Loose ends: supranormal-powers (iddhibala) and magic

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cjmacie
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Loose ends: supranormal-powers (iddhibala) and magic

Post by cjmacie » Sat Oct 15, 2016 11:09 am

(originally (ca. Th.15.Sep.2016) re thread "An Amazing opportunity - ven. Wajirabuddhi Thero", but verging on "off-topic" there)

cjmacie:
Super-normal powers (iddhi) are neutral (neither necessarily kusala nor akusala). They're rather "
magic", in the sense of being able to do things which manipulate other people's consciousness. And, btw, my sense, so far here, is that this Wajirabuddhi Thero is using magic, especially when watching him speak. This is more common in Asian cultures than in the West, such that we in the West are less adapt at detecting [edit: recognizing] it.

Postby tiltbillings » Thu Sep 15, 2016 3:40 pm
Looking forward to reading what you have to say about this.

(This is s/w informal – a sense from many inputs gained over many years; not intended as authoritative.)

"Magic", in some sense, can be seen as an interpretation of behavior or events. When referring to behavior (i.e. of a "magician") I understand it as a skill which is beyond the understanding of those who witness it. Could be called deception; however, the inherent moral tenor is not fixed; as in the traditional terms "black magic" and "white magic" -- the former is deception, manipulation with bad intent; the latter with good intent.

A book I once heard about, from someone who read it, outlined phases of the evolution of human consciousness. Author was some heavy-weight European "philosophical anthropologist", or the like; early 20th-Century, if I recall. The schema as (perhaps not entirely accurately) recalled:

1) natural / "primitive" – perhaps not much different than how animals experience;
2) "magical" – some kind of identification of the activities of consciousness with the forces of nature, hence the mind that has sympathetic understanding can create effects by way of corresponding with natural "reality"; goes way back into pre-history;
3) "mythical" / religious – projection of governing forces into deities and corresponding cosmological and moral systems; dominant perhaps from 1st millennium BCE through into 2nd millennium CE, weakening but enduring through the present;
4) "rational" – empirical, relational -- think perspective, as in painting, exact and representational, but centering on a single point of convergence, and from a specific viewpoint, i.e. limited; dominant ca. mid 2nd millennium CE through the present;
5) "a-perspective" ("FREED-FROM perspective") – i.e. viewing multiple rational perspectives simultaneously; a meta-level; currently (historically) emerging; think "globalization" and the confrontation among all the various cultures; hence the question: is anyone in particular (or culture) in possession of the single "truth"? I think this author, a century or so ago, hit the nail on the head with this idea.

"Magic" in the main wikipedia article seems a catalog of more or less "occult" beliefs and practices; perhaps makes sense as dwelling in that consciousness as above (2). Not what I'm referring to here, except perhaps indirectly.

My perspective is more rooted in (4), perhaps also (5).

Anecdote that shapes this understanding: Back 1960's-70's or so, a fellow named Yuri Geller (Israeli) made quite a splash in the media, as least here on the West Coast (USA). He presented himself as psychic or magician – doing tricks like bending forks without touching them, even through walls, etc. Scientists as Stanford Research Institute ("SRI", top-ranking scientific think-tank near Stanford Univ.) took on an experiment testing Yuri Geller's claims. (SRI is also famous for, earlier on, studying "yogis" and validating that they could consciously influence the so-called "autonomic nervous system".) After exhaustive experiments, the SRI scientists concluded that they could not "explain" Geller's feats; i.e. he, apparently, used some powers beyond science. Later, I heard an interview with him on KPFA (Berkeley Calif. old-left/new-left radical radio station). Geller mentioned that magicians generally know that scientists are the easiest to fool – their overbearing faith in their own rigid framework of rationally describing, analyzing and understanding renders them totally blind to behavior, phenomena outside that framework.

Then there are a variety of modern personages who I believe exploit this sense of magic – here bordering on "charisma"*. Think Deepak Chopra, or Werner Erhart, any number of politicians, and even some "Dharma-teachers". I've known (personally) a couple in the field of Oriental medicine. One, a Korean, who was clearly a master at the art of medicine, a captivating speaker, who also advertised long-distance healing, clairvoyance, etc., and had a broad, often fanatical following. Another, Chinese (ShanDong), who had mediocre medical knowledge and skills, but mastery at persuading others, at organizing successful (and hugely profitable) endeavors.

A common characteristic I have often found in such individuals is some peculiar use of the eyes – penetrating glare, widening/narrowing or sudden movements that attracts ones attention, if only subtly; helps cast a spell, so to speak. Think Adolf Hitler -- c.f. e.g. photo of him in the "Cat" thread here; or watch/listen to him deliver speeches (e.g. in the film "Triumph des Willens" on youtube). Or other charismatic figures.

This all doesn't prove anything, but I find it empirically useful in becoming alerted to certain behaviors.

In the case of ven. Wajirabuddhi Thero, I get a sense he uses mannerisms and rhetoric along similar lines, which also may in part be culture-bound mannerisms; I sense, though, his intending them. From scanning his book (of radio talks), I'm convinced he has deep knowledge of Dhamma, mixed with iconoclastic tendencies. There's also arises a suspicion that he might be trying to emulate Mahasi Sayadaw, who I've heard had quite an impact on Celonese Buddhists (reportedly some there threw stones at him during a visit).

Another interesting datum: Ajahn Lee (in Thanissaro's translation of his "Keeping the Breath in Mind"), after a rather traditional presentation of the 4 jhāna-s (pp. 26-31):

"When you have mastered the fourth level of jhāna, it can act as the basis for eight skills:
1. vipassanā-ñana… (a) knowing without ever having thought of the matter; and (b) knowing from having thought of the matter – but not after a great deal of thought…
2. Manomayiddhi: psychic powers – the ability to use thoughts to influence events.
3. iddhividhï: the ability to display supra-normal powers, e.g., creating images in certain instances that certain groups of people will be able to see.
4. Dibbasota: the ability to hear distant sounds.
5. Cetopariya-ñana: the ability to know the level – good or evil, high or low – of other people's minds.
6. Pubbenivāsānussati-ñana: the ability to remember previous lifetimes. (If you attain this skill, you'll no longer have to wonder as to whether death is followed by annihilation or rebirth).
[This last is curious, and found elsewhere in Dhamma: some perplexing questions that people like to interminably rationalize and debate about will be answered unequivocally after certain attainments.]
7. Dibbacakkhu: the ability to see gross and subtle images, both near and far.
8. Äsavakkhaya-ñana: the ability to reduce and eliminate the fermentations of defilement in the heart."

Interesting here the apparent dual aspects of a) having and using extraordinary sorts of knowledge, and b) not necessarily knowing how it works.

* Webster's Collegiate Dictionary: "charisma … 2) a) a personal magic or leadership… b) a special magnetic charm or appeal…"

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robertk
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Re: Loose ends: supranormal-powers (iddhibala) and magic

Post by robertk » Sat Oct 15, 2016 12:45 pm

with regard to the talks of the ven. what you call magic sounds more like 'hypnotism' - in the sense of subtle mind control- than magic?

Note: I haven't listened to his talks, just going off your post.

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cjmacie
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Re: Loose ends: supranormal-powers (iddhibala) and magic

Post by cjmacie » Sun Oct 16, 2016 1:40 pm

robertk wrote:with regard to the talks of the ven. what you call magic sounds more like 'hypnotism' - in the sense of subtle mind control- than magic?
Yes, that could be said, in the sense that, though the use of what I've called "magic" and hypnotism both involve manipulation of others that they themselves are unconscious of, if one defines "magic" otherwise, then the correspondence may not be valid.

Definitely has to do with "mind control". And that may be have to do with Ajahn Lee's list of mostly "magical" powers purportedly possible with 4th-jhana mastery – in this case control of one's own mind leading to capabilities way beyond most other people's comprehension, hence the possibility of "controlling" others' minds – not forcing them but showing them possibilities that may guide them, help them to their own realizations. Think of a skillful "guided meditation".

It's quite conceivable that the Buddha used such powers just so: demonstrating mental capabilities customized to be comprehensible by particular people he addressed, and taking into account his perception of where their minds were and at the moment capable of grasping. I would still consider that magic, in that the recipient isn't aware of how it's being done; but it's clearly "white" magic as it intends the recipient's benefit. When one breaks through to a path/fruition experience with such guidance, it's possible (probably not necessary) that in retrospect, the recipient realizes what the Buddha was doing, and possibly how (gaining for oneself such powers). Though it does seem to be the case, from the sutta-s, that the Buddha did not encourage developing and using such powers, as they can be a distraction to the disciple's progress on the central path (ending dukkha), and can be used unskillfully to take advantage of others.
robertk wrote:Note: I haven't listened to his talks, just going off your post.
The video talk found on the website that promotes the Ven. Wajirabuddhi Thero is spoken in the Sihalese language, I presume, which I don't understand at all (except an occasional Pali word). However, when the listener's mind is not busy trying to follow the linguistic meaning of the speaker, the non-verbal behavior is more noticeable, e.g. eyes, body-language, rhythm of presentation, etc.

One curious aspect seen in the transcripts of the radio talks (i.e. his book) is that in the Q/A parts of the radio programs, many of the questions posed seem repetitious, and his responses go on and on, often repetitiously, and similar for many questions. I got a sense that these programs were heavily scripted. That he didn't provide more direct and terse answers is a matter of concern, and leads to the suspicion that reaching the questioner directly and succinctly isn't his forte.

This is an issue I've observed in various teachers over the years: some reflect on questions for a moment, then provide clear, direct and adequate answers, being able to exactly discern what the questioner meant and could comprehend. Other teachers, irrespective of their own knowledge and attainments, just can't do that; s/t go on and on, perhaps trying to figure-out the answer for themselves, and losing, diluting the attention of the questioner, in effect, away from the question. I've experienced this first hand – trying to follow a rambling answer to my question, where-in I eventually forget what I'd asked.

binocular
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Re: Loose ends: supranormal-powers (iddhibala) and magic

Post by binocular » Mon Oct 17, 2016 5:28 pm

cjmacie wrote:That he didn't provide more direct and terse answers is a matter of concern, and leads to the suspicion that reaching the questioner directly and succinctly isn't his forte.
/.../
This is an issue I've observed in various teachers over the years: some reflect on questions for a moment, then provide clear, direct and adequate answers, being able to exactly discern what the questioner meant and could comprehend. Other teachers, irrespective of their own knowledge and attainments, just can't do that; s/t go on and on, perhaps trying to figure-out the answer for themselves, and losing, diluting the attention of the questioner, in effect, away from the question. I've experienced this first hand – trying to follow a rambling answer to my question, where-in I eventually forget what I'd asked.
Or perhaps such non-answers are deliberate, intended to make the questioner shut up; or to establish the power hierarchy.

People coming from a liberal Western egalitarian, democratic background sometimes have mistaken ideas about what goes on in a conversation: they think it's a discussion, but the other person may think it is not (that it is a monologue of the person who is higher up in the hierarchy than the other, but that the other one is rude and uncultured or doesn't understand the terms of engagement and so keeps interrupting the first one's monologue).
Every person we save is one less zombie to fight. -- World War Z

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