Distorted Visions of Buddhism: Agnostic and Atheist

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Re: Distorted Visions of Buddhism: Agnostic and Atheist

Postby Kare » Fri Apr 19, 2013 12:53 am

Lazy_eye wrote:
Kim O'Hara wrote:Here's a question I've wondered about. Assuming there is such a need for adaptation, which tradition is better poised to adapt? Theravada or Mahayana?

Many people would say Theravada is quite analytical, rational and compatible with science -- to a degree. It is also more stubbornly orthodox and bound by the authority of millenia-old texts. So when problem areas arise, such as the ones Alex mentioned, it can be hard to work around them.

Mahayana, it seems to me, presents almost the opposite scenario. With its pantheon of Buddhas and bodhisattvas and its many devotional practices, it seems inherently less rational in its outlook. It is also more heterodox compared to Theravada and thus (theoretically) more flexible. Since the legitimacy of Mahayana sutras is questionable and the canon is so diverse, reinterpretation presents less of a problem. And indeed Mahayana has generated a wide variety of sects and schools. (For exactly this reason, I find it a bit odd and even amusing when folks like B. Allan Wallace start playing dharma cop -- as though their own tradition wasn't a significant departure).

So what's better, from the science-minded perspective -- the more rational but rigid Theravada, or the more adaptable but less rational Mahayana? I am oversimplifying of course, but hope you can see my point.


From my point of view the different Mahayana schools have already seen a lot of different adaptions that may have been the right thing at the time and place where they were made. But they are not necessarily the kind of adaptions that we need. If we start with the Mahayana, we then have to work our way backwards through the adaptions, unraveling the detours and deadapt the Dhamma before we can start contemplating what flavor of the Dhamma that may be right for ourselves. Better then to start with the Theravada, which is closer to the historical point of departure. On the other hand we can learn a lot from seeing how the different Mahayana schools adapted the Dhamma and broke away from the rigid orthodoxy - and some of those adaptions might even work for us - as long as we remember that each of those adaptions are results of a specific time and culture.

I am a great fan of Batchelor. When I read his books, I found much that resonated with thoughts I already had. My own flavor of the Dhamma would be a mix of Theravada, Zen, humanism and science. I do not say that this is the only right flavor. Others have to make their own choices.
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Re: Distorted Visions of Buddhism: Agnostic and Atheist

Postby kirk5a » Fri Apr 19, 2013 1:26 am

Lazy_eye wrote:So what's better, from the science-minded perspective -- the more rational but rigid Theravada, or the more adaptable but less rational Mahayana? I am oversimplifying of course, but hope you can see my point.

I don't really see how science comes into play, as a practical matter. If we're following the Buddha's instructions, it's really got zilch to do with whatever science says about neurons, planets, the universe, quantum physics, electromagnetic phenomena, DNA, evolution, global warming... whatever.

Abstain from all evil, to cultivate good, and to purify one's mind. Those are timeless, a-sectarian, culturally universal principles. It's the clinging to one's own personal, cultural, views, speculative hypotheses and other assorted "adaptations" that can get in the way of that. Not the other way around.
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Re: Distorted Visions of Buddhism: Agnostic and Atheist

Postby Kim OHara » Fri Apr 19, 2013 1:39 am

Kare wrote:
Lazy_eye wrote:
Kim O'Hara wrote:Here's a question I've wondered about. Assuming there is such a need for adaptation, which tradition is better poised to adapt? Theravada or Mahayana?

Many people would say Theravada is quite analytical, rational and compatible with science -- to a degree. It is also more stubbornly orthodox and bound by the authority of millenia-old texts. So when problem areas arise, such as the ones Alex mentioned, it can be hard to work around them.

Mahayana, it seems to me, presents almost the opposite scenario. With its pantheon of Buddhas and bodhisattvas and its many devotional practices, it seems inherently less rational in its outlook. It is also more heterodox compared to Theravada and thus (theoretically) more flexible. Since the legitimacy of Mahayana sutras is questionable and the canon is so diverse, reinterpretation presents less of a problem. And indeed Mahayana has generated a wide variety of sects and schools. (For exactly this reason, I find it a bit odd and even amusing when folks like B. Allan Wallace start playing dharma cop -- as though their own tradition wasn't a significant departure).

So what's better, from the science-minded perspective -- the more rational but rigid Theravada, or the more adaptable but less rational Mahayana? I am oversimplifying of course, but hope you can see my point.


From my point of view the different Mahayana schools have already seen a lot of different adaptions that may have been the right thing at the time and place where they were made. But they are not necessarily the kind of adaptions that we need. If we start with the Mahayana, we then have to work our way backwards through the adaptions, unraveling the detours and deadapt the Dhamma before we can start contemplating what flavor of the Dhamma that may be right for ourselves. Better then to start with the Theravada, which is closer to the historical point of departure. On the other hand we can learn a lot from seeing how the different Mahayana schools adapted the Dhamma and broke away from the rigid orthodoxy - and some of those adaptions might even work for us - as long as we remember that each of those adaptions are results of a specific time and culture.

I am a great fan of Batchelor. When I read his books, I found much that resonated with thoughts I already had. My own flavor of the Dhamma would be a mix of Theravada, Zen, humanism and science. I do not say that this is the only right flavor. Others have to make their own choices.

Something went astray with the "quote" function here, Kare (I didn't say any of what you have quoted) but other than that I'm pretty much in agreement with you.
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Re: Distorted Visions of Buddhism: Agnostic and Atheist

Postby Kim OHara » Fri Apr 19, 2013 1:47 am

kirk5a wrote:
Lazy_eye wrote:So what's better, from the science-minded perspective -- the more rational but rigid Theravada, or the more adaptable but less rational Mahayana? I am oversimplifying of course, but hope you can see my point.

I don't really see how science comes into play, as a practical matter. If we're following the Buddha's instructions, it's really got zilch to do with whatever science says about neurons, planets, the universe, quantum physics, electromagnetic phenomena, DNA, evolution, global warming... whatever.

Hi, Kirk,
Science comes into it when religious teachers demand that every word of their sacred text be accepted as literal, infallible and unalterable truth. If science tells us the round earth goes around the sun, and religion says it is a disc resting on the back of four giant elephants riding on the back of a turtle :tongue: , only one can be correct. HHDL has gone on record as saying that in such a case, the Buddhist scripture must be abandoned, and I agree completely.
It doesn't have much to do with the path to liberation but science does have to be acknowledged and fitted into the worldview of each religion.

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Re: Distorted Visions of Buddhism: Agnostic and Atheist

Postby Lazy_eye » Fri Apr 19, 2013 2:06 am

Also, Theravada has long been concerned with these questions. I don't have the reference handy but I read an essay awhile back (by Donald Lopez, maybe?) that showed that Theravadin teachers seem particularly anxious to demonstrate the compatibility of Dhamma and science. It seems to be part of the way the Theravada tradition defines itself. Possibly because of the modernization movements that occurred in Thailand, for instance, during the 19th and 20th centuries.

I find this is less the case in Mahayana and (especially) Vajrayana.
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Re: Distorted Visions of Buddhism: Agnostic and Atheist

Postby kirk5a » Fri Apr 19, 2013 3:48 am

Kim O'Hara wrote:Science comes into it when religious teachers demand that every word of their sacred text be accepted as literal, infallible and unalterable truth.

Well I have yet to see a Buddhist teacher make such a demand.
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Re: Distorted Visions of Buddhism: Agnostic and Atheist

Postby tiltbillings » Fri Apr 19, 2013 4:12 am

kirk5a wrote:
Kim O'Hara wrote:Science comes into it when religious teachers demand that every word of their sacred text be accepted as literal, infallible and unalterable truth.

Well I have yet to see a Buddhist teacher make such a demand.
I know of one teacher that would hold such a position, though it seems that some followers certainly do.
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Re: Distorted Visions of Buddhism: Agnostic and Atheist

Postby Nyana » Fri Apr 19, 2013 4:56 am

Lazy_eye wrote:Here's a question I've wondered about. Assuming there is such a need for adaptation, which tradition is better poised to adapt? Theravada or Mahayana?

Many people would say Theravada is quite analytical, rational and compatible with science -- to a degree. It is also more stubbornly orthodox and bound by the authority of millenia-old texts. So when problem areas arise, such as the ones Alex mentioned, it can be hard to work around them.

Mahayana, it seems to me, presents almost the opposite scenario. With its pantheon of Buddhas and bodhisattvas and its many devotional practices, it seems inherently less rational in its outlook. It is also more heterodox compared to Theravada and thus (theoretically) more flexible. Since the legitimacy of Mahayana sutras is questionable and the canon is so diverse, reinterpretation presents less of a problem. And indeed Mahayana has generated a wide variety of sects and schools. (For exactly this reason, I find it a bit odd and even amusing when folks like B. Allan Wallace start playing dharma cop -- as though their own tradition wasn't a significant departure).

So what's better, from the science-minded perspective -- the more rational but rigid Theravada, or the more adaptable but less rational Mahayana? I am oversimplifying of course, but hope you can see my point.

This seems to me to be a pretty inaccurate dichotomy that you're attempting to establish here. The traditional Theravāda worldview and cosmology has much in common with the traditional Mahāyāna worldview(s), and in TIbetan traditions at least, the Sarvāstivāda cosmology is widely taught in Tibetan monastic colleges, which is every bit as "orthodox" as Theravāda cosmology. I'd also question your characterization that one tradition is more rational and the others less rational. Mahāyāna traditions have well developed systems of logic and epistemology, etc. As for compatibility with science, HH the Dalai Lama and senior Tibetan and Western students have initiated and engaged in Mind & Life Conferences with cognitive scientists, psychologists, physicists, and philosophers for the past three decades.
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Re: Distorted Visions of Buddhism: Agnostic and Atheist

Postby Kim OHara » Fri Apr 19, 2013 5:32 am

tiltbillings wrote:
kirk5a wrote:
Kim O'Hara wrote:Science comes into it when religious teachers demand that every word of their sacred text be accepted as literal, infallible and unalterable truth.

Well I have yet to see a Buddhist teacher make such a demand.
I know of one teacher that would hold such a position, though it seems that some followers certainly do.

It's less common in Buddhism than in the monotheistic faiths - which is one reason I'm here instead of on the equivalent Xtian board :smile: - but it does happen. Check out http://www.dharmawheel.net/viewtopic.php?f=77&t=12472 over on our sister site for a classic example of rigidly orthodox ... I won't use the "f" word and I won't call it thinking :tongue:
However, if the great rebirth thread is anything to go by, many of us are continually renegotiating our attitude to rebirth, which is not supported by any evidence strong enough to satisfy science but is fairly central to the dhamma, so science wants to reject it but many of us want to hang on to it. :juggling:

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Re: Distorted Visions of Buddhism: Agnostic and Atheist

Postby Reductor » Fri Apr 19, 2013 5:52 am

Kim O'Hara wrote:However, if the great rebirth thread is anything to go by, many of us are continually renegotiating our attitude to rebirth, which is not supported by any evidence strong enough to satisfy science but is fairly central to the dhamma, so science wants to reject it but many of us want to hang on to it. :juggling:


If science wants to reject it, I'd say science should instead be agnostic about it - that and God/gods. As it is, there are many reasons to doubt these things, but no sure way to disprove them.

From my perspective, its fine to say "I don't believe in rebirth, but I cannot disprove it." It's not fine to say "There is no such thing as rebirth". The first allows you to be rational without trying to drive the world into your camp, the other makes a claim which is much too big for evidence to support.
Michael

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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: Distorted Visions of Buddhism: Agnostic and Atheist

Postby Kusala » Fri Apr 19, 2013 8:08 am

mikenz66 wrote:Thanks Kusala,

Here are some previous discussions or references to that article:
viewtopic.php?f=16&t=5859&start=0
viewtopic.php?f=13&t=11852&start=320#p180792
viewtopic.php?f=14&t=16405&start=120#p234532

Mike


Thank you, mikenz66. Sorry for the repost...
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Re: Distorted Visions of Buddhism: Agnostic and Atheist

Postby Kare » Fri Apr 19, 2013 8:54 am

Kim O'Hara wrote:Something went astray with the "quote" function here, Kare (I didn't say any of what you have quoted) but other than that I'm pretty much in agreement with you.
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My apologies for making a mess of the quotes. :toilet:
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Re: Distorted Visions of Buddhism: Agnostic and Atheist

Postby Buckwheat » Fri Apr 19, 2013 9:47 am

kirk5a wrote:I don't really see how science comes into play, as a practical matter. If we're following the Buddha's instructions, it's really got zilch to do with whatever science says about neurons, planets, the universe, quantum physics, electromagnetic phenomena, DNA, evolution, global warming... whatever.

What about contemplating rupa and the elements?

And from an entirely different direction, one who is heedful must contemplate the consequences of their actions, so a study of how our behavior affects change to the environment could be seen as an aspect of heedfulness.

For a third point, many studies of science could fall under generosity, goodwill, or compassion, as most science has potentially positive applications, such as reduced hunger and other forms of suffering.
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Re: Distorted Visions of Buddhism: Agnostic and Atheist

Postby Alex123 » Fri Apr 19, 2013 11:16 am

Reductor wrote:If science wants to reject it, I'd say science should instead be agnostic about it - that and God/gods. As it is, there are many reasons to doubt these things, but no sure way to disprove them.


Science should also be agnostic about Jehovah, Allah, brain-in-a-vat, or the flying spaghetti monster on a tea pot...

Some consider that without ability to disprove and/or verify the theory, it is not valid scientific theory - and I can see why.
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Re: Distorted Visions of Buddhism: Agnostic and Atheist

Postby Ben » Fri Apr 19, 2013 11:28 am

Alex123 wrote:
Reductor wrote:If science wants to reject it, I'd say science should instead be agnostic about it - that and God/gods. As it is, there are many reasons to doubt these things, but no sure way to disprove them.


Science should also be agnostic about Jehovah, Allah, brain-in-a-vat, or the flying spaghetti monster on a tea pot...


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saṇantā yanti kusobbhā,
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Re: Distorted Visions of Buddhism: Agnostic and Atheist

Postby Kim OHara » Fri Apr 19, 2013 11:41 am

Alex123 wrote:
Reductor wrote:If science wants to reject it, I'd say science should instead be agnostic about it - that and God/gods. As it is, there are many reasons to doubt these things, but no sure way to disprove them.

Some consider that without ability to disprove the theory, it is not valid scientific theory - and I can see why.

You can go further, Alex: science itself considers that a theory which cannot be falsified (disproven) is no theory at all - see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientific_theory#Essential_criteria
Alex123 wrote:Science should also be agnostic about Jehovah, Allah, brain-in-a-vat, or the flying spaghetti monster on a tea pot...

That's a bit more difficult. Some descriptions of God lead to physical impossibilities, i.e. breach well established scientific theories. If they are to be considered true-according-to-science, people putting them forward have an obligation to present evidence. Even more often, descriptions of God's actions in the world (i.e. miracles) are inconsistent with science and, again, evidence and a scientific explanation are urgently required.
This sort of thing leads to belief in a "God of the gaps" (google that phrase if you're curious) which reduces God to areas which do not intrude on science.

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Re: Distorted Visions of Buddhism: Agnostic and Atheist

Postby Alex123 » Fri Apr 19, 2013 11:51 am

Kim, you are right.

When it comes to idea of God, it doesn't explain but complicate the world even further. I understand that in ancient times "God did it" was the best that they could do then, and political benefits of teaching about God.

Personally, whenever someone says "Universe is so complex, it must had had a Creator" what immediately jumps to me is "And who/what created God?". "God of the gaps" isn't explanation either, especially considering that we can't explain "God".
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Re: Distorted Visions of Buddhism: Agnostic and Atheist

Postby Alex123 » Fri Apr 19, 2013 12:02 pm

Kim O'Hara wrote: Check out http://www.dharmawheel.net/viewtopic.php?f=77&t=12472 over on our sister site for a classic example of rigidly


Compare those images with Christian, for example.

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Re: Distorted Visions of Buddhism: Agnostic and Atheist

Postby Lazy_eye » Fri Apr 19, 2013 1:19 pm

Ñāṇa wrote:This seems to me to be a pretty inaccurate dichotomy that you're attempting to establish here. The traditional Theravāda worldview and cosmology has much in common with the traditional Mahāyāna worldview(s), and in TIbetan traditions at least, the Sarvāstivāda cosmology is widely taught in Tibetan monastic colleges, which is every bit as "orthodox" as Theravāda cosmology. I'd also question your characterization that one tradition is more rational and the others less rational. Mahāyāna traditions have well developed systems of logic and epistemology, etc.


Hi, Ñāṇa,

Agree that the distinction I made is simplistic and quite possibly dead wrong -- I offered it mostly as a starting point for discussion. Thank you for pointing out the problems with it, particularly with regards to Tibetan scholasticism.

Nevertheless, in my study of Mahayana, I have encountered the following (which seem to me like a pronounced departure from Theravadin practice):

Sutra passages encouraging the use of dharanis and mantras.

Long sections of the Lotus Sutra devoted to the worship of deity-like Buddhas and bodhisattvas. Promises that calling on Avalokiteshvara will ward off shipwreck, fire, robbers, demons and other calamities.

Recitation of sutras to ward off evil. The cult of the book/sutra as a fetish with magical powers. Monks carrying the Heart Sutra as protection during their wanderings.

The visionary and mystical style of texts such as the Flower Garland Sutra.

Emergence of a Buddha with transcendental, even divine qualities.

A transcendentalist doctrine of the "True Self".

Emergence of Pure Land and Nichiren (where faith is paramount and chanting replaces meditation).

I agree there are antecedents in the Pali Canon, but my understanding is that the Mahasamgikas emphasized the superhuman/transcendental aspect more than did other early Buddhist schools, and this same tendency was carried over into Mahayana. But I welcome your corrections.

Note: my intention is not to disparage these practices, beliefs and teachings. I am just offering them as supporting examples for the discussion.
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Re: Distorted Visions of Buddhism: Agnostic and Atheist

Postby daverupa » Fri Apr 19, 2013 1:21 pm

Cross-cultural smoke is often an indicator of common neurological fires...
    "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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