Bases for Skillful Action?

General discussion of issues related to Theravada Training of Sila, the Five Precepts (Pañcasikkhāpada), and Eightfold Ethical Conduct (Aṭṭhasīla).

Re: Bases for Skillful Action?

Postby Dan74 » Wed Dec 21, 2011 4:09 am

Regarding the first cause, just two quick points:

1. I don't see where above you show that an infinite chain of causes back in time is impossible. Why does there have to be a first?

2. Physicists are quite comfortable with the Big Bang originating by itself. Causation only operates within time, but prior to the Big Bang, there is no time, hence no prior to the Big Bang. I am not a physicist, but as a mathematician, I see a fallacy of applying the our usual logic to a situation where it is inapplicable.

For centuries the greatest minds have attempted to prove the existence of God and failed. I don't think the Church maintains that God is a logical necessity. It is not a subjective necessity either - I certainly see many people living exemplary lives without a theistic belief. But if it makes sense to you, then it makes sense. There are also many people living exemplary lives with theistic beliefs.
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Re: Bases for Skillful Action?

Postby contemplans » Wed Dec 21, 2011 2:43 pm

A long one. :reading:

David N. Snyder wrote:
contemplans wrote:(1) In sensible things we find an order of efficient causes.
(2) It is impossible for this order of causes to proceed to infinity.
(3) There must be a first efficient cause.
(4) This first cause is God.


There is no logic at all in the above. The premises and the conclusion do not follow at all. Here are some other so-called arguments for the existence of a supreme being which also contain many logical fallacies:

http://sdhammika.blogspot.com/2011/03/l ... ology.html

The logical fallacies are so easy to spot, they might even be humorous.




Mr. Snyder, the blog post is interesting, but it is filled with straw men. What is funny (not ha ha) is that a monk of 32 years engages in the debate in such a disingenuous way. What about a teachings on pride and ill-will? I believe that Bhikkhu Thanissaro teaches that most modern humor is hateful these days (puts people down, etc.). Maybe he is right. I can take a laugh, but usually people resort to this stuff when they can't argue on the level.

As for fallacy, please explain the fallacy in this argument:

a) Whatever is in motion, is moved by something else.
b) We cannot regress to infinity in the series of moved movers.

Motion is nothing other than the process by which a substance undergoes change, and that change is one of the actuality of the potential. Whatever is in motion is at each moment of its change gaining new actuality. It is continuous. Consequently, everything subject to change is in potency in some respect, and anything that moves something is in act in precisely that respect in which what moves is in potency. Nothing therefore, can move itself; because in order to do so it would have to be in in act and in potency in the same respect, in one identicacl movement. If that was the case, then the "movement" of the individual would be complete actuality, not the actualization of a potency. But to conceive of motion as a complete actuality is to destroy the concept of change/impermanence itself. Therefore, since nothing can move itself and since nothing can be in motion by its essence, whatever is in motion is moved by something else.

Now everything in motion will require a cause of its own motion, consequently there is no moved mover -- no mover which is itself in motion -- as the true cause or source of motion. It moves something only in virtue of the motion it has received. Therefore it is a transmitter of motion, rather than a true cause of motion. Consequently all the movers-in-motion which make up the world require as the true cause and source of their movement an unmoved mover.

Now this conclusion cannot be escaped by the hypothesis of an infinite series of moved movers. Why? Such a series has an adequate cause, it is argued, the movement prior to it. To say that each memeber of an infinite series of casually connected movements is in motion because a prior member moves it, is not to explain its movement. It is not to explain anything, but merely is a repeat that the series is a series of moved movers. It does not answer the question why members of the series are not in static instead of dynamic relation. It does answer why any of them move at all. This is taking motion/change for granted, and what implies something prior to itself cannot be taken for granted..

To accept that an infinite series of moved movers without an unmmoved mover outside the series causing its movements, is to accept motion within the series as an absolute, a starting point of explanation not to be explained itself. It is clear that the motion of the series does not arise from anything in the series. While motion can, for the sake of method, be taken as an ultimate *within* the series, it cannot be taken as an ultimate absolute, because it necessarily involves a reduction of potency to act, and implies a prior actuality.

The argument is a manifestation and explanation of what every motion utlimately presupposes and implies, namely, a mover is not itself in motion -- a Pure Actuality. God is not dragged in, in default of a natural explanation, but He comes in as a reality rigidly implied by nature's mode of being, which is being in process of actualization.





Dan74 wrote:Regarding the first cause, just two quick points:

1. I don't see where above you show that an infinite chain of causes back in time is impossible. Why does there have to be a first?

2. Physicists are quite comfortable with the Big Bang originating by itself. Causation only operates within time, but prior to the Big Bang, there is no time, hence no prior to the Big Bang. I am not a physicist, but as a mathematician, I see a fallacy of applying the our usual logic to a situation where it is inapplicable.

For centuries the greatest minds have attempted to prove the existence of God and failed. I don't think the Church maintains that God is a logical necessity. It is not a subjective necessity either - I certainly see many people living exemplary lives without a theistic belief. But if it makes sense to you, then it makes sense. There are also many people living exemplary lives with theistic beliefs.


Big Bang has either God as cause, or Big Bang isn't the start. That's it. Big Bang doesn't cause being to come to be. The Big Bang is not God, but an process/event. And let's be quite clear, the Church teaches that God can be known *with certainty* through observation of the created world. Not that we can understand Him completely. While we conclude that logic says God, it does not mean we have all the answers as to why and how. That is where Revelation and Faith come in, which supply some of the why and how of all this. Those are not always drawn from reasoned logic, although they don't against reason either. They are outside the scope of reason (that's why they are propositions of belief).

My basic evolution was that had a lot of problems with the process of rebirth. Secondly I thought the teaching of right view taught by some discouraged independent inquiry into whether Buddhism was completely true, especially logical argument, which is highly discouraged by some as wrong view. I plainly doubted that the Buddha saw all his lives without a beginning being evident, i.e., he posits a circle of existence instead of a line. I also doubted that my body wasn't mine (anatta). If something of mine can attain nibbana, which appparently is also subject to change since it attains something, then why not this body of mine? Why can't the most basic understanding of myself also be part of the deal. (This is related to rebirth. Our bodies are "mirages" in that world-view. It is an idealistic system, while I think the hylemorphism system is a better explanation.) Pieces were missing in the Buddhist story. Applying the logic, God (Pure Actuality) is a necssary conclusion. I then believed that behavior has to acknowledge that. Much of Buddhism doesn't go against this, but endless round of rebirth is certainly off the table. And from there karma is understood in a different way, not only in practice, but in basis. Some people think that rebirth came to be as an explanation because there was not a belief in a personal God. The God of ancient India was impersonal, because of their pantheism and monism. Buddhism shows some signs of this. Certainly a Buddha has no communication with us after his life. So samsara, rebirth, and the goal are impersonal in the sense that us now are really just one version. Me 2.0, Me 3.0, etc. Some even take the me out of it. Certainly the body you look at each day is not yours. So your entire sensory experience is one of disconnection and impersonality. Furthermore there is no personal connection with the ultimate of our existence. Some may say we don't need that, but I think it is evident in Buddhism in places where it has become the religion of the populace. People naturally place things in as the divine. So we have prayer to devas and revential gestures, and what-not which would have been reserved for the divine (not exclusively, of course). Somehow we need to do this stuff. We call it respect for the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha, but I think more is at work here. And lastly there is no possible way to ever know that anyone attained the goal, since no one is able to talk about it. So I do jhanic meditation, and have incorporated much of what the Buddha said, but some teachings just didn't square with logic.

Also I would say that your statement that the greatest minds have attempted to prove the existence of God and failed is not correct. The proofs are very strong, and in fact have not been defeated. The defeats, if even attempted, are defeats of straw men. Most people are at a level of ignorance of the arguments, or at a level of belief about our existence which makes argument futile (like we live in matrix cacoons or something). You can read a book called, "The Last Superstition: A Refutation of the New Atheism" by Edward Feser. I think most people reject the logic of God because of the problem of moral action, bringing us back to karma. Buddhism has a great moral system, which is fit to its goal. But in the wider scheme of things, if that goal is not true, or transmigration is not true, or there is no ultimate basis for good action (which I think is not true), then something has to change. But there is no external test of logic to test that. It is pure faith proceding each act. There is nothing wrong with faith, but everyone prides themselves of that they live by experience and the "come and see" attitude. It's sort of a "don't ask, don't tell" policy.
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Re: Bases for Skillful Action?

Postby Khalil Bodhi » Wed Dec 21, 2011 2:45 pm

Contemplans,

Well, unsurprisingly, your response to my question was unsatisfying and didn't really address the question of praxis. The argumentation and eel-wriggling here really doesn't have much on the fruits of the Dhamma-vinaya of the Lord buddha. I wish you happiness with whatever path you choose and will now bow out. Mettaya!
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Re: Bases for Skillful Action?

Postby DarwidHalim » Wed Dec 21, 2011 3:51 pm

contemplans wrote:I am just trying to see if anyone sees an absolute basis for any Buddhist teaching, including the Four Noble Truths, and if so, then where do they think such an absolute comes from. This is worthy of inquiry, since later Buddhists often took up theistic teachings and beliefs, and in our time many take up atheistic teachings and beliefs. How can any ethical system be worthy of practice that is not absolute on its key teachings? I am truly wondering how some reconcile this with the wider Buddhist teaching. Or maybe some just haven't asked themselves what is the basis for the ethical teachings.


Four Noble Truth is not absolute. It is relative.

Which part of four noble truth tell us absoluteness?

There is nothing absolute in any Buddhist teaching.

In case you can show me just 1 example which is absolute, I will buy you :toast:
I am not here nor there.
I am not right nor wrong.
I do not exist neither non-exist.
I am not I nor non-I.
I am not in samsara nor nirvana.
To All Buddhas, I bow down for the teaching of emptiness. Thank You!
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Re: Bases for Skillful Action?

Postby contemplans » Wed Dec 21, 2011 4:12 pm

Khalil Bodhi wrote:Well, unsurprisingly, your response to my question was unsatisfying and didn't really address the question of praxis. The argumentation and eel-wriggling here really doesn't have much on the fruits of the Dhamma-vinaya of the Lord buddha. I wish you happiness with whatever path you choose and will now bow out. Mettaya!


We can easily pose the question back in the opposite way. How is it soteriologically inefficacious? Whether the eightfold path changes at all is worthy of investigation. But you'd have to go back to the four nobles truths, and question in light of new evidence if dukkha is the supreme evil of life.

DarwidHalim wrote:
Four Noble Truth is not absolute. It is relative.
Which part of four noble truth tell us absoluteness?
There is nothing absolute in any Buddhist teaching.
In case you can show me just 1 example which is absolute, I will buy you :toast:


How about the precept which says that drinking intoxicants is bad karma. :toast:
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Re: Bases for Skillful Action?

Postby santa100 » Wed Dec 21, 2011 5:54 pm

Contemplans wrote:
But you'd have to go back to the four nobles truths, and question in light of new evidence if dukkha is the supreme evil of life.


As mentioned before, "supreme evil" wouldn't be the term we use. Dukkha only exists for one who still experiences them. It does not for those who have transcended them.

How about the precept which says that drinking intoxicants is bad karma.


Actually, the original message of the 5th precept is:
Surāmerayamajjapamādaṭṭhānā veramaṇī sikkhāpadaṃ samādiyāmi.
I undertake the training rule to abstain from fermented drink that causes heedlessness.

Again, there's nothing absolute about this message. A person who has terminal cancer or a wounded soldier is allowed to use morphine to help ease their pain. Clinging to an "absolute" precept sometimes result in great tragedy such as the case of a boy not too long ago, needed to have a blood transfusion. His religion somehow forbid this practice and because his family did not allow it, he died at the end..
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Re: Bases for Skillful Action?

Postby Prasadachitta » Wed Dec 21, 2011 7:25 pm

contemplans wrote:I am just trying to see if anyone sees an absolute basis for any Buddhist teaching, including the Four Noble Truths, and if so, then where do they think such an absolute comes from. This is worthy of inquiry, since later Buddhists often took up theistic teachings and beliefs, and in our time many take up atheistic teachings and beliefs. How can any ethical system be worthy of practice that is not absolute on its key teachings? I am truly wondering how some reconcile this with the wider Buddhist teaching. Or maybe some just haven't asked themselves what is the basis for the ethical teachings.


Hello Contemplans,

The problem with this kind of discussion is often that our understanding of terms can be so out of sink that little to nothing gets conveyed between one perspective and the next. However, in the spirit of cultivating the ability to communicate with a broad audience, I will try to convey my understanding within the context of my perception of your views.

I would define absolute in a manner which you may not. For me, an absolute is simply an observation which is universally applicable. Not all Buddhist will describe the teachings the way I will so keep that in mind. Nibanna is not synonymous with truth which is observed. Nibanna is a non universal truth which which arises in dependence upon the before mentioned observation. In other words when the universally applicable truth is observed by any being this results in Nibanna. This is why Nibanna is a relative truth. Nibanna is when greed hatred and delusion cease to influence an individual.

So what is this universally applicable observation? Specific conditions bring specific results. This observation is far deeper than it appears on its face. It is easy to sort of project it on top of all other relative observations and deduce that it is true which for me results in somthing like "So what?". However, if this observation is given absolute priority even going so far as trumping the very occurrence of observation, it radically transforms our way of perceiving. One will see that dividing results from there causes is not actually universally accurate.

I hope this helps

Take care

Prasadachitta
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Re: Bases for Skillful Action?

Postby contemplans » Wed Dec 21, 2011 7:39 pm

Prasadachitta , I appreciate your candor. What I don't understand is why the Buddhist path is a noble truth then, if it is applicable to each person with no reference to all people. Every religion worthy of mention says that the absolutes are applicable to each person uniquely. But the Buddha did say that over your particular application, there are these universals which govern the pariculars -- karma, rebirth, dukkha as undesireable, etc. Nibbana is universal in that it is the goal of all beings. Karma is universal in that all beings get to the goal through skillful karma and go away from it through unskillful karma. Dukkha is bad because beings universally desire lasting happiness. The Buddha takes the universals and sets out a universal path, which we take and apply to our particulars. At least this is what it should be, it seems.
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Re: Bases for Skillful Action?

Postby daverupa » Wed Dec 21, 2011 7:43 pm

contemplans wrote:As for fallacy, please explain the fallacy in this argument:

a) Whatever is in motion, is moved by something else.
b) We cannot regress to infinity in the series of moved movers.


a), on its own, disproves an unmoved mover, or a prime mover. In fact, holding that a) is true actually demands infinite regress (a Buddhist would prefer to say that "a beginning is not discerned").

Holding that b) is true means a) has at least one exception, which requires that the term "whatever" be modified. Furthermore, b) has no evidence - "we cannot" is hardly convincing, ultimately resolving into argumentum ad ignorantiam.

In short, the two premises are prima facie contradictory, and therefore it's a non-starter; if you were to study the Cosmological Argument (which is basically what you're proposing) you would see this for yourself.

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    "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: Bases for Skillful Action?

Postby contemplans » Wed Dec 21, 2011 8:16 pm

daverupa wrote:
contemplans wrote:As for fallacy, please explain the fallacy in this argument:

a) Whatever is in motion, is moved by something else.
b) We cannot regress to infinity in the series of moved movers.


a), on its own, disproves an unmoved mover, or a prime mover.


The unmoved mover is not in motion, so please explain how it is disproven.

In fact, holding that a) is true actually demands infinite regress (a Buddhist would prefer to say that "a beginning is not discerned").


Yes, I agree, that is why there is B, which addresses the infinite regress.

Holding that b) is true means a) has at least one exception, which requires that the term "whatever" be modified.


No, it does not. You are assuming that the unmoved mover moves. Please reread your statements in light of the argument and you'll see this. Try examining it during your insight meditation.

Furthermore, b) has no evidence - "we cannot" is hardly convincing, ultimately resolving into argumentum ad ignorantiam.


I developed the argument in the longer statement. "We cannot" is a statement of necessity, not an argument in itself ("this conclusion cannot be escaped by the hypothesis of an infinite series of moved movers"). There is no appeal to ignorance. What I am saying is that we know we cannot regress to infinity, not that we don't know that we can regress to infinity. If it is a unsound/false argument, then please address the material proposed in the paragraph which fleshes it out.
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Re: Bases for Skillful Action?

Postby daverupa » Wed Dec 21, 2011 9:04 pm

contemplans wrote:If it is a unsound/false argument, then please address the material proposed in the paragraph which fleshes it out.


There's no need, because the Cosmological Argument is already thoroughly analyzed elsewhere; indeed, it's interesting that even if its conclusions are granted, a proponent of this argument is left without the ability to connect the "prime mover" God to any particular religious iteration. Is the "Prime mover" Yahweh, Odin, Osiris, White Buffalo Woman... there is no requisite connection. These contrasting claims about such a Creator and that Creator's intentions and methods of human communication are further claims that demand support, all of it prior to any actionable statements about God's Will or the Absolute Good.

The whole morass is a "thicket of views, a wilderness of views, a contortion of views, a writhing of views, a fetter of views. It is accompanied by suffering, distress, despair, & fever, and it does not lead to disenchantment, dispassion, cessation; to calm, direct knowledge, full Awakening, Unbinding." (MN 72)
    "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: Bases for Skillful Action?

Postby David N. Snyder » Wed Dec 21, 2011 10:01 pm

contemplans wrote:(1) In sensible things we find an order of efficient causes.
(2) It is impossible for this order of causes to proceed to infinity.
(3) There must be a first efficient cause.
(4) This first cause is God.

As for fallacy, please explain the fallacy in this argument:

a) Whatever is in motion, is moved by something else.
b) We cannot regress to infinity in the series of moved movers.


a) above is okay and is perhaps compatible with Dependent Origination.
b) The Buddha said no first beginning is discernible, so is moot, but your statement is not valid anyway, because we don't know if time or the universe is infinite and if we can regress to infinity. The Buddha did not say there is infinite regress.

3) and 4) do not follow from the premises.

Big Bang has either God as cause, or Big Bang isn't the start. That's it. Big Bang doesn't cause being to come to be. The Big Bang is not God, but an process/event. And let's be quite clear, the Church teaches that God can be known *with certainty* through observation of the created world. Not that we can understand Him completely. While we conclude that logic says God, it does not mean we have all the answers as to why and how.


[The logical fallacy of] circular reasoning.

Astronomers have suggested that solar systems form and deteriorate and re-evolve over long periods of time, similar to what the Buddha said in the Brahmajala Sutta. There does not need to be a first cause, nor a designer. In fact, the diversity of life and the sometimes haphazard flow of evolution clearly shows no designer, including the loss of sight in some species.

That is where Revelation and Faith come in, which supply some of the why and how of all this. Those are not always drawn from reasoned logic, although they don't against reason either. They are outside the scope of reason (that's why they are propositions of belief).


I prefer logic and reason over blind faith.
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Re: Bases for Skillful Action?

Postby Dan74 » Wed Dec 21, 2011 11:03 pm

contemplans wrote:A long one. :reading:


I see a lot of confident assertions and no reasoned sequential argument. Evidently you see your logical powers as being superior to many great minds who failed to see God as a logical necessity and some lesser ones like me. But a coherent argument, this does not make.

I'm sorry but I am too busy for this.
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Re: Bases for Skillful Action?

Postby danieLion » Thu Dec 22, 2011 1:34 am

contemplans wrote:
As for fallacy, please explain the fallacy in this argument:

a) Whatever is in motion, is moved by something else.
b) We cannot regress to infinity in the series of moved movers.


1. Setting aside the general problems of contextualizing these sentences as an "argument" either fallacious or not (more on this below), the first problem is it's resemblance to Parmenides' tautological conclusions regarding existence (cf., e.g., Nietzsche's Philosophy in the Tragic Age of the Greeks) and suffers from the same deficiencies.

2. To which definition(s?) of "fallacy" and "argument" do you refer?

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Re: Bases for Skillful Action?

Postby danieLion » Thu Dec 22, 2011 1:44 am

contemplans wrote: Buddhism is not immune from any of these things. Buddhism posits a world view, beliefs....

False!

Read Paul Fuller's The Notion of Ditthi in Theravada Buddhism.

contemplans wrote:The path involves investigation into reality, so why is this investigation outside of the path to truth.

Investigation is part of the path. Do you know what is to be investigated?

It's not the path to truth. It's The Path to Liberation.
D :heart:
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Re: Bases for Skillful Action?

Postby Prasadachitta » Thu Dec 22, 2011 2:09 am

contemplans wrote:Prasadachitta , I appreciate your candor. What I don't understand is why the Buddhist path is a noble truth then, if it is applicable to each person with no reference to all people. .


Hello Contemplans,

The four noble truths are true for those who have realized them. One who has realized them knows that there is no reason that given the right conditions others can't also realize them. This is the important point. The realization of the four noble truths is made possible by certain conditions. Those conditions can occur for all beings but they are not necessarily going to occur at the same time for all beings.


Every religion worthy of mention says that the absolutes are applicable to each person uniquely.


Im not sure what you mean here. The absolute which I refer to is a particular kind of knowledge or you might say observation. It is universal in the sense that when one observes it one knows that it has always been there in its potential to be observed.

But the Buddha did say that over your particular application, there are these universals which govern the pariculars -- karma, rebirth, dukkha as undesireable, etc. Nibbana is universal in that it is the goal of all beings.


There is one universal norm which is called specific conditionality. Karma, rebirth, dukkha, the four noble truths, and nibanna all come out of this one truth. It is a universal principle and it is absolutely reliable. This is why I am comfortable calling it absolute.

Karma is universal in that all beings get to the goal through skillful karma and go away from it through unskillful karma. Dukkha is bad because beings universally desire lasting happiness. The Buddha takes the universals and sets out a universal path, which we take and apply to our particulars. At least this is what it should be, it seems


All beings have the potential to pursue the goal of Nibanna and Buddhist calls that pursuit skillful. A Buddhist has confidence in the value of the goal. Karma is universal in that it is intentionality. Karma is synonymous with intention. Dukkha is universally undesirable by definition but thats only because Dukkha is a synonym for undesirable. Thru seeing and knowing actuality the Buddha is able to point out trends within that actuality. There are two general trends which are most important to understand. One trend is cyclical and oscillates between what is undesirable and what is relatively less undesirable. The other trend is progressive and it sets forth ever more satisfactory results till nothing can be said about it but that it is supremely desirable. The Buddha sees these trends clearly and strives to communicate particulars which will enable beings to either 1(move to a less undesirable position within the cyclical trend) or 2(begin operating within the progressive trend). I think this is the way it is and the way it should be.

Take care

Prasadachitta
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Re: Bases for Skillful Action?

Postby Sam Vara » Thu Dec 22, 2011 11:36 am

contemplans

Many thanks for raising these issues in what is turning into quite an exchange. I for one would like to express my thanks and appreciation towards you; it has certainly given me a lot to think about, even if some of the detail escapes me.

I have sometimes reflected on what religious people do when they encounter the truth-claims of other religions and traditions. This is a situation that now arises constantly, mainly due to the internet. It seems there are three broad responses. The first is fundamentalism: "We are right, and the others are not". The second is something like mysticism, along the lines of "On a higher level, we are all right, but we cannot see it yet". The third is a type of pragmatic anti-foundationalism, which denies the significance of truth-claims and objectivity within one's own tradition, and focuses on practice, on what works, on the "how" rather than the "what" or the "why". This is of course in line with the so-called "pragmatic turn" in western academic philosophy, and is best represented in Christian theology by the work of Don Cupitt. It is also, I think, one reason for the increasing popularity of Buddhism in the west. Within the Pali Canon and accepted commentaries there is a great deal of material which supports such a stance. It enables Buddhist practitioners to say, in effect, "I won't get involved in all that ontological wrangling about what is. I am merely following a path that I have found to work on a phenomenological or personal level".

You have received quite a lot of this type of response on this thread. For myself, I find quite a lot in the Buddha's teaching which is properly foundational. The Buddha does not merely prescribe what to do in accordance with dependent origination, he also appears to be saying what there is, independent of what we might do about it. I have already suggested

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .irel.html

and there are of course formulations of Mundane Right View such as

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html

and statements about the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha such as

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .nypo.html

In addition, as you have already rightly pointed out, although the specific instantiations of dependent origination are (obviously!) contingent, the principle itself cannot be. Even if everything the Buddha said was in the form of "if p, then q", then it is the specific terms - the p and the q - which are contingent, rather than the principle itself. To argue otherwise is to fall into self-contradiction. How long, for example, does impermanence last for?

Where we part company, however, is in our responses to any idea of the absolute, or the unconditioned. Conceiving this way or that way about our (obviously mental) perception of the unconditioned seems to me to be part of our mental conditioning. Hence my recommendation of the Mulapariyaya Sutta:

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html

The practice of meditation leads me to question why this conception or that conception or indeed any conception is necessary. My mind wants to do it, maybe, but I know that it is not always a good idea to let my mind do what it wants.

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.
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Re: Bases for Skillful Action?

Postby contemplans » Thu Dec 22, 2011 6:40 pm

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. 1
http://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.


http://www.newadvent.org/summa/2002.htm

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.


http://www.newadvent.org/summa/2003.htm

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.
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Re: Bases for Skillful Action?

Postby Prasadachitta » Thu Dec 22, 2011 8:40 pm

contemplans wrote: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.


Hello Contemplans,

For me "Eternal unchanging happiness" makes no sense. The designation "unchanging" cannot fit into any kind of theory without the axioms of that theory being complete fabricated nonsense. The only way happiness can be eternal is through change. Happiness is an event and an event makes no sense without change. Outside of this kind of logical analysis which is built upon predictable change as the foundational axiom, I see no other way to engage in rational inquiry with regard to the reasons behind living a spiritual life. It is my opinion that there are rational strands of inquiry which illustrate the limits of a rational analysis. Rational analysis can not fully account for change and continuity within an event. This is why direct observation is required. One thing I base by practice upon is that if change is not apparent Im not paying attention.

Take care

Prasadachitta
"Beautifully taught is the Lord's Dhamma, immediately apparent, timeless, of the nature of a personal invitation, progressive, to be attained by the wise, each for himself." Anguttara Nikaya V.332
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Re: Bases for Skillful Action?

Postby Sam Vara » Thu Dec 22, 2011 9:00 pm

contemplans

Many thanks for your response. Again, a great deal to read through here, which will cost me more time and thought in order to do it justice. But some preliminary remarks which might serve to highlight the differences in our positions.

You begin by saying that

"there are underlying assumptions which are never explained through reason, which we must go outside of the system to find."

The "must" bothers me a bit here. I have grown used to seeing the Buddha's goal and path as being essentially free from compulsion. If I find that I "must" do something, I examine the feeling carefully. This applies as much to the necessities of logic as the urgings of the body. In this case, I am perfectly OK about leaving uncovered assumptions as they are. I admit that "lasting happiness" might be what I am aiming for (although I tend to phrase it to myself and others in different terms) but I can't at the moment see how that is better understood or furthered as an aim by reference to

"our connection to Pure Being/Pure Happiness".

In fact, I don't really understand what this means. I can exist, and I can be happy, without any necessary connection to any other existence or happiness, concrete or abstracted. During meditation or on other fleeting occasions, I can experience myself as just being, or purely happy, but I don't think that this is what you mean, somehow.

" So inasmuch as we possess being, we desire happiness."

This bit seems to be particularly significant. I don't think of myself as "possessing being". I just am, and that contingently. Were I to possess being, there would have to be something to do the possessing, and that thing would need to possess being, and so on in an infinite regress. (I might see myself, like Spinozists, as a mode of being, but again I don't think this is what you are getting at). In fact, the Buddha's insistence that there is nothing that possesses its being seems particularly relevant here. My desires for happiness likewise do not seem to logically follow from my existence. They are multiple, and relatively short-lived, and keep arising and passing away. If there is such a thing as an underlying constant desire for happiness, I have never experienced it. It might be a relatively stable conception that I form about myself, based on some compulsion to philosophise. But every time I am happy, it passes away. And every time I start thinking about something else, even the mental conception passes away.

" From this flows a very consistent teaching of who we are, what we are to do, etc"

At the risk of sounding flippant, my response would be: "only if you let it!".

Your point about

"The truth may be that his path gets you to that reality as the ultimate via negativa -- strip away everything to attain everything"

might, with respect, misrepresent what many people who call themselves Buddhists are doing. It ignores the positive cultivation of good mental states and predispositions. In any case, there is the making of "Kamma that leads to the ending of Kamma", and few Buddhists I know consider this to be merely an apophatic exercise.

As for rebirth, I'm not sure what you mean when you say it is taken for granted. There has been a huge amount of discussion of this topic on this site alone, and few are the Buddhists who have accepted a "party line" without careful reflection. Phenomenological, naturalistic, three-life, one-life, agnostic, psychological, materialistic, and just plain denial - it's all there if you look for it! The fact that these are questions of faith which cannot be internally answered, as you put it, is correct for me at this time. It doesn't bother me. I can't answer many questions about the universe at all; my own digestion and the workings of my car are largely opaque to me. But the Dhamma offers the opportunity to reorientate oneself to the big questions, as much as it is about the answers to them.
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