Is Theravada "Realist"?

A discussion on all aspects of Theravāda Buddhism
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Ron-The-Elder
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Re: Is Theravada "Realist"?

Post by Ron-The-Elder » Sat Sep 24, 2011 6:47 pm

Is Theravada "Realist"?
by retrofuturist » Thu Sep 08, 2011 5:46 am

Greetings,

Friends, is Theravada Realist? If so, in what form?

To start with, here's a definition from our friends at Wikipedia...

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Realism" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;
Realism, Realist or Realistic are terms that describe any manifestation of philosophical realism, the belief that reality exists independently of observers, whether in philosophy itself or in the applied arts and sciences. In this broad sense it is frequently contrasted with Idealism.
Hi, Retro.

My concerns are with the way your question was formulated:

Question: Is Theravada Realist?

reference: http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/auth ... avada.html" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

As you well know we deal with two "realities" in Buddhist study and practice. The first is mundane, our day to day reality in samsara. The second is absolute, the true nature of reality once the veil of delusion and deceit has been lifted through enlightenment.

From a mundane view we as practitioners must first learn to discern beneficial from nonbeneficial means of coping with the mundane world in which we live. Each of our thoughts, words, and deeds are subject to kamma and generate kamma vipakha. This is very real, and Buddha gave us the means with which to deal with such realities.

First he gave us The Four Noble Truths which define for us the true nature of life as we experience it in samsaric existence. Second and thirdly he gave us a means to identify the underlying causes of the dukkha which results from that existence and revealed that it could be negated and neutralized with the appropriate education, training and application of those means. Last, he gave us an exact prescription by which to deal with any aspect of samsaric existence.

He also gave us a means to evaluate and test the quality and efficacy of our choices in light of their karmic consequences, and a means by which we can readily evaluate the quality of our intentional actions by assessing the beneficiality or harm caused as a result.

Buddha revealed to us the (real) underlying cause and dependence of all of existence, and pointed out that any reliance upon any of it, on any mental or physical level or aspect hoping for security and satisfaction would lead only to more dukkha.

He also gave us the means to transcend our mundane reality, this samsaric world full of distortions and perversions of things as they actually are, across all planes of samsaric existence from hell realms to the highest Jhanas, and provided the correct and complete instructions of transcendence (The Noble Eight Fold Path). He lastly provided the example and the instructions of the practices by which our skills leading to transcendence could be honed to perfection to the point that we can learn to become unaffected by any of Mara's samsaric diversions of our necessary and unwavering focus upon the unchanging and dependable reality of nibbana, release and unbinding, a state exempt and unaffected by all of pitfalls of mundane reality: kamma, dependent origination, impermanence, and all of their samsaric effects and resultants, including the unending cycle of death, aging, disease and rebirth.

But, you already knew that. :tongue:
What Makes an Elder? :
A head of gray hairs doesn't mean one's an elder. Advanced in years, one's called an old fool.
But one in whom there is truth, restraint, rectitude, gentleness,self-control, he's called an elder, his impurities disgorged, enlightened.
-Dhammpada, 19, translated by Thanissaro Bhikkhu.

danieLion
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Re: Is Theravada "Realist"?

Post by danieLion » Sat Sep 24, 2011 10:08 pm

Ron-The-Elder wrote:
Is Theravada "Realist"?
by retrofuturist » Thu Sep 08, 2011 5:46 am

...is Theravada Realist? If so, in what form?

To start with, here's a definition from our friends at Wikipedia...

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Realism" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;
Realism, Realist or Realistic are terms that describe any manifestation of philosophical realism, the belief that reality exists independently of observers, whether in philosophy itself or in the applied arts and sciences. In this broad sense it is frequently contrasted with Idealism.
Hi, Retro.

My concerns are with the way your question was formulated:

Question: Is Theravada Realist?

As you well know we deal with two "realities" in Buddhist study and practice. The first is mundane. The second is absolute.

From a mundane view we as practitioners must first learn to discern beneficial from nonbeneficial means of coping with the mundane world in which we live. Each of our thoughts, words, and deeds are subject to kamma and generate kamma vipakha. This is very real, and Buddha gave...
Hi Ron, Retro, et al.
From Thanissaro Bhikkhu's Skill In Questions, Ch. 3, "Categorical Answers:
Direct knowledge of unbinding is not something that one person can give to another even in an approximate form, not even through language or logic. This is a point the Buddha repeatedly makes, for in his eyes language is too slippery, and logic too unreliable, to form an adequate guide to what is true.... Because his approach was utilitarian and pragmatic, he neither affirmed nor denied the existence of essences. They were simply irrelevant to his program. Thus the later Buddhist scholars who tried to use his teachings to affirm or deny the existence of such essences were applying inappropriate attention to his instructions....

In his definition of right view...he describes a stage...where, after one has watched the arising and passing away of the world...one drops all reference to these factors, along with ideas of 'existence' and 'non-existence'.... 'Whatever rises and passes away' would cover no only the first noble truth, but the second and fourth as well. Thus, at this advanced stage of right view, concepts of 'four noble truths' get dropped along with 'aggregates.' [They] function as concepts useful at a certain point..., but are then dropped as one comes closer to awakening. They are not meant to be viewed as ultimate realities.... Instead of being ultimate truths, they are instrumental truths: correct opinions that serve to function when they are appropriate, to be abandoned when unbinding is touched.... Knowledge is required to achieve [direct] knowing, and knowledge follows on it..., but the knowing and the knowledge are two different things. Knowing is the goal, knowledge, merely instrumental.... [H]owever, the Buddha...also realized that what worked for him didn't work only for him. 'What works' is not simply a matter of personal preference. Even though the truths of right view are instrumental rather than ultimate, they are still categorical: true for all.

So even though the Buddha could not provide his listeners with direct knowledge of unbinding, he could provide them with reliable guidance on how to get there. And given the nature of his guidance--as instrumental but categorical truths--the question is not how a comprehensive view of reality can be constructed from his categorical statements, or how his statements can be made to fit one's own preferences or preconceived notions, but how to put aside one's preferences and apply those categorical statements in pursuit of the path. Because the path has many stages, with many levels of right view, one of the functions of appropriate attention after listening to the Buddha's words is to view his categorical answers as an array of tools, and to ask oneself which tool is suitable for one's practice at any given moment.
Pp. 85-91, my italics, bolds.
DL :heart:
Last edited by danieLion on Sun Sep 25, 2011 6:19 am, edited 1 time in total.

danieLion
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Re: Is Theravada "Realist"?

Post by danieLion » Sun Sep 25, 2011 2:19 am

daverupa wrote:
danieLion wrote:In the Buddha's case (and probably most of Theravada's) ethics are REAL. But they are real not based on a REALIST view of objects or their properties. They are based on an non-formalized but nonetheless entailed epistemology where, as Gomrich puts it, "things" are substituted for processes. One way of putting it is that for the Buddha, and by implication (not to mention textual and historical evidence) Theravada, there is a necessary connection between yathabhutadassana and the silakkhanda (sammasankappa, sammavaca, sammakammanta).
DL :heart:
You might enjoy comparing Buddhist ethics to moral particularism as it pertains to the way the Buddha chose to produce and develop the Vinaya (through a highly contextualized methodology rather than via a list of moral principles - he even told Sariputta that he refused to lay out rules prior to their contextual necessity).

:focus:
I am precisely on topic.

Your quote is an example of the Buddha doing what Gombrich calls "substituting 'things' for processes."

The Vinaya is not my referent. I was thinking more along the lines of kamma and the precepts in the Suttas. For instance, when the Buddha teaches his son about speaking truthfully.

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Re: Is Theravada "Realist"?

Post by chownah » Sun Sep 25, 2011 2:35 am

I'm wondering if the Buddha knew if his teachings were realist or not......
chownah

danieLion
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Re: Is Theravada "Realist"?

Post by danieLion » Sun Sep 25, 2011 6:15 am

The Theravada Schools

The Sautrantika school holds that while sensory experience justifies belief in the existence of mind-independent objects, the justification it provides requires us to infer from our sensory experience physical objects that we do not directly experience; it embraces representative realism. Thus, while our seeming to experience mind-independent objects in no illusion, our knowledge that it is not illusory rests as much on inference as on perceptions. The explanation of the fact that we cannot perceive as we wish--that we see and taste but rice and water though we would prefer meat and wine--is that what we see depends on what there is to be represented and what the conditions are under which we do our perceiving.

The Vaibhasika (followers of the Vaibasha commentary) school defend direct realism, contending that if sensory perception does not justify us in claiming actually to sense objects there is no way in which we can infer their existence. If what we directly experience are alleged representations or copies of objects copies, we have no reason to think that the copies are copies. We do not determine the content of our perception because it typically is determined for us by the objects that we see. The very distinctions between dreams and waking perceptions, or veridical perceptions and illusions, to which idealists appeal, depend for their appropriateness to the idealist's purpose on our being able to tell that some perceptual experiences are reliable and some are not; but then the idealist cannot successfully use them.

For both...schools, there is no need to correct belief in physical objects, or in minds, beyond our viewing both mind and objects as collections of (different sorts of) momentary states (Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy, pp. 105-106).

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tiltbillings
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Re: Is Theravada "Realist"?

Post by tiltbillings » Sun Sep 25, 2011 6:24 am

danieLion wrote:
The Theravada Schools . . . .
Hinayana schools according to the Mahayana tenet systems, but Theravada?
>> Do you see a man wise [enlightened/ariya] in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him.<< -- Proverbs 26:12

This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond. -- SN I, 38.

“Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?” HPatDH p.723

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Re: Is Theravada "Realist"?

Post by danieLion » Sun Sep 25, 2011 6:41 am

tiltbillings wrote:
danieLion wrote:
The Theravada Schools . . . .
Hinayana schools according to the Mahayana tenet systems, but Theravada?
No. According to Keith E. Yandell's (U of Wisconsin, Madison) Buddhism entry in The Cambridge Dicitonary of Philosophy (2nd Ed.) According the same entry, The Mahayana "schools" are The Madhyamika, Yogacara (which I have no current personal interest in) and Zen.
DL :geek:

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tiltbillings
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Re: Is Theravada "Realist"?

Post by tiltbillings » Sun Sep 25, 2011 7:14 am

danieLion wrote:According to Keith E. Yandell's (U of Wisconsin, Madison) Buddhism entry in The Cambridge Dicitonary of Philosophy (2nd Ed.) According the same entry, The Mahayana "schools" are The Madhyamika, Yogacara (which I have no current personal interest in) and Zen.
DL :geek:
Keith Yandell is not an Asian religion specialist. He taught philosophy of religion in the Philosophy Dept at the U of W, Madison. What he parrotting in that article is the Tibetan Gelugpa take on things Buddhist, which he got from Geshe Sopa who taught in the Southeast Asian/Buddhist Studies program. Yandell's specialty is in Christianity.

The Mahayana/Tibetan Buddhist Tenet system includes the Madhayamaka and the Yogachara, and two non-Mahayana schools: the Sautrantika and the Vaibhasika, and the major source of information about those two schools is the Abhidharmakosha and its commentary, both of which are clearly not Theravadin.

Now, if you want to actually learn something about Buddhist history I can suggest a book or two for you to read.
>> Do you see a man wise [enlightened/ariya] in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him.<< -- Proverbs 26:12

This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond. -- SN I, 38.

“Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?” HPatDH p.723

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Re: Is Theravada "Realist"?

Post by acinteyyo » Sun Sep 25, 2011 10:37 am

danieLion wrote: Hi Ron, Retro, et al.
From Thanissaro Bhikkhu's Skill In Questions, Ch. 3, "Categorical Answers:
Direct knowledge of unbinding is not something that one person can give to another even in an approximate form, not even through language or logic. This is a point the Buddha repeatedly makes, for in his eyes language is too slippery, and logic too unreliable, to form an adequate guide to what is true.... Because his approach was utilitarian and pragmatic, he neither affirmed nor denied the existence of essences. They were simply irrelevant to his program. Thus the later Buddhist scholars who tried to use his teachings to affirm or deny the existence of such essences were applying inappropriate attention to his instructions....

In his definition of right view...he describes a stage...where, after one has watched the arising and passing away of the world...one drops all reference to these factors, along with ideas of 'existence' and 'non-existence'.... 'Whatever rises and passes away' would cover no only the first noble truth, but the second and fourth as well. Thus, at this advanced stage of right view, concepts of 'four noble truths' get dropped along with 'aggregates.' [They] function as concepts useful at a certain point..., but are then dropped as one comes closer to awakening. They are not meant to be viewed as ultimate realities.... Instead of being ultimate truths, they are instrumental truths: correct opinions that serve to function when they are appropriate, to be abandoned when unbinding is touched.... Knowledge is required to achieve [direct] knowing, and knowledge follows on it..., but the knowing and the knowledge are two different things. Knowing is the goal, knowledge, merely instrumental.... [H]owever, the Buddha...also realized that what worked for him didn't work only for him. 'What works' is not simply a matter of personal preference. Even though the truths of right view are instrumental rather than ultimate, they are still categorical: true for all.

So even though the Buddha could not provide his listeners with direct knowledge of unbinding, he could provide them with reliable guidance on how to get there. And given the nature of his guidance--as instrumental but categorical truths--the question is not how a comprehensive view of reality can be constructed from his categorical statements, or how his statements can be made to fit one's own preferences or preconceived notions, but how to put aside one's preferences and apply those categorical statements in pursuit of the path. Because the path has many stages, with many levels of right view, one of the functions of appropriate attention after listening to the Buddha's words is to view his categorical answers as an array of tools, and to ask oneself which tool is suitable for one's practice at any given moment.
Pp. 85-91, my italics, bolds.
DL :heart:
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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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Re: Is Theravada "Realist"?

Post by daverupa » Sun Sep 25, 2011 12:59 pm

My earlier :focus: was because I was off-topic, not anyone else. Alas for confusion on teh internetz. :computerproblem:
  • "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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Alex123
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Re: Is Theravada "Realist"?

Post by Alex123 » Sun Sep 25, 2011 6:05 pm

Hello Tilt,
tiltbillings wrote: The Mahayana/Tibetan Buddhist Tenet system includes the Madhayamaka and the Yogachara, and two non-Mahayana schools: the Sautrantika and the Vaibhasika, and the major source of information about those two schools is the Abhidharmakosha and its commentary, both of which are clearly not Theravadin.

Now, if you want to actually learn something about Buddhist history I can suggest a book or two for you to read.

How is Theravada tenet system cardinally different from Vaibhashika/Sautrantika in context of realism or anti-realism?
"Life is a struggle. Life will throw curveballs at you, it will humble you, it will attempt to break you down. And just when you think things are starting to look up, life will smack you back down with ruthless indifference..."

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tiltbillings
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Re: Is Theravada "Realist"?

Post by tiltbillings » Sun Sep 25, 2011 8:23 pm

Alex123 wrote:
How is Theravada tenet system cardinally different from Vaibhashika/Sautrantika in context of realism or anti-realism?
Theravada is not part of the Mahayana?Tibetan Buddhist Tenet system.

As far as this realism business is concerned, I find it a fruitless, if not bootless, discussion.
>> Do you see a man wise [enlightened/ariya] in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him.<< -- Proverbs 26:12

This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond. -- SN I, 38.

“Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?” HPatDH p.723

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Alex123
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Re: Is Theravada "Realist"?

Post by Alex123 » Sun Sep 25, 2011 8:38 pm

tiltbillings wrote:
Alex123 wrote:
How is Theravada tenet system cardinally different from Vaibhashika/Sautrantika in context of realism or anti-realism?
Theravada is not part of the Mahayana?Tibetan Buddhist Tenet system.
Is Theravada realist or anti-realist regarding the existence of mind independent dhammas?
"Life is a struggle. Life will throw curveballs at you, it will humble you, it will attempt to break you down. And just when you think things are starting to look up, life will smack you back down with ruthless indifference..."

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Re: Is Theravada "Realist"?

Post by tiltbillings » Sun Sep 25, 2011 8:50 pm

Alex123 wrote:
tiltbillings wrote:
Alex123 wrote:
How is Theravada tenet system cardinally different from Vaibhashika/Sautrantika in context of realism or anti-realism?
Theravada is not part of the Mahayana?Tibetan Buddhist Tenet system.
Is Theravada realist or anti-realist regarding the existence of mind independent dhammas?
It doesn't matter in terms of what is necessary for awakening. I am not wasting my time on this discussion.

Recall that from the perspective of the Buddha’s teachings in the Pali, the ‘All’ {SN IV 15} is composed entirely of phassa, contact between sense base and sense object. We can only directly know phenomena within this ‘world of experience’, so from the Theravadin perspective, we cannot know whether there really exists a ‘brain’ or a ‘body’ apart from moments of intellectual consciousness, of seeing (the image of a brain), and so on. The discourses of the Pali describe an individual world of experience as composed of various mental and physical factors, nama and rupa. These two are not the separate, independent worlds that Rene Descartes envisioned.

"…the Buddha spoke of the human person as a psychophysical personality (namarupa). Yet the psychic and the physical were never discussed in isolation, nor were they viewed as self-subsistent entities. For him, there was neither a ‘material-stuff’ nor a ‘mental-stuff’, because both are results of reductive analyses that go beyond experience."53

The physical and mental aspects of human experience are continually arising together, intimately dependent on one another.

53 Kalupahana 1976: 73, refers to D.15{II,62}, where the Buddha speaks of both
physicality and mentality mutually dependent forms of contact (phassa).
Physicality is described as contact with resistance (pat.ighasamphassa),
mentality as contact with concepts (adhivacanasamphassa).


STRONG ROOTS by Jake Davis, page 190-1. http://www.dharma.org/bcbs/Pages/docume ... gRoots.pdf" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;
>> Do you see a man wise [enlightened/ariya] in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him.<< -- Proverbs 26:12

This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond. -- SN I, 38.

“Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?” HPatDH p.723

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Alex123
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Re: Is Theravada "Realist"?

Post by Alex123 » Sun Sep 25, 2011 9:11 pm

Recall that from the perspective of the Buddha’s teachings in the Pali, the ‘All’ {SN IV 15} is composed entirely of phassa, contact between sense base and sense object.

That sutta does not talks about Phassa. It talks about 6 internal and 6 external sense bases.
"The Blessed One said, "What is the All? Simply the eye & forms, ear & sounds, nose & aromas, tongue & flavors, body & tactile sensations, intellect & ideas. This, monks, is called the All. [1] Anyone who would say, 'Repudiating this All, I will describe another,' if questioned on what exactly might be the grounds for his statement, would be unable to explain, and furthermore, would be put to grief. Why? Because it lies beyond range.""

We can only directly know phenomena within this ‘world of experience’, so from the Theravadin perspective, we cannot know whether there really exists a ‘brain’ or a ‘body’ apart from moments of intellectual consciousness, of seeing (the image of a brain), and so on. The discourses of the Pali describe an individual world of experience as composed of various mental and physical factors, nama and rupa. These two are not the separate, independent worlds that Rene Descartes envisioned.

What about body being like a senseless log without consciousness?
""When this body lacks these three qualities — vitality, heat, & consciousness — it lies discarded & forsaken like a senseless log.""
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;
Body can be without consciousness.

Or beings that exist as matter without mind?
Vibhaṅgapāḷi PTS 419 it says this about Asaññasattā:
1017.... Asaññasattānaṃ devānaṃ upapattikkhaṇe eko khandho pātubhavati – rūpakkhandho; dve āyatanāni pātubhavanti – rūpāyatanaṃ, dhammāyatanaṃ; dve dhātuyo pātubhavanti – rūpadhātu, dhammadhātu; ekaṃ saccaṃ pātubhavati – dukkhasaccaṃ; ekindriyaṃ pātubhavati – rūpajīvitindriyaṃ. Asaññasattā devā ahetukā anāhārā aphassakā avedanakā asaññakā acetanakā acittakā pātubhavanti.

Please note that rūpakkhandho is present even though there are no mental things such as: vedanā, saññā, cetanā, citta.

So rūpakkhandha can exist independent of mind, and there can be factors that are not experienced.
"Life is a struggle. Life will throw curveballs at you, it will humble you, it will attempt to break you down. And just when you think things are starting to look up, life will smack you back down with ruthless indifference..."

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