Buddhism as a "rational" religion.

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Re: Buddhism as a "rational" religion.

Postby Kenshou » Wed Jul 04, 2012 9:41 am

...that we are simply pond slime made good, there is not much of a basis for 'rationality', in the end, is there?

Says who?

From "slime" to more complex organisms and eventually ones cognizant enough to think more rationally, and maybe find themselves an "over-arching raison d'etre", but then again, do you necessarily need one of those to act rationally anyway?

I can't say that I've got one, or I haven't seen it around lately at least. But I do try to not do random stupid things regardless. Because that doesn't usually work out so well, which is reason enough in of itself. If I kick the cat he'll bite me, and that stings.

And similarly, Buddhist practice aims towards undoing the stupid habits we have that it turns out, aren't doing so well for us, and actually lead to more stress. I don't believe a philosophical justification is necessary to start engaging in that practice.

Unrelatedly:
It is significant that in Buddhism, only the human being is able to realize Nibbana, is it not? Animals and beings in other realms, cannot. Not even the Gods can.

I believe the concept is that the human realm is best suited to realizing awakening since it's between the distracting extremes of suffering and pleasure. Though the gods/devas/whatevers can as well, if they practice properly. And additionally people who reach a certain intermediate degree of awakening are likely to be reborn in such and such deva realms, wherein they presumably finish the job eventually. Or so it goes. Point is, not just humans.
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Re: Buddhism as a "rational" religion.

Postby sunyavadin » Wed Jul 04, 2012 10:51 am

Kenshou wrote:I don't believe a philosophical justification is necessary to start engaging in that practice.


Well, that's your prerogative, of course. Asking philosophical questions was one of the things that led me to it. I think the dhamma provides for the kind of objective morality that I think is generally absent from current Western philosophy, and certainly completely absent from evolutionary materialism.

Do we need a raison d'etre to act rationally? Surely can't hurt, can it? Isn't the lack of a sense of purpose a major challenge in modern urban societies?

As for the unique advantage of a human birth, I *think* the teaching that "only humans are able to realize Nibbana" is part of the Dhamma. Hence the emphasis on 'this precious human birth' - although I can't recall the exact location of that teaching.
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Re: Buddhism as a "rational" religion.

Postby David N. Snyder » Wed Jul 04, 2012 7:24 pm

sunyavadin wrote:Consider the mainstream account of how humanity evolved. At the end of the day, this is held to happen for no reason, other than the fortuitous combination of material elements, and the urge to survive, which somehow is thought to have spontaneously developed out of that. Don't get me wrong, I am not for a minute advocating any kind of creationism. But the mainstream view is not particularly rational, insofar as it believes that things happen for no reason. This exact view is criticized in the Brahmajāla Sutta.


Actually according the Pali Canon the reason is craving. In the Aggañña Sutta there is a description of the evolution of life. Some of it is a little mythical, using the existing cosmology, but if you look at the primary message; that simple life forms, neither male nor female became greedy and multiplied and evolved; the account is not much different from that of the scientific explanation of evolution.
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Re: Buddhism as a "rational" religion.

Postby Alex123 » Wed Jul 04, 2012 9:55 pm

sunyavadin wrote:
Ben wrote: Why should there be a reason that life evolved the way it did?


I am interested in the idea that the evolutionary process is one in which the Universe is actually 'waking up to itself'. After all, it has spawned these creatures who are capable of weighing it and measuring it. But at the same time - certain irony here - we seem to take this for granted, as if it all just happened by dumb luck.


It is significant that in Buddhism, only the human being is able to realize Nibbana, is it not? Animals and beings in other realms, cannot. Not even the Gods can.


The universe is what it is. If evolution didn't occur the way it has, and if we have not appeared, we would not be here to discuss that.

Now, how many galaxies are there? Astronomers estimate that there are approximately 100 billion to 1 trillion galaxies in the Universe. So if you multiply those two numbers together, you get between 1022 and 1024 stars in the Universe. How many stars? There are between 10 sextillion and 1 septillion stars in the Universe. That’s a large number of stars. link


Even if on average there is 1 planet per star system (Our solar system has 8-9) ... That makes a huge number of worlds... Even if only 1 in a million of planets has life and intelligent life is 1 in a million of that... And if we take billions of years... and multiverse...

Considering our size and duration, we are as significant as dust particle and there is nothing special about evolution.


Considering the length of time the universe will exist. Human civilization is nothing. A 1 second conceited hiccup of a universe.
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Re: Buddhism as a "rational" religion.

Postby sunyavadin » Wed Jul 04, 2012 11:39 pm

Yes - but who is counting? :tongue:
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Re: Buddhism as a "rational" religion.

Postby Alex123 » Wed Jul 04, 2012 11:55 pm

sunyavadin wrote:Yes - but who is counting? :tongue:


Scientists using modern technology?
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Re: Buddhism as a "rational" religion.

Postby sunyavadin » Thu Jul 05, 2012 12:49 am

Right! And science is actually a human activity, which uses human concepts, based on such units of measure as 'a year' which is 'the time taken by the Earth to orbit the Sun' and so on.

The idea that 'reality is what is really "out there" and we are simply incidental blips in time and space' is a part of this outlook.
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Re: Buddhism as a "rational" religion.

Postby Alex123 » Thu Jul 05, 2012 1:19 am

sunyavadin wrote:Right! And science is actually a human activity, which uses human concepts, based on such units of measure as 'a year' which is 'the time taken by the Earth to orbit the Sun' and so on.

The idea that 'reality is what is really "out there" and we are simply incidental blips in time and space' is a part of this outlook.


No every idea is equally valid. The idea that earth is flat and sits on elephants who stand on a turtle is not on the same level as modern cosmology. There is enough evidence to strongly suggest that this universe existed for ~13 billion years. Compare 100 human years to 13 billion years...
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Re: Buddhism as a "rational" religion.

Postby sunyavadin » Thu Jul 05, 2012 1:36 am

Well, indeed. Another thing that interests me is that Vedic cosmology - not exclusively Buddhist in nature - believes that the Universe exists in cycles of expansion and contraction that occupy 'aeons of kalpas' - which are time periods that are truly astronomical in conception. In saying that, I acknowledge that mythological cosmologies are not literally true, a fact which I think Buddhists in contemporary society need to acknowledge also (and often do, see for instance The Quantum and the Lotus and The Universe in a Single Atom).

But at the same time, scientists themselves are subject to historical influences and notions of what is likely to constitute a worthwhile avenue of investigation, or what constitutes a valid view of the world, and so on.

This current discovery of the Higgs is predicated upon something called 'sigma levels' of certainty, for instance. This determines the likelihood of the finding being due to statistical fluctuation or being a genuine discovery. But in the field of parapsychology, the standards of evidence that researchers are held to are far higher than they are in fields such as physics (and even epidemiology). And why? Because parapsychology is deemed to be 'making an extraordinary claim, and 'extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence'. But this overlooks the fact that deeming parapsychology 'extraordinary' is a value-judgement in the first place, based on the fact that such phenomena seem to undermine the physicalist view of nature.
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Re: Buddhism as a "rational" religion.

Postby nowheat » Fri Jul 06, 2012 2:18 pm

David N. Snyder wrote:
sunyavadin wrote:Consider the mainstream account of how humanity evolved. At the end of the day, this is held to happen for no reason, other than the fortuitous combination of material elements, and the urge to survive, which somehow is thought to have spontaneously developed out of that. Don't get me wrong, I am not for a minute advocating any kind of creationism. But the mainstream view is not particularly rational, insofar as it believes that things happen for no reason. This exact view is criticized in the Brahmajāla Sutta.


Actually according the Pali Canon the reason is craving. In the Aggañña Sutta there is a description of the evolution of life. Some of it is a little mythical, using the existing cosmology, but if you look at the primary message; that simple life forms, neither male nor female became greedy and multiplied and evolved; the account is not much different from that of the scientific explanation of evolution.


Addressing sunyavadin's comments first, I'd point out that this is the sort of argument that got the Buddha decried as being a teacher of non-causation. Materialists do not deem that humanity evolved out of fortuitous events spontaneously developing for no reason. They see a chain of cause and effect, roughly called "survival of the fittest" or "evolution". We came to be as we are out of causes, not spontaneously for no reason. This is also true of the Buddha's explanation for dukkha -- it is not fortuitous or without cause either -- his teaching on dependent arising explains precisely how it happens. People in his day who wanted to ridicule his teachings saw what he was saying as "causeless" just as sunyavadin is seeing the materialist understanding of evolution as causeless; this is simply misunderstanding what's being said.

It's interesting, then -- going on to David's point -- that the underlying cause of both our experience of dukkha and how we evolved (according to the sutta he is pointing out) is craving. The problem we have with dukkha has the same cause as our evolution's cause -- I'd actually say that it is our evolution that is the source of the drive that results in dukkha (a point I make when I talk about sankhara in my recent blogposts on dependent arising; see link below if you're interested).

I believe this is what the Buddha was telling us, when he embedded the Prajapati myth in the beginning of the 12-step DA: he is saying that we do what we do because it is the way humans are created -- he uses the creation myth of his own time to express this (and does it in a very elegant way, I might add).

http://secularbuddhism.org/2012/05/23/a-secular-understanding-of-dependent-origination-2-sankhara/

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Re: Buddhism as a "rational" religion.

Postby m0rl0ck » Fri Jul 06, 2012 7:36 pm

Take a look around at some of the buddhist bulletin boards. Buddhism is no more "rational" than any other religion and probably wont be until they start making more "rational" humans.

"Rational" seems to be almost a dogma of its own and attachment to the idea is a stumbling block.
"Even if you've read the whole Canon and can remember lots of teachings; even if you can explain them in poignant ways, with lots of people to respect you; even if you build a lot of monastery buildings, or can explain inconstancy, stress, and not-self in the most detailed fashion ... The only thing that serves your own true purpose is release from suffering.

"And you'll be able to gain release from suffering only when you know the one mind."

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/thai ... eleft.html
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Re: Buddhism as a "rational" religion.

Postby sunyavadin » Fri Jul 06, 2012 10:53 pm

Nowheat wrote:Materialists do not deem that humanity evolved out of fortuitous events spontaneously developing for no reason. They see a chain of cause and effect, roughly called "survival of the fittest" or "evolution". We came to be as we are out of causes, not spontaneously for no reason. This is also true of the Buddha's explanation for dukkha -- it is not fortuitous or without cause either -- his teaching on dependent arising explains precisely how it happens. People in his day who wanted to ridicule his teachings saw what he was saying as "causeless" just as sunyavadin is seeing the materialist understanding of evolution as causeless; this is simply misunderstanding what's being said.


I beg to differ. The type of explanation sought by evolutionary science must, in principle, be fully reducible to material causation, for example genes, and ultimately chemistry and so on, with no residue. There is certainly 'causation' on that level, but in my opinion, it is not, and never will be, adequate to explain moral facts, such as karma. You will notice, if you are familiar with the literature on evolutionary psychology, that the evolutionary explanations of morality and altruism must always be sought in terms of survival of the species and adaptive necessity. There is no scope for considering anything a moral good in its own right. All such things are in the realm of moral judgements, which, again, are either the product of the requirements of adaption, or are private or subjective matters of conscience.

The key point is that there is no ontological difference between living beings and inorganic matter, which simply happens to arrange itself in such a way as to give rise to living beings, through a fortuitous combination of circumstances. It is basically very similar to the materialism of the early Indian Carvakas, which the Buddhists were well aware of, and which the criticism of 'fortuitous origins' was directed at.

The implication of the materialist outlook was put very eloquently by Bertrand Russell in his great essay, 'A Free Man's Worship':

That man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all the labours of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of Man's achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins -- all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain, that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand. Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul's habitation henceforth be safely built.
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Re: Buddhism as a "rational" religion.

Postby daverupa » Sat Jul 07, 2012 1:07 am

sunyavadin wrote:The implication of the materialist outlook:

... the soul's habitation...


Something's not quite right here...
    "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: Buddhism as a "rational" religion.

Postby sunyavadin » Sat Jul 07, 2012 1:25 am

Yeah I see your point. I think Russell intended a kind of irony in saying that, by deliberately juxtaposing the ideas of a meaningless material universe with the traditional notion of 'soul'.
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Re: Buddhism as a "rational" religion.

Postby daverupa » Sat Jul 07, 2012 1:33 am

What is the Soul?, by Russell.

Although metaphysical materialism cannot be considered true, yet emotionally the world is pretty much the same as I would be if the materialists were in the right. I think the opponents of materialism have always been actuated by two main desires: the first to prove that the mind is immortal, and the second to prove that the ultimate power in the universe is mental rather than physical. In both these respects, I think the materialists were in the right.
    "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: Buddhism as a "rational" religion.

Postby sunyavadin » Sat Jul 07, 2012 1:47 am

And I disagree with him. But I spent two and a half years arguing against materialism on Philosophy Forum so I had better not reopen that particular can of worms :smile: .

//EDIT// Rather like the look of A Brief History of the Soul.
Last edited by sunyavadin on Sat Jul 07, 2012 3:51 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Buddhism as a "rational" religion.

Postby Alex123 » Sat Jul 07, 2012 2:39 am

sunyavadin wrote:And I disagree with him. But I spent two and a half years arguing against materialism on Philosophy Forum so I had better not reopen that particular can of worms :smile: .



I've tried to hold idealist position, but cannot hold it anymore.

No matter the arguments, we behave as if matter exists. Just try to close the eyes and walk through the wall while imagining that it doesn't exist...

Materialism as opposed to idealism has contributed to a lot of technological progress, so even if arguments for idealism are as powerful, at least materialism has pragmatic results. When it comes to, for example, to pain-blocking, materialistic conception of how pain is produced, works. Pain killers work because they materially block the material impulse traveling from the injured site to the brain.

- Materialism has explanatory power and helps us to function in daily life. We avoid walking into obstacles, we eat when hungry, put on cloth when cold...
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Re: Buddhism as a "rational" religion.

Postby sunyavadin » Sat Jul 07, 2012 3:14 am

I sympathize, but I think what you're proposing is based on a false dichotomy arising from a dualist view of 'mind' and 'matter' as separate substances. I don't think Buddhist philosophy supports a view of that kind. Furthermore, as far as the reality of matter is concerned, science itself has shown that the nature of so-called 'fundamental particles' cannot be conceived of in the terms in which we ordinary understand the idea of matter. As we know, there has been a recent breakthrough regarding the possible existence of a truly fundamental particle. However part of this model also implies a universal 'field'. Quite what 'a field' is, and whether it is, or can be understood, in wholly material terms, is, I think, very much an open question at this point in time.
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Re: Buddhism as a "rational" religion.

Postby Alex123 » Sat Jul 07, 2012 5:13 pm

sunyavadin wrote:I sympathize, but I think what you're proposing is based on a false dichotomy arising from a dualist view of 'mind' and 'matter' as separate substances.


Actually, dualism suffers this problem and what happens from that -> problem of interaction. It is quite possible that there is only one substance, matter (in physicalist sense) that can produce emergent quality such as mind.

Furthermore, as far as the reality of matter is concerned, science itself has shown that the nature of so-called 'fundamental particles' cannot be conceived of in the terms in which we ordinary understand the idea of matter. As we know, there has been a recent breakthrough regarding the possible existence of a truly fundamental particle. However part of this model also implies a universal 'field'. Quite what 'a field' is, and whether it is, or can be understood, in wholly material terms, is, I think, very much an open question at this point in time.


Of course materialism (or physicalism) is a bit more complex than theory that there are "bricks" or tiny balls of matter that constitute everything. Sub-atomic forces, gravity, and strings, for example, are not some tiny indivisible spheres or bricks floating around.
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Re: Buddhism as a "rational" religion.

Postby LonesomeYogurt » Sat Jul 07, 2012 5:22 pm

Alex123 wrote:I've tried to hold idealist position, but cannot hold it anymore.

No matter the arguments, we behave as if matter exists. Just try to close the eyes and walk through the wall while imagining that it doesn't exist...

Materialism as opposed to idealism has contributed to a lot of technological progress, so even if arguments for idealism are as powerful, at least materialism has pragmatic results. When it comes to, for example, to pain-blocking, materialistic conception of how pain is produced, works. Pain killers work because they materially block the material impulse traveling from the injured site to the brain.

- Materialism has explanatory power and helps us to function in daily life. We avoid walking into obstacles, we eat when hungry, put on cloth when cold...

But don't you believe we behave as though mind exists? Just as you can't walk through a wall if you simply imagine that it doesn't exist, you can't not feel an emotion simply by assuming it doesn't exist either.

In reality, we all function, regardless of belief, on the unspoken assumption that both mind and matter exist. I have yet to see a materialist live their life in a way truly consistent with the idea that all mental phenomena have physical causal bases.
Gain and loss, status and disgrace,
censure and praise, pleasure and pain:
these conditions among human beings are inconstant,
impermanent, subject to change.

Knowing this, the wise person, mindful,
ponders these changing conditions.
Desirable things don’t charm the mind,
undesirable ones bring no resistance.

His welcoming and rebelling are scattered,
gone to their end,
do not exist.
- Lokavipatti Sutta

Stuff I write about things.
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