Buddhist response to Western ontology

Exploring Theravāda's connections to other paths - what can we learn from other traditions, religions and philosophies?
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daverupa
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Re: Buddhist response to Western ontology

Post by daverupa » Wed Feb 08, 2012 2:32 pm

Cittasanto wrote:you missed the point.
I'm not saying that your comment was moving the goalposts, I'm saying that contemplans' post was moving the goalposts. Your point was to highlight the contradiction between being on page four and the citing of 'a good start' with new information, rather than a continuation of the OP, yes? I agreed, and simply referenced the particular method of that contradiction. Your quote was embedded since I was supporting the question you raised.

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  • "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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contemplans
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Re: Buddhist response to Western ontology

Post by contemplans » Wed Feb 08, 2012 2:46 pm

Kim O'Hara wrote:
contemplans wrote:Since the OP was interested in a Buddhist response to Western ontology, it would be good to start with a robust understanding of the best Western ontology has to offer. In these articles we get a good run down of the content, especially in relation to the types of arguments posted here. Any refutation of these ideas would be worthy of discussion.

http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2010/09 ... heism.html" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;
http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2010/05 ... eedom.html" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;
http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2009/11 ... icity.html" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;
Contemplans,
With respect, the OP was interested in Buddhist responses to "Western ontology" - as you knew, of course, since you pointed it out. I agree that "it would be good to [re]start with a robust understanding of the best Western ontology has to offer," but we won't achieve that by going to your explicitly theistic and Christian links.
wikipedia wrote:Ontology (from onto-, from the Greek ὤν, ὄντος "being; that which is", present participle of the verb εἰμί "be", and -λογία, -logia: science, study, theory) is the philosophical study of the nature of being, existence, or reality as such, as well as the basic categories of being and their relations. Traditionally listed as a part of the major branch of philosophy known as metaphysics, ontology deals with questions concerning what entities exist or can be said to exist, and how such entities can be grouped, related within a hierarchy, and subdivided according to similarities and differences.
God/s don't even get a mention in the primary definition, and there are a couple of centuries of ontological theory before JC even gets born.
:focus:

:namaste:
Kim
Hi Kim, with all due respect to you, Western ontology is Christian. It's roots definitely are with the Greeks, but they take the shape we know it through Christian philosophers like Aquinas. Aristotle was already positing God in his ontology, so there is no need to go into Christianity, but Aquinas and other noted philosophers have improved his work so much that it would be absolutely silly to not use them. This philosophy is what is called classical theism. Ontology is not a Buddhist subject, so we are going to stray from the suttas to discuss it. The Buddhist response again would be, don't discuss it.

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tiltbillings
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Re: Buddhist response to Western ontology

Post by tiltbillings » Wed Feb 08, 2012 2:53 pm

contemplans wrote: Ontology is not a Buddhist subject, so we are going to stray from the suttas to discuss it. The Buddhist response again would be, don't discuss it.
Your claim seems to, as they often do, fail:

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html" 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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contemplans
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Re: Buddhist response to Western ontology

Post by contemplans » Wed Feb 08, 2012 4:26 pm

tiltbillings wrote:
contemplans wrote: Ontology is not a Buddhist subject, so we are going to stray from the suttas to discuss it. The Buddhist response again would be, don't discuss it.
Your claim seems to, as they often do, fail:

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;
That sutta doesn't posit an ontology, it says, "We don't do ontology." See quote: "Avoiding these two extremes ...". Buddhism is quietistic in this regard, as it often is with philosophical questions. This is why I say it isn't a Buddhist subject.

http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/realism/#8" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

perkele
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Re: Buddhist response to Western ontology

Post by perkele » Wed Feb 08, 2012 5:42 pm

Hello contemplans, all!

When you read the sutta carefully you can see that there is a reason, there is a justification for "avoiding these two extremes", namely:
But when one sees the origination of the world as it actually is with right discernment, 'non-existence' with reference to the world does not occur to one. When one sees the cessation of the world as it actually is with right discernment, 'existence' with reference to the world does not occur to one.
The premise here is of course that the Buddha "sees the origination/cessation of the world as it actually is with right discernment". And based on that, far from being quietistic, he states something to the extent that "ontology ultimately doesn't make sense".
That is how I read it, roughly, although this very short summary can of course not bring home the depth of his message. It is something to contemplate rather than to access, to attack or to support by pure reasoning.
Therefore in order to really get it, some initial trust in the validity of what the Buddha has to say here is necessary, I think. And it does not provide a basis for makig up clever arguments based on logic and reasoning to convince others of this assertion. But that's not to say that he is quietistic about it.

In the light of that and in relation to the OP, I think it is neither possible nor conducive to true understanding to find/search some generic response to refute ontological arguments. In that way one would mostly only contribute to the "thicket of views", as it were. One should rather try to argument based on the other person's understanding as far as one can understand it, I guess.
:thinking:
People who reduce their own or others' understanding to a bunch of logical formulas for the sake of argument can hardly do justice to what they are really able to understand and often come to doubtful conclusions about things that they don't understand I would say.

Regards
perkele

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contemplans
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Re: Buddhist response to Western ontology

Post by contemplans » Wed Feb 08, 2012 6:30 pm

perkele wrote: When you read the sutta carefully you can see that there is a reason, there is a justification for "avoiding these two extremes"

I do not state there is not a justification within the Buddhist teachings, but that that does not amount to an ontological doctrine, nor does it do anything to disprove other ontological doctrines. Not engaging in the debate does not disprove the points of the debate.
perkele wrote: And based on that, far from being quietistic, he states something to the extent that "ontology ultimately doesn't make sense".
What is described in the quote is a mode of perception called "radical phenomenology," in which at any given moment the opposite perception would not occur. So for instance, where one is perceiving arising one is not perceive ceassing. And where one is perceiving ceassing one is not perceive arising. This is probably how the Buddha and arahants relate(d) to things at all times. They are just right there, without ponder something other than their direct perception. Also "world" is not what exists, but what is perceived via the five senses and the mind. He is not making any statements about being here per se. He is saying don't get involved. When he says "... this world is supported by (takes as its object) a polarity, that of existence & non-existence ..." he is saying having an ontological view is a type of wrong view, inasmuch as the views are based on the five senses and the mind feeding on the polarity, causing further proliferation, and don't lead to the ending of suffering (see DN 11).

Another debate, then, would be why ontological arguments are not skillful tools. I am not opening that debate, but just saying it is possible.

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Re: Buddhist response to Western ontology

Post by contemplans » Wed Feb 08, 2012 6:33 pm

Correction, see MN 11. :smile:

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Re: Buddhist response to Western ontology

Post by mikenz66 » Wed Feb 08, 2012 7:45 pm

This is an interesting point:
contemplans wrote: What is described in the quote is a mode of perception called "radical phenomenology," in which at any given moment the opposite perception would not occur. So for instance, where one is perceiving arising one is not perceive ceassing. And where one is perceiving ceassing one is not perceive arising. This is probably how the Buddha and arahants relate(d) to things at all times. They are just right there, without ponder something other than their direct perception.
Which does seem to have support from various suttas, and also from descriptions of experience by ancient and modern teachers and commentators.
contemplans wrote: Also "world" is not what exists, but what is perceived via the five senses and the mind. He is not making any statements about being here per se. He is saying don't get involved. When he says "... this world is supported by (takes as its object) a polarity, that of existence & non-existence ..." he is saying having an ontological view is a type of wrong view, inasmuch as the views are based on the five senses and the mind feeding on the polarity, causing further proliferation, and don't lead to the ending of suffering (see DN 11).
SN 12.15 Kaccayanagotta Sutta is often quoted in discussions about "reality". However, this thread: http://dhammawheel.com/viewtopic.php?f=25&t=11269" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false; contains a variety of commentary, from Buddhaghosa to Nananada, which suggests that its message has more to do with avoiding eternalism and annihilationism than whether or not anything "exists".


:anjali:
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perkele
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Re: Buddhist response to Western ontology

Post by perkele » Wed Feb 08, 2012 7:50 pm

contemplans wrote:
perkele wrote: When you read the sutta carefully you can see that there is a reason, there is a justification for "avoiding these two extremes"
I do not state there is not a justification within the Buddhist teachings, but that that does not amount to an ontological doctrine, nor does it do anything to disprove other ontological doctrines. Not engaging in the debate does not disprove the points of the debate.
That's true. The Buddha does not "disprove" ontological doctrines here in a logical sense. He refutes them as meaningless. And he does that in a very well-reasoned and convincing manner in my eyes.
contemplans wrote:
perkele wrote: And based on that, far from being quietistic, he states something to the extent that "ontology ultimately doesn't make sense".
What is described in the quote is a mode of perception called "radical phenomenology," in which at any given moment the opposite perception would not occur. So for instance, where one is perceiving arising one is not perceive ceassing. And where one is perceiving ceassing one is not perceive arising.
Call it what you will. I'd call it "seeing things as they are" to paraphrase the Buddha or "honest perception". It can only be based on complete integrity and must therefore be very hard to achieve.
This is probably how the Buddha and arahants relate(d) to things at all times. They are just right there, without ponder something other than their direct perception. Also "world" is not what exists, but what is perceived via the five senses and the mind. He is not making any statements about being here per se. He is saying don't get involved. When he says "... this world is supported by (takes as its object) a polarity, that of existence & non-existence ..." he is saying having an ontological view is a type of wrong view, inasmuch as the views are based on the five senses and the mind feeding on the polarity, causing further proliferation, and don't lead to the ending of suffering (see MN 11).
You stated that very well. And thanks for pointing to this deep and profound sutta.
Another debate, then, would be why ontological arguments are not skillful tools. I am not opening that debate, but just saying it is possible.
I would gather you have given the answer to that in what I marked as bold in the previous quote. I don't understand.
:shrug:

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Re: Buddhist response to Western ontology

Post by contemplans » Wed Feb 08, 2012 8:27 pm

I have prepared this summary of a related Thomist argument to the OP's argument for the sake of the discussion. I found it is probably more related to Buddhism (causality, process) then the one given by the OP (being itself). The Buddha teaches causation, so this seems to be native ground. Let's discuss its content. The Buddha never seemed to get beyond the idea of infinite regress. If that is not the case, then how can we explain him not getting beyond it, or where is the error in logic below?


Some terminology to start.

First or principal causality: Has its causal power inherently. Ultimately, pure actuality.

Second or instrumental causality: Derives whatever causal power it has from something else.


Causal Series

Essentially ordered, ordered per se: All the causes in such a series other than the first are instrumental, for their being causes at all depends essentially on the activity of that which uses them as instruments.

Examples on the natural plane: A hand using stick to push a stone.


Accidently ordered, ordered per accidens: All the causes in such a series do not essentially depend for their efficacy on the activity of earlier causes in the series.

Examples on the natural plane: A father possesses the power to generate sons independently of the activity of his own father, so that a series of fathers and sons is in that sense ordered per accidens rather than per se (though each member of such a series is also dependent in various other respects on causal series ordered per se).



Now, the first cause St Thomas argues for is “first” not in a temporal sense, but in an ontological sense, a sustaining cause of the world here and now and at any moment at which the world exists at all -- the absolutely fundamental cause, that apart from which nothing could cause (because nothing could exist) at all.

Why not?

First, why does Aquinas hold that only God can possibly create out of nothing? Here’s one way to understand it. Any of us can easily actualize the potential of the oxygen in the air around us to move, simply by waving our arms. Only someone with the relevant expert knowledge could take oxygen and hydrogen and synthesize water out of them. It would take greater power still to cause the prime matter underlying oxygen, hydrogen, or water to take on the substantial form of a tree. But creation out of nothing requires more power even than that, in fact unlimited power. For it is not a case of drawing out the potentialities that are already there in a thing, but rather causing a thing to exist entirely, together with its potentialities, where nothing at all had existed before. It isn’t a case merely of modifying what already exists, but rather of causing to exist in the first place that which all mere modification presupposes.

Limited causes are limited precisely by potentialities which are not actualized. Hence a sculptor is limited by the degree of skill he has so far acquired, by the limits on his dexterity given the structure of his hands, etc. He is limited also by the potentialities of his materials – their capacity to be molded using some tools but not others, their capacity to maintain whatever shape the sculptor puts into them, and so forth. Now that which creates out of nothing is not limited by any such external factors, precisely because it is not modifying anything that already exists outside of it. But neither can it be limited by any internal potentialities analogous to the limits on a sculptor’s skill. For it is not merely causing a being of this or that sort to exist (though it is doing that too) – modifying preexisting materials would suffice to cause that – but also making it the case that any being at all exists. And only that which is not a being among others but rather unlimited being – that which is pure actuality – can do that.

The idea is perhaps best stated in Platonic terms of the sort Aquinas uses in the Fourth Way. To be a tree or to be a stone is merely to participate in “treeness” or “stoneness.” But to be at all – which is the characteristic effect of an act of creation out of nothing – is to participate in Being Itself. Now the principle of proportionate causality tells us that whatever is in an effect must be in some way in its cause. And only that which just is Being Itself can, in this case, be a cause proportionate to the effect, since the effect is not merely to be a tree or to be a stone, but to be at all.

So only God – who just is pure actuality or Being Itself rather than a being among others – can cause a thing to exist out of nothing. But why could He not work through instrumental causes in doing so? For all the preceding argument would seem to show is that Being Itself is the ultimate cause of any thing’s existing at all. That is, it suggests that any cause of a thing’s sheer existence that was less than Being Itself would, either directly or indirectly, owe its own existence to that which is Being Itself. But why couldn’t that which is Being Itself impart to other things their sheer existence through such an intermediary – through an instrumental cause which, like the effect, is merely a being among others rather than Being Itself?

Here’s one way to think about the problem with this idea. An instrumental cause causes by virtue of being used to alter what already exists, as a chisel is used by a sculptor to alter marble. But to cause the sheer existence of a thing out of nothing is not to alter what already exists. In the case of a material thing, it does not involve causing already existing matter to take on a new form (as a sculptor does), but rather causing the matter and form together to exist. Hence while it makes sense to speak of using a chisel in the act of sculpting a statue out of marble, it makes no sense to speak of using a chisel in the act of causing a statue to exist out of nothing. For before the statue was caused to exist out of nothing, there was no marble on which the chisel could be brought to bear; and after the statue is caused to exist out of nothing, there is nothing for the chisel to do, since the marble already is (by hypothesis) a statue. Now any purported instrumental cause involved in any act of creation out of nothing would be like the chisel. It would be a fifth wheel – it wouldn’t be doing anything, and thus would not be causing anything, and thus would not really be an instrumental cause (because not a cause at all). Hence the very idea of God creating out of nothing through instrumental causes falls apart on analysis.

So, while popular images of God as First Cause have Him knocking down the first domino billions of years ago, and while even Aquinas might seem to make of Him the distant terminus of a regress of simultaneous currently operating causes, nothing could be further from the truth. God’s relationship to the world is in Aquinas’s view much more intimate than that, indeed, as intimate as possible. At least where the sheer existence of things is concerned, He and He alone is directly causing them at every instant. He is, as the Muslims say, “closer than the vein in your neck.”

...


Such a series can be simultaneous (present) or sequential (through time). It is ultimately their instrumental character which makes every member of a per se ordered causal series other than the first depend necessarily on the first. And the Thomist does hold that the world must ultimately be sustained at every instant by a purely actual uncaused cause, not merely generated at some point in the past.

Now, one may state, “every member of the series is genuinely the cause of the one that follows it.” Now if this assumption were correct, then it would indeed be odd for Aquinas to hold that a series of causes per accidens might be infinite while a series of causes per se could not be. For it is precisely because they have their causal power independently of any earlier members of the series that Aquinas argues that the activity of the members of a per accidens series need not be traced to a first cause. So, if he thought that the members of a series of per se causes also had independent causal power, then his reason for tracing that sort of series to a first member would be undermined. But of course, that is not what Aquinas thinks. He thinks that they do not have such independent causal power, and so it is not at all odd, arbitrary, or unjustified for him to say that a series ordered per se needs to trace its activity to a first uncaused cause. Many miss this because they think that the Thomistic argument rests on an appeal to simultaneity, and they don’t see how simultaneity requires an uncaused cause. But as I have said, the argument doesn’t rest on simultaneity as such. It rests on the instrumentality of the members of a causal series ordered per se, and instrumentality does require an uncaused cause.

[As a side note, this does not mean that there is no sense in which the members of a causal series ordered per se are genuine causes; Aquinas is not an occasionalist. But how his account avoids occasionalism is a separate issue, and does not affect the soundness of Thomistic cosmological arguments as such.]

It wouldn’t change things in the least if we granted for the sake of argument that a series of causes ordered per se might loop around back on itself in a circle, or even that it might extend forward and backward infinitely. For the point is that as long as the members of such a circular or infinite chain of causes have no independent causal power of their own, there will have to be something outside the series which imparts to them their causal efficacy.

(As the Thomist A. D. Sertillanges once put it, a paint brush can’t move itself even if it has a very long handle. And it still couldn’t move itself even if it had an infinitely long handle.) Moreover, if that which imparts causal power to the members of the circular or infinitely long series itself had no independent causal power, then it too would of necessity also require a principal cause of its own, relative to which it is an instrument. This explanatory regress cannot possibly terminate in anything other than something which has absolutely independent causal power, which can cause or “actualize” without itself having to be actualized in any way, and only what is purely actual can fit the bill.

That is the way in which it is “first” – first in the sense of being metaphysically ultimate or fundamental, and not (necessarily) in the sense of standing at the head of some (temporal or even non-temporal) queue. That is also why, contrary to what many atheists suppose, it makes no sense to ask why fundamental physical particles or the like might not be the first cause. Particles and other “naturalistic” candidates for the ground floor level of reality are all compounds of act and potency, form and matter, essence and existence [i.e., inconstant]; accordingly, they are in need of actualization and are therefore necessarily less than the “pure act” or Subsistent Being Itself which alone could, even in principle, be that which causes without in any way being caused (or, as I would prefer to say, which actualizes potency without itself being actualized).



[Culled from Edward Feser's article, "Edwards on Infinite Causal Series" and "A first without a second"]

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Re: Buddhist response to Western ontology

Post by tiltbillings » Wed Feb 08, 2012 9:18 pm

contemplans wrote:
tiltbillings wrote:
contemplans wrote: Ontology is not a Buddhist subject, so we are going to stray from the suttas to discuss it. The Buddhist response again would be, don't discuss it.
Your claim seems to, as they often do, fail:

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;
That sutta doesn't posit an ontology, it says, "We don't do ontology." See quote: "Avoiding these two extremes ...". Buddhism is quietistic in this regard, as it often is with philosophical questions. This is why I say it isn't a Buddhist subject.

http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/realism/#8" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;
As usual, your typical evangelical attempt to spin things. The sutta rejects ontology as being totally inadequate, thus something to avoid.

As for quietism:
  • Quietism has been erroneously compared to the Buddhist doctrine of Nirvana. . . . Quietism states that man's highest perfection consists of a self-annihilation, and subsequent absorption, of the soul into the Divine, even during the present life. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quietism_(Christian_philosophy" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;)[
[/list]Not really an appropriate characterisation of the Dhamma, but you seem intent on trying cram the Buddha's teaching into a Catholic framewoek. It is not working.
>> 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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tiltbillings
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Re: Buddhist response to Western ontology

Post by tiltbillings » Wed Feb 08, 2012 9:28 pm

contemplans wrote: Another debate, then, would be why ontological arguments are not skillful tools. I am not opening that debate, but just saying it is possible.
Adherence to an ontology of being, such as the belief in an eternal soul and its offspring, belief in omniscient, omnipotent, permanent, independent, unique cause of the cosmos, is a misapprehension of reality, which, as you have shown in your explications, results in an incoherent point of view. And such a point of view, as the Buddha has shown, results in suffering, as has been pointed out to you more than twice.
>> 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: Buddhist response to Western ontology

Post by Kim OHara » Wed Feb 08, 2012 9:36 pm

tiltbillings wrote:... you seem intent on trying cram the Buddha's teaching into a Catholic framewoek. It is not working.
... but it does bring up some interesting points every now and then.
:namaste:
Kim

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Re: Buddhist response to Western ontology

Post by tiltbillings » Wed Feb 08, 2012 9:47 pm

contemplans wrote:I have prepared this summary of a related Thomist argument
The first cause, unmoved mover stuff again. Aquinas was not all the bright, really, in that he could not do real philosophy. Rather, he bends his incredible intellect to try to make sense out of an incoherent notion of god and comes up with the seriously flawed first cause argument, something that is easily picked apart in any philosophy 101 class.

Rather than try to actually engage what is being said to you here concerning the Buddha's teachings in regard the inadequacy of the idea of an omniscient, omnipotent, permanent, independent, unique cause of the cosmos, you give us Aquinas (and Freser's attempt at rescuing poor Aquinas), which is inadequate to the the task. You are evangelizing here, which is not dialogue. If you are here for a dialogue, then actually engage what is being said to you.
>> 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: Buddhist response to Western ontology

Post by tiltbillings » Wed Feb 08, 2012 9:52 pm

Kim O'Hara wrote:
tiltbillings wrote:... you seem intent on trying cram the Buddha's teaching into a Catholic framewoek. It is not working.
... but it does bring up some interesting points every now and then.
:namaste:
Kim
Sure, but interestingly it covers much the same ground that Buddhists covered in India when dealing with the Brahmanical points of view. While the garb may be different, the fundamentals of the theistic claim made here are not.
>> 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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