Thursday, February 18, 2010

Reflecting on the National University of Singapore Buddhist Society's statement


The National University of Singapore Buddhist Society (NUSBS) came out with a statement to clarifies the misconceptions about Buddhism circulating among non-Buddhists, particularly those from Rony Tan's presentation. As an ex-Mahayana-Buddhist myself, not least an ex-monk, I think it is well for me to reflect over NUSBS's brief correspondence.

Altogether the statement listed 7 misconceptions followed by a reply on each. I shall reflect only a few that are more prevalent rather than all.

Misconception 1: Pastor Rony commented about Buddhist chanting: “One could chant ee-ee-oo-ah-ah, ting-tang-wala-wala-bing-bang, it doesn’t mean anything.”

Answer: Buddhist chanting is not meaningless babble. In Buddhism, chants have definite meanings, contrary to what Pastor Rony’s interviewee claimed. For instance, the chants may refer to the practitioner’s wish to radiate loving-kindness to other beings. Chanting is also an aid to meditation. By focusing on the act of recitation, chanting helps to stop the mind from wandering and instead cultivate inner happiness.

Buddhist's chants are not meaningless babble in the sense that there is meaning in the words and sentences. But whether does the chanter understand the meaning is a different matter. So although the chants are meaningful, often they are not intelligible to the chanter. Hence Buddhist's chants are meaningless babble to those persistent chanters who do not understand what they are chanting in the same way as Shakespeare's works are meaningless babble to a local Singaporean who keeps reciting them without any working knowledge of medieval English literature and prose.

Most Buddhist chanters do not understand the sutras they are chanting. The claim that this practice helps them to meditate and to cultivate their own inner happiness is as dubious as saying that a loveless bore can be turned into a romantic casanova by simply chanting Sonnet 18 repeatedly even without understanding its meaning.

If it is the chanting practice that helps the chanter to focus ("stop the mind from wandering") and has nothing to do with the intelligibility of the chants, then one can chant anything from newspaper write-ups to advertisement catchy phrases repeatedly to keep one's mind occupied and focused (without the need to understand what is being chanted).

Buddhism teaches that there are supernatural functions intrinsic within the chants that can be invoked through chanting (see Jonathan S. Walter, "Chanting Practices", in Encyclopedia of Buddhism, ed. Damien Keown, Charles S. Prebish [UK: Routledge, 2007], 210-211). If this supernatural function can be invoked even when the chanter doesn't understand the meaning of the chants, then Buddhist's chanting is in a way similar to Harry Potter who vocalizes some magical codes like Crucio and Petrificus Totalus to invoke magical power even if they don't understand the meaning of those phrases. The chants are like magical codes that perform supernatural function regardless whether those phrases are intelligible to the chanter. Hence the chants' meaning is found not in the intelligibility of the content but on its supernatural function. So the meaning of 心经 (Heart Sutra) is not found in the text but in its function to cultivate inner happiness to the chanter. Hence it is not wrong to say that such practice is meaningless babble because its meaning is not understood in the text but in its function in similar way as Crucio and Petrificus Totalus. A common example is the Pure Land Buddhism's practice of repeatedly chanting salutation to Amitabha Buddha "Namo Amitabha". Literally, this mean submitting oneself to Amitabha Buddha. Yet most chanters do not really know what does it mean to submit oneself to Amitabha, not to mention the meaning of "Namo".

Misconception 2: Pastor Rony said, “The teaching is this, everybody is potentially a god … and you can be above God and be even more powerful than God.”

Answer: Buddhism does not subscribe to the theistic concept of God that is common to the Abrahamic faiths. We believe that everyone has the potential to develop into a Buddha – a perfected being free from hatred, anger, and ignorance.

NUSBS rightly noted that Buddhism does not acknowledge the existence of God as the sovereign being who created and govern the entire cosmos. Instead, Buddhism has devas. Devas are non-human beings who enjoy higher bliss than humans but they are not the sovereign and creator of the cosmos. When Mah-Brahm claims itself as the sovereign and creator of the cosmos, Buddha dismisses it as ignorant (see The Dhamma's article). Nonetheless non-Buddhists like Rony misses this point when they assume that Buddhism's devas as identical to the Christian God. On the other end, the Buddhists and the Buddha himself miss the point if they assume devas as identical with the Christian's Trinity.

Misconception 3: Pastor Rony’s interviewee (a former monk) didn’t know what Nirvana was, and said that his fellow monks didn’t know either, implying that Buddhists don’t know what they’re talking about when they refer to Nirvana.

Answer: Nirvana is not a meaningless entity. In conventional language, the best approximate we can say is this: Nirvana is the freedom from the underlying cause of all suffering – the illusion of being a separate self. The word ‘Nirvana’ literally means ‘blowing out’, like the extinguishing of a flame. It’s the extinguishing of all delusions, leading to extraordinary clarity and peace. It is a state that defies conventional language, and belongs to the realm of spiritual attainment, not logical understanding. So we may know what Nirvana is logically, but not know what it is on the experiential level. It is like knowing the possibility of zero-gravity but without the actual experience of weightlessness in space.

NUSBS doesn't engage Rony's misconception (if it is really a misconception). Nirvana is the end of rebirth, when one consciousness managed to released from the vicious cycle (see Richard P. Hayes, "Nirvana", in Encyclopedia of Buddhism, ed. Damien Keown, Charles S. Prebish [UK: Routledge, 2007], 558-559). Some said that Nirvana is a peaceful and supramundane state with no suffering (see John Powers, A Concise Encyclopedia of Buddhism [UK: Oneworld, 2000], 153) but no one knows what such state really is. The emphasis of Nirvana is the extinguishing of all delusion, however what if Nirvana itself is a delusion since no one really knows what it is? Compared to Christian's belief in the final resurrection, at least the first disciples of Jesus experienced and encountered first-hand what resurrected life really is through Jesus' bodily resurrection.

Misconception 4: Pastor Rony said, “If something bad [happens], they say it’s because of your karma … If somebody falls sick, oh it’s because of your karma. It’s so easy to explain… It seems that you cannot do anything about the bad things that are happening.”

Answer: The doctrine of karma does not entail fatalism. The word ‘karma’ literally means ‘action’, and refers to our intentional mental actions. What we are now is determined by our thoughts and actions in the past, and similarly, what we will experience in the future is influenced by our thoughts and actions in the present. Karma doesn’t mean that we’re dealt a fixed destiny that we have to passively accept. Our karma continuously changes depending on how we think and act now. By changing our thoughts and behaviour, we can definitely transform the quality of our lives for the better.

The doctrine of karma in Buddhism is perhaps the most puzzling. It holds that one's current experience in life is the result of the deeds we sow in the past or in the pre-rebirth lives. Hence the implication is that we have to sow good deeds now to secure positive karmic effect for our future or post-rebirth lives. It is best understood as natural "sequence of causes and effects"(Damien Keown, "Karma", in Encyclopedia of Buddhism, ed. Damien Keown, Charles S. Prebish [UK: Routledge, 2007], 437). However Buddhism distinguishes karma from niyati (deterministic fate). In the Anguttara Nikaya, the Buddha doesn't think that current experience are the consequence of previous action. "Individuals are free to resist previous conditioning and establish new patterns of behaviour." (Ibid, 438).

Buddhism teaches that the Buddhist's ultimate pursuit is to be released from samsara (vicious cycle of rebirth) which depends on individual consciousness' karma. So one has to pursue positive karma in order to be released. Yet karma is not deterministic, hence life is not fatalistic. So doctrine of karma does not entail fatalism.

But here is the question. If karma is not deterministic, how then in the first place does one's persistence in samsara dependent on karma? Either karma determines or does not. If it does, then it is fatalism. If it does not, then one's persistence in samsara is not dependent on karma. If that is the case, then acquiring positive karma is not necessary for one to be released from samsara. Neither does producing negative karma necessarily bind one in samsara. On this point, the doctrine collapses.

I'm not defending Rony in this post but to show that these 4 conceptions exist not because non-Buddhists misunderstood them. Rather, it is because these doctrines are questionable and hence need further clarification from the Buddhists. The NUSBS's statement is important for inter-religious understanding. By such correspondence, everyone from every sides may avoid being "obstinately misapprehends what he himself has known, seen and felt; insisting on that alone [and says] 'Only this is true, anything else is wrong.'" (Maha-kammavibhanga Sutta: The Great Exposition of Kamma, 136)

57 comments:

reasonable said...

Regarding Kamma - perhaps in the Buddhist system, kamma is only a partial factor that contributes to one's future situation, while other factors such as one's future action and the presence of other conditions are also needed to shape a particular actual outcome. It is like business: to be successful, it is often not just hard-work or just luck, but a combination of various factors such as hard work, smart work, good location (if applicable) and good luck. In a limited sense, one may think of past Kamma somewhat like one's genes - one's genes may render one to have a very high chance of certain disease, but thru hard work (e.g. very discipline healthy diet and exercise) and strong determination, one may reduce the actual negative effects of those genetic factors. So bad kamma from former lives may render us to have a high chance of suffering some very negative consequences, but thru current active action we may be able to mitigate those effects.

Another difficulty in maintaining intellectual coherence is to reconcile the Buddhist doctrine of anatta (not-self) with the Buddhist doctrine of rebirth (which is different from Hindu/Taoist reincarnation). The usual Buddhist explanations to reconcile these two ideas does not seem to sufficiently resolve the contradiction (be it apparent or real). Rebirth tends to presume the necessity of some sort of stable unchanging entity while not-self tends to insist on the absence of any unchanging entity. One usual explanation would be along the line of the continuation of a series of ever-changing entities, like the flame (previous life) of one candle generating another candle's flame (current life), such that the current person/self is not the previous person/self but yet the current is not totally independent of the previous.

reasonable said...

"So one has to pursue positive karma in order to be released. Yet karma is not deterministic, hence life is not fatalistic. So doctrine of karma does not entail fatalism. But here is the question. If karma is not deterministic, how then in the first place does one's persistence in samsara dependent on karma? Either karma determines or does not. If it does, then it is fatalism. If it does not, then one's persistence in samsara is not dependent on karma. If that is the case, then acquiring positive karma is not necessary for one to be released from samsara. Neither does producing negative karma necessarily bind one in samsara. On this point, the doctrine collapses."

A Buddhist who wish to be liberated from samsara should not just avoid creating bad kammas; he also should not aim at good kamma (for both good and bad kammas tie oneself to samsara), because nibbana is the cessation from the effects of both good and bad kamma. Good kamma leads to better rebirth but as long as it is still rebirth, even good rebirth, one is still trapped inside samsara.

In a sense, from a Buddhist perspective (I'm a Christian in case others think I'm a Buddhist speaking), the root of the whole problem of "suffering" lies in the failure by most sentient beings to really realise/internalise the truth of not-self or the overall reality of emptiness.

Once one really and fully and deeply manages to stop clinging on to "self" or to stop being attached to "self", then "there is acting but no actor, there is singing but no singer", which means there is no longer any "self" for kammaic imprint to rest upon.

A number of Buddhists however spend so much time on rituals while not sufficient time and energy to focus on internalizing not-self and emptiness, which is the key to liberation, rather than many other unnecessarily rituals.

Gotama Buddha's teaching on a few leaves become very important for Buddhists: one day he picked up a few leaves from a ground filled with many leaves and said that there were many things he taught but the things that were really essential to liberation were very few just like those few leaves in his hands.

Sze Zeng said...

Hi reasonable,

Wow.. thank you for elaborating further on these points.

P/S: I have highlighted on NUSBS's blog about my response and they deleted it. I'll highlight to them again.

Steven Sim said...

There are buddhist sects which recite meaningless chants, which some call "mantra".

Of course, some christians speak in "tongues", equally meaningless to the speakers and hearers.

Both claim to be edified nonetheless.

Steven Sim

Sze Zeng said...

Steven,

Same same for both. Harry Potter syndrome.

We used to talk about Buddhism as Buddhists until 5am last time!

Eterna2 said...

1. I do not have the copy of the book quoted by you. Perhaps its description is insufficient, and I would suggest you READ page 137~138 of Encyclopedia of Buddhism by Thomson Gale.

There is NOTHING supernatural about the chanting. And yes, in theory, you need not necessarily chant the Buddhist mantra. But it would not be as effective, or as meaningful.

I provided a few screenshots of the article for u to understand more about the intent behind chanting.

http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v350/eterna2/misc/chanting01.png

http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v350/eterna2/misc/chanting02.png



2. Next on "On the other end, the Buddhists and the Buddha himself miss the point if they assume devas as identical with the Christian's Trinity."

I hope it does not escape your notice that Buddha existed 500~600 years before Jesus. Do you really expect Buddha to have any assumption on the Christian's Trinity?

And I fail to see the point of the above statement in any case.



3. "The emphasis of Nirvana is the extinguishing of all delusion, however what if Nirvana itself is a delusion since no one really knows what it is?"

I really hope you do SOME research before making assertion as such again. Buddha for one is someone who had attained Nirvana. Not to say the numerous arhats throughout history. And note that this is being observed by countless witnesses throughout history. Buddha himself was enlightened when he was still walking the earth. The numerous disciples and even unbelievers recognize his enlightenment.


4. As for karma. Put it simply, if u exert an external force onto a moving mass, you will definitely expect a change in this formerly closed system. Karma is NOT fate. It is just a description of causes and effects.

For example, when u unjustly criticize a person, it is not unexpected that ill feelings are generated, which propagates further down the road through various means. And as everyone is interconnected, the result of ur actions will eventually influence future events that u may encounter.



Lastly, I am not even a Buddhist. But I find your knowledge in Buddhism seriously lacking. These practices are NOT questionable, but the fact that you did not bothered to properly research on them, and make sweeping generalization.

You made the assumption of "supernatural" functions without properly appreciating the reasons for chanting, and what is the intents of these chants.

"Namo Amitabha" literally means "I take refuge in Amitabha Buddha" or "Homage to Amitabha Buddha". It is an acknowledge and gratitude to Buddha's teachings.

And no wonder, no Buddhist has any idea "what does it mean to submit oneself to Amitabha". The Buddhist idea of "submission" is entirely different from the Christian concept of "submitting" to God. It is the same as saying, I submit to the validity of the scientific methods - just an acknowledgment and appreciation of the validity of the method.

So how many Christians had really read the Bible cover to cover? In short, what is the point of ur criticism on the lack of knowledge of SOME lay Buddhists?

Eterna2 said...

In short, a summary of my critique on your statement:

1. There is alot more in Buddhist chants which are easily available if one wish to research further. NUSBS's short explanation is sufficient for any lay person.

Some Buddhist not understanding what they are chanting are just simply human. Not a sufficient justification that some Buddhist practices are "questionable".


2. Misconceptions of devas or the Trinity contributes NOTHING to justifying some Buddhist practices are "questionable".


3. Making ignorance statements about Nirvana is not justification that some Buddhist practices are "questionable". It just means you are ignorant.


4. Your inability to understand the concept of Karma is not justification that some Buddhist practices are "questionable". It just means you have not spend enough effort to understand it.



In short, your statement

"These conceptions exist not because non-Buddhists misunderstood them. Rather, it is because these doctrines are questionable and hence need further clarification from the Buddhists."

is invalid. Argument from ignorance is a logical fallacy. Fact is you do not understand Buddhism well, and you have MISUNDERSTOOD many of its practices. It is NOT the doctrine that are questionable. It is you who had MISUNDERSTOOD.

Ethnocentrism.

Sze Zeng said...

Hi Eterna2,

Thank you for your comments and the screenshots. Here is my reply:

RE 1. First, the fact that you do not have the book that I cited from does not mean my sources are wrong. Second, you mentioned that there is nothing supernatural about chanting and provided screenshots to articles about chanting. It is obvious you didn't even understand the articles you yourself provided. Let me quote from them for your understanding's sake:

"[Chanting & ritual] provide structures through which important transactions take place. Clerical and lay participants sing praises, submit petitions, make confessions, request absolutions, present dedications, give offerings, receive blessings, and transfer the merit of the ritual to others, often the deceased." (p.139)

The effectiveness of mantras in bringing about intended effects depends on the chanter's state of mind, as well as the power of the words and the format of articulation." (p.138)

The "intended effects" can be safely assumed as those described on p.139. Is not transferring of merits to the deceased a supernatural feat? It is definitely not a natural feat for the act of vocalizing a few words that transfers merits to those who are already died and have passed on to some other world.

It is bad enough for not having an understanding of the subject which we are critiquing. It is so much worse for not having the understanding of the subject that we are defending. Perhaps you might want to learn the skill to read since you don't even understand your own sources. Given this, I doubt you understood my critique in this post. Usually I don't approve the publishing of such unworthy comment because it is just wasting my time to respond to someone who doesn't even understand the subject he is defending, not to mention the subject he is critiquing (my post).


RE 2. I know the chronological lapse between Buddha and Jesus. If Buddha is really the one who is enlightened, knowing the deep truth of reality, then it is necessary that he knew about the Trinity that trancends space and time. The point here is questioning Buddha's enlightenment. Either the Trinity exists or doesn't. If Trinity exists, then the enlightened Buddha must knew about it. If the Trinity doesn't exist, the Buddha cannot know about it because there is no such knowledge. And since Buddha did not know about the Trinity, so it is impossible for him or his disciples to be able to compare the devas with the Trinity under the same category. No one can compares something he knows with another thing that he doesn't know. And this, of course, only means that the Buddha's enlightenment is as doubtful as your understanding of the subject you yourself are defending.

Sze Zeng said...

(continue...)

RE 3. The point is that the recognition of Buddha's enlightenment as one who knows the deep truth of reality is questionable. Hence Nirvana as propounded by him is questionable.


RE 4. I understand what karma is. You don't have to explain it again to me. I already made it clear in the post that karma is "best understood as natural "sequence of causes and effects." And I didn't say that karma is fate, as you implied that I did.

You find my knowledge in Buddhism lacking because you don't understand what my post is about. Well, what can I say when you can't even understand the subject you yourself is defending. So it is expected that you don't know what I wrote. All your mumblings are merely the results of your ignorance to your own sources and to my post.

I have just shown that your critique on me as someone who misunderstood Buddhism failed in the face of your rhetoric of "ignorance" and "logical fallacy".

What's the point of my post? I don't know why are you asking this question. I've already stated clearly on my post the reason why I posted this. Again, you have shown your ignorant of what I wrote. I'll just quote from my post, "I'm not defending Rony in this post but to show that these 4 conceptions exist not because non-Buddhists misunderstood them. Rather, it is because these doctrines are questionable and hence need further clarification from the Buddhists. The NUSBS's statement is important for inter-religious understanding. By such correspondence, everyone from every sides may avoid being "obstinately misapprehends what he himself has known, seen and felt; insisting on that alone [and says] 'Only this is true, anything else is wrong.'" (Maha-kammavibhanga Sutta: The Great Exposition of Kamma, 136)"

Eterna2 said...

1. Read the statement before your quote:

"Chanting and ritual give shape to abstract doctrines, moral values, individual concerns, and communal identity."

Next. So what is so "supernatural" about your quote?

Petitions? Confessions? Absolution? Dedication? Offerings? Blessing? or Transfer of merit of the ritual?

So which of the above are "supernatural"? In Christian theology perhaps. But not in Buddhism. What so supernatural about the expression of desires, confession of unworthiness? As for the transfer of merit, it is more of a conceptual thing rather than actual "supernatural" transference of merit.

Your questioning of it already demonstrate ur lack of comprehension.

Read this article first:
http://www.serenereflections.ca/Articles/2004/TransferofMerit.html

Next so are you going to ignore the rest of the article?

This is another article on Buddhist rituals in Sri Lanka.

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/kariyawasam/wheel402.html

As for "The effectiveness of mantras in bringing about intended effects depends on the chanter's state of mind, as well as the power of the words and the format of articulation." (p.138)"

I really LOLed! Read the 1st paragraph of my 1st link.

Eterna2 said...

2. "No one can compares something he knows with another thing that he doesn't know. And this, of course, only means that the Buddha's enlightenment is as doubtful as your understanding of the subject you yourself are defending."

How can anyone know anything about something that do not exist?

First law in formal logic. One cannot prove a negative.

You need to show that the Trinity exist first before you can argue that Buddha is not enlightened because he does not know about the Trinity.

And of cause, to even make this argument, shows that you do not have the foggiest idea what is enlightenment.

I say again. Buddha is not your Christian God.

Eterna2 said...

"RE 3. The point is that the recognition of Buddha's enlightenment as one who knows the deep truth of reality is questionable. Hence Nirvana as propounded by him is questionable."

Replace Buddha with Jesus. Enough said.

Eterna2 said...

And the fact that I am not a Buddhist is not a necessary evidence that I am unqualified on Buddhist doctrine.

All your questions demonstrate your shallow knowledge in the practice and concepts of Buddhism.

"But here is the question. If karma is not deterministic, how then in the first place does one's persistence in samsara dependent on karma? Either karma determines or does not. If it does, then it is fatalism. If it does not, then one's persistence in samsara is not dependent on karma."


False analogy.

Support your argument that if karma is deterministic, then it is fatalism.

What is the extend of this determinism? Is an explosion a chaotic random event, or a deterministic orderly event? Half-half. It is sufficiently chaotic that there are rooms for variations, but sufficiently orderly that it follows the law of nature.

Karma is thus. It is sufficiently deterministic that some basic laws can be observed, yet sufficiently flexible that changes are possible.

Hence your argument is based on a false premise on ur lack of understanding on karma.

So before your criticism on my lack of understanding, review your own lack of knowledge on the basic precepts of Buddhism.

And it is a fact that you lack understanding in Buddhism and has numerous preconception on Buddhist practices. It is not that the practice are questionable (although all things should be subjected to skepticism), but your knowledge inadequate.

I have my own skepticism on Buddhism and hence my reason for not being a Buddhist. But your knowledge on Buddhism is entirely inadequate. And your arguments invalid.

Sze Zeng said...

Hi Eterna2,

RE 1. Now it is clear you are ignorant of the definition of the word "supernatural". It simply means occurence outside of natural order, unexplainable by natural phenomena (not necessarily has to do with a deity). Transference of merits to the dead presupposes the negation of annihilism at the point of death. And post-death phenomena is outside the bound of the natural phenomena, so merits transferring to the post-dead is supernatural. (Perhaps you too don't understand what is "natural". If that's the case, I rest my case.)

Again, petition to who or what? Confess to who or what? Absolution from who or what and by who or what? Dedicate to who or what? Offer to who or what? Bless who or what? To Buddha or to the chanters themselves? If to the Buddha, it is an occurence transcends the natural phenomena, hence it is supernatural. If to the selves, then it contradicts the very teaching of "no-self" in Buddhism.

When you LOLed, I can imagine a person who is laughing at his own strawman.


RE 2. You miss my point entirely. I am not saying that Buddha have to prove a negative. My point is that the Buddha did not talk about Christianity's Trinity, therefore it is no point comparing the devas with the Christian's concept of God. Hence I stated in the post "the Buddhists and the Buddha himself miss the point if they assume devas as identical with the Christian's Trinity." You don't have to say again. I know well. And you just don't get my point.


RE 3. You miss my point entirely again. As I have stated in the post, Jesus' claim and stature is vindicated by his resurrection. While Buddha's claim and stature ended with his death. Both are categorical different.


RE 4. I highlighted you as a non-Buddhist is to point out to you that your rhetoric that I am not a Buddhist hence my evaluation of Buddhism undercuts also your own argument, if such rhetoric works at all.


I did not use any analogy in my evaluation of karma doctrine. Seems that you can't even differentiate literary genre, not to mention rational discourse. I was pursuing the coherence of the doctrine of karma within itself and was not giving analogy.

Be warned that I will not publish your subsequent comments anymore if they still lack engagement and miss the point that I have repeatedly asserted.

rk said...

oh dear, i don't like how this dialogue is going. you are making me dizzy going round in circles achieveing nothing, each saying the other is missing the point. i also sense a lot of emotions here. err...guys, pls stop making personal attacks on each others competency, qualification and knowledge. just stay focus on the subject being critiqued ok?

Sze Zeng said...

Hi rk,

I too don't like how it is being carried out, so I've moderated this section. The conversation with Eterna2 ended.

Rahula said...

Hi,


> RE 2. "the Buddhists and the Buddha himself miss the point if they assume devas as identical with the Christian's Trinity." <

I don't think the Buddha assume devas as identical with the Christian trinity, simply because the concept was non-existent at that time.

What the Buddha did was deny the existence of a Creator-Maha Brahma, who thought of himself as the Creator (Brahmajala Sutta, DN 1)

>RE 3. Jesus' claim and stature is vindicated by his resurrection. While Buddha's claim and stature ended with his death. <

It did not ended with his death, as many of his disciples to attain nibbana.

The resurrection of Jesus is quetioned by many scholars. Much have been debated and written about it, and there is no necessity to discuss it here.Craig, McDowell, Geisler, Holdings, Ludemann, Carrier, Lowder, Price etc....

Rahula said...

RE1

The Buddha has already attained nibbana, so Buddhist do not make petition, dedication etc. to the Buddha per se, but to the ideal the Buddha symbolise.

The Buddha never deny the empirical self but a permanent self-identity.

While there is no Self, we have to rely on our empirical self to take us through. I am sure you are familiar with the Parable of the Raft.

It's for you to strive ardently.
Tathagatas simply point out the way. (Dhammapada 276)

Evil is done by oneself
by oneself is one defiled.
Evil is left undone by oneself
by oneself is one cleansed.
Purity & impurity are one's own doing.
No one purifies another.
No other purifies one.
(Dhammapada 165)

Your own self is
your own mainstay,
for who else could your mainstay be?
With you yourself well-trained
you obtain the mainstay
hard to obtain. (Dhammapada 160)

Regarding transference of merits, it has been debated whether it's practiced can be traced to the Pali text.

Nevertheless, for the sake of discussion, sharing would be a better word. Because only if our departed relatives are reborn as ghost can the "transference" be done. Also, it is not actually transfering, but the ghost himself must know, support and rejoice in the merits done by the living.

I am speaking as a Theravadin. So, I am not speaking for Mahayana.

Chanting was devised to preserved the Buddha's teaching. More on the next post, which I copy and paste from another blog which I have written about it. So, there is nothing supernatural about it.

Nevertheless, there is this Atanatiya Paritta "for the guarding, protection and freedom from harm", I believed, from evil spirits (ghost). However, this is not prescribed by the Buddha, though he agreed to it. It was prescribed by the devas themselves.

Those powerful chants of the Mahayana or Tantrism that you mentioned, probably has its origin (historically) from this.

Rahula said...

The ex-monk said he was involve with a Theravada temple (a Sri Lankan temple) He said he was asked to chant a one-word mantra.

Comments:

1. In Theravada Buddhism, there is no such thing as mantra.

2. Chanting is a method devised by the Buddha and early Buddhist monks to preserved the teaching, when writing were still unavailable. Groups of monks will come together frequently to chant the suttas. This method is even more reliable than the written accounts of one person.

“Therefore, Cunda, all you to whom I have taught these truths that I have realized by super-knowledge, should come together and recite them, setting meaning beside meaning and expression beside expression, without dissension, in order that this holy life may continue and be established for a long time for the profit and happiness of the many out of compassion for the world and for the benefit, profit and happiness of devas and humans. And what are the things that you should recite together? They are: the four foundations of mindfulness, the four right efforts, the four roads to power, the five spiritual faulties, the five mental powers, the seven factors of enlightenment, the Noble Eightfold Path. These are the things you should recite together.”

[DN 29: Pasadika Sutta – The Delightful Discourses. The Long Discourses of the Buddha – A Translation of the Digha Nikaya by Maurice Walshe (1995) Wisdom Publications, Massachusetts, p. 431–432.]


“And the Venerable Sariputta addressed the monks, referring to the situation, and said:’So ill-proclaimed was their teaching and discipline, so unedifying displayed, and so ineffectual in calming the passions, having been proclaimed by one who was not fully enlightened. But, friends, this Dhamma has been well-proclaimed by the Lordm the fully-enlightened One. And so we should all recite it together without disagreement, so that this holy life may be enduring and established for a long time, thus to be for the welfare and happiness of the multitude, out of compassion for the world, for the benefit, welfare and happiness of devas and humans…..”

[DN 33: Sangiti Sutta – The Chanting Together. The Long Discourses of the Buddha – A Translation of the Digha Nikaya by Maurice Walshe (1995) Wisdom Publications, Massachusetts, p. 480. ]



3. It is strange that the ex-monk never tell us what the one-word mantra is. Perhaps, he was afraid of the power of satan. A one-word mantra that I know of is "OM", but it is not part of Theravada Buddhism. I believe it belongs to Hinduism. Try googling it.

Conclusion:

1. The ex-monk do not even know the main reason (or the actual reason) for chanting.

2. He is probably telling a lie about the one-word mantra, which is not part of Theravada Buddhism.

Sze Zeng said...

Hi Rahula,

Thank you for your thoughful comments. Here is my reply:

A lot of the readers of this post missed the "if" in this sentence "the Buddhists and the Buddha himself miss the point if they assume devas as identical with the Christian's Trinity."

So I was not saying as a fact that Buddha assume devas as identical with the Trinity. I was saying that IF Buddha or Buddhists claim such identification, THEN they miss the point. I said that in order to reassert the fact that the concept of 'god' cannot be assumed identical in inter-faith discourse between Buddhism and Christianity. As I have, in the post, charged Christians as missing the point when they identify 'god' in Buddhism (which is really devas) as Trinity, then they miss the point. The same goes to Buddhist and Buddha IF they commit the same mistake.

Yes, it is not necessary to bring in the debate on the resurrection of Jesus. Therefore in my post, I presuppose the reliability of both religions. I didn't deny the reliability of the stories about Buddha. So neither did I on stories about Jesus. On this same ground, I was comparing both stories and suggest that since there is no apparent vindication of Buddha's claim, given the reliability of the story about him, while there is such vindication of Jesus' claim, given the reliability of the story about him, we therefore able to see which is which. Given that the former and the latter taught many things about the reality and the post-death existence, then we require a post-death experience which is verifiable as vindication of those claims. And by presupposing the reliability of the stories about both men, the former doesn't have it while the latter has it.

Whether chanting is supernatural or not is an internal debate in Buddhism. The sources that I referred to and that which Eterna2 pointed out to me make reference to transferring of merits as Buddhism's teaching through chanting. Therefore if you have disagreement with that, then your disagreement with me is merely secondary. Your primary disagreement is with the other contrasting Buddhist teaching within Buddhism. That said, within the context of my conversation which is Mahayana-Buddhism, it is certainly valid to say that chanting is supernatural. Again, if you have problem with that, it is because you have problem with the other Buddhist teaching within Buddhism. But if you insist on engaging my post with Theravada-Buddhism, then we are only talking across each other.

I have one request Rahula. Could you tell me more about yourself, like your real name, your exposure to Buddhism and Christianity. If you are not comfortable to reveal them here, you may email me joshuawoo@gmail.com. I prefer to converse with real person rather than a pseudonym. Thank you :-)

Blessings :-)

Sadhu, sadhu.

Rahula said...

Hi,

I can't speak much about Mahayana because it's beyond my scope of knowledge at this point of time.

When I wrote the response earlier, I had in mind the conversation between Pastor Rony and the ex-Theravadin (Sri Lanka tradition) monk. Hence, my response (in another blog whic I posted here).

Anyway, in another post, I did wrote something to the effect that supernatural chanting that you mentioned probably originated historically from the Atanatiya Paritta.

On resurrection & nibbana:

"if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain." (1 Corinthians 15:14)

I can see the importance of Jesus resurrection here, and it seems to me that if it is proven that the resurrection is not true, Christianity would collapse.

The validation of nibbana does not depend on any external historical factors. It has been said that even if it were proven that the Buddha never lived, Buddhism would remain as it is. The validation of Buddhism is the liberating knowledge of those individuals who realised nibbana.

Speaking about resurrection, it is interesting to know that there were two Buddhist monks who also resurrected, Bodhidharma and Puhua(Fuke).

Sze Zeng said...

Hi Rahula,

So you may direct your disagreement with your fellow Buddhists who think that chanting is supernatural, to which I was responding.

You rightly noted the importance of resurrection. And you rightly noted that in Buddhism, it doesn't matter whether Buddha really lived. Hence fundamentally there is different perception on reality for both religions. Christianity hinges on the historical while Buddhism does not.

Though the two religions are different, yet there is a common ground among the believers of both religions. The common ground is our way to know reality in our daily living: how do we verify reality?

Of course, Buddhists see "daily living" as delusion or some degree to that, as one parable about a Zen monk who taught that reality is delusion. But when a hungry tiger chased after him, he climbed up to the tree. Later on, his disciple asked him, "If reality is delusion, why did you ran away from the tiger?" The Zen monk replied, "What you saw was a delusion."

So we can only agree to disagree on this part. :-)

Rahula said...

Hi,

You rightly put that we have to agree to disagree. I believe this is vital in an intereligious dialogue.

There are more than 30 000 denominations of Christianity. Rumors has it that there are even more in Buddhism. I don't know, but my point is there are many denominations/sects in Buddhism, as in Christianity.

My disagreement is not with Buddhists from different sects, but with the ex-Theravadin monk in the Pastor Rony video.

I have also point out that supernatural chanting in other Buddhist sects probably originated from Pali Buddhism -Atanatiya Paritta, which was prescribed not by the Buddha, by by the devas.

Regarding the Zen story narrated, I would like to point to you the concept of two truths-the truth of conventional appearance and the ultimate truth. Again, here, we do not need to got into details. Much have been written, eg. The Two Truths (Newland,G); Appearance & Reality: The Two Truths in the Four Buddhist Tenet Systems (Newland,G); The Two Truths Debate (Thakchoe,S).

There is a joke that I want to share. You may have heard of it.

“Make me one with everything,” the Buddhist monk said to the hot-dog vendor who was hawking food near the temple.

The vendor made a frank with mustard, ketchup, relish, and onions. The monk took it and handed over a twenty-dollar bill.

The vendor stashed the cash in his apron and turned his attention to the next customer.

“But where’s my change?” the monk inquired.

“Change must come from within, my friend,” said the vendor

Rahula said...

Hi,

You brought up the issue of tranference of merits. I have brought forward both views, the traditional view, as well as the views of some scholars who questioned the practice. I have also pointed out the mechanism of its practice in traditional practice, where I note that sharing would probably be a better word.

------------

To quote a friend:

The Buddha was not an intermediary between humanity and some unknowable, undefinable, unattainable absolute something beyond experience. The Buddha stated he taught suffering and the way to suffering's end. What made the Buddha, ‘the Buddha’ was that as a human like any other human, through his own efforts, he understood
suffering and came to the end of it, making the way to suffering's end known to all humanity.

For the Buddha there is no worship of a god, no subservience or obedience to a god, there is no god behind the material world, there is no god the Buddha points to as a cause for his being awake (buddha), there is no god in the Four Noble Truths. The Buddha takes the world as it is and responds to it as it is, giving us the Four Noble Truths (the understanding of suffering and the way to its end) with no recourse to a god as a cause or an explanation for anything.

The Buddha's teaching is about liberation through insight into the experiential nature of existence -- that is, as it was for the Buddha it is for those who follow him that liberation comes from within our own experience of our own mind/body process. There is no eternal soul, spirit, or atman to align, to hollow out, via prayer, subservience or
obedience to a god, to god's will; no eternal soul, spirit, or atman to be infused with god or grace, and no god to infuse, to demand obedience, etc.

The teachings of the Buddha are not a revelation from a god; rather, they are the Buddha's understanding of reality and his pointing the way for us to come on our own to the same understanding he had. For that reason the Buddha's teachings are highly revered and have been carefully preserved. They are tools, a road map, to be used, but even as
important as the words are, more important are the underlying principles
which characterize these teachings.

-----------

Validation comes from individuals who followed the teachings.

Sze Zeng said...

Hi Rahula,

(I've deleted my previous reply due to typo)

Yes, there is internal debates going on in both Buddhism and Christianity. Yet the fundamental issue is how do we validate which sect or denomination got it correct. Christianity's way of doing it is through its affirmation of historical reality, hence there is always talks about going back to the source. I don't know how Buddhism validate it since history is delusional to its teaching.

If I can draw from what you have pointed out about the two truths. You are pointing out that historically (appearance truth) chanting is not from the Buddha, but is not Buddhism teaches that it does not matter whether is it historical or not since ultimate truth is that history is delusional?

On a different note, if history is only apparently true but ultimately a delusion, then what's the point of appealing that some critical scholars have dismiss Jesus' resurrection as non-historical? It will not matter if ultimate truth suggests that history is delusion. Perhaps you want to expound more on this.

Kant's category of phenomena and noumena seems to be a more articulate picture of appearance and reality in itself. So I can't help but to see some resemblance in Buddhism's two truths with Kant's distinction. What do you think? Are they similar?

Thank you for the joke. It's humourous! :-)

Rahula said...

Hi,

I don't remember saying that history is considered delusion in Buddhism.

Chanting did come from the Buddha, In fact he devise this method to preserve tthe teaching, as writing had not been invented. See my post regarding the ex-Theravadin monk.

The Atanatiya Paritta was prescribed by devas, but they obtained the Buddha's approval.

Your application of two truths seem misplaced. Also, nowhere am I affirming or negating the efficacy of supernatural chanting.

Let me start with the Theravadin understanding. There is only one truth, but two ways of presen.ting it. Neither is superior.Neither negates the other, hence the term two truths

In early Buddhism, reference is made on suttas having surface meaning and underlying meaning.(Anguttara Nikaya, Duka Nipata, Balavaggo [24-25]) Then, in the Abhidhamma, ultimate truth is understood in the sense a table is understood at the atomic/subatomic level. The two truth is further developed in Mahayana.

Sze Zeng said...

Hi Rahula,

I get the sense that history is delusional from what you wrote, "[Nirvana] has been said that even if it were proven that the Buddha never lived, Buddhism would remain as it is." If there is no Jesus and his resurrection in history, there is no Christianity. So history is a reality that Christianity affirms. On the other hand, Buddhism - from the impression that I get by reading what you wrote - will still be around even though without the Buddha existed in history. So does Buddhism affirm history or not? If yes, then IF Buddha is proven to be fictional, then Buddhism would be nothing more than a fiction. Or would you want to expound what does Buddhism teach about history?

So let me get the practice of chanting in your Theravada perspective clear. It was devised by the Buddha and early monks. But when it was devised, there is nothing supernatural (like transference of merits to the post-dead existence) about it. The only supernatural element is from Atanatiya Paritta where chanting is described to be effective in warding off evil spirits. Though Buddha did not devised such notion, yet he endorsed it. And in your latest reply, you wrote, "nowhere am I affirming or negating the efficacy of supernatural chanting." So from all these, I can conclude that chanting in Buddhism has supernatural function to it. Though it is not initially devised to be so by the Buddha & the early monks, yet by Buddha's own endorsement, chanting has became so. If I am right in tracing this flow of thoughts, then the part where I discussed the meaning of chanting in Buddhism as having supernatural function in my post is also right. So am I right to say that actually there is no issue on this point?

My attempt in applying the two truths notion is not on chanting but its historical origin. So this discussion should be on the above first paragraph about historical reality.

Thank you for sharing further what the two truths notion is. You wrote, "suttas having surface meaning and underlying meaning." I gathered from this sentence that the idea of truth is simply means 'contextual meaning'. For example, on the surfacial context of the suttas, it carries the surfacial meaning; while on the underlying context, it carries the underlying meaning. But my reply concerns how does this two truths notion applies to Buddhism's view on historical reality. IF Buddha didn't exist in history, what does the two truths notion tells us about this? Can we still affirm that there was such a real person, the Buddha?

Rahula said...

Hi,

Ok, I think we were talking across each other :)

If the historical Buddha is proven to be fiction, Buddhism would remain as it is because the individual is liberated through insight into the experiential nature of existence --that liberation comes from within one's own experience of one's own mind/body process experience. The individual understood
suffering and came to the end of it. So, even if the Buddha does not exist, the teaching works, regardless who or how the teaching is compiled. (a possible scenario would be someone could have create a fictitious character of the Buddha to hightlight his thought/ideas).

The supernatural exists in Buddhism. For example, Buddhism acknowledge the existence of devas. The warding off of evil spirits is not due to the chanting per se, but through the intervention of the devas, by calling or invoking them.

In my previous post, I was trying to trace the the two truths historically (from Early Buddhism, to Abhidhamma, and finally to Mahayana),as short as I can.

Rahula said...

"nowhere am I affirming or negating the efficacy of supernatural chanting."

When I said this, I am referring to those who chant meaningless mantra and do not know its meaning etc., and believe that the mantra by itself has supernatural powers.

Sze Zeng said...

Hi Rahula,

Are we talking across each other? In that case, let's get back on track before we talk about anything else :)

Let me summarize what you said. You are saying that the world functions in certain ways (eg. karma principle, efficacy of chanting, etc). So Buddha was the one in history that discovered this functions which are already there in the first place. Then he taught his discovery to people and hence such discovery came to be known as Buddhism. So even if Buddha did not exist, the world still functions in the same way no matter this fact is discovered or not. So anyone can discover this fact by one's own pursue. And this discovery is a sort of liberation, awakenness, or enlightenment. Is this correct summary?

If I am describing this correctly, then I can say that Buddhism affirms a real and tangible world. And Buddhism's distinctive teaching is about the working principles underlying this real and tangible world.

If that is the case, then we are really talking across each other because when I was referring to historical reality, I meant the occurrence of the real and tangible world, while you were talking about the metaphysical reality (the conditioning principles underlying the real and tangible world). To get this conversation going, let me point out the similarity between Christianity and Buddhism:

A) Buddhism and Christianity affirm that fundamentally the world is real and tangible and is not an illusion.

B) Therefore Buddhism and Christianity affirm that there is real and tangible historical events, hence historical reality (so I'll use real and tangible world with historical reality interchangeably).

If this is the case, then the real issue and difference between both religions is the connection between historical reality and the metaphysical reality:

C) Buddhism affirms that metaphysical reality can be known without the connection with historical reality. Therefore even if Buddha didn't exist as a historical reality, the discovery of the metaphysical reality is still possible by others. Even if no one discover this metaphysical reality, it still remain although unknown. For the same reason, Buddhism's discovery of the metaphysical reality does not need historical vindication because Buddha's story can be a fiction that is fabricated to describe the metaphysical reality. So there is a gap between the real and tangible world (historical reality) from the metaphysical world. (But this begs the question how then does one validates such a metaphysical discovery?) In simple words, what is being taught about the metaphysical reality in Buddhism is mere assertion which does not have connection with the real and tangible reality. (If that is the case, then how does one who is living in the real and tangible world ever cross beyond the gap to gain the knowledge of the metaphysical reality since there is no connection at all?)

D) Christianity affirms that metaphysical reality can only be known through the connection with historical reality. So we do not think Jesus as revealing metaphysical reality to us unless he is vindicated metaphysically. His resurrection is that sort of vindication where the metaphysical reality invaded the historical reality. Because he has risen, therefore the gap between the historical reality and metaphysical reality is bridged. Therefore one can validate the metaphysical by the historical. With the gap bridged, therefore one who is living in the real and tangible world able to gain knowledge of the metaphysical reality.

Is this a right description of the differences between Buddhism and Christianity?

Rahula said...

Hi,

You put it with the first few paragraphs.

Regarding A and B, let me quote the Buddha:

"The Blessed One said, "What is the All? Simply the eye & forms, ear & sounds, nose & aromas, tongue & flavors, body & tactile sensations, intellect & ideas. This, monks, is called the All. Anyone who would say, 'Repudiating this All, I will describe another,' if questioned on what exactly might be the grounds for his statement, would be unable to explain, and furthermore, would be put to grief. Why? Because it lies beyond range."[Sabba Sutta]

"Yet it is just within this fathom-long body, with its perception & intellect, that I declare that there is the cosmos, the origination of the cosmos, the cessation of the cosmos, and the path of practice leading to the cessation of the cosmos." [Rohitassa Sutta]

Rahula said...

[Cont.]

As the Buddha put:

"whether or not there is the arising of Tathagatas...."

Regarding C & D

Through the readings of Sabba Sutta and Rohitassa Sutta, it seems that the "metaphysical reality" is known through the "tangible reality".

I would not outrightly say
Buddhism's discovery of the metaphysical reality does not need historical vindication, because the historical existence of Buddha is acknowledged and claimed in all schools of Buddhism.I personally believe he is a historical person.

But because the teachings of the Buddha had been (can be) realized / actualized by individuals, evidences pointing to his non-existence would not affect Buddhism.

Let me give you an analogy. you want to reach a certain destination. You got a map in your hand. This map is drawn by some person. As you travel, you realise the description of the map is accurate, and finally brought you to the destination.

The map would remain reliable even if it is proven that the attributed person who draw the map does not exist.

Sze Zeng said...

Hi Rahula,

Thank you for pointing out Sabba Sutta and Rohitassa Sutta.

You wrote, "I would not outrightly say Buddhism's discovery of the metaphysical reality does not need historical vindication, because the historical existence of Buddha is acknowledged and claimed in all schools of Buddhism.I personally believe he is a historical person. But because the teachings of the Buddha had been (can be) realized / actualized by individuals, evidences pointing to his non-existence would not affect Buddhism.

That means I've summarized well your position in my previous reply. So in this case, then those bracketed questions in 'C' need to be asked: But this begs the question how then does one validates such a metaphysical discovery? how does one who is living in the real and tangible world ever cross beyond the gap to gain the knowledge of the metaphysical reality since there is no connection at all?

Could I suggest to put these questions into the analogy you gave in order to illuminate our conversation further. Lets say someone passed me a map with a route to Middle-Earth's The Shire. But there is a problem with this place known as Rohan. Although many people talk about it, some claim that they are on their way to reach the place, and there is one special person whom others think that he has already reached the place, but in all accounts, no one has a photo of it or able to positively describe it. At best, they can only negatively describe it. And this special person who are believed to have reached The Shire didn't come back to validate the place or the map. And when I asked who draw the map, that someone who passed it to me said that it was drawn by the special person who has reached The Shire, yet it is not important if this special person existed on earth.

This special person had been telling everyone about the route to The Shire. Yet he has not reached there himself. And one day, finally, he has departed from the earth. No one really knows or can validate where he went since he didn't come back to confirm the place or even the route to reach that place.. So some of his followers opted to believe that he has reached The Shire. And when his followers came together and drawn the route based on the words of the special person when he was still around and hasn't been to The Shire. Then his followers pass the map around to others, telling them this map will lead to The Shire. And someone belonging to that group of followers passed the map to me.

But this begs the question how then does one validates the map?

In Christianity, the map can be validated because the person who told us about the route to The Shire, departed from earth, went there and actually came back with souvenirs and photos of that place. His followers saw those souvenirs and photos, hence they believe that the map is indeed reliable.

Rahula said...

Hi Sze Zeng,

1. Your last passage reminded me about Prophet Muhammad's Journey to Heaven - Isra and Mi'raj. The Buddha (and many of his disciples) to visited heaven a few times.

2. Let me give you another analogy. Say, for example, Newton discovered the laws of gravity. Then, someone came and performed experiments, and verify (or validate) the laws of gravity. After that, someone came and proved that Newton is a fictitious person. In spite of that, the law of gravity would remain what it is.

3. It is not true that Nibbana "is only negatively described". The Buddha also describes Nibbana in positive terms - eg. supreme happiness, perfect bliss, peace, serenity, liberation, freedom.

Scientific experiments and studies, are beginning to, and again and again, verify and validate Buddhist claims of happiness -
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/3047291.stm


4. It is also not true that "there is one special person whom others think that he has already reached the place". Not only Buddha, but others too have attained Nibbana.
Also, as stated in Rohitassa Sutta, it is "within this fathom-long body" that Nibbana is attained, not after death.

5. I did not say "it is not important if this special person existed on earth". What I was saying is that if Buddha is proven to have never existed, Buddhism would remain what it is because Buddhists who have attain Nibbana, already verify and validate the teachings for themselves. However, if Jesus (or even his Resurrection, according to Paul*) were proven to have never existed or happened, Christianity will collapse.

* If I remember correctly, there is at least one group of those who do not but the Resurrection story, but follow Jesus's teachings.

. Lets say someone passed me a map with a route to Middle-Earth's The Shire. But there is a problem with this place known as Rohan. Although many people talk about it, some claim that they are on their way to reach the place, and there is one special person whom others think that he has already reached the place, but in all accounts, no one has a photo of it or able to positively describe it. At best, they can only negatively describe it. And this special person who are believed to have reached The Shire didn't come back to validate the place or the map. And when I asked who draw the map, that someone who passed it to me said that it was drawn by the special person who has reached The Shire, yet it is not important if this special person existed on earth.

This special person had been telling everyone about the route to The Shire. Yet he has not reached there himself. And one day, finally, he has departed from the earth. No one really knows or can validate where he went since he didn't come back to confirm the place or even the route to reach that place.. So some of his followers opted to believe that he has reached The Shire. And when his followers came together and drawn the route based on the words of the special person when he was still around and hasn't been to The Shire. Then his followers pass the map around to others, telling them this map will lead to The Shire. And someone belonging to that group of followers passed the map to me.

Sze Zeng said...

Hi Rahula,

RE 1. There are more than Muhammad and Buddha who have claimed visited 'heaven' (whatever that means). Many accounts of near-death experiences talk about seeing white light, etc. Apostle Paul told such an experience in 2 Corinthians 12. However we have to recognize that these visitations to heaven is categorically different from Jesus' resurrection. All these experiences done before the person's death. Someone who had a weird dream or someone who had a fantastic hallucination can tell of stories about visitation to heaven. But when someone whose physical body sustained severe injuries and died, and then reappeared with tip top condition and going pass locked room after a couple of days is another thing altogether.

RE 2. To say that Newton discovered the law of gravity is one thing.
To say that the law of gravity still remains even Newton didn't exist is another thing.
To say that without Newton, we can still discover the law of gravity is also another thing.
To say that without Newton, we possess the discovery of the law of gravity is altogether another thing.

In historical reality, if without Newton, we will never possess the discovery of the law of gravity. If it is proven beyond reasonable doubt that Newton did not exist, then we have to ask how then in the first place we possess the discovery of gravity law? The principle of cause and effect states that if we have an effect now (discovery of gravity law), then there must be a cause (Newton discovered it). Of course we can say that when Newton is being proven did not exist then we will never know the cause of it. Or there actually was no cause at all. But the latter view is an impossibility since it contradict the principle of cause and effect.

Since there must be a cause to every effect, and since the existent of Newton and the story about him discovering gravity law is the most probable explanation of the effect, then it is rational to conclude that it is not proven that Newton did not exist. This shows that in the investigation of both historical reality and metaphysical reality, the proven-ness of the non-existent of Newton is intrinsically bound with the discovery of the law of gravity. The principle of cause and effect, if to has any meaning at all, necessitates the intrinsic bind between the two. Without the one, there is no the other. Do you agree?

This intrinsic bind is the connection between historical reality and metaphysical reality (which is an example of my 'D' statement on Christ's resurrection being the connection between historical reality and metaphysical reality). So our validation of the knowledge of the metaphysical reality need to be historically bound. In other words, if it is proven that Buddha did not exist, then we have eliminated the cause (Buddha) of an effect (Buddhism). In that case, we are left with a contradiction in the principle of cause and effect, "how can there be an effect without a cause?"

(Continue...)

Sze Zeng said...

(continue...)

RE 3. Those scientific proofs that you referred to are really observation of people under certain circumstances produce certain results: People who meditate tend to be happier. Hence, it does not validate metaphysical reality because other activities also produce similar results. Such observation neither validate Christianity nor Buddhism. For example:

People who socialize and go to church are happier: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/20/health/research/20happy.html?_r=1

People who socialize, attend to religious activities, and read are happier: http://www.physorg.com/news145901411.html

People who live near trees are happier, perform better in tests, and live longer: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/earthnews/4612176/AAAS-Living-near-trees-makes-people-live-longer-and-feel-happier.html

People who purchase life experience like travelling are happier: http://www.usnews.com/health/family-health/brain-and-behavior/articles/2009/02/09/experiences-bring-more-joy-than-possessions-do.html

People who forgive others are happier: http://www.usatoday.com/news/health/2002-12-08-happy-main_x.htm

All these data point to the fact that humans under certain circumstances or do certain activities are happier and do not validate nor invalidate Buddhism and Christianity.

RE 4. Let's focus on Buddha's knowledge of the Nirvana as he was the one who claimed to discover it, historically speaking. Other Buddhist commentators are just commenting on what he has taught. Without the Buddha, no one can talk about Nirvana as how we talk about it now, historically speaking. Don't you think so?

RE 5. This matter is link closely with (RE 2). So we shall just focus on (RE 2).

Rahula said...

Hi,

Re 1. Yes, I am aware of the near death experience studies. Again, here, I am not whether the experiences are real or not. Also, I am sure you have heard of the Bardo Thodal (Tibetan Book of the Dead). When I mentioned about Muhammad and Buddha, I was referring to well-known or famous religious personality.

Also, as I have said in a previous post, I would not want to start a discussion on the historicity of Jesus, the Resurrection, or how he could have survived, as much have been written and debated elsewhere.

Again, as stated in a previous post, there were two Zen (Chan) monks who died and resurrected, Bodhidharma and Puhua (Fuke). There are even more such stories in the Tibetan tradition. These people are called Delogs. In the case of Bodhidharma and Puhua, their tomb were found empty, and people met them later.

Re 2. The Buddha said, “Both formerly and now, monks, I declare only stress (dukkha) and the cessation of stress” (Alagaddupama Sutta,MN 22)

Nibbana is a state to be attained here and now in this very life and not a state to be attained only after death. The Buddha, on many occasion, said that the fruits of Buddhism/the cessation of suffering is visible in the “here and now” (eg. Sammaditthi Sutta [MN 9],Samannaphala Sutta [DN 2] etc).

Let’s come back to the analogy of Newton and map. If it is proven beyond reasonable doubt that Newton did not exist, one possible alternative theory of the discovery would be that Newton is just a pseudonym of a person or persons who do not want to be known. I hope you do missed the word “if” in the sentence.

1a. Newton discovered the law of gravity.
1b. The cartographer drawn the map.
1c. Buddha discovered Buddhism.

2a. The law of gravity is verified by other scientist.
2b. A person using the map reaches the destination.
2c. A person following the Buddha’s teaching attained what it is described in the teaching or found no discrepancy.

3a. Newton non-existence does not invalidate the law of gravity.
3b. The cartographer, say, Mr A’s non-existence is of no importance, as the map is proven true as the person reached the destination.
3c. Buddhism would remain what it is even if it is proven that the Buddha never lived.

4a. Who discovered the law of gravity then, would be another research topic.
4b. Likewise, who drew the map, is of another issue.
4c. Who, or how Buddhism came to be would be best left to Indologist or Buddhologist.

Rahula said...

[Cont.]

There is a conversation recorded between Nigantha Nataputta and Citta, a lay disciple of the Buddha. [1]

Nataputta: Householder, do you have faith in the ascetic Gotama when he says, “There is a concentration [2] without thought and examination (discursive and reflective thought), there is cessation of thought and examination?”

Citta: In this matter, venerable sir, I do not go by faith in the Blessed One when he says: “There is a concentration without thought and examination, there is cessation of thought and examination.”

Nataputta: See this, sirs! How straightforward is this Citta the householder! How honest and open! One who thinks that thought and examination can be stopped might imagine he could catch the wind in a net or arrest the current of the river Ganges with his own fist.
Citta: What do you think, venerable sir, which is superior: knowledge of faith?

Nataputta: Knowledge, householder, is superior to faith.

Citta: Well, venerable sir, to whatever extent I wish, secluded from sensual pleasures, secluded from unwholesome states, I enter and dwell in the first jhana, which is accompanied by thought and examination, with rapture and happiness born of seclusion. Then, to whatever extent I wish, with the subsiding of thought and examination, I enter and dwell in the second jhana…..third jhana……fourth jhana.

Since I know and see thus, venerable sir, in what other ascetic or Brahmin need I place faith regarding the claim that there is a concentration without thought and examination, a cessation of thought and examination?”
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The Arahant is described as “one without faith” (asaddho, Dhammapada 97) and it is often pointed out that the Arahant must be in a position to claim the highest knowledge without having to rely on faith. [3]

------------
1. Bhikkhu Bodhi (2000) The Connected Discourses of the Buddha – A Translation of the Samyutta Nikaya, Wisdom Publications, Boston. Salayatanavagga (The Book of the Six Sense Bases), Cittasamyutta, 8 Nigantha Nataputta, p.1327-1328

2. Here, concentration means jhanas – stages of meditation.

3. Bhikkhu Bodhi (2000) The Connected Discourses of the Buddha – A Translation of the Samyutta Nikaya, Wisdom Publications, Boston. Salayatanavagga (The Book of the Six Sense Bases), Salayatanasamyutta, 153(8) Is There a Method, p.1214

Rahula said...

Re:3. I would add that having more money / being rich would make a person happier.

What I was trying to show is scientific studies can measure the effects of Buddhist practice. Of course, I am not suggesting that scientific research is able to verify metaphysical reality (at least ,not now). Also, there are Buddhists who disagreed with the use of scientific studies to measure Buddhist practice.

The scientific studies I was referring to are those conducted using advanced imaging modality or other scientific apparatus, and not from the result of questionnaire survey. The qualities measured are not constrained to happiness, but also compassion, love,calmness, equanimity, mental stability (or one-pointedness), etc.


Re:4. Yes, I think so. However, there are scholars who think otherwise.

I vaguely remember reading that a few scholars in the nineteenth century read his biography as a great allegory recounting the saga of a sun god.

For modern studies, you may consult the works of Godfrey Higgins, Christian Lindther, Kersey Graves,and DM Murdock (Acharya S). It would not be a good idea to go into details here.

Sze Zeng said...

Hi Rahula,

RE 1. I know you are referring to famous religious personality. My point is that their 'heaven' experiences are categorically different from the resurrection of Christ. And I have shown in the reply that their experiences occurred before the person's death. But Christ's physical resurrection is not that similar at all with that kind of 'heaven' experience. So in term of such experience as validation for the religious personality's claim, Buddha's and Muhammad's experiences cannot analogically compared with Christ's resurrection.

I'm not inviting us to discuss historicity of Jesus or his resurrection since I already presupposed the reliability of Buddhism's and Christianity's stories, but to point out that even with such presupposition in favor of both religions, we are still able to use a common validation method to see which case can be validated.

Those Zen monks are not in interest here since our focus are on the founders of the religion.

RE 2. Yes I know that Nibbana/Nirvana in Buddhism can be attained here, so I'm not questioning possible attainment of that state in this lifetime but, again, the method to validate such a state: how do we know that is Nirvana?

The point I wanted to make with Newton's analogy is to say that the very validation of Newton's existence is intrinsically bound with the discovery of gravity laws. So we cannot separate one from the other, and so if there was no Newton, there wouldn't be a discovery of gravity laws. Whether will the law be discovered by others are of course will venture into the discussion of the possible worlds, and I don't see there's a need to go there.

The problem lies in 2a, 2b, and 2c onwards. Here is whether the analogy of Newton and the map break down. These analogies (2a & 2b) cannot take us further than here simply because they don't share further similarity with 2c. The law of gravity verified by ALL scientist and students/learners of science. The attainment Nirvana is not verified in the similar universal way by all. In other words, Newton's discovery is something already in possession, while Nirvana is still an ideal which we do not possess and hence cannot be verified universally. And besides, as I have affirmed previously and now that I presuppose the reliability of stories about Buddha, so we don't have to go into 3a, 3b, 3c and 4a, 4b, 4c.

I understand the conversation between Nigantha Nataputta and Citta as saying that fundamentally one doesn't know whether if meditation can be done with or without knowledge and faith. Citta answered that it is an invalid question. This is a correct understanding?

RE 3. Yes, I noted that the studies you referred to are using imaging modality yet even that doesn't say anything other than the fact that humans under certain circumstances or do certain activities are happier.

Stefanie Danopoulos became calmer and happier after converted to Islam from Christianity. Then there are neurotheology that studies the effect of stimulation of our brain may produce certain religious experience. Michael Persinger pioneered this work by artificially stimulate people's temporal lobes with weak magnetic field to produce a feeling of divine. The point is that positive living is irrelevant to the investigation of the truthfulness of a religion's teaching on the metaphysical since 'human living' is subjected to the context that measures it.

RE 4. There are many such studies in the nineteenth century academy. The same thing happened to Christianity too. But I already presuppose the reliability of the story about Buddha, so this interpretation of Buddha is not important here. What is important is what I've stated in (RE 1) above: to use a common validation method to see which case can be validated.

Rahula said...

Hi,

First of all, I need to correct a typo. Re.1, second sentence, should have been, “Again, here, I am not MAKING A CLAIM.....”. Also, for the benefit of other reading, the first sentence of my post on 12.27AM should have read “You put it WELL.....”.My apologies for these mistakes.

Re1. The vanishing or disappearance of the physical bodies of Buddha and Prophet Muhammad need to be accounted. I do not intend to propose any theory here. I brought to your attention of cases of resurrections to show you that miracles and resurrection do not prove the truthfulness of a religion. What I was trying to say is that even if the resurrection of Jesus is proven, it does not prove the truthfulness of Christianity or the existence of God.

Re2. A person would know that is Nibbana when he had attained it – matched by the description of the Buddha, eg. extinction of greed, hatred and delusion, cessation of stress (dukkha), destruction of mental intoxicants (asavas), freedom or release, supreme happiness, bliss, peace, tranquillity, a state free from fear, etc.

I have a wild idea that perhaps in the future, advanced imaging modality and other scientific apparatus would be able to measure these accurately, and may help Buddhist practitioner monitor their progress. I am not saying it could verify Nibbana, but it could measure some effects of the Buddhist path.

The Buddha made no promise of heavenly afterlife. He said he only taught “stress and cessation of stress”. The Buddha gave a parable where a man was wounded with a poison arrow (Cula-malunkyovada Sutta, MN 63). The Buddha is liken to a physician/surgeon, who would removed the arrow and treat the man. Who shoots the man, where he live etc. is immaterial here, and can be left to latter.

This bring us back to the analogy of the map and the law of gravity, specifically, 2a, 2b and 2c. I would say they share similarity.

2a-i. The law of gravity is verified by all scientist and students/learners* in science. However, a beginner may have only verified the first law. Confidence increased as he conducts further experiments.

2b-ii.The accuracy of the map is verified by the traveller. Some traveller may have yet to reach the destination, but as they travel along the road, what they see fits the description of the map. Confidence increased as the traveller travels.

2c-iii. Buddhism is verified by Arahants. Some Buddhists along the path may have yet to attained nibbana, but the path is matched by the description of the Buddha’s teaching. Confidence increased as progress is made along the path.

* I remember that during my school days we conduct many experiments in science class – physics, chemistry and biology. Not everybody was successful at their first attempt. Many did not bother to make further attempt, and many did not even attempt at all (we were separated into groups). So, I would say many failed to verified those scientific theories. But, many did well in exams. The same can be said about Buddhism.

-------------

I had initially wanted to elaborate a bit on the "conversation", but I thought it was already self-explanatory, as I had also mentioned that an Arahant must be in a position to claim the highest knowledge without relying on faith.

Let’s come back to the conversation. Nataputta was asking Citta if he has faith in Gotama when he described the first stage (jhana/dhyana) of meditation. Citta replied that “he did not go by faith”. This is because he already know about it, he himself has seen the jhanas.

This need not only apply to the jhanas, but the whole spectrum of Buddha’s teachings.

Something similar was described by Carl Jung (1875–1961), a Swiss psychoanalyst:

“The word “belief” is a difficult thing for me. I don’t believe. I must have a reason for a certain hypothesis. Either I know a thing, and then I know it—I don’t need to believe it.” ( Interview by John Freeman (1959), Face to Face (1964). Jonathan Cape, London, p. 51)

Rahula said...

Re 3. You rightly point out that “positive living is irrelevant to the investigation of the truthfulness of a religion”. This echoed what I wrote earlier, “I am not suggesting that scientific research is able to verify metaphysical reality” (whatever metaphysical reality meant).

However, these studies are able to verify the claim the Buddha made about his teaching – not only happiness is measured, but love, compassion, equanimity, mental stability/concentration, calmness etc. – claims the Buddha made. Nevertheless, caution must be made that not all Buddhists agree that these qualities can be measured scientifically. These studies are not only carried out when they are meditating, but also when they are not. Buddhists seems to do exceptionally well when compared to others when these qualities are measured in their brain. Buddhist meditation, can be taught, and is being taught, without any reference to the Buddha. (eg. The acclaimed Stress Reduction Clinic/ Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care and Society – University of Massachusetts Medical School, Oxford Mindfulness Center, at the Department of Psychiatry, and recently National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, UK (NICE) have recommended NHS and medical practitioner to offer Buddhist meditation for depression, stress and mental illness.)

Stefanie becoming calmer and happier is dependent on her conviction of Islam. Again, allow me to use a conjunction, if it is proven that Islam is not true, or that Prophet Muhammad is a fictitious character, her calmness and happiness would be affected.

I am familiar with Persinger’s Neuropsychological Bases of God Beliefs, as well as Newberg’s “Why god Won’t Go Away” , “How God Changes Your Brain”; Beuregard’s “Spiritual Brain” and many others in this genre. These studies proved the Buddhist proposition that these experiences need not presuppose the existence of God. Buddhist meditation teacher would tell you that if you replace the object of devotion or meditation (eg. God) with anything else, the effect would be the same. In fact, such devotional and meditative practice are already in existence during the Buddha’s time. Although it is not Buddhist meditation per se, it is part of the path.

Sze Zeng said...

Hi Rahula,

Was caught up with works in the past few days, hence this late reply.

Thank you for clarifying the typo. Appreciate you.

Re 1. Granted that resurrection does not prove truthfulness of Christianity when the same phenomena is reported in other religions (presuming all religions' stories are similarly reliable).

Re 2. Such virtuous teaching is also available in other religions. In Christian community, broken lives are transformed. So this phenomena of well-being of the religious followers is also common to both religions.

Concerning 'belief', that is another topic altogether which I don't think I want to go into it.

Re 3. Both of us affirm that individual's livinghood does not validate or verify the truthfulness of one religion over another.

Neuropsychology no more prove Buddhist proposition than Christian proposition in a world which is spiritual as well as material. What we see is the effects of the material which is the manifestation of the spiritual.

So we left with a few options:

1) Both religions are wrong. They are just transmitted ancient wisdom derived from observation about humans.
2) Both religions are exclusively true to the followers. In each religious community, the other religion is inferior.
3) Both religions are limited in expression on reality and hence inconclusive. So both communities cannot think the other religion is inferior but to admit the fact that both religions are inadequate to give full sense of the reality. We may also say that it can be that perhaps both are true and give full sense of reality, but due to human's limitations, we cannot grasp it entirely. Hence we cannot make definitive conclusion to know which is better. We can continue to practice our religion but without the thought that the other religion is inferior or our own is superior.

Do you have other options to share?

Rahula said...

Hi,

Re 1. In the Kevatta Sutta (DN 11), the Buddha mentioned three types of miracles - miracle of psychic powers, miracle of telepathy and miracle of instruction, where he only praised the third.

Re 2. Yes, I agree that such virtuous teaching is also available in other religions.

Concerning 'belief', I was merely trying to argue my proposition that Buddhism would remain what it is even if it is proven that the Buddha never lived. It was never my intention to start a new topic. Citta was like saying who cares what the Buddha says, I knew about it. Likewise, as for my proposition.

Re 3. I agree with you. Nevertheless, I would say neuropsychology proved that the so-called “experiencing God” (whatever the terms used in various religions) does not prove the existence of God. Buddhist meditation teacher would they already knew it all this while (as already mentioned in my previous post).

Can I comment on the options provided? Anyway, if I must choose one, I would pick option 3.

1. What is wrong with “transmitted wisdom derived from observation about humans”?

2. If we affirm the truth of a religion, doesn’t that signify other religions as “strayed”?

3. Perhaps, our limitation is due to language. How would you describe the taste of an apple to a person who had not eaten it?

In Buddhism, we do not need to accept everything the Buddha said at once. The Buddhist path is a gradual path. In fact, only an Arahant could claim the highest knowledge.

"Monks, I do not say that the attainment of gnosis is all at once. Rather, the attainment of gnosis is after gradual training, gradual action, gradual practice.” (Kitagiri Sutta, MN 70)

Perhaps, it is not that we cannot make any definitive conclusion, but there is no necessity yet. Or we cannot yet.

May I conclude with a quotation from a Christian who has a doctorate in Buddhist Studies:

“To affirm the claims of one religion doesn’t require having studied and refuted the claims of all others: life is short.[1]”

1. Personal communication. Paul J. Griffiths, Warren Professor of Catholic Thought at Duke University.

Sze Zeng said...

Hi Rahula,

RE 1. Jesus mentioned that, ""Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven." (Matt 7.21).

RE 2. The claim that Buddhism would remain even if proven that the Buddha never lived is too convenient on one hand while blurring reality and the principle of cause and effect in historical process on another hand. On this same ground, 'belief' as you have argued for Buddhism is at the expanse of human initiation without necessarily correspond to reality.

RE 3. Whether neuropsychology prove or does not prove the existence of God depends on what does one mean by 'God' (which I already point out previously).

On your comments on the options:

1. Nothing wrong with "transmitted wisdom derived from observation about humans." Just that we need to know that this is not something special or necessarily attribute metaphysical connotation to certain wisdom.

2. Yes, when we affirm exclusivity for one, then that means others are strayed or inferior.

3. Or, it can be due to personal orientation. How to describe to someone the tastiness of Penang Laksa when the person already prefer Ipoh Laksa?

I can see that you like Griffiths' quote as it corresponds to your experience and perception of 'belief'. :-)

Rahula said...

Hi,

RE 1. What is the “will of my Father who is in heaven”? The Ten Commandments? I am sure you are aware if the internal debate whether Jesus came to fulfil & establish or fulfil & destroy (Matthew 5:17-18). I do not it would be wise to discuss this here. Perhaps, we could discuss this through private email (if you are interested).

RE 2. I must clarify that the claim does not necessarily involved metaphysics. It could be a historical assertion. A possible example (though unlikely) would be that Buddhism is taught by a Buddha, but the Buddha mentioned in the text is probably a myth or a parody used by the actual Buddha. The biography of the actual Buddha may have been lost. My analogy of Newton and the cartographer still stands as I argued that they share similarity – Buddhism is more concern about the “here and now” than the afterlife.

RE 3. I did not say whether neuropsychology prove or does not prove the existence of God. What I said was that the description of various religions about “experiencing God” can be explained by neuropsychology, and Buddhism share similar explanation. In other words, a person claiming he is “experiencing God” does not prove that God exist.

A friend once wrote:

“Going back to the question of experience colored by framework, let me elaborate at length in terms of experience.

On an October evening about 15 years ago, standing with my girl friend on an east facing cliff, I turned to the east and I saw the full moon just breaching the horizon – a thin slit of light with a soft aura, and I said to her "look." She does. The night air, the sounds of the night, the silhouetted barn and silos, the sense of love and erotic feeling between the two of us, and this great orange-yellow light hit us with a velvet touch, exploding us into the universe, and we were one – one each other, with the light, the sounds of the crickets, the wind and the leaves it is blowing, the blue blackness of the sky, the distance of the stars which was no distance at all, the smell of earth beneath our feet, the beating of our hearts, the swirl of energy that were our bodies, the swirl of the energies of it all – one. It was all one, no time, an eternity that lasted an instant. It ended almost as abruptly as it began. Estimating from the position of the moon in the sky, the "actual" time elapsed was about 45 minutes, and I turned to her saying, " Hmmm, that was nice."

And we went home. Of course she was completely blown away. I said nothing about it, knowing she would when ready. Two days later she was able to talk about it. She wanted know what that was that she experienced, and did we both experience it. Her descriptions matched mine. "What is this experience to you," I asked? She went on about God, oneness with God, for how could anything so beyond the bounds of the ordinary be anything else but God. My only question to her was this sense of god a part of the experience, or was it something that she was adding to the experience? After some reflection, she agreed it was not part of the experience.”
-----------

Rahula said...

1. Special is subjective. Something special to someone may not be special to another person. There is no necessity to attribute metaphysical connotation to certain wisdom. It could be the other way around. The “transmitted ancient wisdom derived from observation about humans” could be the key to understanding/accessing the metaphysical.

2. :)

3. If a person had already tasted both, Penang Laksa and Ipoh Laksa, then it is entirely up to him which one he prefer. Some people said Penang food is the best. But I have seen people who prefer KL food, having tasted both. This could be due to upbringing.

Sometimes, preference of food could be related to pride, hence the judgement is not valid.

Having tasted both, Penang Laksa and Ipoh Laksa, one can only compare the two. However, there are also Johor Laksa, Singapore Laksa, Kedah Laksa, Sarawak Laksa etc. Now, all these laksa-s, while having certain similarity, they are made of certain ingredients unique to each of them. But they are all called Laksa.

Similarly, there are many religions. Each talks about God in their unique way. What do you think?

Sze Zeng said...

Hi Rahula,

RE 1. We can correspond here. In Christianity, the 'will of my Father' cannot be reducible to the 10 commandments of certain saying of Jesus or his apostles, but the entire project of renewing the world according to God's vision. The yardstick is of course the most important commandment that sums up all: Love God with all of ourselves and love our neighbour as we love ourselves.

RE 2. Buddha, Newton, or the cartographer all have to be historically real, only then we can talk about them. Without them, we don't have their discovery. Whether or not their discoveries still discoverable is irrelevant as they are in the realm of possibility.

RE 3. That's why I said that depends on one's view on 'God'. If the person's view of 'God' is such that God is nothing more than a person's experience, then that experience does not prove God's existence. But if God is the depth around all things and beyond all things, or the ground upon which all being exist, then a person's experience of God does point to this ground.

Similarly to your conversation with your girl friend. That depends on what kind of 'God' she had in mind. If God is the very groung on which her existence, hence her entire being, is based upon, then God was there not only being experienced by her but supporting the act of experiencing itself.

1. If one wants to attribute metaphysical connontation to ancient wisdom, then one is free to do so, but there is not ground for this attribution to be valid. Everyone can attribute metaphysical connontation on anything.

2. *Settled* :-)

3. Yup, can be due to language limitation, orientation, upbringing or pride among many other reasons as you have stated.

"Each talks about God in their unique way."

That depends on what do they mean by 'God'. If one of the Ba'Hai, then naturally this makes sense. If one of Islam, then this is not as valid. It depends. :-)

Sze Zeng said...

Sorry Rahula, there is a typo:

the 'will of my Father' cannot be reducible to the 10 commandments OR certain saying of Jesus or his apostles,

Rahula said...

Hi,

RE 1. While we can correspond here, wouldn’t it be better done in another blog-topic? In your own perspective, do you think Jesus came to fulfil & destroy or fulfil & establish?

RE 2. I am sure there must be someone who taught Buddhism, discovered the law of gravity and drew the map. There is no disagreement here. Obviously, they do not appear from nowhere. What I was attempting to point out is that Buddhism, the law of gravity and the map could stand by themselves.

I am not questioning the historical existence of the cartographer or the Buddha and Newton as we know them. I must emphasis the “if” in the sentence of my proposition, ie. “if it is proven that Buddha/Newton never lived....”.

RE 3. It was not my conversation, but rather it was my friend’s. I need to make it clear because although I guess he doesn’t mind, I may be accused of plagiarism :). What I was trying to point out in the conversation is that my friend’s girlfriend description of her experience was coloured by her view, ie. something added to her experience.

If a person is of the view that “God is the depth around all things and beyond all things, or the ground upon which all being exist”, I would say that the person's experience of God does not point to this ground (read: God), because the person had coloured his experience.

Now, I must ask whether this is your definition of God, and nothing more? Let me quote Stephen Hawking, “The question is, is the way the universe began chosen by God for reasons we can’t understand, or was it determined by a law of science? I believe the second. If you like, you can call the laws of science God, but it wouldn’t be a personal God that you could meet, and ask questions........”(Greed and stupidity could spell our end, Sunday Star, Feb 28, 2010; p.F20)

1. If a way, aren’t all religions attributing metaphysical (if there is such a thing) connotation to ancient wisdom (if there is any wisdom)? I have always wondered about this relationship. I am prone to think that religions are attributing metaphysical connotation to ancient wisdom rather than the other way around. I am sure we can agree to disagree on this.

2. Can I move number 3 to number 2? Why do you say Bahai would make sense, but Islam not as valid? How about Judaism?

Sze Zeng said...

Hi Rahula,

RE 1. I can post another post on this, but before that I want to know what do you mean by Jesus came to fulfill and destroy, or fulfill and establish? Fulfill, destroy and establish what? The 10 Commandments?

RE 2. Yes, it is clear that your emphasis is on the "if". And it is precisely on this "if" that we cannot confirm nor reject since it belong strictly to the realm of possibility. Hence I don't think we can simply either assert that this or that, you see.

RE 3. Everyone has colored their experience in one way or another. To those who colored it that there is no such ground, then it is deem as an "additional" (your word). To those who colored it that there is such ground, then it is not an additional but the very basis or foundation for that experience to occur.

As I and many others understood from Acts 17.28, "For in him we live and move and have our being," God is that very foundation of existence itself. And more than that, through revelation, this foundation made unveil the divine persona. Stephen Hawking's belief that the universe began due to determination of law of science is a fals dichotomy. Other scientists with same stature as him do not share his false dichotomy:

Sir John Houghton: "Our science is God's science. He holds the responsibility for the whole scientific story... The remarkable order, consistency, reliability and fascinating complexity found in the scientific description of the universe are reflections of the order, consistency, reliability and complexity of God's activity." (The Search for God: Can Science Help? [Oxford: Lion, 1995] p.59)

Sir Ghillean Prance: "For many years I have believed that God is the great designer behind all nature... All my studies in science since then have confirmed my faith." (Mike Poole, God and the Scientists [CPO, 1997])

Melvin Calvin: "As I try to discern the origin of that conviction [that the universe is orderly], I seem to find it in a basic notion discovered 2000 or 3000 years ago, and enunciated first in the Western world by the ancient Hebrews: namely that the universe is governed by a single God, and is not the product of the whims of many gods... This monotheistic view seems to be the historical foundation for modern science." (Chemical Evolution [Oxford: Claredon Press, 1969], p.258)

Johannes Kepler: "The chief aim of all investigations of the external world should be to discover the rational order which has been imposed on it by God, and which he revealed to us in the language of mathematics." (Cited in Morris Kline, Mathematics: The Loss of Certainty [Oxford University Press, 1980], p.31)

Albert Einstein remarked that, "The most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is comprehensible." To this, John Lennox: commented, "The very concept of the intelligibility of the universe presupposes the existence of a rationality capable of recognizing that intelligibility." (God's Undertaker [USA: Lion, 2007], p.58-59)

Sze Zeng said...

(continue...)

Sir John Polkinghorne: "Science does not explain the mathematical intelligibility of the physical world, for it is part of science's founding faith [monotheism] that this is so." (Reason and Reality [London: SPCK, 1991], p.76)

Allan Sandage: "I find it quite improbably that such order [of the universe] came out of chaos. There has to be some organizing principle. God to me is a mystery but is the explanation for the miracle of existence - why there is something rather than nothing." (New York Times, 12 March 1991, p.B9)

Even Stephen Hawking himself, though does not believe in God, acknowledged that God is quite a possible answer to the order of the universe: "It is difficult to discuss the beginning of the universe without mentioning the concept of God. My work on the origin of the universe borderline between science and religion, but I try to stay on the scientific side of the border. It is quite possible that God acts in ways that cannot be described by scientific laws." (ABC Television, 20/20, 1989) So God as the ground of existence is compatible with sciences' discovery.

1. Let's go back to where we start talking about this. I mentioned an option that both religions (Buddhism & Christianity) are wrong because they are just ancient wisdom and has nothing metaphysical about it. They are mere human observation and nothing more and has nothing to do with metaphysics whether Nirvana or God. So no confusion here. :-)

2. Sure you can :-) Bahai makes sense because it propounds that there is only one God and each religions "represent stages in the revelation of God's will and purpose for humanity." So this is similar with your idea that, "Each talks about God in their unique way." Judaim and Islam are not known to share this idea.

Rahula said...

Hi,

RE 1. Hmm....I was asking in the context of Matthew 5:17-20, “the law or the prophets”.

RE 2. A better example would be Taoism and the historicity of the author of Tao Te Ching, Lao Tzu. One of the theories is that it’s a pseudonym. [For discussions, see “Did Lao Tzu Exist?” by Victor Mair , in Tao Te Ching (1990), p.119-130; “The Authorship of Tao Te Ching” by John J Emerson; etc.]

RE 3. Nowhere did I say that we should colour it with “there is no such ground”. Instead of colouring the experience with God, we could just said, as my friend put it, “Hmmm, that was nice". There is no necessity of colouring it with “there is a ground” or “there is no such ground”.

The reason I quoted Hawking was because that you wrote God “is the depth around all things and beyond all things, or the ground upon which all being exist.” When I quoted Hawking, I was having panentheism (not pantheism) in mind.

From Hawking’s quote, it seems he could accept an impersonal God (probably, deism). Einstein once wrote. “"I believe in Spinoza's God who reveals himself in the orderly harmony of what exists, not in a God who concerns himself with the fates and actions of human beings.” (Einstein Believes in “Spinoza’s God” ; Scientist Defines His Faith in Reply, to Cablegram From Rabbi Here. Sees A Divine Order But Says Its Ruler Is Not Concerned "Wit Fates and Actions of Human Beings."". The New York Times. April 25, 1929.)

There are scientists who are theists and there are scientists who are atheists (eg. Peter Higgs,Richard Feynman, Victor Stenger, Leonard Susskind, Steven Weinberg, James Watson, Richard Dawkins, Jerry Coyne, PZ Myers etc.). Their accomplishment in their work does necessarily reflect similar accomplishment in their faiths or philosophical thoughts. For me, at least until now, using science to determine the existence of God could be liken to the Parable of Blind Men and Elephant (Tittha Sutta, Udana 6.4)

1. How about “ancient wisdom derived from observation about humans” discovering the metaphysical?

2. A person may predispose Ipoh Laksa to Penang Laksa. If each religions
“represent stages”, then they would be consider inferior to the religion propagating this view. They wouldn’t be unique, as they are merely stages. What I had in mind is that each religions is as unique and “valid” as the others.

Sze Zeng said...

Hi Rahula,

RE 1. Then I have to ask in what sense to fulfill and establish or destroy?

RE 2. Then that is really going into historical studies on the authorship of certain material. Studies like this only acertain pseudonimity of the authorship but not the material. Yet to say that the material is not authored by who and who is another matter from saying that the material can still be authored by others even if it is not authored (pseudonymly) by who and who. It is on the latter that I remarked can neither be positively nor negatively asserted.

RE 3. Yes, we don't have to color it with "there is such a ground" or "there is no such ground". But if we go deeper to examine the experience, we have to engage with the category of "nice". Why is there such a correspondence between the external world to be "nice" to our internal perception? When such question is examined, then it opens up the room for further contemplation. Just like Buddha's witnessed of aging, sickness and death. These are "not nice". This category when examined furthered by Buddha, he came out with the idea of samsara.

It it neither panentheism nor pantheism, though it can be understood within both frameworks as well. But to categorizes it into these two is already dealing with another matter on divine action or how creation relates with the creator. God being the depth around all things and beyond all things, or the ground upon which all being exist is a statement on ontology of the idea of being itself.

You quoted Hawking and Einstein to suggest that deism is the more probable framework in the face of science. My point of quoting the other scientists was to show that this is not so. Christianity's monotheism (Trinity) is compatible with sciences' discovery. Sciences cannot determine the existence of God, if yes, then science is God. So I agree with you on this. But does science point to the existence of God? That this is what you meant, "point to existence of God" instead of "determine the existence of God", then it is still an open discussion as there is no conclusion yet. The atheists think they have reached a conclusion, but the theists think otherwise.

1. If it is about ancients discovered metaphysics then this becomes option 2 or 3, which we already settled (2:"Both religions are exclusively true to the followers. In each religious community, the other religion is inferior." 3:"Both religions are limited in expression on reality and hence inconclusive. So both communities cannot think the other religion is inferior but to admit the fact that both religions are inadequate to give full sense of the reality. We may also say that it can be that perhaps both are true and give full sense of reality, but due to human's limitations, we cannot grasp it entirely. Hence we cannot make definitive conclusion to know which is better. We can continue to practice our religion but without the thought that the other religion is inferior or our own is superior.").

2. You need to be more nuanced here. What do you mean by "unique"? Do you mean "exclusive"? If you mean that each religion is exclusive and at the same time true in all its teaching, then you are acknowledging a framework where all religions contradicts each other. The ontology of the existence is self-contradictory. That simply means all are false.

Rahula said...

Hi,

RE 1. Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection fulfilling the law in “till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled”

RE 2. Coming to Tao Te Ching, another theory proposed is that it was composed by multiple authors.

I think I can see some agreement here. My pointing out of Taoism is an evidence that “even if it is proven that the [founder] never lived, the [religion] would remain what it is. It is a historical assertion, not involving any metaphysics. Hence, I gave the analogy of Newton and the cartographer. As pointed out in my previous post, nowhere did I make a claim that Buddhism, the law of gravity and the map appeared from nowhere.

RE 3. Let's go back to where we start talking about this – experiencing God. Instead of attributing it to God, Buddhism explained that when the mind is tuned or conditioned (when certain conditions are met), that experience would arises. Instead of coloring his witnessed of aging, sickness and death, the Buddha attempt to discover the cause (craving:tanha) and solution to dukkha. Instead of coloring the existence of dukkha by attributing it to the existence/non-existence of God/ Devil, he attempted to discover a solution by analysing and investigating his own mind. The idea of samsara came later. In fact, Buddhism have been described as a science of mind.

You wrote, “God being the depth around all things and beyond all things, or the ground upon which all being exist is a statement on ontology of the idea of being itself.” Perhaps, you can explain why this best fits monotheism, rather than panentheism?

I am surprised about how you come to the conclusion that my quoting of Hawking and Einstein was to suggest that deism is the more probable framework in the face of science. Initially, I quoted Hawking because your description of God shared some similarity with panentheism. After that, I quoted Einstein because you attributed a quotation to him, and also to elaborate the God that Hawking was talking about.

I must also emphasise “if you like” when Hawking said “If you like, you can call the laws of science God.....”. So, how could my quoting of Hawking be seen as suggesting that deism is the more probable framework in the face of science?

Coming to Einstein, Spinoza explicitly identifies his God with Nature. Hence, it doesn't even seem to be a God at all. In fact, I would propose that if there is a God in Buddhism, it would be Spinoza’s God.


Yes, even “point to existence of God” is still an open discussion. You rightly put that “the atheists think they have reached a conclusion, but the theists think otherwise”. In my previous post, I mentioned a few renowned scientists who are atheist. Hence, I must disagree with you that Christianity is compatible with sciences' discovery. As you said, from the atheists’ point of view, Christianity is not compatible with sciences’ discovery.

Rahula said...

1. Yes, settled. “....without the thought that the other religion is inferior or our own is superior” in a way, resonates with Griffiths’ “To affirm the claims of one religion doesn’t require having studied and refuted the claims of all others.”

2. “That simply means all are false.” Yes, I would say so. I think the Buddha would agree with me. In fact, it fits with the Buddhist weltanschauung. In fact, in the Brahmajala Sutta (DN 1), the Buddha dismissed the claim of Brahma, “I am Brahma, the Great Brahma, the Conqueror, the Unconquered, the All-Seeing, the All-Powerful, the Lord, the Maker and Creator, Ruler, Appointer and Orderer, Father of All That Have Been and Shall Be. These beings were created by me.” (I have no intention to delve into details here)

By the way, what do you think about this proposition: The plurality of religious communities on the earth is part of God's divine plan.

The superiority of Ipoh Laksa to Penang Laksa for someone does mean the person who proclaimed the superiority of Penang Laksa to Ipoh Laksa is wrong. Both, Ipoh Laksa and Penang Laksa satisfied the hunger and the taste buds of these two person. Perhaps, all religions come from God.

I used to jokingly said that there could be no end to the Israel-Palestinian conflict – simply because it originated from God.

“O people, we created you from the same male and female, and rendered you distinct peoples and tribes, that you may recognize one another.” (Quran 49:13)

Rahula said...

A typo:

"The superiority of Ipoh Laksa to Penang Laksa for someone does NOT mean....."