The Quotable Thanissaro

A discussion on all aspects of Theravāda Buddhism

Re: The Quotable Thanissaro

Postby danieLion » Sun Aug 05, 2012 8:19 am

The Reductor and marc108,

Help me keep 'em comin'!

Kind wishes,
Daniel
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Re: The Quotable Thanissaro

Postby Kamran » Sun Aug 05, 2012 5:30 pm

"Progress along the path comes simply from staying right here and growing more and more aware of what's going on all around right here. You develop a more all-around awareness, not only all-around in the body, but also all-around in the mind. You see through the blind spots that allowed you to consume experiences obliviously, forgetting the fact that you had to produce them. It's like watching a movie — two hours of lights flashing up on a screen — and then later seeing a documentary about how they made the movie. "

This entire talk is worth quoting :)

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/auth ... html#steps
When this concentration is thus developed, thus well developed by you, then wherever you go, you will go in comfort. Wherever you stand, you will stand in comfort. Wherever you sit, you will sit in comfort. Wherever you lie down, you will lie down in comfort.
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Re: The Quotable Thanissaro

Postby danieLion » Tue Aug 07, 2012 3:51 am

Thanks Kamran.
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Re: The Quotable Thanissaro

Postby danieLion » Tue Aug 07, 2012 4:01 am

You've probably heard the rumor that Buddhism is pessimistic, that "Life is suffering" is the Buddha's first noble truth. It's a rumor with good credentials, spread by well-respected academics and meditation teachers alike, but a rumor nonetheless. The real truth about the noble truths is far more interesting.... A fair number of writers have pointed out the basic confidence inherent in the four noble truths, and yet the rumor of Buddhism's pessimism persists.... It's hard to imagine what you could accomplish by saying that life is suffering. You'd have to spend your time arguing with people who see more than just suffering in life. The Buddha himself says as much in one of his discourses [MN 74 Dighanaka Sutta: To LongNails].
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/auth ... e.html#lif
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Re: The Quotable Thanissaro

Postby danieLion » Thu Aug 09, 2012 12:23 am

This discourse (Susima Sutta, SN 12.70) is sometimes cited as proof that a meditator can attain Awakening (final gnosis) without having practiced the jhanas, but a close reading shows that it does not support this assertion at all. The new arahants mentioned here do not deny that they have attained any of the four "form" jhanas that make up the definition of right concentration. Instead, they simply deny that they have acquired any psychic powers or that they remain in physical contact with the higher levels of concentration, "the formless states beyond forms." In this, their definition of "discernment-release" is no different from that given in AN 9.44 (compare this with the definitions for "bodily witness" and "released in both ways" given in AN 9.43 and AN 9.45). Taken in the context of the Buddha's many other teachings on right concentration, there's every reason to believe that the new arahants mentioned in this discourse had reached at least the first jhana before attaining Awakening.
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Re: The Quotable Thanissaro

Postby danieLion » Fri Aug 10, 2012 3:08 am

Mindfulness Defined (or, What Sati Isn't)

The British scholar who coined the term “mindfulness” to translate the Pali word sati was probably influenced by the Anglican prayer to be ever mindful of the needs of others—in other words, to always keep their needs in mind. But even though the word “mindful” was probably drawn from a Christian context, the Buddha himself defined sati as the ability to remember, illustrating its function in meditation practice with the four satipatthanas, or establishings of mindfulness.... The full discussion of the satipatthanas (DN 22) starts with instructions to be ever mindful of the breath. Directions such as “bring bare attention to the breath,” or “accept the breath,” or whatever else modern teachers tell us that mindfulness is supposed to do, are actually functions for other qualities in the mind. They're not automatically a part ofsati, but you should bring them along wherever they're appropriate.

One quality that's always appropriate in establishing mindfulness is being watchful or alert. The Pali word for alertness, sampajañña, is another term that's often misunderstood. It doesn't mean being choicelessly aware of the present, or comprehending the present. Examples in the Canon shows that sampajañña means being aware of what you're doing in the movements of the body, the movements in the mind. After all, if you're going to gain insight into how you're causing suffering, your primary focus always has to be on what you're actually doing. This is why mindfulness and alertness should always be paired as you meditate.

In the Satipatthana Sutta, they're combined with a third quality, ardency. Ardency means being intent on what you're doing, trying your best to do it skillfully. This doesn't mean that you have to keep straining and sweating all the time, just that you're continuous in developing skillful habits and abandoning unskillful ones. Remember, in the eight factors of the path to freedom, right mindfulness grows out of right effort. Right effort is the effort to be skillful. Mindfulness helps that effort along by reminding you to stick with it, so that you don't let it drop.

All three of these qualities get their focus from what the Buddha called yoniso manasikara, appropriate attention. Notice: That's appropriate attention, not bare attention. The Buddha discovered that the way you attend to things is determined by what you see as important: the questions you bring to the practice, the problems you want the practice to solve. No act of attention is ever bare. If there were no problems in life you could open yourself up choicelessly to whatever came along. But the fact is there is a big problem smack dab in the middle of everything you do: the suffering that comes from acting in ignorance. This is why the Buddha doesn't tell you to view each moment with a beginner's eyes. You've got to keep the issue of suffering and its end always in mind.

Otherwise inappropriate attention will get in the way, focusing on questions like “Who am I?” “Do I have a self?”—questions that deal in terms of being and identity. Those questions, the Buddha said, lead you into a thicket of views and leave you stuck on the thorns. The questions that lead to freedom focus on comprehending suffering, letting go of the cause of suffering, and developing the path to the end of suffering. Your desire for answers to these questions is what makes you alert to your actions—your thoughts, words, and deeds—and ardent to perform them skillfully.

Mindfulness is what keeps the perspective of appropriate attention in mind. Modern psychological research has shown that attention comes in discrete moments. You can be attentive to something for only a very short period of time and then you have to remind yourself, moment after moment, to return to it if you want to keep on being attentive. In other words, continuous attention—the type that can observe things over time—has to be stitched together from short intervals. This is what mindfulness is for. It keeps the object of your attention and the purpose of your attention in mind.

Popular books on meditation, though, offer a lot of other definitions for mindfulness, a lot of other duties it's supposed to fulfill—so many that the poor word gets totally stretched out of shape. In some cases, it even gets defined as Awakening, as in the phrase, “A moment of mindfulness is a moment of Awakening”—something the Buddha would never say, because mindfulness is conditioned and nirvana is not.

These are not just minor matters for nitpicking scholars to argue over. If you don't see the differences among the qualities you're bringing to your meditation, they glom together, making it hard for real insight to arise. If you decide that one of the factors on the path to Awakening is Awakening itself, it's like reaching the middle of a road and then falling asleep right there. You never get to the end of the road, and in the meantime you're bound to get run over by aging, illness, and death. So you need to get your directions straight, and that requires, among other things, knowing precisely what mindfulness is and what it's not.

I've heard mindfulness defined as “affectionate attention” or “compassionate attention,” but affection and compassion aren't the same as mindfulness. They're separate things. If you bring them to your meditation, be clear about the fact that they're acting in addition to mindfulness, because skill in meditation requires seeing when qualities like compassion are helpful and when they're not. As the Buddha says, there are times when affection is a cause for suffering, so you have to watch out.

Sometimes mindfulness is defined as appreciating the moment for all the little pleasures it can offer: the taste of a raisin, the feel of a cup of tea in your hands. In the Buddha's vocabulary, this appreciation is called contentment. Contentment is useful when you're experiencing physical hardship, but it's not always useful in the area of the mind. In fact the Buddha once said that the secret to his Awakening was that he didn't allow himself to rest content with whatever attainment he had reached. He kept reaching for something higher until there was nowhere higher to reach. So contentment has to know its time and place. Mindfulness, if it's not glommed together with contentment, can help keep that fact in mind.

Some teachers define mindfulness as “non-reactivity” or “radical acceptance.” If you look for these words in the Buddha's vocabulary, the closest you'll find are equanimity and patience. Equanimity means learning to put aside your preferences so that you can watch what's actually there. Patience is the ability not to get worked up over the things you don't like, to stick with difficult situations even when they don't resolve as quickly as you want them to. But in establishing mindfulness you stay with unpleasant things not just to accept them but to watch and understand them. Once you've clearly seen that a particular quality like aversion or lust is harmful for the mind, you can't stay patient or equanimous about it. You have to make whatever effort is needed to get rid of it and to nourish skillful qualities in its place by bringing in other factors of the path: right resolve and right effort.

Mindfulness, after all, is part of a larger path mapped out by appropriate attention. You have to keep remembering to bring the larger map to bear on everything you do. For instance, right now you're trying to keep the breath in mind because you see that concentration, as a factor of the path, is something you need to develop, and mindfulness of the breath is a good way to do it. The breath is also a good standpoint from which you can directly observe what's happening in the mind, to see which qualities of mind are giving good results and which ones aren't....

We're often told that mindfulness and concentration are two separate forms of meditation, but the Buddha never made a clear division between the two. In his teachings, mindfulness shades into concentration; concentration forms the basis for even better mindfulness. The four establishings of mindfulness are also the themes of concentration. The highest level of concentration is where mindfulness becomes pure. As Ajaan Lee, a Thai Forest master, once noted, mindfulness combined with ardency turns into the concentration factor called vitakka or “directed thought,” where you keep your thoughts consistently focused on one thing. Alertness combined with ardency turns into another concentration factor: vicara, or “evaluation.” You evaluate what's going on with the breath. Is it comfortable? If it is, stick with it. If it's not, what can you do to make it more comfortable? Try making it a little bit longer, a little bit shorter, deeper, more shallow, faster, slower. See what happens. When you've found a way of breathing that nourishes a sense of fullness and refreshment, you can spread that fullness throughout the body. Learn how to relate to the breath in a way that nourishes a good energy flow throughout the body. When things feel refreshing like this, you can easily settle down.

You may have picked up the idea that you should never fiddle with the breath, that you should just take it as it comes. Yet meditation isn't just a passive process of being nonjudgmentally present with whatever's there and not changing it at all. Mindfulness keeps stitching things together over time, but it also keeps in mind the idea that there's a path to develop, and getting the mind to settle down is a skillful part of that path.

This is why evaluation—judging the best way to maximize the pleasure of the breath—is essential to the practice. In other words, you don't abandon your powers of judgment as you develop mindfulness. You simply train them to be less judgmental and more judicious, so that they yield tangible results....

Liberating insight comes from testing, experimenting. This is how we learn about the world to begin with. If we weren't active creatures, we'd have no understanding of the world at all. Things would pass by, pass by, and we wouldn't know how they were connected because we'd have no way of influencing them to see which effects came from changing which causes. It's because we act in the world that we understand the world....

[I]t's best not to load the word mindfulness with too many meanings or to assign it too many functions. Otherwise, you can't clearly discern when a quality like contentment is useful and when it's not, when you need to bring things to oneness and when you need to take things apart.
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Re: The Quotable Thanissaro

Postby Kim OHara » Fri Aug 10, 2012 3:38 am

Great advice. Thanks!

:namaste:
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Re: The Quotable Thanissaro

Postby manas » Fri Aug 10, 2012 10:06 am

"If you develop the path of virtue, concentration, and discernment to a state of calm well-being and use that calm state to look at experience in terms of the Noble Truths, the questions that occur to the mind are not "Is there a self? What is my self?" but rather "Am I suffering stress because I'm holding onto this particular phenomenon? Is it really me, myself, or mine? If it's stressful but not really me or mine, why hold on?" http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/auth ... self2.html


Venerable Thanissaro's writings helped me to learn how to ask the right kinds of questions, and the short essay from which an extract is quoted above (No-self or Not-self?), along with The Not-self Strategy and Questions of Skill - these three essays sparked a process of renewed inquiry into the Dhamma for me, and saved me from intractable doubts which I had never been able to assuage myself. With a renewed sense of faith, I was able to practice with more commitment again, and this led to improvements in virtue, study and meditation. And so although I have not met him personally, I feel much gratitude to Thanissaro Bhikkhu.

:anjali:
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Re: The Quotable Thanissaro

Postby danieLion » Sat Aug 11, 2012 1:51 am

manas wrote:Venerable Thanissaro's...(No-self or Not-self?), along with The Not-self Strategy and Questions of Skill - these three essays sparked a process of renewed inquiry into the Dhamma for me, and saved me from intractable doubts which I had never been able to assuage myself. With a renewed sense of faith, I was able to practice with more commitment again, and this led to improvements in virtue, study and meditation. And so although I have not met him personally, I feel much gratitude to Thanissaro Bhikkhu.

:anjali:

Thanks manas,
The good Reverend has helped me understand Buddhist faith also; and I too feel very grateful towards him.
Best,
Daniel
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Re: The Quotable Thanissaro

Postby danieLion » Sat Aug 11, 2012 2:01 am

Karma Culture Shock!

We read the early Buddhist attacks on the caste system, and aside from their anti-racist implications, they often strike us as quaint. What we fail to realize is that they strike right at the heart of our myths about our own past: our obsession with defining who we are in terms of where we come from — our race, ethnic heritage, gender, socio-economic background, sexual preference — our modern tribes. We put inordinate amounts of energy into creating and maintaining the mythology of our tribe so that we can take vicarious pride in our tribe's good name. Even when we become Buddhists, the tribe comes first. We demand a Buddhism that honors our myths.

From the standpoint of karma, though, where we come from is old karma, over which we have no control. What we "are" is a nebulous concept at best — and pernicious at worst, when we use it to find excuses for acting on unskillful motives. The worth of a tribe lies only in the skillful actions of its individual members. Even when those good people belong to our tribe, their good karma is theirs, not ours. And, of course, every tribe has its bad members, which means that the mythology of the tribe is a fragile thing. To hang onto anything fragile requires a large investment of passion, aversion, and delusion, leading inevitably to more unskillful actions on into the future.

So the Buddhist teachings on karma, far from being a quaint relic from the past, are a direct challenge to a basic thrust — and basic flaw — in our culture. Only when we abandon our obsession with finding vicarious pride in our tribal past, and can take actual pride in the motives that underlie our present actions, can we say that the word karma, in its Buddhist sense, has recovered its luggage. And when we open the luggage, we'll find that it's brought us a gift: the gift we give ourselves and one another when we drop our myths about who we are, and can instead be honest about what we're doing with each moment — at the same time making the effort to do it right.

From Karma
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Re: The Quotable Thanissaro

Postby danieLion » Sat Aug 11, 2012 2:58 am

Faith:

FAITH and Refuge

Thus, for every listener, faith in the Buddha's Awakening was a prerequisite for advanced growth in the teaching. Without faith in the fact of the Buddha's knowledge of Unbinding, one could not fully accept his prescription. Without faith in the regularity of the Dhamma — including conviction in the principle of kamma and the impersonality of the causal law, making the path open in principle to everyone — one could not fully have faith in one's own ability to follow the path. Of course, this faith would then be confirmed, step by step, as one followed the teaching and began gaining results, but full confirmation would come only with an experience of Awakening. Prior to that point, one's trust, bolstered only by partial results, would have to be a matter of faith [MN 27].

Acquiring this faith is called "going for refuge" in the Buddha. The "refuge" here derives from the fact that one has placed trust in the truth of the Buddha's Awakening and expects that by following his teachings — in particular, the principle of skillful kamma — one protects oneself from creating further suffering for oneself or others, eventually reaching true, unconditioned happiness. This act of going for refuge is what qualifies one as a Buddhist — as opposed to someone simply interested in the Buddha's teachings — and puts one in a position to benefit fully from what the Buddha taught.

The Buddha employed various means of instilling faith in his listeners, but the primary means fall into three classes: his character, his psychic powers, and his powers of reason. When he gave his first sermon — to the Five Brethren, his former compatriots — he had to preface his remarks by reminding them of his honest and responsible character before they would willingly listen to him. When he taught the Kassapa brothers, he first had to subdue their pride with a dazzling array of psychic feats. In most cases, however, he needed only to reason with his listeners and interlocutors, although here again he had to be sensitive to the level of their minds so that he could lead them step by step, taking them from what they saw as immediately apparent and directing them to ever higher and more subtle points. The typical pattern was for the Buddha to begin with the immediate joys of generosity and virtue, followed by the longer-term sensual rewards of these qualities, in line with the principle of kamma; then the ultimate drawbacks of those sensual rewards; and finally the benefits of renunciation. If his listeners could follow his reasoning this far, they would be ready for the more advanced teachings.

We often view reason as something distinct from faith, but for the Buddha it was simply one way of instilling faith or conviction in his listeners. At several points in the Pali Canon [e.g., DN 1; MN 95] he points out the fallacies that can result when one draws reasoned conclusions from a limited range of experience, from false analogies, or from inappropriate modes of analysis. Because his teachings could not be proven prior to an experience of Awakening, he recognized that the proper use of reason was not in trying to prove his teachings, but simply in showing that they made sense. People can make sense of things when they see them as similar to something they already know and understand.

Thus the main function of reason in presenting the teachings is in finding proper analogies for understanding them: hence the many metaphors and similes used throughout the texts. Faith based on reason and understanding, the Buddha taught, was more solid than unreasoned faith, but neither could substitute for the direct knowledge of the regularity of the Dhamma and of Unbinding, for only the experience of Unbinding was a guarantee of true knowledge. Nevertheless, faith was a prerequisite for attaining that direct knowledge. Only when the initial presentation of the teaching had aroused faith in the listener, would he/she be in a position to benefit from a less-adorned presentation of the content and put it into practice.


From Wings to Awakening, Introduction

FAITH and Karma

Thus the experience of his Awakening gave a new purpose to narrative and cosmology in the Buddha's eyes: they became tools for persuading his listeners to adopt the training that would lead them to the phenomenological mode. This accounts for the ad hoc and fragmentary nature of the narratives and cosmological sketches in his teachings. They are not meant to be analyzed in a systematic way. It is a mistake to tease out their implications to see what they may say about such metaphysical questions as the existence or lack of existence of entities or identities underlying the process of kamma and rebirth, the relationship between the laws of kamma and the laws of the physical sciences, or the nature of the mechanism by which kamma makes its results felt over time [see the discussion of appropriate questions in II/G]. The search for systematic answers to such issues is not only invalid or irrelevant from the Buddhist point of view, it is actually counterproductive in that it blocks one from entering the path to release. And, we should note, none of the modes of discourse — narrative, cosmological, or phenomenological — is capable of describing or even framing proper questions about what happens after Awakening, for such issues, which lie beyond the conditions of time and the present, cannot be properly expressed by the conventions of language and analysis, which are bound by those conditions. Only a person who has mastered the skill of release has the mental skills needed to comprehend such matters [AN 4.174, MFU pp. 31-32]. The Buddha reserved his systematic explanations for the particular phenomenological mode to be used in viewing the process of kamma in its own terms, as it is being mastered, so that the actual problem of kamma and its retribution (as opposed to the theoretical questions about them) will be solved. The right way to listen to the narratives and cosmological sketches, then, is to see what they imply about one's own need to master the kammic process on the level of awareness in and of itself.

From these points it should become clear why kamma, as an article of faith, is a necessary factor in the path of Buddhist practice. The teaching on kamma, in its narrative and cosmological forms, provides the context for the practice, giving it direction and urgency. Because the cosmos is governed by the laws of kamma, those laws provide the only mechanism by which happiness can be found. But because good and bad kamma, consisting of good and bad intentions, simply perpetuate the ups and downs of experience in the cosmos, a way must be found out of the mechanism of kamma by mastering it in a way that allows it to disband in an attentive state of non-intention. And, because there is no telling what sudden surprises the results of one's past kamma may still hold in store, one should try to develop that mastery as quickly as possible.

In its phenomenological mode, the teaching on kamma accounts for the focus and the terms of analysis used in the practice. It also accounts for the mental qualities needed to attain and maintain that level of focus and analysis. In terms of focus, the principle of scale invariance at work in the complexities of kamma means that their essential processes can be mastered by focusing total attention on them right at the mind in the immediate present. This focus accounts for the practice of frames-of-reference meditation [II/B], in which attention is directed at present phenomena in and of themselves. These phenomena are then analyzed in terms of the four noble truths, the phenomenological terms in which appropriate attention and discernment direct and observe the experience of developing the qualities of skillful action.

The most immediate skillful kamma that can be observed on this level is the mastery of the very same mental qualities that are supporting this refined level of focus and analysis: mindfulness, concentration, and discernment, together with the more basic qualities on which they are based. Thus, these mental qualities act not only as supports to the focus and analysis, but also as their object. Ultimately, discernment becomes so refined that the focus and analysis take as their object the act of focusing and analyzing, in and of themselves. The cycle of action then short-circuits as it reaches culmination, and Unbinding occurs. These elements of focus, analysis, and mental qualities, together with the dynamic of their development to a point of culmination, are covered by the teachings on the Wings to Awakening discussed in detail in Parts II and III. Thus the Wings can be viewed as a direct expression of the role of skillful kamma in the path to release.

It is entirely possible that a person with no firm conviction in the principle of kamma can follow parts of the Buddhist path, including mindfulness and concentration practices, and gain positive results from them. For instance, one can pursue mindfulness practice for the sense of balance, equanimity, and peace it gives to one's daily life, or for the sake of bringing the mind to the present for the purpose of spontaneity and "going with the flow." The full practice of the path, however, is a skillful diverting of the flow of the mind from its habitual kammic streams to the stream of Unbinding. As the Buddha said, this practice requires a willingness to "develop and abandon" to an extreme degree [AN 4.28]. The developing requires a supreme effort aimed at full and conscious mastery of mindfulness, concentration, and discernment to the point of non-fashioning and on to release. A lack of conviction in the principle of kamma would undercut the patience and commitment, the desire, persistence, intent, and refined powers of discrimination [II/D] needed to pursue concentration and discernment to the most heightened levels, beyond what is needed for a general sense of peace or spontaneity. The abandoning involves uprooting the most deeply buried forms of clinging and attachment that keep one bound to the cycle of rebirth. Some of these forms of clinging — such as views and theories about self-identity — are so entrenched in the narrative and cosmological modes in which most people function that only firm conviction in the benefits to be had by abandoning them will be able to pry them loose. This is why the Buddha insisted repeatedly — and we will have occasion to return to this theme at several points in this book [II/E; III/A (CONVICTION)] — that conviction in the fact of his Awakening necessarily involves conviction in the principle of kamma, and that both forms of conviction are needed for the full mastery of the kamma of heightened skillfulness leading to release.

From Wings to Awakening, Kamma & the Ending of Kamma

FAITH in Awakening

The Buddha never placed unconditional demands on anyone's faith. And for anyone from a culture where the dominant religions do place such demands on one's faith, this is one of Buddhism's most attractive features. We read his famous instructions to the Kalamas, in which he advises testing things for oneself, and we see it as an invitation to believe, or not, whatever we like. Some people go so far as to say that faith has no place in the Buddhist tradition, that the proper Buddhist attitude is one of skepticism.

But even though the Buddha recommends tolerance and a healthy skepticism toward matters of faith, he also makes a conditional request about faith: If you sincerely want to put an end to suffering — that's the condition — you should take certain things on faith, as working hypotheses, and then test them through following his path of practice....

Repeatedly the Buddha stated that faith in a teacher is what leads you to learn from that teacher. Faith in the Buddha's own Awakening is a requisite strength for anyone else who wants to attain Awakening. As it fosters persistence, mindfulness, concentration, and discernment, this faith can take you all the way to the deathless.

So there's a tension in the Buddha's recommendations about faith and empiricism. I've discussed this point with many Asian Buddhists, and few of them find the tension uncomfortable. But Western Buddhists, raised in a culture where religion and faith have long been at war with science and empiricism, find the tension very disconcerting. In discussing the issue with them over the past several years, I've noticed that they often try to resolve it in the same ways that, historically, the tension between Christian faith and scientific empiricism has been resolved in our own culture. Three general positions stand out, not only because they are the most common but also because they are so clearly Western. Consciously or not, they attempt to understand the Buddha's position on faith and empiricism in a way that can be easily mapped onto the modern Western battle lines between religion and science.

The first interpretation has its roots in the side of Western culture that totally rejects the legitimacy of faith. In this view, the Buddha was an embodiment of the Victorian ideal of the heroic agnostic, one who eschewed the childish consolations of faith and instead advocated a purely scientific method for training and strengthening one's own mind. Because his method focused entirely on the present moment, questions of past and future were totally irrelevant to his message. Thus any references to faith in such issues as past karma, future rebirth, or an unconditioned happiness separate from the immediate input of the senses are later interpolations in the texts, which Buddhist agnostics, following the Buddha's example, should do their best to reject.

The second interpretation has roots in the side of Western culture that has rejected either the specifics of Christian faith or the authority of any organized religion,but has appreciated the emotion of faith as an essential requirement for mental health. This view presents the Buddha as a Romantic hero who appreciated the subjective value of faith in establishing a sense of wholeness within and interconnectedness without. Tolerant and opposed to dogmatism, he saw the psychological fact of a living faith as more important than its object. In other words, it doesn't matter where faith is directed, as long as it's deeply felt and personally nourishing. Faith in the Buddha's Awakening means simply believing that he found what worked for himself. This carries no implications for what will work for you. If you find the teaching on karma and rebirth comforting, fine: Believe it. If not, don't. If you want to include an all-powerful God or a Goddess in your worldview, the Buddha wouldn't object. What's important is that you relate to your faith in a way that's emotionally healing, nourishing, and empowering.

Because this second interpretation tends to be all-embracing, it sometimes leads to a third one that encompasses the first two. This [third] interpretation presents the Buddha as trapped in his historical situation. Much like us, he was faced with the issue of finding a meaningful life in light of the worldview of his day. His views on karma and rebirth were simply assumptions picked up from the crude science of ancient India, while his path of practice was an attempt to negotiate a satisfying life within those assumptions. If he were alive today, he would try to reconcile his values with the discoveries of modern science, in the same way that some Westerners have done with their faith in monotheism.

The underlying assumption of this position is that science is concerned with facts, religion with values. Science provides the hard data to which religion should provide meaning. Thus each Buddhist would be performing the work of a Buddha by accepting the hard facts that have been scientifically proven for our generation and then searching the Buddhist tradition — as well as other traditions, where appropriate — for myths and values to give meaning to those facts, and in the process forging a new Buddhism for our times.

Each of these three interpretations may make eminent sense from a Western point of view, but none of them do justice to what we know of the Buddha or of his teaching on the role of faith and empiricism on the path. All three are correct in emphasizing the Buddha's unwillingness to force his teachings on other people, but — by forcing our own assumptions onto his teachings and actions — they misread what that unwillingness means. He wasn't an agnostic; he had strong reasons for declaring some ideas as worthy of faith and others as not; and his teachings on karma, rebirth, and nirvana broke radically with the dominant worldview of his time. He was neither a Victorian nor a Romantic hero, nor was he a victim of his times. He was a hero who, among other things, mastered the issue of faith and empiricism in his own way. But to appreciate that way, we first have to step back from the Western cultural battlefield and look at faith and empiricism in a more basic context, simply as processes within the individual mind.

There, they play their major roles in the psychology of how we decide to act. Although we like to think that we base our decisions on hard facts, we actually use both faith and empiricism in every decision we make. Even in our most empirically based decisions, our vision is hampered by our position in time. As Kierkegaard noted, we live forwards but understand backwards. Any hard-headed business entrepreneur will tell you that the future has to be taken on faith, no matter how much we know of the past. What's more, we're often forced into decisions where there's no time or opportunity to gather enough past facts for an informed choice. At other times we have too many facts — as when a doctor is faced with many conflicting tests on a patient's condition — and we have to go on faith in deciding which facts to focus on and which ones to ignore.

However, faith also plays a deeper role in many of our decisions. As William James once observed, there are two kinds of truths in life: those whose validity has nothing to do with our actions, and those whose reality depends on what we do. Truths of the first sort — truths of the observer — include facts about the behavior of the physical world: how atoms form molecules, how stars explode. Truths of the second sort — truths of the will — include skills, relationships, business ventures, anything that requires your effort to make it real. With truths of the observer, it's best to stay skeptical until reasonable evidence is in. With truths of the will, though, the truth won't happen without your faith in it, often in the face of unpromising odds. If you don't believe that democracy will work in your nation, it won't. If you don't believe that becoming a pianist is worthwhile, or that you have the makings of a good pianist, it won't happen. Truths of the will are the ones most relevant to our pursuit of true happiness. Many of the most inspiring stories in life are of people who create truths of this sort when a mountain of empirical evidence is against them. In cases like this, the truth requires that faith actively discount the immediate facts.

If we dig even deeper into the psychology of decision-making, we run into an area for which no scientific evidence can offer any proof: Do we actually act, or are actions an illusion? Are our acts already predetermined by physical laws or an external intelligence, or do we have free will? Are the results of our acts illusory? Are causal relationships real, or only a fiction? Even the most carefully planned scientific experiment could never settle any of these issues, and yet once we become aware of them we have to take a stand on them if we want to continue putting any energy into our thoughts, words, and deeds.

These were the areas where the Buddha focused his teachings on empiricism and faith.
Although his first noble truth requires that we observe suffering until we comprehend it, we have to take on faith his assertion that the facts we observe about suffering are the most important guide for making decisions, moment by moment, throughout life. Because his third noble truth, the cessation of suffering, is a truth of the will, we have to take it on faith that it's a possible goal, a worthwhile goal, and that we're capable of attaining it. And because the fourth noble truth — the path to the cessation of suffering — is a path of action and skill, we have to take it on faith that our actions are real, that we have free will, and yet that there's a causal pattern to the workings of the mind from which we can learn in mastering that skill. As the Buddha said, the path will lead to a direct experience of these truths, but only if you bring faith to the practice will you know this for yourself. In other words, "faith" in the Buddhist context means faith in the ability of your actions to lead to a direct experience of the end of suffering....

So instead of an empirical proof for his teaching on karma, the Buddha offered a pragmatic proof: If you believe in his teachings on causality, karma, rebirth, and the four noble truths, how will you act? What kind of life will you lead? Won't you tend to be more responsible and compassionate? If, on the other hand, you were to believe in any of the alternatives — such as a doctrine of an impersonal fate or a deity who determined the course of your pleasure and pain, or a doctrine that all things were coincidental and without cause — what would those beliefs lead you to do? Would they allow you to put an end to suffering through your own efforts? Would they allow any purpose for knowledge at all? If, on the other hand, you refused to commit to a coherent idea of what human action can do, would you be likely to see a demanding path of practice all the way through to the end?

This was the kind of reasoning that the Buddha used to inspire faith in his Awakening and in its relevance to our own search for true happiness....

Faith in the possibility of nirvana — the heartwood of the path — is what keeps you from getting waylaid by the pleasures of the sapwood and bark: the gratification that comes from being generous and virtuous, the sense of peace, interconnectedness, and oneness that comes with strong concentration. Yet, surprisingly, modern discussions of the role of faith in the Buddha's teachings rarely mention this point, and focus on faith in karma and rebirth instead. This is surprising because nirvana is much less related to our everyday experience than either karma or rebirth. We see the fruits of our actions all around us; we see people being born with distinct personalities and differing strengths, and it's only a short leap to the idea that there's some connection between these things. Nirvana, however, isn't connected to anything we've experienced at all. It's already there, but hidden by all our desires for physical and mental activity. To touch it, we have to abandon our habitual attachment to activity. To believe that such a thing is possible, and that it's the ultimate happiness, is to take a major leap.

Many in the Buddha's time were willing to take the leap, while many others were not, preferring to content themselves with the branches and sapwood, wanting simply to learn how to live happily with their families in this life and go to heaven in the next. Nirvana, they said, could wait. Faced with this honest and gentle resistance to his teaching on nirvana, the Buddha was happy to comply.

But he was less tolerant of the stronger resistance he received from brahmas, heavenly deities who complacently felt that their experience of limitless oneness and compassion in the midst of samsara — their sapwood — was superior to the heartwood of nirvana. In cases like this he used all the psychic and intellectual powers at his disposal to humble their pride, because he realized that their views totally closed the door to Awakening. If you think that your sapwood is actually heartwood, you won't look for anything better. When your sapwood breaks, you'll decide that heartwood is a lie. But if you realize that you're using bark and sapwood, you leave open the possibility that someday you'll go back and give the heartwood a try.

Of course, it's even better if you can take the Buddha's teachings on nirvana as a direct challenge in this lifetime — as if he were saying, "Here's your chance. Can you prove me wrong...?"

To act on...faith is to test it, the way you'd test a working hypothesis. You need faith to keep following..., but you also need the honesty to recognize where faith ends and knowledge begins. This is why, in the Buddhist context, faith and empiricism are inseparable. Unlike a monotheistic religion — where faith centers on the power of another — faith in the Buddha's Awakening keeps pointing back to the power of your own actions: Do you have enough power over your intentions to make them harmless? Do harmless intentions then give you the freedom to drop intention entirely? The only way you can answer these questions is by being scrupulously honest about your intentions, to detect even the slightest traces of harm, even the slightest movement of intention itself. Only then will you know the deathless, totally unconditioned by intention, for sure. But if you claim to know things that you don't, how can you trust yourself to detect any of these things? You need to make your honesty worthy of your faith, testing its assumptions until you find true knowledge in the test.

This is why science will never be able to pass valid judgment on the truths of Awakening, for the path deals in matters that outside experimenters can't reach. Although others may sympathize with your suffering, the suffering itself is an experience you can share with no one else. The honesty and skillfulness of your intentions is an affair of your internal dialogue, something that is also purely your own. Scientists can measure the neurological data indicating pain or intentional activity, but there's no external measurement for how the pain feels, or how honest your intentional dialogue may be. And as for the deathless, it has no physical correlates at all....

As in science, faith in the Buddha's Awakening acts like a working hypothesis, but the test of that hypothesis requires an honesty deeper and more radical than anything science requires. You have to commit yourself — every variation on who you feel you are — totally to the test. Only when you take apart all clinging to your inner and outer senses can you prove whether the activity of clinging is what hides the deathless. The Buddha never forced anyone to commit to this test....

From Faith in Awakening
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Re: The Quotable Thanissaro

Postby retrofuturist » Sat Aug 11, 2012 3:08 am

Greetings Daniel,

Thanks for sharing this...

This is why science will never be able to pass valid judgment on the truths of Awakening, for the path deals in matters that outside experimenters can't reach. Although others may sympathize with your suffering, the suffering itself is an experience you can share with no one else. The honesty and skillfulness of your intentions is an affair of your internal dialogue, something that is also purely your own. Scientists can measure the neurological data indicating pain or intentional activity, but there's no external measurement for how the pain feels, or how honest your intentional dialogue may be. And as for the deathless, it has no physical correlates at all....

This is by and large why I steer clear of Dhamma/Science crossover topics. I understand there may be some compulsion or excitement to say, "See, science agrees with the Dhamma in relation to x!" but as Thanissaro Bhikkhu rightly says, "the path deals in matters that outside experimenters can't reach". Focusing on science is to look outside, when the answers are really within.

Metta,
Retro. :)
If you have asked me of the origination of unease, then I shall explain it to you in accordance with my understanding:
Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


Exalted in mind, just open and clearly aware, the recluse trained in the ways of the sages:
One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


Dharma Wheel (Mahayana / Vajrayana forum) -- Open flower ~ Open book (blog)
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Re: The Quotable Thanissaro

Postby danieLion » Sat Aug 11, 2012 3:35 am

retrofuturist wrote:Greetings Daniel,

Thanks for sharing this...

This is why science will never be able to pass valid judgment on the truths of Awakening, for the path deals in matters that outside experimenters can't reach. Although others may sympathize with your suffering, the suffering itself is an experience you can share with no one else. The honesty and skillfulness of your intentions is an affair of your internal dialogue, something that is also purely your own. Scientists can measure the neurological data indicating pain or intentional activity, but there's no external measurement for how the pain feels, or how honest your intentional dialogue may be. And as for the deathless, it has no physical correlates at all....

This is by and large why I steer clear of Dhamma/Science crossover topics. I understand there may be some compulsion or excitement to say, "See, science agrees with the Dhamma in relation to x!" but as Thanissaro Bhikkhu rightly says, "the path deals in matters that outside experimenters can't reach". Focusing on science is to look outside, when the answers are really within.

Metta,
Retro. :)

From the Buddha to Feyerabend; and to when my doctors ask me about my pain "levels." Medical professionals have so much FAITH in their training (and usually their humungoid egos!).
Best,
Daniel
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Re: The Quotable Thanissaro

Postby danieLion » Sat Aug 11, 2012 4:59 am

Hungry?

The primary causal relationship isn't something gentle like light reflecting off mirrors, or jewels illuminating jewels. It's feeding. Our bodies need physical food for their well-being. Our minds need the food of pleasant sensory contacts, intentions, and consciousness itself in order to function. If you ever want proof that interconnectedness isn't always something to celebrate, just contemplate how the beings of the world feed on one another, physically and emotionally. Interbeing is inter-eating....

From Purity of Heart
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Re: The Quotable Thanissaro

Postby danieLion » Sun Aug 12, 2012 10:21 pm

To be in jhana is to be absorbed, very pleasurably, in the sense of the whole body altogether. A very broad sense of awareness fills the entire body. One of the images the Buddha used to describe this state is that of a person kneading water into dough so that the water permeates throughout the flour. Another is a lake in which a cool spring comes welling up and suffuses the entire lake.

Now, when you're with the body as a whole, you're very much in the present moment. You're right there all the time. As the Buddha says, the fourth jhana — in which the body is filled with bright awareness — is the point where mindfulness and equanimity become pure. So there should be no problem in combining mindfulness practice with the whole-body awareness that gets very settled and still. In fact, the Buddha himself combines them in his description of the first four steps of breath meditation: (1) being aware of long breathing, (2) being aware of short breathing, (3) being aware of the whole body as you breathe in and breathe out, and then (4) calming the sensation of the breath within the body. This, as the texts tell us, is basic mindfulness practice. It's also a basic concentration practice. You're getting into the first jhana — Right Concentration — right there, at the same time that you're practicing Right Mindfulness.

The Path of Concentration & Minfulness
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Re: The Quotable Thanissaro

Postby danieLion » Thu Aug 23, 2012 1:46 am

The view "I have no self" is just as much a doctrine of self as the view "I have a self." Because the act of clinging involves what the Buddha calls "I-making" — the creation of a sense of self — if one were to cling to the view that there is no self, one would be creating a very subtle sense of self around that view (see AN 4.24). But, as he says, the Dhamma is taught for "the elimination of all view-positions, determinations, biases, inclinations, & obsessions; for the stilling of all fabrications; for the relinquishing of all acquisitions; the ending of craving; dispassion; cessation; Unbinding."

Thus it is important to focus on how the Dhamma is taught: Even in his most thoroughgoing teachings about not-self, the Buddha never recommends replacing the assumption that there is a self with the assumption that there is no self. Instead, he only goes so far as to point out the drawbacks of various ways of conceiving the self and then to recommend dropping them. For example, in his standard series of questions building on the logic of the inconstancy and stress of the aggregates, he does not say that because the aggregates are inconstant and stressful there is no self. He simply asks, When they are inconstant and stressful, is it proper to assume that they are "me, my self, what I am"? Now, because the sense of self is a product of "I-making," this question seeks to do nothing more than to induce disenchantment and dispassion for that process of I-making, so as to put a stop to it. Once that is accomplished, the teaching has fulfilled its purpose in putting an end to suffering and stress. That's the safety of the further shore. As the Buddha says in this discourse, "Both formerly and now, monks, I declare only stress and the cessation of stress." As he also says here, when views of self are finally dropped, one is free from agitation; and as MN 140 points out, when one is truly unagitated one is unbound. The raft has reached the shore, and one can leave it there — free to go where one likes, in a way that cannot be traced.

From his introduction to MN 22 (Alagaddupama Sutta)
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Re: The Quotable Thanissaro

Postby Reductor » Thu Aug 23, 2012 3:42 am

A most excellent out take above, DanieLion. :anjali:
Michael

The thoughts I've expressed in the above post are carefully considered and offered in good faith.

And friendliness towards the world is happiness for him who is forbearing with living beings. -- Ud. 2:1
To his own ruin the fool gains knowledge, for it cleaves his head and destroys his innate goodness. -- Dhp 72

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Re: The Quotable Thanissaro

Postby Kim OHara » Thu Aug 23, 2012 8:17 am

danieLion wrote:
... one can leave it there — free to go where one likes, in a way that cannot be traced.

From his introduction to MN 22 (Alagaddupama Sutta)

...reminds me of a Japanese poem I learned so many years ago that I'm no longer sure of its background beyond 'Japanese', although it's probably a Zen haiku:
Coming, going,
the wild duck leaves no trace -
nor does it need a guide.


:namaste:
Kim
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Re: The Quotable Thanissaro

Postby danieLion » Thu Aug 23, 2012 9:07 am

Kim O'Hara wrote:...reminds me of a Japanese poem...

Coming, going,
the wild duck leaves no trace -
nor does it need a guide.

:namaste:
Kim

Kull.
:namaste:
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Re: The Quotable Thanissaro

Postby dhammapal » Thu Aug 23, 2012 10:56 am

Thanissaro Bhikkhu wrote:"Sometimes you read that in the stages of insight you get into weird psychophysical experiences. Those descriptions are designed by people who are trying to sell a particular kind of meditation. You're going off to spend a week where you want to have something to show for it, something you can talk about when you return. It's hard to tell your friends, "You know, I maintained my mind in a state of normalcy for the entire week." It doesn't impress anybody. But you're not here to impress people; you're not here to impress yourself. You're here to see things clearly. The best way to see things clearly is to get the mind into a state of stillness.

We tend to think of the stages of jhana as very strong trance states, but actually they're the mind in a state of genuine normalcy where it's very perceptive, very clearly perceiving things as they are, as they come as they go, able to see distinctions. That's what we're working on, trying to keep the mind in a state of normalcy, as with all the elements of the path. The qualities of the path are things we've already experienced, things we've already tasted. It's simply that we haven't seen the strength they can develop if they're made continuous, if they're made all-around. This state of centered, clear normalcy in the mind, if you could really maintain it, would build up a lot of strength."
From: Normalcy by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

With metta / dhammapal.
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