching will be encorporated into Christianity, like Aristotle's before, and other wise men. People might be in shock to read that, since many here are probably former Christians. The East and West have not been balanced yet, even though there has been some of that in the past. The next level is a balance of the cataphatic and the apophatic, and the speculative with the affective. The extremes of both ancient traditions of the East and West will be tempered and a leap in humanity will come. In this mix I also see Thomistic Personalism being encorporated as well (http://www.jp2forum.org/documents/event ... omPers.pdf
). BUT I believe that the Thomistic understanding of reality will be the fundamental vehicle. Anyone interested in further study of Thomistic philosophy can read "Nature, knowledge and God; an introduction to Thomistic philosophy" by Brother Benignus Gerrity. Where does Buddhism stand in then? Here: Dependent co-arising, this/that conditionality, meditation, morals, and many of the other great teachings he gave. As a religion of faith, I think it will go the way of Neo-Platonism and such like. I am not trying to offend anyone. I'm just stating my thought.
Bringing it back to karma, I believe there has to be an ultimate basis to action, otherwise the holy life is not possible. Here are some section of Thomas Aquinas relating to ends and happiness. You'll find them quite in accord with basic Buddhist philosophy, especially as regards are goal.
Summa Theologica, 2nd part, Ques. 1http://www.newadvent.org/summa/2001.htm
Whether there is one last end to human life.
I answer that, Absolutely speaking, it is not possible to proceed indefinitely in the matter of ends, from any point of view. For in whatsoever things there is an essential order of one to another, if the first be removed, those that are ordained to the first, must of necessity be removed also. Wherefore the Philosopher [Aristoltle] proves (Phys. viii, 5) that we cannot proceed to infinitude in causes of movement, because then there would be no first mover, without which neither can the others move, since they move only through being moved by the first mover. Now there is to be observed a twofold order in ends--the order of intention and the order of execution: and in either of these orders there must be something first. For that which is first in the order of intention, is the principle, as it were, moving the appetite; consequently, if you remove this principle, there will be nothing to move the appetite. On the other hand, the principle in execution is that wherein operation has its beginning; and if this principle be taken away, no one will begin to work. Now the principle in the intention is the last end; while the principle in execution is the first of the things which are ordained to the end. Consequently, on neither side is it possible to go to infinity since if there were no last end, nothing would be desired, nor would any action have its term, nor would the intention of the agent be at rest; while if there is no first thing among those that are ordained to the end, none would begin to work at anything, and counsel would have no term, but would continue indefinitely.
On the other hand, nothing hinders infinity from being in things that are ordained to one another not essentially but accidentally; for accidental causes are indeterminate. And in this way it happens that there is an accidental infinity of ends, and of things ordained to the end.
Whether there is one ultimate goal or many ultimate goals to life.
I answer that, It is impossible for one man's will to be directed at the same time to diverse things, as last ends. Three reasons may be assigned for this. First, because, since everything desires its own perfection, a man desires for his ultimate end, that which he desires as his perfect and crowning good. Hence Augustine (De Civ. Dei xix, 1): "In speaking of the end of good we mean now, not that it passes away so as to be no more, but that it is perfected so as to be complete." It is therefore necessary for the last end so to fill man's appetite, that nothing is left besides it for man to desire. Which is not possible, if something else be required for his perfection. Consequently it is not possible for the appetite so to tend to two things, as though each were its perfect good.
The second reason is because, just as in the process of reasoning, the principle is that which is naturally known, so in the process of the rational appetite, i.e. the will, the principle needs to be that which is naturally desired. Now this must needs be one: since nature tends to one thing only. But the principle in the process of the rational appetite is the last end. Therefore that to which the will tends, as to its last end, is one.
The third reason is because, since voluntary actions receive their species from the end, as stated above [Article 3], they must needs receive their genus from the last end, which is common to them all: just as natural things are placed in a genus according to a common form. Since, then, all things that can be desired by the will, belong, as such, to one genus, the last end must needs be one. And all the more because in every genus there is one first principle; and the last end has the nature of a first principle, as stated above. Now as the last end of man, simply as man, is to the whole human race, so is the last end of any individual man to that individual. Therefore, just as of all men there is naturally one last end, so the will of an individual man must be fixed on one last end.
Whether all men have the same goal to life.
I answer that, We can speak of the last end in two ways: first, considering only the aspect of last end; secondly, considering the thing in which the aspect of last end is realized. So, then, as to the aspect of last end, all agree in desiring the last end: since all desire the fulfilment of their perfection, and it is precisely this fulfilment in which the last end consists, as stated above [Article 5]. But as to the thing in which this aspect is realized, all men are not agreed as to their last end: since some desire riches as their consummate good; some, pleasure; others, something else. Thus to every taste the sweet is pleasant but to some, the sweetness of wine is most pleasant, to others, the sweetness of honey, or of something similar. Yet that sweet is absolutely the best of all pleasant things, in which he who has the best taste takes most pleasure. In like manner that good is most complete which the man with well disposed affections desires for his last end.
Whether other creatures concur in that last end
I answer that, As the Philosopher [Arsitotle] says (Phys. ii, 2), the end is twofold -- the end "for which" and the end "by which"; viz. the thing itself in which is found the aspect of good, and the use or acquisition of that thing. Thus we say that the end of the movement of a weighty body is either a lower place as "thing," or to be in a lower place, as "use"; and the end of the miser is money as "thing," or possession of money as "use."
If, therefore, we speak of man's last end as of the thing which is the end, thus all other things concur in man's last end, since God is the last end of man and of all other things. If, however, we speak of man's last end, as of the acquisition of the end, then irrational creatures do not concur with man in this end. For man and other rational creatures attain to their last end by knowing and loving God: this is not possible to other creatures, which acquire their last end, in so far as they share in the Divine likeness, inasmuch as they are, or live, or even know.
Hence it is evident how the objections are solved: since happiness means the acquisition of the last end.
Whether some good of the soul constitutes man's happiness?
I answer that, As stated above [Question 1, Article 8], the end is twofold: namely, the thing itself, which we desire to attain, and the use, namely, the attainment or possession of that thing. If, then, we speak of man's last end, it is impossible for man's last end to be the soul itself or something belonging to it. Because the soul, considered in itself, is as something existing in potentiality: for it becomes knowing actually, from being potentially knowing; and actually virtuous, from being potentially virtuous. Now since potentiality is for the sake of act as for its fulfilment, that which in itself is in potentiality cannot be the last end. Therefore the soul itself cannot be its own last end.
In like manner neither can anything belonging to it, whether power, habit, or act. For that good which is the last end, is the perfect good fulfilling the desire. Now man's appetite, otherwise the will, is for the universal good. And any good inherent to the soul is a participated good, and consequently a portioned good. Therefore none of them can be man's last end.
But if we speak of man's last end, as to the attainment or possession thereof, or as to any use whatever of the thing itself desired as an end, thus does something of man, in respect of his soul, belong to his last end: since man attains happiness through his soul. Therefore the thing itself which is desired as end, is that which constitutes happiness, and makes man happy; but the attainment of this thing is called happiness. Consequently we must say that happiness is something belonging to the soul; but that which constitutes happiness is something outside the soul.
Whether any created good constitutes man's happiness?
I answer that, It is impossible for any created good to constitute man's happiness. For happiness is the perfect good, which lulls the appetite altogether; else it would not be the last end, if something yet remained to be desired. Now the object of the will, i.e. of man's appetite, is the universal good; just as the object of the intellect is the universal true. Hence it is evident that naught can lull man's will, save the universal good. This is to be found, not in any creature, but in God alone; because every creature has goodness by participation. Wherefore God alone can satisfy the will of man, according to the words of Psalm 102:5: "Who satisfieth thy desire with good things." Therefore God alone constitutes man's happiness.
Whether happiness is something uncreated?
I answer that, As stated above (1, 8; 2, 7), our end is twofold. First, there is the thing itself which we desire to attain: thus for the miser, the end is money. Secondly there is the attainment or possession, the use or enjoyment of the thing desired; thus we may say that the end of the miser is the possession of money; and the end of the intemperate man is to enjoy something pleasurable. In the first sense, then, man's last end is the uncreated good, namely, God, Who alone by His infinite goodness can perfectly satisfy man's will. But in the second way, man's last end is something created, existing in him, and this is nothing else than the attainment or enjoyment of the last end. Now the last end is called happiness. If, therefore, we consider man's happiness in its cause or object, then it is something uncreated; but if we consider it as to the very essence of happiness, then it is something created.