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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Kim OHara
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Re: Buddhist response to Western ontology

Post by Kim OHara » Wed Feb 08, 2012 10:03 pm

contemplans wrote: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?
Hello, contemplans,
Keeping it very simple here:
Your Western ontology avoids the infinite regress by saying there must be a first cause and declaring that it exists.
Buddhism, as far as I understand it, avoids the need for a first cause by saying that the infinite regress is fine - that the universe has always existed and has always (really always) just trundled along, from cause to effect to cause to effect.
In terms of consistency, I don't see than either one has the advantage over the other.

A third approach to origins would be the scientific one which currently holds that the universe popped into existence some 13.7 billion years ago and that neither space nor time existed before that happened so any questions about 'before' are meaningless.
Here again we can either choose to accept something we can't really understand (no space and no time? infinite densities and temperatures?) or invent a First Cause that that we do understand and say, 'The universe was created by God.' Of the two, I prefer the first - especially if the First Cause we invent then has to run the whole shebang forever after.

:namaste:
Kim

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Re: Buddhist response to Western ontology

Post by tiltbillings » Wed Feb 08, 2012 10:13 pm

mikenz66 wrote: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".
Eternalism and annihilationism are grounded in the assumptions of being and non-being, is/is not.

This text, the Kaccayanagotta Sutta, is another of the Buddha's responding to Brahmanical notions, and in this case the very fundamental āsti - nāsti, is - is not, being - not-being. Buddhism was (is) seen as a nāsti, atheistic point of veiw, and also as a nasty point of view, by the Brahmins as in the Gita, chapter XVI, 8 - 9:
  • 'The universe," they say, "is without truth [asat that which is open to destruction and change, without an atman/brahman, the Absolute within each of us],"
    Without basis/unstable [having no solid ground apratis.t.ham], without a God;
    Brought about by a mutual union,
    How else? It is caused by lust alone.'


    Holding this view,
    These men of lost souls, of small intelligence,
    And of cruel actions, come forth as enemies
    Of the world for it destruction.
>> 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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retrofuturist
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Re: Buddhist response to Western ontology

Post by retrofuturist » Wed Feb 08, 2012 10:36 pm

Greetings Tilt,

:goodpost:

Thanks also for quoting the Brahmin scripture too, which provide good context regarding what the Buddha was talking about.

Because it also seems very relevant here, I'll copy and paste (and tweak slightly) a post I made in the Fabrication topic.... http://www.dhammawheel.com/viewtopic.ph ... 60#p172531" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;
I've just thought of a comparable situation that might help make the above distinction clearer...

Think of the Buddha's teaching of anatta, (not-self) which says that the five aggregates and six-sense-sphere are not-self. Not once does the Buddha make the ontological declaration that "atman doesn't exist"*. When Thanissaro Bhikkhu explains this point and shows it's not an ontological teaching, some Theravadins who cling to an ontological belief in the non-existence of atman/soul hurl all manner of insult upon him because his comments do not affirm their pre-existing ontological bias. The teaching of anatta is most valuable as a corrective to those whose ontological biases (i.e. belief or disbelief in atta or atman) cause them to incorrectly discern/regard loka in the present moment.

Now think of the Buddha's teaching of dependent origination, which says that all experience other than nibbana is conditioned/formed/sankara. The Buddha doesn't affirm either ontological existence or non-existence. When Nanananda, Nanavira et.al. explain this point and show that dependent origination is not an ontological teaching, some Theravadins who cling to an ontological belief in existence, exude all manner of strange looks and accusations of obscurity, because their comments do not affirm their pre-existing ontological beliefs. The teaching of dependent origination is most valuable as a corrective to those whose ontological biases (i.e. existence or non-existence) cause them to incorrectly discern/regard loka in the present moment. Let's not kid ourselves either, that's true of all putthujjanas, and of sekhas who habitually still lapse into avijja, when not mindful. As Nanananda says, "We are not will­ing to accept that exis­tence is a per­ver­sion. Exis­tence is suf­fer­ing pre­cisely because it is a perversion.”... so I'm not just talking about one or two people, I'm talking about all of us here (unless the self-proclaimed arahants in the member poll are to be believed! :lol: ). Whether an individual wishes to strive to see that exis­tence is a per­ver­sion and put an end to suffering is up to them. The Buddha, Nanananda, Nanavira et.al. can only point the way... speaking for myself though, it is of paramount importance.

As dependent origination addresses and diagnoses the full gamut of ontological beliefs, it is rightly regarded as the most profound of the Buddha's teachings. Anatta, whilst not quite so profound, is still immensely valuable since so much of our preconceived ontological beliefs which give rise to clinging are rooted in notions of self (e.g. "I" and "mine"). So yes, paticcasamuppasa does address ontological biases in the form of belief and disbelief in the soul, and belief and disbelief about what happens to it at death... but that's not all it does. Because it talks about atthitā (exis­tence) and natthitā (non-existence), rather than sassatavada (eternalism) and ucchedavāda(annihilationism) it encompasses all ontological views/distortions, including but not restricted to the distortions of sassatavada and ucchedavāda, plus distortions attributable to belief or disbelief in God. Thus, it serves as a corrective against all distorting biases. That is why it is awesome. 8-) In the context of a "Buddhist response to Western ontology" it renders the need for such responses to make reference to God completely moot.

* - Why he refrains from doing so is quite obvious, if you think about it. If he did ontologically deny atman, he could not prove it, because to prove it he would have to explain something outside the all. Being unable to prove it, he would not be able to wedge people out of their deeply ingrained beliefs. Ditto with those who cling to views pertaining to God and his existence/non-existence. Therefore, the Buddha tries to get them to focus just on their experience/loka and logically demonstrate to them that nothing within that loka is atman. Now that is personally verifiable and onward leading... and that is how you get people to relinquish entrenched views in favour of something more liberating.
Metta,
Retro. :)
"Do not force others, including children, by any means whatsoever, to adopt your views, whether by authority, threat, money, propaganda, or even education." - Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh

"The uprooting of identity is seen by the noble ones as pleasurable; but this contradicts what the whole world sees." (Snp 3.12)

"One discerns wrong view as wrong view, and right view as right view. This is one's right view." (MN 117)

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Re: Buddhist response to Western ontology

Post by tiltbillings » Wed Feb 08, 2012 10:54 pm

contemplans wrote: As for arguments against God, Buddhism really hasn't come up with any native arguments.
This deserves a revisit. In addition to the explicit and implicit arguments rejecting the idea of an omnipotent, omnipotent, permanent, independent, unique cause of the cosmos that are found in the suttas and have been quoted in this thread, numerous doctors of Buddhism during Buddhism's tenure in India have responded to the idea of an omnipotent, omnipotent, permanent, independent, unique cause of the cosmos and rejecting it, of course, but the most detailed would be that of Dharmakirti: http://ccbs.ntu.edu.tw/FULLTEXT/JR-PHIL/jackson.htm" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false; which makes the obvious case that our Christian friend here is wrong again.
>> 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 11:11 pm

contemplans wrote:[Freser:] 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.”
He and He alone is directly causing them at every instant. Indeed. For example: Zyklon-B and the will to use it.
>> 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 contemplans » Wed Feb 08, 2012 11:52 pm

tiltbillings wrote:
contemplans wrote: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.
I am sorry that I didn't specify this, but the link I provided fills out what I said. One, that (most) quietists hold that ontology as being totally inadequate. And two, the quietism I am speaking about is referred to in the link. This is philophical quietism, a position between realism and idealism, which has nothing to do with the religious doctrine of quietism. I am sorry I wasn't more clear to you about that.

Kim O'Hara wrote:Hello, contemplans,
Keeping it very simple here:
Your Western ontology avoids the infinite regress by saying there must be a first cause and declaring that it exists.
Buddhism, as far as I understand it, avoids the need for a first cause by saying that the infinite regress is fine - that the universe has always existed and has always (really always) just trundled along, from cause to effect to cause to effect.
In terms of consistency, I don't see than either one has the advantage over the other.

A third approach to origins would be the scientific one which currently holds that the universe popped into existence some 13.7 billion years ago and that neither space nor time existed before that happened so any questions about 'before' are meaningless.
Here again we can either choose to accept something we can't really understand (no space and no time? infinite densities and temperatures?) or invent a First Cause that that we do understand and say, 'The universe was created by God.' Of the two, I prefer the first - especially if the First Cause we invent then has to run the whole shebang forever after.

:namaste:
Kim
All three need explanation. I have provided an explanation for one. What you state doesn't explain anything, though, but just makes statements.

tiltbillings wrote:
contemplans wrote: As for arguments against God, Buddhism really hasn't come up with any native arguments.
This deserves a revisit. In addition to the explicit and implicit arguments rejecting the idea of an omnipotent, omnipotent, permanent, independent, unique cause of the cosmos that are found in the suttas and have been quoted in this thread, numerous doctors of Buddhism during Buddhism's tenure in India have responded to the idea of an omnipotent, omnipotent, permanent, independent, unique cause of the cosmos and rejecting it, of course, but the most detailed would be that of Dharmakirti: http://ccbs.ntu.edu.tw/FULLTEXT/JR-PHIL/jackson.htm" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false; which makes the obvious case that our Christian friend here is wrong again.
Dharmakirti knows nothing of the Aristotelian nor the Thomists arguments. He doesn't even have the conception of hylomorphism to formulate the argument.

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Re: Buddhist response to Western ontology

Post by contemplans » Wed Feb 08, 2012 11:53 pm

tiltbillings wrote:
contemplans wrote:[Freser:] 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.”
He and He alone is directly causing them at every instant. Indeed. For example: Zyklon-B and the will to use it.
That is not an argument. :shrug:

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Re: Buddhist response to Western ontology

Post by Kim OHara » Wed Feb 08, 2012 11:54 pm

tiltbillings wrote:
contemplans wrote:[Freser:] 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.”
He and He alone is directly causing them at every instant. Indeed. For example: Zyklon-B and the will to use it.
I hate to have to tell you this, Tilt, but according to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Godwin's_l ... _and_usage" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false; you have lost the debate.
:toilet:

:namaste:
Kim

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Re: Buddhist response to Western ontology

Post by Cittasanto » Wed Feb 08, 2012 11:55 pm

has the Buddhist response been given yet? :rofl:
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

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Re: Buddhist response to Western ontology

Post by retrofuturist » Wed Feb 08, 2012 11:56 pm

Greetings,

:lol:

According to Godwin, that is correct.

But Tilt is right to want to point out that if there was an omnipotent God, everything, including the greatest atrocities of mankind, is His fault. And if that is true, it says a lot about Him, doesn't it?

Be careful what you attribute omniscience and omnipotence to.

Metta,
Retro. :)
"Do not force others, including children, by any means whatsoever, to adopt your views, whether by authority, threat, money, propaganda, or even education." - Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh

"The uprooting of identity is seen by the noble ones as pleasurable; but this contradicts what the whole world sees." (Snp 3.12)

"One discerns wrong view as wrong view, and right view as right view. This is one's right view." (MN 117)

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Re: Buddhist response to Western ontology

Post by Alex123 » Thu Feb 09, 2012 12:03 am

Contemplans,

Who/what created God? What created being of God? If we say "it is indescribable" , etc, the same can be said about the universe, origin of Big Bang(s), etc.
We can study and observe material universe, but not God...

Why would All Loving God, who is omniscient (and thus knows your future choices) and all loving, would created flawed beings who would due to their sinful nature for finite "sin", go to eternal hell?

Did God create Hell? Does he enjoy seeing his creations being sent there for not worshiping such a loving and caring God who created the world and Hell?
"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: Buddhist response to Western ontology

Post by tiltbillings » Thu Feb 09, 2012 12:04 am

contemplans wrote: I am sorry that I didn't specify this, but the link I provided fills out what I said. One, that (most) quietists hold that ontology as being totally inadequate. And two, the quietism I am speaking about is referred to in the link. This is philophical quietism, a position between realism and idealism, which has nothing to do with the religious doctrine of quietism. I am sorry I wasn't more clear to you about that.
It is not a particularly helpful or meaningful category in this context.
tiltbillings wrote:
contemplans wrote: As for arguments against God, Buddhism really hasn't come up with any native arguments.
This deserves a revisit. In addition to the explicit and implicit arguments rejecting the idea of an omnipotent, omnipotent, permanent, independent, unique cause of the cosmos that are found in the suttas and have been quoted in this thread, numerous doctors of Buddhism during Buddhism's tenure in India have responded to the idea of an omnipotent, omnipotent, permanent, independent, unique cause of the cosmos and rejecting it, of course, but the most detailed would be that of Dharmakirti: http://ccbs.ntu.edu.tw/FULLTEXT/JR-PHIL/jackson.htm" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false; which makes the obvious case that our Christian friend here is wrong again.
Dharmakirti knows nothing of the Aristotelian nor the Thomists arguments. He doesn't even have the conception of hylomorphism to formulate the argument.
And I would have no doubt that he could as easily handle these flawed arguments as he did the Brahmanical arguments, but the point is that your claim, "As for arguments against God, Buddhism really hasn't come up with any native arguments," it is quite wrong, as has been shown, are many of your claims.
>> 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 Sherab » Thu Feb 09, 2012 12:06 am

contemplans wrote:.. The concept of the Greatest Possible Being (GPB) is coherent (and thus broadly logically possible)...
The concept of a Creator God is incoherent.
God by definition must be self-sufficient, if he is not self-sufficient how can he be defined as God?
If God is self-sufficient, there is no need for him to create anything. Anything created will be purposeless with respect to a self-sufficient God.
If the world we see is created by a God, that God therefore cannot be self-sufficient.
If that God is not self-sufficient, then he cannot be God.

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Re: Buddhist response to Western ontology

Post by tiltbillings » Thu Feb 09, 2012 12:08 am

contemplans wrote:
tiltbillings wrote:
contemplans wrote:[Freser:] 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.”
He and He alone is directly causing them at every instant. Indeed. For example: Zyklon-B and the will to use it.
That is not an argument. :shrug:
It is a simple illustration of the comment Freser made and it makes my point about the supposed god's responsibility in terms of its supposed creation. I am glad that you quoted Freser.
>> 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 contemplans » Thu Feb 09, 2012 12:08 am

retrofuturist wrote:Greetings,

:lol:

According to Godwin, that is correct.

But Tilt is right to want to point out that if there was an omnipotent God, everything, including the greatest atrocities of mankind, is His fault. And if that is true, it says a lot about Him, doesn't it?

Be careful what you attribute omniscience and omnipotence to.

Metta,
Retro. :)
You have to prove the jump from all powerful to all doing.

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