Buddhism with no supernatural elements

A discussion on all aspects of Theravāda Buddhism
tebet_guy
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Buddhism with no supernatural elements

Post by tebet_guy » Fri Jan 16, 2015 8:10 am

Would it be accepted by the Theravada community if someone were to articulate an interpretation of Buddhism that had non-metaphysical/non-supernatural interpretations for all aspects of Buddhism? Meaning a form of Buddhism with zero dogma, zero belief, except for that which can be shown and proven.
Therefore, there would have to be an interpretation of Karma that did not allow for past lives or reincarnation since this ultimately is unprovable.

Boddhisatvas, Hungry Ghosts, etc. would be interpreted as symbolic, states of mind, and so on.

There would be no cosmology, i.e. other realms, other dimensions etc. since these cannot be proven.

I understand that there is a tendency in Western Buddhism to downplay the supernatural side.
How would such an approach be dealt with in Theravada Buddhism? Would you be accepted? or censured?

Thanks for your answers and this is really a great forum. A great resource of information and friendly guidance!

Hopefully none will take offense from this question; it is purely hypothetical.

Metta to all

Feathers
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Re: Buddhism with no supernatural elements

Post by Feathers » Fri Jan 16, 2015 8:14 am

Bit of a broad question - the Theravada community seems to cover quite a range of people!

Are you thinking of something like Stephen Batchelor's approach?
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tebet_guy
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Re: Buddhism with no supernatural elements

Post by tebet_guy » Fri Jan 16, 2015 8:28 am

Yes, i've seen this website before, but it was not what i had in mind.

What if i contended that Karma referred to something non-metaphysical, such as the tendency of the mind to constantly go from thought to thought. Even as we try to make it still it keeps giving rise to new thoughts independent of our will. The end of karma would thus be the end of swirling thoughts.

Would this be a radical interpretation?

SarathW
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Re: Buddhism with no supernatural elements

Post by SarathW » Fri Jan 16, 2015 8:48 am

In regard to thoughts there are three type of thoughts.
Kamma citta, Vipaka Citta and Kiriya Citta.
Thought of an Arahants describe as Kiriya (neutral thoughts)
Vipaka means resultants. (results of Kamma)
:)
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dhammacoustic
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Re: Buddhism with no supernatural elements

Post by dhammacoustic » Fri Jan 16, 2015 9:05 am

If "a buddhism with no supernatural elements" helps you while you're walking the path towards the complete cessation of clinging, then it's probably ok.

Though, there are still reasons why certain doctrines -such as kamma- were taught by the Buddha.
Uppādā vā tathagātanaṃ anuppādā vā tathagātanaṃ, ṭhitāva sā dhātu dhammaṭṭhitatā dhammaniyāmatā idappaccayatā. Taṃ tathagāto abhisam­buj­jhati abhisameti. Abhisam­bujjhitvā abhisametvā ācikkhati deseti paññāpeti paṭṭhapeti vivarati vibhajati uttānīkaroti. ‘Passathā’ti cāha; ‘avijjāpaccayā, bhikkhave, saṅkhārā’. Iti kho, bhikkhave, yā tatra tathatā avitathatā anaññathatā idappaccayatā-ayaṃ vuccati, bhikkhave, paṭiccasamup­pādo.
:heart: namō tassa bhagavatō, arahatō, sammā sambuddhassā

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Re: Buddhism with no supernatural elements

Post by Dinsdale » Fri Jan 16, 2015 9:27 am

tebet_guy wrote: I understand that there is a tendency in Western Buddhism to downplay the supernatural side.
This site might be of interest: http://secularbuddhism.org/" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

tebet_guy
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Re: Buddhism with no supernatural elements

Post by tebet_guy » Fri Jan 16, 2015 10:33 am

Thanks for your replies, one and all.

I will peruse the website on secular Buddhism; i have not seen it before.

However, secular Buddhism seems to be somehow incomplete. That's not the direction i was heading actually, though my initial post may have been misleading.

If poetry is what is left out of a translation, and theater is that which cannot be captured in a film, then secular Buddhism seems at first glance to be Buddhism without the Buddha. If Buddhism is just a benevolent philosophy, it loses its full meaning. But I will look into it more deeply before forming an opinion.

For some reason it is hard to do things on our own. We need a community. Maybe dogma is a type of community that we all need, like a type of bridge.

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Re: Buddhism with no supernatural elements

Post by befriend » Fri Jan 16, 2015 11:31 am

I don't think theravadan monastics or dhamma teachers would ever embrace a Buddhism without the unseen elements. in my opinion I think the underlying problem is with skepticism and close mindedness towards the unseen. its pretty disrespectful towards the Buddha to think, well ill just take this religion and make some adjustments. if you don't resonate with the teachings of heaven and hell then don't focus on them so much but don't try to make believe that they aren't part of the dhamma vinaya, or be so egoic and propogate your own home made Buddhism.
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Re: Buddhism with no supernatural elements

Post by Azramin » Fri Jan 16, 2015 12:31 pm

A very topical and relevant question in my view that I'm interested in seeing some answers to.

In some regards I feel as though I may have raised the hackles of some traditionalists elsewhere because unlike them, I haven't come to examine Buddhism out of belief, tradition or culture.
It has come into my awareness via many years of careful study and examination of neuroscience, psychology, metaphysics, religion and spirituality. I'm somewhat unapologetic for that.

Initially I felt a little challenged even though I remained outwardly calm and as respectively humble as possible by not further provoking the agitation of those who seemed to me a little affronted by the assumptions they'd made about me.

I found the following extremely reassuring and encouraging.
http://budsas.org/ebud/ebdha030.htm wrote: The Buddha warned strongly against blind faith and encouraged the way of truthful inquiry. In one of His best known sermons, the Kalama Sutta, the Buddha pointed out the danger in fashioning one's beliefs merely on the following grounds: on hearsay, on tradition, because many others say it is so, on the authority of ancient scriptures, on the word of a supernatural being, or out of trust in one's teachers, elders, or priests. Instead one maintains an open mind and thoroughly investigates one's own experience of life. When one sees for oneself that a particular view agrees with both experience and reason, and leads to the happiness of one and all, then one should accept that view and live up to it!
This principle, of course, applies to the Buddha's own Teachings.
In my view this is as it should be and the very manner in which I have spent the vast majority of my adult life carefully examining the nature of things.

In my own situation there is much to be meditated upon. Rebirth is one example. Having focused on this in particular more recently, the analogy of a burning candle makes immense sense. The supernatural aspects of the teaching at this point seem somewhat more speculative and I would cherish some concrete insights into it.

As I have perhaps stated here or elsewhere, the power of the mind is immense. Some of its more integrate workings are only just beginning to be understood.

On the one hand it would be apparent that Buddha was well aware of this. I think he was very mindful of how convincing perception can be versus actuality.

It's on this basis I'm extremely curious about the more mystic aspects of his teachings. That is references to other realms, entities etc.

I feel there are two aspects to this. The first is one's predisposition to beliefs. IE: It is well established within modern psychology and neuroscience that if somebody is predisposed to a concept or idea, when they encounter something inexplicable, their mind will latch onto something familiar to explain it. One example are those convinced of UFO sightings. Those people absolutely believe what they think they've experienced. I'm not implied this is the case with Buddha. I'm merely illustrating how deceptive the mind can be. How strongly predisposition to an idea can influence your perception and understanding of some things.

With regard to the second aspect; Within quite deep meditative states, I've personally experienced things that can't be readily or perhaps even rationally explained within terms of this present reality as we perceive it.

Within such states has been a vivid sensation of oneness with the universe for lack of better description. I've experienced a sense of momentarily perceiving everything within the universe and a sensation of infinity. It was wondrous, disorientating and somewhat unbalancing at the time. Not unpleasant nor intimidating or frightening.

It was an experience that if I attempted to explain in any great detail would sound more fanciful by the minute.

There are other times and experiences in my life that I've had vivid moments where the present experience, up to a few minutes in length, is the recall of a dream some years before. So much so that at the time of the original dream it struck me as odd that there were particular people I absolutely didn't know. Then in the moment of recall, everything would fit together and make sense. I would have an "ah ha" moment thinking, "oh now I understand the dream" as if the two moments were connected one to the other with no intervening time between. Usually a handful of years.

Any explanation of these experiences is irrelevant as they have no substantial relevance in that they were mere experiences. I don't attribute any special significance to them other than the fact they were outside of my ordinary mundane experience. What they do illustrate to me at the very least is that you can't absolutely dismiss what you don't understand due to lack of first hand experience.

It's on this basis that I'm not completely closed to the idea that even though I don't yet have tangible experience or evidence of the supernatural, nor am I completely devoid of any point of reference to contemplate it. In my youth I was deeply spiritual and "attuned" let's say.

I apologise to those who dislike long posts.
Truth doesn't require belief in order to be true. Only untruth relies on faith to survive.

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Re: Buddhism with no supernatural elements

Post by Dinsdale » Fri Jan 16, 2015 1:56 pm

tebet_guy wrote: For some reason it is hard to do things on our own. We need a community. Maybe dogma is a type of community that we all need, like a type of bridge.
Buddhism is a very broad church, some schools emphasise the "supernatural" elements more than others.

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Bhikkhu Pesala
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Re: Buddhism with no supernatural elements

Post by Bhikkhu Pesala » Fri Jan 16, 2015 7:00 pm

There's nothing supernatural in Buddhism. Everything obeys the laws of nature. There's plenty of myths, of course, and it's hard to separate the wood from the trees, plus there's an awful lot of trees in the forest.

Psychic phenomena are definitely part of the Buddha's teaching — recollection of previous lives, levitation, mind-reading, etc., are supernormal, not supernatural. In Pāli they are called Uttarimanussa Dhamma, which freely translated means "Phenomena known by exceptional human beings."

See the Mahāsihanāda Sutta for a full description of the Buddha's special powers.

For ordinary Buddhists, these are topics of endless discussion that are not relevant for our daily practice. The most important thing for us to focus on is the development of morality, concentration, and insight. The best kind of "miracle" is The Miracle of Instruction in the Buddha's discourse to Kevatta.
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Azramin
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Re: Buddhism with no supernatural elements

Post by Azramin » Fri Jan 16, 2015 8:33 pm

Comment
Bhikkhu Pesala wrote: For ordinary Buddhists, these are topics of endless discussion that are not relevant for our daily practice.
Sage advise and good references. I appreciate the notion that having been shot through with an arrow there is little value examining the arrow to see where it came from, how it is made up etc. Better to have the arrow removed then contemplate those things free of a distressed and life threatening state with clarity of mind.
I understand the sense in that.
Truth doesn't require belief in order to be true. Only untruth relies on faith to survive.

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Re: Buddhism with no supernatural elements

Post by paul » Sat Jan 17, 2015 12:14 am

Belief in kamma is the first belief that defines whether a being is a Buddhist or not: if one doesn't believe in kamma then one's not a Buddhist and has wrong view. There are several stages of belief of the worldling:

puthujjana

lit.: 'one of the many folk', 'worldling', ordinary man, is any layman or monk who is still possessed of all the 10 fetters (samyojana, q.v.) binding to the round of rebirths, and therefore has not yet reached any of the 4 stages of holiness (s. ariya-puggala).

"Whoso is neither freed from the 3 fetters (personality-belief, sceptical doubt, attachment to mere rule and ritual), nor is on the way to lose these 3 things, such a one is called a worlding" (Pug. 9).

According to Com. to M.9, a 'worlding' may be

(1) an outsider (a non-Buddhist) who, if he believed in moral causation (kamma), may be said to have right view to that extent; but he has not the 'knowledge conforming to the Truths' (saccānulomika-ñāna), as has

(2) the 'worldling inside the Buddha's Dispensation' (sāsanika).
A worlding who professes Buddhism, may be either
a 'blind worldling' (andha-p.) who has neither knowledge of, nor interest in the fundamental teaching (the Truths, groups, etc.);

or he is a 'noble worldling' (kalyāna-p.), who has such knowledge and earnestly strives to understand and practise the Teaching. -
See Atthasālini Tr. II, 451 (tr. by 'average man'); Com. to M.1, D.1.

Of the 10 fetters tying beings to the wheel of existence, the aspirant is concerned with overcoming the first three: personality-belief, sceptical doubt and adherence to rites and rituals. Doubt about the teaching is de-nourished through asking questions about the dhamma, directing wise attention to good and evil and other contrasting states, investigation and discursive thinking.
Last edited by paul on Sat Jan 17, 2015 3:48 am, edited 2 times in total.

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Mkoll
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Re: Buddhism with no supernatural elements

Post by Mkoll » Sat Jan 17, 2015 3:07 am

befriend wrote:I don't think theravadan monastics or dhamma teachers would ever embrace a Buddhism without the unseen elements. in my opinion I think the underlying problem is with skepticism and close mindedness towards the unseen. its pretty disrespectful towards the Buddha to think, well ill just take this religion and make some adjustments. if you don't resonate with the teachings of heaven and hell then don't focus on them so much but don't try to make believe that they aren't part of the dhamma vinaya, or be so egoic and propogate your own home made Buddhism.
:clap:
Namo tassa bhagavato arahato samma sambuddhassa
Namo tassa bhagavato arahato samma sambuddhassa
Namo tassa bhagavato arahato samma sambuddhassa

tebet_guy
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Re: Buddhism with no supernatural elements

Post by tebet_guy » Sat Jan 17, 2015 4:35 am

@spinyNorman
That is heartening. But I guess what I am really asking is how much latitude does one have? If you are a genuine searcher for the truth and wish to question all dogmatic utterances, would it be acceptable? What if I didn’t believe in past lives: that doesn’t mean I don’t believe in karma.
Let’s say I interpret it as the endless motion of the mind. New thoughts arise, then die, then new ones are born, no matter how hard I try to reign in my mind.
The cycle keeps going independent of my will. Would I face derision and censure for holding such a position? Or is it a valid position in Theravada Buddhism.

@Bhikku Pesala
This is very useful, thank you. I copied the Sutta and am reading it now, thank you.
I really appreciated your response and the time you took to answer me.


@paul
I think you misunderstood, my friend. I am not talking about doubting kamma. I am asking if one has the latitude to interpret concepts, for instance karma, as I have explained to Norman above.

@azramin
Thank you very much for that quote; I have read many different versions of it and it is what draws many people to Buddhism: the fact that it is an INTUITIVE religion, unlike other religions which are purely based on FAITH. They must be laboriously learnt by rote and assimilated as a LAW. What draws many of us Free Thinkers to Buddhism ---and I believe you are a Free Thinker such as myself--- is the belief that it is the former type of religion and not the latter (though some of the comments on this forum make me wonder how dogmatic it is).

I like to think that Buddhism is like mathematics: mathematics intrigued thinkers such as the Pathagoreans because it seems to be revealed intuitively and exist in another realm. They thought it exists independently because it seems to be pre-existent… it is there to be discovered…

On the other hand, science changes: our scientific paradigm is constantly shifting, whereas the math the ancient Greeks learnt is a set of undisputed truths that are valid today and still taught today.

I like to think Buddhism is that way. And if that is the case, then we should be able to question it, test the formulas, etc. etc. because their validity is timeless and can be discovered by the individual. Meaning that it is the OPPOSITE of dogma.

However, a lot of cultural beliefs have adhered themselves onto the practice of Buddhism over the years and a lot of dogma has crept in: it is sometimes difficult to differentiate what the Buddha exactly said and what was added on hundreds of years later by overzealous followers.

I think therefore that it is necessary to follow the spirit illustrated in the quote you put up. In thanks, I offer my own quote to you:

“There is no need for temples: no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness.”
Dalai Lama

tebet_guy
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Re: Buddhism with no supernatural elements

Post by tebet_guy » Sat Jan 17, 2015 4:37 am

Mkoll wrote:
befriend wrote:I don't think theravadan monastics or dhamma teachers would ever embrace a Buddhism without the unseen elements. in my opinion I think the underlying problem is with skepticism and close mindedness towards the unseen. its pretty disrespectful towards the Buddha to think, well ill just take this religion and make some adjustments. if you don't resonate with the teachings of heaven and hell then don't focus on them so much but don't try to make believe that they aren't part of the dhamma vinaya, or be so egoic and propogate your own home made Buddhism.
:clap:

Thank you for your comments. They are very revealing.

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Re: Buddhism with no supernatural elements

Post by paul » Sat Jan 17, 2015 5:09 am

"[quote]What if I didn’t believe in past lives: that doesn’t mean I don’t believe in karma."

Rebirth is a manifestation of kamma.

Extract from "Does Rebirth Make Sense?", Bikkhu bodhi:
"It is mental activity, in the form of volition, that constitutes kamma, and it is our stock of kamma that steers the stream of consciousness from the past life into a new body. Thus the Buddha says: "This body, O monks, is old kamma, to be seen as generated and fashioned by volition, as something to be felt" (SN XI.37). It is not only the body, as a composite whole, that is the product of past kamma, but the sense faculties too (see SN XXV.146). The eye, ear, nose, tongue, body-sense, and mind-base are also fashioned by our past kamma, and thus kamma to some degree shapes and influences all our sensory experience. Since kamma is ultimately explained as volition (cetana), this means that the particular body with which we are endowed, with all its distinguishing features and faculties of sense, is rooted in our volitional activities in earlier lives. Precisely how past volition can influence the development of the zygote lies beyond the range of scientific explanation, but if the Buddha's words are to be trusted such an influence must be real."

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/auth ... ay_46.html" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

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Aloka
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Re: Buddhism with no supernatural elements

Post by Aloka » Sat Jan 17, 2015 6:01 am

.

Interestingly, its only on the internet that I've seen people making judgements and giving lengthy definitions and opinions about whether others are "a Buddhist" or not. In the face-to face world of Buddhist centres and monasteries, I've not actually heard teachers or other lay practitioners talking in that way.

I think Its worth noting that in AN 8.26 the Buddha said:
"Jivaka, when one has gone to the Buddha for refuge, has gone to the Dhamma for refuge, and has gone to the Sangha for refuge, then to that extent is one a lay follower."

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html
Hope everyone has a peaceful day :anjali:

tebet_guy
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Re: Buddhism with no supernatural elements

Post by tebet_guy » Sat Jan 17, 2015 7:03 am

Aloka. This is good news. Good to read your post.

Its only on the internet where people cut you down with condescending remarks then finish their post with 'metta' or 'peace'. I'm sure you have experienced this too. So it is good to read a genuinely positive post, such as the one from yourself.

I live in indonesia: I feel myself surrounded by hatred, fear, dogmatic thinkers that constantly try to restrict the arena of thought. I seek refuge. Perhaps the Sangha is the place. I can never solve the problems of the world. But perhaps I can improve myself. What do you think

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Aloka
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Re: Buddhism with no supernatural elements

Post by Aloka » Sat Jan 17, 2015 7:40 am

tebet_guy wrote:Aloka. I can never solve the problems of the world. But perhaps I can improve myself. What do you think
Hello tebet_guy, :hello:

I think you should investigate the Dhamma carefully and not get disheartened. You mentioned karma earlier in the thread and I hightly recommend setting some time aside to listen to this talk (about karma) which I was fortunate enough to attend myself. Its from Ajahn Amaro who's abbot of Amaravati Theravada Thai Forest Tradition monastery in the UK.





:anjali:

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