sunyavadin wrote:The Buddha - or at least, the early Buddhist texts - were extremely clear about what materialism is, what it stands for, what it means, and what is wrong with it.
Yes, they were; yet we moderns apply our own interpretation to what's there. If you can find anyplace where the Buddha says that materialism is wrong view because that's not the way the cosmos actually works, I'll take your point. But what I find him saying -- when I read the suttas, that is, rather than taking on faith what others tell me he means -- is that it's wrong view because it is a View and because, as with Views in general, Views lead to trouble particularly when they revolve around Self -- which views about mind/body dualism do.
Despite the intervening 2,500 years, many of the arguments are still substantially similar now to what they were then. The materialists then said that the human was nothing other than the composite of 'earth, fire, water, air' - the elements, as they were understood then - and that when the body breaks up, there were no further consequences, no life beyond, and so on. Without the possibility of 'fruition of action', then the idea of liberation from samsara is not really meaningful. That is why these views are called 'annihalationist' (ucchevavada).
The 'eternalist' views you refer to are based on the idea that 'Self and world' are eternal, that is, will be reborn in perpetuity, either here or in some other realm, for ever and ever. This is also rejected.
I disagree that it's quite as simple as the above; I'm working on a paper to show that it's not as simple as that. One of these days I'll have it whipped into shape but what's in the Pali canon on (for example) ucchedavada is a bit of a tangle; since I'm not ready to defend the complexity that's there I'm just going to leave this with "I disagree".
When you say 'it's all speculative', what does that refer to?
It refers to our ability -- yours and mine and other modern practioner's ability -- to sort out mind-body dualism and whether it is all coming from body or any coming from elsewhere. I take the agnostic stance I see the Buddha taking -- if I haven't got so much direct experience with it that I am confident I have the facts and the world in general isn't clear on it yet either, then it's speculative. And all such speculation gets us is argument (unless it's your field or your calling and you want to go do research -- then speculation is quite a good thing, as long as it's recognized *as* speculation).
According to the texts, 'the Tathagata sees and know something beyond the cycle of birth-and-death'. 'Speculation' consists on wondering what that might be, prior to realizing it for oneself. But declaring that there is nothing there to be seen, or that there is nothing beyond this body and mind, is also a form of speculation. I agree that speculation might be pointless or confusing, but Buddhism does have a highly elaborated philosophy of mind, probably far more so than many of the forms of that in the modern world. It also definitely has a 'transcendent' component which cannot necessarily be explained in terms understandable to the secular-scientific mindset.
As far as I can see -- and (no surprise here) this is not the Theravadan view; I do understand that it is not the traditional view -- the Buddha does know something beyond the cycle of birth-and-death that he described in dependent arising. The Theravadan view is that DA describes a literal cycle of birth-and-death-and-birth but I am pretty sure that's based on a misunderstanding of DA. I *do* have a paper that shows this (it's called "Burning Yourself" and you can pick it out from a google search like this one: http://tinyurl.com/dabyjocbs
). What the Buddha understood to be beyond *that* cycle of birth-and-death is all stuff that happens in this very life on awakening in it. The references to rebirth in the suttas are to DA, not to literal rebirth -- DA being the core teaching.
So, yes, you're also right that speculating about "what he saw" is speculative, too. As such is not a skillful use of one's time in practice. This is why I don't concern myself with whether I will have future births after death -- or whether I will not. I am working on this life because it is what I can see and test and improve upon with visible, non-speculative results. The Buddha has a sophisticated theory of mind, but its focus is on what we can see for ourselves here and now, not on what is beyond our ability to discover with direct knowledge, work with, and see results with. I will agree that it has a transcendent component, because the results clearly transcend the way we normally live -- how could it not be transcendent? -- but again, where DA is describing "how we normally behave, why we do, and the results of behaving that way" it is this that we are transcending. Misunderstanding DA's terms and taking them literally turns the transcendent factor into something mystical -- going beyond a lifetime; given the structure of the thing, this is surely a mistake.
Thanissaro Bikkhu discusses many of these matters in this article
Yes, he does.