The problem of infinity in Buddhism

A discussion on all aspects of Theravāda Buddhism
Garrib
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Re: The problem of infinity in Buddhism

Post by Garrib » Tue Jul 04, 2017 3:22 am

Thank you for the response,


So basically whether it is like this or like that (eternal or not), there is still suffering, its cause, its cessation, and the path leading to its cessation - and that is what really matters.

As to whether scientific discovery has proven that the universe is finite, I'm not so sure - how could we possibly know such a thing?

My amateur understanding of physics tells me that time and space are relative - when we try to talk about the past in terms of being some kind of absolute, whether eternal or not, this is not necessarily correct. The past is basically all of the conditioned states that have now ceased. The question of time comes in only from the perspective of an individual subject to birth, sickness, aging and death, watching all these relative processes occur. Of course there is causality which needs a succession of states, subjectively experienced as time. However, from the point of view of someone who has attained Nibbana, the understanding of time will be drastically different than we experience it now (my opinion) - I doubt we could truly fathom a Buddha's understanding of time. We might go insane trying to!

It is not my personal view that the Buddha failed to declare these things merely because there was insufficient technology for the ancients to answer these questions. As you yourself quoted, it was because questions about whether the universe is eternal or not are not fundamental to the holy life, they are not conducive to liberation...

"Infinite previous lives" and "existence since forever" seems to suggest that the universe must be eternal - in a sense that "unfathomably many rebirths" or "without discoverable beginning" does not (at least to me). The latter leads me to a sense of awe (not in the positive sense, necessarily) while the former sounds too dry, clean cut, and overly simplistic.

But anyway, we are bound to have different reactions to the Suttas - I don't see it as something to grovel over. Hopefully all of us can find out the truth of these things directly, through experiene, as soon as possible!

Again, Thanks for the response - I appreciate the opportunity to dialogue.

-Brad

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Circle5
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Re: The problem of infinity in Buddhism

Post by Circle5 » Tue Jul 04, 2017 4:39 am

I too am happy for the opportunity of dialogue.
As to whether scientific discovery has proven that the universe is finite, I'm not so sure - how could we possibly know such a thing?
We even know how big it is at the moment, how big it will be in the future, how big it was in the past at any certain point. This is done through calculations about how fast it is expanding and how much time has passed since the big bang.
My amateur understanding of physics tells me that time and space are relative - when we try to talk about the past in terms of being some kind of absolute, whether eternal or not, this is not necessarily correct. The past is basically all of the conditioned states that have now ceased. The question of time comes in only from the perspective of an individual subject to birth, sickness, aging and death, watching all these relative processes occur. Of course there is causality which needs a succession of states, subjectively experienced as time. However, from the point of view of someone who has attained Nibbana, the understanding of time will be drastically different than we experience it now (my opinion) - I doubt we could truly fathom a Buddha's understanding of time. We might go insane trying to!
An arahant is one who has escaped time. But here in samsara, time does exist. And it's as real as it gets. It's as real as impermanence. ;) The term "past time" or "present time" may be just linguistic designations for it, but they designate something, they do not designate nothing. And there is a sutta precisely about this:
https://suttacentral.net/en/sn22.62
“Bhikkhus, even Vassa and Bañña of Ukkala, proponents of noncausality, of the inefficacy of action, and of nihilism, did not think that these three pathways of language, pathways of designation, pathways of description should be criticized or scorned. For what reason? Because they fear blame, attack, and condemnation.”

Notice in the sutta how "the term, the description" applies to something. (a thing that has passed, that is present or that will exist) It does not apply to nothing.
It is not my personal view that the Buddha failed to declare these things merely because there was insufficient technology for the ancients to answer these questions. As you yourself quoted, it was because questions about whether the universe is eternal or not are not fundamental to the holy life, they are not conducive to liberation...
I am not sure about the first two either. But the fact that the last 2 are not imponderables at all but just imponderables for ones who has insufficient information means the first two could be just the same.
"Infinite previous lives" and "existence since forever" seems to suggest that the universe must be eternal - in a sense that "unfathomably many rebirths" or "without discoverable beginning" does not (at least to me). The latter leads me to a sense of awe (not in the positive sense, necessarily) while the former sounds too dry, clean cut, and overly simplistic.
I would suggest thinking of things in another way: How could there possibly be a beginning to this round of rebirth ? Why would it start at a certain point, due to what cause would it start at a certain point ? Not only is infinity implied by causality, but it is also implied by the circular line of conditions, the wheel of patticasamupada. You follow the conditions and go in a circle over and over again, you don't reach an end by following the condition string.

Bakmoon
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Re: The problem of infinity in Buddhism

Post by Bakmoon » Tue Jul 04, 2017 7:42 am

Circle5 wrote:PS: Nagarjuna was not a postmodernist, he was a monist. From what I see on wikipedia, his monist position is called "dialectical monism" and is based on a twisting of the SN 12:15 sutta.
Why on earth do you insist on criticizing people by simply squeezing them into the general bugaboo category of 'postmodernism'? If you want to refute someone you have to give arguments against what they say specifically, not simply set up a box you predetermine to be wrong and somehow try to fit your opponents into it.

And it is absurd that Nagarjuna is a monist. Where in the Mulamadhyamakakarikas does he teach that everything comes from a fundamental unity? And you really shouldn't rely on wikipedia like that. The part in the article on dialectical monism mentioning Nagarjuna doesn't even have a citation to it.
The non-doing of any evil,
The performance of what's skillful,
The cleansing of one's own mind:
This is the Buddhas' teaching.

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Circle5
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Re: The problem of infinity in Buddhism

Post by Circle5 » Tue Jul 04, 2017 12:40 pm

I first called him a monist myself, and only then did I google it and found he is listed as monist on wikipedia. "Everything is the same" = monism.
Why on earth do you insist on criticizing people by simply squeezing them into the general bugaboo category of 'postmodernism'?
That's not always true. I sometimes put people in the "New Age" category too. :mrgreen:

I always criticize the ideas, but if those ideas are postmodernist, I do not hesitate to label them as postmodernist. I know this is very annoying for people holding such ideas because nobody wants to accept they have the same ideas about the world like every other collage classmate of theirs. Postmodernism was cool when it was a counter-culture, it's not cool today when it's super mainstream and comformist.

And this is why nobody likes to be called a postmodernist. It's similar to hipsterism. Every hipster thinks he's unique and non-conformist, but they're just like anybody else of their age. They're as conformist as they get. And that's how you get people saying "I'm not a postmodernist, I only agree with 95% of what postmodernist say. There are things I disagree with from postmodernism". Postmodernist annoyance to being labeled "postmodernist" is well known.
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Bakmoon
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Re: The problem of infinity in Buddhism

Post by Bakmoon » Tue Jul 04, 2017 4:00 pm

Circle5 wrote:I first called him a monist myself, and only then did I google it and found he is listed as monist on wikipedia. "Everything is the same" = monism.
Monism is the position that everything is made from or is ultimately derivable from a single fundamental principle or essence. Nagarjuna doesn't say that, therefore he is not a monist.

If you insist that monism includes everyone who says that things are the same in some sense, then you would have to call the Buddha a monist because he taught that all conditioned phenomena are impermanent, unsatisfying, and non-self.


Circle5 wrote:I always criticize the ideas, but if those ideas are postmodernist, I do not hesitate to label them as postmodernist. I know this is very annoying for people holding such ideas because nobody wants to accept they have the same ideas about the world like every other collage classmate of theirs. Postmodernism was cool when it was a counter-culture, it's not cool today when it's super mainstream and comformist.

And this is why nobody likes to be called a postmodernist. It's similar to hipsterism. Every hipster thinks he's unique and non-conformist, but they're just like anybody else of their age. They're as conformist as they get. And that's how you get people saying "I'm not a postmodernist, I only agree with 95% of what postmodernist say. There are things I disagree with from postmodernism". Postmodernist annoyance to being labeled "postmodernist" is well known.
I've seen more complaining about postmodernism than actual refutation, and that's problematic. As a matter of logic, it is a form of equivocation to say "Postmodernism is wrong, idea x is postmodernist, therefore idea x is wrong" unless you can clearly define the term. Otherwise that type of argument is the same as a hard-line libertarian who criticizes everything they dislike as communism. Such a person is reasoning fallaciously because in the first part of the syllogism "communism is wrong" in order for it to be generally accepted to serve as the basis of an argument, communism would have to be defined fairly narrowly as meaning something like the soviet union or communist china, but when they use communism to criticize everything they don't like, they are defining the term in the broadest possible way to mean public ownership of anything or so on.
The non-doing of any evil,
The performance of what's skillful,
The cleansing of one's own mind:
This is the Buddhas' teaching.

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Circle5
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Re: The problem of infinity in Buddhism

Post by Circle5 » Tue Jul 04, 2017 4:25 pm

I've seen more complaining about postmodernism than actual refutation, and that's problematic. As a matter of logic, it is a form of equivocation to say "Postmodernism is wrong, idea x is postmodernist, therefore idea x is wrong" unless you can clearly define the term. Otherwise that type of argument is the same as a hard-line libertarian who criticizes everything they dislike as communism. Such a person is reasoning fallaciously because in the first part of the syllogism "communism is wrong" in order for it to be generally accepted to serve as the basis of an argument, communism would have to be defined fairly narrowly as meaning something like the soviet union or communist china, but when they use communism to criticize everything they don't like, they are defining the term in the broadest possible way to mean public ownership of anything or so on.
Well, since you brought it up, postmodernist are also communist so they are wrong again :mrgreen: :mrgreen: :mrgreen:

As for what postmodernism means:

- denial of logic positivism (only hardcore ones claim to believe in this)
- claiming only the internal world exists and not the external world (therefore, they can also be named solipsist)

Or, to be more explicit, claiming only the perception and linguistical designation/label applied to an object exists and not the object itself. Therefore claiming everything comes from the perception aggregate. Claiming the form aggregate is created by the perception aggregate. In short, it's solipsism + the Ajnana philosophy on top of it. For more: https://dhammawheel.com/viewtopic.php?f=13&t=29724
The denial of logic positivism is easily refuted by showing it's self-refuting. As for solipsism, it takes more than a meme to refute, it takes a topic: https://dhammawheel.com/viewtopic.php?f=12&t=29844
The problem is, they never bring any arguments to sustain their position. They just say "it is like this because I say so". If you feel that there are arguments to make for that position, please bring them to that topic cause so far it's lacking any pro-solipsism arguments.

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aflatun
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Re: The problem of infinity in Buddhism

Post by aflatun » Tue Jul 04, 2017 4:38 pm

Bakmoon wrote: Why on earth do you insist on criticizing people by simply squeezing them into the general bugaboo category of 'postmodernism'? If you want to refute someone you have to give arguments against what they say specifically, not simply set up a box you predetermine to be wrong and somehow try to fit your opponents into it.

And it is absurd that Nagarjuna is a monist. Where in the Mulamadhyamakakarikas does he teach that everything comes from a fundamental unity? And you really shouldn't rely on wikipedia like that. The part in the article on dialectical monism mentioning Nagarjuna doesn't even have a citation to it.
Its merely an attempt at insult and inflammation which successfully evades forum moderation, along with the not so thinly veiled insults that are being hurled about as of late.

And as you pointed out in your second post its on the same level as various political slogans. Skewing someone's intended meaning, doing it repeatedly and spreading it wide and far is a favorite tactic of sophists, lawyers, etc. Its glorified gossip, slander, etc, and similarly evades any form of moderation it seems. Quite slick I might add.

I agree with 100% of everything you've said about Nagarjuna. And I have to thank you, I believe it was one of your posts on the other Wheel that brought me to Ornament of Reason, which has become my favorite translation/commentary on the MMK :toast:

I'm working on Freedom From Extremes and the Madman's Middle Way now :heart:
"People often get too quick to say 'there's no self. There's no self...no self...no self.' There is self, there is focal point, its not yours. That's what not self is."

Ninoslav Ñāṇamoli
Senses and the Thought-1, 42:53

"Those who create constructs about the Buddha,
Who is beyond construction and without exhaustion,
Are thereby damaged by their constructs;
They fail to see the Thus-Gone.

That which is the nature of the Thus-Gone
Is also the nature of this world.
There is no nature of the Thus-Gone.
There is no nature of the world."

Nagarjuna
MMK XXII.15-16

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Circle5
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Re: The problem of infinity in Buddhism

Post by Circle5 » Tue Jul 04, 2017 4:57 pm

Again posts about my character and psychoanalyzing me. If you have something to say on topic or contribute to the conversation, please don't hesitate to do so. But posts about my character are not only forbidden by the TOS but also offtopic.
d. Unsubstantiated allegations against individuals or traditions - including psychoanalyzing other members, and predictions or threats of kammic retribution
f. Ad-hominem attacks, including the vilification of individuals based on any attributes
https://dhammawheel.com/viewtopic.php?f=47&t=2

I have already sent you a friendly PM after your first post about my character and you did not respond. Please, if you have things to say about my character say them PM. It is a forum, it's normal for people not to agree with your views. And it's a theravada forum, it's normal for some people not to agree with Mahayana ideas.

"Play the ball, not the man."

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aflatun
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Re: The problem of infinity in Buddhism

Post by aflatun » Tue Jul 04, 2017 5:01 pm

I made no references to your character, and certainly performed no psychoanalysis.

Its your forum behavior that is in question. Insults are insults, and you're hurling them. Even if you're truly not, deep down inside, and multiple people take issue with your mode of expression, you have good reason to adjust it.

Your pm was hostile and full of similar tactics. Your not playing by the same rules that you wish to impose on others.

d. Unsubstantiated allegations against individuals or traditions

Read your own rule book.

You've not properly characterized my views, or those of at least three other posters, or Nagarjuna for that matter.

A great many Theravada, or associated with Theravada thinkers have expressed agreement with a great many things you take issue with. For example, restricting ourselves to Nagarjuna: Sujato, Kalupahana, Nanananda... No Mahayanists there.
Last edited by aflatun on Tue Jul 04, 2017 5:28 pm, edited 2 times in total.
"People often get too quick to say 'there's no self. There's no self...no self...no self.' There is self, there is focal point, its not yours. That's what not self is."

Ninoslav Ñāṇamoli
Senses and the Thought-1, 42:53

"Those who create constructs about the Buddha,
Who is beyond construction and without exhaustion,
Are thereby damaged by their constructs;
They fail to see the Thus-Gone.

That which is the nature of the Thus-Gone
Is also the nature of this world.
There is no nature of the Thus-Gone.
There is no nature of the world."

Nagarjuna
MMK XXII.15-16

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Circle5
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Re: The problem of infinity in Buddhism

Post by Circle5 » Tue Jul 04, 2017 5:04 pm

Then start another topic about it. This one was initially about the problem of infinity in buddhism from a statistical perspective and then moved to the problem of time existing or not in buddhism. Again, play the ball not the man.
Your pm was hostile and full of similar tactics.
If that's how you interpret a friendly PM, then I should speak with you like I would speak with Ceauchescu. Or better not speak at all. As I said, it's a forum. People will not agree with your views all the time. And it's a theravada one, people will not agree with mahayana views some times.
Last edited by Circle5 on Tue Jul 04, 2017 5:08 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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aflatun
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Re: The problem of infinity in Buddhism

Post by aflatun » Tue Jul 04, 2017 5:07 pm

I addressed "the infinity problem" from a Kantian/Schopenhauerian, Nagarjunan and Sutta point of view. I'm sorry you find it off topic, I don't.

EDIT: No one has said "time doesn't exist in Buddhism", no one has advocated for solipsism, no one has rejected the reality of anything extra mental. As an example, the Kantian point of view you quoted from me, called post modern (it's not) and started a new thread with accepts and insists upon: the "existence" of time, others minds, and non mental reality.

As SDC already told you, criticize all you want, keep it accurate.

If you would simply tone it down some great conversations would ensue. There are many people on this form that enjoy discussing such things, it doesn't have to be about your interpretation of the Suttas vs. everyone else. If you find something conflicts with the suttas, that can also be calmly discussed. If you take issue with someone else's opinion, that can also be calmly discussed without ridicule, calling people stupid, etc. These matters are difficult (conceptually speaking) and even great thinkers that have made errors did not do so because they were "stupid." This stuff is difficult.
Last edited by aflatun on Tue Jul 04, 2017 5:22 pm, edited 6 times in total.
"People often get too quick to say 'there's no self. There's no self...no self...no self.' There is self, there is focal point, its not yours. That's what not self is."

Ninoslav Ñāṇamoli
Senses and the Thought-1, 42:53

"Those who create constructs about the Buddha,
Who is beyond construction and without exhaustion,
Are thereby damaged by their constructs;
They fail to see the Thus-Gone.

That which is the nature of the Thus-Gone
Is also the nature of this world.
There is no nature of the Thus-Gone.
There is no nature of the world."

Nagarjuna
MMK XXII.15-16

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Circle5
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Re: The problem of infinity in Buddhism

Post by Circle5 » Tue Jul 04, 2017 5:10 pm

I addressed the infinity problem from a Kantian/Schopenhauerian, Nagarjunan and Sutta point of view. I'm sorry you find it off topic, I don't.
Yes you did, a couple of pages ago. Well, let's move on and get back to this topic. If you feel there is any kind of argument to make for time not existing or for Buddha ever making a case for that, feel free to make it since in my opinion we are in lack of such arguments. As for the solipsist vs realist discussion: https://dhammawheel.com/viewtopic.php?f ... 4&start=20
But as I said, arguments of the type "this is true because I say so" or "this is true because this other famous guy said so" do not really count as arguments. Argument should be either empirical (experiments such as in quantum physics regarding this, the placebo effect etc.) or logical.

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WindDancer
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Re: The problem of infinity in Buddhism

Post by WindDancer » Fri Jul 07, 2017 11:30 am

My heart is heavy as I have just read through this discussion from the beginning. It shows clearly the price we pay for idle chatter of this kind of debate, including divisive and harsh comments. This discussion thread demonstrates that the Buddha's wisdom spoken over 2500 years ago still holds true today. Dwelling on and debating topics like this surely does not lead one to peace, Liberation or Nibbana.

Multiple members shared that the Buddha directed others to let go of debating such topics and focus their energies to the 4 Noble Truths.
:namaste:

WindDancer
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Udana
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Re: The problem of infinity in Buddhism

Post by Udana » Fri Mar 16, 2018 11:09 am

We are stuck in an assumption that time and space are absolutes. We experience time and space through six contact media. So when you really think about it they both are relative and conditioned. As I feel the definition of infinity explained by Lord Buddha is inconceivable as it lies beyond the conditioned world.

Venerable Sariputta once stated "However far the six contact-media go, that is how far objectification goes. However far objectification goes, that is how far the six contact-media go" (Extracted from the book Shape of suffering by Thanissaro Bhikkhu). This is probably why Buddha didn't want us to waste time thinking about these matters.

Our thinking is limited and infinity lies beyond our experience.

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cappuccino
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Re: The problem of infinity in Buddhism

Post by cappuccino » Fri Mar 16, 2018 1:14 pm

It's a sheer coincidence that one obtains the human state. It's a sheer coincidence that a Tathagata, worthy & rightly self-awakened, arises in the world. It's a sheer coincidence that a doctrine & discipline expounded by a Tathagata appears in the world. Now, this human state has been obtained. A Tathagata, worthy & rightly self-awakened, has arisen in the world. A doctrine & discipline expounded by a Tathagata appears in the world.
Chiggala Sutta

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