Materialism, Dualism, Buddhism

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Materialism, Dualism, Buddhism

Postby Lazy_eye » Mon Jul 12, 2010 12:46 pm

Hi,

It seems generally acknowledged that Buddhism does not make a good fit with materialism, and I sometimes hear it said (or implied) that it is a form of dualism. But this seems unSATIsfying too. What do you think?

Buddhism is not materialism because...

-- it posits the existence of "formless realms"
-- according to materialism, all the aggregates are simply aspects of form
-- materialism identifies a self based on physical form
-- rebirth is impossible, as there is no logical mechanism by which brain functioning in a dying body could "cause" brain functioning in an embryo somewhere else.
-- if materalism were true, the problem of suffering could be solved through purely physical means: medical intervention, massage, exercise, yoga, the right combination of booze and caffeine

Buddhism is not dualism because...

-- substance dualism, at least, claims there is a category called "consciousness" which exists independently -- but this contradicts dependent origination and amounts to eternalism.
-- rebirth results from causality, not continuity
-- with regard to the form realms, Buddhism is actually closer to materialism because it teaches that conscious experience happens in conjunction with (physical) sense organs
-- "name-and-form" and "consciousness" are described as conditions for each other ("it is as if two sheaves of reeds were to stand leaning against one another...from name-&-form as a requisite condition comes consciousness, from consciousness as a requisite condition comes name-&-form...")

Therefore, Buddhism is not a form of substance dualism either. The topics which are occasionally posted regarding NDEs, mental activity in patients with severe brain damage, Alzheimer's and so on actually have no real implications for the dhamma. That is, the truth-value of the dhamma does not depend on these phenomena.

Because in the form realm, consciousness arises together with form, it would be consistent with the dhamma if we find that damage to the phyiscal brain impacts conscious experience. At the same time, because consciousness is not the same thing as form, it would also be consistent with the dhamma if we find that the experience of consciousness (e.g. qualia) cannot be explained purely in terms of matter.

What I'm getting from all this is that the dhamma cannot really be made to fit Western philosophy of mind very conveniently, though some type of property (as opposed to substance) dualism might be the closest equivalent, or perhaps phenomenalism. The dhamma offers an altogether different paradigm, which in part overlaps materialism, and in part overlaps dualism. Further, these categories are very similar to ones rejected in MN 63 as being outside the scope of the Buddha's teachings, and when the Buddha rejected ontological explanations, he provided Dependent Origination as the alternative.

Of course there are other categories and subcategories besides the ones I described, but maybe that is something to go into later.
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Re: Materialism, Dualism, Buddhism

Postby Lazy_eye » Tue Jul 13, 2010 10:50 am

Well, that one went off like wet fireworks! :) No takers?

Please let me know if my understanding of the dhamma is in error, so I don't compound the error in future posts!
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Re: Materialism, Dualism, Buddhism

Postby PeterB » Tue Jul 13, 2010 11:01 am

Certainly the Theravada is not posited on a basis of Non Dualism. Non Dualism is not consistent with Dependant Origination. The idea that Buddhadhamma is non dualistic is one of the major and most pernicious obstacles est to understanding what the Buddha actually taught.
Materialism as a set of concepts is a largely a product of western philosophy. It too is inconsistent with Dependant Origination.
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Re: Materialism, Dualism, Buddhism

Postby Shonin » Tue Jul 13, 2010 11:03 am

Peter,

PeterB wrote:Certainly the Theravada is not posited on a basis of Non Dualism. Non Dualism is not consistent with Dependant Origination.


What do you mean by this? What do you mean by 'Non Dualism' and in what way is it inconsistent with DO?
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Re: Materialism, Dualism, Buddhism

Postby PeterB » Tue Jul 13, 2010 11:15 am

I am using the term Non Dualism with capitals, to refer to that philosophy found in the Vedanta and some other systems which take their starting point from the position There Is Only One or more accurately There Is Not Two.

The fact that this is not consistent with Dependant Origination is self explanatory.

Buddhadhamma is posited on a basis which is neither materialistic nor non dualistic.
It in fact takes its position from a different mind set and different set of propositions. i.e. That all phenomena have transient existence. And that transient existence consists of an infinite ( to all extents and purposes ) number of processes arising in mutuality.
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Re: Materialism, Dualism, Buddhism

Postby Lazy_eye » Tue Jul 13, 2010 11:45 am

Hi Peter, yes I just looking at these remarks by Bhikkhu Bodhi:

The teaching of the Buddha as found in the Pali canon does not endorse a philosophy of non-dualism of any variety, nor, I would add, can a non-dualistic perspective be found lying implicit within the Buddha's discourses. At the same time, however, I would not maintain that the Pali Suttas propose dualism, the positing of duality as a metaphysical hypothesis aimed at intellectual assent. I would characterize the Buddha's intent in the Canon as primarily pragmatic rather than speculative...


http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/auth ... ay_27.html

I should clarify, though, that Indian non-duality traditions are somewhat beyond the scope of the OP. I'm just concerned here with dualism vs. materialism as they apply to consciousness...i.e. the "mind/body problem".

My assertion is that the Buddha did not teach materialism (mind is reducible to matter) nor did he teach dualism (mind can exist all by itself, independently of matter); rather he taught D.O. Therefore, topics such as NDEs, the effects of brain damage, out of body travel, and so on have no actual relevance to the dhamma, interesting as they may be. I guess a related question would be: in Theravada, is there some point in the process where consciousness exists in a disembodied state, without the form aggregate? My understanding is that the answer -- for beings in the form realm, at least -- is no.

Namaste,

LE
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Re: Materialism, Dualism, Buddhism

Postby PeterB » Tue Jul 13, 2010 11:54 am

The khandas arise together in mutual Dependence along with everything else. There is no unchanging "thing" that observes this. Consciousness is arising as one of a mutually dependant series of processes.
There is no ghost in the machine, Neither "soul" nor " Buddhadhatu. " We are verbs not nouns. There is no noun object which is outside of, or different to, the verbs.
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Re: Materialism, Dualism, Buddhism

Postby altar » Tue Jul 13, 2010 11:58 am

Maybe you could say in buddhism we are not the owners of material but the owners of our actions. So it is more actionism, or is this term not worth it?
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Re: Materialism, Dualism, Buddhism

Postby PeterB » Tue Jul 13, 2010 12:01 pm

There are actions Altar. The act of identifying them as ours is another action.
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Re: Materialism, Dualism, Buddhism

Postby Shonin » Tue Jul 13, 2010 1:23 pm

PeterB wrote:I am using the term Non Dualism with capitals, to refer to that philosophy found in the Vedanta and some other systems which take their starting point from the position There Is Only One or more accurately There Is Not Two.

The fact that this is not consistent with Dependant Origination is self explanatory.

Buddhadhamma is posited on a basis which is neither materialistic nor non dualistic.
It in fact takes its position from a different mind set and different set of propositions. i.e. That all phenomena have transient existence. And that transient existence consists of an infinite ( to all extents and purposes ) number of processes arising in mutuality.



What you have described is not Non-dualism. You have described Monism.

Here's a rundown:
Dualism: There are two fundamentally different kinds of 'stuff'.
Monism: Fundamentally, there is only one kind of stuff - mind or matter. There are two types:
- Idealism: Everything is Mind - the appearance of physical things is a kind of illusion
- Physicalism: Everything is Physical - the appearance of mental things is a kind of illusion

Non-dualism is a rejection of Dualism without asserting a Monism. Mind and Matter are 'not two' - they arise together in some sense. Yet we don't need to speculate about what the ultimate nature of reality is. In the context of Buddhism, Non-dualism is the experience of seeing the constructed, conditional nature of the distinction between self and other. In other words it is insight into Anatta. I don't know modern Vedanta very well, however if it is consistent with it's antecedents then this is an ontological theory about Non-dualism - that mind and matter are aspects of Ultimate Reality (Brahman) or some such.

The Buddha tended to avoid such ontological speculation are irrelevant. However he certainly rejected dualistic theories about a self and showed that 'the conceit I am' is a construct. With Dependent Origination, some conditions are what we would call physical and others are mental. This would be inconsistent with Dualism.

But Non-dualism, first and foremost in the context of Buddhism, is an experience - the falling away of 'the conceit 'I am''.
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Re: Materialism, Dualism, Buddhism

Postby Hoo » Tue Jul 13, 2010 2:14 pm

Lazy_eye wrote:......I just looking at these remarks by Bhikkhu Bodhi:

The teaching of the Buddha as found in the Pali canon does not endorse a philosophy of non-dualism of any variety, nor, I would add, can a non-dualistic perspective be found lying implicit within the Buddha's discourses. At the same time, however, I would not maintain that the Pali Suttas propose dualism, the positing of duality as a metaphysical hypothesis aimed at intellectual assent. I would characterize the Buddha's intent in the Canon as primarily pragmatic rather than speculative...



Hi LE,

I'd suggest that Bodhi is probably your best resource for Buddhist / philosophical questions. He's degreed in philosophy and is a monk, so IMHO he's likely to be best qualified to address both sides of the issues.

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Re: Materialism, Dualism, Buddhism

Postby PeterB » Tue Jul 13, 2010 2:22 pm

Hoo wrote:
Lazy_eye wrote:......I just looking at these remarks by Bhikkhu Bodhi:

The teaching of the Buddha as found in the Pali canon does not endorse a philosophy of non-dualism of any variety, nor, I would add, can a non-dualistic perspective be found lying implicit within the Buddha's discourses. At the same time, however, I would not maintain that the Pali Suttas propose dualism, the positing of duality as a metaphysical hypothesis aimed at intellectual assent. I would characterize the Buddha's intent in the Canon as primarily pragmatic rather than speculative...



Hi LE,

I'd suggest that Bodhi is probably your best resource for Buddhist / philosophical questions. He's degreed in philosophy and is a monk, so IMHO he's likely to be best qualified to address both sides of the issues.

Hoo

I cant better the above and wouldn't try. No non dualistic perspective to be found in the Buddhas teachings. Neither do they expound dualism.
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Re: Materialism, Dualism, Buddhism

Postby Shonin » Tue Jul 13, 2010 2:47 pm

Hoo wrote:I'd suggest that Bodhi is probably your best resource for Buddhist / philosophical questions. He's degreed in philosophy and is a monk, so IMHO he's likely to be best qualified to address both sides of the issues.


Well I degreed in philosophy too and I can tell you that appeal to authority is a logical fallacy - even the appeal to the authority of someone who degreed in philosophy and is a monk. It is the substance of what he says that counts. Non-dualism is not a western philosophical term nor is it a term taught in Theravada. Therefore, what understanding is Bodhi likely to have of it? Does he even have a clear understanding of what it refers to?
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Re: Materialism, Dualism, Buddhism

Postby Shonin » Tue Jul 13, 2010 2:48 pm

PeterB wrote:I cant better the above and wouldn't try. No non dualistic perspective to be found in the Buddhas teachings. Neither do they expound dualism.


No offence intended but you don't appear to have a clear understanding of what Non-dualism means, so your statement is pretty meaningless. :namaste:
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Re: Materialism, Dualism, Buddhism

Postby PeterB » Tue Jul 13, 2010 2:54 pm

I am quite happy to join Bhikkhu Bodhi in not meeting your standards Shonin.

I think that you are answering a question that the Theravada does not ask. And answering it fully to your own satisfaction..and further you are then suggesting that it is because the Theravda does not understand a question that it does not ask or seek an answer to it.
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Re: Materialism, Dualism, Buddhism

Postby PeterB » Tue Jul 13, 2010 3:02 pm

The appeal to the authority of Bhikkhu Bodhi is not to him as a philosopher. It is to him as one who in his life and teachings shows a consistant degree of Insight into the teachings of the Buddha as found in the Pali Canon.
Insight which has been gained through meditation practises, rather than on websites.
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Re: Materialism, Dualism, Buddhism

Postby Shonin » Tue Jul 13, 2010 3:28 pm

PeterB wrote:I think that you are answering a question that the Theravada does not ask. And answering it fully to your own satisfaction..and further you are then suggesting that it is because the Theravda does not understand a question that it does not ask or seek an answer to it.


Non-duality is an experience. Not an answer to a question. However, the experience of Non-duality can help to bring ideas of an ultimately real Self to an end.

I am not talking about Vedanta-esque ontology as I think you are obliquely implying. The question that Theravada does not ask is ontology ('what is the ultimate nature of reality?') not 'is there an ultimately real self'?
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Re: Materialism, Dualism, Buddhism

Postby PeterB » Tue Jul 13, 2010 3:39 pm

I know no teacher of meditation in the Theravadin tradition who points to an experience of non duality as an end or result of that meditation.
Go to your nearest Theravadin centre and ask about non duality and watch them subtly ( for the most part unless its someone like Ajahn Munindo in which case not so subtly ) move the question towards something that they think is more useful.
There are reasons for this which are not about not knowing about non duality.
It is just possible Shonin that this represents just one real difference between the Theravada and some other Buddhist schools.
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Re: Materialism, Dualism, Buddhism

Postby Lazy_eye » Tue Jul 13, 2010 3:51 pm

Hi again,

Not to quibble, but I think Non-Duality is tangential to the OP, which was asking about Theravada Buddhism's relation to Western philosophy of mind categories, not to Vedanta, Mahayana or other Indian traditions. The term "dualism' has more than one context and perhaps we are mixing them up?

The OP was asking whether the Theravadin view of consciousness amounts to a form of substance dualism. Not about ultimate oneness, unity of all phenomena, samsara=nirvana or any of those other big questions.

My answer was that no, it is not substance dualism because according to Theravada, consciousness does not come into being on its own, but arises together with the other aggregates. Form and mind are mutually dependent. The last moment of past life consciousness takes place in a body, as does the first moment of present life consciousness. There's no point at which consciousness just "hangs in the air" all by itself.

Theravada does not teach that there is a bardo state (and in any case, such a state would also be dependently originated, and there would be "form" too, in the sense of a subtle body). The only state in which consciousness can exist without form is in the formless realms, which is not a default samsaric state but a special state attainable through meditation.

That's how I understand it -- but if I'd like to know if my understanding is correct according to the Pali Canon and authoritative teachers, including Bhikkhu Bodhi.

LE
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Re: Materialism, Dualism, Buddhism

Postby PeterB » Tue Jul 13, 2010 3:59 pm

I think that your understanding is pretty much in line with Bhikkhu Bodhi L.E..but you could always ask him..
A crucial part of the Theravadin understanding is that there is no a priori consciousness , either individual nor collective, no "Buddha Nature". That consciousness arises dependently together with everything else, as you say.
The Buddhadhamma of the Canon is ruthlessly radical.
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