phil wrote: What if the mundane benefits of Dhamma are actually subtly rooted in craving pleasant mental and physical states and we never see that?
My understanding is that until nibbana is attained, all activity is rooted in attachment to pleasant mental and physical states. Our task is to understand this. The early stages of the path seem to involve weaning oneself off the more crude cravings for sensual pleasures and replacing them with more subtle and refined pleasures (like the rapture of jhana). Eventually these too are let go, until eventually there is nothing left to let go of...but I suspect that's a long way off for most of us.
The Buddha does say that the mark of wisdom is being willing to sacrifice a lesser happiness for the sake of a greater happiness. Being willing to sacrifice sensual pleasure for pleasure derived from Dhamma practice is clearly a case of sacrificing a lesser happiness for something greater, so if somebody is willing and able to do this it would seem they have the beginnings of the wisdom. Being able to make this kind of trade is part of the training in renunciation.
phil wrote:We would live out our lives using the Dhamma as a comforter and die blind to its deeper liberating aspects, And frankly I think that is not necessarily a bad thing, seeking pleasure though Dhamma means we are less likely to seek pleasure in harmful deeds that would make it less likely that we will have opportunities to develop understanding in future lives.
Right, this was my point. Worst case scenario, somebody is still suffering less and causing less suffering for others than if they were chasing after sensual pleasure.
phil wrote:For example, you quote the "feed on rapture" from Dhammaoada. Think how easy it would be for a newcomer to Dhamma to make easy assumptions about rapture and assume that he or she has piti or other wholesome factors developing when it is just an exercise in longing for pleasant states.
Well, as a newcomer you shouldn't make assumptions, and if you have good teachers then they will point out and ruthlessly question those assumptions.
By the same token also, a newcomer could also hear all this talk about suffering and letting go of desire and think "Wow, how awfully nihilistic the Dhamma seems to be. The Buddha was a real downer. Life isn't just about suffering, you know! I want to be happy, but Buddhism is just about giving stuff up."
This could drive them away from practice altogether, or make them embrace an extremely austere form of practice, which could either lead to asceticism (which the Buddha rejected) or else cause them to burn out because excessive austerity is not sustainable. Just as it's not usually a good idea for an addict to quit "cold turkey", most of us cannot simply say "Okay cool, craving and attachment are the root of suffering. Let me just stop craving anything whatsoever and all my problems are solved!" Instead, there's a process - the Path - and we work toward that gradually. Along the way there are pleasures, and there's nothing wrong in acknowledging and even celebrating them.
It's like being on a mountain trail - if you're so relentlessly focused on reaching the summit, you will miss the view - and actually taking a moment to stop and take in the vista can help you orient yourself to the summit, and confirm you are on the right track. Sure, you could also get stuck on a particularly spectacular view and not make it up to the mountain before sunset, but that's surely better than not making the journey at all.