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 ...
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
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