Challenging the Dhamma

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Samraj
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Challenging the Dhamma

Post by Samraj »

-- edited March 2015 for the sake of clarity --

Hello everyone, this is my first post and I would like to share with you my doubts on the dhamma. My aim is to see if some of you ever thought about these points, which IMO are macroscopic logical problems inherent to Buddhist teachings, and to know what is your personal opinion on these delicate issues.

(x) General Anicca/Viparinama understanding
I understand that one of the main point of Buddhism is to highlight how everything is anicca or non-continuous, this is so central to the doctrine that all the other 2 lakkhana are sillogistically derived from this, the syllogism goes:
- All dhammas (phenomena, events) are anicca or non continuous
- Since all dhamma are non continuous, they are unsatisfactory (dukkha) [implying that sukkha is to be experienced only in conjunction with a continuous or permanent phenomenon]
- Since all phenomena are dukkha, none of them can ever be taken as I, mine or myself (atta) [implying that atta can be predicated, again, only in reference to a permanent phenomenon]


(a) Anicca/Viparinama and the external object
My point on Anicca is very simple: it is logically not possible that all phenomena are non continuous, since the very act of recognising discontinuity logically presupposes that of continuity: discontinuity has meaning only if it is contrasted with its opposite, continuity. If really all phenomena were anicca, then there would be no way to “measure” the variations and discontinuities of any phenomenon.
I am here taking Anicca as an ontological statement, i.e. a statement which can be applied to all beings, to the 'ontological system' as a whole. If your ontology is founded on the statement 'all beings are impermanent' or 'all the elements of the system are impermanent', then there is no way to utter any meaningful statement - not even the Anicca doctrine itself, because you have a system which comprises only differences and no identities, and from which is consequently not possible to retrieve any information. No information = no meaningful propositions of any kind.
Imagine you are in a lab and your daily task is to take note of the different numbers (states) of a rolling dice. Maybe you have a bowl or something similar, on which you throw the dice to produce the rolling motion. Well what if the dice never stops rolling? What number are you going to note on your notebook? You can start you task only if the dice stops. If the dice never stops (if there is only differences and no identities in the system) then there is no information to retrieve.


(b) Anicca/Viparinama and the subject
Again the same reasoning can be applied to the Anatta doctrine.
If all the elements of the system are impermanent, then not only the objects are always differing from themlselves, but also the subjects. If the subjects are always differing from themselves, again they are not able to obtain any information about any internal or external object. To say that the subject (or the khandhas) is impermanent is like saying you have no long-term memory. The fact that human beings can obtain and remember information, like that of a natural language, proves that there is a continuity in subjectivities. If I wish, I can bring back to a memory of something that happened to me more than 20 years ago. Well, how is it possible that I can perform this mnemonic operation? It is possible since memory is continuous, so continuous that I can in every moment, at my choice, retrieve a single mnemonic data from it. If there were no continuity in my memory, then I could not be able to recall memories from my own past, being it short or long term.


(c) Anicca/Viparinama and the 18 Ayatanas
Another point that strikes me is how the dhatu model, which describes 5 sensory vinnana plus the additional cognitive mano-vinnana, fails to recognise the role of the mental faculty which observes and takes note of the other phenomena. According to this model, mano-vinnana is a conditioned phenomenon which arises only when the corresponding sense-base (mano) makes contact with its object (dhamma). And following the famous Sabba sutta in SN which states that ‘sabba is the 5 sensory vinnanas plus the mano-vinnana’, we have to understand that there is no other mental process than the mano-vinnana.
The point here concerns the turning of attention: how is it that in meditation I can move the point of my observation? When I meditate I can recognise the quality of a specific vedana in my body, or or a fragrance in the air or otherwise I can turn the attention to the breath or to other internal objects. But what happens when sensory and cognitive data are simultaneously present? From my direct experience I can see that I can freely move the attention from one data to the other, from the sensory to the cognitive. The point is ‘what is the process that moves the observation’? It seems that the Dhamma fails to account for this mental process.


I would like to hear you opinion about these issues, maybe I simply got it all wrong. The weird thing is that I recognised these issues when meditating, which according to the Dhamma is a practice aimed toward the direct experience of anicca and anatta..
Last edited by Samraj on Sun Mar 08, 2015 9:27 am, edited 4 times in total.
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Mkoll
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Re: Challenging the Dhamma

Post by Mkoll »

Doubt is the fifth hindrance. Doubt is also one of the fetters that is cut at stream-entry. Ideally, doubt should be decreasing with practice and study, not increasing. Maybe instead of focusing on doubts and things that cause doubt to arise, you could focus on more wholesome dhammas and things that cause wholesome dhammas to arise?

I know I'm not addressing any of your doubts because I don't follow your logic, no offense intended. But that's what I think anyway.
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mikenz66
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Re: Challenging the Dhamma

Post by mikenz66 »

Why there is no place for memory in the five khandas?
the usual understanding is that memory comes under sañña, perception.

See, for example:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sa%E1%B9%8 ... #Theravada
http://what-buddha-said.net/library/Bud ... 3%B1%C4%81

:anjali:
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Re: Challenging the Dhamma

Post by Spiny Norman »

Samraj wrote: This notion of discontinuity is very similar to that of information. As to my knowledge, only a difference can produce information – if a system shows no differences, there is no information in it. But of course it is given that I can recognise that information only if differences alter, or modify, the underlying identity or continuity of the system itself. If the system shows only differences, then there’s no way to obtain information from it. Isn’t this logically plain and simple? How can the dhamma say something so illogical?
Sorry but I'm not following your logic here. Just observe carefully from your own experience and see if you can find anything unchanging or permanent.
Samraj wrote:Why there is no place for memory in the five khandas? If I wish, I can bring back to mind a memory of something that happened to me more than 20 years ago. Well, how is it possible that I can perform this mnemonic operation?
Memory is included in the perception aggregate ( sanna ). But memory too is inconstant and impermanent, and gets increasingly unreliable as one ages.

This might be of interest: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/System. Pretty much everything we experience can be regarded as as system - machines, organisations, but also natural systems like the weather or the body. Note that systems are always dynamic, so it's more accurate to describe them as a set of interacting processes than components.
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Samraj
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Re: Challenging the Dhamma

Post by Samraj »

Spiny Norman wrote: Sorry but I'm not following your logic here. Just observe carefully from your own experience and see if you can find anything unchanging or permanent.
This is incredibly simple, I just can't see how you can't get it.
You can talk about discontinuity only because you are contrasting it with continuity. If really all things are non continuous, then there so way to predicate discontinuity itself.
As shown in the example, you can say that something is non-continuous, that is you can recognise variations in a being, only if those variations are differences applied to a constant structure. If really all beings/entities were non continuous:
(1) you could not predicate anything about that being, since there are only variations in it.
(2) you could not 'recognise' the variations of a being, since you (the observer) are non continuous, thus you are not able to compare the present characteristics of the being with the ones it had in any previous state.

The very fact that we humans can talk about discontinuity implies that
(a) the degree of variation in external entities is so weak that we can recognise discontinuity, unless we will not be able to predicate anything.
(b) the observer is endowed with the degree of continuity that allows him to recognise variations by comparing the different states of the external entities.

The same logical error applies to the opposite position:
if you say that all being are continuous, or permanent, then you cannot predicate anything about anything, since without differences there is no information. If a system, or a being, is so stable that has no noticeable variations, then there's no information and you cannot say anything about it.

Spiny Norman wrote: Memory is included in the perception aggregate ( sanna ). But memory too is inconstant and impermanent, and gets increasingly unreliable as one ages.
Of course memory like all other mental functions fades. But in fact the dhatu model esplicitly says that the vinnana happens when the sensory-cognitive object comes into contact with the well functioning sense-base.
Last edited by Samraj on Sun Mar 08, 2015 7:40 am, edited 2 times in total.
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seeker242
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Re: Challenging the Dhamma

Post by seeker242 »

Samraj wrote: (a) Well my point on Anicca is very simple: it is logically not possible that all phenomena are non continuous, since the very act of recognising discontinuity logically presupposes the category of continuity: discontinuity has meaning only if it is contrasted with its opposite, continuity. If really all phenomena were anicca, then there would be no way to “measure” the variations and discontinuities of any phenomenon.
This notion of discontinuity is very similar to that of information. As to my knowledge, only a difference can produce information – if a system shows no differences, there is no information in it. But of course it is given that I can recognise that information only if differences alter, or modify, the underlying identity or continuity of the system itself. If the system shows only differences, then there’s no way to obtain information from it. Isn’t this logically plain and simple? How can the dhamma say something so illogical?
Personally, that does not appear illogical to me. Impermanence is being observed in contrast to continuity. "Discontinuity has meaning only if it is contrasted with its opposite, continuity". Yes, and it is being contrasted with it's opposite and information is gained from observing the differences. The truth of the matter, as the Buddha taught, is that the appearance of continuity is only that, just an appearance. An appearance that arises from wrong perceptions. We believe there is a continuity. Remove wrong perceptions and what was once seen as having continuity, is now seen as having no continuity. The Buddha taught that we have a perception of continuity and that is what the discontinuity is compared to, contrasted, measured against, etc. The missing ingredient, so to speak, that you are trying to point out is actually the perception of continuity or our belief in continuity, not a real continuity itself. If you were to restate the argument and substitute "perception/belief of continuity" for "continuity", it no longer appears illogical because we actually do perceive a continuity.
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Re: Challenging the Dhamma

Post by Spiny Norman »

Samraj wrote:
Spiny Norman wrote: Sorry but I'm not following your logic here. Just observe carefully from your own experience and see if you can find anything unchanging or permanent.
You can talk about discontinuity only because you are contrasting it with continuity. If really all things are non continuous, then there so way to predicate discontinuity itself.
No, I'm talking about inconstancy as contrasted with constancy. And continuity itself is a meaningless concept without change.
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Samraj
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Re: Challenging the Dhamma

Post by Samraj »

seeker242 wrote:
Samraj wrote: The missing ingredient, so to speak, that you are trying to point out is actually the perception of continuity or our belief in continuity, not a real continuity itself. If you were to restate the argument and substitute "perception/belief of continuity" for "continuity", it no longer appears illogical because we actually do perceive a continuity.
The problem is that continuity is not a perception or a belief, since it comes before any conceptualisation.
It is pre-linguistic: it is not that we are told in school that there are two concepts, identity and difference, or continuity and discontinuity. Is a category so fundamental that it is naturally inherent to living beings. Shoul I say it is a transcendental?
Even a cub possesses these two notions: the young animal can naturally recognise the smell of her mother, that is he can smell an odour an (in its own way) reply to this question: 'is this odour identical or different from the smell of my mother, or is it continuous or discontinuous with the smell of my mother?' The same holds for us: infants don't need to be told how to recognise their mothers (and later their fathers). They naturally can reply to the question 'is this person in front of me identical of different from my mother?'
Samraj
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Re: Challenging the Dhamma

Post by Samraj »

Spiny Norman wrote: No, I'm talking about inconstancy as contrasted with constancy. And continuity itself is a meaningless concept without change.
Of course that's what I am saying.
Continuity and discontinuity are only two aspects of becoming. It has no sense to take one of the two as the fundamental ontological character of being.
The system which contains exclusively differences, as well as the one with contains no differences, contain no information.
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Re: Challenging the Dhamma

Post by Lazy_eye »

But the Buddha did not teach that discontinuity is "the fundamental character of being." On the contrary, he taught that we are "heirs to our kamma."

Phenomena, according to Buddhism, arise as a result of causes and conditions. Continuity happens at the provisional level as a result of kamma-vipaka, and at the absolute level as a function of idapaccayata (this-that conditionality).

What he taught was impermanence, not discontinuity. And even this is not so much an ontological principle as a refutation of one (I.e. the concept of permanence).

In general, the Buddha's purpose wasn't to set up a philosophical system but to deconstruct specific concepts (such as the notion of a permanent essence or self) that perpetuate dukkha. Ultimately even the Buddha's teachings are to be abandoned (once one has "crossed to the other shore").
Last edited by Lazy_eye on Sun Aug 31, 2014 2:11 pm, edited 11 times in total.
Dan74
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Re: Challenging the Dhamma

Post by Dan74 »

What you denote by continuity is just the greater or lesser degrees of discontinuity. So for instance all mammals perceive a loud bang - a discontinuity in their auditory field. But the field was hardly constant prior to that.

In any case, the Buddha taught in terms of permanence, not continuity.
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Re: Challenging the Dhamma

Post by Spiny Norman »

Samraj wrote: Even a cub possesses these two notions: the young animal can naturally recognise the smell of her mother, that is he can smell an odour an (in its own way) reply to this question: 'is this odour identical or different from the smell of my mother, or is it continuous or discontinuous with the smell of my mother?' '
I'm now struggling with your definition of continuity. I don't see how identical = continuous.

Could you say exactly what you mean by "continuous"?
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Samraj
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Re: Challenging the Dhamma

Post by Samraj »

Lazy_eye wrote: What he taught was impermanence, not discontinuity. And even this is not so much an ontological principle as a refutation of one (I.e. the concept of permanence).
Permanence is only a synonym of continuity.
And in clear to me how the tilakkhana are the ontological statements of Buddhism.

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/auth ... el186.html

[/quote]
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Re: Challenging the Dhamma

Post by Spiny Norman »

Samraj wrote: Permanence is only a synonym of continuity.
Well, no. As I understand it, the primary meaning of continuous is "uninterrupted". http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/continuous

You could talk about a quality of something being continuous, eg "That traffic light was stuck continuously on red". But in the real world that wouldn't be a permanent state of affairs. ;)
Last edited by Spiny Norman on Sun Aug 31, 2014 2:47 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Challenging the Dhamma

Post by Sanjay PS »

How can one challenge Dhamma , when one is very much a part of Dhamma .

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The path of Dhamma is no picnic . It is a strenuous march steeply up the hill . If all the comrades desert you , Walk alone ! Walk alone ! with all the Thrill !!

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