Remarks on Pepper’s Atman, Aporia, and Atomism

Tom Pepper recently reviewed Alan Wallace’s Meditations of a Buddhist Skeptic. (Thanks for the head’s up, Geoff!) Here are a few comments responding to the review, which raises a number of interesting points. I haven’t read meditations of a Buddhist Skeptic (or any of Wallace’s books), so this is solely responding to Pepper’s representation of Wallace’s thought.

Quantum Theory: Pepper criticises the tendency to invoke the Copenhagen Interpretation (although he doesn’t use that term) in support of consciousness-only theories. I think the main point here is that since interpretations of quantum theory are all dubious and contested, they cannot be used to buttress anything, especially when the interpretation has to be stretched to fit. The whole area has been cheapened by all the Deepak Chopras and What the Bleep Do We Knows, so it might be prudent to stay out of it. Nevertheless, quantum theory does remain an area that is highly suggestive, and does at least invite the speculation that the hard physical sciences and the meditative path could be somehow converging. While the traditional consensus among physicists has been that quantum events take place at a level that is simply too small to effect neural activity. recently, however, this has been called into question by Stuart Kauffman, and I think, given the open-ended status of both consciousness studies and quantum theory that an open mind is called for.

The Atman and the Original Mind: Pepper is, I think, absolutely correct to say that the radiant ‘original mind’ spoken of so breathlessly by so many Buddhist teachers is in fact an atman in all but name. Despite the countless times that the Buddha asserted that the mind is conditioned, so many teachers seem to be driven by a need to take up one or two passages that can be read to speak of an ‘unconditioned’ mind or some such. Of course the passages have to be twisted to take on such a meaning; the locus classicus is the passage in the Anguttara Nikaya, which speaks of the mind that is developed in samadhi as abandoning the hindrances – no different than countless other statements on meditation. But somehow the word ‘naturally’ or ‘intrinsic’ gets inserted into the text, and what was an exhortation to practice meditation becomes a mysterious assertion of the mind that is ‘naturally radiant’. No, the mind is not ‘naturally’ radiant. It is ‘naturally’ conditioned. If you want to make it radiant, do the work!

On James and Elitism: Pepper’s article becomes surprisingly virulent when he gets on the topic of the ‘reactionary ideology’ of James’ ‘capitalist’ empiricism. What lies behind this I do not know, as I’m not familiar with the background. But when I recently read James’ magnum opus The Varieties of Religious Experience it did not strike me as at all elitist. On the contrary, he spoke of a great variety of people and treated their experience as something valid and important. The effect on me was to realise how diverse and personal religious experience could be, and that it was not something that could or should be controlled by a religious orthodoxy.

On Consciousness and Society: Here I agree with Pepper: consciousness is dynamically constructed in and with a social context, and can’t be considered as an isolated entity. This is a concept that is embedded in early Buddhism, but which unfortunately tends to be lost in later Abhidhamma. The critical term here is nama-rupa, which is said to be the basic condition for consciousness: the two proceed in mutual conditioning. (See, e.g. the Maha Nidana Sutta). Nama means ‘name’, and it is clearly intended to point out the fact that our consciousness is conditioned at a fundamental level by language (which the Maha Nidana Sutta refers to as adhivacanasamphassa, designation-stimulus). Language being, of course, a social construct, this is pointing to the fact that consciousness is embedded from the very ground in a social reality.

On the Elitism of Karma: Pepper speaks of the widespread misunderstanding of karma, which is appropriate since he is critiquing not how the Buddha spoke of karma but of how it is in fact operative in Buddhist cultures. For the Buddha, karma was in fact a socially subversive doctrine, for it undermined the pretensions of the brahmans and other elites, insisting that how a person lived determined their worth. Accordingly the Sangha was a place of refuge, where one’s status and birth was ignored and one could start again on a clean slate. Pepper’s assertions of the elitist nature of Buddhist institutions are, I think, naive and ideologically based.

My own experience in Thailand showed me that things are much more nuanced. Sure, there is an elite of rich monks who pursue status and wealth, and which is tightly linked with the interests of the aristocracy. But there are also countless monasteries operating at the grass roots, with links not just to aristocracy but with local villagers. Contrary to Pepper’s ideas, the monks don’t just sit around in luxurious bliss while oppressed villagers slave to provide them with their whims. In fact, the presence of a good monastery is usually a catalyst for positive development and change in the local villages. Good monasteries create good villages. The poor do not resent the luxury of the monasteries (unless the monks do become corrupt) since, after all, all donations are entirely voluntary. On the contrary, the villagers love having the monastery nearby, value the community contributions, appreciate the teachings, and are delighted to help as they can. In addition, the monastery is, of course, comprised of people largely drawn from the local village, and it offers them an option to ordain and experience the monastic life if they so wish. If they stay in the village, this is not because of medieval suppression, but because that’s what they want to do. But they know that if they change their mind, the monastery offers them another option. I am not trying to say that there are no social problems associated with traditional forms of Buddhism – I’ve spoken of these at length on many occasions. What I do object to is the ideological reductionism that sees an entire spiritual movement as nothing more than a means of exploiting the workers.

It should also be noted that there is nowhere that the Buddha said that attaining jhana or other high spiritual attainments was dependent on past karma. On the contrary, he insisted again and again that such things depended on proper practice in this life. Of course advanced spiritual attainments are rare and difficult – so what? Playing the violin well is difficult, too – does that make it a capitalist plot?

226 thoughts on “Remarks on Pepper’s Atman, Aporia, and Atomism

  1. Just to be clear, I do not believe that spiritual attainment is dependent on past karma, or that “Buddha said” this: Alan Wallace, however, does say this quite explicitly, and this is what I am critiquing. There is a big difference between saying that spiritual attainment is rare and difficult, and saying that your birth because of past life karma is what indicates your preparedness for spiritual practice; one is just the way things are, the other is an aristocratic ideology (not, necessarily, capitalist–although it is now being used for capitalist purposes). Also, I am not trying to present, in the essay, a correct understanding of karma–I am only critiquing what is presented in Wallace’s book; personally, I would agree with you that karma was, and could still be, a socially radical teaching.

    And when you say that the poor love their oppressors, and that’s why it is NOT an ideology, well, I don’t know how to respond. This is the very definition of a well-functioning ideology. They stay in the village because “that’s what they want to do,” but it has nothing to do with ideology? Ideology is exactly what shapes what people want to do. You smugly call me naive, but I have never heard MORE naive and ideological than the last section of your response. I just don’t know what else to say.

    Of course, I’ve never been to Thailand, and said nothing about it. Still, it is highly likely that things are “more nuanced.” They always are when we don’t want to see the stark reality, right?

    As for the Quantum Myth, well, try reading the book by Norris I mentioned. The Copenhagen Interpretation is not a way to keep our “minds open”, but functions exactly to prevent, or at least make unnecessary, the open mind that would pursue further knowledge of quantum reality. I’m all for keeping an open mind; my point is that the consciousness-produces-reality myth is a way of avoiding serious thought, not making it possible.

    And yeah, I do get virulent about James. I find it hard to believe anybody could read any of his works, including “varieties of religious experience,” and not see him as an elitist, reactionary ideologue.

    Thanks for your response. And, join the discussion on the Secular Non-Buddhist blog!

    Tom

    • Hi Tom,

      And thanks for the quick response! To be clear, I didn’t mean to imply, regarding karma, that this was your idea or that you thought it was the Buddha’s. It is, sadly enough, almost universally found in Buddhist cultures, and it is disappointing to me to find such ideas repeated by people who should know better. I remember being at a Buddhist conference many years ago, and David Loy (who gave an excellent paper) expressed astonishment that he had just heard that the Buddha said that not everything in life is due to past karma. These popular ideas infiltrate the academy, even when they are repeatedly and consistently rejected in the Suttas themselves.

      And when you say that the poor love their oppressors, and that’s why it is NOT an ideology

      Ahh, no, I didn’t say the poor love their oppressors. What I have witnessed in Thailand was that when there are good monasteries the monasteries themselves act to facilitate development, education, environmental care, social justice, and the like. This happens both unconsciously, if you like (such as the massive quantities of food that are redistributed from the rich to the poor at every monastery every day), and consciously, as when the monks teach the villagers about caring for the environment, warn them of the dangers of multinationals encroaching, facilitate AIDS education, and the like.

      I never witnessed any oppression of the poor, but I did witness a lot of kindness and mutual respect and appreciation. Nor, by the way, did I see any Thais who were the slightest bit interested to escape to the worker’s paradises of Laos or Vietnam. Many of the people I know there are intelligent, well-educated and thoughtful people, who are perfectly well aware of the limitations of Thai democracy and so on. They were happy to work to improve things, and appreciated the positive role that the Sangha could play. Things are far from perfect, and the Sangha has certainly not done all it could to help. But on the whole, I would have to say it is one of the healthier cultures I have had the privilege to live in.

      I guess we shall have to agree to differ about James.

    • What to say? “I never witnessed any oppression of the poor, but I did witness a lot of kindness and mutual respect and appreciation. Nor, by the way, did I see any Thais who were the slightest bit interested to escape to the worker’s paradises of Laos or Vietnam.”

      Perhaps you might need to brush up your history?

      From Wikipedia

      A return to military rule

      By late 1976 moderate middle class opinion had turned away from the activism of the students, with their base at Thammasat University. The army and the right-wing parties began a propaganda war against student liberalism by accusing student activists of being ‘communists’ and through formal paramilitary organizations such the Village Scouts and the Red Gaurs many of those students were killed. Matters came to a head in October when Thanom returned to Thailand to enter a royal monastery, Wat Bovorn.

      Tension between workers and factory owners became fierce, as the civil right movement became more active after 1973. Socialism and leftist ideology gained popularity among intellectuals and the working class. The political atmosphere became even more tense. Workers were found hung in Nakhon Pathom after protesting against a factory owner. A Thai version of anti-communist McCarthyism spread widely. Whoever staged a protest could be accused of being part of a communist conspiracy.

      In 1976, students in Thammasat University held protests over the violent deaths of the two and staged a mock hanging of the two [?], one of whom bore a resemblance to the Crown Prince. Some newspapers the following day, including the Bangkok Post, published a version of the fraud photo, suggesting that the students had committed lese majeste. Rightist and ultra-conservative icons such as Samak Sundharavej blasted the students, instigating violent means to suppress the movement of the students, culminating in the 6 October 1976 Massacre. The army unleashed the paramilitaries, and used the resultant mob violence, in which hundreds of students were tortured and killed, to suspend the constitution and resume power. Immediately after the incident, an amnesty was issued to prevent any of those responsible for the massacre from coming to justice.

      In the evening, a junta staged a coup, declaring the end of Democrat Party led-coalition government. The army installed Thanin Kraivichien, an ultra-conservative former judge, as prime minister, and carried out a sweeping purge of the universities, the media and the civil service. Thousands of students, intellectuals and other leftists fled Bangkok and joined the Communist Party’s insurgent forces in the north and north-east, operating from safe bases in Laos. Others left for exile, including Dr. Puey Ungphakorn, the respected economist and Rector of Thammasat University.

      The economy was also in serious difficulties, in no small part due to Thanin’s policies, which frightened foreign investors.

      The new regime proved as unstable as the democratic experiment had been. In October 1977 a different section of the army staged another “coup” and replaced Thanin with General Kriangsak Chomanand. In 1978 the government offered an amnesty to Thai communists willing to “work with us to build a prosperous nation”.[1] The offer included housing, family reunion and security.[1]

      By this time, Thai forces had to deal with the situation resulting from the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia. There was another flood of refugees, and both Vietnamese and Khmer Rouge forces periodically crossed into Thai territory, sparking clashes along the borders. A 1979 visit to Beijing earned Deng Xiaoping’s agreement to end support for Thailand’s communist movement; in return, the Thai authorities agreed to give safe haven to the Khmer Rouge forces fleeing west following the invasion of Cambodia. Revelations of the crimes of the defeated Khmer Rouge also sharply reduced the appeal of communism to the Thai public. Kriangsak’s position as prime minister soon became untenable and he was forced to step down in February 1980 at a time of economic troubles. Kriangsak was succeeded by the army commander-in-chief, General Prem Tinsulanonda, a staunch royalist with a reputation for being incorruptible.

    • Hi Visakha. I’m familiar with the history you mention.

      I have a good friend who was one of the communist rebels fighting in the forest in the 70s. He is now the owner of a couple of guest houses in Chieng Mai, deeply involved in social and environmental work, and was part of a consultation team in the region for the new constitution (this was a couple of constitutions ago). He said that they didn’t get all that they wanted at that time, but that it wasn’t too bad.

      And this is, pretty much, what I encountered when I was in Thailand. I met and spoke with dozens, probably hundreds of villagers over the six years, and they seemed reasonably content. They had complaints, but no more than anyone else, in fact probably less than in Malaysia or Australia. And I can certainly say that I never heard anyone say they wanted to go live in Laos…

      I’m not trying to white-wash Thailand or ignore the problems with the country, which I have spoken of on other occasions. The point of my original post was to counteract what I saw as a naive (unspoken Marxist) ideology, which assumes that the only function of a monastic Sangha was to conspire with the ruling classes to exploit the workers. This is simply not the reality of what I experienced in my time there.

  2. Ajahn Sujato,

    I don’t understand how you can say that Buddhism isn’t elitist – isn’t sexual discrimination a form of elitism and isn’t your type of Buddhism rotten to the core with gender discrimination.

    While other forms of Buddhism may not be as discriminatory with regards to gender , I have to agree whoe heartedly with Tom Pepper that the karmic elitism in Buddhism is very strong in the West, as is age discrimination.

    It doesn’t say much for the Monestries in the West at least if ” a villager” prefers to stay in the village because there is more compassion and acceptance in the village than from the smug and superior practitioners in the Dharma Centres.

    Maybe things are changing – lets hope that just as your type of Buddhism is finally (after what 2,500) years/) trying not to be gender “elitists” that other forms will try not to be socially, physically and age “elitist”!

    Metta

  3. Bhante

    Thank you for your post. It’s also good seeing an exchange between yourself & Tom Pepper as these blogs usually just seem to talk amongst themselves…..

    I have a query (as usual). To quote you: “It should also be noted that there is nowhere that the Buddha said that attaining jhana or other high spiritual attainments was dependent on past karma. On the contrary, he insisted again and again that such things depended on proper practice in this life.”

    I’m reminded of Bhikkhu Bodhi explaining his ongoing debilitating headaches as due to his past kamma (probably previous life) and saying this had impeded his meditative attainments. In the Sangha one’s status and birth may well have been ignored but kammically one can hardly say one “start(s) again on a clean slate.”

    Is Bhikkhu Bodhi’s interpretation of kamma wrong? Or hasn’t he practised as well as (say) Ajahn Brahm with his spiritual attainments?

    Cheers

    Geoff

    • Okay, we need a little nuance here, as well as some common sense. The first thing is, we can’t really know that past karma is the source of BB’s headaches. Maybe so, maybe not. But that’s not really the point here.

      More important is the role that karma plays. Now, if we are to assume that the whole karma and rebirth thing is real (just play along, ok?), then clearly our past karma influences where we get reborn. More than that, and more problematically, it influences some of the things that happen in this life. This is not that complicated, really.

      Compare, say, with the accident of birth. I happen to have been born in Perth. That means certain things happen (like getting a good education and not experiencing famine), other things are more likely to happen (like getting sunburnt), and other things are entirely independent of where I was born (like the fact that I’m going to die). I’m not saying that any of these things are (or are not) caused by karma, I’m just drawing an analogy. The point is that there is, if you like, a sliding scale of influence, from virtually total to virtually nothing, in how my place of birth influences my life.

      Similarly with karma, it may have a greater or lesser influence in any particular circumstance. Karma will, of course, influence such things as talent, intelligence, and so on, just as culture, upbringing, nutrition and so on will influence these things. It is probably true to say that someone without proper nutrition cannot get jhanas – as indeed Siddhattha said before he was Awakened. This does not mean that meditation is an ‘elitist’ practice that excludes the world’s hungry. It does, however, suggest that sincere meditators, out of compassion for the welfare for others, should try to alleviate the hunger of others as best they can – as indeed they often do. Similarly, culture may well prevent the attaining of jhana: in Laos, for example, meditation was banned in the past by the Communist government.

      And it is also the case, one would assume, that in certain circumstances a blockage from past karma might also prevent the attaining of jhana. Meditators do in fact have vastly different aptitudes, and karma would be one of the factors playing into this, along with culture, nutrition, family circumstances, physical illness, and countless other factors. But this can hardly be a major factor, as I cannot recall a single passage where the Buddha ascribed the inability to get jhana to a blockage from past karma.

      I hope that helps a little!

    • “It does, however, suggest that sincere meditators, out of compassion for the welfare for others, should try to alleviate the hunger of others as best they can – as indeed they often do”.

      What ever it is if it does something good then fine, but I really don’t like the way the Dalai Lama goes around acting as if “alternate” forms of Buddhism are supportive and accepting of people with issues and problems. That Buddhism is a great compassionate belief system, too many people in need of help are disappointed by this “sales” pitch.

      They are supportive and accepting of people with good karma or social status or whatever …like a a feel good form of the private school i went to.. my daddies richer than yours so I get to come first in the class, I am prettier than you so I am the teachers favourite…but those from outside the privileged sphere if they do exist should they if they are not like us? ..good on them for having the karma to get where they are but it is when the the chattering classes claim that helping the little poor people occasionally at a charity event and the Buddhists so kindly letting the lower karmic classes near there precious ones, is some great compassionate act that it gets abit problematic- how does this equate with the great compassionate altruist way they like to portray themselves?

  4. Ajahn Sujato,

    I was being quite serious when I said I couldn’t see how to respond. Your post baffled me: you describe the very definition of a working ideological apparatus, and then say it must not be one because “the poor do not resent” the monks–but of course, if they are interpellated into this ideology, they would not. That’s how ideology works. It’s sort of like the argument that women “choose” to take certain kinds of low-paying jobs, that they want to be desired for their physical attributes, that they prefer shopping to doing math, so it can’t be an ideology: it is exactly because it IS an effective ideology that they “freely” choose to be oppressed. I don’t know anything about Thailand, so I’m only dealing with what you’ve said here, and my point is this: the monastery you describe functions completely as an ideological state apparatus in the Althusserian sense, promoting education, teaching morals, maintaining in “nuanced” ways the “natural” social hierarchy. You speak of redistributing food from the rich to the poor, implying the poor should be so grateful–but, to paraphrase Helder Camara, why are there poor with not food? Whenever anyone needs to depend on charity, the social system needs more work. You are so thoroughly interpellated into this ideology that you cannot see it is one, like a fish unaware of the existence of water.

    When you say I am “naive” to think that Buddhism functions as an ideological support for the status quo, I’m reminded (as I so often am) of a line from “The Godfather,” when Kay says “Michael, do you know how naive you sound? Senators and congressmen don’t have people killed!”

    The discussion of karma, however, makes it a bit clearer to me where we probably differ. You suggest that karma is somehow separate from “culture, upbringing, nutrition, and so on”, but on my understanding of karma all of these things are a part of it. Separating them out implies that karma is some non-natural, dualistic “force” that counts merits and demerits–I doubt this is what you mean, right? But this is what karma would have to be if it is separate from culture, social formations, habits, economies, etc.

    I would understand karma as the sum total of intentional actions; all the institutions of our world, with their overwhelming momentum pushing along even our thoughts, language, daily habits, are part of our karma. There are poor people because of karma, but not individual karma. They are poor because of the intentional action so billions of people working to produce and maintain an oppressive social formation. That the poor so often love their oppression also adds to the “bad” karma. Here in America, nobody is more likely to have a bumper sticker that read “America: Love it or Leave it!” than the poor couple driving a forty-year old chevy to the foodbank.

    If we see karma as the effects of our intentional actions, effects that persist in social formations, then we can see ways to escape the prevailing ideology and work against the momentum of karma. On my reading, the most radical thing about Buddhist thought is that it can enable us to recognize our own ideologies. Of course, just as often, it becomes an ideology instead, but this doesn’t eliminate the radical potential, anymore than the failed attempts at communist states eliminates the truth of marxism.

    Just one final note: from my perspective, to call something an ideology is not necessarily a condemnation. There are good ideologies and bad ones, and we can’t function without them; ideology is what enables us to reproduce our knowledge and our world, and as Althusser says even the perfect state would need ideology. The worst thing of all, though, is to fail to recognize that your ideology is one, to take it for “natural” that there must be poor people, money, exchange value, prevents us from ever escaping the enormous weight of past karma.

    Gassho,
    Tom

    • Dear Tom,

      I gather from what you have said here that you don’t know all that much about karma from an early Buddhist perspective. I will try to present some of the ideas of karma as they are found in earliest Buddhism, and on the way hopefully clarify a few matters.

      Karma in Buddhism is first and foremost a force that determines one’s rebirth, in particular what realm one is born into. Karma may also have some effect beyond that, i.e. one’s actual living circumstances may be affected by actions in a past life, but this effect seems to be relatively minor compared to other factors that affect the quality of our lives.

      I get the impression that you are conflating karma and its effects. When you say that “They are poor because of the intentional action so billions of people working to produce and maintain an oppressive social formation”, all you have done is point out how social inequality is maintained, but you have said nothing about which persons will occupy which positions in that society. The law of karma does not explain how such inequality is maintained (as you seem to suggest) but rather (to put it a bit simplistically) how individuals are “assigned” positions within that society.

      This does not mean – and this is very important and often misunderstood – that we should do nothing to alleviate and even end oppression, including poverty. On the contrary, we should do whatever we can to attain such worthy goals. The law of karma is not going to stop us lifting large numbers of people out of poverty. It is a wrong understanding of karma to think that a person born poor and/or oppressed must always remain that way.

      At the same time, we cannot eliminate someone’s bad karma by creating a better society. Most people who do a bad act feel remorse. The more bad acts you do, the greater the remorse. You create your own mental world through your actions. You judge yourself badly, and consequently create a bad rebirth for yourself. Nobody can stop this process of negative self-judgment simply by creating a more just society.

      But even in these cases we need to be very careful not to misrepresent the early discourses. All they say is that people may be born into poverty due to past bad karma; they do not say that all people are poor due to past karma. This is a very important distinction, and I believe the vast majority of poverty has nothing to do with one’s personal karma. Moreover, even if one has been born poor due to karma, you can never know how long that period of poverty is supposed to last, nor can you know whether we might have some countervailing karma that has the potential to lift us out of poverty. In other words, the law of karma is simply too complex to say anything definite even about an individual’s future trajectory. What this means, of course, is that from the view-point of the early discourses, karma is not going to be an obstacle for moving towards a better social order.

      So when you say “If we see karma as the effects of our intentional actions, effects that persist in social formations, then we can see ways to escape the prevailing ideology and work against the momentum of karma”, you are not speaking of karma in a Buddhist way. Karma is the cause and negative “effects that persist in social formations” are but one way that the results of karma make themselves felt. This view of the world does not entail that we cannot “escape the prevailing ideology”, as you seem to imply. Karma is not fatalism, and history clearly shows that people’s lives can be changed for the better, at least on the material level. In sum, your ideas of karma are simply not Buddhist, nor are they required for the sort of social change that you would like to see.

      With best wishes.

    • Thanks for straightening me out on the one true interpretation of early Buddhism. I’ve read and heard a dozen other versions of the one true interpretation, none of them agree, but they all speak with the same astounding confidence you do.

      The definition of karma you describe is one (of many) I am quite familiar with. It has always seemed silly, naive, and ultimately requires the existence of an atman. I’ll stick with my non-Buddhist definition.

    • Ajahn Sujato, Brahmali,

      Could you advise me or direct me to information on how to help dying people, is that possible so that they go to the best possible rebirth, does Ajahn Brahm have a talk on this or something.

      I know that the “alternate” forms of Buddhism do prayers and chants even for the 44 days that I person possibly goes to the bardo, do you think this works?

      What in your opinion/s is the best way to help a dying sick/elderly person? to go to a good rebirth.

      Thanks

      Metta

      mcd

    • My dear Bhikku Brahmali
      “At the same time, we cannot eliminate someone’s bad karma by creating a better society. Most people who do a bad act feel remorse. The more bad acts you do, the greater the remorse. You create your own mental world through your actions. You judge yourself badly, and consequently create a bad rebirth for yourself. Nobody can stop this process of negative self-judgment simply by creating a more just society.”

      The remorse that people feel is conditioned by the society that they live in though. What causes remorse in one society may not cause remorse in another society. There is not an underlying moral code that is fixed across all beings – imagine if there was?

      It is worth looking at how society shapes things moving forward. I am in no way trying to absolve us from taking personal responsibility for our actions but it seems blatantly obvious that the situation that we find ourselves effects our actions (the karmic seed we are sowing for the future). For example create a society that sends 17 year olds to alien and faraway places to fight wars.
      So a “more just society” may not stop the process but I think that it can influence future results.

    • Dear Tom,

      I apologize if I came across in the wrong way, but I have read the Pali Nikayas in quite a bit of detail.

      If you really wish to know what the early discourses have to say about karma, you will eventually have to do the research yourself rather than read and hear “a dozen other versions of the one true interpretation”. You seem to be well versed in the philosophy of science. If you truly are a Buddhist, it would be useful to be well versed in the early Buddhist discourses as well. Relying on secondary accounts, including mine, is never going to be satisfactory.

      A no this version of karma does not require an atman. If you have sense of remorse for what you did earlier, this is simply a matter of cause and effect, and it has nothing to do with an atman. The same is true for karma working across lifetimes.

      With sincere best wishes.

    • Bhikku Brahmali:

      I probably am not “truly a Buddhist” in any way you would consider Buddhist. I am fairly familiar with the Pali canon, and this is where I did originally arrive at my understanding of the concept of karma–none of the “secondary” works I’ve read quite agree with my reading, but I find it is the only one that doesn’t lead either to unresolvable contradictions in texts, or to the need to accept a radical dualism between the samsaric world and some transcendent and supernatural entity.

      I am curious why you are so attached to original sources, though. It is my position that if the truth of Buddhism is universally true, it should not require this attachment to any particular language, text, or ritual.

      And yes, your explanation of karma really does require a kind of subtle atman–a kind of transcendent supernatural entity separate from the physical world. I could explain to you why, if you’re interested, but it would not be by quoting passages from the canon, so I doubt my explanation would convince you.

    • Dear Peter,

      Yes, both remorse and morality are to some extent conditioned by society. But a basis of Buddhist ethics is that if you act with defiled intent you will tend to feel remorse afterwards. Here are a couple of extracts from suttas in the Anguttara Nikaya:

      “Bhikkhus, for a virtuous person, one whose behavior is virtuous, no volition need be exerted: ‘Let non-regret arise in me.’ It is natural that non-regret arises in a virtuous person, one whose behavior is virtuous.” (AN10:2)

      “Bhikkhus, for an immoral person, for one deficient in virtuous behavior, non-regret lacks its proximate cause.” (AN10:3)

      With metta.

    • Dear Bhikkhu Brahmali
      When you say that “Yes, both remorse and morality are to some extent conditioned by society” are you implying that there is some kind of intrinsic moral law that karma functions by? Would this law apply to all beings (species)?

      To use intent as a cornerstone for an ethical system seems rather risky and narrow. Retrospective remorse would seem to have a key function, as we become more educated and possibly aware of the consequences of passed actions. I think that it may be a mistake or over simplistic to look at karma as a simple linear progression.

    • Dear Peter,

      Yes I do think there is an “intrinsic moral law that karma functions by”. And yes it would apply to all species. But it certainly is not a simple linear progression. Think of the simile of the lump of salt, which in essence says that good karma dilutes the effects of bad karma.

      I do not think intent as a cornerstone is risky. You mention “retrospective remorse” based on subsequent awareness of the consequences of one’s actions. I don’t think this sort of remorse is wise. We do the best we can, and if we sometimes get it wrong then that’s simply the way things are. Rather than having remorse in these situations, it would be better simply to try to learn from our mistake.

      With metta.

    • Dear Bhikku Brahmali
      An intrinsic moral law that applies to all species would seem odd to me. That fish would be governed by the same moral code as you and me (not an amoral process)?

      I personally feel that retrospective remorse is a part of life and can often be appropriate and helpful (part of the learning process). An example would be a soldier returning from a war and coming to terms with the horror that he/she had been involved in or the truth and reconciliation process in post apartheid S. Africa.
      Isn’t a lack of remorse one of the charactiristics of psychopathic and Sociopathic personalities?

    • Dear Peter,

      An intrinsic moral law that applies to all species would seem odd to me. That fish would be governed by the same moral code as you and me (not an amoral process)?

      I believe the moral code is the same, but of course the nature of the intention will be very different. Because the nature of the intention is different, the same moral will express itself in quite different ways.

      I personally feel that retrospective remorse is a part of life and can often be appropriate and helpful (part of the learning process). An example would be a soldier returning from a war and coming to terms with the horror that he/she had been involved in or the truth and reconciliation process in post apartheid S. Africa.
      Isn’t a lack of remorse one of the charactiristics of psychopathic and Sociopathic personalities?

      If we do something wrong, I believe the remorse will be there straightaway, but perhaps sometimes in a somewhat suppressed form. The remorse may simply manifest as a darkening of the mind, something you may not even notice unless you have sufficient mindfulness. But I also think you’re right: the remorse may only fully hit home after a while, especially if you have been in a high stress situation. And indeed one should obviously learn from this. However, if one is able to muster sufficient mindfulness, one should be able to see which acts will lead to remorse as one is doing them, or preferably, as one is about to do them.

    • Deae Bhikku Brahmalu
      So sexual misconduct, for example, is something that should be avoided by all species? And there is fixed behavior which would constitute sexual misconduct?

      I would also like to comment on your reply to Robert “And by giving up my belief in rebirth I would also have to give being a Buddhist, since rebirth is absolutely central for a coherent understanding of Buddhism”. There seem to be many who would see themselves as Buddhist or who see themselves as having a coherent understanding of Buddhism but who do not subscribe to a literal rebirth view or who do not see it as being pivotal. The trouble I have with your position is it immediately creates the reverse view and leads to dogmatism.

    • Dear Peter,

      So sexual misconduct, for example, is something that should be avoided by all species? And there is fixed behavior which would constitute sexual misconduct?

      I believe what constitutes sexual misconduct will largely depend on the society you live in. What hurts people in this area will depend on the social norms in the society they live in. Since karma is about what hurts other people and your intentions in relation to that hurt, I feel the ideas of karma and socially relative morality go well together.

      I would also like to comment on your reply to Robert “And by giving up my belief in rebirth I would also have to give being a Buddhist, since rebirth is absolutely central for a coherent understanding of Buddhism”. There seem to be many who would see themselves as Buddhist or who see themselves as having a coherent understanding of Buddhism but who do not subscribe to a literal rebirth view or who do not see it as being pivotal. The trouble I have with your position is it immediately creates the reverse view and leads to dogmatism.

      People will understand Buddhism in their own way, but this is how I understand it. I don’t think it is dogmatism, rather just the world view of early Buddhism. Whether there actually is rebirth or not is a matter that we will all have to reflect on for ourselves. My point is simply that if we come to the conclusion that there is no rebirth, then that conclusion is at odds with early Buddhism. To me this is not dogmatism, just a fact.

      With metta.

    • Dear Bhikku Brahmali
      So what is the “intrinsic moral law”? What are it’s guidelines?

      The problem that I find with the “early Buddhism” view is that historical authenticaty is what seems to come across as the key factor in giving it legitimacy rather than realization and understanding (the fruits). Because those who strongly subscribe to “early Buddhism” see it as being an accurate representation of the true teaching of an historical figure it bound to lead to dogmatism even if this is not the intention. It also sometimes seems to me like it loses sight of why many of us came to the practice in the first place.

      For me facts and history often seem to be rather far apart.

    • Dear Peter,

      So what is the “intrinsic moral law”? What are it’s guidelines?

      An act motivated by greed, anger and delusion has bad results, whereas the opposite is true of an act not motivated by these things.

      The problem that I find with the “early Buddhism” view is that historical authenticaty is what seems to come across as the key factor in giving it legitimacy rather than realization and understanding (the fruits). Because those who strongly subscribe to “early Buddhism” see it as being an accurate representation of the true teaching of an historical figure it bound to lead to dogmatism even if this is not the intention. It also sometimes seems to me like it loses sight of why many of us came to the practice in the first place.
      For me facts and history often seem to be rather far apart.

      I fully agree with you that final legitimacy comes through “realization and understanding”. This is also the view in the early suttas: have a look at MN27 (the Shorter Discourse on the Elephant’s Footprint). However, before we get there we need some sort of guidance. There is a bewildering array of teachings available, and it is enough to confuse anyone about what really needs to be done. To me the main importance of the early Buddhist suttas is in their potential to guide us thorough this minefield of ideas. But we cannot read even the early suttas uncritically. Occasionally they do contain later interpolations. Some of the early suttas are clearly later than others. But I contend that the main doctrines of Buddhism that are found again and again in the early suttas – in the Chinese and Sanskrit Agamas and in the Pali Nikayas – are the authentic core of Buddhism that has been bequeathed us by the historical figure known as the Buddha. This does not mean that later writings are wrong or even uninteresting. It just means that we have to be careful in assessing them in light of the early discourses.

      I certainly believe that the insights the early suttas speak of are still available to dedicated followers of the eightfold path. And, yes, I agree with you that the practice is the thing that really matters. Sutta study and historical research should be a spur for practice; otherwise it is wasted. Moreover, it is only when we get the insights ourselves that we can actually know that our confidence in the early suttas was well-placed.

    • Dear Bhikku Brahmali
      Thank you for taking the time respond to all my enquiries.
      With best wishes

    • Venerable bhikkhu Brahmali,

      Would i 9my meditation) benefit from buying Mindfulness Bliss And Beyond and The Art Of Disappearing? My meditation is still very weak probably due to restlessness.

      with metta,

      gotamist

    • Dear Gotamist,

      A large part of Mindfulness, Bliss, and Beyond covers very deep aspects of meditation. These may not be directly applicable to your practice, but can nevertheless be very inspiring. In part this will depend on your personal feelings about Ajahn Brahm. The early parts of the book also contain more basic instructions in meditation.

      The Art of Disappearing does not contain detailed instructions on meditation, but is more inspirational in tone. Still, a lot of useful hints on meditation practice are included. There is a review of the book here http://buddhaspace.blogspot.com/2012/01/review-art-of-disappearing-by-ajahn.html

      With metta.

    • venerable bhikkhu Brahmali

      If i could ask one last question. If you had to recommend one very practical book on meditation/jhanas wich one would it be?

      with metta

    • Dear Gotamist,

      I believe the suttas are the best meditation guide, but I recognize that it often takes quite a bit of effort to understand them properly.

      If you really are interested in jhana and meditation that leads to jhana, then “Mindfulness, Bliss, and Beyond” is probably hard to beat.

      However, if you want more basic meditation instructions, then there are numerous books available. I myself started off with a book by Paul Wilson called “The Calm Technique” and that was enough to get me going. Paul Wilson has written a number of books on meditation and they are apparently quite popular.

      Have you read Ajahn Brahm’s “Basic Method of Meditation”? If not, it is available here: http://www.dhammaloka.org.au/articles/item/576-the-basic-method-of-meditation.html

      With metta.

    • “When you say I am “naive” to think that Buddhism functions as an ideological support for the status quo, I’m reminded (as I so often am) of a line from “The Godfather,” when Kay says “Michael, do you know how naive you sound? Senators and congressmen don’t have people killed!””

      Rather than treat a particular area of Thailand over a limited period of time as the Buddhist model, you might do well to look at Burma, Tibet, or the Dalit Buddhism which is certainly a challenge to the status quo.

    • Visakha,

      I really don’t understand the point of your comment. My point is not that Buddhism is always and everywhere an ideological support of the status quo–in fact, it is sometimes quite radical. I was simply trying to say that it often does serve to support and reproduce a conservative social formation–not that it necessarily does so.

    • Tom,

      I probably am not “truly a Buddhist” in any way you would consider Buddhist. I am fairly familiar with the Pali canon, and this is where I did originally arrive at my understanding of the concept of karma–none of the “secondary” works I’ve read quite agree with my reading, but I find it is the only one that doesn’t lead either to unresolvable contradictions in texts, or to the need to accept a radical dualism between the samsaric world and some transcendent and supernatural entity.

      Anything that leads to postulating “some transcendent and supernatural entity” is unacceptable to me, too. But these are difficult issues. Could it be that you are overestimating your ability to see this clearly when you say that a more traditional view of karma leads to “a radical dualism”? Richard Dawkins famously said, when he was challenged on evolution, that his opponents suffered from a “failure of the imagination”. With our current limited knowledge of the mind/brain interrelationship, is it really realistic to think that we can draw such clear-cut conclusions on this difficult topic?

      I am curious why you are so attached to original sources, though. It is my position that if the truth of Buddhism is universally true, it should not require this attachment to any particular language, text, or ritual.

      In theory you are right. In so far as the Buddhist world view coincides with reality, anyone should be able to access it. The insights of Buddhism should be available to anyone. The problem, of course, is that although these insights are in principle available, it may take a lot of dedication to actually get there. In reality, therefore, only a tiny minority would have this access.

      So who belong to this minority? In other words, who should we listen to if we want to get some sound guidance before we actually reach those insights ourselves? It is here that the early suttas, as far as I can see, are very helpful. The Buddhism we have had over the past 2,500 years all refers back to insights that are first articulated in the early suttas. Take away those suttas and the whole edifice of Buddhism collapses. What this means to me is that the insights of the founder of Buddhism must have been genuine – if they were not there simply isn’t any Buddhism. The insights of any other Buddhist after the Buddha may have been genuine, but it is often very hard to tell. Take the Abhidhamma. Was this work composed by people who had the same insights as the Buddha, or is it a theoretical construct by more worldly minds? I certainly detect a number of discrepancies between the earliest suttas and the Abhidhamma. In this situation the right thing, I believe, is to side with the suttas.

      There are people, notable Gregory Schopen, who have argued we can never know what the Buddha taught. This is not my understanding of the issue. I believe there are good reasons for thinking that we can know with a fair amount of certainty that certain ideas were expressed by a particular individual in a fairly confined period of time. Let’s call him the Buddha. Since it all started with him, his insights are the most important for our understanding of Buddhism.

      And yes, your explanation of karma really does require a kind of subtle atman–a kind of transcendent supernatural entity separate from the physical world. I could explain to you why, if you’re interested, but it would not be by quoting passages from the canon, so I doubt my explanation would convince you.

      I do not believe there should be a conflict between established scientific facts and Buddhism. If there is, then we need to have a fresh look the suttas, and ultimately discard them if the conflict becomes truly irreconcilable. For example, if science truly can show that the mind is an epiphenomenon of the brain, then I would give up Buddhism. So I am in principle open to any argument.

      With metta.

    • Bhikkhu Brahmali,

      Your conditional offer to give up Buddhism appears quite shocking at first, but I suspect there is little danger – there should be plenty of room to manoevre around interpretations of what constitutes ‘mind’. In any case (and more seriously) I wonder whether the distinction is necessary.

      Your statement implies that Buddhism requires the existence of some quality of the mind that is not an epiphenomenon of the brain. The context suggests that this might correspond to the karma made in previous lives that becomes our inheritance (along with the memory of previous lives presumably). When you present it like this it is tempting to identify inherited karma with the concept of atman, and it is notable that you don’t deny this (which is of course not the same thing as endorsing it!)

      But modern neuroscience seems to be telling us that a lot of our mental activity is indeed dependent upon the neural processes happening in our brains. Combine that with with lessons learned from the behaviours of complex control systems – in particular, that actual behaviour is dependent not only upon both the system’s characteristics but also its initial conditions. I know this is a hopelessly simplistic description of this wonderfully complex faculty with which we have been blessed, but it doesn’t seem too large a jump to the possibility that even our most complex mental processes including self reflection and volition might one day be understood to be also epiphenomena of the brain. That is, including whatever carries over from one life to the next – which then simply kicks the whole process of in this life and defines which of the many possible paths an individual will follow.

      In which case you wouldn’t have to give up Buddhism even if “science truly can show that the mind is an epiphenomenon of the brain”.

    • venerable bhikkhu Brahmali: “I do not believe there should be a conflict between established scientific facts and Buddhism. If there is, then we need to have a fresh look the suttas, and ultimately discard them if the conflict becomes truly irreconcilable. For example, if science truly can show that the mind is an epiphenomenon of the brain, then I would give up Buddhism. So I am in principle open to any argument.”

      I do not see any reason to give up buddhism in that case. I think there is no better path to deal with the hardships of existence than the path laid out there by Gotama Buddha. Sure some cosmological aspects would become invalid but the training that has the possibility to results in genuine peace would remain as important as ever. See for example Arthur Schopenhauer’s views on buddhism and asceticism.

    • Dear Bhikkhu Bramali,

      I would like to make a comment about what you say here:

      “There are people, notable Gregory Schopen, who have argued we can never know what the Buddha taught. This is not my understanding of the issue. I believe there are good reasons for thinking that we can know with a fair amount of certainty that certain ideas were expressed by a particular individual in a fairly confined period of time. Let’s call him the Buddha. Since it all started with him, his insights are the most important for our understanding of Buddhism.”

      I would go so far as to say that Buddhism, as a system of rigorous knowledge as opposed to one of contingent belief or transcendental/visionary pseudo-knowledge, hinges on the distinction you make. When I, personally, subtract my belief in (along with its concomitant desire, indeed yearning for) the viability of reconstructing a coherent account of A Buddhist/The Buddha’s teaching, not even a patch of ground remains for the “certainty” you proffer. When I remove all such emotional dispositions from my own calculations, all that is left is literature–indeed literature of a lowly kind: ideologically coercive literature. So, how do you do it? Where is this ground, if not in mere belief–hope, desire, yearning, need? (And, please, don’t start citing texts or teachers. To do so is nothing, to my eyes and ears, but evidence of one’s subscription to a pre-formulated [Buddhist] program.)

      peace,
      Glenn Wallis

    • Glenn Wallis: When I remove all such emotional dispositions from my own calculations, all that is left is literature–indeed literature of a lowly kind: ideologically coercive literature. So, how do you do it? Where is this ground, if not in mere belief–hope, desire, yearning, need?

      A banana tastes sweet, pick one from a tree and taste it. Yeah why not? Let’s see if it really tastes sweet. Hey it does!!! Thanks for the tip you were right.

      “And who is the individual who has crossed over, gone beyond, who stands on firm ground: a brahman? There is the case where an individual, through the ending of the mental fermentations, enters & remains in the fermentation-free awareness-release & discernment-release, having known & made them manifest for himself right in the here & now. This is called the individual who has crossed over, gone beyond, who stands on firm ground: a brahman. Anusota Sutta

      It’s not a program it’s an experience, there is our ground!

      A wise man should contemplate and see the cause and effect for himself before he believes what he hears. Even if the teacher speaks the truth, don’t just believe it, because you don’t yet know the truth of it for yourself – Ajahn Chah

    • Dear Robert.

      Indeed, there is probably a vast number of possibilities for how the rebirth process may work. My main point is simply to distinguish between confidence in rebirth and knowledge about rebirth. As long as a person only has confidence in rebirth, he should acknowledge the limitations of such confidence. That is, whatever one has confidence in can turn out to be either true or false. If rebirth can be shown to be false, then I would have to give up the belief. (And by giving up my belief in rebirth I would also have to give being a Buddhist, since rebirth is absolutely central for a coherent understanding of Buddhism.) And I would be happy to do so. I am first and foremost committed to truth, and I try to avoid holding on to things simply because of emotional needs or whatever else. This does not mean that I believe rebirth is about to be proven false. On the contrary, I have strong confidence that we do not simply end when we die, and I think science itself may well come to a similar conclusion in the coming years and decades. However, until I know for myself, I will have to keep an open mind.

      With metta.

    • Dear Glenn,

      When I, personally, subtract my belief in (along with its concomitant desire, indeed yearning for) the viability of reconstructing a coherent account of A Buddhist/The Buddha’s teaching, not even a patch of ground remains for the “certainty” you proffer.

      If you do subtract this belief, you are simply going to believe in something else instead. Beliefs, attachments, and desires are part and parcel of having a sense of self. I don’t say this simply because it is a Buddhist belief but because it is a fairly self-evident psychological truth for any introspective person. The deeper the stillness of the mind, the deeper one will see this connection. So by discarding such a belief, you have little choice but to grab onto something else. Since one cannot start off by abandoning all attachments, one has to make a commitment to something that leads in the right direction.

      I think your idea that not a “patch of ground remains for the ‘certainty’ you proffer” is a massive overstatement. First of all, I am not “proffering certainty”. I recognize quite well that there can never be absolute certainty in this area. And yet I am quite convinced that the evidence we have points to a historical person behind the main doctrinal ideas found in the four main Nikāyas of the Pali canon. One important piece of evidence comes from the comparative study of Buddhist texts. It has been shown that the only Buddhist texts that show great consistency across the various textual traditions (Chinese, Pali,and Sanskrit; and occasionally also Tibetan) are the texts that correspond to the four main Nikāyas of the Pali, and to some extent the Vinaya. The Abhidhammas vary greatly. Commentaries are often just found in a single of these traditions. The most obvious answer to why there is such diversity is that some texts existed before the Buddhism split up into separate schools, whereas others did not. (Schopen argues that the schools could have borrowed from each other and that this may be the reason for the agreement between texts. But this theory does nothing to explain why certain texts should be virtually identical in doctrinal content, whereas others are very different. If Schopen were right, we should expect much more similarity across the board.) There are many other reasons why I think you are seriously overstating your case, but since I have no idea whether you are interested, I will leave it at that for now.

      indeed literature of a lowly kind: ideologically coercive literature

      I don’t know what lies behind this statement. All I can say is that whether an ideology is coercive or not depends on how you use it. Anything can be misused. I cannot see anything in early Buddhism that is inherently coercive.

      I think an important distinction between our approaches to these ancient texts is that you look at them solely as written records, whereas I try to correlate the words with the results that follow from putting them into practice. It so happens that I feel I have seen enough results to warrant a certain confidence that the person behind early Buddhism was a genius in the area of mental development and insight into the human condition. How do we measure wisdom? By its effect on our lives. I only trust wisdom that leads to peace, to harmony, to kindness, to contentment, etc. All else is just words. Don’t get me wrong: I do not wish to deprecate intelligent debate. But there must be something more, or it can’t be called wisdom.

      With respect.

    • Dear Gotamist,

      My point is simply that if rebirth can be shown to be false, then Buddhism too must be false. The entire purpose of the Buddhist path is to end rebirth. If there is no rebirth, the Buddhist path has lost its very purpose. Sure one might still want to apply Buddhist principles in one’s life, but I cannot see how one could still call oneself a Buddhist.

      With metta.

    • venerable bhikkhu Brahmajali: “My point is simply that if rebirth can be shown to be false, then Buddhism too must be false.”

      I know what you mean but i still wouldn’t call the dhamma false if rebirth was nothing more than a myth. If something works to alleviate suffering it has become valid.

      ”The entire purpose of the Buddhist path is to end rebirth. If there is no rebirth, the Buddhist path has lost its very purpose.”

      That’s true but there is plenty of suffering in one life to justify rigorous training in asceticism.

      Sure one might still want to apply Buddhist principles in one’s life, but I cannot see how one could still call oneself a Buddhist.

      I’m very open to rebirth, all i am saying is that if rebirth was proven to be false i would still be a buddhist, trying to realize anatta and end suffering (in my mind that is still buddhism).

      with metta,

      gotamist

    • Venerable bhikkhu Brahmali,

      Could you please shed some light on my questions here:

      On youtube there was a video of an ex-bhikkhu teaching a course on the dhamma.
      He mentioned that he was of the opinion that cats (for being predators) would be
      reborn in the hell realm. Personally i don’t think this makes any sense and found the remark rather upsetting since cats hunt and kill purely driven by blind instinct. There is no real intention to kill or hurt, it’s pure instinct (a cat isn’t even aware of killing or death). It’s like a man walking on the street killing an insect, without him even knowing it. He is just walking. There is no intention to kill or hurt.

      1 What do you think about this?

      2 Do you think animals can create good kamma? I personally think this is likely for higher mammals. Is there anything in the suttas?

      3 I think rationally the only division between the animal realm and the human realm can be made by the fact that only human beings can understand and practice the dhamma. So this would be at best a division based on having the potential to practice and not so much a more concrete division. A chimp and a human being are ofcourse much more similar than a chimp and a lice are, yet a chimp and a lice are part of the same realm and a human is not. It clearly seems to me a division made according to dhammic potential. Does this go against the more complex cosmological position of early buddhism? What do you think?

    • Dear Gotamist,

      1 What do you think about this?

      With kamma usually the best thing to do is to bring the discussion back to the nature of the intention, or the motivation that drives the intention. The clearer your mind is and the more awareness you bring to the act you are doing, the worse the kamma – because you know exactly what you are doing. The mind of an animal is, as I understand it, usually quite dull and deluded, and I think they have very little awareness of what they are doing when they kill. As you say, it’s mostly “instinct”. So although I would say they are producing some sort of kamma – since there must be some intention involved in their act – it is probably much less than if the equivalent act was done by a human being. I really cannot see how animals could produce kamma that would lead them to hell, but because the kamma they are producing is weak they are likely to remain in the animal realm for a long time.

      2 Do you think animals can create good kamma? I personally think this is likely for higher mammals. Is there anything in the suttas?

      Sure they can. It simply depends on the quality of the intention at any particular time. But again the kamma is likely to be very weak. There is nothing explicitly about this in the suttas, but it would seem implied in the way kamma works.

      3 I think rationally the only division between the animal realm and the human realm can be made by the fact that only human beings can understand and practice the dhamma. So this would be at best a division based on having the potential to practice and not so much a more concrete division. A chimp and a human being are of course much more similar than a chimp and a lice are, yet a chimp and a lice are part of the same realm and a human is not. It clearly seems to me a division made according to dhammic potential. Does this go against the more complex cosmological position of early buddhism? What do you think?

      I think you are essentially right. It seems to me that the reason animals lack “dhammic potential” is due to their deluded state. But even in the human realm there are people who seem to lack dhammic potential, or at the very least have a hard time tapping into it. So again the distinction between higher animals and humans may not be that great.

      With metta.

    • “2 Do you think animals can create good kamma? I personally think this is likely for higher mammals. Is there anything in the suttas?
      Sure they can. It simply depends on the quality of the intention at any particular time. But again the kamma is likely to be very weak. There is nothing explicitly about this in the suttas, but it would seem implied in the way kamma works.”

      MN 129 Balapandita Sutta can be read as covering this point, the doing or non-doing of good deeds by animals.

    • Thank you very much for your reply venerable bhikkhu Brahmali, it was very helpful!

      with metta,

      gotamist

    • Regarding Pepper’s points about the Thais:

      Of course he’s right, Thai villagers are fully interpellated into an ideology. (If you find the jargon offputting: “is interpellated into an ideology” means “is a member of a culture”.) But what might be interesting is to tease out the ideology into which Pepper himself is interpellated. What is the structure of assumptions and conditioned beliefs that is giving rise to his statements? Some things that Pepper appears to take as natural are:

      – it is good to subject things to conceptual analysis
      – charity can and should be eliminated
      – there are authoritative texts, at least one of which is by a man named Althusser, quotations from which are regarded as self-evidently true

      However the most significant plank in Pepper’s ideology is the root and unquestioned assumption that people interpellated into his ideology are in a position to judge the awareness and well-being of people interpellated into other ideologies more accurately than those people themselves, even if they’ve never met those people or visited their countries.

      Although Pepper’s ideology presents itself as being in opposition to oppressive structures, this belief in the privileged status of the analytical perspective shows that, far from being revolutionary, the ideology is nothing but a continuation of Western hegemony. We’ve had centuries now of Westerners passing judgement on non-Western peoples, telling them what religion to follow, what government to form, what crops to grow, and now what perceptions to have about their own lives.

    • These examples of jargon would be funny if (I think) they weren’t actually used to deceive others

      Rapid oxidation – (referred to a fire in a nuclear power plant)
      pre-emptive counter attack – (american forces attacked first)
      engaged the enemy on all sides – (American troops were ambushed)
      backloading augmentation personnel – (retreat by American troops)
      pre-dawn vertical insertion – (invasion)
      negative patient care outcome – (the patient died)
      initiate a career enhancement program – (lay off 5000 workers)
      lies – (inoperative statements)

      I don’t mind this one:

      Vertical transportation corps – (guess!)
      Non – multi-colour capability – (guess!)

    • puthujjana:

      You seem to get the meaning of ideology in your first paragraph, but by the 3rd you make the standard postmodern move of collapsing ideology and all other forms of knowledge. My knowledge of an ideology, my own or someone else’s, is not itself an ideology. Ideology is a discourse, belief, and practice that functions to reproduce the existing relations of production. Not all knowledge does that. Some kinds of thought make no reference to the objective world, and are purely ideological (our belief in the fairness of our legal system is an example–it does not refer to anything of an objective, naturally occurring kind), while other kinds of thought do refer to the external world (the existence or non-existence of neutrinos is an empirical question, as their existence doesn’t depend on our knowing about them). This is an important distinction, because yes, I do have an ideology, and I am aware of it, and yes, I do have the capacity to know something (sometimes more, sometimes less) about other peoples’ ideologies. They also have the capacity to know about mine, if they choose, and then we can discuss which ideology is better suited to reducing human suffering and maximizing human happiness.

      You claim that a correct knowledge of a social formation is Western hegemony is just ridiculous, the worst kind of postmodern cultural-relativism, which can only serve reactionary political ends. It is, first of all, grossly patronizing to assume that only Westerners are capable of correct, non-ideological, knowledge, and that those in Thailand or wherever should be left alone in their ideological delusions because to tell them things that are true is cultural imperialism. Many truths about the objective external world originated in the East. They are not incapable of correct thought, we don’t need to be so patronizing as to protect them from it.

      It is essential to avoid collapsing the knowledge OF a social formation (which can be a scientific kind of knowledge) with the ideological “knowledge” used to reproduce that social system. I do have a sort of ideology, a negative ideology which seeks to interrupt or interfere with the efficient reproduction of the existing relations of production. I also do have some non-ideological knowledge about how ideology works–and this is a matter that is falsifiable, and can be incorrect. There are no “authoritative” texts which are “self-evidently” true–I mention, for instance, Althusser, only because his concept of ideology is the one I am using–there is nothing at all self-evident about it, we can see empirical evidence of the truth of the concept all around us, including in Thailand.

      I do understand that the idea that we can actually know that our ideology IS ideology is, well, quite terrifying to many people–and so they avoid it by suggesting that if anything is ideology, then everything must me, so there is no hope of any thing like true or correct knowledge. Ideology is necessary, because without it we would have to start from scratch in every generation, but it can be self-reproducing and cause stagnation, making us work to reproduce it, instead of the other way round. Hold your ideology lightly, and it won’t seem so horrifying and provoke such anger when someone points out that it is one.

      I’d stopped following this board, because the responses were quite silly and exasperating. I probably won’t follow it any more, but if you want to discuss this question of ideology further, I hope you’ll join the discussion on Glenn Wallis’s Speculative Non-buddhism blog.

      Tom

  5. Thank you for mentioning the elephant in the room that the original mind is an atman. One can’t say that in polite pluralistic Tibetan Buddhist circles these days! Alan is an interesting case in this regard, as his early training as a Gelug monk would have entirely eschewed such a formulation. It is a byproduct of his late 90s Dzogchen turn. Since he still frequently draws on Tsongkhapa, however, he ends up an interesting hybrid.

  6. On the “luminous mind,” Bhikkhu Bodhi has an interesting note in his forthcoming Aṅguttara Nikāya translation due out later this year (The Numerical Discourses of the Buddha, note 64). Similar to the Thanissaro note you link to. Sorry, I don’t know how to preserve the italics here!:

    Pabhassaram bhikkhave idaṃ cittaṃ. The exact meaning of this statement has been a matter of contention that has spawned conflicting interpretations. Mp identifies the “luminous mind” with the bhavaṅgacitta, an Abhidhamma concept denoting the type of mental event that occurs in the absence of active cognition. It corresponds, very roughly, to the subconscious or unconscious of modern psychology. The word bhavaṅga means “factor of existence,” that is, the factor responsible for maintaining continuous personal identity throughout a given life and from one life to the next. However, the bhavaṅga is not a persistent state of consciousness, a permanent self. It is a series of momentary acts of mind that alternate with active cognitive processes (cittavīthi), sequences of cognition when the mind consciously apprehends an object. Hence the texts sometimes use the expression bhavaṅga¬sota, “stream of bhavaṅga,” to highlight the fluid nature of this type of mental process. The occurrence of the bhavaṅga is most evident in deep, dreamless sleep, but it also occurs countless times in waking life between cognitive processes. The most important events in the cognitive process are the javanacittas, ethically determinate occasions of consciousness that create kamma. The javanas may be either wholesome or unwholesome. It is in the javana phase that the defilements, dormant in the subconscious bhavaṅga, infiltrate mental activity and defile the mind. For a fuller discussion of the bhavaṅga, see CMA 122‒29, where it is rendered “life-continuum.” Harvey (1995: 166‒79) has an interesting exploration of the relationship between the bhavaṅga and what he calls “the brightly shining mind.”
    Mp explains: “The bhavaṅgacitta is called luminous, that is, pure (parisuddha), because it is without defilements (nirupakkilesatāya). It is defiled by adventitious defilements—by lust, etc.—which arise later [after the bhavaṅga] at the moment of javana. How? In the way that virtuous, well-behaved parents—or preceptor and teacher—get to be criticized and blamed on account of their undisciplined, badly-behaved children or pupils, [as when people say]: ‘They don’t punish, train, exhort, or instruct their own children or pupils.’ Well-behaved parents, or preceptor and teacher, are like the bhavaṅgacitta, while the blame falling on the parents because of their children [or on the preceptor and teacher on account of their pupils] is like the naturally pure bhavaṅgacitta being defiled at the javana moment by the adventitious defilements that arise in states of mind associated with greed, etc., which cause lust, hatred, and delusion to infect it.”
    Though I quote Mp in full here, I find this explanation problematic on at least two grounds. The first is that the very concept of the bhavaṅgacitta, and the corresponding notion of the cognitive process, are not found in the Nikāyas but first emerge in a later period when the Abhidhamma was taking shape. Even the term bhavaṅga, though crucial to the Theravāda Abhidhamma system, occurs only in the last book of the Abhidhamma Piṭaka, the Paṭṭhāna. It is found much more often in the Abhidhamma commentaries.
    The second reason I find Mp’s explanation problematic is that the text flatly states “this mind is luminous,” without qualification. This suggests that luminosity is intrinsic to the mind itself, and not to a particular type of mental event. Moreover, if the bhavaṅga is luminous, it should always remain so; it becomes incoherent to speak of it being defiled by the javanas. The simplest interpretation of this statement, so far as I can see, is that luminosity is an innate characteristic of mind, seen in its capacity to illuminate its objective field. This luminosity, though inherent, is functionally blocked because the mind is “defiled by adventitious defilements” (āgantukehi upakkilesehi upakkiliṭṭhaṃ). The defilements are called “adventitious” because, unlike the luminosity, they are not intrinsic to the mind itself. Of course, as 10:61 and 10:62 assert, there is no “first point” to ignorance and craving (and other defilements). But these defilements can be removed by mental training. With their removal, the mind’s intrinsic luminosity emerges—or, more precisely, becomes manifest. The statement just below that the noble disciple understands the mind to be luminous implies that this insight into the intrinsic luminosity of the mind serves as the basis for further mental development, which liberates the mind from the defilements. With the complete removal of defilements, the mind’s intrinsic luminosity shines forth unobstructed.
    At 3:102, I 257,7, the word pabhassara is used to describe the mind (citta) that has attained concentration (samādhi). It thus seems that it is in deep samādhi that the intrinsic luminosity of the mind emerges, at least temporarily. 5:23, III 16,29‒17,2, says explicitly that the mind freed from the five hindrances is luminous (pabhassara) and properly concentrated for the destruction of the taints. See too MN III 243,11‒12, where it is equanimity (upekkhā), presumably of the fourth jhāna, that is described as luminous.

  7. “That’s how ideology works. It’s sort of like the argument that women “choose” to take certain kinds of low-paying jobs, that they want to be desired for their physical attributes, that they prefer shopping to doing math, so it can’t be an ideology”

    Right when actually it is the ideology of men and society that is wrong – it is society and men that only value women based on their physcial attributes.

    I would estimate 70% of men would value, judge and reward women based solely on their physical attributes. Based solely on how desirable they find women and that only at most 30% of men value or judge women on anything other than their physical desireability ..apart from their family members….(hopefully).

    Even when it comes to getting a job often women are employed based on their physical appearance, in the West this type of physical discimination is so bad that even women are doing the same thing to other women..it has become totally ridiculous..blame it on the modelling industry … outlaw the modelling industry and the world would be a better place. (although possibly in the East gender discrimination against women is more undervaluing the roles they do, not judgeing them on how desirable they are to men)

    Alot of women intuitively know that men judge them on their physical attributes of course and think that men think about nothing but sex, so try to live up to this ideology by making themselves physically desirable… although there maybe some odd women who do it to make other women jealous..hopefully not many.

    “Women choose to take certain kinds of low-paying jobs”

    The ideology of society seems to be that “greed is good” the more money or power you have the better a person you are and happier you are… so by those standards a drug dealer is a better and more valuable member of society most women, children and many men or the lovely ladies at your local check-out.

    Women prefer doing shopping to math…

    ahh yeah so what….even if they did what do they do when they go shopping anyway… maths.

    • Nothing to do with ideology but with biology. Better to be realistic than PC. Women judge men according to power and wealth. Women go for money and power, men go for good looks. It’s a simplistic statement but that’s the gist of it. Women are just as superficial as men. Believe it or not human beings are not blank slates. Male and female brains work differently. Not all aspects of the gender role are imposed by society, genes play a big part.

    • I could say that men just want to be wanted for their wealth and power and go around trying to seduce women with their wealth and power..but I won’t.

      Men go for “youth” and good looks I would say, not just looks.

      I am not saying that men are by nature intrinsicly peodophilic or anything but most women aren’t attracted to children half their age as sexual partners.

      The fact that women are attracted more to a mind than a body would seem more intellignet and higher up the genetic chain and also I think women can have their own power and money these days so this survival instinct is not so necessary or strong any more.

      I have also not met too many women who see a young fit man and automatically take that as a sign that because genitically he is well endowed…..with looks, that that makes him capable of running the universe, doing brain surgery, musically gifted, a brilliant actor or for that matter “a beautiful, lovely” god of some kind.

      I don’t think the fact that men can completely loose any intelligence, self respect they might have had over a youthful good looking body really goes a long way in supporting the fact that they are in some way better than women.

      Nor does the fact that they can find nothing wrong with worshiping the bodies (women) they find attractive while at the same time pointing the finger at other woman they don’t find sexually attractive as the temptresses, stupid or mad.

      it seems that most men seem to think that just because they are sexually attracted to a women that makes “her” intelligent, attractive a goddess, a great actress, a wonderful kind person, a genius, a etc etc ..when all it really means is that… they are sexually attracted to her.

      Mostly though I think men are just really attracted to women who they think other women will be jealous of; who they think will be the envy of all other women, and who they can use to denegrate and dominate other women who are anything more than the vicious tempresses they so desire and use to try to destroy other women with.

    • mcd: “I could say that men just want to be wanted for their wealth and power and go around trying to seduce women with their wealth and power..but I won’t.”

      Sure they seduce women with it because women find it attractive. Their offspring are secured that way in protection and food. It’s all just sexual selection.

      mcd: “Men go for “youth” and good looks I would say, not just looks.

      I am not saying that men are by nature intrinsicly peodophilic or anything but most women aren’t attracted to children half their age as sexual partners.”

      That’s because men stay fertile and women do not, again it’s just biology. A younger female is more likely to give their offspring a vital chance for survival.

      Finding a young woman attractive has nothing to do with pedastry. Pedastry has to do with finding a child attractive, in other words a human being that has no secundary sexual traits. Pedastry is related to an inborn brain disformaty.

      (by the way i know plenty of women chasing younger men wich is mostly an ego thing in women)

      mcd: “The fact that women are attracted more to a mind than a body would seem more intellignet and higher up the genetic chain and also I think women can have their own power and money these days so this survival instinct is not so necessary or strong any more.”

      They are not more attracted to a mind, that’s sentimental propaganda.

      It is great that women can have their own power and money nowadays, that allows them to be free from having a secondary position in society. But it’s highly naive to think that our basic animal make-up has somehow vanished in that short time we became civilized, in fact it’s there in everything we do.

      mcd: ”I have also not met too many women who see a young fit man and automatically take that as a sign that because genitically he is well endowed…..with looks, that that makes him capable of running the universe, doing brain surgery, musically gifted, a brilliant actor or for that matter “a beautiful, lovely” god of some kind.”

      No they can actually smell it in their sweat etc…Nature has all of these subtle tricks we aren’t even aware of. After all we are just apes.

      mcd: “I don’t think the fact that men can completely loose any intelligence, self respect they might have had over a youthful good looking body really goes a long way in supporting the fact that they are in some way better than women.”

      Men aren’t better than women and vice versa, just different.

      mcd: “Nor does the fact that they can find nothing wrong with worshiping the bodies (women) they find attractive while at the same time pointing the finger at other woman they don’t find sexually attractive as the temptresses, stupid or mad.”

      I think you have met some pretty lousy men. Try not to generalize, i don’t. I have met some pretty awful women but i would rather attribute that lousiness to mankind as a whole (or even just plain old existence) than to a gender.

      mcd: “it seems that most men seem to think that just because they are sexually attracted to a women that makes “her” intelligent, attractive a goddess, a great actress, a wonderful kind person, a genius, a etc etc ..when all it really means is that… they are sexually attracted to her.”

      Never met a guy who thought that.

      mcd: “Mostly though I think men are just really attracted to women who they think other women will be jealous of; who they think will be the envy of all other women, and who they can use to denegrate and dominate other women who are anything more than the vicious tempresses they so desire and use to try to destroy other women with.”

      I think you have some unhealthy thoughts about men. I’m sure you have met some idiotic or even evil men but i as a man can say that i do not even feel slighty related to these scary traits you attribute to my gender. Try not to generalize.

      with metta,

      gotamist

    • Gotimist,

      “By the way i know plenty of women chasing younger men wich is mostly an ego thing in women”

      I don’t know many women who chase men at all but I think men like to think it is women chasing them..better for the ego.

      If we are talking survival it has also been proven that men do become less infertile as they get older, not to mention probably less able to provide – so women seeking a partner should look to younger fitter healthier men also if we are going to be “scientific” about it.

      Also if the Buddha is anything to go by….marry a Christian at least they have some commitment morality …. personally if I was in the “market” or an animal looking to breed as for a husbands I wouldn’t touch a Buddhist but would find a nice Christian man, I think they “mate” for life.

      “I think you have some unhealthy thoughts about men. I’m sure you have met some idiotic or even evil men but i as a man can say that i do not even feel slighty related to these scary traits you attribute to my gender. Try not to generalize”.

      I am not generalising just stating facts, most men possibly are not very self reflective so I doubt you or any other man would find fault with themselves.

      : “it seems that most men seem to think that just because they are sexually attracted to a women that makes “her” intelligent, attractive a goddess, a great actress, a wonderful kind person, a genius, a etc etc ..when all it really means is that… they are sexually attracted to her.”

      Are you telling me you don’t find Kylie Minogue attractive and think she is a “goddess” I would suggest more stripper than goddess but it is men that have made out she is some goddess…apparently she even is not only now a musically genius but now also and academic one with an honorary Doctorate degree… !

      “They are not more attracted to a mind, that’s sentimental propaganda”.

      No women are far more attracted to the mind.

      “It is great that women can have their own power and money nowadays, that allows them to be free from having a secondary position in society. But it’s highly naive to think that our basic animal make-up has somehow vanished in that short time we became civilized, in fact it’s there in everything we do”.

      The fact that you see women or womens roles as secondary I think means you are one of the very men I describe above…women roles are not secondary women do not plat a secondary role in society it is just the obnoxious egos of men that like to see it that way.

      Actually most of the boyfriends I have had were not apes but interesting, successful intelligent kind and/or talented (if not somewhat out there) men, with respect for women and who never saw women as secondary in society…even the younger one!

      Best wishes

    • mcd: “I don’t know many women who chase men at all but I think men like to think it is women chasing them..better for the ego.”

      Sure, so 60 year old rich women chasing 25 year old men in Turkey is impossible? Have a talk with some women i know.

      mcd: “If we are talking survival it has also been proven that men do become less infertile as they get older, not to mention probably less able to provide – so women seeking a partner should look to younger fitter healthier men also if we are going to be “scientific” about it.”

      I’m not talking about really old men here. A man in his mid 40’s is still in his prime, a women of that age is unlikely to provide healthy children.

      mcd: “Also if the Buddha is anything to go by….marry a Christian at least they have some commitment morality …. personally if I was in the “market” or an animal looking to breed as for a husbands I wouldn’t touch a Buddhist but would find a nice Christian man, I think they “mate” for life.”

      Never heard such an ignorant comment. But hey, if you want to be a rib made into a woman to please a man. Personally i don’t think you can be intelligent and christian at the same time.

      A lay buddhist may not commit adultry. The buddha was adamant on marital fidelity for his lay followers. You don’t know what you are talking about!

      mcd: “I am not generalising just stating facts, most men possibly are not very self reflective so I doubt you or any other man would find fault with themselves.”

      I’m sure you have done mountains of research.

      I’m an animal rights activist, vegan, buddhist, a member of the socialist party. I have always fought against injustice. Believe me, you are not in a position to talk of any faults i may or may not have.

      mcd: “Are you telling me you don’t find Kylie Minogue attractive and think she is a “goddess” I would suggest more stripper than goddess but it is men that have made out she is some goddess…apparently she even is not only now a musically genius but now also and academic one with an honorary Doctorate degree… !”

      Yes, i am telling you i do not find her attractive, amazing isn’t it! I prefer a woman with some content and one who doesn’t terrorize people with awful music for a living. I don’t even think she is physically that attractive!

      Believe it or not when i was young i had a thing for the fictional character Jane Eyre. To me she was a perfect and very attractive woman. But that is just fiction isn’t it? Most people including women are superficial and egotistical to the bone.

      mcd: “No women are far more attracted to the mind.”

      I guess that explains male strippers like the Chippendales.

      mcd: “The fact that you see women or womens roles as secondary I think means you are one of the very men I describe above…women roles are not secondary women do not plat a secondary role in society it is just the obnoxious egos of men that like to see it that way.”

      I was clearly talking about things from the past. You do know that women were not able to vote and were mostly financially dependent on their husband. Do not twist my words to fit them in your clearly bigot views.

      mcd: “Actually most of the boyfriends I have had were not apes but interesting, successful intelligent kind and/or talented (if not somewhat out there) men, with respect for women and who never saw women as secondary in society…even the younger one!”

      Biologically we are all apes. No we didn’t evolve from apes, apes are just as modern as us. We are one of the great apes we evolved from ape-like animals. Btw i think most gorillas are more interesting and intelligent than most members of the homo sapiens species.

      I personally think you are way to prejudice to have a constructive conversation with.

  8. Bhante

    Again thanks for your comments.

    To quote you:

    “But this can hardly be a major factor (re Bhikkhu Bodhi mentioned earlier), as I cannot recall a single passage where the Buddha ascribed the inability to get jhana to a blockage from past karma.”

    So in Bhikkhu Bodhi’s case, his apparent restriction on spiritual attainments was simply due to bad luck with his health? (By the way, BB said he derives comfort from having confidence his current practice will lead to a more favourable rebirth – hopefully without headaches! – so you can see the purpose this belief serves.)

    Also, do you acknowledge the role genetics might play as part of life’s influences? (If I remember correctly you once said “what scientists call genes, Buddhists call kamma”.) I notice you make no mention of it.

    Isn’t genetics a more plausible explanation for life’s influences than kamma transmitted through rebirth? If the Buddha was alive today might he not acknowledge that?

    Cheers

    Geoff

    • Sure, genetics is a part, and I’m sure if the science of genetics had been known in the Buddha’s time he would have acknowledged this, as he acknowledged the multiple causes of diseases in many places, e.g.: http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn36/sn36.021.than.html

      However, we must be careful in how we use genetics and other scientific approaches as well. These are just as much subject to overapplication as the doctrine of kamma is. We know that certain things are influenced by genetics, but unless there is a specific genetic mechanism that is demonstrated in any given case we have to admit that we don’t know – just as we do with kamma.

    • Hello venerable bhikkhu Sujato,

      I bought a hardcover edition of A swift pair of messengers from lulu.com and am currently reading it. I think it’s the most important book on buddhist meditation i have ever read. You are somewhat of a hero of mine, and one of the main influences in turning me to early buddhism.

      I have always wanted to ask you a few questions. Some may seem trivial but to me they are important.

      Ofcourse you should not feel obligated to answer them! I know you are a busy monk.

      On youtube there was a video of an ex-bhikkhu teaching a course on the dhamma.
      He mentioned that he was of the opinion that cats (for being predators) would be
      reborn in the hell realm. Personally i don’t think this makes any sense and found the remark rather upsetting since cats hunt and kill purely driven by blind instinct. There is no real intention to kill or hurt, it’s pure instinct (a cat isn’t even aware of killing or death). It’s like a man walking on the street killing an insect, without him even knowing it. He is just walking. There is no intention to kill or hurt.

      1 What do you think about this?

      2 Do you think animals can create good kamma? I personally think this is likely for higher mammals. Is there anything in the suttas?

      3 I think rationally the only division between the animal realm and the human realm can be made by the fact that only human beings can understand and practice the dhamma. So this would be at best a division based on having the potential to practice and not so much a more concrete division. A chimp and a human being are ofcourse much more similar than a chimp and a lice are, yet a chimp and a lice are part of the same realm and a human is not. It clearly seems to me a division made according to dhammic potential. Does this go against the more complex cosmological position of early buddhism? What do you think?

      That’s all i can think of for now.

      with metta and deep respect,

      gotamist

    • “We know that certain things are influenced by genetics, but unless there is a specific genetic mechanism that is demonstrated in any given case we have to admit that we don’t know – just as we do with kamma.”

      Even if we could correlate specific genetic mechanisms to our every bane and boon, that still wouldn’t answer the greater question of why we were born with such genes (genes are today’s caste) in the first place..

    • ‘genes are today’s caste’ – yes! I suspect that in years to come our obsession with genetic determinism will seem as naive and unscientific as phrenology…

    • Hi Bhante Sujato
      I personally don’t see a widespread “obsession with genetic determinism”. If it is your view that the study of genetics is a pseudoscience, I would put that down to deep seated ludite like tendencies/yearnings🙂.

  9. Ajahn Sujato,

    I know Deepak Chopra is coming from I think possibly a Hindu perspective or a God perspective or something ie he still talks of desire as a goal etc and alot of what he says is not in line with Buddhism at least his earliest teachings are not …BUT

    What is wrong with his theory of theoritical physics as a very basic explanation for the non-theoretical lay person who is not a scientist as to the connection between buddhist theory on emptiness and science or physics.

    Dr Deepak Chopra MD states:

    According to quantum field theorists, all material things whether they are automobiles, human bodies or dollar bills are made up of atoms. These atoms are made up of subatomic particles which, in turn, are fluctuations of energy and information in a huge void of energy and information.

    …the basic conclusion of quantum field theorists is that the raw material of the world is nonmaterial; the essential stuff of the universe is nonstuff. all of our technology is based on this fact…

    …scientists no longer believe that the atom, which is the basic unit of matter, is a solid entity..they are impulses of energy and information (and intention?)…

    all of material creation is structured out of information and energy and these impulses of energy and information are the nonstuff that make up everything that we consider stuff or matter…it is thinking nonstuff… for what else is a thought but an impulse of energy and information….

    …attention takes that probablility amplitude and brings it into material existence just by the mere act of observation, and the mere act of observation is, of course putting out attention on it. So, a particle is literially created by you and me through the act of observation. Before it was observed it was just a mathematical possibility, a probablility distribution of a possible measurement as a function of time.

    metta

    mcd

    • Hi mcd,

      I don’t have too much problem with what you quote hear, except to note that his statements about how a particle is ‘created by you and me through the act of observation’ relies on a controversial interpretation of quantum physics (the Copenhagen Interpretation), which is itself overstated in this form. Quantum theory is very well established in terms of facts and principles, but the meaning of these facts is hotly debated.

  10. Hi Bhante,

    I’d be interested to know what you think of a point on which Tom Pepper says he agrees wholeheartedly with Alan Wallace:

    “it would be wonderful if more people understood, as Wallace points out quite clearly (pp. 177-179), that mindfulness in the Buddhist tradition is not at all the same thing as mindfulness in the Western mental-health industry. Despite the frequent claims that it is a concept adopted from Buddhism, mindfulness in the various “mindfulness-based” therapies has little to do with the concept of sati.”

    Is this your experience?

    • MBSR doesn’t have nothing to do with sati, but is increasingly isolated from its full context, in great part because of the obsession of Western Buddhists with sitting meditation. Bhavana takes on a secondary role, devaluing the effectiveness of sitting.
      As for the rest of this discussion, I’m afraid it’s awash in generalisations. Perhaps time to start a new thread.

    • Hi Juzzeau,

      I noticed this point in the article but chose to pass over it. In fact I think both sides are partly right and partly wrong. It’s a complex matter, but to state it briefly:

      Sati essentially means ‘memory’. The basic meaning in the suttas is ‘keeping in mind’ (often one’s meditation object). The normal phrase for what we call ‘mindfluness in daily life’ is sampajannya, which is normally translated as ‘clear comprehension’.

      Meditation in the Suttas involves both directed and undirected aspects. There is, in fact, a sutta in the Satipatthana Samyutta that deals with this specific issue. We also find passages that speak, for example, of observing feelings, perceptions, and thoughts as they arise and cease; or in the Satipatthana Sutta itself, the observation of mind with greed, hatred, and delusion, and without these things. On the other hand, there are plenty of places that speak of energetically striving to develop the skilful and abandon the unskillful.

      But none of these things are vipassana. Nor are they samatha. Samatha is tranquillity, especially the four jhanas, and vipassana is discernment, especially the understanding of impermanence and so on. Mindful observation, whether ‘directed’ or ‘undirected’ is a quality that gives rise to vipassana and samatha. It is a means towards a higher goal, which is why it’s the seventh factor of the eightfold path.

      The modern therapeutic use of mindfulness obviously only captures a fragment of the full range. How could it be otherwise? It’s just a therapy to help people in trouble by giving them some little, non-challenging practice to get their emotions and mind in better order. It can’t compare with the profound mindfulness, stillness, and insight realized by meditators dedicated to the Path. Nor, in my experience, do the therapists claim otherwise. There might be some therapists who think what they are doing is equal or better than traditional Buddhist mindfulness, but I haven’t met any, perhaps because the therapists I know are all long-term serious meditators.

    • Well said Bhante,

      A question arises, though, from the reference to “plenty of places that speak of energetically striving to develop the skilful and abandon the unskillful”. This phrase is evocative of the sixth path step, Samma Vayama, and seems to have the quality of preparation for sati practice rather than part of it. Is this a fair distinction?

  11. gotamist,

    re your comment above: “Not all aspects of the gender role are imposed by society, genes play a big part.”

    I’d also be interested in what part (if any) Bhante sees genes playing in life’s influences and how that interacts with kamma and rebirth.

    cheers

    Geoff

  12. Bhante

    To quote you earlier:

    “Pepper’s assertions of the elitist nature of Buddhist institutions are, I think, naive and ideologically based.”

    But aren’t the monasteries in Thailand (and elsewhere) dependent on the support of a community that primarily believes they will earn a favourable rebirth (merit) by their support? By not opposing this attitude aren’t the monastics condoning “spiritual materialism”, thereby benefiting from this ignorance? (Where would monasticism be without it?) If so, doesn’t that demonstrate ideology at work?

    Also don’t you believe (quoting the Suttas) that the best place for spiritual practice is in a monastic environment? And aren’t monastics in Thailand (and elsewhere) held in particularly high regard? Doesn’t that make it elitist?

    Cheers

    Geoff

  13. Bhante

    To quote you: “I’m not trying to white-wash Thailand or ignore the problems with the country, which I have spoken of on other occasions. The point of my original post was to counteract what I saw as a naive (unspoken Marxist) ideology, which assumes that the only function of a monastic Sangha was to conspire with the ruling classes to exploit the workers. This is simply not the reality of what I experienced in my time there.”

    But of course ideology can be more subtle than this.

    As I enquired earlier, is it fair to say the monasteries in Thailand (and elsewhere) are dependent on the support of a community who primarily believe they will earn favourable rebirths (gain merit) by their support? By not opposing this attitude aren’t the monastics condoning a form of “spiritual materialism”, thereby benefiting from this ignorance? If so, is this a form of exploitation?

    Cheers

    Geoff

    • Geoff: “As I enquired earlier, is it fair to say the monasteries in Thailand (and elsewhere) are dependent on the support of a community who primarily believe they will earn favourable rebirths (gain merit) by their support? By not opposing this attitude aren’t the monastics condoning a form of “spiritual materialism”, thereby benefiting from this ignorance? If so, is this a form of exploitation?”

      Actually that is just an aspect of dana, supporting the sangha does mean gaining merit for lay followers. This has been practiced from the start. How is giving in any way exploitation if the cosmological view is that giving is related to gaining merit? Bhikkhus are not allowed to give their gratitude in return since this would nulify that merit.

      In the sutta nipata there is a story about The Buddha holding up his bowl at a food handout for workers. He is criticized for not working on the fields and therefor he does not deserve a meal. The buddha gives a nice dhamma talk on how he metaphorically does work the field (practicing the dhamma). The clansman rewards this dhamma talk with a meal. The Buddha does not accept since the meal was given only for his dhamma talk.

  14. Bhante,

    Thanks for your previous replies.

    A further query on the question of ideology if I may…..

    If having to choose on where one should provide support, why should one support voluntary renunciants (monastics) over involuntary renunciants (eg the starving / seriously ill from preventable diseases)?

    Isn’t Santi for example, dependant on the unquestioning support of a core of devotees (from predominantly Sri Lankan and Thai backgrounds) who make Santi their priority (over other areas of charity)?

    As a contrast, when I suggested to a good (non-Buddhist) friend that I support Santi during the Rains Retreat, my friend got angry and said I should support the starving in the Horn of Africa instead.

    Doesn’t this demonstrate the importance of ideology for Santi?

    Cheers

    Geoff

    • MN 142 Dakkhiṇāvibhanga Sutta – The Exposition of Offerings

      5. “There are fourteen kinds of personal offerings, Ānanda. One gives a gift to the Tathāgata, accomplished and fully enlightened; this is the first kind of personal offering. One gives a gift to a paccekabuddha; this is the second kind of personal offering. One gives a gift to an arahant disciple of the Tathāgata; this is the third kind of personal offering. One gives a gift to one who has entered upon the way to the realization of the fruit of arahantship; this is the fourth kind of personal offering. One gives a gift to a non-returner; this is the fifth kind of personal offering. One gives a gift to one who has entered upon the way to the realization of the fruit of non-return; this is the sixth kind of personal offering. One gives a gift to a once-returner; this is the seventh kind of personal offering. One gives a gift to one who has entered upon the way to the realization of the fruit of once-return; this is the eighth kind of personal offering. One gives a gift to a stream-enterer; this is the ninth kind of personal offering. One gives a gift to one who has entered upon the way to the realization of the fruit of stream-entry; this is the tenth kind of personal offering. One gives a gift to one outside [the Dispensation] who is free from lust for sensual pleasures; this is the eleventh kind of personal offering. One gives a gift to a virtuous ordinary person; this is the twelfth kind of personal offering. One gives a gift to an immoral ordinary person; this is the thirteenth kind of personal offering. One gives a gift to an animal; this is the fourteenth kind of personal offering.

      6. “Herein, Ānanda, by giving a gift to an animal, the offering may be expected to repay a hundredfold. By giving a gift to an immoral ordinary person, the offering may be expected to repay a thousandfold. By giving a gift to a virtuous ordinary person, the offering may be expected to repay a hundred-thousandfold. By giving a gift to one outside [the Dispensation] who is free from lust for sensual pleasures, the offering may be expected to repay a hundred-thousand times a hundred-thousandfold.

      “By giving a gift to one who has entered upon the way to the realization of the fruit of stream-entry, the offering may be expected to repay incalculably, immeasurably. What, then, should be said about giving a gift to a stream-enterer? What should be said about giving a gift to one who has entered upon the way to the realization of the fruit of once-return…to a once-returner…to one who has entered upon the way to the realization of the fruit of non-return…to a non-returner… to one who has entered upon the way to the realization of the fruit of arahantship…to an arahant…to a paccekabuddha? What should be said about giving a gift to a Tathāgata, accomplished and fully enlightened?

      7. “There are seven kinds of offerings made to the Sangha, Ānanda. One gives a gift to a Sangha of both [bhikkhus and bhikkhunīs] headed by the Buddha; this is the first kind of offering made to the Sangha. One gives a gift to a Sangha of both [bhikkhus and bhikkhunīs] after the Tathāgata has attained final Nibbāna; this is the second kind of offering made to the Sangha. One gives a gift to a Sangha of bhikkhus; this is the third kind of offering made to the Sangha. One gives a gift to a Sangha of bhikkhunīs; this is the fourth kind of offering made to the Sangha. One gives a gift, saying: ‘Appoint so many bhikkhus and bhikkhunīs for me from the Sangha’; this is the fifth kind of offering made to the Sangha. One gives a gift, saying: ‘Appoint so many bhikkhus for me from the Sangha’; this is the sixth kind of offering made to the Sangha. One gives a gift, saying: ‘Appoint so many bhikkhunīs for me from the Sangha’; this is the seventh kind of offering made to the Sangha.

      8. “In future times, Ānanda, there will be members of the clan who are ‘yellow-necks,’ immoral, of evil character. People will give gifts to those immoral persons for the sake of the Sangha. Even then, I say, an offering made to the Sangha is incalculable, immeasurable. And I say that in no way is a gift to a person individually ever more fruitful than an offering made to the Sangha.

      9. “There are, Ānanda, four kinds of purification of offering. What four? There is the offering that is purified by the giver, not by the receiver. There is the offering that is purified by the receiver, not by the giver. There is the offering that is purified neither by the giver nor by the receiver. There is the offering that is purified both by the giver and the receiver.

      10. “And how is the offering purified by the giver, not by the receiver? Here the giver is virtuous, of good character, and the receiver is immoral, of evil character. Thus the offering is purified by the giver, not by the receiver.

      11. “And how is the offering purified by the receiver, not by the giver? Here the giver is immoral, of evil character, and the receiver is virtuous, of good character. Thus the offering is purified by the receiver, not by the giver.

      12. “And how is the offering purified neither by the giver nor by the receiver? Here the giver is immoral, of evil character, and the receiver is immoral, of evil character. Thus the offering is purified neither by the giver nor by the receiver.

      13. “And how is the offering purified both by the giver and by the receiver? Here the giver is virtuous, of good character, and the receiver is virtuous, of good character. Thus the offering is purified both by the giver and by the receiver. These are the four kinds of purification of offering.”

      14. That is what the Blessed One said. When the Sublime One had said that, the Teacher said further:

      “When a virtuous person to an immoral person gives

      With trusting heart a gift righteously obtained,

      Placing faith that the fruit of action is great,

      The giver’s virtue purifies the offering.

      When an immoral person to a virtuous person gives

      With untrusting heart a gift unrighteously obtained,

      Nor places faith that the fruit of action is great,

      The receiver’s virtue purifies the offering.

      When an immoral person to an immoral person gives

      With untrusting heart a gift unrighteously obtained,

      Nor places faith that the fruit of action is great,

      Neither’s virtue purifies the offering.

      When a virtuous person to a virtuous person gives

      With trusting heart a gift righteously obtained,

      Placing faith that the fruit of action is great,

      That gift, I say, will come to full fruition.

      When a passionless person to a passionless person gives

      With trusting heart a gift righteously obtained,

      Placing faith that the fruit of action is great,

      That gift, I say, is the best of worldly gifts.”

  15. Gotamist,

    Re: MN 142 Dakkhiṇāvibhanga Sutta – The Exposition of Offerings

    “By giving a gift to an immoral ordinary person, the offering may be expected to repay a thousandfold. By giving a gift to a virtuous ordinary person, the offering may be expected to repay a hundred-thousandfold.”

    “By giving a gift to one who has entered upon the way to the realization of the fruit of stream-entry, the offering may be expected to repay incalculably, immeasurably.”

    So does that mean I’ll benefit more by giving to the comfortable sangha in Australia than to a starving African?

    This is rather self-serving isn’t it? And better still we have the Suttas to lend support.

    And then I hear from people like Glenn Wallis who suggest sections of the Pali Canon have been inserted to justify the structure of monastic institutions.

    Makes me wonder……

    • In buddhism you will benefit more by giving to the sangha since you are investing in an universal medicine that has the potential to have positive results for every living being. You should not see it as if you were feeding monks but as if you were feeding the dhamma itself. Although the best investment is just to practice it. If you think the dhamma is the crown of human achievement then supporting it over all other things only seems natural. If you do not think it is all that, then investing in it seems a bit secondary.

      Please note, that i would never tell somebody to support a buddhist monastery financially in place of supporting starving people! Technically a monk just needs some food donations everyday and that will be enough. A monastery should be poor, a bhikkhu should be poor. A wealthy monastery has lost the dhamma. I would say; support the starving financially, cook up a healthy meal for the bhikkhus and if they need something to survive try to provide it for them. Food and some simple material stuff is enough for the sangha. No need for statues etc…That is what the buddha ment.

  16. Bhante

    You say: “I suspect that in years to come our obsession with genetic determinism will seem as naive and unscientific as phrenology…”

    I can’t see any great obsession with genetic determinism. What I can see are benefits that might be gained from genetic research such as forewarning people who may be genetically predisposed to a particular disease. There will always be a healthy nature vs nuture debate.

    It’s interesting how you don’t seem to subject say kamma and rebirth as presented in the Pali Canon to the same critical evaluation. Might that not seem naïve and unscientific in years to come?

    Cheers

    Geoff

  17. “I can’t see any great obsession with genetic determinism.”

    I don’t think we’ve quite gotten to this point yet, but it’s coming…

    There’s a fantastic Google Tech Talk by Steve Hsu on Genetics and Intelligence: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=62jZENi1ed8

    China is now leading the world in genetic sequencing power; the latest machines which China heavily is invested in purchasing are able to sequence an entire human genome in about five days. In the Tech Talk, the speaker demonstrates the strong statistical correlation between those with similar genetics and their intelligence. This is evidence that one’s genes, rather than one’s environment, is the determinant of one’s intellectual potential. (Statistically, one’s intelligence is as genetically determined as one’s height!) China has significant interest in determining which genes are responsible for high intelligence, as it would allow them to reliably identify and nurture intellectual potential in youth. At the end of the talk, Steve Hsu asks for saliva samples from the gifted individuals at Google to aid in this endeavor.

    The increasing capability to process full genomes quickly and cheaply, and the accumulation of statistical correlations between specific genes and the traits they express ( such as http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2011/may/06/happiness-gene-long-short-versions ) could popularize genomics as a method to determine one’s future in the same manner as astrology had in the past..

    However, it is quite premature to denigrate the idea of genetic determinism by equating it with phrenology. We should remain open to the possibilty that we are governed by genetically determined dispositions.

    • Just to clarify what I meant by comparison with phrenology: though widely dismissed as a pseudoscience, phrenology was in fact an important initial precursor to our modern neuroscience. It was perhaps the first attempt to systematically understand how the brain works, and it correctly posited that different parts of the brain were associated with different aspects of the mind and emotions. As a first attempt, it contained many fallacies and was rightly abandoned, although its useful parts were retained.

      While the basic idea that the brain is differentiated and that different areas of the brain are associated with different aspects of personality was correct, the phrenologists went on to make all kinds of inaccurate, naive, and overstated claims about the exact nature of these associations. Similar mistakes are made today about, for example, a genetic basis for homosexuality, and I believe that in the future such ideas will come to be seen as being simplistic and reductive in the same way as phrenology. In a similar vein I would class the manifold attempts to essentialize ‘gender differences’ in genetics, and so on.

      None of these reservations arise because of any ‘luddite’ opposition to the study of genetics. Far from it. I was not referring to the study of genetics at all, but to the tendency to invoke genetics in the service of (often nefarious) social/political agendas (as indeed was phrenology).

      The study of genetics, I believe, is in its infancy. There are many fields of fundamental significance that still remain to be fully assessed, but which in recent years have begun to be questioned. These include the study of epigenetics and the associated revival of interest in transmission of acquired traits, or Lamarckism. The astonishing advances that you mention in our genetics technology will surely result in the accumulation of vast amounts of data, and the assessment and interpretation of this data in the coming decades will in all likelihood have a disruptive effect on current theory.

      Given the tender state of our understanding of genetics, the temptation, when faced with holes in our understanding, to simply cry, “Genes did it!” is to be resisted. This, of course, has nothing to do with a situation where genes have actually been proven to play a role.

      To forestall the inevitable criticism, please know that I make the same argument when Buddhists cry “Kamma did it!” The Buddha told us to be humble and conservative in making claims of knowledge, and I have yet to hear better advice than this.

  18. Bhante,
    I have seen in the above discussions the importance of rebirth in Buddhism. But when Buddha left home in search of happiness he didn’t have the knowledge of rebirths. Knowledge of his previous lives was one of the things he learned part of his awakening. (http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/thanissaro/wings/part1.html#passage-1)
    So why should it be so important to us? Do you think the faith in rebirth will give us that boost to our perseverance?
    Thanks,
    Srini.

  19. Bhante,

    To my comment:
    “It’s interesting how you don’t seem to subject say kamma and rebirth as presented in the Pali Canon to the same critical evaluation. Might that not seem naïve and unscientific in years to come?”

    You respond:
    “Ahh, no, in years to come the teaching on kamma will seem prophetic and uncannily insightful…”

    It’s also interesting how confident you are in how “prophetic and uncannily insightful” the teaching on kamma (and rebirth as presented in the Pali Canon) will be in years to come (ie will not be seen as “naïve and unscientific”).

    On the other hand you acknowledge for example “the study of genetics, I believe, is in its infancy”. You also say: “I suspect that in years to come our obsession with genetic determinism will seem as naive and unscientific as phrenology…”

    Why mightn’t the scientific study of kamma and rebirth still be in its infancy, given the rapid advances in neuroscience? (Might it not also go the way of phrenology, how do we know?)

    Is it simply because one was mentioned in the Pali Canon and the other wasn’t?

    Cheers

    Geoff

  20. gotamist

    You say:

    “In buddhism you will benefit more by giving to the sangha since you are investing in a universal medicine that has the potential to have positive results for every living being. You should not see it as if you were feeding monks but as if you were feeding the dhamma itself.”

    I wonder if a starving African would understand this?

    By the way, which dhamma are we talking about? Alan Wallace’s, Ajahn Sujato or Stephen Batchelor’s?

    Cheers

    Geoff

    • “I wonder if a starving African would understand this?”

      In a buddhist world there would be no starving africans. A buddhist world would not be driven by capitalist greed. Plus, a starving african doesn’t need to understand this because we, with our wealth can easily feed a starving man and a bhikkhu at the same time.

      “By the way, which dhamma are we talking about? Alan Wallace’s, Ajahn Sujato or Stephen Batchelor’s?”

      Since venerable bhikkhu Sujato is the only one in that is honest and knowledgeable enough to discern what the buddha really thaught (by now i’ve read enough of him to say so). I would say venerable bhikkhu Sujato’s dhamma (=Gotama buddha’s dhamma).

      with metta,

      gotamist

    • correcting error: Since venerable bhikkhu Sujato is the only one in that LIST that is honest and knowledgeable enough to discern what the buddha really thaught

  21. Bhante Sujato,

    Further to your previous comment:

    o sujato / Jan 12 2012 8:19 am

    Ahh, no, in years to come the teaching on kamma will seem prophetic and uncannily insightful…

    ***

    What firstly set a little bell ringing for me was your apparently inconsistent responses to matters relating to science.

    On the one hand you seem quite open to question aspects of science such as genetics and to refute the “kamma explains everything” school by acknowledging environmental and societal factors etc on life’s influences.

    However when it comes close to questioning the core beliefs of Buddhism such as rebirth (as presented in Pali Canon), you become much more guarded.

    A good example of this is in your response to Ian Stevenson’s ‘research’ on reincarnation. Along with Ajahn Brahm and others, whenever Stevenson is referred to he is seen as beyond reproach.

    However serious questions have been raised on his methodology and motivation. I can provide several citations but a good example is by Ted Meissner (aka The Secular Buddhist), when I put this question to him in Aug last year. Firstly I quote your views on Stevenson:

    sujato / Jul 18 2011 5:10 pm

    Hi Geoff,

    Stevenson’s work has ‘too many holes’ – ha! With all due respect, the seriousness, methodology, and almost obsessive care with which Stevenson has painstakingly assembled his evidence and addressed his critics over decades leaves Batchelor’s historical work in the shade.

    Ted Meissner:

    “Ian Stevenson’s book! As I’ve said elsewhere, these are cases even he acknowledged in his introduction were not evidence. They are stories. They are interesting, inspiring, cool as all get out. So are a lot of stories that may not be factually accurate, like Muhammad’s winged horse, loaves to fishes, or swallowing the ocean. Even Stevenson himself titled the book with the words “Suggestive of Reincarnation” — he did not say “Proving Reincarnation”. He was also a long time believer who did not have any kind of controls on his “studies”, some of which were done as interviews years after such events were reported to have happened. The fact is, and yes there is documented evidence, that memory is fallible and changes over time. What one says years after an event may not be an accurate retelling — how big was that fish Uncle Joe caught years ago? Like that!

    Here’s an alternate and natural explanation: first, quite unintentional cold reading. Children making statements that adults put meaning into that may not be reflective of fact. The child says something interesting, the adult reads into it (as we see people do when John Edwards “speaks” to the dead). They may not even be aware this is what’s happening, as is the case with Facilitated Communication. Another aspect to this is the creation of false memories, as recounted in many scientifically controlled studies, that require a mere suggestion of the possibility, and a little bit of encouragement. How much more effective the creation of such memories under the conditions of meditative states!

    Again, we’re not saying these are not convincing thoughts that arise, or that they are intentionally false. They *are* very realistic, they are totally without artifice, having had such thoughts arise in a quite convincing fashion in my own meditation. That doesn’t make them real, and this is a perfectly natural explanation for past life “memories.”

    Also bear in mind that it is not very realistic to expect the brain to be a tape recorder. It isn’t. People who can’t remember their own childhood — or do, but incorrectly — are somehow remembering previous lives with much greater clarity? Using what as a storage medium after death? What is the evidence for the mechanism of that storage? In the natural world a damaged brain does not function normally, a truly dead one (not one that has an old wive’s tale about having been clinically dead for hours, but the person miraculously came back) does not function at all.”

    So I am interested when you say: “everything I have learnt about (the Buddha) suggests that when he claimed to have seen and verified the truth of rebirth for himself, this is something worth taking seriously.”

    ***

    Doesn’t Meissner raise some valid queries? Why the unquestioning support for Stevenson? Are you clutching at whatever ‘scientific evidence’ you can in support of 2,500 year old religious texts? Have you deliberately avoided answering my previous queries concerning Stevenson?

    It does make me think you are being somewhat disingenous. Is that fair?

    Cheers

    Geoff

    • Geoff let the venerable aswer for himself (ofcourse). i would like to say however that the buddhist monastic lifestyle can provide insights beyond us. For example ajahn chah’s experience of samadhi in food for the heart, i can’t possibly comprehend it.

    • These responses to Stevensons’ work are missing the point. Of course some of what Stevenson does is ‘just stories’ that is why he very carefully excludes those from his core of strong evidence. Of course he says he research is ‘suggestive’, because he is extremely cautious and remains open to any other explanation. In his books he devotes considerable efforts to considering what those other explanations are, taking into consideration the very many serious criticisms of his work over the decades, and shows the flaws in those alternative theories. Dismissing his work for these kinds of reasons is on a par with dismissing evolution because it’s ‘just a theory’.

      There is nowhere that Stevenson relies solely on memory. That would not be science. What he does is test the memory as best as he can against as many other sources of information as possible. That is why he regards the most compelling cases as those that involve a physical resemblance between the past life and this.

      As in all things, while one line of evidence is uncertain, when two or three of four separate lines of evidence converge on the same conclusion, our confidence in the results rises exponentially.

  22. Bhante,

    PS re Ian Stevenson and rebirth

    I should add Stevenson only covers rebirth per se – he doesn’t investigate the kammic effects of rebirth.

    You and Ajahn Brahm etc like to buttress your argument for rebirth citing Stevenson. Can you refer to any research to support your claims on the kammic effects of rebirth?

    So when you say above:

    o sujato / Jan 12 2012 8:19 am
    Ahh, no, in years to come the teaching on kamma will seem prophetic and uncannily insightful…

    Isn’t that just based on faith?

    Cheers

    Geoff

  23. Dear puthujjana

    You make some interesting points about taking a Western-centric view.

    I’d be interested in Pepper’s response. You might want to draw attention to it by posting on the Speculative Non Buddhist site under Feast, Interrupted

    cheers

    Geoff

  24. Thanks Bhante,

    As usual I find your responses very illuminating as much by what you don’t say. Your support of Stevenson is interesting.

    Are you also “extremely cautious and remain open to any other explanation”, as you commendably say about Stevenson?

    Of course you don’t respond to my request for scientific evidence on proof of the kammic effect on rebirth.

    We just have to take that on faith, as other religions do.

    cheers

    Geoff

  25. Bhante

    Thanks – I’ll search under Stevenson. By the way does this also cover my question concerning research on evidence for the kammic effects on rebirth?

    I haven’t read any reviews of Stevenson that dismiss him because “he is extremely cautious and remains open to any other explanation” and that he “devotes considerable efforts to considering what those other explanations are, taking into consideration the very many serious criticisms of his work over the decades, and shows the flaws in those alternative theories.”

    I should study Stevenson myself to form my own views but what interests me is your steadfast support (along with Ajahn Brahm etc) for Stevenson.

    I’m interested in the offhand way you dismiss Stevenson’s critics for” missing the point” and saying “of course some of what Stevenson does is ‘just stories’ “ and saying ‘of course’ he acknowledges his “research is suggestive”, as if this is standard for scientific research. (Do most scientific researchers pad out their papers with ‘stories’ to make them less boring? And when they say ‘suggestive’, researchers usually wouldn’t expect others to refer to it as their main source of evidence.)

    When you say “these responses to Stevenson’s work are missing the point”, what is the ‘point’? Is it to use it to support your faith in kamma and rebirth as presented in the Pali Canon?

    Cheers

    Geoff

  26. I think the most interesting point here may be illuminated by the philosopher Frank Jackson’s “tale” of “color blind Mary” – does a woman who is color blind gain anything when she starts seeing in color. And, more relevant to this discussion, is there any way to convey what it is like to see color to someone who is color blind?

    The analogy would be tone-deaf Tom. Alan Wallace is playing some music. You can try and explain what the music sounds like when you use the phrase “natural mind”, but if all Tom can hear when he tries to listen to Alan Wallace’s music is a bunch of autistically disconnected concepts, all the rational argumentation in the world is not going to help him to hear the music.

    What you need to do is to find some way to help him to dance. But that might be terrifying, as it would tear away all the supports that make it so hard to hear the music. (if you think this is impertinent or insensitive, I apologize – see Iain McGilchrist’s “The Master and His Emissary” for a detailed discussion and I think quite remarkable illustration of the relationship between autistic thinking and physicalism).

    • well, even if our voices are not so sweet or our bodies a bit uncoordinated, when we have the courage to sing as a choir or dance as a group, the result can be quite harmonious. sort of an “atmanic” joy:>))))))) (or not)

  27. Bhante ,

    Greetings. Hope you are well.

    Was just having a browse through some of your past comments when I was intrigued by this quote:

    o sujato / Dec 20 2011 11:10 am
    “If there were no evidence for rebirth, or solid evidence against it, what would i do? Well, i would probably give up being a Buddhist, disrobe, and try to live a nice life, taking a few tips from Buddhism like meditation and harmlessness and so on. But this is not the case: there is, on the contrary, plenty of evidence for rebirth, so wondering about hypotheticals is not going to get us anywhere. “

    My question is: does the same apply to the kammic effects on rebirth, (as rebirth per se is rather meaningless for Buddhist doctrine, even if we do accept the rather contentious work of Ian Stevenson ** below )?

    Ie is there “plenty of evidence for” the kammic effects on rebirth? If not, does that make Buddhism another faith-based religion? In which case, why not stay with Catholicism?

    ** Bhante often refers to the work of Ian Stevenson to provide independent backing for his claim to the existence of rebirth.

    It raises the question though as to why Stevenson would title his book “Twenty Cases * Suggestive * of Reincarnation” if he believed he was able to provide stronger evidence in his findings? (Ie why didn’t Stevenson instead title his book: “Twenty Cases * Confirming * Reincarnation”?)

    To this Bhante replies:

    “Of course he (Stevenson) says his research is ‘suggestive’, because he is extremely cautious and remains open to any other explanation. In his books he devotes considerable efforts to considering what those other explanations are, taking into consideration the very many serious criticisms of his work over the decades, and shows the flaws in those alternative theories.”

    As a contrast, Tom Pepper’s view on Stevenson’s work is also interesting:

    “Over the years, researchers have debunked those few cases one by one, each time proving that the supposed “suggestive evidence” was just fraud or deception—and each time, the defenders say, sure, that’s true of that one (or those two, or those three, etc.) but the rest of the cases are convincing. No thinking person could give any weight to that —but many still hold to it. I guess we humans are just desperately in need of belief in an immortal soul.”

    http://speculativenonbuddhism.com/2011/12/27/feast-interrupted/ no. 56

    Without thoroughly studying Stevenson, doesn’t this at least raise some doubt on his evidence?

    Cheers

    Geoff

  28. You might want to look at McLuhan’s book, “Randi’s Prize”. Skeptics (more properly referred to as “debunkers”; Wallace is a skeptic, interested in rational discussion, by contrast) like Tom and Geoff are not interested in rational discussion. Trying to explain the scientific research will only be exasperating, I’m afraid. Again, I would re-recommend dancing:>)

  29. Bhante

    Thanks for your response but with all due respects you didn’t answer my main question.

    My question was: is there also “plenty of evidence” for the kammic effects on rebirth, (as you claim there is for rebirth per se – given rebirth itself is rather meaningless for Buddhist doctrine)?

    If not, does that make Buddhism another faith-based religion?

    Cheers

    Geoff

    • No, it makes it one who’s central tenets are subtle and difficult to see, and where there is plenty of scope for future research. I have commented many times on the phenomenon you’re mentioning here, and I think it is intriguing. But as a physicist doesn’t abandon their theories because some areas lack evidence, or because some evidence can be interpreted in another way. Nor should we. Premature abandoning of ideas is just as inimical to progress as over-clinging to them. It took 2000 years to find evidence for the theory of atoms!

  30. Bhante

    Thank you for your response but I have some further queries.

    To quote you : “But as a physicist doesn’t abandon their theories because some areas lack evidence, or because some evidence can be interpreted in another way. Nor should we. “

    A physicist mightn’t abandon their theories (or more correctly hypotheses if they lack evidence) but without evidence, the correct approach would be to remain tentative in their views and remain open to the possibility that their theories (or hypotheses) were wrong. That is how scientific advancement is made.

    As you say it took 2000 years to find (confirm) evidence for the theory of atoms and during that period it may have been proven wrong.

    Are you also tentative and remain open that your belief in the Three Knowledges is also wrong, given that you lack evidence? From what you have said you place strong belief in the truth of the Three Knowledges without the need for supporting evidence.

    I assume you take this view because you are aware that without strong conviction in the Three Knowledges, Buddhist doctrine is seriously impaired.

    How is your faith in the Three Knowledges any different from a Christian believing Jesus ascended into heaven? They could use exactly the same arguments as you to justify holding their views while awaiting supporting evidence.

    Why is Christianity a faith-based religion but not Buddhism given that belief (without evidence) in the Three Knowledges is central to Buddhist doctrine?

    To quote you again:

    o sujato / Dec 20 2011 11:10 am
    “If there were no evidence for rebirth, or solid evidence against it, what would i do? Well, i would probably give up being a Buddhist, disrobe, and try to live a nice life, taking a few tips from Buddhism like meditation and harmlessness and so on. But this is not the case: there is, on the contrary, plenty of evidence for rebirth, so wondering about hypotheticals is not going to get us anywhere. “

    As there is no evidence for the kammic effects on rebirth, why wouldn’t the same apply to your comment above?

    Cheers

    Geoff

    • (donsalmon7@gmail.com – if interested in pursuing this further, please write – also, look for articles at http://www.integralworld.net; click “news” or go to the integral world forum).

      Geoff: I have a suggestion for a different approach. You may know that Dr. Richard Wiseman, a psychologist who has long been one of the most vehement critics against parapsychology, admitted a few years ago that the evidence for psi is as good as that “in any other area of science” (details about his admission are at the integral world forum, under the heading “A Context for Trimming Ken Wilber’s Evolutionary View With Ockham’s Razor”). Wiseman goes on to say, this is not good enough, since “extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof.” However, as many of Wiseman’s critics point out, he never says what is extraordinary about psi or what such extraordinary proof might be. I recently was talking to a very intelligent psi-skeptic, and he agreed to take what I’ve called “The Richard Wiseman Challenge”.

      Lay aside the “extraordinary claims” red herring, and take Wiseman at his word. Let’s assume that the thousands of experiments showing results for remote viewing, telepathy, precognition and psychokinesis (those are the 4 categories Wiseman was referring to; at least according to the generally accepted definition of “ESP” as he referred to it). How would we view physics, evolutionary biology and the various cognitive sciences differently if psi were a fact?

      For one thing, you’d have all the evidence for karma (or kamma if you must) that you could desire. I’m not going to spell it out here, but rather, if you take a few weeks (it would probably take a few months to do this seriously) and think through, very carefully, what the consequences would be for our modern conception of things like “matter”, “energy”, “science”, and most relevant here, “evidence”, I think that….well, at the very least it would be quite interesting.

      Remember the conditions of this experiment. If you accept it, it doesn’t involve arguing about evidence and claims and all the rest of that “extraordinary” stuff. It involves a sincere attempt to come to terms with the extraordinary volume of evidence (sometimes in a single experiment being a trillion to one odds against the results being by chance, and also involving, as Wiseman said, evidence that by the standards of physics, biology, etc would be completely acceptable) in faovr of psi.

      If you really engage in this experiment, I would suggest also that after a few months, you re-read Tom Pepper’s article, and I think – here’s my hypothesis for one of the outcomes – let me know this summer if you try it – you’ll find that Tom has almost completely misunderstood Alan’s book.

      I was quite impressed that my skeptic friend – a very intelligent fellow quite well read in several areas of science – was willing to take on this RW Challenge. My basic gut feeling is that the willingness to try this indicates a genuine sense of sincerity, and a willingness to have one’s basic assumptions challenged.

    • Hi Geoff,

      The Buddha was a die-hard empiricist. There are many suttas that insist that one should not make truth claims without adequate evidence, such as the Culahatthipadopama Sutta, the Canki Sutta, and so on. These make the very good point that one should not claim to have knowledge about things that exceeds the actual evidence. But they do not go to the extreme of dismissing lesser claims. They also say that such lesser claims of truth, such as “I believe in x”, or “There is evidence to support x”, or “X is the most reasonable explanation for y and z”, are essential for realizing the truth in a deeper sense. There is no problem in Buddhism in saying, “I have faith in x”, as long as you realize that that is what it is, and that faith is something wrong. So yes, of course, if the notion of kamma as a force underlying rebirth is disproved, then as you say, Buddhism is pretty well stuffed. Okay, you didn’t actually say that, but I did.

      Thing is, I think there are very good reasons for thinking that kamma does work in that way.

      As I understand it, and in line with Don’s remarks, kamma is something that is entirely natural, and for the most part, as evident in the ethical sphere as gravity is in the physical sphere. We have all observed countless instances of when we do something good, and we feel happiness, and the opposite. It is therefore very firmly and deeply based on empirical evidence; I would say it is something that, in some sense or other, is accepted by almost everyone. The question here is whether this principle also applies in realms about which we have far less knowledge.

      This is akin to, say, asking whether gravity works on the moon. Now, traditionally the answer is that no, gravity does not affect the moon, as it doesn’t fall out of the sky. But later we were able to see that gravity did work in a similar way; although not identical of course, as things fall slower on the moon. So with each generalization of the theory, the evidence becomes harder to obtain (it’s harder to measure the rate of fall on the moon than on the earth), while at the same time the theory becomes far more powerful.

      So in asking, does kamma apply in rebirth, we are asking something that there is no reason to think will be an easy answer. But what is it that we do know? Let us accept that we all see that ethical behaviour influences happiness, the basic “law” of kamma. Let us also accept, for the sake of the argument, that the evidence suggests that rebirth is true.

      The evidence for the truth of rebirth also establishes another point: that the process is psychologically “normal”. That is, that the feelings, thoughts, fears, emotions, and so on of a person in one life are related in normal ways with those of the past life. A person in this life loves their parents from the past, they are afraid of the thing that killed them, and so on.

      If both of these points are accepted, then it follows that the natural principle of kamma should play a role in rebirth.

      The problem is that Stevenson’s research doesn’t, to my knowledge, provide strong support for this. That is indeed a problem, and deserves closer scrutiny. I might add that I have not studied the evidence on this point in great detail, and I may well be wrong.

      But Stevenson’s research does not purport to be a complete and final explanation for every aspect of rebirth. It aims, primarily, to simply establish the brute fact of the thing. It will, inevitably, be nuanced, and we should be wary of drawing overly-glib conclusions from insufficent evidence, as the Buddha warned in the Mahakammavibhanga Sutta.

      I should add briefly here that the above argument is not the only one in favor of kamma, it is just the argument that I believe relates closest to the question of the implications of Stevenson’s rebirth.

    • I’ve heard many teachers of Buddhism talk of a fundamental practice of noting knowing what is being known by the 6 sense bases, and seeing them as passing phenomena. What is never explained though, is if this is what the Buddha did, then why is it that when he envisioned his past lives why didn’t he simply note it as being known by the sense base of the mind? Or of sight? Or of hearing? Why does the Buddha seemingly drop all previous form of practice at this point and declare that this knowledge is the TRUTH? There is something deeply troubling going on here.

    • Hi david,

      I’m not quite sure of the problem here, but perhaps this might help. David Kalupahana has shown that when the Buddha talked of various psychic powers (which he called “higher knoweldges”) these were extension of existing senses. So the ‘divine eye’, the ‘divine ear’ (or better, ‘clear vision’ and ‘clear hearing’) arise through perfecting the existing, ordinary instruments of the senses. The senses themselves are neutral, they are not to be dismissed, just not misapprehended. When they are clarified through meditation, they are more than capable of delivering reliable information…

  31. (this might be a good place to start the RW Challenge; this is a passage from Krishna Prem’s commentary on the Gita. Hint – his remark about “ordinary experience” not being the “final arbiter in these matters” gives a clue as to where one might find the evidence.)

    This so-called law of karma is apt to strike the Western mind as a mere unverified dogma or, at best, as a philosophical speculation. In fact, however, it is nothing of the kind, but a fact of nature which may be experienced by anyone for himself. Even on the ordinary levels of experience it is obvious that our destinies are largely shaped by our characters and they, in turn, buy the sum-total of our past thoughts, and particularly those which have crystallized into actions. The man who thinks cruel thoughts usually proceeds to cruel deeds, and thus, becoming an object of fear and hatred to others, is at least extremely liable to meet with cruelty in his turn. Ordinary everyday experience can perhaps not take us much farther than this probability but ordinary experience is not the final arbiter in these matters, and he who advances on the inner path, the Path of Knowledge, becomes immediately aware that it is no mere probability with which we are concerned but a perfect and unerring law –

    “By which the slayer’s knife did stab himself;
    The unjust judge hath lost his own defender.”

    In the world of mechanics it finds expression in Newton’s famous law that action and reaction are equal and opposite. The world of life is no less a unity than the world of matter, all lives being interlocked in one vast whole. It follows that any act – nay, any thought – sets up a tension in the whole which, however delayed may be the response, with utter inevitability brings about an “equal and opposite” reaction. I repeat that this is no mere intellectual speculation fitting only into the structure of some Oriental philosophy but is a profound truth of experience, which may, like other natural laws, be disregarded only at one’s peril. The same perception, quite divorced from “Hindu Philosophy,” found expression in Christ’s flashing words: “They that take the sword shall perish by the sword.”

  32. Here’s a few more things to reflect on when it comes to the question of evidence. I’ve long been intrigued by experiments conducted by psychologists purporting to “prove” that such and such a thing is “impossible.” Usually, it involves some skill or capacity. For example, Stephen Laberge, a sleep physiologist who is probably the foremost authority on lucid dreams, claims to have conducted a series of experiments “proving” that it is impossible to read in a lucid dream. I decided to do an “experiment” myself (admittedly, not a controlled experiment), and one time, in a lucid dream, remembered Laberge’s claim, and decided to try it out. I “materialized” his book (you can do that in lucid dreams), and started reading. The words were crystal clear on the page. I read a few pages, and then decided, “Well, there are more interesting things to do in a lucid dream than this.” Laberge said it was impossible to read more than a few words; I felt that reading a few pages was enough.

    In grad school, I used to ask my professors to explain the basis for these kinds of claims. How do you know that an ability is impossible? Couldn’t it just be that you’ve chosen research subjects that don’t happen to have the ability?

    I had thought for many years this was a crucial flaw in critiques of psi research. I figured I must be confused in some way, because I couldn’t find examples of parapsychologists defending their research this way. Until I read Dean Radin’s “The Conscious Universe”. He has an excellent example of home run hitters. Basically, if I remember it correctly, the idea is, if you took me, or Geoff or Sujato, and put them up against a Yankee pitcher, well, you don’t have to be psychic to know we are not going to get a home run (or likely ever make it to first base, even if we try to swing at 1000 pitches).

    But somehow, Radin’s idea doesn’t seem to have caught on.

    Well, I have another experiment to propose.

    When I was 17, I was working on Chopin’s “Winter Wind Etude” (if you don’t know it, it will be helpful to listen to it on youtube to get a sense of what this experiment is about). I had been practicing it about an hour a day for 6 months when I heard the following story. A friend of mine was a violin student at Juilliard, and she was a part-time music teacher at my high school. She told me (at that 6 month point in my practice) that she had just been to a master class. A 9 year-old Korean girl, who had started playing piano when she was 2, had been given the challenge of reading – AT SIGHT (that is, without ever having seen the sheet music before) – the Winter Wind Etude, the very same piece I had been practicing daily for 6 months.

    Now, at that point, if I was warmed up for at least an hour, and had a particularly good day, I could play through the piece up to tempo without making too many mistakes.

    This 9 year old girl, seeing the music for the first time, played it at the right tempo, without making any (or many; I don’t know how well my violinist friend knew the piece) mistakes.

    Perhaps the violinist was making up this story? I had seen similar things before. A year before this incident, I was working on a piano solo version of Gershwin’s Concerto in F. Similar story; worked on it for months, could barely play the opening up to speed. My friend David, also a Juilliard student, came over to the piano one day, looked at the music, mentioned how much he liked Gershwin, played around with the first few measures and looked over the first few pages for about 10 or 15 seconds, and proceeded to play the first 2 pages up to tempo, quite flawlessly.

    So, here’s the experiment – get a copy of the Winter Wind Etude (or if you can’t read music, just listen to the piece – I’ve met musicians who can hear a piece of music and play it flawlessly without practicing. One girl I knew could go to a symphony concert and afterword, write out the notes for all the instruments from memory, having heard the piece only once). Put the music in front of you, or listen to it once, and play it, up to tempo.

    I guarantee you will fail.

    You’ve got the same problem with looking for evidence for rebirth or karma (kamma). You need to find the yogic equivalent of that 9 year-old Korean girl or my friend David, or the girl who could “hear” and remember an entire symphony. And actually, the requirements for providing evidence for rebirth or karma are much more stringent than the amazing musical feats I’ve recounted.

    • Hi Don,

      Thanks for that. I think I kindof get what you’re saying, but I’m not quite sure I understand your point. Are you saying that, since there are many incredible examples of human achievement, we can’t infer from extraordinary cases to the reality of rebirth?

      Another argument, of course, would be that such extraordinary abilities are themselves most easily explained in the way that Socrates did – they are residues from past lives.

  33. Ven Sir

    Just doing a quick skim here and there and in particular of your response above dated Feb 24th 9.32 am where you state:

    ‘ There is no problem in Buddhism in saying, “I have faith in x”, as long as you realize that that is what it is, and that faith is something wrong.’

    Was there a typo here? Did you intend to say, ‘that faith is something [that can be] wrong’?

    Metta

  34. Hi Sujato:

    Sorry, I was kind of rushed in writing that comment. Looking back at it, I see the intent was not clear.

    I was basically practicing a bit of “precognition” and “telepathy” (just kidding). I was anticipating Geoff’s response to the Krishna Prem passage – assuming he would be skeptical. My intent was to counter the possible doubt about parapsychological research that skeptics often voice – “Well, yes, the methodology is sound, the statistics are flawless, you’ve achieved valid replication of results, but the effect size is not large enough (that means, you may have a remote viewing experiment where someone correctly identifies an object that is thousands of miles away, and the odds against the correct identification having occurred by chance are a trillion to one – there are many psi experiments that have such astronomical odds – but the **amount** that the result is **above** chance is very small. – in other words, the effect size, which is the amount the result is above chance, is too small for the skeptic to accept).

    So I was just suggesting to Geoff, in case he doesn’t want to accept the scientific results (which virtually all skeptics who investigate the literature agree are valid despite the small effect size) – to consider what I think is one of the main reasons the effect size is too small – that most psi researchers have chosen subjects in a way similar to a baseball team choosing someone off the street and trying to have them hit a home run in a major league baseball game, or choosing someone off the street, giving them the music for a Chopin Etude, and telling them to play it correctly and up to tempo without ever having played the piano or learned to read music.

    Alan Wallace did a weekend workshop in science and meditation in NY back in 1996. He suggested that the minimum level of competence required to exhibit psi on demand was the capacity to maintain a state of shamatha for about 4 hours. That is, not identifying with any passing thoughts, ideas, images, feelings, etc for 4 hours. I think he’s in the process of testing this hypothesis through his shamatha project.

    I hope that’s a bit clearer.

    By the way, folks here might enjoy going over to the site where Tom’s essay was published and join the conversation. I don’t have the URL at the moment but if you search “Tom Pepper” + “Alan Wallace” it should be the first link.

    Best,
    Don

  35. By the way, I do agree with your idea about past lives and present abilities. It makes a lot of sense to me. If anybody is interested, I could post one of the most remarkable examples of this, from Lama Govinda’s “The Way of the White Clouds.’ A beautiful, inspiring story.

  36. Bhante,

    Thanks for your reply. Don, sorry I don’t have time to respond but Bhante reckons you’re on a similar wavelength…

    The first point you make is good: “These (suttas) make the very good point that one should not claim to have knowledge about things that exceeds the actual evidence. “

    You then justify making “lesser claims of truth”, which range from being reasonable i.e. putting forward an hypothesis, for example “ X is the most reasonable explanation for y and z” (pending further research), to justifying faith in Buddhism. You justify this by saying; “ there is nothing wrong in Buddhism in saying, ’I have faith in x’, as long as you realise that that is what it is and that faith is (not?) something wrong ”.

    This raises the obvious questions: do we realise we are simply making a faith claim (no different to a Christian claiming Jesus is the Son of God) and does it encourage further investigation that may bring that faith into question (or is it “the answer that makes all my questions disappear”, to quote Rodriguez).

    Of course we all need and use faith to varying degrees, without it society could not function. I have faith that when I’m driving a car other drivers will stay on the correct side of the road (occasionally we are proven wrong!).

    What concerns me is the way Buddhism can make very reasonable observations such as in Canki Sutta you refer to while justifying making “lesser claims”, for example as you have in one of your earlier posts:

    “Devas are, in fact, conditioned, impermanent, suffering creatures very much like you or I in all spiritually important aspects. And, crucially, knowledge of such things is an empirical knowledge, derivable from the meditative extension of ordinary sensory faculties….“

    Because you say Buddhism allows making “lesser claims to truth” including not having problems in justifying faith, allows you to contradict the Canki Sutta “one should not claim to have knowledge about things that exceeds the actual evidence”.

    It allows you to assert the claim: “Devas are, * in fact *, conditioned, impermanent, suffering creatures” but where is the evidence? How do we know this isn’t just in your imagination? One obvious problem with faith (and I noticed Bhikkhu Bodhi has problems with this) is knowing whether your initial faith doesn’t just become wish- fulfilment for your pre-conceived ideas.

    Surely your existing ideas will influence your meditation experience. For example, as you have said on other occasions, a Christian in deep meditation may see the “face of Jesus”. Are they likely to see devas and you the face of Jesus in deep meditation? And if you did what would that mean? If you saw the “face of Jesus” would it “in fact” be real? Why should I believe you seeing devas is real but not a Christian seeing the face of Jesus?

    Furthermore, there is also the possibility of false memory for those who claim to recollect past lives (which Ted Meissner cover well on his Secular Buddhist blog.)

    You also say: “So yes, of course, if the notion of kamma as a force underlying rebirth is disproved, then as you say, Buddhism is pretty well stuffed. Okay, you didn’t actually say that, but I did.”

    That isn’t quite a brave as it may sound because (as you are probably aware), it is virtually impossible to prove a negative, for example how do I prove pink fairies don’t exist? Surely the onus should be on those making the claim that they exist.

    You are right that a form of kamma is accepted by almost everyone. We can see how our good and bad intentions and actions can have ongoing effects that can cross generations (and therefore survive death) – especially if you have children! I can see the influence on me of my grandfather who died over forty years ago. We can also accept “that we all see that ethical behaviour influences happiness, the basic “law” of kamma”. Of course marrying that with accepting that rebirth is true is problematic.

    Just on the question of rebirth per se, I’m still wary of your reliance on Stevenson as evidence, given that it obviously serves your purpose to believe his research is “painstaking and thorough, and there has been no systematic debunking” (as you said in an earlier post), and also given the number of his well argued critics. (Of course I should study Stevenson myself to say more about it.)

    You make no attempt to scientifically explain the ‘mechanics’ of rebirth (as we can to a considerable extent with ordinary birth) and how my previous ‘self’ with its past kamma was transmitted etc. (Of course there is much we don’t know about the ‘mechanics’ of ordinary birth, how genes are transmitted and the interaction with the environment etc but that shouldn’t distract those making rebirth claims). I can certainly see the argument that I don’t have an inherent ‘self’ for example when I compare myself to when ‘I’ was a young child However, to go from this to accepting the truth of the Buddha’s Three Knowledges I can’t see as being anything but a “leap in faith”.

    (Another aspect of the Three Knowledges that raise obvious reservations for all but the devotional is the claim the Buddha recollected his past lives dating back ’eons’. If the Buddha had been aware of evolutionary theory how would he have explained one of his past life as a fish or a single celled organism? Or did he spend it in another ‘realm’ to conveniently bypass this issue? )

    In time there may be substantial evidence for aspects of ‘paranormal’ activity Don refers to but of course that may not provide evidence for the claims of the Three Knowledges.

    *******
    I think Glenn Wallis puts it well when he agrees with you that the Buddha said one should not make “truth claims without adequate evidence”, by also quoting the Canki Sutta. But unlike you he is wary about making “lesser claims” and finds problems “in Buddhism accepting, “I have faith in x”. (Wallis as professor of Buddhist studies in the US I suspect can probably “hold his own” with you Bhante on his knowledge of the suttas).

    “In Majjhimanikaya 95, Gotama asks us to be cautious about our truth claims. There, he mentions five bases for having conviction in a belief. The belief can originate in:
    1. faith (saddha)
    2. inclination (ruci)
    3. oral tradition (anussavo)
    4. careful consideration of the grounds (akaraparivitakko)
    5. reflective acceptance of a view (ditthinijjhanakkhanti).

    It is acceptable to make a truth claim on the basis of any one of these modes; but the “truth” being claimed must, in honesty and fairness, be limited to the scope encompassed by the particular mode of conviction. That is, the person who posits “Obama is a Muslim” or “dreams are messages from the unconscious” or “God created the universe” or “the Buddha was enlightened” on the basis of faith is “protecting the truth” (saccam anurakkhati) when he says, “thus is my faith,” and acknowledges that he has no warrant to make a more elaborate claim or come to a definite conclusion. Thus the person may not justly claim: “only this is true, anything else is wrong.”

    So, while it may be true that elaborate worldviews may be constructed around beliefs, while it may be true that weighty authorities and institutions espouse beliefs, while it may be true that beliefs are “fully approved of by society and tradition, well transmitted, well conceptualized, and well reflected on,” it does not change the “empty, hollow, and false” nature of the universal claim to truth required by the belief. (The quoted words are Gotama’s.) “

    http://glennwallis.wordpress.com/2010/11/12/the-problem-with-beliefs/

    Cheers

    Geoff

  37. Bhante

    PS

    Just to clarify….

    Following the Glenn Wallis quote I referred to earlier, would you also agree that the claim “the Buddha was enlightened” is a “claim to have knowledge about things that exceeds the actual evidence” (quoting you referring to the Canki Sutta etc earlier) and is therefore a “lesser claim” (ie is a claim without adequate evidence)?

    If so what are the implications for Buddhist doctrine? Despite the Buddha being “a die-hard empiricist” (to quote you), does this mean Buddhism is a faith-based religion?

    Thanks

    Geoff

    • Dear Geoff,

      Maybe i can respond with my own views a bit,

      If we have a trust in the sutta’s it is clear that the buddha was enlightened. It shows that fact in his behaviour. People can be good but there is always an ego there or a problematic feature that shows us otherwise. I believe that the buddha was enlightened because he even thaught us to forget him as a physical entity. This is a hard thing to accept for most buddhist with their statues and veneration. In fact, the buddha told us to only take trefuge in the dhamma (samyutta nikaya). He told a follower that wanted to see him (in physical form) to become sober in that one who sees the dhamma sees him already! The problem is that most buddhists rely on a truly death man (a man that is truly death in nibbana) they rely on a form wich is nothing more than a dream, an ideal of a man. The buddha never wanted this, it is clingning. Why i personally think the buddha was enlightened is because he gave up physical praise (not praise for the dhamma). Not because he thought kamma/rebirth but because his life shows (in the texts) that overcoming the delusions of the mind is possible. The buddha doesn’t belong to buddhists! The buddha belongs to mankind!

      with metta and best wishes,

      gotamist

  38. gotamist,

    Thanks for your response. I will need to give it more thought.

    Perhaps Bhante can help clarify for us on the question of empiricism vs faith.

    I came across an interesting comment he made when asked to distinguish between Buddhist and other religious claims.

    o sujato / Jul 7 2011 11:14 am
    “The difference comes back to the distinction between metaphysical and empirical claims. A non-dualist might claim to realize the infinite eternal atman, but in fact what they have experienced is a state of consciousness, and inferred to some metaphysical reality beyond that. What a buddhist realizes is the ending of greed, hatred, and delusion. these are purely psychological phenomena, and like any others, they are testable: keep watching and see if they arise.”

    ”Of course you can be mistaken, but this is an ordinary mistake such as one might make about any empirical claim. the point is that at each stage of the path, the hypothesis is tested and you can see whether it actually leads to the result. This is exactly the same as any other form of empirical knowledge. Empiricism does not mean there is no theory, it merely means that the theory is subject to the evidence.”

    So the claim being tested is the ending of greed, hatred and delusion. I wonder how for example Mahatma Ghandi or Mother Theresa would have reacted to this comment. By most accounts they went a long way towards ending greed and hatred and I’m sure they would have said they weren’t deluded. And the ending of their greed and hatred was more clearly demonstrable to the public than it has been with many Buddhist masters, I think you would agree.

    “A non-dualist might claim to realize the infinite eternal atman, but in fact what they have experienced is a state of consciousness, and inferred to some metaphysical reality beyond that.”

    How do we know that is the case apart from Buddhist doctrine telling us it is? I’m sure MG and MT could equally question Buddhist claims using their respective doctrines. Why does a deeper state of consciousness in Buddhism lead to the ending of greed and hatred and not theirs? (And how can we be sure we are not deluded in thinking we are not deluded!)

    The Buddha may well have been a die-hard empiricist who would appreciate we shouldn’t make truth claims without adequate evidence but unlike us he didn’t have 2,500 years of Buddhist doctrine influencing how he interpreted the evidence.

    I don’t claim to have the answer to how we should interpret evidence in a fool-proof way. But then I don’t claim to have figured it out either.

    Cheers

    Geoff

  39. Bhante

    I know you have been busy with the bhikkhuni ordination etc and my queries are banking up…

    But if I could put another query to you as I am interested in your response:

    I came across this remark by Glenn Wallis and I wondered how you would respond:

    much appreciated

    Geoff

    ******

    X-buddhism’s “original mind” is a concept that reveals fundamental distrust in real, ordinary, human minds. X-buddhism’s “truths” are the means by which x-buddhistic systems co-opt real minds. Evidence of co-option is the person’s characterization of reality via recitation of buddhemes–terms derived from x-buddhism itself. I call this “ventriliquization” of x-buddhism: they person moves his mouth, but it is x-buddhism that is speaking.

    The terms you use in your comment are classic buddhemes; namely: pointing somebody in the [right] direction; original mind; freedom; truths; impermanence; emptiness; interconnectivity; freeing the mind from the trappings of language; duality; suffering. These terms may have many meanings and usages in different contexts and systems of thought. But in using them in the way prescribed by x-buddhism, you are telling me nothing whatsoever about life, the world, human being, or the mind. You are only telling me about x-buddhism. You are also telling me that you have locked onto the tracks of borrowed thought–onto, that is, the tracks of x-buddhism. You are merely ventriloquizing x-buddhism. Your doing so, moreover, is evidence, to my thinking anyway, that x-buddhism does indeed distrust human nature, and does not, as you say, reinforce our ordinary nature. You are offering a living example of how a person’s ordinary (inferior) thinking can be usurped by some notion–hope, dream, fantasy?–of uncovering an oringinal (superior) form of (non-conceptual-)thinking. X-buddhism, of course, wants to disallow this critical distinction by fusing “ordinary” with “original:” our original mind is, it turns out, the ordinary mind, an, of course vice versa. But x-buddhism can get away with this slight of hand only if you are hypnotized by its grandiose maneuverings (e.g., selling you narrow technical definitions of its terms; locking you into a vast network of postulation; seizing your mind with the hard-to-ignore possibility of an outcome of cosmic proportion; and much, much more.).

    • Geoff,

      We all need something in this nihilistic universe, sure monks will not respond. My view is that we don’t know anything AND WE TRY TO MAKE SENSE OF THAT NOTHING. Life is hard and we must accept that, but we must not resort to myths. I don’t know anything about life more than you do. Maybe the buddha did, maybe he didn’t . I personally believe the Buddha knew allot more about the workings of the mind than we do. The texts show this’ but they are just texts aren’t they? I think bhikkhus are closer to the truth than anybody, because they are closer to that thing we do not understand. But it could be more meaningles than we perceive it! Meditate, meditate, figure it out! Who knows? Maybe there is no such thing as a mystery? it is to you, to find out.

      Metta to you friend!

  40. Gotamist

    As you say: ” I think bhikkhus are closer to the truth than anybody, because they are closer to that thing we do not understand.”

    That’s why I’m put the query to Bhante.

    After twenty years living & breathing Buddhism, I figure Bhante shouldn’t have any trouble skewering this whippersnapper (thanks for that description Winton).

    cheers

    Geoff

    • Well, I think they are mostly questions that are legitimate in a certain context. But it seems to me that you have been asking the same kinds of questions for a very long time, and don’t seem to be getting any clarity. That’s a sign that things need to take their own time; they can’t be forced.

  41. I hope that Pepper never reads Julius Evola’s Doctrine of Awakening. If poor William James raises Pepper’s blood pressure, then Evola might send him into a fatal apoplectic fit.

  42. Hi Kevin:

    That’s a very interesting comment. I’ve read a bit of Evola’s writing and am wondering why you think it would be challenging to Tom to read it. I have to say – I’ve followed Tom’s comments and he does seem quite reactive in general, so it may just be about anything that doesn’t fit his world view would send him into a fit. But I’m curious as to why you think Evola would have such a particularly powerful effect.

  43. Bhante

    PPS

    When you get a chance I’d also appreciate any feedback on my recent queries on this post

    Thanks

    Geoff

  44. “Well, I think they are mostly questions that are legitimate in a certain context. But it seems to me that you have been asking the same kinds of questions for a very long time, and don’t seem to be getting any clarity. That’s a sign that things need to take their own time; they can’t be forced.”

    Is this what the Buddha meant by noble silence – you don’t have to answer genuine questions because you are simply not interested?

  45. “But it seems to me that you have been asking the same kinds of questions for a very long time, and don’t seem to be getting any clarity.”

    The problem is the answers you have provided in the past (when you have answered) have invariably raised more questions than they clarified – which I have then drawn attention to.

    This is nothing profound and should be obvious to all but the blindly devotional.

  46. Incidentally, didn’t the Buddha say we should question what we are told? Or is that only permissible if you arrive at the ‘correct’ answer? Or is that contradicted by something else he said?

  47. Bhante

    (Apologies – I should have condensed these remarks more – too many distractions in my (secular samsaric) life…

    If I may add further to the comment I made, in response to your remark to me above :

    “But it seems to me that you have been asking the same kinds of questions for a very long time, and don’t seem to be getting any clarity.”

    If I could ask you again for your response to my query below as you haven’t provided a comment yet:

    Re your comment sujato / Jun 15 2011 8:46 pm

    My question is (to quote you): does “the notions of devas (and so on) owe much to popular Indian cosmology (and “the text is often playful and ironic” and the Buddha “is speaking ironically or figuratively”)”?

    Or are “devas, in fact, conditioned, impermanent, suffering creatures very much like you or I in all spiritually important aspects”?

    I’m sure if you provided an answer you would help clarify this for me.

    Much appreciated

    Geoff

    • Actually, I did, but it got lost in cyberspace and then I went to lunch…

      When we read ancient scripture, or indeed any literature more complex than an instruction manual, we need to bear in mind a constant interplay between facts and fictions, data and opinions, perceptions and realities. Truth in subtle matters is never a matter of back and white.

      I think that this is the main problem with the ‘new atheist’ movement, that it insists on a literal reading all the time, when the religions have long moved past that (or at least the interesting parts). So the new atheists have not really added anything of intellectual interest, merely rehashing old philosophical arguments against the existence of god and so on, which are true, but kinda boring. Most of the actual philosophical arguments against God in The God Delusion and the like were covered in my first semester of philosophy at UWA.

      This is the problem I think is underlying this question.

      On the one hand, the texts – and this is plain and obvious to see – frequently speak ironically, comically, and figuratively of devas and the like. Try telling the story of the yakkha who tried to split Sariputta’s head, and not raise a smile – can’t be done! Try reading the Suttas for yourself if you are interested and you will see what I mean. The commentaries list different meanings of the word “Mara”, some literal, some figurative. When the rationalists decide that the texts can’t be read literally, they either toss them out or say they must be read figuratively, as if this is some profound new discovery. But those in the religious tradition have known for a long time that literal and metaphorical readings live and play side by side.

      On the other hand, the existence of devas and the like is accepted without equivocation in texts that are speaking in a direct, philosophical manner (rather than as parable, fable and the like). They are conditioned, limited, beings, who may be powerful and long-lived, but are never all-powerful or eternal. Thus they still fall within the realm of the empirical. They are hard to know, but with the right equipment – a mind purified through samadhi being the canonical method, although there may well be others – they are as knowable as anything else. (Incidentally, this particular point probably should not be taken as a distinguishing feature between Buddhism and Hinduism. In Hinduism too the Gods are taken to be limited and conditioned. The truly metaphysical principle in philosophical Hinduism is the atman, which underlies the Gods just as it does ourselves.)

      What’s the problem? Look on TV, you can see a satire of President Obama, which treats him in a playful and ironic fashion – what does that have to do with whether he exists or not? Nothing at all. All it tells us is something of the manner and attitude of those telling the stories.

      Why do Buddhists tell such stories? Because we don’t want people to set too much store on the hopes of a happy afterlife. This is never a final goal. So for people who, by and large, are interested in such things, we tell stories that satirize the Gods, bring them down to earth, just as a political satirist brings a politician down to earth. Actually, you’ll find similar things in most mythologies.

  48. Bhante

    Thanks for your response but I have some further queries and would be interested in your thoughts:

    You differentiate Buddhism from other major religions by claiming Buddhism is empirical rather than faith based.

    To quote you above:

    “On the other hand, the existence of devas and the like is accepted without equivocation in texts that are speaking in a direct, philosophical manner (rather than as parable, fable and the like). They are conditioned, limited, beings, who may be powerful and long-lived, but are never all-powerful or eternal. Thus they still fall within the realm of the empirical. They are hard to know, but with the right equipment – a mind purified through samadhi being the canonical method, although there may well be others – they are as knowable as anything else.”

    But how do you know you don’t approach this with “confirmation bias”?

    (To quote Wikipedia: Confirmation bias (also called confirmatory bias, myside bias or verification bias) is a tendency of people to favor information that confirms their beliefs or hypotheses. People display this bias when they gather or remember information selectively, or when they interpret it in a biased way. The effect is stronger for emotionally charged issues and for deeply entrenched beliefs.)

    How do you know that you aren’t biased by your strong faith in the texts? Ie it seems that so long as the “existence of devas and the like is accepted without equivocation in texts that are speaking in a direct, philosophical manner”, is sufficient for your full acceptance without doubt.

    Why isn’t this a “leap in faith”?

    How is this any different to, say a Christian, claiming the same thing about angels?

    A Christian could equally say: “They (angels) are hard to know, but with the right equipment – a mind purified through samadhi being the (Christian meditative) method… – they are as knowable as anything else.”

    I have previously heard you mentioned Christians seeing the “face of Jesus” in deep meditation and be adamant it is true – I can provide references.

    (Again to quote Wikipedia: “Empiricism is a theory of knowledge that asserts that knowledge comes only or primarily from sensory experience .”)

    An obvious problem with this is that you only need to take an hallucinogenic drug to realise your senses can be fooled.

    Why should we accept your empiricism (and not a Christian’s) simply by you saying:” They (devas) are conditioned, limited, beings, who may be powerful and long-lived, but are never all-powerful or eternal”?

    Why should devas necessarily be any more real than angels simply by being ‘conditioned’ and “never eternal” and mentioned in Buddhist texts and not Christian?

    Thanks

    Geoff

  49. Bhante

    PS – If I could trouble you again…..

    I should have added….

    The strength of your argument (above) seems to rest on this sentence:

    “They (devas) are conditioned, limited, beings, who may be powerful and long-lived, but are never all-powerful or eternal. Thus they still fall within the realm of the empirical.”

    Your argument appears to revolve around this question of impermanence and eternalism.
    I anticipate you would dismiss the Christian seeing “ the face of Jesus” on the grounds that it is an eternal belief and as eternalism doesn’t exist, it can’t be true.

    That may well be the case but just because you claim something is ‘conditioned’, ‘limited’, “never all-powerful or eternal”, doesn’t necessarily mean it exists. I could make the same claim about pink unicorns.

    Like a Christian meditator, how do you know you are not also distorting your perspective by your preconceived ideas when entering meditation?

    Again I’d be interested in your thoughts.

    Much appreciated

    Geoff

  50. Geoff,

    You make alot of good points and ask some good questions, but the fact is Ajahn Sujato is a Buddhist Monk therefore he reads and interprets the suttas, the teachings of the Buddha, just as any other monk in his group or linage would – that is what he does whether you like it or not, or whether you agree with it or not.

    He is not the Buddha, he did not think this stuff up himself – he simply interprets teachings that he and other Buddhist believe were written by “The Buddha”!

    Most other buddhist monks would give you pretty much the same answers. If you don’t understand what he says so maybe you need to give it a rest, reread the basics of Buddhism and then try to grasp the finer points later on.

    Your questions, rather than discrediting A Sujato simply show that no matter how long you have been studying buddhism you have not even understood some of the very basic basic concepts of Buddhism (such as Atman – there is no self or atman in Buddhism – this is taught in about lesson 2 of any buddhist course!) maybe there is a beginners buddhism course you can do to refresh your understanding, if you sincerely want to gain any.

    If you cannot grasp the what Ajahn Sujato writes then don’t worry about it, alot of people probably cannot, he has his own style and has been studying the teachings of the Buddha for many years, obvioulsy and his writings and understanding is extremly complex and thorough, very few lay people probably can. It is certainly nothing to be ashamed of, lay people cannot spend all their time like ordained studying the teachings due to work and family commitement s, so we cannot hope to have the same understandings – but hopefully enough to be happy and peaceful and to have no ill will towards others, that is the main thing.

    Geoff – maybe you have some problems or issues that you need to deal with – maybe you have been hurt by buddhists – if so then deal with those issues before you attempt discussion and debate on highly complex theories; do some loving kindness and forgiveness meditation, read the suttas yourself, stop holding Ajahn Sujatos hand and trying to get him to do it for you, read the suttas yourself and then try asking your questions again later on when you have more understanding of just what it is you are asking.

    Ajahn Sujato cannot do it for you – you need to try to understand buddhism – if that is what you are trying to do – yourself, take time and meditate on the concepts – try to understand if you are motivated by a sincere wish to learn if Buddhism is the way to enlightenment or if you are motivated by other more negative desires, if your motivation is not a good one then you will never get anywhere.

  51. yiwei

    Thank you for your revealing comments.

    To quote you:
    “You make alot of good points and ask some good questions, but the fact is Ajahn Sujato is a Buddhist Monk therefore he reads and interprets the suttas, the teachings of the Buddha, just as any other monk in his group or linage would – that is what he does whether you like it or not, or whether you agree with it or not.”

    If I’m asking some good questions shouldn’t I be given some good answers?

    I ask these questions because I know Bhante comes from an Australian, Catholic, white, middle class, university educated background and chose to leave this to become a Buddhist monk in an Asian tradition. I’m intrigued by why he did this and what reasons he has for continuing. (As you would be aware, there are many Western monks who have left the same order, including the one who runs the centre Bhante regularly talks at.)

    By becoming a monk he has apparently found the Western philosophical / scientific tradition wanting. I am simply questioning him on that.

    I would not be asking the same questions of someone from a traditional Buddhist background I didn’t know personally.

    cheers

    Geoff

    • Dear Geoff

      Geoff said

      If I’m asking some good questions shouldn’t I be given some good answers?

      Answer

      You have been given good answers – it is just you don’t understand the Buddhist teachings enough to comprehend them correctly.

      Geoff said

      I ask these questions because I know Bhante comes from an Australian, Catholic, white, middle class, university educated background and chose to leave this to become a Buddhist monk in an Asian tradition.

      Response

      The Buddhist teachings do not discriminate based on colour, class or background. The teachings are not based on culture – they are teachings on spirituality and this has nothing to do necessarily with culture or background.

      I understand your curiosity but also in the About section Ajahn Sujato specifically states that questions that are too personal should not be asked on this blogsite. I think we should respect a persons privacy to some degree and stick to asking questions about the teachings and having discussions about the teachings. You questions come across as personal attacks and insults on the teacher – he has explained as best he can the Buddha’s teachings, most other people understand what he is getting at .

      Geoff said

      I’m intrigued by why he did this and what reasons he has for continuing. (As you would be aware, there are many Western monks who have left the same order, including the one who runs the centre Bhante regularly talks at.)

      Reponse

      I cannot answer for Ajhan Sujato as I do not know him, but obviously he believes the Buddha’s teachings are the way to peace and nirvana – sure some people leave teh “monkhood” along the way for what ever reasons but that is like saying “oh why does joe bloggs stay married – everyone else has left their kids and wife why does he bother” – he is doing something he believes in and that is good – why try to discourage it, why not just respect it and leave it at that. Really it is no body elses business and obviously he wants more than mundane happiness that can be found in ordinary life and wants a more ever lasting spiritual happiness that can only be found on the spiritual path by following spiritual teachings.

      Geoff

      By becoming a monk he has apparently found the Western philosophical / scientific tradition wanting. I am simply questioning him on that.

      Response

      He lives in the West, his teacher Ajahn Brahm was a top scientist, science is about examining and finding evidence for things, Buddhism has often been described as a science.

      He has not left the west he lives in Australia- Buddhism is the fastest growing religion in the West. He uses scientific theory in his teaching as do all buddhist to some degree and many scientist say that science does not have all the answers. Therefore Buddhism does not necessarily not use science it just takes it abit further, beyound the material forms of atoms and molecules to the mind – isn’t that more interesting than just the material world?

      Geoff

      I would not be asking the same questions of someone from a traditional Buddhist background I didn’t know personally.

      Why not, that just sounds biased – and proves that you have a personal issue with Ajahn Sujato that maybe should not be played out on a blogsite.

      Why if he gives teh same answers as a traditional Buddhist is there any difference, why does the colour of a persons skin matter, why do the outside environmental elements matter – people from the west want to find Nirvana too and have the right to find Nirvana.

      Anyway it is great to see someone so interested but really if you want to understand Buddhism, don’t expect to find it in someone else – read teh teachings and decide for yourself..maybe you will decide nirvana is a better place to be than samsara!

      Best wishes Geoff

  52. PS yiwei

    By the way – in the Suttas didn’t the Buddha encourage questioning?

    Didn’t he make the Brahmins uncomfortable by not accepting what they said at face value and asked probing questions?

    Or is that contradicted by other things he said?

  53. Geoff –

    The Buddha made the Brahmins uncomfortable because he was speaking from experience. You are clearly not speaking from experience.

    Also, the Buddha would lead the uncomfortable Brahmins towards truth. You clearly lead no one towards truth.

    Relevant in this regard is the Canki Sutta.

  54. sekold

    I wonder what Mahatma Gandhi or Mother Teresa who have thought of your comments?

    These great contributors and inspiration to world peace who have also said their beliefs lead to the truth.

    No doubt they would have also said they were speaking from experience and quoted their respective texts to support this.

    cheers

    Geoff

    • I have to assume there is a coherent point in your words here but to my deep and lasting shame I cannot discover it.

  55. yiwei

    Again its interesting reading your comments as it provides a good insight (not vipassana!) into the thinking of those who read Bhante’s blog.

    You say:
    “Your questions come across as personal attacks and insults on the teacher – he (Bhante) has explained as best he can the Buddha’s teachings, most other people understand what he is getting at .”

    “Anyway it is great to see someone so interested but really if you want to understand Buddhism, don’t expect to find it in someone else.”

    These comments of yours seem to be fairly typical on this blog as I have encountered it before (in fact in much more aggressive form). It appears that whenever questions are raised that might challenge the reader, you are accused of making personal attacks and insults.

    (Not that I for a moment might compare myself to the brilliance of the Buddha – but I’m sure he encountered the same comments from Brahmins when he questioned their teachers. Of course we wouldn’t have Buddhism if he hadn’t.)

    Also making remarks like: “…really if you want to understand Buddhism, don’t expect to find it in someone else”, is really just another way of trying to close down the discussion. If I’m making people uncomfortable, why is that? Surely people’s commitment to Buddhism is stronger than anything I might say. Shouldn’t people have sympathy for me for being deluded?

    Yiwei – I suspect if you had received similar answers on another subject you had a strong interest in from someone who wasn’t a Buddhist teacher, might you not probe further for clarification?

    You say: “..he (Bhante) has explained as best he can the Buddha’s teachings, most other people understand what he is getting at .”

    I’m not sure Bhante has explained as best he can. Maybe he has – I don’t know. I do know that he reveals more each time he answers my questions. I also know he is asked very few probing questions on doctrinal matters and so is rarely challenged by his readers.

    Do most people “understand what he is getting at” or do they just accept it without questioning – like most Brahmins did in the Buddha’s time?

    Cheers

    Geoff

  56. Geoff said

    yiwei

    Again its interesting reading your comments as it provides a good insight (not vipassana!) into the thinking of those who read Bhante’s blog.

    You say:
    “Your questions come across as personal attacks and insults on the teacher – he (Bhante) has explained as best he can the Buddha’s teachings, most other people understand what he is getting at .”

    “Anyway it is great to see someone so interested but really if you want to understand Buddhism, don’t expect to find it in someone else.”

    These comments of yours seem to be fairly typical on this blog as I have encountered it before (in fact in much more aggressive form). It appears that whenever questions are raised that might challenge the reader, you are accused of making personal attacks and insults.

    Response

    Well maybe because it is true. The fact that you have encountered it before may suggest that you maybe you should consider that for once other people may also have a point – and that you are not always as right as you seem to think you are.

    Geoff siad

    (Not that I for a moment might compare myself to the brilliance of the Buddha – but I’m sure he encountered the same comments from Brahmins when he questioned their teachers. Of course we wouldn’t have Buddhism if he hadn’t.)

    Response

    I think a previous blogger answered that

    Geoff said

    Also making remarks like: “…really if you want to understand Buddhism, don’t expect to find it in someone else”, is really just another way of trying to close down the discussion. If I’m making people uncomfortable, why is that?

    Response

    Why is that – possibly because you are so aggressive about your questioning.
    Buddhism involves inner reflection so endless discussion and questions repeated over and over means you are not really practicing buddhism properly. Buddhism is not just discussion and Questions. It is mainly about peace, harmony, lovingkindness – you don’t seem to be practicing this side of Buddhism but have narrowed it to specific intellectual questions – that you may not find answers to unless you balance it with some more meditative practise

    Geoff said

    Surely people’s commitment to Buddhism is stronger than anything I might say.

    Response
    Yes of course it is and The Buddha I believe did not advise wasting time on foolishness, or pepole who try to lead people away, so they may consider your approach to be destructive.
    and that you need to change the way you approach the Dhamma and the way you interact with the teacher.

    Geoff

    Yiwei – I suspect if you had received similar answers on another subject you had a strong interest in from someone who wasn’t a Buddhist teacher, might you not probe further for clarification?

    Response

    To a point, but even though I am not that smart I usually manage to work things out within a certain time frame and if not I leave it for a while and then come back to it later on. For example when I was young I could not make sense of maths at all, but many many years later I can think it though abit more and with more depth and not blame the teacher the system or whatever and make the best of it. I do not consider learning just an intellectual practise but one that should be mixed with experinece and that is what you are missing, you are not testing the teaching for yourself but just expecting to be given the answers.

    Just let go letting it go and not worrying and stressing about it will help more than trying to force the issue – maybe just relax abit – try to examine buddhism in a meditate way rather than in such an aggressive way not worrying about it is the best way.

    Practise some lovingkindness meditation a see if it works for you then you will know the answer.

    Geoff
    You say: “..he (Bhante) has explained as best he can the Buddha’s teachings, most other people understand what he is getting at .”

    I’m not sure Bhante has explained as best he can. Maybe he has – I don’t know. I do know that he reveals more each time he answers my questions. I also know he is asked very few probing questions on doctrinal matters and so is rarely challenged by his readers.

    Response

    If you read the About section of this blog he states that he doesn’t want to get into too deep Dhamma on this site – From the little I know about buddhism also as I said (correct me if I am wrong) it is not so all about intellectual matters it is all so about peace and harmony – that is: no matter how much intellectual understanding you have it won’t matter, it won’t help you find enlightenement if you have ill-will. I have this problem too and I am always told again and again – patience and lovingkindness are the way to overcome ill-will and anger (and if I hear that once more I will have a tantrum!…no just joking) ….just maybe for a while let go of the intellectual stuff and practise lovingkindness and patience – try to overcome ill-will and aggression then some back to the doctrinal stuff.

    Geoff said
    Do most people “understand what he is getting at” or do they just accept it without questioning – like most Brahmins did in the Buddha’s tim

    Response
    if they are following the Buuddhist path they may like you just be mulling it over or are accepting what teh Buddha says – it is not about Ajahn sujato – he is just interpreting what the teachings are
    You don’t have to accept anything you don’t think is right but at the same time if other people do then that is also there right – just live and let live – it is not such a big deal really.

    Anyway Geoff – just relax, don’t worry about it

  57. This discussion has become rather sidetracked onto Geoff’s style of questioning rather than the content of his questions, which is disappointing because there seems to be a substantive point in his posts of a few days ago.

    The point I am referring to is the questioning of claims by Bhante and others that phenomena outside the realm of our physical senses can indeed be considered ’empirical’. Geoff’s recent questions addressed the nature of devas in particular, but it seems that the point applies more broadly to many aspects of meditative experience.

    According to my dictionary, the term ’empirical’ refers to phenomena that are observed through experimental observation rather than being the result of theoretical analysis. It is implicit that such experimental observation is subject to the rigours of the scientific method, with appropriate controls to ensure that the results are repeatable.

    Experimental observations in the physical sciences necessarily involve observations made through the physical senses, and in particular the sense of seeing – either seeing the phenomenon directly or seeing readings on the displays of devices which form part of the experimental apparatus. Those of us who have grown up within this paradigm can easily assume that empirical phenomena are limited to the physical world. I certainly did, until recently.

    When you start to look into the nature of physical sense experience, however, the apparent distinction between the five physical senses and the ‘sixth sense’ quickly get blurred. Even a fairly basic level of meditation practice can provide evidence of experiences – ‘phenomena’ – that are ’empirical’ in the sense that under similar circumstances different people will experience similar phenomena.

    I am quite satisfied that much of the more advanced meditative experience can be rightly described as empirical, having been repeated by so many practitioners over so many years in so many different places. But where to draw the line?

    How can we be sure that what we are experiencing in our meditation is not simply the result of our mind obediently following the steps planted there through reading books, listening to dhamma talks and so on?

    How can we be sure that our own and other people’s experiences are genuine observations of a normally functioning mind and not hallucinations?

    How can we accept statements about devas and different realms of existence when they seem so contrary to our physical experience?

    How can we be sure that our failure to observe evidence for rebirth is simply because we haven’t yet done enough practice?

    may we all establish a balance of wisdom and faith and thereby achieve swift liberation

  58. Robert

    I disagree with you on most points

    Robert said

    “This discussion has become rather sidetracked onto Geoff’s style of questioning rather than the content of his questions, which is disappointing because there seems to be a substantive point in his posts of a few days ago”

    _______________________________

    Buddhism is essentially about non-harm, ill will or cruelty – therefore how does causing harm, having ill will and being cruel constitute a serious study or undertaking of Buddhism?

    Also your last points seem to want to justify Buddhism through scientific experiment.

    I am starting to have hallucinations too ….I am seeing animals cut up and tortured in little rooms “not in the name of science ” but “in the name of Buddhism”.

    It would be nice to have “proof” but not if in looking for proof we go against everything the Buddha taught and as a result end up in the hell realms rather than becoming awakened

    I agree it would be good to have an essay or something from one of the ordained that explains this concept of devas and gods as it confuses me too. Especially as one minute Buddhists are saying they don’t believe in gods, the next they talk of devas and gods.

    Maybe devas are just a more spiritually develop human beings in certain areas who haven’t really attained enlightenment – (maybe Mother Therasa might be called a a deva of compassion or something because she had higher levels of compassion that other humans) and the concept of this is just interpreted by the Buddha through the Indian religion at that time, I am not sure and yes there appears to be a small amount of relevance in that question of Geoffs – a question that trillions of people who have ever studied buddhism has probably asked, thousands of time.

    You ask how can we be sure of this and that… through practise as the Buddha states you get to a point of “overcoming doubt” although it would be alot easier if there was just some scientific experiment that proved everything and we didn’t have to practise.

    Maybe the Americans will come up with supermarkets where you can buy Buddhism “one minute microwaveable buddhism in a packet” for you and Geoff.

  59. I’d like to expand on yiwei’s response to Robert’s very clearly and calmly stated questions, if I may.

    There is an essential difference between meditative practise – inner work – and scientific or philosophical investigation. It is this: the aim of the inner work is liberation; the aim of science and philosophy is to refine an ever more precise description of sense phenomena. These are two very different aims – they lead in different directions. Permit me to quote Crowley:

    “In this book it is spoken of the Sephiroth and the Paths; of Spirits and Conjurations; of Gods, Spheres, Planes, and many other things which may or may not exist. It is immaterial whether these exist or not. By doing certain things certain results will follow; students are most earnestly warned against attributing objective reality or philosophic validity to any of them.” – Liber 0

    “By doing certain things certain results will follow.” The aim of inner work is not to reproduce a system of patterned thinking, it is to destroy patterned thinking. This is not immediately apparent because pretty much all other forms of human behaviour are predicated on reproducing patterned thinking. So we tend to approach Buddhism, or Saint Teresa, or Bahauddin Naqshband, with the assumption that we need to modify our currently patterned thinking to conform with the patterned thinking we believe to be on offer. “I do not currently believe in devas. Buddhists believe in devas. To be a Buddhist I must believe in devas. How can I do this?” This can become especially confusing when we try to use one pattern (scientific thinking) to confirm or test another pattern (the external shell of Buddhism).

    To address your specific questions Robert:

    —–How can we be sure that what we are experiencing in our meditation is not simply the result of our mind obediently following the steps planted there through reading books, listening to dhamma talks and so on?—–

    In early stages we need to obediently follow certain steps. In order to decondition, some conditioning is necessary. One uses a thorn to remove a thorn. An important prerequisite is that one trusts the teacher – the Canki Sutta is of help in this regard.

    —–How can we be sure that our own and other people’s experiences are genuine observations of a normally functioning mind and not hallucinations?—–

    The entire phenomenal world is in a very deep sense a hallucination. In the near term, we don’t need worry about whether something is “real” or not, we need instead to take Crowley’s advice and look at the results. “By their fruits ye shall know them.” Does it lead to unhappiness? Let it go.

    —–How can we accept statements about devas and different realms of existence when they seem so contrary to our physical experience?—–

    We don’t need to accept them as scientific descriptions of the world “out there”. The response I usually make is to say to myself “I probably know a lot less about the world than I think; therefore I will let certain assumptions go without replacing them with new ones.” I personally don’t believe in devas, or rebirth, but neither do I disbelieve in them. I simply don’t take up the question. If one’s aim is liberation, this attitude can be useful. If one’s aim is scientific description, it is not so useful. One must be clear about one’s aim.

    —–How can we be sure that our failure to observe evidence for rebirth is simply because we haven’t yet done enough practice?—–

    Doctrinally the Buddha only saw direct evidence for rebirth on the night of his supreme enlightenment, after years of intense effort, so on that basis we certainly haven’t done enough practise! Remember too that belief in rebirth is not a factor of the eightfold path, and note that the Buddha calls speculating about rebirth “a disease, a boil, an arrow” in the Yavakalāpi Sutta (SN 34.248). In my view entirely too much cogitational energy is wasted on discussion of rebirth. The real point is to practise, hard, because life is short.

    May we all win peace.

  60. “I personally don’t believe in devas, or rebirth, but neither do I disbelieve in them. I simply don’t take up the question. If one’s aim is liberation, this attitude can be useful. If one’s aim is scientific description, it is not so useful. One must be clear about one’s aim”

    Certainly I don’t want to get hung up on the idea of rebirth, that seems like a waste of a rebirth “laugh here”…but reading the Suttas when I can one or the most prominent and repeated phases seems to be:

    Stream enterer, once returner, non-returner.

    I don’t understand therefore how people say they read the Suttas and are even Buddhists and follow the teachings but don’t either believe in rebirth or support the fact that the Buddha constantly talks of rebirth.

    Have I misunderstood the meaning of “once returner, non-returner”? Doesn’t this refer to a person being reborn again or not being reborn again.

    Is this concept repeated, repeatedly throughout the Suttas in just about every chapter if not every second page?

    Isn’t it mentioned in just about every Sutta.

  61. yiwei,

    True it is constantly referred to but I would add two refinements:

    1) The Pāli word translated as “rebirth” is “punabbhava”. This literally means “again-becoming”. It does not contain “jati”, which means physical birth.

    2) Great teachers have given varying interpretations of the subject. To select one almost at random (because it’s from the last Dhamma book I read), here is the great Thai monk Buddhadasa Bhikkhu:

    “The words ‘birth’ and ‘death’ require the same discrimination regarding language. In people language, the word ‘birth’ means to be born from a mothers womb. In Dhamma language, however, the word ‘birth’ means some form of attachment is born. This kind of birth happens every time we allow the arising of a thought or feeling which involves grasping and clinging to something as ‘I’ or ‘mine,’ such as, ‘I am,’ ‘I have,’ ‘I think,’ and ‘I do.’ This is the birth of the ‘I’ or the ego.

    […]

    ‘”Birth is suffering.’ These words mean that the egoistic kind of birth described above is always painful and ugly. That is to say, if we allow ‘I’ to be born in any manner, suffering occurs immediately. If we live simply and directly in the awareness of ‘not-being-I,’ it’s like remaining unborn and never experiencing suffering. Although physical birth has happened long ago, there is no further spiritual birth of the egoistic ‘I.’

    “On the other hand, whenever an egoistic thought or feeling arises, there is suffering at once and the suffering always fits the particular kind of ‘I’ that is being born. […] In one day, there may be many dozens of births, and every one of them is unsatisfactory, frustrating, and painful. To destroy this kind of birth is Nibbana.”

    – Buddhadasa Bhikkhu, “No Religion”, http://www.wfb-hq.org/bud21b.htm

    (I recommend the entire talk to you, to Robert, and to Geoff – Buddhadasa’s distinction between “people language” and “Dhamma language” is most helpful.)

    Also, on a personal note, I feel that following one’s teacher’s instructions can be of great importance, and mine happen never to discuss physical rebirth. Yours may be different, and that is their way, for which I have only respect, and about which I can say nothing.

  62. Hi Sekold,

    Thank you for that. There are as you say different ways to view rebirth – I had not really thought of rebirth in they ways you describe so much.

    Maybe Ajahn Sujato or one of the other ordained can clarify what the Buddha refers to when he says “once returner’ “twice returner” etc and whether the Buddha is referring to a physical birth ie two people have sex, 9 months pregnancy, birth, pregnancy classes, nappy changing, morgage payments, pre-school etc etc or something less mandane.

    Thank you again for you well writen and informative responses.

    Best wishes

  63. PS

    I have another query…..

    What is the difference between Nibbana and what an atheist expects after death?

    Aren’t both the total extinguishing of the self?

    Maybe the Buddha was on the same wavelength as Richard Dawkins and Bhante was on the right track in 1st year uni?

    cheers

    Geoff

    • Geoff,

      Your question rests on the assumption that the nature of the self is already known. Look into the self – look, don’t think about it – see its nature. Then you’ll know the difference between death and Nibbana.

    • Geoff

      What is the difference between Nibbana and what an atheist expects after death?

      Try Wikepedia most of the answers to your questions can be found on Wikepedia

      – Atheist expect blackness (hell?) Nivana is everlasting peace (a six year old told me that, even a six year old knows that but you don’t and you claim to know about Buddhism? – )

      Geoff the answer to ALL your questions is, as Ajahn Brahm says:

      IF IT BRINGS PEACE AND HARMONY IT IS BUDDHISM – IF IT DOESN’T IT IS NOT:)

    • Geoff

      and…The solution to your need to ask again and again the same questions; questions that you should know the answer to if you are as versed in Buddhism as you think you are; questions that don’t make any sense – is to try to overcome your bad intentions to cause harm and hurt on this forum and your jealousy and hatred and to wish Ajahn Sujato well with his good work in spreading the true Dhamma.

      The way to overcome your feeligns of ill will and hatred are to and to do lovingkindness meditation.

      Best wishes

    • Yiwei, Your words don’t seem to be bringing peace. You have failed the Buddhism test.

      Yiwei do you have a solution to your own feelings of ill will?

  64. Hey – I think I might have hit on it…..

    Maybe the Buddha did say similar things to Richard Dawkins?

    But his followers thought “this is kinda boring”….

    ……and the rest is history……

  65. Robert,
    Its good to see there are open minded, articulate thinkers on this blog who ask probing
    questions.

    We should have you stuffed (as Basil Fawlty would say).

    Cheers

    Geoff

    ************

    Yiwei

    You say:
    “IF IT BRINGS PEACE AND HARMONY IT IS BUDDHISM – IF IT DOESN’T IT IS NOT:)”

    Does that mean all those involved in the Bhikkhuni ordination ‘debate’ aren’t practicing Buddhism?
    Peace and harmony have certainly been in short supply over that issue…..

    WHAT’S WITH THE CAPITAL LETTERS?

    It sounds like you could do with a bit more peace and harmony yourself…..

    (I find it fascinating how easily irritated Buddhists can get. What’s all that practice been for?)

    Why do you assume I am filled with jealousy and hatred?

    Because I am seeking clarification for some fundamental questions and don’t simply accept what I am told at face value?

    By the way, there is as much sympathy as anything else for Bhante having to follow this blog …..

    Incidentally, is there any consciousness in Nibbana to experience peace?

    *************
    Sekold

    You say:

    “Your question rests on the assumption that the nature of the self is already known. Look into the self – look, don’t think about it – see its nature. Then you’ll know the difference between death and Nibbana.”

    Why should I know the difference? I am not dead yet (as of time of writing anyway) and it’s safe to say I won’t reach Nibbana in this lifetime, so how can I know the difference? Have you reach Nibbana?

    Maybe I’m not too sharp but I don’t understand what you are talking about.

    Why do Buddhists feel the need for Buddhaspeak?

    Cheers

    Geoff

    • Resort to Buddhaspeak? But I am using Geoffspeak. You posed the question using the word Nibbana. Why did you feel the need to use that word?

      As to whether I have reached Nibbana, read again Buddhadasa’s description of Nibbana quoted above. “I” cannot reach Nibbana, ever. Is that clear?

    • Geoff

      The reason for the capitalisation is because I thought possibly you had problems reading as you seem to ask the same questions over and over and over.

      I use to work with special needs kids and we had to do that sometimes espeically with autistic kids who repeat things over and over.

      I have also done a little work with prisoners and sometimes, due to their aggresive and psycotic instincts they need things to be made really clear to them other wise it doesn’t sink in, that is when for the sake of themselves and everyone else they are not locked in their cells.

      Geoff and Peter
      I am not a Buddhist I am not an enlightened being – i doubt anyone on the forum is…. so Geoff your expectations that expect people on a public blogsite to put up with your devisive behaviour is to say the least deluded ….do you seriously think people on a blogsit are all enlightened?

      Do you seriously expect that on a public blogsite every person is going to be an enlightened being, and therefore patiently and tolerantly put up with you and you pschotic need to destroy the blogsite?

      Peter – Honesty is not ill-will – I am not a Buddhist so don’t have such high expectations. I do not though try to destroy Buddhist even if I do have doubts and questions about the religion.

      This is a free country and all religions are allowed to operative without inference and religious intolerance in this country by law – except if they are doing something illigel or that is harmful and as far as I an most other Australia are concerned Buddhist do not therefore should be left to do what they do without being harrassed and bullied like Geoff is doing.

      I am not claiming to be a Buddhist. I am not a Buddhist – so don’t expect me to put up with your stupid questions – ill-will and questions asked to cause harm and devisivness, I am though an Australian and I do not like other australians like Geoff bullying, harrassing and interfering in other peoples human rights and freedoms!

      Like you I am here to try an learn about Buddhism but it is extremely difficult when you have a person on the forum who continually trys to destroy everything.

      I think unlike you I have at least put some effort into trying to understand and grasp what Buddhism is about and don’t just expect a teacher to do it for me or to answer a continual onslaught of banal and boring question that don’t make sense.!

      I hope Geoff you find an enlightened being that will just tolerate you insidious and psychotic behaviour, I would suggest though that is highly unlikely

      Your ridiculous comparison to the Bhikkhuni ordination hardly warrants a reply because you are incinuating that you are not only a religious bigot, and racist but also a sexist… because it is obvious that creating harmony between the sexes does just that …CREATES HARMONY.

      GEOFF
      If you want a teacher to answer your question put them clearly on one page
      Don;t ask more than one question a week
      If after asking the same question three times you still do not understand the answer do some research for yourself your god sake.
      If after all this time you still do not understand or except Buddhism then find something else to do with your time or find somehing else that you do understand, accept and want to follow

  66. Geoff

    The fact that the unconscious and aggressive psychotic thuggery you call “probing questions” discussion or enquiry into Buddhism has been tolerated on this blogsite for so long only goes to show that the misogyny, male chauvenis bullying endemic in Buddhist organisations not only still exists but is still tolerated and sometimes even encouraged and ignored by those organisation that morons like you inhabit.

    I am sure if you were a women you would have been banned, belittled, or gotten rid of by now by the monks or moderators of the forum or by the thugs that support and have so much in common with you.

    Because though you are a man you are tolerated; which only goes to show that many Buddhist organisations/Buddhists (including the and the sort of women/trollops that silently support men like you ) have more in common with the local football clubs, Masonic lodges, and RSL’s than anything to do with Buddhism.

    Best wishes

    • Like I said sekold male thugs who think they know it all like you inhabit Buddhist organisation like a disease!

      Get a grip on your own self opinioned ideas and views on things Geoff, Sekold

      So you get a grip!

  67. Yiwei

    Are you accusing Bhante Sujato of condoning misogyny?

    Remember this is the monk who (with Ajahn Brahm) bravely promoted the ordination of bhikkhunis in the face of strong and persistent (often spiteful) opposition within his tradition.

    Hardly sounds misogynous to me.

    ******

    Sekold

    “As to whether I have reached Nibbana, read again Buddhadasa’s description of Nibbana quoted above. “I” cannot reach Nibbana, ever. Is that clear?”

    Yes, I know at least enough Buddhism to be clear the quest is non-self, therefore (according to Buddhist theory) ‘I’ cannot reach Nibbana.

    But it begs the question: if ‘I’ cannot reach Nibbana, who or what can and is aware ‘they’ are?
    Also re my previous query: is there any consciousness in Nibbana to experience peace (or anything else)?

    In other words: assuming there is no consciousness in Nibbana (isn’t it total extinguishing of the ‘flame’?), who or what is aware of no consciousness?

    To me it sounds pretty close to what an atheist would anticipate after death.

    Maybe this was what the Buddha was talking about?

    But of course who would want to hear this? Hence all the later adornments added by institutionalised Buddhism to make it more appealing?

    Anyway I’m just speculating. None of us were there to hear the Buddha give his talks…..

    Cheers

    Geoff

    • Geoff,

      Geoff I do not have time to respond to your post other than quickly so you can nitpick (and they say women are nagging niipickers!) all you like but we can all only do the best with what we have..I was pointing out that your statements, actions and behaviour seems to reflect someone who has a dislike of people from foreign countries, shows no respect for women and who may have psychological problems with regards to your infatution or jealously of Ahjan Sujato.

      That anyone who has studied buddhism even a tinybit like me, even though I am not a Buddhist, would be able to answer their own questions or at least look them up and find the answers –

      – actually I would suggest that most of the answers to your question can be found on page one of any Buddhist book!

      .
      Geoff said

      Are you accusing Bhante Sujato of condoning misogyny?

      Remember this is the monk who (with Ajahn Brahm) bravely promoted the ordination of bhikkhunis in the face of strong and persistent (often spiteful) opposition within his tradition.

      Hardly sounds misogynous to me.

      Answer

      Good work Geoff – I am impressed you have answered a question all by your self!

      ….yeah congratulations Geoff!

      gold star for Geoff !!!

      Are you going to pack your own lunch tody or does mummy or wifey do that for you?
      ____

      No I was not suggesting that AS is in anyway a misogynous (trying to twist people words and meaning seems to be something you like to do but I would suggest you are not too talented at!)

      As you say anyone who bravely promoted the ordination of bhikkhunis in the face of strong and persistent misogyny could in no way be accused of a thinking they are superior intellectually or otherwise to the other half of the human race, I stress the word human race.

      It was the opposition in this debate that call themselves Buddhists I was refering to, the ones that do not ordain women and the vast majority of people who go to Buddhist organisation who support thugs rather than Buddhist and yes this includes women too!

      Anyway, I would suggest again you try to limit you questions to one or two questions a week and try reading a Buddhist book – and let some other people answer their queries instead of taking so much space with your tedious and boring questions.

      I am not too sure who you thing you are impressing with your decitful and cunning tactics and at trying to “prove Buddhism wrong” and I would think that the only people who would be impressed by this criminal behaviour would be other criminals but that is not true because many criminals are alot smarter than that.

      Actually the introductory page of the Buddhist book I have …yes that is right at the beginning of the book…says

      “The Pali Canon offers sufficient evidence to dispense with the opinion of some people that Nibbana is sheer annihilation etc etc… this is four pages into the book…I think that five pages into the book the Buddhia explains one must not just theorise because as we all know information is relevant to the context and that the Buddhas advises not to take his teachings on faith but to have and understanding, put them into practise, see for yourself – if they work for you then you have your evidence
      Sekold

      I should not have been so rude to you :)…….maybe :0

      Best wishes

    • Geoff I do not have time to respond to your post other than quickly so you can nitpick (and they say women are nagging niipickers!) all you like but we can all only do the best with what we have..I was pointing out that your statements, actions and behaviour seems to reflect someone who has a dislike of people from foreign countries, shows no respect for women and who may have psychological problems with regards to your infatution or jealously of Ahjan Sujato.

      That anyone who has studied buddhism even a tinybit like me, even though I am not a Buddhist, would be able to answer their own questions or at least look them up and find the answers –

      – actually I would suggest that most of the answers to your question can be found on page one of any Buddhist book!

      .
      Geoff said

      Are you accusing Bhante Sujato of condoning misogyny?

      Remember this is the monk who (with Ajahn Brahm) bravely promoted the ordination of bhikkhunis in the face of strong and persistent (often spiteful) opposition within his tradition.

      Hardly sounds misogynous to me.

      Answer

      Good work Geoff – I am impressed you have answered a question all by your self!

      ….yeah congratulations Geoff!

      gold star for Geoff !!!

      Are you going to pack your own lunch tody or does mummy or wifey do that for you?
      ____

      No I was not suggesting that AS is in anyway a misogynous (trying to twist people words and meaning seems to be something you like to do but I would suggest you are not too talented at!)

      As you say anyone who bravely promoted the ordination of bhikkhunis in the face of strong and persistent misogyny could in no way be accused of a thinking they are superior intellectually or otherwise to the other half of the human race, I stress the word human race.

      It was the opposition in this debate that call themselves Buddhists I was refering to, the ones that do not ordain women and the vast majority of people who go to Buddhist organisation who support thugs rather than Buddhist and yes this includes women too!

      Anyway, I would suggest again you try to limit you questions to one or two questions a week and try reading a Buddhist book – and let some other people answer their queries instead of taking so much space with your tedious and boring questions.

      I am not too sure who you thing you are impressing with your decitful and cunning tactics and at trying to “prove Buddhism wrong” and I would think that the only people who would be impressed by this criminal behaviour would be other criminals but that is not true because many criminals are alot smarter than that.

      Actually the introductory page of the Buddhist book I have …yes that is right at the beginning of the book…says

      “The Pali Canon offers sufficient evidence to dispense with the opinion of some people that Nibbana is sheer annihilation etc etc… this is four pages into the book…I think that five pages into the book the Buddhia explains one must not just theorise because as we all know information is relevant to the context and that the Buddhas advises not to take his teachings on faith but to have and understanding, put them into practise, see for yourself – if they work for you then you have your evidence
      Sekold

      I should not have been so rude to you …….maybe :0

      Best wishes

    • Peter

      What are you even doing bloggin on a Buddhist website for anyway …just to support thugs

      With supporters of thugs like yourself on this blog, it is a wonder that the only women left on this blog has any rebirths here at all – most have left the thugs to each other … a wise move I would think.

      As I said before thugs are allowed to blog and abuse women but women are ridiculed and bullied – in mysogenist Buddhist circles… thanks Peter you just proved my point and no doubt your next rebirth will be again as the pompous self- opiniated thug that you are!

    • Geoff,

      Actually I do like alot of your questions and I am sure Sujato will answer them or have friends who can – especially the issue of how the teachings were transmitted, I am sure some Tibetan Buddhists have their view on this.

      Anyway best wishes

      Peter

      A actually you have very few opinions and a great dry sense of humour and are supportive of women- this is my last rebirth!

      Best wishes

    • It is though it seems considered, even by the alternative traditions that the early or original teachings, or the Theravardin Buddhism (is that what they refer to as Hinayana) works better if you want more than a better form of samsara ..so as they say …….the proof is in the pudding…a bit of kitchen sink wisdom there.

      See youse in enlightenment🙂

  68. Yiwei,
    Sorry but I find your comments so ludicrous I don’t know if there is much point responding.

    Of course there is always the option of ignoring me…..

    ****

    Sekold,

    “Since you’re interested in speculating I’ll leave you to it. Best of luck.
    PS “begs the question” properly means “assumes the point to be proved”, not “raises the question”. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Begging_the_question”

    That PS is a bit hair splitting. I’m happy to stand corrected – the point is you know what I mean. Hair splitting is usually the tactic when you run out of other arguments…

    Re your other point:

    And you’re not speculating? Were you there when the Buddha gave his talks?

    Did you go to the Buddha’s talk last Monday night? I went but I heard him give another talk a couple of weeks ago and he seemed to emphasis something a little different and leave out parts of what he said last Monday.

    So I’m a little unsure now. Hopefully he will be able to clarify what he meant when he’s interviewed by Ted Meissner next week (go Ted) and I can listen to the podcast.

    It would be great if he had his own blog then we could have some really interesting exchanges and I could hear what others had to say.

    BTW I also went to hear Jesus give his Sermon on the Mount talk…..

    But I don’t know why he was going on about “blessed are the cheesemakers”?

    (If you haven’t seen “Life of Brian”, I strongly recommend it.)

    Cheers

    *******

    PS to give an example of differing interpretations of the Suttas, if I may repost an earlier query I put to Bhante. (Re below – aren’t Ajahns Sujato and Brahmali also speculating?):

    Geoff / Mar 28 2012 8:55 pm

    Bhante

    PS re my earlier point:

    (As an indication of the lack of certainty – even on the question of Pali text interpretation and given your close affiliation – it was interesting to note on this blog how much Ajahn Brahmali / Ajahn Brahm and yourself differ in your interpretations on (what I would consider) fairly central issues. For example, on the Buddha’s meditative attainments prior to the night of his Enlightenment, you believed the Buddha (to be) attained the level of the Formless Attainments (but of course not reaching Nibbana), whereas Brahmali / Brahm believed he didn’t even reach the Jhana stages.)

    ****

    I find this above example particularly interesting, as it indicates just how wide open the suttas are to interpretation. On the one hand Ajahns Brahmali & Brahm appear to dismiss the level of any non-Buddhist meditative attainment, believing the term jhana used in the relevant sutta (I’m sure you know which one I’m referring to – but I can check) can’t have the same meaning as the Buddhist term, whereas you interpret the sutta quite differently.

    Your interpretation of the sutta is that in fact the Buddha (to be) did attain very deep meditative absorption through instructions from his former teacher(s), surpassing the Four Jhanas to the level of the Formless Attainments.

    As I recall Bhante, your reasoning for this was that the Buddha achieved the deepest levels of meditation available – but still was dissatisfied – because he realised he had not escaped the rounds of rebirth once and for all (ie Nibbana). Instead he had ‘only’ achieved the Formless Attainments, where he was able to foresee (unlike his teachers who presumably believed they had reached the ultimate Atman) that he had entered the (impermanent) celestial realms (albeit for many eons) but still not final cessation “without remainder”.

    (I’m assuming of course you still hold this interpretation now. This was about a year ago).

    My query is: how did the Buddha (to be) realise he had not attained Atman but ‘only’ the (impermanent) Formless Attainments when he hadn’t achieved Buddhahood yet?

    Much appreciated

    Geoff

    • Geoff,

      Tell me if I understand correctly. On my reading, the essence of the question you keep posing to the monks and others in this thread is this: “What exactly was the Buddha referring to when he used the words ‘shoe’ and ‘gourd’?”

      The answer is of course that we should all listen to (the earlier) Yiwei and work on being more loving.

  69. PS reading over Yiwei’s comments again……

    Its not wonder Bhante wants to talk about Pali chanting.

    I don’t blame him…..

    • Geoff said

      My query is: how did the Buddha (to be) realise he had not attained Atman but ‘only’ the (impermanent) Formless Attainments when he hadn’t achieved Buddhahood yet

      Answer

      In Buddhism there is no Atman that is a Hindu term …reaching Nibbana is overcoming the self or Atman.

      How can someone try to become enlightened but at the same time try to attain Atman or soul or self…they are the opposite of each other.

      Have you any other “high level intellectual questions” that can be answered by a ludicous female who has only briefly read through the suttas?

      There are plenty of talks on the internet that you can listen to if you want to learn about Buddhism – why don’t you try this.

    • Also Buddhism is mainly about peace, compassion and wisdom, not intellectual gymnastics.

      Trying to just understand Buddhism without understanding that is futile – why don’t you ask the Ajahns if that is true or if that is ludicous.

      Ask them whether apart from being experts in the Suttas they also practise meditation, lovingkindness and compassion – do you think they are too “intelligent” for that – as I have just listened to one of Ajahn Brahmali talks on lovingkindness I am pretty sure they do.

      Trying to overcome greed, hatred and delusion is extremely hard, harder than reading the suttas and until you incorporate that maybe the intellectual stuff will never make sense anyway –

      I trust Ajahn Sujato will be back soon

      Best wishes and hope you find Nibbana 🙂

  70. Sorry about that…slip of the wrist…

    PS Robert – in case it is not obvious…. I think you are wasting your time on this blog.

    It appears to be inherently anti-intellectual and close-minded.

    • Geoff,

      It is not anti-intellectual – believe it or not I actually have a University degree, as I am sure you do.

      The fact is even at University they say these days that theory has to be combined with practise.

      Even the PhD’s say this and this is a blogsite not a University Lecture hall!

      Many courses have long periods of up to three to four months where students have to go out and practise what they have learnt at Uni because they found that many students were unemployable because they could not intergrate their theory for anything useful.

      The most stupid person I have ever had to work with was a person with a Masters degree.

      Also I just read that the most wanted person in America is now not a Osama Bin Laden but a man with a few degrees in Education I think, who was quite well respected where he worked.

      Therefore even intellectual people have in-build drives that can be destructive ie ill-will.

      That is why I am saying that looking at the important aspects of Buddhism does not just mean intellectual gymnastics it means

      Not Lying – which includes not deceiving, bending the truth, twisting what people say etc
      Not Killing – that includes insects
      Not having sexual misconduct – adultery
      Not using harsh speech or thought ie taking pleasure in others misfortunes, not wasting peoples’ time with meaningless discussion, putting people down and being negative towards others etc

      Many high level intellectual people could not abide by the above – I am sure some of the Uni professor that hit girls at Uni could attest to this or the girls that take up the offers to get better grades or titles of professors themselves.

      So Buddhism is yes very difficult intellectually but if you cannot abide even generally by the precepts or virtuous side of buddhism (which I freely admit I cannot) then the intellectual stuff may not be useful anyway.

      Do you agree with that Sekold what is your view on that?

    • I couldn’t agree more Yiwei. Sila, Samadhi, and Panna are the path. Sila means behaviour, or “how you live your life”. If that’s not in order, the other bits aren’t going to work very well. There’s no point asking about Nibbana if you can’t relate honestly and virtuously to your fellow man and woman.

      This sequence is found in every genuine spiritual path. For example in Christianity the three stages are called Purgatorio, Illuminatio, and Unitio.

    • Sekold,

      Thanks for that.

      Christians though don’t believe in not killing animals which I find quite surprising, and most of the Christianity I experience was more “praising to god.”

      Anyway I think as Robert said the thread has gone off the topic abit………. back to Tom Peppers etc etc

      Regards

    • “Ātman is a conceptual attachment to oneself that promotes a belief that one is intrinsic and without incident. This attachment further diverges one’s route from the path to enlightenment and hence nirvāṇa as all forms of attachment do”. Wikepedia

      Geoff I am sure when Ajahn Sujato returns he will have a better intellectual explanation but I do not think there is a permanent fixed self or soul in Buddhism.

      The self is not the fix idea of a person unchangeable and born the way they are as a solid entity, the self in many schools of Buddhism is only used I think to describe this fixed sort of object in terms of a mind purified from greed, hatred, negativity into a self of lovingkindness and from there into an enlightened being, which I doubt has any self.

      Many schools of Buddhism do talk about a sort of self and those that believe in people becoming Buddhas might see this as a self, even still it is a self without attachment, anger, desire and greed- without and ego that thinks it is a fixed being born with solid entity that is unchangeable, or with an ego view that it is always right or good or better because it is a white man or whatever.

      But I don’t think this school does it only talks of improving the self to the point of being a mind of lovingkindness or a purified min, that will therefore not attach to others with ill will and other things like that and that an enlightened being is completely devoid of self.

      I think anyway.

      But anyway I do not really see how an enlightened being can have a self – how does that make sense?

    • Geoff

      For example a man born with a mind of say a red-neck who believes he is always right and women are lesser beings and black people and asians are inferior can actually change that self, that self is not a fix object that cannot change.

      For example by seeing the good in people not just the external body that the mind is incased in, that red-neck view can change.

      The red-neck bogan could also change those views and thoughts of negetivity and hatred and the lack of self esteem that possibly shows some sort of deep seated inferiorty complex or somethinng and see things in a kinder and more positive way, practise virtue and have more accepting open heart rather than a narrow bigoted view based on their conditioning ie the self is not a fixed entity, it can change for the better if that person practises virtue or it can change for the worse (whether it is a white male or not) and end up in a bad place because of the bad kamma it creates by putting out it has such ill will and hatred and abuse to others.

      Hope that makes sense

      Best wishes

    • Not at all Geoff. The discussions certainly get sidetracked and aren’t always constructive, but this is no more a waste of time than a meditation sitting dominated by distractions.

      Questions like those I posed here a couple of weeks ago are not meant to be answered, but to be tossed around (either in discussion or internal reflection). I would put many of the questions you have been asking in the same category. They may be good questions, but that does not mean they can (or even should) be directly answered. The most useful answers are, like some of Bhante’s, rather oblique, and intended to provoke further thought rather than to provide information (definitive answers often don’t exist anyway). And many are best left to percolate in the mind of the questioner. I wouldn’t dream to speak on Bhante’s behalf, but maybe he is leaving you to percolate!

      I’m off to the taxidermist now, wishing contentment to all.

  71. Robert,

    I have to say I find your thoughtful comments a refreshing change from the usual less than impressive comments of others. (Eg I like how they sink the boot in then start talking about loving kindness – talk about “first take the log out of your own eye” – if I may quote another religious teaching….).

    I quite agree – definitive answers often don’t exist anyway. But what your questions and mine can do is open up the certainties that people are often looking for in religion, whether it be Christian, Buddhist or whatever. Where that takes us I’m not sure but I think it is healthier to live in uncertainty than continue to try to ignore unsettling questions which might disturb that certainty.

    If Bhante’s intention is to provoke further thought, he certainly achieves that as his answers tend to raise more questions than answers. However I’m not sure if that is his intention. I sense he feels he is given fairly thorough answers and appears to get rather irritated when I keep pointing out inconsistencies (eg are devas real or do they reflect the culture of the Buddha’s time?)

    Note how few on this blog question Bhante at all. From what I can see the vast majority of Buddhists want to accept what the monks tell them without questioning. (Of course this is how the monks themselves are trained – all you have to do is listen to Ajahn Brahm’s talks to his monks in WA). What I find ironic is this runs counter to Bhante’s university education where the emphasis was on questioning what you were told.

    Of course what is unspoken is Bhante isn’t simply a truth seeker but a representative of institutional Buddhism with the restraints and requirements that follow.

    The central question I am probing Bhante on is his claim that Buddhism is distinguished from other religions by not being faith-based (ie he’s figure out the right path and the others are wrong – just the opposite to what the other religions would say). I’m trying to get him to provide a convincing explanation.

    However I don’t think this will come from being “left to percolate in the mind of the questioner “.
    Unfortunately on this blog I don’t feel our questions are “tossed around (either in discussion or internal reflection)”. I get the distinct impression they are more likely to be simply tossed out.

    And I don’t feel Bhante is doing anything to discourage that. After all he has a sangha to maintain and keep happy.

    Cheers
    Geoff

  72. Robert (and anyone else who might be interested),

    Here’s something I was just reading which I reckon would be good to “toss around”.

    Why isn’t this a plausible explanation for how Buddhism might have become established?

    (In fact sounds like something Bhante might have written himself back a uni.)

    cheers

    Geoff

    *****

    Nostalgia for the Buddha

    (Posted by Glenn Wallis on June 11, 2011 on his website):

    “Richard Robinson, a leading scholar of Buddhism in the twentieth century, put it succinctly:
    The quest for the objective Gotama [the Buddha], like that of the historical Jesus, is foredoomed to a measure of failure. We cannot get behind the portrait that the early communities synthesized for their founders; their reports are all we have. (The Buddhist Religion)

    We may not be able to get behind these pious accounts, but we can read between their lines. Robinson is saying that, in effect, religious books—scriptures—are cooked. Like the Christ of the Bible (as opposed to the historical Jesus), or like Plato’s literary figure known as “Socrates,” a figure called “the Buddha” has been written into the primary source material. “The Buddha” is an idealization of a man named Siddhattha Gotama (Siddhartha Gautama in Sanskrit).

    That is not to say that there is no flesh and bone on this figure, or that his teachings as recorded are not authentic. But how can we distinguish between the literary figure and the historical person? How can we get closer to the real-life person on whom the community’s pious portrait is based?

    Considering why this distinction between person and idol exists in the first place will help us to see a way forward. The first task of any religious teacher’s followers, whether in Greece, Rome, Arabia, India, or the United States is twofold: to propagate and to preserve the teachings. The decisive importance of the former goal, however, drastically impacts the latter. That is, propagation is a Darwinian struggle of competition and adaptation; and the very engagement in this struggle shapes the form of the preservation. Spreading the teachings required that Gotama’s followers successfully contend with fierce competition from several quarters. The most crucial—and ruthless—struggle centered on patronage. Without the support of the leading figures in society, a community had no chance of survival. Patronage involved not only financial and material support, but social prestige. The latter was particularly important for a community such as Gotama’s, which challenged the orthodoxy of the day. There was also the struggle with rival teachers and hostile sects, who made claims—and held out promises—for their teachings that were different from, and more attractive than, Gotama’s. Buddhist literature is full of evidence of such struggles. The literature also reveals the extraordinary internal tensions that arose from the need to maintain unity and morale. Soon enough, moreover, Gotama’s community had to meet these enormous challenges bereft of its charismatic teacher.

    A common strategy, then as now, in this struggle for recognition is to cast the teacher’s sayings, discourses, dialogues, lectures, random utterances, and so on, as “sacred” or “religious” literature. I call a text “religious” if it or its proponents claim for the work’s origin and contents some special quality, possessed by the originator, that is fundamentally non-natural, and hence, categorically unavailable to the common person.

    As far as I know, there is no cult of Mozart. We see him as a musical genius, yes. But no one seriously claims that his music was divinely inspired, that is, that it derived from anything but human capacities. If we do speak of Mozart’s achievement in religious terms (it is transcendent, sacred, holy, revelatory, otherworldly, etc.), we do so figuratively, poetically, in an attempt to match language to a breathtaking natural achievement.

    I contend that Gotama’s followers (and perhaps Gotama himself) made a conscious decision to cast his teachings in overtly religious terms. Such an alteration—from secular, naturalistic, and commonsensical to sectarian, supernatural, and super-sensual—required that the teachings’ custodians combine the central teachings with particular adornments. These adornments—frames, conceits, rhetorical structures, supernatural interlocutors, awe-inspiring miracles, extra-sensory perception—tip off the reader or hearer to the uncanny, even daemonic, power of the teachings. At the very least, such adornments demand attention, inspire confidence, and make a compelling case. Only in this manner could Gotama’s community win the patronage necessary for prospering.”

    • I’m no historian, but I suspect that Robinson’s argument would apply to most historical studies – the evidence available is usually distorted and incomplete. The challenge is then to develop a framework for analysis of that evidence that is sensitive to cultural, geographical, temporal (and probably many other) paradigms.

      I find much of Wallis’s analysis to be quite plausible. In deciding to teach his dhamma, the Buddha had to develop a presentation that was comprehensible to his students. And over the years, there have been many additions to present the teachings in different cultural contexts.

      Where I disagree with Wallis is his use of the term ‘religious teacher’. It has connotations within a European cultural context that colour his analysis of the Buddha’s teachings. The Buddha taught ‘dhamma’, a term that has many – and no satisfactory – equivalents in English. I have heard it said that the Buddha would never have seen his teachings as Buddhism; and also that Buddhism really only came into existance when the early British colonialists encountered the teachings in Ceylon and imposed their own cultural paradigms.

      The importance of the distinction becomes clear through Waliis’s own definition: “I call a text “religious” if it or its proponents claim for the work’s origin and contents some special quality, possessed by the originator, that is fundamentally non-natural, and hence, categorically unavailable to the common person.” While there is much in the suttas that is difficult to comprehend, the Buddha’s core teachings are fundamentally natural and available to the common person.

      Yes, there is a lot of supernatural stuff added in the later traditions and many modern practices treat Buddhism as if it is a religion, and here again I agree with Wallis that such adornments need to be understood for what they are. But they don’t detract from the fundamentally natural and available nature of the core teachings, in which the bits that seem incomprehensible can be taken as being beyond the limits of one’s current capabilities. Perhaps somewhat like the early days of scientific developments such as relativity or quantum mechanics.

      Interestingly, there are those, such as John Spong, who take a similar approach to analysis of the teachings of Jesus. Let us just be grateful that the traditions of rigid orthodoxy are much less dominant in Buddhist traditions that they are in Christian traditions.

      with kind wishes to all, Robert

  73. Robert,

    Again I want to say how pleasant it is to have civil discussion on this blog and how unusual it is.

    In response to you earlier comments:

    >“The Buddha taught ‘dhamma’, a term that has many – and no satisfactory – equivalents in English.”

    Its interesting what Glenn Wallis has to say about the Dhamma. You might need to use a dictionary when reading Wallis but he make an interesting point about the circularity of the Dhamma: “the dharma is the dharma because it mirrors the dharma. “

    Glenn Wallis article: Nascent Speculative Non-Buddhism

    The Dharma—the tri-part buddhistic dispensation, truth, and cosmic structure—functions, then, as a gathering together of reality‘s splintered whole. In performing its function, The Dharma must necessarily operate as both an intrinsic or immanent and extrinsic or transcendent feature of reality: intrinsic precisely because spatiotemporal vicissitude-contingency immanently instantiates it; extrinsic because it transcendentally (ideally—in thought) grounds that instantiation. This operation constitutes an inescapable circularity. The premise (The Dharma is the case), is contained in the conclusion (thus spatiotemporal vicissitude-contingency), and the conclusion, in the premise. In other words, the entire decisional structure of Buddhism amounts to an explanans (The Norm: The Dharma), that is always and already present in every instance of the very explanandum (phenomenal manifestation: spatiotemporal vicissitude-contingency), and an explanandum, every instance of which always and already attests to the truth of the explanans. In Buddhist terms: The samsara-paticcasamuppada dyad (including the countless posited dichotomous realities that flow from its fecund font), is visible through the pristine speculum of The Dharma. And The Dharma is visible in the contingent and dichotomous unfurling of the samsaric swirl that it, The Dharma minutely indexes. Indeed: the dharma is the dharma because it mirrors the dharma.

    >“While there is much in the suttas that is difficult to comprehend, the Buddha’s core teachings are fundamentally natural and available to the common person.”

    But monks like Ajahn Brahm (and I assume Sujato) have said that the central purpose of Buddhist practice is to escape the “vicious rounds of rebirth”. Is that “fundamentally natural and available to the common person”?

    >“Yes, there is a lot of supernatural stuff added in the later traditions and many modern practices treat Buddhism as if it is a religion, and here again I agree with Wallis that such adornments need to be understood for what they are. But they don’t detract from the fundamentally natural and available nature of the core teachings, in which the bits that seem incomprehensible can be taken as being beyond the limits of one’s current capabilities. Perhaps somewhat like the early days of scientific developments such as relativity or quantum mechanics.”

    In saying “…in which the bits that seem incomprehensible can be taken as being beyond the limits of one’s current capabilities”, which parts are you referring to as incomprehensible? Are you, for example, agreeing with Bhante Sujato that devas are real but some of us just haven’t achieve the required meditative state to see this reality?

    If that is the case what about the issue of possible “confirmation bias”? ie if you have strong belief in devas and you go into a deep meditative state aren’t you more likely to see devas – just as a devout Christian when going into a deep meditative state might see the “face of Jesus”?

    Bhante claims that devas are as real as anything else but does anyone ever see devas who don’t already believe in them (and who isn’t mentally unstable)? If they were real wouldn’t that happen, just like an early European explorer, for example, seeing an elephant for the first time then believes it to be real?

    How often do Christians see devas and Buddhists see the “face of Jesus”?

    Cheers

    Geoff

    • Lets try a thought experiment. Suppose I am a seeker after the truth regarding devas (not such an unreasonable hypothesis), and suppose I go along to a talk by Bhante Sujato.

      In answer to my question Bhante might build a case around the proposition that devas are real but some of us just haven’t achieved the required meditative state to see this reality.

      Then suppose I go to another talk and the speaker (who shall remain anonymous, but for the sake of argument let’s call him Geoff) argues that there is no scientific basis to believe in devas, and raises concerns about confirmation bias, about whether nonbelievers ever see devas and whether Buddhists ever see the face of Jesus.

      Both positions are presented as internally consistent, but the two seem to be inconsistent with each other. How can I resolve this apparent dilemma?

      Robert

  74. Robert,

    PS Here is another definition of the Dhamma from the Glenn Wallis article I previously referred to.

    I know I bang on about Wallis but I reckon he throws up some interesting challenges for Buddhism. (He is a Professor of Buddhist Studies in the US and been studying & practising Buddhism for over 30 years.)

    “The Dharma. The specular omen pontificator of samsaric contingency. Like God, Justice, Logos, Rta, The Dao, and so on, The Dharma (English: The Norm as buddhistic trinity of dispensation, truth, and cosmic structure) is the architect of the cosmic vault and the keeper of its inventory. As such, The Dharma is the buddhistic hallucination of reality. In its decisional function, The Dharma is the transcendent-immanent operator that synthesizes the purely immanent dyad of spatiotemporal vicissitude (samsara) and contingency (paticcasamuppada). The hallucinatory quality results from the fact that The Dharma is a function of a purely idealized (transcendent) grammar that produces oracular statements infinitum about the finite world (immanence). The Dharma is the buddhistic gathering together (under the authority of The Dharma) of reality‘s posited (by The Dharma) splintered whole, which splintering is exhibited by the (dharmically indexed) world condition articulated (by The Dharma) as spatiotemporal vicissitude-contingency.”

    Cheers

    Geoff

  75. Robert,
    You can remain sceptical of all religious transcendental claims and be wary of those who claim to offer something essentially different from the other claims.

    (Ie “our transcendental claims are based on solid empirical evidence where as your claims are purely faith-based”, as though our sensory experiences can’t fool us.)

    Don’t all teachers of religions and cults claim to have access to knowledge through deep practice and require you must place your entire trust in them if you are to access this knowledge?

    The beauty of science is that the claims it makes are always open to be questioned and rejected if new evidence comes to light. You can continue to remain open to doubt no matter how much evidence supports a certain claim. Religion is not prepared to do that as it is not comfortable with uncertainty.

    Robert, you seem to take a similar approach to Stephen Batchelor in attempting to separate out the transcendental aspects of Buddhism, is that correct?

    ***

    While I’m at it: just another query… Bhante claims the Buddha was able to recollect past lives dating back billions of years, despite the fact that he is unable to provide any evidence for the kammic effects on rebirth. (He staunchly supports Ian Stevenson’s evidence for rebirth per se but of course that is meaningless to Buddhist theory without kamma.)

    If we accept the possibility of rebirth, how did the Buddha recollect his past lives, given our current knowledge of evolution? (Bhante seems to largely accept the theory of evolution as he sees it as largely consistent with Buddhist theory.) How might the Buddha have conceived of a past life as a fish or a simple celled organism?

    How is the core belief in the Buddha’s Three Knowledges any less fanciful than believing Jesus rose from the Cross and ascended into heaven, which Bhante is quick to dismiss as superstition?

    Should I be repressing the urge to ask these questions?

    Cheers

    Geoff

    • Geoff,

      I don’t understand the reference to “attempting to separate out the transcendental aspects of Buddhism”. By categorising aspects of the teachings as transcendental we have already recognised that they are separate – that is, they are beyond the limitations of our sensory processes to experience them as phenomena.

      But it is surely natural that we approach transcendental aspects in a rather different way from those aspects that do lie within our experience.

      I suggest that the important consideration is how we treat them. Some possible options include:
      . reject them outright for lack of direct evidence;
      . dismiss them as manifestations of a lost cultural paradigm;
      . respect them as hypotheses worthy of further investigation;
      . sustain a conviction that, as important parts of the whole, they are likely to be correct; and
      . maintain a rigid belief in their correctness out of blind faith.

      There seems to be a view that little difference separates these last two options, but to me the difference is critical. The fourth option sits very comfortably with a scientific (sceptical, even) mindset; the fifth does not. Yes, the fourth option requires an acceptance that there is a lot that we don’t currently understand; it also means that we have to apply a high degree of wisdom in choosing what to take on as acceptable and where to draw the line. Developing that wisdom is a key element of dhamma practice.

      with much metta, Robert

      PS No, we should not be repressing the urge to ask these questions – but it may help if we look for answers to grow within our own hearts rather that to expect them to come from anyone else.

  76. Robert (& anyone else who may be interested) ,

    Here something else I’ve been wondering about you might be able to help out with…

    As I understand it Bhante (& others) differentiate Buddhism from theist religions (& claims truth) because theist religions claim an Atman or (ideal) permanent state, whereas Buddhism is more ‘realistic’ because it recognises impermanent and conditionality (which also seems to concur with modern science such as evolution and astronomy etc, adding to its credibility?).

    However the ideal state for Buddhism is Nibbana, which transcends impermanent and conditionality (the Deathless or Unconditioned etc), where samsara ceases.

    My question is: doesn’t this make Nibbana not dissimiliar to an ideal permanent state like Atman (or perhaps the nihilism of atheism at death?). Either way, what apparently differentiates Buddhism (ie impermanence and conditionality) is seen as something we need to “move beyond” to a permanent state (ie no more rebirths)?

    Cheers

    Geoff

    • Geoff,

      I’ve been lurking on these comments for a while and it’s clear to me that you are a troll. If you were interested in a genuine intellectual exchange you would respond to some of the questions that have been put to you. That you do not shows that you are interested only in making smoke with no fire.

      I will however cite one text for the benefit of anyone who happens to be reading this thread and is curious about Nibbana. A lot of confusion is caused by that word but the Buddha is actually quite clear about it. Regardez:

      Once the brahmin Jāṇussoṇi approached the Blessed One … and spoke to him thus:

      “It is said, Master Gotama, ‘Nibbāna is directly visible.’ In what way, Master Gotama, is Nibbāna directly visible, immediate, inviting one to come and see, worthy of application, to be personally experienced by the wise?”

      “[W]hen lust, hatred, and delusion have been abandoned, [a person] neither plans for his own harm, nor for the harm of others, nor for the harm of both; and he does not experience in his mind suffering and grief. In this way, brahmin, Nibbāna is directly visible, immediate, inviting one to come and see, worthy of application, to be personally experienced by the wise.”

      Aṅguttara Nikāya 3.55

      Prediction: Geoff will respond to this by ignoring the point the sutta makes and ctrl-v-ing something Wallis once wrote.

  77. Robert,
    I was reading over this blog and came across this comment by Bhante which interested me.
    I was wondering what others might think of this:

    July 16, 2011 / sujato Secular Buddhism discussion

    “But how many people choose their religion for rational reasons? I certainly didn’t.”

    For me this raises some interesting issues. If we don’t choose our religion for rational reasons, on what basis do we and what truth claims can we then make from this?

    I know I choose the music I like for less than rational reasons eg I’m the first to admit the musicianship in some of my favourite music is less than impressive. However, this is largely down to subjective taste and if you disagree with me we can just agree to disagree (eg my brother thinks Nick Cave is cool but I still think he’s a bit of a tosser etc).

    But Bhante isn’t simply giving his subjective opinion. He then makes truth claims for his choice of religion ie Buddhism is the right path and Christianity is delusion.

    If rationality is left out, how are we to assess these truth claims?

    Bhante says we can approach this empirically, ie knowledge comes only or primarily from sensory experience. However, we only need to acknowledge the behaviour of those under the influence of hallucinogenic drugs to see that our senses can fool us. There is also the issue of confirmation bias ie the tendency of people to favour information that confirms their beliefs or hypotheses. (For example this could explain why a Buddhist is likely to see devas in deep meditation and a Christian perhaps angels or the “face of Jesus” etc . )

    Bhante also claims the theist religions believe in a permanent end state (heaven or atman) whereas Buddhism acknowledges impermanence and conditionality. However this then raises the question of Nibbana also being a permanent (or at least indefinite) end state.

    Maybe if Bhante had gone to South America instead of Asia twenty years ago, he may have become a Christian not a Buddhist monk? After all it wasn’t a rational choice. In which case where does that leave his claims to superior truth over other religions?

    Cheers

    Geoff

  78. Bhante,

    I’m intrigued by your previous comment to me:

    sujato / Mar 29 2012 10:45 am
    “Well, I think they are mostly questions that are legitimate in a certain context. But it seems to me that you have been asking the same kinds of questions for a very long time, and don’t seem to be getting any clarity. That’s a sign that things need to take their own time; they can’t be forced.”

    Is that another way of politely saying “Can you go away, I’m not going to answer your questions”?

    (I’m waiting for the responses from others: “yeah, rack off!”) Lol

    I obviously haven’t been able to gain clarification on my own (re the relative merits of Buddhism over other religions etc).

    How much time do you think I need to give this? Should there be any input from others during that time?

    Or perhaps your metta might be best directed in helping me seek clarification rather than flounder on my own?

    It’s not that I don’t feel I’m not getting any clarity but it seems to me to be a process which requires dialogue, not one with straightforward answers.

    In the Suttas the Buddha always seemed to have time to discuss queries. Is this a case of maintaining noble silence?

    cheers

    Geoff

    • Geoff if it’s dialogue you want try answering some of the questions that have been put to you, such as Robert’s above.

  79. Robert

    Why would you “sustain a conviction that, as important parts of the whole, they (transcendental aspects) are likely to be correct”?

    Why not “sustain a conviction that, as important parts of the whole, they are unlikely to be correct”?, given that we are more likely to require a functioning brain to experience anything? We only need to observe someone who is brain damaged to appreciate the brain’s importance. The brain mightn’t be the whole story but why not take the view that until there is firm contrary evidence, we can accept that it is crucial.

    (I take transcendentalism to mean independence of a functioning brain.)

    Rather than “respect them (transcendental aspects) as hypotheses worthy of further investigation”, why not consider the more likely explanation that belief in transcendentalism is simply a wish to defy death?

    Cheers

    Geoff

  80. Bhante,

    I took your advice and went into the room of mirror and had a good look at myself.

    However I’m still stumped by this query and I thought you might be able to help me out:

    I’m trying to assess the conflicting truth claims of Buddhism and Christianity.

    For example, why should I choose the Buddhist claim on the kammic effects on rebirth over the Christian claim that Jesus ascended into heaven after death, when both appear to be dependent on faith and neither are able to provide any evidence?

    If you could clarify that for me that would be greatly appreciated

    Thanks

    Geoff

    • Dear Geoff,

      It is getting quite clear that you won’t be getting the answers you are looking for from Ven. Sujato. May I suggest it is time to search somewhere else.

      With metta.

    • Hi Bhikku Brahmali
      I had just presumed that Ven. Sujato was absent from his blog was because he was taken up with other things. Does he not wish to converse?

    • Dear Peter,

      I suspect he is busy. I haven’t been in contact with him for a while, so I am not sure what he is up to.

      With metta.

    • Bhante Sujato has indeed been quite busy recently (he recently led a retreat in Indonesia), is presently busy and will be for the foreseeable future (ASA conference, a trip to China(!), leading a retreat in Perth etc), and we are also doing the 3 month study period at Santi Monastery when he does additional classes each week.

      -Nandiya.

  81. Bhante

    I am also interested in another aspect of an earlier comment you made to me about questions I have been asking you. To quote you again:

    sujato / Mar 29 2012 10:45 am
    “….Well, I think they are mostly questions that are legitimate in a certain context.”

    I’m interested to know what you mean by “legitimate in a certain context”.
    .
    What do you mean by ‘legitimate’? What makes a question ‘legitimate’? What criteria is used to assess ‘legitimacy’ (or ‘illegitimacy’? – sounds like a fallen woman having a child out of wedlock – lol)

    What do you mean by ‘a certain context’? What context might that be? I take it to mean not on this blog, If so, why not and where should it take place?

    ******

    Also I’m interested in your thoughts on a quote I recently came across (that’s right, you guessed who it is).

    “……About reading a lot to keep up. My view is that if you hang up your shingle as a dispenser of life wisdom, you had better be prepared to get challenges from all sides……. My qualm with x-buddhist shingle-hangers is that they insist on making the terms to the limits of discussion. They don’t do so explicitly. They do so ritually. They ritually ensconce themselves in their safe ideological bubble. That is the move I refer to as “playing with loaded dice,” dharmic dice. I believe that a person who assumes the position of teacher of life wisdom is obligated, to use a very mild term, to do whatever it takes to “keep up.” That’s what I have always done. That is the reason that my views are changing all the time. I keep reading, thinking, listening, looking. Does everything in the universe change but the cognitions of x-buddhists? Again, genuine seekers of knowledge do what I am suggesting. Why don’t x-buddhist teachers?”

    Cheers

    Geoff

    PS: For someone who can talk for 4 hours straight on the Satipattana Sutta, you have been very quiet lately. Are you OK?

    I heard you have been to Indonesia and heading off to China soon? That sounds interesting – I haven’t been to either place. Half your luck.

  82. I know its rather tactless of me during this time of loss …

    But there is an interesting exchange involving Bhikkhu Brahmali at:

    http://speculativenonbuddhism.com/

    under heading: On the Faith of Secular Buddhists

    Its good to see Brahmali roll up his sleeves and open the batting while Bhante is rested at 12th man

    • Geoff,

      I believe I read on this blog somewhere you work for an employment agency -I cannot believe anyone would employ someone like you to help people with employment.

      What is your employers name?

      I would love to contact them and have a chat with them about how and why anyone would employ a you to supposedly help the unemployed?

      Venerable Sujato – do you know this persons workplace, I have to deal with so many unemployed people always complaining about employment agencies and here is a prime example of someone they are talking about.

      Regards.

  83. Update on the match over @ http://speculativenonbuddhism.com/

    Looks like Brahmali going to bat through the innings given the lack of support.

    It would be good if Bhante ‘Gilly’ Sujato was out there. They need someone who is prepared to throw his bat at anything to put them off their line & length.

    Pity he’s had to be rested at 12th man….

  84. Bhikkhus

    BTW

    I used to think Buddhism was like any other religion in this regard. It is simply depended on how much you were prepared to believe.

    Thanks for clarifying that for me.

    PS I didn’t realise BB had been assigned a spokesperson role. I’ll try to make a point of addressing all future correspondence through him.

    Apologies

    Geoff

  85. I’m getting to this thread long after the party is over! But Bhante if you feel like sticking your toe into this territory again, I would be fascinated to hear your response to Pepper’s “Taking Anatman Full Strength”.

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