the great rebirth debate

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Re: the great rebirth debate

Postby Nyana » Wed Mar 21, 2012 7:51 pm

Mknicke wrote:You're certainly welcome to dispute my review of "The Truth of Rebirth" but please don't misrepresent what it says. Neither I nor any other secular dharma writer I'm aware of would make any of the oversimplified and unjustifiable claims you attribute to me.

Let's take a look at some of your claims. In your review you juxtapose what you call a "metaphysical Gotama" against a "pragmatic, phenomenalist Gotama." I assume that you're not suggesting that the Buddha suffered from a dissociative identity disorder. Yet you opine that the teachings of these two personalities are in conflict, indicating what you see as a "dramatic discrepancy" within the canonical discourses. You suggest that we should read the teachings of the former Gotama regarding past and future lives as merely comprising "metaphorical poetry." Is this not an assertion that either (i) the teachings of the "metaphysical Gotama" are based on an intentional strategy for teaching morality to people who weren't capable of understanding Gotama's true dhamma, or (ii) these teachings were never intended to be interpreted literally, or (iii) they were composed and inserted into the canon by devotees who were incapable of accurately retaining and transmitting Gotama's true dhamma?

And again, in Authenticity, Anxiety, and the Revision of the Pali Canon you see more conflict and discord. You propose that "significant portions of the Samyutta Nikaya appear to be propaganda, designed either to denigrate the leader of one faction or reinforce the authority of another." Is this not another charge that significant portions of this Nikāya were composed and inserted into the canon by deluded devotees who were more concerned with (and consumed by) unskillful worldly dhammas than with accurately retaining and transmitting Gotama's true dhamma?

And in The Goal of Practice you suggest that there is evidence throughout the canon of attempts to "reconcile Buddhist thought with Vedic soteriology." That is, the traditional formulation of the four noble truths wherein the noble eightfold path leads to the fruition of nibbāna is nothing short of "a metaphysical claim, one that tends to tame the subversive nature of Gotama's teachings and bring them back in line with the mainstream Vedantic doctrine that prevailed in the society of northern India in Gotama's era." Is this not another assertion that at some point after the Buddha's death the dhamma was reworked by devotees who were incapable of accurately retaining and transmitting Gotama's true dhamma?
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Re: the great rebirth debate

Postby daverupa » Wed Mar 21, 2012 7:53 pm

Ñāṇa wrote:
Mknicke wrote:What I do say is that the Theravadin faith that the entire Pali canon presents an accurate and doctrinally and logically consistent picture of Gotama's teachings on rebirth is unjustifiable, based on either historical evidence or on the heteroglossic nature of the texts themselves.

Okay then, let's start here: What precisely is inaccurate about the traditional view of the Buddha's teachings on rebirth?


If I could hazard a guess, it

Mknicke wrote:violates common sense, scientific knowlege and the core prinicples of anatta and conditioned arising, and is no more justifiable than an interpretation based on the many passages of the canon in which Gotama advises against metaphysical speculation and in favor of liberation in this very life.


Well, much of the Dhamma might be said to violate common sense, as common sense is often not common, nor sensible, and Dhamma practitioners are trying to go against the grain anyway. The rest seems to me to be fairly put, however.

One last point, on heteroglossia:

Ñāṇa wrote:at some point after the Buddha's death the dhamma was reworked by devotees...


This certainly happened, and certainly multiple times. The Nikayas are not a homogenous monolith.
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Re: the great rebirth debate

Postby Nyana » Wed Mar 21, 2012 8:03 pm

daverupa wrote:
Ñāṇa wrote:Okay then, let's start here: What precisely is inaccurate about the traditional view of the Buddha's teachings on rebirth?


If I could hazard a guess, it

Mknicke wrote:violates common sense, scientific knowlege and the core prinicples of anatta and conditioned arising, and is no more justifiable than an interpretation based on the many passages of the canon in which Gotama advises against metaphysical speculation and in favor of liberation in this very life.


Yes, yes, according to Knickelbine, Secular Buddhism exists, in part, because "the metaphysics of ancient India cannot be embraced by an educated, intellectually honest person today."

But back to the question: How precisely do the Buddhist teachings on rebirth violate common sense, scientific knowledge, and the core prinicples of anatta and conditioned arising? What precisely is inaccurate about the traditional view of the Buddha's teachings on rebirth?
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Re: the great rebirth debate

Postby Alex123 » Wed Mar 21, 2012 8:09 pm

ancientbuddhism wrote:
Alex123 wrote:We often see lying, backstabbing, aggressive shrewd and cunning psychopaths get to the top because they unfairly beat those who are not so aggressive and are push overs. Within the framework of one-life, they are on the top. But if we consider that there are multiple lifetimes we can consider that their victory is only for this short life and the bad kamma will catch up on them causing more trouble than it was worth.


Heaven for good people and hell for bad people? Do you really think the Dhamma is based on petty morality?



No, but I am realistic about defilements and motivations of people. When the going gets tough, one needs sufficient amount of reasons to follow Dhamma rather than something more pleasant in the short term. If there is only one life, then it is silly to cause oneself suffering and deprivation for the goal that would be achieved anyways at dying, before which one would be indulging in sensual pleasures before death - Parinibbana.

If there is rebirth than it makes full sense to follow Dhamma which may in this life lead to pain and sorrow to the point of tears only to stop much greater amount of sorrow and suffering if one didn't follow Dhamma.
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Re: the great rebirth debate

Postby nowheat » Wed Mar 21, 2012 8:21 pm

Ñāṇa wrote:Is this not an assertion that either (i) the teachings of the "metaphysical Gotama" are based on an intentional strategy for teaching morality to people who weren't capable of understanding Gotama's true dhamma...


Is there something disturbing about that possibility?

To move his listeners from mundane right view to transcendent right view, the Buddha used the teaching on rebirth to inspire not only a sense of heedfulness in his listeners, but also a sense of samvega: dismay and terror at the prospect of not gaining release from rebirth.”


This quote from Mark's article is clear evidence of a belief that the Buddha used rebirth view on people who were not yet capable of understanding Gotama's true dhamma, the one of transcendent right view. Shocking, isn't it, that anyone would put forth that view, especially when it's a quote from Thanissaro Bhikkhu.

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Re: the great rebirth debate

Postby Nyana » Wed Mar 21, 2012 8:25 pm

daverupa wrote:One last point, on heteroglossia:

Ñāṇa wrote:at some point after the Buddha's death the dhamma was reworked by devotees...


This certainly happened, and certainly multiple times. The Nikayas are not a homogenous monolith.

As you probably know, I don't dispute that there was expansion and redaction of the canon. But the claims of Knickelbine and Batchelor, et al, go much further than this. Where I see a canon that displays a remarkably high degree of internal consistency and integrated harmony -- a dhamma that is just as relevant today as it was 2000+ years ago -- Knickelbine sees dramatic doctrinal discrepancies and evidence of conflict and discord inserted by devotees who couldn't maintain an accurate transmission uncontaminated by worldly dhammas. This seems to me to be a highly cynical reading of the texts and amounts to belittling the entire received tradition.
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Re: the great rebirth debate

Postby Alex123 » Wed Mar 21, 2012 8:29 pm

Hello Geoff, all,

Ñāṇa wrote:But back to the question: How precisely do the Buddhist teachings on rebirth violate common sense, scientific knowledge, and the core prinicples of anatta and conditioned arising? What precisely is inaccurate about the traditional view of the Buddha's teachings on rebirth?


Rebirth makes sense only if we consider anatta. It doesn't work if one believes in atta (as some kind of personality with memory).


This is the same kind of objection that I've seen Mahayanist-turned-Catholic use. He claimed that rebirth is like death because when a person is reborn as, lets say, a coachroach, then one isn't the same person because all the past memories and personality is gone. And since this person clings to the idea of a Self that has such and such memories and personality, he couldn't accept that so he rejected rebirth.
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Re: the great rebirth debate

Postby Nyana » Wed Mar 21, 2012 8:30 pm

nowheat wrote:
Ñāṇa wrote:Is this not an assertion that either (i) the teachings of the "metaphysical Gotama" are based on an intentional strategy for teaching morality to people who weren't capable of understanding Gotama's true dhamma...


Is there something disturbing about that possibility?

It's not disturbing, just inaccurate.

nowheat wrote:
To move his listeners from mundane right view to transcendent right view, the Buddha used the teaching on rebirth to inspire not only a sense of heedfulness in his listeners, but also a sense of samvega: dismay and terror at the prospect of not gaining release from rebirth.”


This quote from Mark's article is clear evidence of a belief that the Buddha used rebirth view on people who were not yet capable of understanding Gotama's true dhamma, the one of transcendent right view. Shocking, isn't it, that anyone would put forth that view, especially when it's a quote from Thanissaro Bhikkhu.

Nothing's shocking. But I'd suggest that you're misunderstanding Ṭhānissaro.
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Re: the great rebirth debate

Postby reflection » Wed Mar 21, 2012 8:31 pm

Mknicke wrote:
violates common sense, scientific knowlege and the core prinicples of anatta and conditioned arising, and is no more justifiable than an interpretation based on the many passages of the canon in which Gotama advises against metaphysical speculation and in favor of liberation in this very life.

For many people it is common sense that rebirth doesn't exists, for many others it is common sense that it does. As said, common sense says nothing.

If science were to disprove rebirth, you would have a point. However, it does not. We could go into an entire debate about this, but let's not. Let me just say that most significant, there is no tested theory on how consciousness arises in the brain, only speculations. So, scientific knowledge is not violated here, only scientific hypotheses. But that doesn't prove anything. Hypotheses have often been proved wrong in the past.

It is exactly dependent origination/arising that describes how rebirth can happen without a solid self, without a soul - in the traditional interpretation. I know some teachers tempt to have another interpretation of dependent arising, but I don't think you can't use their interpretation to back up your statement that the suttas don't match, because as far as I know, Thanissaro also thinks that it teaches rebirth.
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Re: the great rebirth debate

Postby Nyana » Wed Mar 21, 2012 8:33 pm

Alex123 wrote:Rebirth makes sense only if we consider anatta.

Yes, of course.
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Re: the great rebirth debate

Postby nowheat » Wed Mar 21, 2012 8:59 pm

Alex123 wrote:If there is only one life, then it is silly to cause oneself suffering and deprivation for the goal that would be achieved anyways at dying, before which one would be indulging in sensual pleasures before death - Parinibbana.

Except that this flies in the face of the evidence of this Secular Buddhist who has strongly hedonistic tendencies. My practice doesn't cause me suffering and deprivation. It reduces suffering and enriches my life beyond measure.

If there is rebirth than it makes full sense to follow Dhamma which may in this life lead to pain and sorrow to the point of tears only to stop much greater amount of sorrow and suffering if one didn't follow Dhamma.


If there is rebirth it makes full sense to follow the Dhamma. If there is not rebirth, it makes full sense to follow the dhamma and get the very most out of this life that I have. This is what the Buddha taught: whether there is or is not rebirth, the dhamma is the best path. Do you actually disagree with the Buddha on that point?

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Re: the great rebirth debate

Postby nowheat » Wed Mar 21, 2012 9:04 pm

Ñāṇa wrote:
Alex123 wrote:Rebirth makes sense only if we consider anatta.

Yes, of course.


I ask these questions often and have never gotten a good answers:

Why would the Buddha teach that I should be more concerned with *my* next life than the lives of all sentient beings?

How does concern with the quality of my next life help to distance me from "This is me, this is my self, this I am"?

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Re: the great rebirth debate

Postby Alex123 » Wed Mar 21, 2012 9:07 pm

Nowheat,

nowheat wrote:Иf there is not rebirth, it makes full sense to follow the dhamma and get the very most out of this life that I have. This is what the Buddha taught: whether there is or is not rebirth, the dhamma is the best path. Do you actually disagree with the Buddha on that point?
:namaste:


If Dhamma practice causes more suffering in the present, the why would follow it if one believed in one-life-only? Why cause oneself more suffering for the goal that would be reached even without it?
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Re: the great rebirth debate

Postby Alex123 » Wed Mar 21, 2012 9:11 pm

nowheat wrote:Why would the Buddha teach that I should be more concerned with *my* next life than the lives of all sentient beings?


If your head is on fire, why be concerned about putting out the fire? It hurts.

As for helping others: You can't really help others until you can help yourself first.
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Re: the great rebirth debate

Postby daverupa » Wed Mar 21, 2012 9:39 pm

Alex123 wrote:If Dhamma practice causes more suffering in the present,...


It doesn't, though. This is a hypothetical without a referent.

Ñāṇa wrote:Where I see a canon that displays a remarkably high degree of internal consistency and integrated harmony -- a dhamma that is just as relevant today as it was 2000+ years ago -- Knickelbine sees dramatic doctrinal discrepancies and evidence of conflict and discord inserted by devotees who couldn't maintain an accurate transmission uncontaminated by worldly dhammas. This seems to me to be a highly cynical reading of the texts and amounts to belittling the entire received tradition.


And where you see high cynicism and belittling analysis, I see a vibrant discussion of the Dhamma in the West which doesn't have to climb out from under the baggage of having put this or that received (and often nationalist) tradition, in toto, on an unassailable pedestal of religious infallibility.

(Of course, if "infallible" isn't part of your claim, then these different perspectives are simply a matter of preferential degree as pertains to how much scholastic investigation we are going to let inform our understanding of the Dhamma, in which case these arguments amount to "my heuristic is better than your heuristic", whereupon we should all be ashamed, and we should all read MN 48 and MN 104.)

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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: the great rebirth debate

Postby Alex123 » Wed Mar 21, 2012 11:28 pm

daverupa wrote:
Alex123 wrote:If Dhamma practice causes more suffering in the present,...


It doesn't, though. This is a hypothetical without a referent.


Rough example: A person who is rich (or middle class) and successful in life (in all respects) becomes a monk. There, due to natural instincts, he struggles very much to keep the precepts. He lives in poverty and rough physical surroundings where he denies "life's little pleasures". His meditation is not exactly perfect, and his new life is a struggle.

If he has sufficiently strong faith in rebirth than he can bear it for future ease. But if he lacks faith, then why ordain?

Similarly to a lesser degree with a layfollower. S/he can refuse worldly pleasures and try to meditate without much success (and thus bring all the disappointments, frustrations, lack of fullfilment if haven't followed this path). Lay person could deny life's pleasures in order to perfectly follow N8P and thus suffer more.
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Re: the great rebirth debate

Postby Nyana » Thu Mar 22, 2012 12:00 am

daverupa wrote:And where you see high cynicism and belittling analysis, I see a vibrant discussion of the Dhamma in the West which doesn't have to climb out from under the baggage of having put this or that received (and often nationalist) tradition, in toto, on an unassailable pedestal of religious infallibility.

Dhamma? Maybe. But hardly the Buddhadhamma. I can understand why someone would want to appropriate a few of the ethical and meditative aspects of Buddhism, even though they dismiss kamma, as well as nibbāna as the fruition of the noble eightfold path, and the entire Pāli tradition. But what I fail to understand is why, when they clearly aren't interested in sincerely going for refuge in the three jewels, would they nevertheless want to identify themselves as Buddhist? The views of the "Secular Buddhists" that I've read are far more compatible with Cārvāka philosophy than with any Buddhist tradition that's ever existed.
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Re: the great rebirth debate

Postby retrofuturist » Thu Mar 22, 2012 12:15 am

Greetings Ñāṇa,

Ñāṇa wrote:But what I fail to understand is why, when they clearly aren't interested in sincerely going for refuge in the three jewels, would they nevertheless want to identify themselves as Buddhist? The views of the "Secular Buddhists" that I've read are far more compatible with Cārvāka philosophy than with any Buddhist tradition that's ever existed.

It seems there's a hierarchy of belief-systems and priorities at play.

Those of us who are very serious about the Dhamma will naturally place the Dhamma first, and other views secondary. To us that is very natural, but we too have other interests and "isms" that we might sign up for too. For example, I could say that as well as being Buddhist, I am a "market Socialist". Being "market Socialist" is subordinate to being "Buddhist" and where there is conflict between the two, I will side in favour of the more primary "ism". The person to whom “market Socialism” is their primary “ism” might give me dirty looks when I come out with Dhammic thoughts that are not aligned with their primary “ism”. We need to be able to place ourselves in the other person’s shoes and avoid one-sidedness and unrealistic assumptions.

These "Secular Buddhists" you speak of are therefore happy to apply Dhammic principles where they don’t come in conflict with their primary “ism”. The thing is though, there’s nothing in the definition of Secular Buddhism that tells you what their primary “ism” is. Is it Agnosticism? Scientism? Capitalism? Vegetarianism? Humanism? Maybe their “Buddhism” isn’t even second in their scheme of things – maybe it’s third, eighth, or twenty-ninth on the priority list.

It’s easy for us to regard Dhamma as primary, but for many, they are able to respect Buddhism, apply what parts of the Dhamma don’t conflict with their other “isms” and gain certain benefit from that. I do not think that should be derided – just called out for what it is. I also think it is good to be tolerant of people not placing Buddhism as their primary "ism", lest we turn them away from it and they drop it altogether.

Metta,
Retro. :)
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Re: the great rebirth debate

Postby Prasadachitta » Thu Mar 22, 2012 12:27 am

retrofuturist wrote: :goodpost:
Those of us who are very serious about the Dhamma will naturally place the Dhamma first, and other views secondary. To us that is very natural, but we too have other interests and "isms" that we might sign up for too. For example, I could say that as well as being Buddhist, I am a "market Socialist". Being "market Socialist" is subordinate to being "Buddhist" and where there is conflict between the two, I will side in favour of the more primary "ism". The person to whom “market Socialism” is their primary “ism” might give me dirty looks when I come out with Dhammic thoughts that are not aligned with their primary “ism”. We need to be able to place ourselves in the other person’s shoes and avoid one-sidedness and unrealistic assumptions.

These "Secular Buddhists" you speak of are therefore happy to apply Dhammic principles where they don’t come in conflict with their primary “ism”. The thing is though, there’s nothing in the definition of Secular Buddhism that tells you what their primary “ism” is. Is it Agnosticism? Scientism? Capitalism? Vegetarianism? Humanism? Maybe their “Buddhism” isn’t even second in their scheme of things – maybe it’s third, eighth, or twenty-ninth on the priority list.

It’s easy for us to regard Dhamma as primary, but for many, they are able to respect Buddhism, apply what parts of the Dhamma don’t conflict with their other “isms” and gain certain benefit from that. I do not think that should be derided – just called out for what it is. I also think it is good to be tolerant of people not placing Buddhism as their primary "ism", lest we turn them away from it and they drop it altogether.

Metta,
Retro. :)

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Re: the great rebirth debate

Postby daverupa » Thu Mar 22, 2012 1:03 am

retrofuturist wrote:It seems there's a hierarchy of belief-systems and priorities at play.

Those of us who are very serious about the Dhamma will naturally place the Dhamma first, and other views secondary.


Generally speaking, a secular Buddhist is one who makes this claim as well; the key issue is "other views", which covers different ground when seen from a secular vantage point versus a traditional vantage point. I am sure examples can be easily called to mind, but a Thai receiving-cloth will serve as an example of something which dwells at different places in the hierarchy and belief system and prioritization of a secular 1st-generation Buddhist in the States versus a traditional nth-generation Buddhist in Thailand.

retrofuturist wrote:These "Secular Buddhists" you speak of are therefore happy to apply Dhammic principles where they don’t come in conflict with their primary “ism”. The thing is though, there’s nothing in the definition of Secular Buddhism that tells you what their primary “ism” is. Is it Agnosticism? Scientism? Capitalism? Vegetarianism? Humanism? Maybe their “Buddhism” isn’t even second in their scheme of things – maybe it’s third, eighth, or twenty-ninth on the priority list.


On this reasoning, "Thai Buddhists" put being Thai first, and Buddhist second, yet by putting 'secular' where 'Thai' once stood there is a problem. This rather looks like a double standard, given that both terms are serving the same classificatory purpose.

Ultimately, the lack of consideration for the possibility that the primary "ism" is actually Buddhism is quite astonishing.

retrofuturist wrote:It’s easy for us to regard Dhamma as primary,...


:|

retrofuturist wrote:... just called out for what it is.


"Other sincere practitioners of the 37 Wings seeking to put a final end to dukkha" should suffice for all.

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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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