How do we explain the experiences of Theists?

Exploring Theravāda's connections to other paths - what can we learn from other traditions, religions and philosophies?
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manas
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How do we explain the experiences of Theists?

Post by manas »

Practitioners of other religions can have some pretty deep and profound experiences of their particular Deity, or Highest Truth or whatever. They can have much conviction that is often unshakeable that their particular path is the correct or best one. How can we explain these experiences, which they might argue are as intense or blissful as Buddhist meditation experiences are for us (although we cannot really know, not being in their mind-and-body)? I was in a Theistic (Hindu) religion myself once, before I truly discovered what the Dhamma is about (although that is still very much a 'work in progress'). I must admit to obtaining a 'taste' of quite beautiful and sublime emotions such as adoration, absorbtion or devotion during those times. I could explain away those emotions as just sankharas, that is true. They arose, and they passed away, just like everything else does. But I do wonder sometimes, about the experiences of those in other faiths or should we say 'paths', and how although we might label them as just this or that, that they are quite real and sometimes life-altering for the persons who have them.

On the journey towards greater understanding, I feel that nothing should escape the light of a thorough investigation, and this question has come up for me from time to time. I would welcome any thoughts anyone else has on this matter.

_/I\_
To the Buddha-refuge i go; to the Dhamma-refuge i go; to the Sangha-refuge i go.
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manas
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Re: How do we explain the experiences of Theists?

Post by manas »

Just as an example, I will relate an experience of the Christian mystic Teresa of Avila.
Her experience of religious ecstasy in her encounter with the angel is described as follows:

“ I saw in his hand a long spear of gold, and at the iron's point there seemed to be a little fire. He appeared to me to be thrusting it at times into my heart, and to pierce my very entrails; when he drew it out, he seemed to draw them out also, and to leave me all on fire with a great love of God. The pain was so great, that it made me moan; and yet so surpassing was the sweetness of this excessive pain, that I could not wish to be rid of it. The soul is satisfied now with nothing less than God. The pain is not bodily, but spiritual; though the body has its share in it. It is a caressing of love so sweet which now takes place between the soul and God, that I pray God of His goodness to make him experience it who may think that I am lying.[4]
Here is a prayer which seems to come from quite a pure heart, as far as I can tell:
Let nothing disturb you.
Let nothing make you afraid.
All things are passing.
God alone never changes.
Patience gains all things.
If you have God you will want for nothing.
God alone suffices.

~The bookmark of Teresa of Avila
Now although Christianity is possibly the last faith I would ever follow, as it seems to excel regarding the necessity of sacrificing one's intellect and suspending disbelief in order to be followed, I cannot deny a certain power and purity in these words, which as far as I know were quite sincere. From her perspective, God was very much a reality.
To the Buddha-refuge i go; to the Dhamma-refuge i go; to the Sangha-refuge i go.
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ground
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Re: How do we explain the experiences of Theists?

Post by ground »

There are experiences and thoughts fabricated referring to these experiences. There is no difference beween religions in this regard.

Kind regards
pegembara
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Re: How do we explain the experiences of Theists?

Post by pegembara »

Have you read the works of Anthony de Mello, a Jesuit priest?
A disciple said to him, "I am ready, in the quest for God, to give up anything: wealth, friends, family, country, life itself. What else can a person give up?"
The Master calmly replied, "One's beliefs about God."

Every word, every image used for God is a distortion more than a description.

The Master would insist that the final barrier to our attaining God was the word and concept "God."

Tell me," said the atheist, "Is there a God — really?"
Said the master, "If you want me to be perfectly honest with you, I will not answer."
Later the disciples demanded to know why he had not answered.
"Because the question is unanswerable," said the Master.
"So you are an atheist?"
"Certainly not. The atheist makes the mistake of denying that of which nothing may be said... and the theist makes the mistake of affirming it.

"I seek the meaning of existence." said the stranger.
"You are of course, assuming." said the Master, "that existence has a meaning."
"Doesn't it?"
"When you experience existence as it is — not as you think it is — you will discover that your question has no meaning."

http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Anthony_de_Mello" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;
And what is right speech? Abstaining from lying, from divisive speech, from abusive speech, & from idle chatter: This is called right speech.
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Re: How do we explain the experiences of Theists?

Post by Buckwheat »

What I've always wondered is if people like this have achieved some spiritual accomplishment, such as stream entry or once returner. It seems to me one could not be an arahat and still call it God, but that someone with pure virtue and personal restraint (many of these mystics have sacrificed personal desires) could have one of the lower yet still noble attainments. The Buddhas meditation teachers had attained high levels of jhana, and would be considered saints by most of us, yet the Buddha found the deepest, most profound peace that is nirvana.
Sotthī hontu nirantaraṃ - May you forever be well.
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Cittasanto
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Re: How do we explain the experiences of Theists?

Post by Cittasanto »

Well Right view is the forerunner!
the experiences are framed in a certain way in the mind, and whatever belief system we have shades these experiences.
it is the same within Buddhism, and can be seen in Theravada, the commentaries v sutta jhana, these are all real experiances and we see one as the correct interpretation dased on a belief that this interpretation is correct.
There is a lot of common ground in reflective traditions but the views & perspectives are what we interpret these experiences by.

it is not so much how do we explain their experiences, but how do we explain experiance.
Blog, Suttas, Aj Chah, Facebook.

He who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that. His reasons may be good, and no one may have been able to refute them.
But if he is equally unable to refute the reasons on the opposite side, if he does not so much as know what they are, he has no ground for preferring either opinion …
...
He must be able to hear them from persons who actually believe them … he must know them in their most plausible and persuasive form.
John Stuart Mill
Nyana
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Re: How do we explain the experiences of Theists?

Post by Nyana »

manas wrote:Practitioners of other religions can have some pretty deep and profound experiences of their particular Deity, or Highest Truth or whatever. They can have much conviction that is often unshakeable that their particular path is the correct or best one. How can we explain these experiences, which they might argue are as intense or blissful as Buddhist meditation experiences are for us (although we cannot really know, not being in their mind-and-body)?
These types of experiences would generally be types of samādhis. A somewhat interesting paper on this subject is The Stages of Christian Mysticism and Buddhist Purification by Lance Cousins, which looks at the path structures of the Interior Castle of St. Teresa of Ávila and Buddhaghosa's Visuddhimagga.
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Re: How do we explain the experiences of Theists?

Post by Buckwheat »

Cittasanto wrote:Well Right view is the forerunner!
the experiences are framed in a certain way in the mind, and whatever belief system we have shades these experiences.
it is the same within Buddhism, and can be seen in Theravada, the commentaries v sutta jhana, these are all real experiances and we see one as the correct interpretation dased on a belief that this interpretation is correct.
There is a lot of common ground in reflective traditions but the views & perspectives are what we interpret these experiences by.

it is not so much how do we explain their experiences, but how do we explain experiance.
It seems to me explaining experience gets in the way of experiencing reality square, resulting in various forms of suffering. Even clinging to ideas of the four noble truths can stand in the way of realizing the choice that leads to suffering and the choice that leads to liberation. When I have moments of clarity, Buddhism ceases to be the prism I look through. Instead, I am experiencing life directly. It is only afterwords that I ask myself how that fits into the dhamma to see if I am following the advice of the wise.
Sotthī hontu nirantaraṃ - May you forever be well.
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Cittasanto
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Re: How do we explain the experiences of Theists?

Post by Cittasanto »

Buckwheat wrote:
Cittasanto wrote:Well Right view is the forerunner!
the experiences are framed in a certain way in the mind, and whatever belief system we have shades these experiences.
it is the same within Buddhism, and can be seen in Theravada, the commentaries v sutta jhana, these are all real experiances and we see one as the correct interpretation dased on a belief that this interpretation is correct.
There is a lot of common ground in reflective traditions but the views & perspectives are what we interpret these experiences by.

it is not so much how do we explain their experiences, but how do we explain experiance.
It seems to me explaining experience gets in the way of experiencing reality square, resulting in various forms of suffering. Even clinging to ideas of the four noble truths can stand in the way of realizing the choice that leads to suffering and the choice that leads to liberation. When I have moments of clarity, Buddhism ceases to be the prism I look through. Instead, I am experiencing life directly. It is only afterwords that I ask myself how that fits into the dhamma to see if I am following the advice of the wise.
The View I was talking about is more akit to a pair of glassed which are always worn so we see everything through them, although I do agree here also.
Blog, Suttas, Aj Chah, Facebook.

He who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that. His reasons may be good, and no one may have been able to refute them.
But if he is equally unable to refute the reasons on the opposite side, if he does not so much as know what they are, he has no ground for preferring either opinion …
...
He must be able to hear them from persons who actually believe them … he must know them in their most plausible and persuasive form.
John Stuart Mill
daverupa
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Re: How do we explain the experiences of Theists?

Post by daverupa »

"Caroline Franks Davis provides a clear, sensitive, and carefully argued assessment of the value of religious experiences as evidence for religious beliefs. Much more than an 'argument from religious experience', the inquiry systematically addresses underlying philosophical issues such as the role of interpretation in experience, the function of models and metaphors in religious language, and the way perceptual experiences in general are used as evidence for claims about the world. The author examines several arguments from religious experience and, using contemporary and classic sources from the world religions, gives an account of the different types of experience. To meet skeptical challenges to religious experience, she draws extensively on psychological and sociological as well as philosophical and religious literature, probing deeply into the questions whether religious experiences are merely a matter of interpretation, whether there is irreducible conflict among religious experiences, and whether psychological and other reductionist explanations of religious experience are satisfactory. She concludes that religious experiences, like most experiences, are most effective as evidence within a cumulative style of argument which combines evidence from a wide range of sources."

The Evidential Force of Religious Experience
  • "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: How do we explain the experiences of Theists?

Post by Buckwheat »

Cittasanto wrote:The View I was talking about is more akit to a pair of glassed which are always worn so we see everything through them, although I do agree here also.
Sweet, dude.
Sotthī hontu nirantaraṃ - May you forever be well.
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acinteyyo
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Re: How do we explain the experiences of Theists?

Post by acinteyyo »

A quote of Ernst Mach:
Nature consists of the elements given by the senses. Primitive man first takes out of them certain complexes of these elements that present themselves with a certain stability and are most important to him. The first and oldest words are names for "things". ... The sensations are no "symbols of things". On the contrary the "thing" is a mental symbol for a sensation-complex of relative stability. Not the things, the bodies, but colours, sounds, pressures, times (what we usually call sensations) are the true elements of the world.
In short: avijjā -> nāma+rūpa -> sankhārā ... or ignorance -> name+form -> formations ...

Another quote from Ernst Mach:
Not bodies produce sensations, but element-complexes (sensation-complexes) constitute the bodies. When the physicist considers the bodies as the permanent reality, the `elements' as the transient appearance, he does not realise that all `bodies' are only mental symbols for element-complexes (sensation-complexes).
Every experience (not only experiences of Theists) is made up by present sensations (vinnana+nama&rupa/consciousness+name&form). Ignorance of that very process, ignorance of the origination of "things" (sankhārā) is the explanation for the existence such a great variation of alleged experiences which are supposed to be experienced by those who have no clue.
MN1
MN1 Mulapariyaya Sutta wrote:The Blessed One said: "There is the case, monks, where an uninstructed run-of-the-mill person — who has no regard for noble ones, is not well-versed or disciplined in their Dhamma; who has no regard for men of integrity, is not well-versed or disciplined in their Dhamma — perceives earth as earth. Perceiving earth as earth, he conceives [things] about earth, he conceives [things] in earth, he conceives [things] coming out of earth, he conceives earth as 'mine,' he delights in earth.
The underlined part is the problem.
And why is that?
MN1 Mulapariyaya Sutta wrote:Why is that? Because he has not comprehended it, I [the Blessed One] tell you.
best wishes, acinteyyo
Thag 1.20. Ajita - I do not fear death; nor do I long for life. I’ll lay down this body, aware and mindful.
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Sam Vara
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Re: How do we explain the experiences of Theists?

Post by Sam Vara »

With a set of ideas derived from a tradition that we accept.

The theists return the compliment, by the way.
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Re: How do we explain the experiences of Theists?

Post by DNS »

Ñāṇa wrote: These types of experiences would generally be types of samādhis.
I agree. I think they are all types of samādhi, but not necessarily a realization or breakthrough to paññā.
Buckwheat wrote:What I've always wondered is if people like this have achieved some spiritual accomplishment, such as stream entry or once returner.
Accomplishment in samādhi, but probably not the noble states. For a sotāpanna (or higher), there is unshakable confidence in the Triple Gem.

One of the misconceptions about Buddhism is the equating of the New Age idea that "All roads lead to the same mountaintop." As Donald Lopez in a Tricycle article noted:
Many great Buddhist figures, from Dogen to the current Dalai Lama, are emphatic on the point that enlightenment is only possible by following the Buddhist path. You can only get so far following other religions: all roads lead to Everest base camp, but from there, Buddhism is the only route to the summit.
Buddhism holds that anyone can get to heaven leading a moral life and precepts from any religion, but the ultimate Nibbana is through the Buddhist path.
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Re: How do we explain the experiences of Theists?

Post by cooran »

Sādhu! :smile:
---The trouble is that you think you have time---
---Worry is the Interest, paid in advance, on a debt you may never owe---
---It's not what happens to you in life that is important ~ it's what you do with it ---
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