The Dawkins Dilemma

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The Dawkins Dilemma

Postby Dhammabodhi » Wed Dec 09, 2009 7:49 pm

Hi all,

This post is a result of vicikicca. I recently came across Richard Dawkins whom I admire a lot for his enormous courage to speak up against superstition and religious dogma. The video is below:



I'd like to know what you think about the approach he advocates and how and why should we reject it to follow a Buddhist path? Is the peace one experiences through meditation just a 'security blanket' which is self-decieving? I know there is no straightforward answer to this but I'd appreciate your views.

Thank you for your answers,
:anjali:
Dhammabodhi
-Samāhitam cittam yathābhutam pajānāti.

समाहितं चित्तं यथाभूतं पजानाती |

A concentrated mind sees things as they really are.

-Ujuko nāma so maggo, abhayā nāma sā disā.

उजुको नाम सो माग्गो, अभया नाम सा दिसा |

'Straight' is this path, fearlessness is its way.
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Re: The Dawkins Dilemma

Postby Ben » Wed Dec 09, 2009 7:55 pm

Hi Dhammabodi

The Buddha himself said that we should 'ehi passiko' (come see for ourselves). Investigate reality for ourselves. If it really was a security blanket, then we would discover that and abandon the path. THe fact is, the Buddhist path, when practiced, provides benefit now and in the future.
metta

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Re: The Dawkins Dilemma

Postby cooran » Wed Dec 09, 2009 8:15 pm

Dhammabodhi wrote:Hi all,

This post is a result of vicikicca. I recently came across Richard Dawkins whom I admire a lot for his enormous courage to speak up against superstition and religious dogma. The video is below:



I'd like to know what you think about the approach he advocates and how and why should we reject it to follow a Buddhist path? Is the peace one experiences through meditation just a 'security blanket' which is self-decieving? I know there is no straightforward answer to this but I'd appreciate your views.

Thank you for your answers,
:anjali:
Dhammabodhi

Hello Dhammabodhi,

Many of us live in areas with such slow downloading that we are unable to watch this video.
Could you post a precis of the points he is making, and your thoughts on them, so we can all join in the discussion please?

metta
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Re: The Dawkins Dilemma

Postby Laurens » Wed Dec 09, 2009 8:23 pm

The difference in Buddhism is that continuing beyond this life into another is not a comfort.
"For me, it is far better to grasp the Universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring."

Carl Sagan
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Re: The Dawkins Dilemma

Postby BlackBird » Wed Dec 09, 2009 8:26 pm

Dawkins has some good ideas, but like you and me, actors, sports people, politicians, presidents, Nobel laureates and the vast majority of human beings, he's still deluded. He's still clinging to that self view, in his case, perhaps more tenaciously than some.

I think his actual knowledge of religion as a whole is woefully deficient. Like the majority of 'westerners' he tends to view religion as almost entirely concerned with one notion or other of God. I think rather than really doing his homework with an open mind, Dawkins has breezed over this part, lustful to purport his own theories. This is particularly evident with regards to Buddhism, which he quickly relegates as a ethical philosophy, not a religion, then moves on.

Sure he's got balls to stand up to some of the more negative aspects of religion, but since when did having courage alone become something to admire? Do we admire Hitler for his courage during those early years?

(i don't mean to draw the inference of comparison btw)

:anjali:
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'The Blessed One is the Teacher, I am a disciple. He is the one who knows, not I." - MN. 70 Kitagiri Sutta
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Re: The Dawkins Dilemma

Postby Cittasanto » Wed Dec 09, 2009 8:53 pm

fundamentalists don't look at the whole spectrum, and hate is hate, no matter what the justification is.
This offering maybe right, or wrong, but it is one, the other, both, or neither!
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Re: The Dawkins Dilemma

Postby tiltbillings » Wed Dec 09, 2009 8:54 pm

BlackBird wrote:. . . Do we admire Hitler for his courage during those early years?

(i don't mean to draw the inference of comparison btw)

But you just did.
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Re: The Dawkins Dilemma

Postby BlackBird » Wed Dec 09, 2009 8:55 pm

Yeah that's actually quite true Tilt :embarassed:
"For a disciple who has conviction in the Teacher's message & lives to penetrate it, what accords with the Dhamma is this:
'The Blessed One is the Teacher, I am a disciple. He is the one who knows, not I." - MN. 70 Kitagiri Sutta
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Re: The Dawkins Dilemma

Postby Laurens » Wed Dec 09, 2009 11:15 pm

The problem that I find with atheists is that they are increadibly hypocritical. They use extremely judgemental and often offensive terms to describe someone who claims to know that there is something beyond this life, yet they claim to know with some certainty that there is nothing beyond this life. Claiming to know for certain that there is nothing beyond this life is just as bad as claiming to know for certain that there is something beyond this life. The honest truth is; we don't know.

I really don't see much difference between atheists and religous people, they are both (for the most part) slaves to belief systems, the only difference being that an atheist's belief system is based upon science and "rationality". The other main similarity is their strong desire to preach their dogma to others and also their intolerance of people who disagree with them.
"For me, it is far better to grasp the Universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring."

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Re: The Dawkins Dilemma

Postby retrofuturist » Wed Dec 09, 2009 11:18 pm

Greetings,

Chris wrote:Many of us live in areas with such slow downloading that we are unable to watch this video.
Could you post a precis of the points he is making, and your thoughts on them, so we can all join in the discussion please?


Agreed... that would be nice.

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


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Re: The Dawkins Dilemma

Postby Tex » Wed Dec 09, 2009 11:39 pm

I read The God Delusion and liked a lot of what he had to say.

But Sam Harris and Daniel Dennett make most of same points and do a much better job, in my opinion.

Dawkins comes across as bitter and almost militant in his critiques (and he mentions that he was raised and educated in Christian schools, so maybe his bitterness is understandable), whereas Harris and Dennett come across as philosophers skillfully showing the flaws and dangers in theism, pulling no punches, but sounding less angry and more thoughtful in their critiques.
"The serene and peaceful mind is the true epitome of human achievement."-- Ajahn Chah, Living Dhamma

"To reach beyond fear and danger we must sharpen and widen our vision. We have to pierce through the deceptions that lull us into a comfortable complacency, to take a straight look down into the depths of our existence, without turning away uneasily or running after distractions." -- Bhikkhu Bodhi
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Re: The Dawkins Dilemma

Postby acinteyyo » Thu Dec 10, 2009 12:04 am

Chris wrote:Many of us live in areas with such slow downloading that we are unable to watch this video.
Could you post a precis of the points he is making, and your thoughts on them, so we can all join in the discussion please?

transcript of the talk
Last edited by acinteyyo on Thu Dec 10, 2009 1:43 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Pubbe cāhaṃ bhikkhave, etarahi ca dukkhañceva paññāpemi, dukkhassa ca nirodhaṃ. (M.22)
Both formerly, monks, and now, it is just suffering that I make known and the ending of suffering.
Pathabyā ekarajjena, saggassa gamanena vā sabbalokādhipaccena, sotāpattiphalaṃ varaṃ. (Dhp 178)
Sole dominion over the earth, going to heaven or lordship over all worlds: the fruit of stream-entry excels them.

:anjali:
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Re: The Dawkins Dilemma

Postby retrofuturist » Thu Dec 10, 2009 12:11 am

Greetings Dhammabodhi,

I'd like to know what you think about the approach he advocates and how and why should we reject it to follow a Buddhist path?


I don't see anything inherently incompatible between them.

Is the peace one experiences through meditation just a 'security blanket' which is self-decieving?


Not at all, quite the opposite in fact.

As a side note, I've heard that Dawkins doesn't classify Buddhism as a religion. This 'security blanket' is the belief in something unproveable just because it makes one feel more safe. This 'security blanket' does not exist in the Dhamma.

Metta,
Retro. :)

P.S. Thanks for the transcipt, acinteyyo!
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 Dawkins Dilemma

Postby Tex » Thu Dec 10, 2009 12:30 am

retrofuturist wrote:
As a side note, I've heard that Dawkins doesn't classify Buddhism as a religion.


Yes, Dawkins wrote in The God Delusion: "For my purposes, all three Abrahamic religions can be treated as indistinguishable. ... I shall not be concerned at all with other religions such as Buddhism or Confucianism. Indeed, there is something to be said for treating these not as religions at all but as ethical systems or philosophies of life." (pp 58,59)
Last edited by Tex on Thu Dec 10, 2009 3:20 am, edited 1 time in total.
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"To reach beyond fear and danger we must sharpen and widen our vision. We have to pierce through the deceptions that lull us into a comfortable complacency, to take a straight look down into the depths of our existence, without turning away uneasily or running after distractions." -- Bhikkhu Bodhi
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Re: The Dawkins Dilemma

Postby Mawkish1983 » Thu Dec 10, 2009 12:36 am

Tex wrote:Dawkins specifically mentions that there is reason to view Buddhism apart from other religions.

How terribly nice of him.

Sorry. I find Dawkins to be... abrasive. Might have to do a bit of reflection on that...
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Re: The Dawkins Dilemma

Postby BlackBird » Thu Dec 10, 2009 12:48 am

Chris wrote:Many of us live in areas with such slow downloading that we are unable to watch this video.
Could you post a precis of the points he is making, and your thoughts on them, so we can all join in the discussion please?


Hi Chris, here's a transcript of that talk:

(Applause)

That’s very kind thank you very much

Now it’s sometimes said that human’s need religion, even if it isn’t true. They need the comfort, of religion. I think there’s something rather patronizing about that, rather condescending about it, but… That’s what people say, often atheists say it.

Of course you and I are too intelligent to need religion, but what about all those poor people out there who need the comfort of religion? Humanities need for comfort is of course real. But isn’t there something childish, something infantile, in the belief that the universe owes us comfort, in the sense that if something is comforting, that must kind of make it true. Isaac Asimov’s remark, about the infantilism of pseudo-science is just as applicable to religion, he said: “Inspect every piece of pseudo science and you will find a security blanket, a thumb to suck, a skirt to hold.” And it is astonishing how many people are unable to understand that ‘X is comforting’ does not imply ‘X is true.’

A related plaint concerns the need for in purpose [sic] in life. To quote one Canadian critic:
The atheists may be right about god, who knows. But god or no god, it’s clear that something in the human soul requires the belief that life has a purpose that transcends the material plane. One would think that a more rational-than-thou empiricist such as Dawkins would recognize this unchanging aspect of human nature. Does Dawkins really think that this world would be a more human place if we all looked to the ‘God Delusion’ instead of the Bible for truth and comfort?”

Actually yes.

(Laughter and applause from audience)

Since you mention humane, yes I do. But I must repeat, yet again, that the consolation content of the belief, does not raise it’s truth value.
I can’t deny the need for emotional comfort, and I claim that the world view adopted in my book, offers any more than moderate comfort. If you’re afraid of death for example, you might superficially think that a priest, who tells you that you’re not really going to die, would be more comforting than a scientist who tells you it is highly implausible that our individuality could survive the decay of our brains. But I have heard (laughter from audience) I have heard experienced nurses, who have worked all their lives in old people’s homes say that the ones who are most terrified of death, tend to be the Roman Catholics. All that guilt, fed from the cradle up and the terror of purgatory and hell. As for eternal nothingness, is it really all that frightening? As Mark Twain said: "I do not fear death, I’d been dead for billions and billions of years, before I was born and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience. "
In any case, I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone at a funeral who desense [sic] from the view, my view that the non-religious parts; the eulogies, the deceased’s favorite poems, or music, those non religious parts, are always more moving, than the prayers.
I want to end by reading the opening lines of a previous book of mine ‘Unweaving the Rainbow’ these are lines that I’ve long earmarked for my own funeral:

We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die, because they are never going to be born. The potential people that could have been here in my place, but who will in fact will never see the light of day, outnumber the sand grains of Sahara. Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats, scientists greater than Newton. We know this, because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA, so massively outnumbers the set of actual people. In the teeth of these stupefying odds, it is you and I in our ordinariness that are here. We privileged few who won the lottery of birth against all odds, how dare we whine, about our inevitable return to that prior state, for which the vast majority, have never stirred.
Thank you, very much

(Applause and ovation)
Last edited by BlackBird on Thu Dec 10, 2009 12:58 am, edited 1 time in total.
"For a disciple who has conviction in the Teacher's message & lives to penetrate it, what accords with the Dhamma is this:
'The Blessed One is the Teacher, I am a disciple. He is the one who knows, not I." - MN. 70 Kitagiri Sutta
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Re: The Dawkins Dilemma

Postby BlackBird » Thu Dec 10, 2009 12:57 am

Ah, acinteyyo's one step ahead of me :thumbsup:

I can see a rather large contradiction in the first few lines of Dawkins' speech, but perhaps that was for dramatic effect.
"For a disciple who has conviction in the Teacher's message & lives to penetrate it, what accords with the Dhamma is this:
'The Blessed One is the Teacher, I am a disciple. He is the one who knows, not I." - MN. 70 Kitagiri Sutta
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Re: The Dawkins Dilemma

Postby pink_trike » Thu Dec 10, 2009 1:20 am

retrofuturist wrote:Not at all, quite the opposite in fact.


That's right on the money. The "peace" arises in part from the acknowledgement that there are no security blankets and that the nature of "reality" is uncertainty.

retrofuturist wrote:This 'security blanket' is the belief in something unproveable just because it makes one feel more safe. This 'security blanket' does not exist in the Dhamma.


...even though many Buddhists are wrapped snug in layers of "Buddhist" security blankets of their own making.
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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Re: The Dawkins Dilemma

Postby retrofuturist » Thu Dec 10, 2009 1:28 am

Greetings pink_trike,

That's precisely why I said "the Dhamma" and not "Buddhism".

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 Dawkins Dilemma

Postby Dhammabodhi » Thu Dec 10, 2009 2:18 am

Hi everyone,

Thank you for all your replies! :anjali: :anjali:

I'm sorry I was late in providing the transcript, thanks acinteyyo and Blackbird! :bow:

Ben, I agree with you. But as a highly experienced pratictioner your fact, is my faith. And faith waivers, especially when the 'rational' mind knocks on the door. Due to my own shortcomings I am unable to see.

Chris, as is evident, my take on this is of a confused person, lost in the 'thicket of views'. For me, the third and the fourth noble truths give the kind of comfort and purpose of life that Dawkins is talking about. Perhaps I've got it all wrong, that's why the doubt. I'll explain more below.

Blackbird wrote:Do we admire Hitler for his courage during those early years?

As for Dawkins himself, he clearly differs from Hitler in that he opposes all those things that are carried on in the name of religion that are not just illogical, but unjust and a lot of times fraudulent, not to mention violent. As far as I'm concerned, courage to stand up against what is wrong is admirable. Does the way he presents his views skilful? I don't think so, because a) people who don't base their lives on reason can't be reasoned with in hope of changing them, and b) his way is perceived to be harsh and disrespectful, even to some atheists. He argues in the same lecture in UC Berkeley (but in another video) that even critics for theaters, art, or restaurants are outright rude and it is socially acceptable.

Laurens and Tex, I see your point. But nevertheless, his vocal and straightforward ways don't make him wrong, and raising awareness about science and rationality in this way probably reaches a wider audience. I remember it's somewhere in the Suttas that the Buddha asked us to speak through logic and reason, even though others might not like to hear what's being said.

I do agree though that he does not appear to be so well-versed with Buddhist philosophy. But he's extremely vocal against some New-age gurus like Chopra who under the garb of Buddhism or Hinduism or some other mixture of esoteric eastern mystical traditions take huge amounts of money for 'spiritual healing'. He is perfectly justified in this in my view.

retrofuturist wrote:I don't see anything inherently incompatible between them.


The incompatibility lies in the problem of 'after-death'. He clearly advocates a nihilist point of view which the Buddha has denied. This of course doesn't effect the present moment. So it is not the incompatibility that is a problem, but to ask questions from one point of view to the other is. For a beginner like me, experiencing fleeting moments of profound peace has changed my world view completely. So much so that I'm strongly inclined to commit completely to the path. But, as he says, 'just because X is comforting doesn't mean X is true'...which I take to mean that I should question whether I should take as my goal a purported future enlightenment, for which I have not seen any evidence, just because I have an 'intuition' for it and the practice gives me peace and comfort in my life. This is the reason for my vicikicca. The Kalama Sutta comes to mind, but if I am honest with myself, I have to say that I'm susceptible, like many people, to this 'need' for a higher purpose and following it through in this life. Through personal experience I do have a very strong feeling that I'm on the right path, but I have to keep asking questions to be sure that I'm not deluding myself.

Thanks again for all your comments. I'll of course keep practicing, and try to see. I know of a particularly big giant whose shoulders I can stand on. :)

Metta, :anjali:
Dhammabodhi
-Samāhitam cittam yathābhutam pajānāti.

समाहितं चित्तं यथाभूतं पजानाती |

A concentrated mind sees things as they really are.

-Ujuko nāma so maggo, abhayā nāma sā disā.

उजुको नाम सो माग्गो, अभया नाम सा दिसा |

'Straight' is this path, fearlessness is its way.
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