People are ...?

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binocular
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Re: People are ...?

Post by binocular »

retrofuturist wrote: Sat Jun 06, 2020 10:31 amPeople are papañca-saññā-sankhā
And as such, they are mere figments of one's imagination, they don't really exist. They think whatever one says that they think, they feel whatever one says that they feel, they intend whatever one says that they intend.

Sounds familiar!
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Re: People are ...?

Post by binocular »

Dhammanando wrote: Mon Jun 08, 2020 6:07 amJust to be contrary...
May we be contrary to you in return?
It seems most prudent to me to assume that every new person you meet is evil (and perhaps incorrigibly so) unless or until they prove themselves otherwise.
But in doing so, how do you avoid the self-fulfilling prophecy that usually comes about as a consequence of such an outlook?

If one assumes that people are by default evil, one will treat them as if they are evil, and most people will respond in kind, ie. evil.
Only an exceptionally goodwilled (or naive) person will be willing to override the negative assumption of the other person and respond to evil with good.
1. One will never suffer from disappointed expectations.
Disappointed expectations are not a problem as long as one is coming from a position of entitlement, rather than from a position of lack.
2. One will occasionally be in for a pleasant surprise when the assumption turns out to be mistaken.
But also placing the burden of being goodwilled on the other person (which few are willing to shoulder).
3. Since it's stated in numerous suttas that the great majority of humans are headed for rebirth in the lower realms (which obviously doesn't come about as a reward for being virtuous) one's assumption will more often than not be in line with the Dhamma.
Indeed. So Buddhists should be Social Darwinists? Homo homini lupus? Bellum omnium contra omnes?
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Sam Vara
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Re: People are ...?

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binocular wrote: Wed Jun 10, 2020 6:26 pm
Sam Vara wrote: Mon Jun 08, 2020 8:08 amOn an intellectual level the question is interesting in that it throws light on the Dhamma - there have been some interesting responses to this. But I don't think we "put into practice" a set of views about people; rather, they put us into practice.
You mean that a view precedes (the perception) of a person?
In a broad sense, yes, in that we seek people out and make sense of what is going on in a way which is largely out of our control. It is a kammic "habit" rather than a freely-chosen action.
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Re: People are ...?

Post by binocular »

Sam Vara wrote: Wed Jun 10, 2020 6:37 pmIn a broad sense, yes, in that we seek people out and make sense of what is going on in a way which is largely out of our control. It is a kammic "habit" rather than a freely-chosen action.
Maybe so by existential default. But isn't the whole point of Buddhist practice to carefully select one's actions, select one's intentions?
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Re: People are ...?

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binocular wrote: Wed Jun 10, 2020 6:40 pm
Sam Vara wrote: Wed Jun 10, 2020 6:37 pmIn a broad sense, yes, in that we seek people out and make sense of what is going on in a way which is largely out of our control. It is a kammic "habit" rather than a freely-chosen action.
Maybe so by existential default. But isn't the whole point of Buddhist practice to carefully select one's actions, select one's intentions?
Yes, but the problem is that one normally reacts to whatever arises in a conditioned way, without even thinking about it. We need mindfulness and wise attention to show us how we are habitually reacting, and then we can gain some control over it.
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Re: People are ...?

Post by binocular »

Sam Vara wrote: Wed Jun 10, 2020 8:16 pmYes, but the problem is that one normally reacts to whatever arises in a conditioned way, without even thinking about it. We need mindfulness and wise attention to show us how we are habitually reacting, and then we can gain some control over it.
The OP is asking -- In Buddhism, what are the default assumptions about people as such?
This is about doctrine.

A partial answer could be as follows: For example, Thanissaro Bhikkhu teaches that there are only four attitudes that are ever skillful, namely, the four brahmaviharas. In terms of relating to people, this means that one is making one's assumptions about others within the framework of the four brahmaviharas. Which could imply, among other things, that operating on the default assumption that people are essentially evil, is not skillful.

So far, Thanissaro Bhikkhu is the only teacher that I know who teaches something like this, or on this topic. Most Buddhist teachers that I have read/listened to seem to take a more passive approach to communication/interaction.
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Re: People are ...?

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binocular wrote: Wed Jun 10, 2020 8:56 pm
Sam Vara wrote: Wed Jun 10, 2020 8:16 pmYes, but the problem is that one normally reacts to whatever arises in a conditioned way, without even thinking about it. We need mindfulness and wise attention to show us how we are habitually reacting, and then we can gain some control over it.
The OP is asking -- In Buddhism, what are the default assumptions about people as such?
This is about doctrine.

A partial answer could be as follows: For example, Thanissaro Bhikkhu teaches that there are only four attitudes that are ever skillful, namely, the four brahmaviharas. In terms of relating to people, this means that one is making one's assumptions about others within the framework of the four brahmaviharas. Which could imply, among other things, that operating on the default assumption that people are essentially evil, is not skillful.

So far, Thanissaro Bhikkhu is the only teacher that I know who teaches something like this, or on this topic. Most Buddhist teachers that I have read/listened to seem to take a more passive approach to communication/interaction.
As I understand it, the Buddha's words preclude such assumptions because they are views, and are therefore unhelpful. He gave teachings about liberation from which, if we are so inclined, we can make inferences. He didn't teach in order to answer the questions which you think he should answer. Attitudes are not "assumptions about people".
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Kim OHara
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Re: People are ...?

Post by Kim OHara »

Dhammanando wrote: Mon Jun 08, 2020 6:07 am
binocular wrote: Sat Jun 06, 2020 10:15 am In Buddhism, what are the default assumptions about people as such?
Just to be contrary...
That seems to be an invitation to debate... okay, I will bite. :smile:
It seems most prudent to me to assume that every new person you meet is evil (and perhaps incorrigibly so) unless or until they prove themselves otherwise.
"Evil"? Is that even a Buddhist concept? To me, "evil" has always been tied to "sin" against the Christians' God, while the dhamma has always been about personal responsibility and inevitable consequences of actions. That means assuming people are selfish, lazy, greedy, vain, etc, is a legitimately Buddhist response (Three Poisons, and the near and far enemies of the Brahmaviharas, etc) but assuming "evil" is not.
Have I been wrong all these years?
In so doing:

1. One will never suffer from disappointed expectations.

2. One will occasionally be in for a pleasant surprise when the assumption turns out to be mistaken.
That's the classic "glass half empty" approach and I don't think it's a very strong argument. The "glass half full" assumption generates a more positive attitude towards people and events and is somewhat likely to be reciprocated, setting up a virtuous spiral. Yours, on the other hand, sets up a vicious spiral for the same reasons.
I know which world I would prefer to live in.
That sounds selfish doesn't it?
But the world I would prefer to live in is also the world most people would prefer to live in.
3. Since it's stated in numerous suttas that the great majority of humans are headed for rebirth in the lower realms (which obviously doesn't come about as a reward for being virtuous) one's assumption will more often than not be in line with the Dhamma.
I will take your word for the relative frequency of lower and higher destinations according to the suttas, but note that the Buddha was a spectacularly talented teacher alongside his other qualities, and if he thought students would benefit more from the stick than from the carrot, I'm sure he would have mentioned the stick more often than the carrot even if most people weren't really all that bad.
More seriously, if one's assumption leads to a lack of compassion for these (hopeless, evil) people, as it might, it would not be "in line with the dhamma" in the deeper and more important sense.

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Re: People are ...?

Post by Dhammanando »

binocular wrote: Wed Jun 10, 2020 6:36 pmMay we be contrary to you in return?
I should certainly hope so. If Binocular were ever anything but contrary, I fear the ensuing surprise might cause me a heart attack.
:lol:
binocular wrote: Wed Jun 10, 2020 6:36 pmBut in doing so, how do you avoid the self-fulfilling prophecy that usually comes about as a consequence of such an outlook?

If one assumes that people are by default evil, one will treat them as if they are evil, and most people will respond in kind, ie. evil.
Not if you're trying to carry out the Buddha's teaching. In that case you'll do as you quote Ajahn Thanissaro advising and make one or another of the four brahmavihāras the basis of your treatment of them. But note, the brahmavihāras don't require that one hold others in high regard or even particularly like them.

The contrary assumption is based on folk psychology, not Dhamma. In the ordinary person mettā, for example, will be wont to arise more readily towards those he likes than towards anyone else. In folk psychology this gives rise to the sort of assumption that seems to underlie your questions, i.e., that there's an essential relationship between liking people and having mettā for them – that the former is needed for the latter. In the Dhamma, however, there's no incompatibility between an absence of liking and a presence of mettā.

In fact in the Abhidhamma we can put it even more strongly than that: according to momentarist theory it wouldn't be possible in one and the same moment to like someone and to have mettā for them. What we normally call "liking" refers to attachment-rooted consciousnesses, but non-jhānic mettā is present only in great wholesome (mahākusala) consciousnesses in which there is no attachment. And so in the context of a single moment, mettā is as incompatible with liking someone as it is with hating him. Hence the teaching that affection (pema) is the near-enemy of mettā.
binocular wrote: Wed Jun 10, 2020 6:36 pmOnly an exceptionally goodwilled (or naive) person will be willing to override the negative assumption of the other person and respond to evil with good.
And isn't the training in Dhamma aimed at making persons exceptional in all sorts of ways?
binocular wrote: Wed Jun 10, 2020 6:36 pm 3. Since it's stated in numerous suttas that the great majority of humans are headed for rebirth in the lower realms (which obviously doesn't come about as a reward for being virtuous) one's assumption will more often than not be in line with the Dhamma.

Indeed. So Buddhists should be Social Darwinists? Homo homini lupus? Bellum omnium contra omnes?
No and yes. No in the sense that social Darwinism shouldn't be advocated by Buddhists as a desirable state of affairs, but yes in the sense that the "war of all against all" should be acknowledged, firstly, as having been the state of nature before the social contract (the account of this in the King Mahāsammata episode of the Aggañña Sutta matches point for point that in Hobbes's Leviathan) and secondly, as being the state to which humanity is ever-liable to revert.
Anabhirati kho, āvuso, imasmiṃ dhammavinaye dukkhā, abhirati sukhā.

“To not delight in this dhammavinaya, friend, is painful; to delight in it is bliss.”
(Sukhasutta, AN 10:66)
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Re: People are ...?

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Kim OHara wrote: Thu Jun 11, 2020 2:11 am "Evil"? Is that even a Buddhist concept?
I used 'evil' because it happens to be the commonest English translation of pāpa, which is one of the two commonest Pali adjectives for moral badness; the other is akusala, 'unwholesome', 'unskilful'. For me the word 'sin' is quite strongly bound up with theistic systems, but 'evil' isn't. I don't insist on it, however, so by all means substitute whichever adjective you think free of inappropriate connotations:
wicked, bad, wrong, morally wrong, wrongful, immoral, sinful, ungodly, unholy, foul, vile, base, ignoble, dishonourable, corrupt, iniquitous, depraved, degenerate, villainous, nefarious, sinister, vicious, malicious, malevolent, demonic, devilish, diabolic, diabolical, fiendish, dark, black-hearted; monstrous, shocking, despicable, atrocious, heinous, odious, contemptible, horrible, execrable; informal low-down, stinking, dirty, shady, warped, bent, crooked; archaic dastardly, black; rare egregious, flagitious, peccable.
Kim OHara wrote: Thu Jun 11, 2020 2:11 amHave I been wrong all these years?
I wouldn't say 'wrong', but merely that a word as old and polysemous as 'evil' is bound to resonate differently with different people.
Kim OHara wrote: Thu Jun 11, 2020 2:11 am That's the classic "glass half empty" approach and I don't think it's a very strong argument. The "glass half full" assumption generates a more positive attitude towards people and events and is somewhat likely to be reciprocated, setting up a virtuous spiral.

Yours, on the other hand, sets up a vicious spiral for the same reasons.
If the suttas are true, then my assumption is in line with reality. As to what kind of spiral one sets up, surely this will depend on one's words and deeds towards others, not one's assumptions about their probable character.
Anabhirati kho, āvuso, imasmiṃ dhammavinaye dukkhā, abhirati sukhā.

“To not delight in this dhammavinaya, friend, is painful; to delight in it is bliss.”
(Sukhasutta, AN 10:66)
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Re: People are ...?

Post by Nicholas Weeks »

"basic, default assumptions" are fine for personal pondering on what human nature is or if it is.

However it is better not to assume or presume when meeting an individual. Just be empathetic & harmless toward them, even helpful if possible.
Dhamma is against the stream of common thought, deep, subtle, difficult, delicate, unseen by passion’s slaves cloaked in the murk of ignorance. Vipassī Buddha
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Re: People are ...?

Post by binocular »

Dhammanando wrote: Thu Jun 11, 2020 3:40 amI should certainly hope so. If Binocular were ever anything but contrary, I fear the ensuing surprise might cause me a heart attack.
:lol:
Sir, you're placing me in a most uncomfortable predicament!
:juggling:
binocular wrote: Wed Jun 10, 2020 6:36 pmBut in doing so, how do you avoid the self-fulfilling prophecy that usually comes about as a consequence of such an outlook?

If one assumes that people are by default evil, one will treat them as if they are evil, and most people will respond in kind, ie. evil.
Not if you're trying to carry out the Buddha's teaching. In that case you'll do as you quote Ajahn Thanissaro advising and make one or another of the four brahmavihāras the basis of your treatment of them.
Meaning that one's practice of the brahmaviharas essentially has nothing to do with others?

But yes, bringing in the brahmaviharas changes the parameters of dealing with others. Without the brahamaviharas, it usually follows that if one thinks someone is evil, one will treat them poorly, and things stop at that. Worldly goodness is limited and conditional like that.
But note, the brahmavihāras don't require that one hold others in high regard or even particularly like them.
I haven't thought of this, but this is a key point I'll be returning to.
The contrary assumption is based on folk psychology, not Dhamma. In the ordinary person mettā, for example, will be wont to arise more readily towards those he likes than towards anyone else. In folk psychology this gives rise to the sort of assumption that seems to underlie your questions, i.e., that there's an essential relationship between liking people and having mettā for them – that the former is needed for the latter.
In the Dhamma, however, there's no incompatibility between an absence of liking and a presence of mettā.

In fact in the Abhidhamma we can put it even more strongly than that: according to momentarist theory it wouldn't be possible in one and the same moment to like someone and to have mettā for them. What we normally call "liking" refers to attachment-rooted consciousnesses, but non-jhānic mettā is present only in great wholesome (mahākusala) consciousnesses in which there is no attachment. And so in the context of a single moment, mettā is as incompatible with liking someone as it is with hating him. Hence the teaching that affection (pema) is the near-enemy of mettā.
So, for example, when a Buddhist poster writes a post full of contempt for the person he's addressing it to, and then concludes with "Metta", there's, technically, at least, no problem with that.
binocular wrote: Wed Jun 10, 2020 6:36 pmOnly an exceptionally goodwilled (or naive) person will be willing to override the negative assumption of the other person and respond to evil with good.
And isn't the training in Dhamma aimed at making persons exceptional in all sorts of ways?
Oh, of course. The question is whether Buddhists should test eachother like this -- "Let's see who'll be the first to show goodwill".
No and yes. No in the sense that social Darwinism shouldn't be advocated by Buddhists as a desirable state of affairs, but yes in the sense that the "war of all against all" should be acknowledged, firstly, as having been the state of nature before the social contract (the account of this in the King Mahāsammata episode of the Aggañña Sutta matches point for point that in Hobbes's Leviathan) and secondly, as being the state to which humanity is ever-liable to revert.
Fish in a fast shrinking pond fighting for water.
In many ways, Buddhism paints a gloomy picture of humanity. So, naturally, one wonders how to harmonize this with the brahmaviharas, and more generally, with having a positive outlook on life and believing that human life is precious and worth making an effort for.
Last edited by binocular on Sat Jun 13, 2020 3:14 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: People are ...?

Post by binocular »

Dhammanando wrote: Thu Jun 11, 2020 12:08 pmAs to what kind of spiral one sets up, surely this will depend on one's words and deeds towards others, not one's assumptions about their probable character.
But one's assumptions about others determine one's words and deeds toward others, do they not?
Or is that the way of the uninstructed, run-of-the-mill person?

Just asking this to clarify this point for good.
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Re: People are ...?

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binocular wrote: Sat Jun 13, 2020 3:12 pm
Dhammanando wrote: Thu Jun 11, 2020 12:08 pmAs to what kind of spiral one sets up, surely this will depend on one's words and deeds towards others, not one's assumptions about their probable character.
But one's assumptions about others determine one's words and deeds toward others, do they not?
Or is that the way of the uninstructed, run-of-the-mill person?

Just asking this to clarify this point for good.
Not if what one does is for one's own benefit, as part of cultivation of the paramis, for example.
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Re: People are ...?

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binocular wrote: Sat Jun 13, 2020 3:08 pmMeaning that one's practice of the brahmaviharas essentially has nothing to do with others?
The meditative development of the brahmavihāras doesn't require that one be involved in any way at all with other beings. They could be developed by, say, a self-sufficient cave-dwelling recluse. But I wouldn't go as far as saying that this development has "essentially nothing to do with others". To develop the brahmavihāras a yogi must at least believe that other beings exist. He must also believe that they are of such-and-such nature — that they desire happiness, are averse to suffering, are pleased by success and are the heirs of their kamma.
binocular wrote: Sat Jun 13, 2020 3:08 pmBut yes, bringing in the brahmaviharas changes the parameters of dealing with others. Without the brahamaviharas, it usually follows that if one thinks someone is evil, one will treat them poorly, and things stop at that. Worldly goodness is limited and conditional like that.
Yes.
binocular wrote: Sat Jun 13, 2020 3:08 pmSo, for example, when a Buddhist poster writes a post full of contempt for the person he's addressing it to, and then concludes with "Metta", there's, technically, at least, no problem with that.
If the post is full of contempt then it more than likely wasn't written in a mettāful state of mind. And so there would be an apparent incongruity between the message and the signing off. Though not a particularly interesting one, for how most people sign off posts, emails and letters is probably just a force of habit thing rather than a carefully considered description of their state of mind at that moment.
binocular wrote: Sat Jun 13, 2020 3:08 pmIn many ways, Buddhism paints a gloomy picture of humanity. So, naturally, one wonders how to harmonize this with the brahmaviharas, and more generally, with having a positive outlook on life and believing that human life is precious and worth making an effort for.
Perhaps in an analogous way to how Bertrand Russell attempts to reconcile the seeming contradiction in Stoic ethics:
I come now to the second contradiction, that the Stoic, while he preached benevolence, held, in theory, that no man can do either good or harm to another, since the virtuous will alone is good, and the virtuous will is independent of outside causes. This contradiction is more patent than the other, and more peculiar to the Stoics (including certain Christian moralists). The explanation of their not noticing it is that, like many other people, they had two systems of ethics, a superfine one for themselves, and an inferior one for ‘the lesser breeds without the law’.

When the Stoic philosopher is thinking of himself, he holds that happiness and all other worldly so-called goods are worthless; he even says that to desire happiness is contrary to nature, meaning that it involves lack of resignation to the will of God. But as a practical man administering the Roman Empire, Marcus Aurelius knows perfectly well that this sort of thing won’t do. It is his duty to see that the grain-ships from Africa duly reach Rome, that measures are taken to relieve the sufferings caused by pestilence, and that barbarian enemies are not allowed to cross the frontier. That is to say, in dealing with those of his subjects whom he does not regard as Stoic philosophers, actual or potential, he accepts ordinary mundane standards of what is good or bad. It is by applying these standards that he arrives at his duty as an administrator. What is odd is that this duty, itself, is in the higher sphere of what the Stoic sage should do, although it is deduced from an ethic which the Stoic sage regards as fundamentally mistaken.

The only reply that I can imagine to this difficulty is one which is perhaps logically unassailable, but is not very plausible. It would, I think, be given by Kant, whose ethical system is very similar to that of the Stoics. True, he might say, there is nothing good but the good will, but the will is good when it is directed to certain ends, that, in themselves, are indifferent. It does not matter whether Mr A is happy or unhappy, but I, if I am virtuous, shall act in a way which I believe will make him happy, because that is what the moral law enjoins. I cannot make Mr A virtuous, because his virtue depends only upon himself; but I can do something towards making him happy, or rich, or learned, or healthy. The Stoic ethic may therefore be stated as follows: Certain things are vulgarly considered goods, but this is a mistake; what is good is a will directed towards securing these false goods for other people.
binocular wrote: Sat Jun 13, 2020 3:12 pm As to what kind of spiral one sets up, surely this will depend on one's words and deeds towards others, not one's assumptions about their probable character.

But one's assumptions about others determine one's words and deeds toward others, do they not?
They will tend to, but a tendency isn't an inevitability.
binocular wrote: Sat Jun 13, 2020 3:12 pmOr is that the way of the uninstructed, run-of-the-mill person?
Unthinkingly following the dictates of one's likes and dislikes is the normal behaviour of a human puthujjana (which is presumably the main reason for most of them ending up in the lower realms):
Buddhaghosa wrote: For the puthujjana is like a madman, and without considering “Is this right or not?” and aspiring by means of any of the kinds of clinging to any of the kinds of becoming, he performs any of the kinds of kamma.
But even an uninstructed puthujjana can have his heroic moments. If it were otherwise there'd be no chance of liberation for anyone.
Anabhirati kho, āvuso, imasmiṃ dhammavinaye dukkhā, abhirati sukhā.

“To not delight in this dhammavinaya, friend, is painful; to delight in it is bliss.”
(Sukhasutta, AN 10:66)
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