Atheism is an Unskillful False Dhamma

Exploring Theravāda's connections to other paths - what can we learn from other traditions, religions and philosophies?
nowheat
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Re: Atheism is an Unskillful False Dhamma

Post by nowheat » Sun Mar 25, 2012 5:41 pm

Prasadachitta wrote: In my opinion we can enter into a relatively less "fuzzy" understanding of D.O. from either a macro or a micro perspective. Either way the notions and impressions which make up these perspectives occur in the here and now. I think that actively denying models put forth by the Buddha just because they have not helped me to understand, would be self centered and foolish. The Buddha set forth the Dhamma for the good and welfare of all beings. The "audience" is vast.
I agree that the audience is vast. I understand that the macro perspective could have its uses and I would fully support that if I did not see far too much of the huge amount of time it causes people to invest in small matters of merit (like whether it is safe to throw away a badly written book on Buddhism when it contains bits of actual Buddhavacana in it) rather than focus on what the Buddha was actually teaching -- skills to see cause and effect accurately and first-hand.

I would support the macro-literal-rebirth view as being a useful teaching tool if I did not find volumes and volumes being written debating whether there could be rebirth or not, rather than focusing on practice. It was undoubtedly a good teaching tool when it was the default belief system. I find that Westerners who do not have rebirth as their native view spend a great deal of time and effort trying to understand and adopt it, time that would be far better spent on understanding what the Buddha is saying at the core about how we create our false sense of self. With dependent origination, the Buddha is saying something very precise about where that "self" originates, how we create it, and why we should be doing something about it, and that is being obscured by efforts to get people to adopt a world-view that is not natural to them. A world view that they will have to let go of to be liberated unless it becomes evident through their practice to be a truth.

And here's the problem: If it is a truth that practice reveals, then sincere and dedicated practice will reveal it *regardless of whether a person believed it or not when they had no evidence*. Whereas, if it turns out to have been a virtual representation of truth (which is what I am saying it is) and people have invested a lot of time in learning to believe in it as a cosmic order, on little or no evidence, and they have to let go of that belief to be liberated -- we have then hindered their progress on the path by teaching them how to believe in things without good evidence.

This is my own Safe Bet: that it is better to stick to what the Buddha teaches about basing our choices on causes and effects that we have seen for ourselves with certainty, than to learn to believe in things unseen -- things that will reveal themselves if true, but are a bear to let go of once adopted if not true.

Now, if any of our sangha members have personal, first-hand experience of rebirth, or of directly seeing the rising and passing away of beings according to their actions, then they should certainly tell us about that and teach it as a fact they have experienced. I'm all for that. But otherwise, I follow the Buddha's injunction that we should not be talking about things we have not, ourselves, experienced.

The Buddha's system works fine without belief in literal rebirth, but I recognize that it is difficult to see that if one has never practiced the Buddha's path without having or working on belief in literal rebirth. One has to trust the Buddha a lot to let go of beliefs entirely and just see where the path leads then.

:namaste:

nowheat
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Re: Atheism is an Unskillful False Dhamma

Post by nowheat » Sun Mar 25, 2012 5:48 pm

Ñāṇa wrote:There are people trying to associate Buddhism with the view of atheistic materialism. IMO it's worthwhile acknowledging this trend and voicing and re-affirming the traditional view of the Pāli dhamma and Theravāda.
Can you cite an example of someone "trying to associate Buddhism with the view of atheistic materialism"? I ask because I am not sure what you mean by this -- whether by "associate Buddhism with" you mean "say the Buddha taught" or "say it's okay to be an atheist and a materialist and a Buddhist at the same time".

:namaste:

nowheat
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Re: Atheism is an Unskillful False Dhamma

Post by nowheat » Sun Mar 25, 2012 5:55 pm

reflection wrote: If you take the words and definitions given on DA literal, the suttas do speak about rebirth. Now, I've not read your essay of course, but I can already guess you're not going to take the terms literal. And with all respect, not taking the terms literal is the fuzzy interpretation, by the very definition of the word fuzzy.
The words are literal, but that is not all they are.

See my post that covers multiple meaning of aging-and-death here:

nowheat on "the Deathless"

"not-literal" does not equate to "fuzzy" when there is strong structure to explain the "not-literal".

:namaste:

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mikenz66
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Re: Atheism is an Unskillful False Dhamma

Post by mikenz66 » Sun Mar 25, 2012 6:22 pm

nowheat wrote: I would support the macro-literal-rebirth view as being a useful teaching tool if I did not find volumes and volumes being written debating whether there could be rebirth or not, rather than focusing on practice.
Volumes?

In my experience these "volumes" (such as this thread) only get written in places like this simply to balance the claims that it can be proved that rebirth is not central to Dhamma (as opposed to the quite reasonable position that it's not useful to a lot of people). In normal real-world discourse I've never seen volumes of argumentation either way. Practitioners just get on with practicing...

:anjali:
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Re: Atheism is an Unskillful False Dhamma

Post by Nyana » Sun Mar 25, 2012 6:36 pm

nowheat wrote:Can you cite an example of someone "trying to associate Buddhism with the view of atheistic materialism"? I ask because I am not sure what you mean by this -- whether by "associate Buddhism with" you mean "say the Buddha taught" or "say it's okay to be an atheist and a materialist and a Buddhist at the same time".
You've read Batchelor. While he tries to be careful with his use of language, it's clear that assumptions of atheistic materialism underlies his Confessions and other related writings. For example, in his article Suspending Belief:
  • The idea that there will be something spiritual or subtle, some sort of consciousness that can escape the collapse of the body and brain, is not very credible in the modern scientific worldview.
And in No Future In A Parrot's Egg:
  • I reject karma and rebirth not only because I find them unintelligible, but because I believe they obscure and distort what the Buddha was trying to say.
And again:
  • As for the law of moral causation ('karma'): this is human justice dressed up as cosmic justice and then imputed to the impersonal workings of the natural world.
It's usually explicitly stated corresponding to the idea that "It's okay to be an atheist and a materialist and a Buddhist at the same time." Of course, this claim is a contradiction. If one is a materialist, then insofar as they consider themselves to be a Buddhist, they are a Buddhist who maintains a wrong view.

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Re: Atheism is an Unskillful False Dhamma

Post by tiltbillings » Sun Mar 25, 2012 6:55 pm

Ñāṇa wrote: "It's okay to be an atheist and a materialist and a Buddhist at the same time." Of course, this claim is a contradiction. If one is a materialist, then insofar as they consider themselves to be a Buddhist, they are a Buddhist who maintains a wrong view.
"an atheist and a materialist" Which is to say, one can be an atheist without being a materialist.
>> 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: Atheism is an Unskillful False Dhamma

Post by Nyana » Sun Mar 25, 2012 7:37 pm

nowheat wrote:But this misses the point that what you are calling atheism is not inconsistent with the practice of the Buddha dharma, or with its morality. Materialism is incompatible with Buddhist rebirth, yes, but it is not incompatible with the morality that is the point of Buddhist rebirth.
Buddhist ethics entail engaging in actions that are more specific than just being a moral person. The actions motivated by Buddhist ethics include the laity acting in a reciprocal relationship with the monastic sangha. This includes generating merit (puñña) by giving monastics material requisites, and even participating in Uposatha days, and so on. This reciprocity between laity and monastics is essential for the continuity of the dhammavinaya.

nowheat
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Re: Atheism is an Unskillful False Dhamma

Post by nowheat » Sun Mar 25, 2012 10:06 pm

Ñāṇa wrote: You've read Batchelor. While he tries to be careful with his use of language, it's clear that assumptions of atheistic materialism underlies his Confessions and other related writings.
...
It's usually explicitly stated corresponding to the idea that "It's okay to be an atheist and a materialist and a Buddhist at the same time." Of course, this claim is a contradiction. If one is a materialist, then insofar as they consider themselves to be a Buddhist, they are a Buddhist who maintains a wrong view.
You are not saying, then, that a claim is being made that the Buddha was a materialist.

You are saying that the claim is that one can be a Buddhist and an atheist/materialist at the same time, and this is an unskillful false dhamma. And if we can define your atheist/materialist as not simply a non-believer, but as a disbeliever "only this is true, and all else is wrong", I would then agree that it is an unskillful view, but not as unskillful as believing in rebirth without solid evidence. The disbeliever is not creating evidence to fit a speculative theory, but is simply expecting that there is a lack of evidence because nothing exists to create evidence, and being honest about it. Every atheist I have ever met has agreed that if good evidence turns up, they will no longer be an atheist, which makes them not so much a die-hard non-believer, as someone who has weighed the evidence and found it lacking, and is open-minded enough to change. This means that when the evidence presents itself along the Buddhist path, they will no longer be an atheist, nor will they be a believer, they will be a knower.

I say again, that if you know personally that your understanding of the Buddha's teaching is both what he taught and what is true, then I cannot see why you would object to dedicated practitioners trying the path even if they are (as above) atheists. The truth will reveal itself, and these "atheists", being a generally open-minded lot, will then see it.
Ñāṇa wrote:Buddhist ethics entail engaging in actions that are more specific than just being a moral person. The actions motivated by Buddhist ethics include the laity acting in a reciprocal relationship with the monastic sangha. This includes generating merit (puñña) by giving monastics material requisites, and even participating in Uposatha days, and so on. This reciprocity between laity and monastics is essential for the continuity of the dhammavinaya.
You are concerned about the ability to keep up the monastic sangha. I am too, and I am not the only one. This is a topic under much discussion in the Secular Buddhist community. My understanding is that monastics are supposed to beg alms every day but in modern society this is no longer possible -- I understand it is against the law to do this here in the U.S. (though I haven't personally checked this). The way the sangha is organized needs to change to survive changes in society, that's sure. Our ability to keep passing on the dhammavinaya is a definite concern for all Buddhists, especially here in the West, where the old models aren't an easy fit with the existing culture.

:namaste:

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Thales
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Re: Atheism is an Unskillful False Dhamma

Post by Thales » Sun Mar 25, 2012 10:06 pm

Bhikkhu Pesala wrote: The gravest danger of this "one life only" view is that it encourages the pursuit of selfish pleasures at any cost, and provides no incentive to abstain from unwholesome deeds, nor to cultivate wholesome ones.
This is a fallacy. The incentive to cultivate wholesome deeds is kamma, the fruits of which can be seen in this very life with or without a belief in the next life. When I am heedless I suffer, when I am heedful dukkha falls away. One doesn't need wait until after death to experience the results of one's own actions.
"Just as the ocean has a single taste, the taste of salt, so this Dhamma and Discipline has a single taste, the taste of release."

~Ud 5.5

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Re: Atheism is an Unskillful False Dhamma

Post by santa100 » Sun Mar 25, 2012 10:42 pm

Thales wrote:
"One doesn't need wait until after death to experience the results of one's own actions"

Unfortunately, quite often in life, one does have to wait until after death to experience the results of his/her own actions. Look at millions of children in Africa or Asia who were born without eye sight, without arms and legs, shoot and kill people as child soldiers, or work 16 to 18 hours in factories with the most horrible working conditions possible. Then look at Hugh Hefner, a healthy and wealthy 85 year-old man, enjoying every single pleasure possible in life with the world most beautiful women, some whose age is not even close to one fourth his age! Without a next life, it'd be extremely tough to tell Hugh how his heedlessness has made him suffer or to tell those children to simply be heedful to make dukkha disappear..

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Re: Atheism is an Unskillful False Dhamma

Post by retrofuturist » Sun Mar 25, 2012 11:26 pm

Greetings Thales,

I'd agree that "no incentive to abstain from unwholesome deeds, nor to cultivate wholesome ones" is over-reaching somewhat...
Dhammapada wrote:15. The evil-doer grieves here and hereafter; he grieves in both the worlds. He laments and is afflicted, recollecting his own impure deeds.

16. The doer of good rejoices here and hereafter; he rejoices in both the worlds. He rejoices and exults, recollecting his own pure deeds.

17. The evil-doer suffers here and hereafter; he suffers in both the worlds. The thought, "Evil have I done," torments him, and he suffers even more when gone to realms of woe.

18. The doer of good delights here and hereafter; he delights in both the worlds. The thought, "Good have I done," delights him, and he delights even more when gone to realms of bliss.
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: Atheism is an Unskillful False Dhamma

Post by Goofaholix » Sun Mar 25, 2012 11:57 pm

David N. Snyder wrote:I agree with Ven. Pesala's post above and the quote provided from Venerable Mahāsī Sayādaw. There is a real danger in the nihilistic views.
Trouble is Mahāsī Sayādaw appears to be confusing annhialationism with nihilism, which is common it would seem.
David N. Snyder wrote:I/we take refuge in the Buddha, Dhamma, Sangha, not a God, not gods, not devas.
A very important point.
“Peace is within oneself to be found in the same place as agitation and suffering. It is not found in a forest or on a hilltop, nor is it given by a teacher. Where you experience suffering, you can also find freedom from suffering. Trying to run away from suffering is actually to run toward it.” ― Ajahn Chah

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mikenz66
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Re: Atheism is an Unskillful False Dhamma

Post by mikenz66 » Mon Mar 26, 2012 12:02 am

nowheat wrote: You are saying that the claim is that one can be a Buddhist and an atheist/materialist at the same time, and this is an unskillful false dhamma. And if we can define your atheist/materialist as not simply a non-believer, but as a disbeliever "only this is true, and all else is wrong", I would then agree that it is an unskillful view, but not as unskillful as believing in rebirth without solid evidence. The disbeliever is not creating evidence to fit a speculative theory,
This "speculative" argument is not very useful, in my opinion.

By all means label taking various statements in the suttas at face value as speculative, but you'd then have to agree that the possibility of nibbana, and the end of all dukkha is also speculative.

There is an appeal to authority by all non-ariyan Dhamma practitioners.

:anjali:
Mike

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Re: Atheism is an Unskillful False Dhamma

Post by Goofaholix » Mon Mar 26, 2012 12:02 am

Ñāṇa wrote: Therefore, this pesky little word has significant connotations that are contrary to 2500 years of Pāli dhammavinaya and Theravāda Buddhism.
If you find it pesky then don't use, it's a no brainer really, if you want to say materialism then say that, if you want to say annhialationism or nihilism then the same goes, if you are being pesked by a pesky word then it's a peskation of your own creation.
“Peace is within oneself to be found in the same place as agitation and suffering. It is not found in a forest or on a hilltop, nor is it given by a teacher. Where you experience suffering, you can also find freedom from suffering. Trying to run away from suffering is actually to run toward it.” ― Ajahn Chah

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Re: Atheism is an Unskillful False Dhamma

Post by Goofaholix » Mon Mar 26, 2012 12:18 am

Ñāṇa wrote:This notion of questioning rebirth, setting aside the teachings on rebirth, or denying that the Buddha taught rebirth is entirely a modern phenomenon occurring due to the influence of materialist views. This entire phenomenon is a dodgy enterprise -- a narcissistic urge to remake the samaṇa Gotama in one's own image.
Is it a modern phenomenon? or a western phenomenon? we'll never know because westerners haven't had the chance to grow up in a society where this world view is assumed.

I've spent a lot of time in SE Asia and have a lot of contact with SE Asian people of all levels of education, mostly Thai being married to one and all.

For the educated Thais the impression I get is that they don't really have any less doubt about what happens after death than we do, but they are happy to work with it as an assumption because it's such a big part of their culture, after all it's what you practise rather than what you believe that's important.

For the uneducated the view seems to be more a mixture of animism and eternalism. For example when my mother in law was dying her sisters wanted to mark her body so that when she was reborn they might be able to identify her by the birth mark, I see no Buddhadhamma in this.
“Peace is within oneself to be found in the same place as agitation and suffering. It is not found in a forest or on a hilltop, nor is it given by a teacher. Where you experience suffering, you can also find freedom from suffering. Trying to run away from suffering is actually to run toward it.” ― Ajahn Chah

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