Uncertain Minds: How the West Misunderstands Buddhism

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Re: Uncertain Minds: How the West Misunderstands Buddhism

Postby danieLion » Thu Jun 14, 2012 1:24 am

Lampang wrote:
We need to develop modern Buddhism to present the teachings of the Buddha in a way which is not encumbered by the religious and cultural clutter which it has accumulated over the past 2500 years.


I agree with the first half of that sentence but, for me, the second half would have to read "which is encumbered by our religious and cultural clutter not theirs". I don't think there is any ur-religion which we can uncover (despite our best efforts to naturalize our own cultural prejudices), we can only recast what has come before in a way which is congruent with all our other pre-existing beliefs.

Both these quotes smack of ethnocentrism--kind of like the Peacock/Batchelor lecture.
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Re: Uncertain Minds: How the West Misunderstands Buddhism

Postby Lampang » Thu Jun 14, 2012 3:40 am

I can't speak for Ñāṇa, but the idea that "devotional practices are justified in terms of their efficacy" is not not the implication I drew from this.

What implications did you draw?
the dichotomy between faith and knowledge is false

Why? As far as I can see, reference to faith which involves knowledge doesn't make sense.
Both these quotes smack of ethnocentrism

Again, perhaps you could explain what you're getting at.
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Re: Uncertain Minds: How the West Misunderstands Buddhism

Postby manas » Thu Jun 14, 2012 5:42 am

Is the Buddha pragmatic, for the healing of the mind, for equanimity amidst all conditions of life, etc? Yes...but he is much more, as well. Here are two paragraphs from one of those earlier suttas, the Ariyapariyesana Sutta:

"Then, monks, being subject myself to birth, seeing the drawbacks of birth, seeking the unborn, unexcelled rest from the yoke, Unbinding, I reached the unborn, unexcelled rest from the yoke: Unbinding. Being subject myself to aging... illness... death... sorrow... defilement, seeing the drawbacks of aging... illness... death... sorrow... defilement, seeking the aging-less, illness-less, deathless, sorrow-less, unexcelled rest from the yoke, Unbinding, I reached the aging-less, illness-less, deathless, sorrow-less, unexcelled rest from the yoke: Unbinding. Knowledge & vision arose in me: 'Unprovoked is my release. This is the last birth. There is now no further becoming.'

"Then the thought occurred to me, 'This Dhamma that I have attained is deep, hard to see, hard to realize, peaceful, refined, beyond the scope of conjecture, subtle, to-be-experienced by the wise. [3] But this generation delights in attachment, is excited by attachment, enjoys attachment. For a generation delighting in attachment, excited by attachment, enjoying attachment, this/that conditionality & dependent co-arising are hard to see. This state, too, is hard to see: the resolution of all fabrications, the relinquishment of all acquisitions, the ending of craving; dispassion; cessation; Unbinding. And if I were to teach the Dhamma and others would not understand me, that would be tiresome for me, troublesome for me.'


A question I have for those who would argue that the Buddha was only concerned with freedom within the scope of this one lifetime, and not with regard to a Samsaric wheel that one is personally bound to and will reappear in unless awakened, would be to explain the part bolded above. To be pleased about having made an end to becoming and birth, implies that generally, one is subject to future becoming and birth. Otherwise there would be no point to making the declaration, "This is the last birth. There is now no further becoming." If it were just about ease in this lifetime only, he could have just rejoiced in the ending of dukkha in the here and now. But there appears to be more to it than just that, does there not?

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Re: Uncertain Minds: How the West Misunderstands Buddhism

Postby Nyana » Thu Jun 14, 2012 5:55 am

Lampang wrote:where does faith (and I'm assuming that 'faith' is being used in opposition to 'knowledge') come into things? Because it sounds like you're saying that devotional practices are or can be rationally justified and in that case they are based on knowledge, leaving no room for faith.

Faith (saddhā) along with discernment (paññā) are faculties (indriya) and strengths (bala) which are to be developed as requisites of awakening (bodhipakkhiyā dhammā). There is a whole spectrum of reasonable, intelligent saddhā that doesn't resort to what is pejoratively referred to as "blind faith," but is still faith in something which is beyond the sphere of certain confirmation via our current perceptions. Primarily, faith requires believing in the awakening of the Buddha. SN 55.37:

    "In what way, venerable sir, is a lay follower accomplished in faith?"

    "Here, Mahānāma, a lay follower is a person of faith. He places faith in the enlightenment of the Tathāgata thus: 'The Blessed One is ... teacher of devas and humans, the Enlightened One, the Blessed One.' In that way a lay follower is accomplished in faith."

And faith in the Tathāgata's awakening is connected to hearing the dhamma; i.e. it's not something that we can confirm with our worldly perceptions. MN 112:

    Friends, formerly when I lived the home life I was ignorant. Then the Tathāgata or his disciple taught me the Dhamma. On hearing the Dhamma I acquired faith in the Tathāgata.

It's worthwhile being intellectually honest and vigorous enough to look at just how much of our motivation at any given moment is influenced by beliefs. In the context of practice, first of all, one has be motivated to actually engage in the ethical and contemplative training and then choose to go for refuge in the three jewels instead of one's own delusional thoughts and emotions. Then one has to at the very least tacitly accept the premise that craving sensual pleasure, craving existence, and craving non-existence is the origin of suffering, in order to be willing to begin to abandon habitual actions, and so on. This is no small thing. Thus, without developing faith and going for refuge in the three jewels there is no connection with the noble eightfold path. SN 48. 44 Pubbakoṭṭhaka Sutta:

    Good, good Sāriputta! Those by whom this has not been known, seen, understood, realized, and contacted with wisdom -- they would have to go by faith in others about this: that the faculty of faith ... the faculty of energy ... the faculty of mindfulness .. the faculty of concentration ... the faculty of wisdom, when developed and cultivated, has the deathless as its ground, the deathless as its destination, the deathless as its final goal.

And it's only with the attainment of stream-entry that one's faith becomes confirmed, unshakable confidence (aveccapassāda).
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Re: Uncertain Minds: How the West Misunderstands Buddhism

Postby Lampang » Thu Jun 14, 2012 6:47 am

first of all, one has be motivated to actually engage in the ethical and contemplative training and then choose to go for refuge in the three jewels instead of one's own delusional thoughts and emotions. Then one has to at the very least tacitly accept the premise that craving sensual pleasure, craving existence, and craving non-existence is the origin of suffering, in order to be willing to begin to abandon habitual actions, and so on.

So you're engaging in an action because you expect that it will achieve some end you desire, though you can't be sure in advance that it will achieve this. In normal usage, that's not going to be described as faith (do you have faith in a medical procedure before you go for an operation? I don't think so) though I'm happy to accept that in Buddhist circles, the word may have some other meaning which it lacks in its everyday form. But my point is that if you give a justification for a practice in terms of its pay-off (as you did), I don't understand why you would then want to bring faith into it. As you say, there are gradations of faith but surely all of these are inferior to knowledge.

If it were just about ease in this lifetime only, he could have just rejoiced in the ending of dukkha in the here and now. But there appears to be more to it than just that, does there not?

Yes, probably but two things seem immediately obvious: 1. To what extent the texts actually reflect what came out of the Buddha's mouth and (more importantly) 2. whether it matters. For those, like me, who aren't bound to a traditionally religious encounter with Buddhism, the fact that my beliefs aren't in accord with the texts is not a problem. And frankly it would be bizarre if I agreed with everything which appeared in a set of texts (unless they were utterly trivial and these aren't) which came into existence two and a half millennia ago.
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Re: Uncertain Minds: How the West Misunderstands Buddhism

Postby Nyana » Thu Jun 14, 2012 6:58 am

Lampang wrote:So you're engaging in an action because you expect that it will achieve some end you desire, though you can't be sure in advance that it will achieve this.

Faith is more complex and dynamic than this. Again, faith relates to believing in the awakening of the Buddha. In addition, for the Buddhist path to be optimally effective, the path requires the development of both cognitive and affective qualities. Otherwise, practice is just a barren head trip with little power to transform one's life to the extent necessary for the radical process of Buddhist awakening. Ven. Bodhi has some insightful things to say on this subject. For example, in Going for Refuge & Taking the Precepts he offers the following:

    Like any other act of consciousness the going for refuge is a complex process made up of many factors. These factors can be classified by way of three basic faculties: intelligence, volition, and emotion....

    The third aspect of going for refuge is the emotional. While going for refuge requires more than emotional fervour, it also cannot come to full fruition without the inspiring upward pull of the emotions. The emotions entering into the refuge act are principally three: confidence, reverence, and love. Confidence (pasada) is a feeling of serene trust in the protective power of the refuge-objects, based on a clear understanding of their qualities and functions. Confidence gives rise to reverence (garava), a sense of awe, esteem, and veneration born from a growing awareness of the sublime and lofty nature of the Triple Gem. Yet this reverence does not remain cool, formal, and aloof. As we experience the transforming effect of the Dhamma on our life, reverence awakens (pema). Love adds the element of warmth and vitality to the spiritual life. It kindles the flame of devotion, coming to expression in acts of dedicated service by which we seek to extend the protective and liberative capacity of the threefold refuge to others.

These skillful affective qualities don't necessarily come easily.
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Re: Uncertain Minds: How the West Misunderstands Buddhism

Postby Lampang » Thu Jun 14, 2012 7:07 am

Faith is more complex and dynamic than this. Again, faith relates to believing in the awakening of the Buddha.

You seem to be using the word in a very particular way. You're obviously free to do that, but you run the risk of talking at cross-purposes with people (like me) who only use it in its boring everyday sense.
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Re: Uncertain Minds: How the West Misunderstands Buddhism

Postby Nyana » Thu Jun 14, 2012 7:10 am

Lampang wrote:
Faith is more complex and dynamic than this. Again, faith relates to believing in the awakening of the Buddha.

You seem to be using the word in a very particular way. You're obviously free to do that, but you run the risk of talking at cross-purposes with people (like me) who only use it in its boring everyday sense.

And what sense is that?
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Re: Uncertain Minds: How the West Misunderstands Buddhism

Postby Lampang » Thu Jun 14, 2012 7:30 am

What is the everyday sense? When it comes to religion, having faith stands (as I said in an earlier post) in opposition to knowledge so having faith would be to assent to a proposition for which you didn't have good grounds of belief; you have faith in a proposition precisely because you don't and/or can't know it. As a product of the cultural history of the English-speaking nations, (religious) faith is conceived in this way - it's all about believing unknowable propositions. What you're talking about is not faith in this sense. The Buddha (though as far as I see, it could just as easily have been the cashier at the local 7-11) makes a series of assertions about the world which one evaluates. Finding that there are good grounds for assenting to them, one then pursues a certain course of action/behavioural modification in the expectation that this will have a desired outcome. Where's the faith in that? I can't see it. And it's a complete mystery to me why anybody would want to bring to up faith when one didn't need to.
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Re: Uncertain Minds: How the West Misunderstands Buddhism

Postby Nyana » Thu Jun 14, 2012 8:10 am

Lampang wrote:What is the everyday sense? When it comes to religion, having faith stands (as I said in an earlier post) in opposition to knowledge so having faith would be to assent to a proposition for which you didn't have good grounds of belief; you have faith in a proposition precisely because you don't and/or can't know it. As a product of the cultural history of the English-speaking nations, (religious) faith is conceived in this way - it's all about believing unknowable propositions. What you're talking about is not faith in this sense.

Well, there are a few related issues here. Firstly, there is no perfect translation for any given Pāli term. Some translators have translated saddhā as "confidence" or "conviction" instead of "faith," probably out of a desire to scrub the term of any possible Abrahamic religious connotations. But others (like me), find that "confidence" or "conviction" don't adequately account for the full meaning of saddhā either.

Secondly, language is always context dependent. I've offered you a number of examples and textual quotations of how saddhā is used and can be understood in context. You're entirely free to either accept, reject, or suspend judgement on these as you see fit.

Thirdly, saddhā can be supported and informed by inferential cognition, therefore it doesn't stand in opposition to knowledge.

Lampang wrote:The Buddha (though as far as I see, it could just as easily have been the cashier at the local 7-11) makes a series of assertions about the world which one evaluates. Finding that there are good grounds for assenting to them, one then pursues a certain course of action/behavioural modification in the expectation that this will have a desired outcome. Where's the faith in that? I can't see it. And it's a complete mystery to me why anybody would want to bring to up faith when one didn't need to.

There are a number assertions made in the Pāli Nikāyas that aren't easily verifiable through direct perception, or even inferential cognition. In the absence of triple knowledge (tevijjā), some of these assertions can only be accepted on faith, supported by the most robust inferential analysis that one is able to muster at the time. Again, we are all free to either accept, reject, or suspend judgement on these assertions as we see fit. And it may happen that our views, opinions, and understanding of these assertions changes (sometimes considerably) over time.
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Re: Uncertain Minds: How the West Misunderstands Buddhism

Postby Lampang » Thu Jun 14, 2012 8:39 am

Right. As I said, I'm using faith in it's normal sense and you're using it in a special sense (though perhaps on this forum yours is the normal use and I'm the odd one out); we're having two different conversations and whilst I can't comment on the appropriacy of your usage, I don't see anything wrong with what I've written.
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Re: Uncertain Minds: How the West Misunderstands Buddhism

Postby Nyana » Thu Jun 14, 2012 9:01 am

Lampang wrote:Right. As I said, I'm using faith in it's normal sense and you're using it in a special sense (though perhaps on this forum yours is the normal use and I'm the odd one out); we're having two different conversations and whilst I can't comment on the appropriacy of your usage, I don't see anything wrong with what I've written.

It seems that the English term "faith" has a broader set of meanings and connotations than you're acknowledging. These include trust, allegiance, fidelity, confidence, etc. Faith is from Anglo-French feid, from Latin fidēs "trust," "confidence." For example, see faith (Merriam Webster Dictionary) and faith (American Heritage Dictionary, Collins English Dictionary).
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Re: Uncertain Minds: How the West Misunderstands Buddhism

Postby Lampang » Thu Jun 14, 2012 9:33 am

Yes and no. I should probably have been clearer but I'm talking about 'religious faith' (as I said here: "As a product of the cultural history of the English-speaking nations, (religious) faith is conceived in this way - it's all about believing unknowable propositions") and you can't substitute anything for faith in that phrase: 'religious trust', 'religious allegiance', 'religious fidelity', 'religious confidence' - none of them make any sense. And since you said you're using 'faith' as a stand in for a Pali word which doesn't map well onto its English counterpart, it seems we're both in agreement that our uses differ.
---
Also, by saying that faith is opposed to knowledge it should be clear that confidence, trust, allegiance, etc. are not acceptable synonyms for the sense that I was highlighting (and, I'm pretty confident, the sense which most native speakers have in mind when 'faith' is used with reference to a religion or religiously-tinged propositions). After all, if I say "My mother is a faithful Christian" and "Fido is a faithful dog", I'm obviously using the word in pretty different ways.
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Re: Uncertain Minds: How the West Misunderstands Buddhism

Postby Nyana » Thu Jun 14, 2012 10:28 am

Lampang wrote:Yes and no. I should probably have been clearer but I'm talking about 'religious faith' (as I said here: "As a product of the cultural history of the English-speaking nations, (religious) faith is conceived in this way - it's all about believing unknowable propositions") and you can't substitute anything for faith in that phrase: 'religious trust', 'religious allegiance', 'religious fidelity', 'religious confidence' - none of them make any sense.

I recognize that we all have our own unique personal histories, but I think that at some point it's quite helpful, and eventually necessary, to step out of the shadow of our past Judeo-Christian conditioning, etc. The Buddhadhamma has been related to and practiced very much as a religion by millions of people in Asia for well over 2000 years. This may not appeal to one's Western, post-modern sensibilities, but there's a certain tension in revisionism that should be acknowledged here. Personally, I'm skeptical of the premise that the historical Buddha and his early disciples thought and acted in ways that would be wholly acceptable to modern skeptics like Mr. Batchelor, and that this "pristine" dhamma was later corrupted by Buddhist traditions.
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Re: Uncertain Minds: How the West Misunderstands Buddhism

Postby Sam Vara » Thu Jun 14, 2012 10:39 am

:goodpost:

Very nicely put.
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Re: Uncertain Minds: How the West Misunderstands Buddhism

Postby daverupa » Thu Jun 14, 2012 11:03 am

sadhu
    "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: Uncertain Minds: How the West Misunderstands Buddhism

Postby Lampang » Thu Jun 14, 2012 11:32 am

I think that at some point it's quite helpful, and eventually necessary, to step out of the shadow of our past Judeo-Christian conditioning, etc.

Something you have achieved but I, poor benighted sinner that I am, have yet to accomplish, eh. Lovely.
The Buddhadhamma has been related to and practiced very much as a religion by millions of people in Asia for well over 2000 years.

Yes, I know. I live in Thailand. I see it every day. Mostly, it makes for pretty unpleasant viewing.
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Re: Uncertain Minds: How the West Misunderstands Buddhism

Postby dhamma follower » Thu Jun 14, 2012 12:20 pm

Lampang wrote:
I think that at some point it's quite helpful, and eventually necessary, to step out of the shadow of our past Judeo-Christian conditioning, etc.

Something you have achieved but I, poor benighted sinner that I am, have yet to accomplish, eh. Lovely.


No need to take it personally. Since this is a Buddhist forum with a topic on Buddhism, it is fair enough to rely on the definition of faith in the Buddhadhamma, instead of the common meaning anyone might bear in mind.

The Buddhadhamma has been related to and practiced very much as a religion by millions of people in Asia for well over 2000 years.

Yes, I know. I live in Thailand. I see it every day. Mostly, it makes for pretty unpleasant viewing


Again, one is not necessarily a Buddhist just because one bows in front of the Buddha's image or belongs to a Buddhist community. One might do so with or without the kind of faith as defined by the Buddha and well explained in Nana's posts.

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Re: Uncertain Minds: How the West Misunderstands Buddhism

Postby Nyana » Thu Jun 14, 2012 3:01 pm

Lampang wrote:Something you have achieved but I, poor benighted sinner that I am, have yet to accomplish, eh.

Oh c'mon now, that wasn't implied.
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Re: Uncertain Minds: How the West Misunderstands Buddhism

Postby Viscid » Thu Jun 14, 2012 7:04 pm

With regard to faith, I think we're confused of its meaning partly because we're committing Ken Wilber's (please don't groan) pre/trans fallacy-- if I understand it correctly:

As westerners, we have a wholly different experience of Buddhism from those who were born into a Buddhist culture, we did not come to Buddhist practice due to social pressure from those around us, and yet much of our outward practice is indistinguishable from theirs. When a westerner bows to a Buddhist statue, or says they have faith in the Buddha, it may be an expression of something altogether different from when a native Buddhist does so. Westerners have had tremendous exposure to a plethora of religious and philosophical beliefs, and have made a very conscious decision to practice [Theravada] Buddhism. Yet, if both Western Buddhists and Native Buddhists are practicing according to the texts and to teachers, you cannot distinguish this difference in either word or action. When a Native Buddhist says he has 'faith' in the Buddha, it is not equal to the 'faith' that someone who actually 'gets it' has, but being the same word we mistake it as such.

Our humility, perhaps, prevents us from making the distinguishment between a "pre-rational" Buddhist from a "trans-rational" Buddhist.
"What holds attention determines action." - William James
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