Bill V. on Theravadan nihilism

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Sam Vara
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Bill V. on Theravadan nihilism

Post by Sam Vara » Sun Apr 08, 2018 8:02 pm

The "Maverick Philosopher" blogger Bill Vallicella is generally sympathetic to Buddhism, and apparently has a daily meditation practice. He has written some insightful pieces about Buddhism. Here, however, he misses the mark in an embarrassing manner:
http://maverickphilosopher.typepad.com/ ... dhism.html

He claims that "misdirected desire" is the real problem afflicting human beings. I guess that his sympathies collided with the Catholic view of the summum bonum; this appears to be an area where people can at best only agree to differ. Even if he were more knowledgeable about Buddhism, he would have to have parted company at this point.

Ah, well.

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Re: Bill V. on Theravadan nihilism

Post by aflatun » Sun Apr 08, 2018 8:27 pm

Sam Vara wrote:
Sun Apr 08, 2018 8:02 pm
...
Thanks for another interesting one Sam. Here is a functioning link to the paper he references on the blog:

No Self? A Look at a Buddhist Argument
"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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Re: Bill V. on Theravadan nihilism

Post by Sam Vara » Sun Apr 08, 2018 8:42 pm

aflatun wrote:
Sun Apr 08, 2018 8:27 pm
Sam Vara wrote:
Sun Apr 08, 2018 8:02 pm
...
Thanks for another interesting one Sam. Here is a functioning link to the paper he references on the blog:

No Self? A Look at a Buddhist Argument
Thanks for that. I'd read through it before when he provided it as a pdf from his old blog. I'll have another look at it to see if I can pinpoint where he goes wrong in his summary.

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Re: Bill V. on Theravadan nihilism

Post by aflatun » Sun Apr 08, 2018 9:12 pm

Sam Vara wrote:
Sun Apr 08, 2018 8:42 pm
...
I have some thoughts but I need to attend to some other things right now, I"ll be back! :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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Re: Bill V. on Theravadan nihilism

Post by boundless » Sun Apr 08, 2018 10:03 pm

Hi everyone,

I'll give my two cents.

Well first of all, I think this time he misunderstood the "three marks" doctrine. In fact at a certain point in the article writes "sabbe dhamma dukkha" (all things are unsatisfactory). Well, the only mark of existence that applies to "all things" (sabbe dhamma) is "anatta", i.e. not-self (i.e. "no essence", "no identity"). Nowhere, as far as I know, it is said the same for the other two marks. If Nibbana is not simply a designation for the "absence" of conditioned phenomena, then there is a "dhamma" that is neither impermanent nor suffering. His accusation of nihilism seems somewhat a "straw man" argument. Indeed there is a "dhamma" that is not impermanent. The Pali texts are full of "negative" descriptions. But this of course does not imply that the "goal" is only a negative attainment.

However the article indeed raises some interesting arguments. In Buddhism we are told that "salvation" is the escape from the existence of samsara. And in fact, in the "early suttas", the cessation of "ignorance", "clinging" and "suffering" entails the ending of rebirth. In fact it we can find passages like this
Rahogata Sutta:
"Well spoken, monk, well spoken! While three feelings have been taught by me, the pleasant, the painful and the neutral, yet I have also said that whatever is felt is within suffering. This, however, was stated by me with reference to the impermanence of (all) conditioned phenomena. I have said it because conditioned phenomena are liable to destruction, to evanescence, to fading away, to cessation and to change. It is with reference to this that I have stated: 'Whatever is felt is within suffering.'
"Whatever is felt is within suffering" and in fact "in" the "complete freedom of suffering" (Nibbana without reaminder, since the living Aharant can still experience suffering due to physical pain, for example) "nothing is felt". So, in fact, we have now "feelings" (or "sensations") because of past craving. So, even if the article misses the point with the "three marks" in fact raises a deep issue: is "early suttas" Buddhism "life-denying"? After all the elimination of the fetters entail, at the end, the "cessation" of feelings. But IMO this is an issue that is not unique to "Pali" Buddhism. In fact many Indian philosophies and religions claim that the "best" of possible states is a state where the eradication of desire leads to a state of "cessation of experience". Of course Buddhism adds the "anatta" doctrine.

But again, we can argue that in Buddhism there is a desire that, in fact, is "allowed", namely the desire of "ending suffering", i.e. attaining Nibbana (to put it in a somewhat positive term). Of course the end of the Path entails the cessation of desire, but Bhikkhuni Sutta:
Then Ven. Ananda approached the nun and, on arrival, sat down on a prepared seat. As he was sitting there, he said to the nun: "...

"This body comes into being through craving. And yet it is by relying on craving that craving is to be abandoned.
But IMO it is in fact quite common, among religions, the idea that the real "end of the Path" entails the cessation of "craving". After all, if craving does not end, somehow, suffering cannot cease (since an endless craving is an unsatisfied craving). This leads us to the beginning of my response. In fact, IMO, in Buddhism there is "a reality" that has value, i.e. the "unconditioned dhamma", Nibbana. IMO his criticism arises from a misunderstanding of the doctrine of the three marks.


:anjali:

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Re: Bill V. on Theravadan nihilism

Post by Sam Vara » Sun Apr 08, 2018 10:20 pm

boundless wrote:
Sun Apr 08, 2018 10:03 pm

Well first of all, I think this time he misunderstood the "three marks" doctrine. In fact at a certain point in the article writes "sabbe dhamma dukkha" (all things are unsatisfactory). Well, the only mark of existence that applies to "all things" (sabbe dhamma) is "anatta", i.e. not-self (i.e. "no essence", "no identity"). Nowhere, as far as I know, it is said the same for the other two marks.
Yes, I agree. In his blogged summary, he says:
If everything bears the three marks, then nothing is worthy of pursuit or avoidance.
Yet nibbana only bears one of those marks.

In addition, he works very hard in the linked article (see Aflatun's link for an accessible copy) to make the issue one of ontology, rather than epistemology or psychology. In the blog that I link to, he says
If nothing is or can be permanent, then it is no argument against anything to point out its impermanence.


That may be true, but I don't think the Buddha argued against things by pointing out that they were impermanent. He argued against attachment to those things, the type of attitude towards them that leads to disappointment and suffering. It's more about us, and less about things.

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Re: Bill V. on Theravadan nihilism

Post by binocular » Mon Apr 09, 2018 5:49 pm

Sam Vara wrote:
Sun Apr 08, 2018 8:02 pm
The "Maverick Philosopher" blogger Bill Vallicella is generally sympathetic to Buddhism, and apparently has a daily meditation practice. He has written some insightful pieces about Buddhism. Here, however, he misses the mark in an embarrassing manner:
http://maverickphilosopher.typepad.com/ ... dhism.html

He claims that "misdirected desire" is the real problem afflicting human beings. I guess that his sympathies collided with the Catholic view of the summum bonum; this appears to be an area where people can at best only agree to differ. Even if he were more knowledgeable about Buddhism, he would have to have parted company at this point.

Ah, well.
He's a Christian. What can be expected?

What he does is subversive: Instead of showing his colors right away and preaching about Jesus and salvation and the Day of Judgment, he tries to get in this same message through the backdoor, via some kind of "philosophical argument".
Every person we save is one less zombie to fight. -- World War Z

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Re: Bill V. on Theravadan nihilism

Post by Sam Vara » Mon Apr 09, 2018 6:08 pm

binocular wrote:
Mon Apr 09, 2018 5:49 pm
Sam Vara wrote:
Sun Apr 08, 2018 8:02 pm
The "Maverick Philosopher" blogger Bill Vallicella is generally sympathetic to Buddhism, and apparently has a daily meditation practice. He has written some insightful pieces about Buddhism. Here, however, he misses the mark in an embarrassing manner:
http://maverickphilosopher.typepad.com/ ... dhism.html

He claims that "misdirected desire" is the real problem afflicting human beings. I guess that his sympathies collided with the Catholic view of the summum bonum; this appears to be an area where people can at best only agree to differ. Even if he were more knowledgeable about Buddhism, he would have to have parted company at this point.

Ah, well.
He's a Christian. What can be expected?
That he should love God with all his heart, and that he should love his neighbour as himself?
What he does is subversive: Instead of showing his colors right away and preaching about Jesus and salvation and the Day of Judgment, he tries to get in this same message through the backdoor, via some kind of "philosophical argument".
Yes, he's an intelligent and original thinker, that's for sure.

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Re: Bill V. on Theravadan nihilism

Post by boundless » Tue Apr 10, 2018 10:20 am

Sam Vara wrote:
Sun Apr 08, 2018 10:20 pm
...
Greetings Sam Vara,all,

Well I agree that the main cause of suffering is attachment/aversion, but it is also true that the instability of conditioned phenomena can cause suffering even in fully liberated beings (after all they are not immune from the pain caused by disease, old age and death. Of course, they suffer only because of pain, and not from aversion – but in its broadest sense, dukkha is not ended).
I agree that the main reason of “suffering” is attachment & aversion to impermanent/compounded/conditioned/unstable/unreliable phenomena. As I view the second mark, it is more an invitation to be dispassionate: all conditioned existence is impermanent & unstable and clinging to It causes suffering. However, it can be pointed out that some passages like the one I had quoted (“whatever is felt is within suffering”), Metta Sutta AN 4.126 :

He regards whatever phenomena there that are connected with form, feeling, perception, fabrications, & consciousness, as inconstant, stressful, a disease, a cancer, an arrow, painful, an affliction, alien, a disintegration, an emptiness, not-self.

, Itivuttaka 44 :
And what is the Unbinding property with no fuel remaining? There is the case where a monk is an arahant whose fermentations have ended, who has reached fulfillment, finished the task, laid down the burden, attained the true goal, ended the fetter of becoming, and is released through right gnosis. For him, all that is sensed, being unrelished, will grow cold right here. This is termed the Unbinding property with no fuel remaining."
(emphasis mine) Also this passage from Ayacana Sutta SN 6.1
Then, while he was alone and in seclusion, this line of thinking arose in his awareness: "This Dhamma that I have attained is deep, hard to see, hard to realize, peaceful, refined, beyond the scope of conjecture, subtle, to-be-experienced by the wise. But this generation delights in attachment, is excited by attachment, enjoys attachment. For a generation delighting in attachment, excited by attachment, enjoying attachment, this/that conditionality and dependent co-arising are hard to see. This state, too, is hard to see: the resolution of all fabrications, the relinquishment of all acquisitions, the ending of craving; dispassion; cessation; Unbinding. And if I were to teach the Dhamma and if others would not understand me, that would be tiresome for me, troublesome for me."
and this passage from Jara Sutta SN 48.41 :
I spit on you, old age — old age that makes for ugliness. The bodily image, so charming, is trampled by old age.
Even those who live to a hundred are headed — all — to an end in death, which spares no one, which tramples all.
i.e. the Buddha seems to have regarded "impermanent" phenomena still a cause of "suffering", since either are "unpleasant" or are subject to decay. Of course, the suffering of a "fully liberated Noble One" is different from the one experienced by others. But even for them, the imperfection inherent in conditioned experience is a reason of "suffering". Anyway, I think that they can be regarded as "happy" - despite the inevitable pain due to decay - because they do not have aversion for unpleasant feelings and still "delight" with pleasant feelings but without any attachment (If I recall correctly, the Buddha once pointed to Ven. Ananda that a landscape was beatiful...). Anyway even for the Noble Ones rebirth is regarded as something that must be avoided as soon as possible bacause Nibbana is not anicca and therefore not dukkha (AN 9.34 Here Sariputta even says that Nibbana is "sukha")*.


Suggest strongly that “dukkha” in its broadest meaning is, in fact, a value judgment on conditioned phenomena: they are imperfect and a potential cause for misery because of their instability and unreability. These passages of course invites to be dispassionate, but seem to suggest that broadly speaking only “final” Nibbana is the complete end of suffering. Even the longest lifespan in “heaven” will ultimately end and therefore cannot be considered (ultimately) “blissful”. As I said, after all even the Aharant still experiences a minimal and inevitable amount suffering due to either illness, decay etc although of course he does not experience mental suffering (“the second arrow” if I do not err, caused by clinging). Only at “Nibbana without remainder” there is the complete cessation of suffering. So:
1) Clinging to impermanent states leads to mental suffering, despair and sorrow.
2) At the same time, however, the intrinsic characteristic of being impermanent causes an inevitable amount of suffering.
“Anatta” also means “lack of control”. If anatta was false then we could somehow be able to “grasp” something as “ours” that leads to our happiness. However, according to Buddhism, anatta of course is true and we cannot “find” something that Is really under our control. The “good news” is that if we are able to remove the cause of mental suffering then we are assured to achieve “total liberation”. After all, if liberation would not entail the “escape” from rebirths the liberation from the “un-satisfactoriness” intrinsic in conditioned experience would be impossible. IMO both the “psychological” and “quasi-ontological” (I say “quasi” because of course the arising of dukkha implies a consciousness) view about “dukkha” are sound. But it is true that in the suttas there is much more emphasis in the first, since it is by “taming” the mind that clinging, aversion & craving cease and there can be an end to rebirth process (the fire goes out when the fuel is completely extinguished).

“Anatta” seems also to have two meanings. The first is the “famous” one, the lack of “identity/essence” of all dhammas, unconditioned dhamma(s)* included. But there is an “experiential” meaning, which is, IMO, equally important which is the “lack of control”. Our ignorance causes the continuous attempt to control “things”. Since however no dhammas are either “me” or “mine” the attempt is deemed to fail. There is, however, an escape. The escape entails the possibility of ending the rebirth process. In fact, I think that is important to note that in many passages there is mention that “illness”, “decay” and “death” in themselves cause suffering. Well in contrast to Mahayana, the removal of the afflictions leads to the ending of “existence” (bhava) In samsara. There is no “non-abiding” Nirvana in “Sravakyana”. In fact, I think this is the greatest difference between the two perspectives.

But is this view “life-denying”? Well, surely for those who do not see the “incompleteness” of our conditioned existence, for who is not able to see that no real satisfaction can be found in conditioned existence. But for who sees this “incompleteness”, the perspective of finding a “shelter” from suffering is in fact “positive”. "Life-denying" or not, of course it is very difficult to accept :(

But IMO there is another sense of “positivity” in all this. When one understands that he is bound to suffering and decay, he sees that this is true also for others and tends to avoid harming and be compassionate. “Dukkha”, so to speak, is certainly a “negative” experience but, paradoxically, by contemplating dukkha one might become less prone to do evil and more prone to do good. Doing good to both her/himself and others. Since s/he understands suffering, s/he tries to cultivate the four “divine abodes” (brahmavihara), namely “compassion” (karuna), “good-will” (metta), “equanimity” (upekkha) and “sympathetic joy” (mudita). And while these virtues do not lead, by themselves, to “liberation”, their cultivation motivates the practitioner to do good for both her/himself and others.
The negative language should not be misunderstood. In fact, the reduction of egoism leads to generosity, the elimination of ill-will helps the development of good-will, the elimination of ignorance leads to “realization”, the absence of suffering leads to “peace”. IMO, it is clear that “good” desires are to be cultivated along the Path, and while desire always entail an absence of something (we do not desire what we already have) and therefore is a subtle form of “suffering”. Hence in contrast to what BV says in Buddhism “desire” is not “condemned” but just like other religions during the Path “good” desires are to be cultivated and at the end of the Path desire ceases, since the “holy life is fulfilled”. In fact, the “absence of desires” is a condition of “completeness”, “fulfillment”. Only who have “fulfilled” the Path can be free from desire. Also, Buddhism has a “cognitive” aspect in its Goal, namely the knowledge of “the Dhamma” that “holds” even if there is no arising of a Tathagatha. The Tathagatha awakens to it. I do not see how “early suttas” Buddhism can be thought to be nihilistic.
Anyway, I think that Buddhism is also sympathetic to the lesser goal of attaining a better rebirth by leading a “moral life”. After all values like metta AN 11:16 are not exclusively Buddhist. And it seems that they are of a (relative) benefit. See also: Itivuttaka 27. They do not lead to end suffering but they do have favorable consequences.

So, to summarize. I agree with him that according to "early suttas" Buddhism "conditioned existence" is regarded as intrinsically unsatisfactory. However, the greatest part of our suffering (the "second arrow") is due to clinging and aversion and it is eliminated at Aharantship. And also the removal of clinging and aversion leads, ultimately, to the complete end of suffering ("bhavanirodha" the end of "existence" in the 31 realms). Of course, in Mahayana "reappearance" in Samsara can be due to "compassion". But according to "early suttas"Buddhism, IMO, such a phenomenon cannot happen (this of course does not "refute" the Mahayana. I am not saying that). However considering everything, the accusation of nihilism IMO is completely wrong :smile:



:anjali:



P.S.
*Yet in the Suttas, as far as I can tell, there is no mention that Nibbana is "nicca". To my knowledge the first time that this happens is in the Canonical commentaries, more precisely: Kathavatthu https://suttacentral.net/kv1.6 and Culaniddesa https://suttacentral.net/cnd22/pli/ms. For the second one a translation is here http://jayarava.blogspot.it/2011/09/in-my-eye.html. However, I find very interesting that in the Suttas Nibbana is never described as "nicca".

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Re: Bill V. on Theravadan nihilism

Post by Dhammanando » Fri Apr 13, 2018 7:34 am

boundless wrote:
Tue Apr 10, 2018 10:20 am
Yet in the Suttas, as far as I can tell, there is no mention that Nibbana is "nicca". To my knowledge the first time that this happens is in the Canonical commentaries, more precisely: Kathavatthu https://suttacentral.net/kv1.6 and Culaniddesa https://suttacentral.net/cnd22/pli/ms. For the second one a translation is here http://jayarava.blogspot.it/2011/09/in-my-eye.html. However, I find very interesting that in the Suttas Nibbana is never described as "nicca".
I think it is implicitly, for in the SN's Asaṅkhatasaṃyutta it is called dhuva, "the stable", which in sutta accounts of eternalism is one of the synonyms of nicca:

At that time, monks, an evil wrong view came to have accrued to Baka the Brahmā like this: ‘This is permanent (niccaṃ), this is stable (dhuvaṃ), this is eternal (sassataṃ), this is entire (kevalaṃ), this is not liable to passing away (acavanadhammaṃ), this is not born, does not age, does not die, does not pass away, does not uprise, and there is not another further escape from this.’

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Re: Bill V. on Theravadan nihilism

Post by boundless » Fri Apr 13, 2018 8:46 pm

Dhammanando wrote:
Fri Apr 13, 2018 7:34 am
boundless wrote:
Tue Apr 10, 2018 10:20 am
Yet in the Suttas, as far as I can tell, there is no mention that Nibbana is "nicca". To my knowledge the first time that this happens is in the Canonical commentaries, more precisely: Kathavatthu https://suttacentral.net/kv1.6 and Culaniddesa https://suttacentral.net/cnd22/pli/ms. For the second one a translation is here http://jayarava.blogspot.it/2011/09/in-my-eye.html. However, I find very interesting that in the Suttas Nibbana is never described as "nicca".
I think it is implicitly, for in the SN's Asaṅkhatasaṃyutta it is called dhuva, "the stable", which in sutta accounts of eternalism is one of the synonyms of nicca:

At that time, monks, an evil wrong view came to have accrued to Baka the Brahmā like this: ‘This is permanent (niccaṃ), this is stable (dhuvaṃ), this is eternal (sassataṃ), this is entire (kevalaṃ), this is not liable to passing away (acavanadhammaṃ), this is not born, does not age, does not die, does not pass away, does not uprise, and there is not another further escape from this.’
Greetings Bhante,

Thank you for the answer :anjali:

I agree! It is implicit. Nibbana is permanent. Personally, I have no problem in saying this because eternalism is the view that “atta" is eternal. Also, in those two quotations Nibbana is even said to be “eternal” (sassata). To me, this is in perfect agreement with the suttas where nowhere it is said that “everything is impermanent”. What it is said is that “all things are self-less” and “all conditioned things are impermanent”. Also, I think that "permanent" can also mean "atemporal", "not related t" rather than "everlasting".

However, I read claims that in the whole Canon, Nibbana is never said to be “permanent” (Maybe, who says so either have never encountered those passage that say otherwise** or they simply dismiss them...) and, in fact, this view appears only in later non-canonical commentaries (as if "later" is a sinonym of "wrong").
Their argument seems to be that “negative” adjectives like “unconditioned” are simply non-affirmative negations. I find this interpretation very artificial and ad-hoc. I never understood those “negatives” as non-affirmative negations, but I see them as due to a very rigorous apophatic approach. IMO those who take the “mere absence” are influenced by reductionism. After all, I think that the only ancient Buddhist school that claimed that Nibbana is “mere absence” was the Sautrantika, as it is stated in this article by Lance Cousins Nibbana and Abhidhamma .

IMO Buddhists (following the example of the Buddha in the suttas) are reticent to speak about Nibbana in positive terms because it could be taken as “self”, “mine” etc. A positive description would be easily misunderstood. Also, “apophatic” language is richer: it leads to dispel wrong pre-conceptions. “Apophatism” is present, in fact, in many religious and philosophical traditions. But, as far as I know, no tradition is as consistent and rigorous in this approach as is Buddhism.

**Well, this is very plausible for the Culaniddesa, since to my knowledge there is still no English translation of it. Anyway, I wonder if there are other explicit statements in the Canon like those in the Kathavatthu and Culaniddesa.

:anjali:

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Re: Bill V. on Theravadan nihilism

Post by boundless » Sun Apr 15, 2018 12:54 pm

boundless wrote:
Tue Apr 10, 2018 10:20 am

...
Itivuttaka 44 :
And what is the Unbinding property with no fuel remaining? There is the case where a monk is an arahant whose fermentations have ended, who has reached fulfillment, finished the task, laid down the burden, attained the true goal, ended the fetter of becoming, and is released through right gnosis. For him, all that is sensed, being unrelished, will grow cold right here. This is termed the Unbinding property with no fuel remaining."
(emphasis mine)
...
Actually contrary to what I said in that post, that quotation, per se, does not provide "evidence" to the view to what I called the "quasi-ontological" take on "dukkha". In fact the sutta reads,

Itivuttaka 44 :
This was said by the Blessed One, said by the Arahant, so I have heard: "Monks, there are these two forms of the Unbinding property. Which two? The Unbinding property with fuel remaining, & the Unbinding property with no fuel remaining.

And what is the Unbinding property with fuel remaining? There is the case where a monk is an arahant whose fermentations have ended, who has reached fulfillment, finished the task, laid down the burden, attained the true goal, ended the fetter of becoming, and is released through right gnosis. His five sense faculties still remain and, owing to their being intact, he is cognizant of the agreeable & the disagreeable, and is sensitive to pleasure & pain. His ending of passion, aversion, & delusion is termed the Unbinding property with fuel remaining.

And what is the Unbinding property with no fuel remaining? There is the case where a monk is an arahant whose fermentations have ended, who has reached fulfillment, finished the task, laid down the burden, attained the true goal, ended the fetter of becoming, and is released through right gnosis. For him, all that is sensed, being unrelished, will grow cold right here. This is termed the Unbinding property with no fuel remaining."
(Ven Thanissaro translation)

The phrase I emphasized, i.e. "laid down the burden", appears in both cases. However, external evidence seems to support the analysis above. For example the already quoted Rahogata Sutta SN 36:11 where it is said "whatever is felt is within suffering" (and feelings end at "Nibbana with no fuel remaining"). Of course, most suffering is ended at "Nibbana with fuel remaining", but not all.

Sorry for the mistake!

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Re: Bill V. on Theravadan nihilism

Post by Way~Farer » Tue May 01, 2018 11:58 pm

There are two points that could be made in respect of this question.

One is that what is 'timeless' is not the same as 'what has endless duration'. One can imagine 'something of great duration' in terms of a mountain peak, a post set fast, and other similes that are given in various texts. The idea here is of some entity or thing which endures while all else changes. These are the similes given regarding those who hold that there is an unchanging essence or soul which doesn't change, while everything around it changes, an idea which is definitively rejected by the Buddha.

But that which is 'timeless' is of a different order altogether to what simply endures. Something which is timeless is not subject to the vicissitudes of time, by virtue of being outside of time altogether, i.e. transcendent. I think one reference to that is the opening verses of the dhammapada, i.e. 'hatred is not overcome by hatred but by love, this is a law eternal (or 'ancient law' in some translations. Although it should be said that the distinction between 'timelessness' and 'of endless duration' is not made explicit in the early Buddhist texts.)

The emphasis on Buddhism is on a radical re-ordering of consciousness (for which, see Consciousness Mysticism in the Discourses of the Buddha, Peter Harvey.) Until that re-ordering takes place, then whatever the mind seizes on as valuable, durable, etc is bound to be transient. It's not until right knowledge actually dawns that the aspirant is able to see 'the transcendent' at all. Up until that time, it is empty talk.

The second point is related, which is, the difference between the phenomenal and the real. 'All phenomena' have the 'three marks' of anicca, anatta, dukkha, but Nibbana does not. But as soon as you speculate about or ask about Nibanna, then you're generally putting it on the same level as phenomena, making a 'that' out of it. Strictly speaking, there is no 'that' whatever; it is only so named, or so called, for the purposes of instruction, but it is not something that does (or does not) exist. Hence also the rejection of all questions about the nature of the Tathagata existing or not existing after death. ('Exists' does not apply. 'Doesn't exist' does not apply.)

This is why Bill Vallicella is incorrect. He can't see what it is that he doesn't know, so leaps to the false conclusion that it's simply nothing.

boundless
Posts: 73
Joined: Sun Feb 04, 2018 4:16 pm

Re: Bill V. on Theravadan nihilism

Post by boundless » Wed May 02, 2018 10:31 am

Hello Way~farer,

Thank you for the answer!
Way~Farer wrote:
Tue May 01, 2018 11:58 pm
One is that what is 'timeless' is not the same as 'what has endless duration'. One can imagine 'something of great duration' in terms of a mountain peak, a post set fast, and other similes that are given in various texts. The idea here is of some entity or thing which endures while all else changes. These are the similes given regarding those who hold that there is an unchanging essence or soul which doesn't change, while everything around it changes, an idea which is definitively rejected by the Buddha.
Yeah, that’s why in one of my previous posts I too have made the distinction between “permanent” as “infinite duration” and “timeless” or “unaffected by time”. IMO You are right in making this distinction.
Way~Farer wrote:
Tue May 01, 2018 11:58 pm
But that which is 'timeless' is of a different order altogether to what simply endures. Something which is timeless is not subject to the vicissitudes of time, by virtue of being outside of time altogether, i.e. transcendent. I think one reference to that is the opening verses of the dhammapada, i.e. 'hatred is not overcome by hatred but by love, this is a law eternal (or 'ancient law' in some translations. Although it should be said that the distinction between 'timelessness' and 'of endless duration' is not made explicit in the early Buddhist texts.)
Agreed! Also I think that Dhamma-niyama sutta implies that “truths” are regarded as “eternal”. This is much different from the “relativist” position that there are no stable truths. An important point! Also, on this point Garava Sutta SN 6.2 and Uruvela Sutta AN 4.21 might be of interest.
Way~Farer wrote:
Tue May 01, 2018 11:58 pm
The emphasis on Buddhism is on a radical re-ordering of consciousness (for which, see Consciousness Mysticism in the Discourses of the Buddha, Peter Harvey.) Until that re-ordering takes place, then whatever the mind seizes on as valuable, durable, etc is bound to be transient. It's not until right knowledge actually dawns that the aspirant is able to see 'the transcendent' at all. Up until that time, it is empty talk.
Thanks for the reference! That’s why IMO there is much emphasis on seeing the three marks in conditioned existence.
Way~Farer wrote:
Tue May 01, 2018 11:58 pm
The second point is related, which is, the difference between the phenomenal and the real. 'All phenomena' have the 'three marks' of anicca, anatta, dukkha, but Nibbana does not. But as soon as you speculate about or ask about Nibanna, then you're generally putting it on the same level as phenomena, making a 'that' out of it. Strictly speaking, there is no 'that' whatever; it is only so named, or so called, for the purposes of instruction, but it is not something that does (or does not) exist. Hence also the rejection of all questions about the nature of the Tathagata existing or not existing after death. ('Exists' does not apply. 'Doesn't exist' does not apply.)

This is why Bill Vallicella is incorrect. He can't see what it is that he doesn't know, so leaps to the false conclusion that it's simply nothing.
Agreed! The danger of speculation is to create an incorrect concept of Nibbana. Nibbana has not the first two marks (anicca and dukkha). Nibbana is still anatta, however. And, in fact, at Udana 8.1 and Udana 8.3 it is said to “exist” (atthi), but I agree with you when you say that Nibbana is not a "that", i.e. a “thing” (and of course "it" is not “nothing”). Therefore, I think that in some sense we can say that Nibbana exists and is permanent, but we have to be careful in saying it (as I said, I have no problem with this "positive" terminology if we rememeber that "anatta" also applies to Nibbana...).

I agree also with you on the issue between the "phenomenal" vs "real".

Hence, I agree with your refutation of Bill Valicella’s criticism.

I have to say, however, that I have changed a bit my understanding of "dukkha". In fact, as it has been pointed to me e.g. here,probably "dukkha" is best translated as "unsatisfying" when we refer to the "Three Marks", while "suffering" is the best translation of "dukkha" when we refer to the Four Noble Truths.

:anjali:

boundless
Posts: 73
Joined: Sun Feb 04, 2018 4:16 pm

Re: Bill V. on Theravadan nihilism

Post by boundless » Thu May 03, 2018 6:01 pm

Sometimes ideas can change very quickly.
boundless wrote:
Wed May 02, 2018 10:31 am

I have to say, however, that I have changed a bit my understanding of "dukkha". In fact, as it has been pointed to me e.g. here,probably "dukkha" is best translated as "unsatisfying" when we refer to the "Three Marks", while "suffering" is the best translation of "dukkha" when we refer to the Four Noble Truths.

:anjali:


I was searching more information about that issue and I found this post from Bhante Dhammanando. After reading it, I returned to my previous understanding.

:anjali:

P.S. (I still respect the alternative understanding - it has its points - but I disagree (again) with it...)
Last edited by boundless on Thu May 03, 2018 6:55 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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