Buddhism as a "rational" religion.

A discussion on all aspects of Theravāda Buddhism
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Way~Farer
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Re: Buddhism as a "rational" religion.

Post by Way~Farer » Wed Jul 04, 2012 7:38 am

Ben wrote: Why should there be a reason that life evolved the way it did?
I am interested in the idea that the evolutionary process is one in which the Universe is actually 'waking up to itself'. After all, it has spawned these creatures who are capable of weighing it and measuring it. But at the same time - certain irony here - we seem to take this for granted, as if it all just happened by dumb luck.


It is significant that in Buddhism, only the human being is able to realize Nibbana, is it not? Animals and beings in other realms, cannot. Not even the Gods can.

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Re: Buddhism as a "rational" religion.

Post by James the Giant » Wed Jul 04, 2012 8:00 am

sunyavadin wrote:After all, it has spawned these creatures who are capable of weighing it and measuring it. But at the same time - certain irony here - we seem to take this for granted, as if it all just happened by dumb luck.
You are falling into the trap of the Anthropic Principle, which is human-centric, somewhat similar to thinking we are the centre of the universe, and the sun revolves around the earth. It does not. But it looks that way.

Which do you think it more likely...
A) That the universe fits us perfectly?
or
B) That we fit the universe perfectly?

Douglas Adams used the metaphor of a living puddle examining its own shape, since, to those living creatures, the universe may appear to fit them perfectly, while in fact they simply fit the universe perfectly, as a consequence of having grown up inside it.
And only in a universe where life and thinking beings have arisen, will there be living beings capable of observing it.
A universe where intelligent life has not arisen, will go unbeheld.
Last edited by James the Giant on Wed Jul 04, 2012 8:01 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Buddhism as a "rational" religion.

Post by tiltbillings » Wed Jul 04, 2012 8:01 am

sunyavadin wrote:
Ben wrote: Why should there be a reason that life evolved the way it did?
I am interested in the idea that the evolutionary process is one in which the Universe is actually 'waking up to itself'. After all, it has spawned these creatures who are capable of weighing it and measuring it. But at the same time - certain irony here - we seem to take this for granted, as if it all just happened by dumb luck.
  • The emergence of intelligence, I am convinced, tends to unbalance the ecology. In other words, intelligence is the great polluter. It is not until a creature begins to manage its environment that nature is thrown into disorder. Until that occurs, there is a system of checks and balances operating in a logical and understandable manner. Intelligence destroys and modifies the checks and balances even as it tries very diligently to leave them as they were. There is no such thing as an intelligence living harmony with the biosphere. It may think and boast it is doing so, but its mentality gives it an advantage and the compulsion is always there to employ this advantage to its selfish benefit. Thus, while intelligence may be an outstanding survival factor, the factor is short-term, and intelligence turns out to be the great destroyer. -- written by a crazy character in SHAKESPEARE'S PLANET, a sci-fi novel by Clifford Simak, 1976
.
>> 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.

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Re: Buddhism as a "rational" religion.

Post by Way~Farer » Wed Jul 04, 2012 8:38 am

James the Giant wrote: You are falling into the trap of the Anthropic Principle, which is human-centric, somewhat similar to thinking we are the centre of the universe, and the sun revolves around the earth. It does not. But it looks that way.

Which do you think it more likely...
A) That the universe fits us perfectly?
or
B) That we fit the universe perfectly?

Douglas Adams used the metaphor of a living puddle examining its own shape, since, to those living creatures, the universe may appear to fit them perfectly, while in fact they simply fit the universe perfectly, as a consequence of having grown up inside it.
And only in a universe where life and thinking beings have arisen, will there be living beings capable of observing it.
A universe where intelligent life has not arisen, will go unbeheld.
I'm familiar with the argument. But I don't think the anthropic principle is 'a trap' unless you're looking for a way to escape the idea that our existence might not be fortuitous. It might suit us a great deal more to believe that it is.

One of the motivations for 'the multiverse', fantastic as it might seem, is that it does provide an explanation for the uncanny fact that the universe is just such that it gives rise to living beings, when it seems it really might not have done. In other words, in all the other versions of the Universe, the laws of physics might not hold, no living things could eventuate, and so on. So people are seriously prepared to engage in the most fantastic speculations, to avoid the implications of the 'anthropic principle'.

Me, I think this is what the Mahayahanists called 'prapanca', conceptual proliferation.

Anyway - back to the point. If you believe, like Camus and Sartre, like a lot of 20th Century philosophy, that the universe is basically dumb, that we are simply pond slime made good, there is not much of a basis for 'rationality', in the end, is there? We are just smart monkeys who ought to have no reason to believe that anything we believe is true, as distinct from just useful, from the viewpoint of survival of the genome, and so on. So, I am saying that 'the viewpoint of modernity' is really not ultimately rational, because it can't really conceive of any kind of over-arching raison d'etre. This is reflected all over the place in modern life, isn't it? Isn't that why one begins to study something like Buddhism?

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Re: Buddhism as a "rational" religion.

Post by Ben » Wed Jul 04, 2012 9:40 am

sunyavadin wrote:
Ben wrote: Why should there be a reason that life evolved the way it did?
I am interested in the idea that the evolutionary process is one in which the Universe is actually 'waking up to itself'. After all, it has spawned these creatures who are capable of weighing it and measuring it. But at the same time - certain irony here - we seem to take this for granted, as if it all just happened by dumb luck.


It is significant that in Buddhism, only the human being is able to realize Nibbana, is it not? Animals and beings in other realms, cannot. Not even the Gods can.
If you have the time and inclination, I recommend you read Richard Dawkins' "The Greatest Show on Earth: the evidence for evolution". It is eloquent and extraordinary. It debunks many myths, misrepresentations and assumptions regarding evolution.
It is significant that in Buddhism, only the human being is able to realize Nibbana, is it not?
Not really. Devas can certainly practice and attain Nibbana in the deva realm as can some beings in pure abodes. Apparently, Mahabrahmas cannot. Though, I have heard from some Burmese teachers that the human realm provides the most conducive environment for practicing the path.
kind regards,

Ben
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Re: Buddhism as a "rational" religion.

Post by Kenshou » Wed Jul 04, 2012 9:41 am

...that we are simply pond slime made good, there is not much of a basis for 'rationality', in the end, is there?
Says who?

From "slime" to more complex organisms and eventually ones cognizant enough to think more rationally, and maybe find themselves an "over-arching raison d'etre", but then again, do you necessarily need one of those to act rationally anyway?

I can't say that I've got one, or I haven't seen it around lately at least. But I do try to not do random stupid things regardless. Because that doesn't usually work out so well, which is reason enough in of itself. If I kick the cat he'll bite me, and that stings.

And similarly, Buddhist practice aims towards undoing the stupid habits we have that it turns out, aren't doing so well for us, and actually lead to more stress. I don't believe a philosophical justification is necessary to start engaging in that practice.

Unrelatedly:
It is significant that in Buddhism, only the human being is able to realize Nibbana, is it not? Animals and beings in other realms, cannot. Not even the Gods can.
I believe the concept is that the human realm is best suited to realizing awakening since it's between the distracting extremes of suffering and pleasure. Though the gods/devas/whatevers can as well, if they practice properly. And additionally people who reach a certain intermediate degree of awakening are likely to be reborn in such and such deva realms, wherein they presumably finish the job eventually. Or so it goes. Point is, not just humans.

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Re: Buddhism as a "rational" religion.

Post by Way~Farer » Wed Jul 04, 2012 10:51 am

Kenshou wrote:I don't believe a philosophical justification is necessary to start engaging in that practice.
Well, that's your prerogative, of course. Asking philosophical questions was one of the things that led me to it. I think the dhamma provides for the kind of objective morality that I think is generally absent from current Western philosophy, and certainly completely absent from evolutionary materialism.

Do we need a raison d'etre to act rationally? Surely can't hurt, can it? Isn't the lack of a sense of purpose a major challenge in modern urban societies?

As for the unique advantage of a human birth, I *think* the teaching that "only humans are able to realize Nibbana" is part of the Dhamma. Hence the emphasis on 'this precious human birth' - although I can't recall the exact location of that teaching.

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Re: Buddhism as a "rational" religion.

Post by DNS » Wed Jul 04, 2012 7:24 pm

sunyavadin wrote: Consider the mainstream account of how humanity evolved. At the end of the day, this is held to happen for no reason, other than the fortuitous combination of material elements, and the urge to survive, which somehow is thought to have spontaneously developed out of that. Don't get me wrong, I am not for a minute advocating any kind of creationism. But the mainstream view is not particularly rational, insofar as it believes that things happen for no reason. This exact view is criticized in the Brahmajāla Sutta.
Actually according the Pali Canon the reason is craving. In the Aggañña Sutta there is a description of the evolution of life. Some of it is a little mythical, using the existing cosmology, but if you look at the primary message; that simple life forms, neither male nor female became greedy and multiplied and evolved; the account is not much different from that of the scientific explanation of evolution.

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Re: Buddhism as a "rational" religion.

Post by Alex123 » Wed Jul 04, 2012 9:55 pm

sunyavadin wrote:
Ben wrote: Why should there be a reason that life evolved the way it did?
I am interested in the idea that the evolutionary process is one in which the Universe is actually 'waking up to itself'. After all, it has spawned these creatures who are capable of weighing it and measuring it. But at the same time - certain irony here - we seem to take this for granted, as if it all just happened by dumb luck.


It is significant that in Buddhism, only the human being is able to realize Nibbana, is it not? Animals and beings in other realms, cannot. Not even the Gods can.
The universe is what it is. If evolution didn't occur the way it has, and if we have not appeared, we would not be here to discuss that.
Now, how many galaxies are there? Astronomers estimate that there are approximately 100 billion to 1 trillion galaxies in the Universe. So if you multiply those two numbers together, you get between 1022 and 1024 stars in the Universe. How many stars? There are between 10 sextillion and 1 septillion stars in the Universe. That’s a large number of stars. link
Even if on average there is 1 planet per star system (Our solar system has 8-9) ... That makes a huge number of worlds... Even if only 1 in a million of planets has life and intelligent life is 1 in a million of that... And if we take billions of years... and multiverse...

Considering our size and duration, we are as significant as dust particle and there is nothing special about evolution.


Considering the length of time the universe will exist. Human civilization is nothing. A 1 second conceited hiccup of a universe.
"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: Buddhism as a "rational" religion.

Post by Way~Farer » Wed Jul 04, 2012 11:39 pm

Yes - but who is counting? :tongue:

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Re: Buddhism as a "rational" religion.

Post by Alex123 » Wed Jul 04, 2012 11:55 pm

sunyavadin wrote:Yes - but who is counting? :tongue:
Scientists using modern technology?
"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: Buddhism as a "rational" religion.

Post by Way~Farer » Thu Jul 05, 2012 12:49 am

Right! And science is actually a human activity, which uses human concepts, based on such units of measure as 'a year' which is 'the time taken by the Earth to orbit the Sun' and so on.

The idea that 'reality is what is really "out there" and we are simply incidental blips in time and space' is a part of this outlook.

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Re: Buddhism as a "rational" religion.

Post by Alex123 » Thu Jul 05, 2012 1:19 am

sunyavadin wrote:Right! And science is actually a human activity, which uses human concepts, based on such units of measure as 'a year' which is 'the time taken by the Earth to orbit the Sun' and so on.

The idea that 'reality is what is really "out there" and we are simply incidental blips in time and space' is a part of this outlook.
No every idea is equally valid. The idea that earth is flat and sits on elephants who stand on a turtle is not on the same level as modern cosmology. There is enough evidence to strongly suggest that this universe existed for ~13 billion years. Compare 100 human years to 13 billion years...
"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: Buddhism as a "rational" religion.

Post by Way~Farer » Thu Jul 05, 2012 1:36 am

Well, indeed. Another thing that interests me is that Vedic cosmology - not exclusively Buddhist in nature - believes that the Universe exists in cycles of expansion and contraction that occupy 'aeons of kalpas' - which are time periods that are truly astronomical in conception. In saying that, I acknowledge that mythological cosmologies are not literally true, a fact which I think Buddhists in contemporary society need to acknowledge also (and often do, see for instance The Quantum and the Lotus and The Universe in a Single Atom).

But at the same time, scientists themselves are subject to historical influences and notions of what is likely to constitute a worthwhile avenue of investigation, or what constitutes a valid view of the world, and so on.

This current discovery of the Higgs is predicated upon something called 'sigma levels' of certainty, for instance. This determines the likelihood of the finding being due to statistical fluctuation or being a genuine discovery. But in the field of parapsychology, the standards of evidence that researchers are held to are far higher than they are in fields such as physics (and even epidemiology). And why? Because parapsychology is deemed to be 'making an extraordinary claim, and 'extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence'. But this overlooks the fact that deeming parapsychology 'extraordinary' is a value-judgement in the first place, based on the fact that such phenomena seem to undermine the physicalist view of nature.

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Re: Buddhism as a "rational" religion.

Post by nowheat » Fri Jul 06, 2012 2:18 pm

David N. Snyder wrote:
sunyavadin wrote: Consider the mainstream account of how humanity evolved. At the end of the day, this is held to happen for no reason, other than the fortuitous combination of material elements, and the urge to survive, which somehow is thought to have spontaneously developed out of that. Don't get me wrong, I am not for a minute advocating any kind of creationism. But the mainstream view is not particularly rational, insofar as it believes that things happen for no reason. This exact view is criticized in the Brahmajāla Sutta.
Actually according the Pali Canon the reason is craving. In the Aggañña Sutta there is a description of the evolution of life. Some of it is a little mythical, using the existing cosmology, but if you look at the primary message; that simple life forms, neither male nor female became greedy and multiplied and evolved; the account is not much different from that of the scientific explanation of evolution.
Addressing sunyavadin's comments first, I'd point out that this is the sort of argument that got the Buddha decried as being a teacher of non-causation. Materialists do not deem that humanity evolved out of fortuitous events spontaneously developing for no reason. They see a chain of cause and effect, roughly called "survival of the fittest" or "evolution". We came to be as we are out of causes, not spontaneously for no reason. This is also true of the Buddha's explanation for dukkha -- it is not fortuitous or without cause either -- his teaching on dependent arising explains precisely how it happens. People in his day who wanted to ridicule his teachings saw what he was saying as "causeless" just as sunyavadin is seeing the materialist understanding of evolution as causeless; this is simply misunderstanding what's being said.

It's interesting, then -- going on to David's point -- that the underlying cause of both our experience of dukkha and how we evolved (according to the sutta he is pointing out) is craving. The problem we have with dukkha has the same cause as our evolution's cause -- I'd actually say that it is our evolution that is the source of the drive that results in dukkha (a point I make when I talk about sankhara in my recent blogposts on dependent arising; see link below if you're interested).

I believe this is what the Buddha was telling us, when he embedded the Prajapati myth in the beginning of the 12-step DA: he is saying that we do what we do because it is the way humans are created -- he uses the creation myth of his own time to express this (and does it in a very elegant way, I might add).

http://secularbuddhism.org/2012/05/23/a ... -sankhara/

:namaste:

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