tiltbillings wrote:Then what is accurate: your position is correct; literalists are simply wrong?
It is my guess that no one of us has everything down perfectly. Speaking of my own participation in understanding all of this, I know I don't, because my understanding is always evolving. I am constantly learning new things, finding new perspectives in the suttas.
In any discussion of this type, I think it's important to make a distinction between the theoretical goal-post of "what the Buddha intended to say" which remains fairly constant (allowing for the possibility that he might have shifted his perspective a little as his life went on, but I don't hear him saying that about his dhamma, only about his methods of teaching it). And on this, it is my position that if you and I were in the audience at his feet, able to ask him questions, there's still a fair chance that neither of us would reach the goal-post -- and even if we did, we'd very likely have different understandings of how it should be taught (which has more to do, really, with the second goal mentioned below), because each of us will have as first-hand experience what worked for us (the raft again). But at any rate, "what the Buddha intended" is one goal post to aim for, even with no expectation that it can be perfectly achieved. In aiming for that goal post, one does tend to gain certainty over time that their approach is correct, and in debate we tend to defend it from the perspective of it being correct -- I know I often sound like I am an immovable mountain on the subject so I can well understand you thinking that's my attitude -- but my presence here and the discussions should be evidence that I am more open-minded than that (unless of course you perceive me as a cardboard-cutout of a human being who has one goal -- some hidden agenda -- I know some folks who can't get past thinking that way, it's so much easier than reading people as complex).
And the other goal-post is, through the Buddha's teachings, to gain an understanding of what's going on in the world and in us that moves us forward toward equanimity and wisdom and compassion -- however each of us perceives the goal of practice (which for most of those I've encountered also changes over time; I know it has for me) -- and in pursuit of that goal there is a lot more variation in understandings than there can be in the theoretical goal of "what the Buddha intended". And what is useful to any individual also changes over time.
But of course my understanding of what the Buddha taught does include my perception that he taught that holding views about rebirth was a handicap to progress. I don't, however, have an absolute conviction that I am right about this; I am not so certain that I couldn't be persuaded otherwise. You do me a favor if you can show me that the way I see it will block my ability to move forward in my practice. But no one has been able to show me that yet, and that may be in part because no one has yet actually understood what I'm saying enough to build any kind of useful argument against it. Everyone's so busy shouting "You're wrong!" without finding within themselves a willingness to show me how I'm wrong, or thinking that the argument rests more on academic proofs than on practice (when for me, it is all about practice -- can I understand what's in the suttas in a way that adds to the effectiveness of my practice) and asking me for proof before they'll even listen to the essential core of what I'm saying, or saying I'm wrong because they've misunderstood what I'm saying, and I don't find anyone actually understanding the utility of what I'm saying -- how it fits the texts as well as life -- and being able to show me that it is a less useful way of understanding what the Buddha meant (goalpost one) as a way of practicing (goalpost two) than the traditional view. But I will persist in asking as long as folks here are willing to try to understand what I'm saying.
But that it may well be that you have a clearer understanding on any given point X than I do is one of the reasons I'm here in this thread right now, because I am open to the possibility and want to allow ample opportunity to be shown the errors in my thinking. There are other reasons I am here as well, of course, including getting this group's help in gaining practice expressing what I see (that's foremost, but the two are intertwined), and offering a different perspective to those who find it useful. That last also includes some element of offering it to people who don't even know yet that they would find it useful, because I do keep in mind that what I see is the ways belief in rebirth hinders progress -- ways I haven't even discussed here, ways that might seem on the surface to have nothing at all to do with convictions about rebirth (well, they don't have anything to do with it, except as a matter of structure) -- and I suspect the brouhaha about rebirth obscures the points that would concern me most, and so I keep hoping that folks can get past all that to understand that, at the core, what I am saying is: there is a consistent way of seeing what's in the suttas, that answers the objections that many newcomers have without having to make a whole lot of jiggling adjustments and trying to understand obscure points of doctrine like how there is no self but we need to be concerned with our rebirth, that puts the focus of practice where it is most useful: in the here-and-now, and what we can see that anyone can see, without decades of study and leaps of faith. And yes, it works off The Wager, and it works the way Craig keeps describing: the practice when focused just on the here-and-now works whether there turns out to be rebirth or not, as long as there is no clinging to views (which is, of course, a major building block of practice).
But I digress.
Given a point-of-doctrine X, and your understanding of it being different from mine, it is my expectation that quite often you will have a better grip on what it is in relation to the first goal post (what the Buddha intended) than I do. Some of the time we may be equally off, though our views are different. Some of the time I may be the more accurate. It's not as simple as a dogmatic "the literalists are wrong and I am right", not on any level.
And now I'm off to the library to work on the paper I owe Professor Gombrich. Once I'm done with that I can try to work on Sylvester's requests.