Question about the imponderables

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Question about the imponderables

Postby Individual » Mon Oct 05, 2009 8:00 am

If you don't ponder the imponderables, how do you know that what you claim to believe is true?

One might say that including the Four Imponderables as part of one's faith is sort of like the rule in monotheistic religions that God is supreme.

Without questioning:
-What did the Buddha and the Arahants really know?
-What can meditation ultimately achieve, really?
-Where did we come from and what's our purpose?
-What is the true nature of the world?

...how can you really know... anything?

We could assume a worst-case scenario (I don't believe this, btw, but it's to demonstrate a point): The Buddha and Arahants were just good philosophers and meditation can't achieve much more than psychiatric meds.

if this is true, without pondering it, how is Buddhism any different from all the other religions that want you to just take what they believe for granted?
The best things in life aren't things.

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Re: Question about the imponderables

Postby Cittasanto » Mon Oct 05, 2009 9:25 am

Have a look at infinity!

there is a program called dangerous Ideas which is about this but I think it may aid in understanding this!
This offering maybe right, or wrong, but it is one, the other, both, or neither!
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Re: Question about the imponderables

Postby retrofuturist » Mon Oct 05, 2009 10:25 am

Greetings,

The following sutta comes to mind...

MN 63: Cula-Malunkyovada Sutta
The Shorter Instructions to Malunkya
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html

Metta,
Retro. :)
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Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


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One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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Re: Question about the imponderables

Postby fivebells » Mon Oct 05, 2009 11:21 am

Individual wrote:What can meditation ultimately achieve, really?


I'm confused. Where do these questions come from, in the scriptures? The goal of meditation is very clear: to attend to every aspect of experience.

The other questions are ontological, so Buddhist practice has nothing to say about them.

how is Buddhism any different from all the other religions that want you to just take what they believe for granted?


It's not a religion.
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Re: Question about the imponderables

Postby Sanghamitta » Mon Oct 05, 2009 11:25 am

The Buddhadhamma is wide enough to incorporate those who view it as a religion and those who do not.
The going for refuge is the door of entrance to the teachings of the Buddha.

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Re: Question about the imponderables

Postby Individual » Mon Oct 05, 2009 8:16 pm

retrofuturist wrote:Greetings,

The following sutta comes to mind...

MN 63: Cula-Malunkyovada Sutta
The Shorter Instructions to Malunkya
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html

Metta,
Retro. :)

That may be oversimplifying the problem. To remove an arrow, there is one obvious method: pull it out. But there are numerous methods of how to live rightly and avoid suffering, many Jews, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, etc., all claiming that their way is the only way, or the easiest, or the highest. Probing questions like the ones above are meant to distinguish what's genuine.
The best things in life aren't things.

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Re: Question about the imponderables

Postby Jechbi » Mon Oct 05, 2009 8:25 pm

Individual wrote:Probing questions like the ones above are meant to distinguish what's genuine.

But at a certain stage if such questions continue without a useful answer, they will get in the way of pulling out the arrow. A person could keep on asking questions forever before actually getting down to the work of facing dukkha ...
Rain soddens what is kept wrapped up,
But never soddens what is open;
Uncover, then, what is concealed,
Lest it be soddened by the rain.
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Re: Question about the imponderables

Postby zavk » Tue Oct 06, 2009 3:27 am

Jechbi wrote:
Individual wrote:Probing questions like the ones above are meant to distinguish what's genuine.

But at a certain stage if such questions continue without a useful answer, they will get in the way of pulling out the arrow. A person could keep on asking questions forever before actually getting down to the work of facing dukkha ...


Hi Individual

You have raised an important point that is close to my heart. I think it is important and useful to ponder the imponderable, to question the unquestionable, to seek the unseekable.... As I see it, it is this constant movement between the possible and the impossible that makes our endeavours 'doable'. Strange as it may seem (and I think you might agree with me), I ponder the imponderable only to see that it is imponderable, which in turn encourages me to ponder further.

I've used the analogy of the horizon in other posts: The horizon orientates us, tells us where we are and gives us a sense of direction should we choose to embark on a journey. But even as we move towards the horizon, towards whatever destination we have in mind, we can never conquer the horizon. For the horizon--being what it is--will simply keep receding. Yet, this unconquerable horizon is what makes our journey possible in the first place.

The gap between the possible and the impossible gives us the space to ask questions, to seek answers, to (as you put it) ponder the imponderable. Yet, this gap also suggests that we can never--through reason alone--know what the Buddha and Arahants really knew, what the true nature of the world is, etc, etc. But I don't think this makes our efforts futile nor does it mean that we should simply take Buddhist teachings for granted. This gap between the possible and impossible is not merely a space for knowledge but also a space for ethics and faith.

What I'm suggesting is influenced by certain non-Buddhist modes of thinking. But I think it coincides with Buddhist ideals as well. We might think of the Kalama Sutta here, a text that is often cited as evidence that the Buddha warned us against taking teachings for granted.

The Buddha gave these criteria in his advice to the Kalamas:

Kalamas, when you yourselves know: 'These things are good; these things are not blamable; these things are praised by the wise; undertaken and observed, these things lead to benefit and happiness,' enter on and abide in them


According to a recent study of the sutta by Stephen Evans, the Pali word that is translated as 'things' is dhamma, which as I'm sure you know can mean 'doctrine', 'truth', 'fundamental aspects of existences', 'categories of existence', and so forth. Evans points out that in this instance, dhamma refers not so much to 'doctrines' but to 'fundamental mindstates/actions'. He also points out that the Buddha did not ask the Kalamas to know if these mindstates/actions are true or false, but if they lead to wholesomeness of unwholesomeness (kusala or akusala). So if certain mindstates and actions lead to wholesomeness, then one should abide in them.

What this suggests is that we can pursue Buddhist teachings even if the imponderables of nibbana, of kamma and rebirth, etc, are never fully known. This doesn't mean that we take Buddhist teachings for granted. We still need to analyse and evaluate the teachings. But as the Buddha suggests in the Kalama Sutta, we are not simply evaluating the 'truth' of the teachings solely by epistemological methods--for there is a limit to what we can know about nibbana, kamma, and so forth. The Buddha seems to admit this (if only tacitly) in the 'Four Solaces' part of the sutta where he appears to say that even if kamma and rebirth are not known one can nevertheless experience a virtuous life as its own reward.

Following the Buddha's advice to the Kalamas, we ascertain the 'truth' or 'genuineness' on ethical grounds as well. We evaluate the teachings in terms of how they lead us away from unwholesome mindstates/actions to wholesome mindstates/actions. In other words, we evaluate the teachings in terms of whether they lead us out of dukkha or not.

What this suggests to me is that the 'truth' of Buddhist teachings is not to be found merely in pondering the imponderable, but also in how we live in relation to the imponderable. The truth of the imponderable is to be realised through the abandonment of unwholesome mindstates/actions and the development of wholesome mindstates/actions--not just in how we think but how we behave. The rational inquiry into Buddhist teachings remains important, but it should be performed alongside ethical conduct.

This is what I mean when I say that the gap between the possible and impossible opens up the space for ethics. In the face of the imponderable, we are confronted with dukkha. Even though we do not yet know for sure the truth of the imponderable, dukkha is real and it impels us to act responsibly and ethically, to abandon unwholesome mindstates/actions and cultivate wholesome ones instead. As we free ourselves from unwholesome mindstates/actions, and as we delight in wholesome mindstates/actions, the imponderable, I believe, will slowly reveal itself to us.

So step by step, I move towards the horizon. And yes, the horizon continues to recede, but I have reasons to be confident in my path because my actions have taken me this far: I can see where I've come to and I trust that it will continue to take me however far I choose to go.

The movement between the possible and impossible--the gap in which I act responsibly and ethically, the gap in which I ponder the imponderable--produces faith.
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Re: Question about the imponderables

Postby pink_trike » Tue Oct 06, 2009 6:35 am

zavk wrote:Hi Individual

You have raised an important point that is close to my heart. I think it is important and useful to ponder the imponderable, to question the unquestionable, to seek the unseekable....

The movement between the possible and impossible--the gap in which I act responsibly and ethically, the gap in which I ponder the imponderable--produces faith.


Well said, though I suggest that it continually produces clarity rather than faith. WIth the continual arising of clarity, there is no need for faith.
Vision is Mind
Mind is Empty
Emptiness is Clear Light
Clear Light is Union
Union is Great Bliss

- Dawa Gyaltsen

---

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Re: Question about the imponderables

Postby Sanghamitta » Tue Oct 06, 2009 7:21 am

Could you Pink Trike point to canonical refrences to Saddha being provisional this side of Enlightenment ? I was taught that Saddha and Panna are mutually reinforcing. And that the concept of Saddha includes faith even if it is not a complete translation or an identical concept.
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Re: Question about the imponderables

Postby Sanghamitta » Tue Oct 06, 2009 10:21 am

Jechbi wrote:
Individual wrote:Probing questions like the ones above are meant to distinguish what's genuine.

But at a certain stage if such questions continue without a useful answer, they will get in the way of pulling out the arrow. A person could keep on asking questions forever before actually getting down to the work of facing dukkha ...


:anjali: :anjali: :anjali:
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Re: Question about the imponderables

Postby zavk » Tue Oct 06, 2009 11:38 am

pink_trike wrote:
zavk wrote:Hi Individual

You have raised an important point that is close to my heart. I think it is important and useful to ponder the imponderable, to question the unquestionable, to seek the unseekable....

The movement between the possible and impossible--the gap in which I act responsibly and ethically, the gap in which I ponder the imponderable--produces faith.


Well said, though I suggest that it continually produces clarity rather than faith. WIth the continual arising of clarity, there is no need for faith.


Hi Pink

Perhaps it was clumsy of me to say that 'it produces faith'. But you are right, the movement between the possible and impossible does produce clarity--a clarity from which wisdom or understanding arises.

Sticking with my metaphor of the horizon a little longer: as we traverse the landscape--tracing and retracing our steps and maybe even scaling a mountain or two--we can indeed gain greater clarity. There's this wonderful stanza from Ajahn Mun's poem 'The Ballad of the Liberation from the Khandas' that, for reasons I can't express, really resonates with me:

"Like climbing to the top of a truly tall mountain
and looking at the lowlands below,
seeing every living being."

"Way up high, looking back
you see all your affairs
from the very beginning,
forming a path, like stairs."


But even as we gain greater clarity--whether looking backward to see the path that we have traversed or looking forward to see where we ought to go next--the horizon remains unconquerable. Regardless of the clarity of our view, there will always be something more that lies just over the horizon, a 'perhaps' that is just beyond our view. It is this perhaps which demands of us something that (for lack of a better word) I am calling faith.

What I am calling 'faith' here is not premised on unquestioning belief. Rather, the faith I am positing stands on ethical grounds and is that which accepts with clarity the possibility of what was previously deemed impossible--which is to say, the impossibility of circumscribing what could be possible. In other words, this is a faith that accepts change and which awaits without demand or attachment the surprise of the not-this or not-that.

I understand why you would be uncomfortable with the word faith because of its associations with dogmatic religious systems. However, I personally feel that it is important to wrest faith from the hands of both the hardline atheist and religious fanatic who (whether in pathologizing religious adherents as 'abnormal' or waging war on godless 'infidels') think that they have got their finger on what faith is or is not--as if they could say with finality and certitude, 'I've conquered the horizon' or 'The horizon stops here.'

Anyway, I believe we are both looking out toward the same horizon. I shan't derail this thread any further. I shall stop here in good faith that we share a mutual understanding. :smile:
Last edited by zavk on Tue Oct 06, 2009 10:11 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Question about the imponderables

Postby Sanghamitta » Tue Oct 06, 2009 2:07 pm

It is precisely because of the associations that many of us carry concerning the word " faith " that it is recommended that students of the Buddhadhamma become aquainted with the concept of Saddha.
The going for refuge is the door of entrance to the teachings of the Buddha.

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Re: Question about the imponderables

Postby rowyourboat » Tue Oct 06, 2009 4:32 pm

Buddha's dhamma only teaches suffering and the cessation of suffering- if you want that great! -for all else there's wikipedia. :smile:

the four acinteyya/imponderable areas of knoweldge are not related to the goal of cessation of suffering. This does not mean you should not ponder,discuss and ask questions- this is encouraged by the Buddha.
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Re: Question about the imponderables

Postby DontKnow » Fri Oct 23, 2009 1:39 am

Hi Individual
Individual wrote:If you don't ponder the imponderables, how do you know that what you claim to believe is true?

One might say that including the Four Imponderables as part of one's faith is sort of like the rule in monotheistic religions that God is supreme.

Without questioning:
-What did the Buddha and the Arahants really know?
-What can meditation ultimately achieve, really?
-Where did we come from and what's our purpose?
-What is the true nature of the world?

...how can you really know... anything?

We could assume a worst-case scenario (I don't believe this, btw, but it's to demonstrate a point): The Buddha and Arahants were just good philosophers and meditation can't achieve much more than psychiatric meds.

if this is true, without pondering it, how is Buddhism any different from all the other religions that want you to just take what they believe for granted?

If it is about pondering some questions then Buddhism is no different from other religions. If somebody (anybody) is telling me that reality is so and so that is only concept. Then if somebody is telling me that reality is so and so because of this and that then that is only concept. Somebody here includes myself (whatever it or he is). If myself says reality is so and so because of this and that then myself is telling me only concepts. On the other hand, If Buddhism is about living and experiencing whatever is here and now then it is no religion and has no name or has all names. Why do I need to know (or not know) anything? This is not to say that I never wondered to know something. I have wandered and I do wander sometimes. It just does not get me anywhere. This is my take.

Metta

Hi pink_trike
Well said, though I suggest that it continually produces clarity rather than faith. With the continual arising of clarity, there is no need for faith.

May I ask you this: if you make distinction between clarity and faith how would you know without faith that there's continuous clarity? At this time I am here and in this moment with this much clarity. How would I know there will be more clarity? Do I not need faith for this?

Metta
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Re: Question about the imponderables

Postby pink_trike » Fri Oct 23, 2009 3:56 am

zavk wrote:
pink_trike wrote:
zavk wrote:Hi Individual

You have raised an important point that is close to my heart. I think it is important and useful to ponder the imponderable, to question the unquestionable, to seek the unseekable....

The movement between the possible and impossible--the gap in which I act responsibly and ethically, the gap in which I ponder the imponderable--produces faith.


Well said, though I suggest that it continually produces clarity rather than faith. WIth the continual arising of clarity, there is no need for faith.


Hi Pink

Perhaps it was clumsy of me to say that 'it produces faith'. But you are right, the movement between the possible and impossible does produce clarity--a clarity from which wisdom or understanding arises.

Sticking with my metaphor of the horizon a little longer: as we traverse the landscape--tracing and retracing our steps and maybe even scaling a mountain or two--we can indeed gain greater clarity. There's this wonderful stanza from Ajahn Mun's poem 'The Ballad of the Liberation from the Khandas' that, for reasons I can't express, really resonates with me:

"Like climbing to the top of a truly tall mountain
and looking at the lowlands below,
seeing every living being."

"Way up high, looking back
you see all your affairs
from the very beginning,
forming a path, like stairs."


But even as we gain greater clarity--whether looking backward to see the path that we have traversed or looking forward to see where we ought to go next--the horizon remains unconquerable. Regardless of the clarity of our view, there will always be something more that lies just over the horizon, a 'perhaps' that is just beyond our view. It is this perhaps which demands of us something that (for lack of a better word) I am calling faith.

What I am calling 'faith' here is not premised on unquestioning belief. Rather, the faith I am positing stands on ethical grounds and is that which accepts with clarity the possibility of what was previously deemed impossible--which is to say, the impossibility of circumscribing what could be possible. In other words, this is a faith that accepts change and which awaits without demand or attachment the surprise of the not-this or not-that.

I understand why you would be uncomfortable with the word faith because of its associations with dogmatic religious systems. However, I personally feel that it is important to wrest faith from the hands of both the hardline atheist and religious fanatic who (whether in pathologizing religious adherents as 'abnormal' or waging war on godless 'infidels') think that they have got their finger on what faith is or is not--as if they could say with finality and certitude, 'I've conquered the horizon' or 'The horizon stops here.'

Anyway, I believe we are both looking out toward the same horizon. I shan't derail this thread any further. I shall stop here in good faith that we share a mutual understanding. :smile:


Good explanation, thx. If I understand this, then what you refer to as "faith' I would...note as "possibility" and then let it go. Same horizon. I too like that stanza a lot.
Vision is Mind
Mind is Empty
Emptiness is Clear Light
Clear Light is Union
Union is Great Bliss

- Dawa Gyaltsen

---

Disclaimer: I'm a non-religious practitioner of Theravada, Mahayana/Vajrayana, and Tibetan Bon Dzogchen mind-training.
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