Is Theravada "Realist"?

A discussion on all aspects of Theravāda Buddhism
danieLion
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Re: Is Theravada "Realist"?

Postby danieLion » Thu Sep 22, 2011 9:46 am

mikenz66 wrote:
danieLion wrote:See Scientific Realism and Antirealism.

Yes that's a good reference. I have a student who I co-supervised with a philosophy colleague who recently handed in a thesis examining Fine's NOA approach, among others. So when I see simplistic statements about how science has proved something about reality, or someone has proved something about science and reality I simply roll my eyes... :coffee:

:anjali:
Mike

Thanks. I got it from my phil. of science prof. in Y2K and keep coming back to it. I'm uncertain about NOA, though. Maybe I'd like it more if it was just NA? :lol:
DL :heart:

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Some Relevant Gombrich Excerpts

Postby danieLion » Thu Sep 22, 2011 10:38 am

Richard F. Gombrich Exceprts

From What the Buddha Thought
In many cases, the Buddha was not asking the same questions as his opponents, or indeed as the successors of his opponents in India down the centuries. He did not always follow the unspoken rules of what philosophy, or systematic thought, was supposed to be about. Naturally, this led to misunderstandings after his death, even well before Buddhism became implanted in countries beyond India. Another salient example may clarify this. The orthodox tradition, Vedic thought, was much concerned with ontological questions: what exists?

The Buddha said that this is a wrong question. But this was too much for his followers. One major school, the abhidharma, gave his teachings a realist interpretation; another, the Vijñãnavãda, an idealist interpretation; it is possible to derive both these interpretations from the early Canon, particularly if one highlights certain texts and ignores others. There are indeed also texts which, if taken in isolation, seem to be ambiguous on this matter.

The key terms in Buddhism--and probably in any system of ideas--do not refer to external objects.... They are abstractions.... Let me begin with the 'self'.... Throughout ancient times, in the cultures where it was known, the salient doctrine of Buddhism, its most distinctive feature, was held to be the doctrine of No Self or No Soul. Both these two-word English phrases translate S: atman and P: natta/anatta. When Buddhism was discovered by the West...it was being expounded by and to Christians, who were no less struck by Buddhism's denial of a supreme creator god; but for modern scholars too, the denial of a self or soul has been the most striking characteristic of Buddhism and of the teaching ascribe to the Buddha....

It will be easiest to grasp my argument if I come straight to the main point, and say baldly that all the fuss and misunderstanding can be avoided if one inserts the word 'unchanging', so that the two-word English phrases become 'no unchanging self' and 'no unchanging soul'....

[W]e are dealing with a [doctrinal] system [of the Buddha's anatta teaching] which is not merely coherent but interlocking. It is perfectly understandable, but to understand it correctly you have to know how the entire set of key terms is being used. [F]or the Buddha, 'the world' is the same as 'that which we normally experience'.

[T]o explain what is meant by 'normally'..., for the moment, suffice [it to] point out that the Buddha is not primarily concerned with what exists--in fact, he thinks that is a red herring--but with what we can experience, what can be present to consciousness. For his purposes, what exists and the contents of experience are the same. At this level, if we want a label, his doctrine looks like pragmatic empiricism....

The Buddha was influenced by the Upanasadic theory of 'being' on two levels. Firstly, he accepted the conceptualization of 'being' as the opposite of 'change' or 'becoming'. On a more abstract or philosophical level, however, he rejects the reification of 'being....' The Buddha does not see a single essence either in the world or in the living being....

Famously, the Buddha's approach to life's problems was pragmatic.... Today we see the world as in perpetual motion, and that reminds people of the Buddhist principle of impermanence. True, the Buddha saw our experiences as an ever-changing process, a stream of consciousness--the literal Pali equivalent of that expression does occur. But we are talking physics, whereas the Buddha was talking psychology....-- experience [as] a causally conditioned process....

[T]he three basic questions of early Indian Philosophy [are]: What exists? How do we know anything? What is it that continues from life to life...? The Buddha agreed with most modern philosophers in rejecting the first question as pointless or meaningless; he substituted for it: 'What do we experience ?; His answer was what we might also call his answer to the second question, an attempt to describe what experience is like. The answer lay not in objects but in processes. It was not an attempt to find the origin of consciousness, a quest which still baffles modern philosophy. The [third] question does not arise for western philosophers today, since they do not believe in rebirth. For the Buddha the answer was likewise to be found in a process: karma. The very word karma, if one goes back to its simple root, means doing rather than being, a process not a thing. The Buddha...singled out the process of ethical intention; and he made it the principle of continuity not just from on life to the next, but from one moment to the next throughout our lives....

[T]he Buddha reacted to Vedic ideas and practices concerning fire, and...this...may have led him to what is perhaps his most important philosophical idea, the substitution of non-random processes for object.... t is not only our faculties but their objects and operations that are said to be on fire.... In...the Buddha's First Sermon, as it has come down to us, [i]dukkha was defined as the five upadana-khanda, and that this compound noun is usually translated as something like 'the aggregates of grasping', which in normal English is meaningless. In fact, the term conveys the same message as the Fire Sermon, using the same metaphor....

The word upadana has both a concrete and an abstract meaning. In the abstract it means attachment, grasping; in this sense it is much used in Buddhist dogmatics. Concretely, it means that which fuels this process.... So when the context deals with fire it simply means fuel....

I...translate upadana-khanda as 'blazing masses of fuel', and consider it to be a coherent part of the same metaphor as the word nibbana....

Whether or not we agree with the Buddha in considering that consciousness must always be consciousness of something, there is no doubt that in separating ontology from epistemology he is taking a point of view with which we feel at home....

The Buddha sees consciousness as being like fire in that it is an appetitive process, which cannot exist without having something to feed on. Moreover, the analogy with fire can provide a model of how a process can be dynamic and seek out its objects without being guided by a seeker....

In life the five sets of processes khandha always operate together to create experience....

In sum..., the Buddha made the following uses of fire as a metaphor.

1. [F]ire can go out without having an agent to put it out, simply because the fuel is exhausted.
2. [F]ire cannot be separated from that which burns.... [T]here is no such thing as a fire without
a burning object, so there is no such thing as consciousness without an object of
consciousness. [T]he subjective and objective presuppose each other and all experience
requires both....
3. Most important of all...: [W]hat we can experience is only a process. This may be his most
important philosophical idea.
4. [L]ike fire, the processes which constitute experience are non-random.

5. The Buddha also ethicized Vedic thought.... Creating conditions in which the fires with which
we are all burning would go out was an enterprise at the same time ethical and
intellectual, for the fires were both emotional (passion and hatred) and intellectual (delusion,
stupidity). Egotism and belief in an unchanging ego were the fires' essential
fuel, so once they were got rid of, those fires would go out....

I certainly do not intend to claim that the Buddha anticipated all the main discoveries of modern psychology.... Nevertheless, the similarity between some of his ideas and the picture painted by modern cognitive psychology is certainly striking. Nowadays perception is regarded as an activity, a kind of doing. Moreover, 'perception is inherently selective' (FN 4: Ulrich Neisser, Cognition & Reality, 1976). Both of these propositions would have the Buddha's complete assent.

Modern psychology further holds that every action is an interaction with the world and affects the actor. The Buddha did not perhaps say exactly this about perception or cognition, but he certainly problematized the dividing line between actor--for him, the synergy of five sets of processes--and the environment.; we recall that in the first khanda, the rupa khanda, are included not only the senses but their objects.... This is as fundamental for the Buddha as it is for most of us; for were there no distinction between a person and the world, including other people, his entire soteriology would make no sense at all. We are the heirs of our own karma; my karma and yours cannot be the same. By the same token, if you achieve nirvana and I do not, it is I who continue to be reborn, not you. That these distinctions were blurred in Mahayana thought has misled many students of earlier Buddhism.

Yet in one way he made the fact that every act affects the actor the very cornerstone of his teaching. We are back to karma again. Every bad intention...makes you worse, every good intention makes you better.... [K]arma, morally relevant volition, is the dynamic that moves us through our lives..., and...provides the principle of continuity and coherence throughout those lives. In the context of that dynamic, karma is the same as sankhara, a term which refer both to the process of constructing (our lives seen in prospect) and the result of that process (our lives seen in retrospect)....

[T]he No Soul doctrine has led people to the diametrically wrong notion that the Buddha did not believe in moral responsibility or personal continuity, whereas in fact he had an even stronger theory of those things than any non-Buddhists accept today....

(pp. 2-3, 5, 7-9, 67, 73-74, 111, 113-114, 120, 122-124, 197-198. My bolds, underlines.)


From Theravada Buddhism
Authority, he said, lay in the Dhamma; even he was only authoritative in so far as he had realized that Truth....

By contrast [to Brahmins], the Buddha intended his teaching to be accessible to all. He was not a teacher to keep anything concealed in his fist--we would say, up his sleeve.... He rejected the use of Sanskrit and the brahmins style of chanting the scriptures, for that would have ritualized preaching, drawing attention away from content to form. His teaching was exoteric, and he did all he could to democratize access to it.

The Buddha's doctrine of kamma...gave the central role to individual conscience. Yet we must understand even this doctrine, radical innovation though it was, within its historical context.... In [the Kalama Sutta] the Buddha preaches that everyone is to make up his own mind about religious doctrine; one is not to take a teaching on trust but to test it on the touchstone of one's own experience. This is indeed a remarkable sermon. But a careful reading will show that the Buddha is confident, to say the least, that following his advice will lead his audience to accept his teaching. His appeal is that of the new man who finds himself at variance with accepted authority; it contains no implication that his own understanding of the truth might be either defective or valid only subjectively. To use the formulation of Steven Collins: the Buddha is not saying 'Make your own truth' but "Make truth your own' [Selfless Persons, Cambridge: 1988.].
(pp. 71-72)

DL :heart:

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Re: Is Theravada "Realist"?

Postby Nyana » Thu Sep 22, 2011 10:57 am

:goodpost:

It looks like Gombrich's new book contains some decent analysis.

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Re: Is Theravada "Realist"?

Postby acinteyyo » Thu Sep 22, 2011 11:09 am

I second that!
Pubbe cāhaṃ bhikkhave, etarahi ca dukkhañceva paññāpemi, dukkhassa ca nirodhaṃ. (M.22)
Api cāhaṃ, āvuso, imasmiṃyeva byāmamatte kaḷevare, sasaññimhi samanake lokañca paññāpemi lokasamudayañca lokanirodhañca lokanirodhagāminiñca paṭipadan. (AN4.45)

:anjali:

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Re: Is Theravada "Realist"?

Postby danieLion » Thu Sep 22, 2011 12:18 pm

:anjali:

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Re: Is Theravada "Realist"?

Postby santa100 » Thu Sep 22, 2011 4:08 pm

Thank you DanielLion for the detail description of Realism. I'd take a step back and do what typical engineers would do when tackling a problem: defining its scope. I'd suggest we go back to Daniel's list and redefine the scope of this thread, what kind of "realsim" are we talking about, else people will just go in different directions, describe the kind of realism according to their own background and education..

DanielLion wrote:
From the Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy, 2nd Ed.

ANALYTIC PHILOSOPHY: an umbrella term currently used to cover a divers assortment of philosophical techniques and tendencies.... Whatever...it is, [it] is manifestly not a school, doctrine, or body of accepted propositions.

ANTI-REALISM: is any view which rejects one or more of the three theses of metaphysical realism [below], though if (a) is rejected the rejection of (b) and (c) follows trivially (If it merely denies the existence of material things, then its traditional name is 'idealism').

DIRECT REALISM: the theory perceiving is epistemically direct, unmediated by conscious or unconccious inference. Direct realism is distinguished, on the one hand, from indirect, or representative realism, the view that perceptual awareness of material objects is mediated by by an awareness of sensory representations, and, on the other hand, from forms of phenomenonalism that identify material objects with states of mind... [see naive realism below].

INTERNAL REALISM denies irrealist claims founded on the past falsification of accepted theories. Internal realists are, however, skeptical of "metaphysical" claims of
"correspondence of true theories to the real world" or of any notion of truth that can be construed in radically non-epistemic terms....

METAPHYSICAL REALISM: the view that (a) there are real objects (usually the view is concerned with spatiotemporal objects), (b) they exist independently of our experience or knowledge of them, and (c) they have properties and enter into relations independently of the concepts with which we understand them or the language with which we describe them...[see also David A. Armstrong's work].

MODAL REALISM: David K. Lewis' [view that] other possible worlds and the objects in them are just as real as the actual world and its inhabitants.... [O]bjects exist in at most one possible world, and for which the necessity of identity fails. Properties are defined with the set of objects that have them in any possible world, and propositions as the set of worlds in which they are true.

MORAL REALISM: a metaethical view committed to the objectivity of ethics. It has (1) metaphysical, (2) semantic, and (3) epistemological components.

Metaphysical: the claim that there are moral facts and moral properties independent of people's beliefs and attitudes about what is right or wrong.

Semantic: Primarily cognitivist. Cognitivism holds that moral judgments should be constru3d as assertions about the moral properties of actions, persons, policies, and of he object of moral assessment, that moral predicates purport to refer to properties of such objects, that moral judgments...can be true or false, and that cognizers can have the cognitive attitude toward the propositions that moral judgments express.... Moral realism also holds that truth for moral judgments is non-epistemic....

Epistemological: to avoid skepticism moral realism claims that some moral beliefs are true, that are methods for justifying moral beliefs, and that moral knowledge is possible....

NAIVE REALISM: A form of perceptual realism [below] that shares with representative realism [below] a commitment to a world of independently existing objects.... It differs, however, in its of how we are related to...objects in ordinary perception. Direct realists deny that we are aware of of mental intermediaries (sens-data) when, as we ordinarily say, we see a tree or hear the telephone ring....

PERCEPTUAL REALISM: A causal theory of objects that holds that the perceptual object, what it is we see, taste, smell, or whatever, is that object that causes us to have this subjective experience.

PROPERTY/Ontological Status: roughly, an attribute, characteristic, feature, trait, or aspect....

Ontological Status:
Because properties are a kind of universal, each of the standard view on the ontological status of universals has been applied to properties as a special case. NOMINALISM: only particulars (and perhaps collections of particulars) exist; therefore, either properties do not exist or they are reduceable (following Carnap et al.) to collections of particulars (including perhaps particulars that are not actual but only possible). CONCEPTUALISM: properties exist but are dependent on the mind. REALISM: properties exist independently of the mind. Realism has two main versions. In rebus realism: a property exists only if it had instances [For example, the property red is a predicable of red objects; they are instances of it]. Ante Realism: a property can exist even if it has no instances....

REPRESENTATIVE REALISM: Representative realists concede that there IS a world fo mind-independent objects (trees, stars, people) that cause us to have experiences..., we nonetheless do not directly perceive these external objects. What we directly perceive are the effects these objects have on us--an internal image, idea, or impression, o more or less (depending on conditions ob observation) accurate representation of the external reality that helps produce it....

REDUCTION: The replacement of one expression by a second expression that differs from the firt in prima facie reference.... Logical positivists talked of the reduction of theoretical knowledge vocabulary to an observational vocabulary, first by explicit definitions and later by other devices.... In the philosophy of mathematics, LOGICISM claimed that all of mathematics could be reduced to logic.... In contrast, we take scientific theories to tell us unequivocally, that water is H2O and that temperature is mean transitional kinetic energy. Accounts of theory reduction in science attempt to analyze the circumstances in which a "reducing theory" appears to tell us the composition of objects or properties described by a "reduced theory."

SCIENTIFIC REALISM: the view that the subject matter of scientific research and scientific theories exists independently of our knowledge of it, and that the goal of science is the description and explanation of both observable and unobservable aspects of the world. Scientific realism is contrasted with logical empiricism and social constructivism.

(pp. 26, 237, 501, 562-563, 588, 655-567, 702, 751-752, 821)

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Re: Is Theravada "Realist"?

Postby daverupa » Thu Sep 22, 2011 4:32 pm

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy has an entry on Realism, of which I wish to highlight the following:

The question of the nature and plausibility of realism arises with respect to a large number of subject matters, including ethics, aesthetics, causation, modality, science, mathematics, semantics, and the everyday world of macroscopic material objects and their properties. Although it would be possible to accept (or reject) realism across the board, it is more common for philosophers to be selectively realist or non-realist about various topics: thus it would be perfectly possible to be a realist about the everyday world of macroscopic objects and their properties, but a non-realist about aesthetic and moral value. In addition, it is misleading to think that there is a straightforward and clear-cut choice between being a realist and a non-realist about a particular subject matter. It is rather the case that one can be more-or-less realist about a particular subject matter. Also, there are many different forms that realism and non-realism can take. The question of the nature and plausibility of realism is so controversial that no brief account of it will satisfy all those with a stake in the debates between realists and non-realists.


Therefore I declare the founding question of this thread to be overly broad, a lack of specificity that as yet hinders this discussion.
    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting oneself one protects others? By the pursuit, development, and cultivation of the four establishments of mindfulness. It is in such a way that by protecting oneself one protects others.

    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting others one protects oneself? By patience, harmlessness, goodwill, and sympathy. It is in such a way that by protecting others one protects oneself.
- Sedaka Sutta [SN 47.19]

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Re: Is Theravada "Realist"?

Postby alan » Fri Sep 23, 2011 5:09 am

Or, you could take the middle path. From ignorance comes fabrications. I think there is something in the suttas about that. I saw it a few times.

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Re: Is Theravada "Realist"?

Postby Akuma » Fri Sep 23, 2011 5:30 am

Sylvester wrote:All this talk about the so-called "holes" in Early Buddhism leads me to wonder if the "holes" are subjective to the thinker.
"Subjective" insofar as the scholar pre-occupied with trying to account for effects that seem to be unmediated by something already goes beyond, by assuming as a zeroth premise that the Buddha was interested in that "something".


In which case you would - if asked - have to admit that either the Buddha or school xyz didnt answer a question or wasnt interested in a certain subject. And this was exactly what I'm saying, namely that there might not be an exact answer to the question of Realism or to other things - which I called holes - and therefore to be truthful to the school you have to just admit that.

You don't see theoretical physicists grieving like Sarvastivadins or Yogacarins in an attempt to find a mediator for the peculiar effects of Quantum Entanglement. If it works mathematically and is demonstrated empirically, why assume that a mediator is required?
Even if a mediator is required, why assume that the mediator is limited by one's imagination and limited familiarity with the laws of the universe?


Thats a rather distorted remark. First of all physicists, when they encounter a problem, usually do start to investigate where it comes from and if they encounter an unknown force they try to figure out what it is. The ominous black matter might be a good example for this. If physicists would just accept holes in their theories then physics would probably be long dead already and we might not have things like the LHC or soon the Holometer, maybe not even computers or the internet or lightbulbs.
But what is especially striking is that you actually compare science and religion. Religion has not given us anything we didnt have before, it didnt make us able to do things we couldnt do without it. And especially - none of the basic theses of Buddhism have been scientifically proven so the only thing they could do was logically derive stuff - which was what all the schools did; including Theravada which also did its share to fill the gaps and - in their view - construct the most logical system. The Kathavatthu shows this in the most obvious way.

Likewise, Sarvastivadins and Yogacarins flopping around in pre-industrialised India are limited by their agrarian imagination and cosmology. Why must we accept their limited imagination as posing the right question or assuming the right premises that a mediator which fits their world-view is needed for these "spooky action at a distance/temporal seperation"?


I dont know what you have against the Sarvastivadins or Yogacarins - they are irrelevant to this thread; I only gave some of their critics as examples and hoped Tilt would nvestigate them by themselves instead of using them as a diversion tactic.
Retro asked for the Theravadin view so the Theravadin view should be given; doesnt matter if its 2011 and Theravada is old and dusty now. And if there is no Theravadin answer for this question then this should just be accepted.

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Re: Is Theravada "Realist"?

Postby danieLion » Fri Sep 23, 2011 2:21 pm

santa100 wrote:Thank you DanielLion for the detail description of Realism. I'd take a step back and do what typical engineers would do when tackling a problem: defining its scope. I'd suggest we go back to Daniel's list and redefine the scope of this thread, what kind of "realsim" are we talking about, else people will just go in different directions, describe the kind of realism according to their own background and education...

Thanks santa100. It was provided in that spirit.

daverupa wrote:The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy has an entry on Realism, of which I wish to highlight the following:

The question of the nature and plausibility of realism arises with respect to a large number of subject matters, including ethics, aesthetics, causation, modality, science, mathematics, semantics, and the everyday world of macroscopic material objects and their properties. Although it would be possible to accept (or reject) realism across the board, it is more common for philosophers to be selectively realist or non-realist about various topics: thus it would be perfectly possible to be a realist about the everyday world of macroscopic objects and their properties, but a non-realist about aesthetic and moral value. In addition, it is misleading to think that there is a straightforward and clear-cut choice between being a realist and a non-realist about a particular subject matter. It is rather the case that one can be more-or-less realist about a particular subject matter. Also, there are many different forms that realism and non-realism can take. The question of the nature and plausibility of realism is so controversial that no brief account of it will satisfy all those with a stake in the debates between realists and non-realists.


Therefore I declare the founding question of this thread to be overly broad, a lack of specificity that as yet hinders this discussion.

Hi daverupa,
I agree that the way Retro OP'd it and chownah made and effort to refine the OP were too vague, but the references I've provided were done with the aim of attacking the "overly broad" issue. I think it is possible (and fun) to "plug" the Buddha & all Theravada's parts into the Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy (or any comparable source) of definitions. E.g., IMO, the Buddha, by CDP definition was definitely a moral realist and the parts of the Gombrich citation on kamma demonstrate how and why. All the divisions of Theravada I'm aware of would fit into this definition too. The Suttas seem pretty clear to me on the ethical points too.
DL :heart:

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Re: Is Theravada "Realist"?

Postby danieLion » Fri Sep 23, 2011 2:47 pm

daverupa wrote:The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy has an entry on Realism, of which I wish to highlight the following:

...it is...common for philosophers to be selectively realist or non-realist about various topics: thus it would be perfectly possible to be a realist about the everyday world of macroscopic objects and their properties, but a non-realist about aesthetic and moral value....


In the Buddha's case (and probably most of Theravada's) ethics are REAL. But they are real not based on a REALIST view of objects or their properties. They are based on an non-formalized but nonetheless entailed epistemology where, as Gomrich puts it, "things" are substituted for processes. One way of putting it is that for the Buddha, and by implication (not to mention textual and historical evidence) Theravada, there is a necessary connection between yathabhutadassana and the silakkhanda (sammasankappa, sammavaca, sammakammanta).
DL :heart:

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Re: Is Theravada "Realist"?

Postby daverupa » Fri Sep 23, 2011 2:54 pm

danieLion wrote:In the Buddha's case (and probably most of Theravada's) ethics are REAL. But they are real not based on a REALIST view of objects or their properties. They are based on an non-formalized but nonetheless entailed epistemology where, as Gomrich puts it, "things" are substituted for processes. One way of putting it is that for the Buddha, and by implication (not to mention textual and historical evidence) Theravada, there is a necessary connection between yathabhutadassana and the silakkhanda (sammasankappa, sammavaca, sammakammanta).
DL :heart:


You might enjoy comparing Buddhist ethics to moral particularism as it pertains to the way the Buddha chose to produce and develop the Vinaya (through a highly contextualized methodology rather than via a list of moral principles - he even told Sariputta that he refused to lay out rules prior to their contextual necessity).

:focus:
    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting oneself one protects others? By the pursuit, development, and cultivation of the four establishments of mindfulness. It is in such a way that by protecting oneself one protects others.

    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting others one protects oneself? By patience, harmlessness, goodwill, and sympathy. It is in such a way that by protecting others one protects oneself.
- Sedaka Sutta [SN 47.19]

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Re: Is Theravada "Realist"?

Postby kirk5a » Fri Sep 23, 2011 2:56 pm

danieLion wrote:I think it is possible (and fun) to "plug" the Buddha & all Theravada's parts into the Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy (or any comparable source) of definitions.

Buddha (awake) begins where that dictionary ends.
"When one thing is practiced & pursued, ignorance is abandoned, clear knowing arises, the conceit 'I am' is abandoned, latent tendencies are uprooted, fetters are abandoned. Which one thing? Mindfulness immersed in the body." -AN 1.230

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Re: Is Theravada "Realist"?

Postby danieLion » Fri Sep 23, 2011 4:06 pm

kirk5a wrote:
danieLion wrote:I think it is possible (and fun) to "plug" the Buddha & all Theravada's parts into the Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy (or any comparable source) of definitions.

Buddha (awake) begins where that dictionary ends.

Which dictionary? :ugeek:

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Re: Is Theravada "Realist"?

Postby danieLion » Fri Sep 23, 2011 4:09 pm

daverupa wrote:How might those engaged in this thread thus far explain the term yathābhūtadassana, "seeing things as they really are"?

viewtopic.php?f=23&t=9782#p150465

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Re: Is Theravada "Realist"?

Postby Ron-The-Elder » Sat Sep 24, 2011 6:47 pm

Is Theravada "Realist"?
by retrofuturist » Thu Sep 08, 2011 5:46 am

Greetings,

Friends, is Theravada Realist? If so, in what form?

To start with, here's a definition from our friends at Wikipedia...

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Realism
Realism, Realist or Realistic are terms that describe any manifestation of philosophical realism, the belief that reality exists independently of observers, whether in philosophy itself or in the applied arts and sciences. In this broad sense it is frequently contrasted with Idealism.


Hi, Retro.

My concerns are with the way your question was formulated:

Question: Is Theravada Realist?

reference: http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/auth ... avada.html

As you well know we deal with two "realities" in Buddhist study and practice. The first is mundane, our day to day reality in samsara. The second is absolute, the true nature of reality once the veil of delusion and deceit has been lifted through enlightenment.

From a mundane view we as practitioners must first learn to discern beneficial from nonbeneficial means of coping with the mundane world in which we live. Each of our thoughts, words, and deeds are subject to kamma and generate kamma vipakha. This is very real, and Buddha gave us the means with which to deal with such realities.

First he gave us The Four Noble Truths which define for us the true nature of life as we experience it in samsaric existence. Second and thirdly he gave us a means to identify the underlying causes of the dukkha which results from that existence and revealed that it could be negated and neutralized with the appropriate education, training and application of those means. Last, he gave us an exact prescription by which to deal with any aspect of samsaric existence.

He also gave us a means to evaluate and test the quality and efficacy of our choices in light of their karmic consequences, and a means by which we can readily evaluate the quality of our intentional actions by assessing the beneficiality or harm caused as a result.

Buddha revealed to us the (real) underlying cause and dependence of all of existence, and pointed out that any reliance upon any of it, on any mental or physical level or aspect hoping for security and satisfaction would lead only to more dukkha.

He also gave us the means to transcend our mundane reality, this samsaric world full of distortions and perversions of things as they actually are, across all planes of samsaric existence from hell realms to the highest Jhanas, and provided the correct and complete instructions of transcendence (The Noble Eight Fold Path). He lastly provided the example and the instructions of the practices by which our skills leading to transcendence could be honed to perfection to the point that we can learn to become unaffected by any of Mara's samsaric diversions of our necessary and unwavering focus upon the unchanging and dependable reality of nibbana, release and unbinding, a state exempt and unaffected by all of pitfalls of mundane reality: kamma, dependent origination, impermanence, and all of their samsaric effects and resultants, including the unending cycle of death, aging, disease and rebirth.

But, you already knew that. :tongue:
What Makes an Elder? :
A head of gray hairs doesn't mean one's an elder. Advanced in years, one's called an old fool.
But one in whom there is truth, restraint, rectitude, gentleness,self-control, he's called an elder, his impurities disgorged, enlightened.
-Dhammpada, 19, translated by Thanissaro Bhikkhu.

danieLion
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Re: Is Theravada "Realist"?

Postby danieLion » Sat Sep 24, 2011 10:08 pm

Ron-The-Elder wrote:
Is Theravada "Realist"?
by retrofuturist » Thu Sep 08, 2011 5:46 am

...is Theravada Realist? If so, in what form?

To start with, here's a definition from our friends at Wikipedia...

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Realism
Realism, Realist or Realistic are terms that describe any manifestation of philosophical realism, the belief that reality exists independently of observers, whether in philosophy itself or in the applied arts and sciences. In this broad sense it is frequently contrasted with Idealism.


Hi, Retro.

My concerns are with the way your question was formulated:

Question: Is Theravada Realist?

As you well know we deal with two "realities" in Buddhist study and practice. The first is mundane. The second is absolute.

From a mundane view we as practitioners must first learn to discern beneficial from nonbeneficial means of coping with the mundane world in which we live. Each of our thoughts, words, and deeds are subject to kamma and generate kamma vipakha. This is very real, and Buddha gave...

Hi Ron, Retro, et al.
From Thanissaro Bhikkhu's Skill In Questions, Ch. 3, "Categorical Answers:
Direct knowledge of unbinding is not something that one person can give to another even in an approximate form, not even through language or logic. This is a point the Buddha repeatedly makes, for in his eyes language is too slippery, and logic too unreliable, to form an adequate guide to what is true.... Because his approach was utilitarian and pragmatic, he neither affirmed nor denied the existence of essences. They were simply irrelevant to his program. Thus the later Buddhist scholars who tried to use his teachings to affirm or deny the existence of such essences were applying inappropriate attention to his instructions....

In his definition of right view...he describes a stage...where, after one has watched the arising and passing away of the world...one drops all reference to these factors, along with ideas of 'existence' and 'non-existence'.... 'Whatever rises and passes away' would cover no only the first noble truth, but the second and fourth as well. Thus, at this advanced stage of right view, concepts of 'four noble truths' get dropped along with 'aggregates.' [They] function as concepts useful at a certain point..., but are then dropped as one comes closer to awakening. They are not meant to be viewed as ultimate realities.... Instead of being ultimate truths, they are instrumental truths: correct opinions that serve to function when they are appropriate, to be abandoned when unbinding is touched.... Knowledge is required to achieve [direct] knowing, and knowledge follows on it..., but the knowing and the knowledge are two different things. Knowing is the goal, knowledge, merely instrumental.... [H]owever, the Buddha...also realized that what worked for him didn't work only for him. 'What works' is not simply a matter of personal preference. Even though the truths of right view are instrumental rather than ultimate, they are still categorical: true for all.

So even though the Buddha could not provide his listeners with direct knowledge of unbinding, he could provide them with reliable guidance on how to get there. And given the nature of his guidance--as instrumental but categorical truths--the question is not how a comprehensive view of reality can be constructed from his categorical statements, or how his statements can be made to fit one's own preferences or preconceived notions, but how to put aside one's preferences and apply those categorical statements in pursuit of the path. Because the path has many stages, with many levels of right view, one of the functions of appropriate attention after listening to the Buddha's words is to view his categorical answers as an array of tools, and to ask oneself which tool is suitable for one's practice at any given moment.
Pp. 85-91, my italics, bolds.

DL :heart:
Last edited by danieLion on Sun Sep 25, 2011 6:19 am, edited 1 time in total.

danieLion
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Re: Is Theravada "Realist"?

Postby danieLion » Sun Sep 25, 2011 2:19 am

daverupa wrote:
danieLion wrote:In the Buddha's case (and probably most of Theravada's) ethics are REAL. But they are real not based on a REALIST view of objects or their properties. They are based on an non-formalized but nonetheless entailed epistemology where, as Gomrich puts it, "things" are substituted for processes. One way of putting it is that for the Buddha, and by implication (not to mention textual and historical evidence) Theravada, there is a necessary connection between yathabhutadassana and the silakkhanda (sammasankappa, sammavaca, sammakammanta).
DL :heart:


You might enjoy comparing Buddhist ethics to moral particularism as it pertains to the way the Buddha chose to produce and develop the Vinaya (through a highly contextualized methodology rather than via a list of moral principles - he even told Sariputta that he refused to lay out rules prior to their contextual necessity).

:focus:

I am precisely on topic.

Your quote is an example of the Buddha doing what Gombrich calls "substituting 'things' for processes."

The Vinaya is not my referent. I was thinking more along the lines of kamma and the precepts in the Suttas. For instance, when the Buddha teaches his son about speaking truthfully.

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Re: Is Theravada "Realist"?

Postby chownah » Sun Sep 25, 2011 2:35 am

I'm wondering if the Buddha knew if his teachings were realist or not......
chownah

danieLion
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Re: Is Theravada "Realist"?

Postby danieLion » Sun Sep 25, 2011 6:15 am

The Theravada Schools

The Sautrantika school holds that while sensory experience justifies belief in the existence of mind-independent objects, the justification it provides requires us to infer from our sensory experience physical objects that we do not directly experience; it embraces representative realism. Thus, while our seeming to experience mind-independent objects in no illusion, our knowledge that it is not illusory rests as much on inference as on perceptions. The explanation of the fact that we cannot perceive as we wish--that we see and taste but rice and water though we would prefer meat and wine--is that what we see depends on what there is to be represented and what the conditions are under which we do our perceiving.

The Vaibhasika (followers of the Vaibasha commentary) school defend direct realism, contending that if sensory perception does not justify us in claiming actually to sense objects there is no way in which we can infer their existence. If what we directly experience are alleged representations or copies of objects copies, we have no reason to think that the copies are copies. We do not determine the content of our perception because it typically is determined for us by the objects that we see. The very distinctions between dreams and waking perceptions, or veridical perceptions and illusions, to which idealists appeal, depend for their appropriateness to the idealist's purpose on our being able to tell that some perceptual experiences are reliable and some are not; but then the idealist cannot successfully use them.

For both...schools, there is no need to correct belief in physical objects, or in minds, beyond our viewing both mind and objects as collections of (different sorts of) momentary states (Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy, pp. 105-106).


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