Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Rational Buddhism


The Sleep of Reason brings forth Monsters

The purpose of this blog is to explore how far Buddhism can be supported by rational arguments, both from the philosophical point of view, and also in terms of the observed effects of Buddhist practices.

In other words, if we regard Buddhism as a combination of a philosophy, psychology and religion, then how much mileage can we get from the first two aspects before we have to start invoking religious faith? This is not to say that the religious aspect should be abandoned or disparaged in any way, and I am certainly not advocating the mechanistic reductionism known as 'Secular Buddhism'.

The advantage of  pursuing the philosophical and psychological approaches is that of maintaining a common basis for discussion with science, medicine and Western philosophy for as far as possible, until the paths diverge.



Buddha told us to analyse his teachings.
Of course most religions don't like having their basic tenets subjected to searching analysis, and one cult has abandoned reason altogether, to the extent that you're likely to get your head chopped off for being too rational. 

But Buddhism is different. In the  Kalama Sutra, Buddha said that all religious teachings, including his own should...

(1) Not be believed on the basis of religious authority, or 'holy' books, or family/tribal tradition, or even coercion and intimidation by the mob.

BUT INSTEAD ONE SHOULD

(2) Test the methodology by personal experience. Does it do what it says on the box?

(3) Is the philosophy rational? Or does it require you to believe six impossible things before breakfast?

(4) Judge the tree by its fruits. Is it beneficial, or does it tell you to act against your conscience and 'The Golden Rule'.

According to Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, Buddha told his disciples time and time again not to accept his teachings out of blind faith, but to test them as thoroughly as they would assay gold. It is only on the basis of valid reasons and personal experience that we should accept the teachings of anyone, including Buddha himself.


The advantages of rationalism
One advantage of establishing a rational basis for Buddhism is that it gives  Buddhism an 'intellectual respectability' at a time when the intellectual prestige of other religions is in steep decline, due to increasing obscurantism, which takes variety of forms varying from creationist anti-science to outright terrorism.

This 'intellectual respectability' also may help to prevent Buddhism being hit by collateral damage from increasing prejudice against all religions resulting from jihadist aggression.


Reason versus Revelation
Most religions contain some 'revealed doctrines' or 'dogmas', which were revealed long ago to one person or a few people, and then not to any others.

In all religions other than Buddhism, these ancient, unprovable, unrepeatable revelations are fundamental articles of faith on which the rest of the belief-system is constructed.

In contrast, Buddhism's fundamental doctrines are accessible to reason and investigation in terms of shared, repeatable experience.




The Four Foundations of Buddhism
There are many different schools of Buddhism, but all are built upon the foundations of the Four Seals of Dharma. These Four Seals can be derived from rational analysis.

The four seals are
(i) Lack of inherent existence
(ii) Impermanence
(iii) Unsatisfactoriness
(iv)  Liberation of the mind

The most fundamental of these seals is the first, Lack of Inherent Existence, from which the other three follow logically*.


First Seal -  Lack of inherent existence (emptiness)
No phenomenon is a ‘thing in itself’.  The more you look for it, the less you find it. Things disappear under analysis.  A car exists as a conventional truth, convenient for our everyday lives - a kind of working approximation.  But on dissection, logical analysis can find no ‘essential’ car, just a heap of parts that at a certain arbitrary stage of assembly is designated ‘car’, and at a certain arbitrary stage of disassembly is designated 'pile of junk'.

Outside our mind there is no defining ‘carness’ .  Similarly,  if you gradually decrease the height of the sides of a box until it becomes a tray, there is no point at which 'boxiness' leaves and 'trayfullness' jumps into the structure, with the box being automatically transformed into a tray. It’s all arbitrary mental designation.  This arbitrariness is the ultimate truth of how things exist to our minds. And it goes all the way down to the fundamental particles of matter. 

So how do things exist?
According to Buddhist philosophy, all functioning phenomena are dependently related to other phenomena and their existence arises from three relationships:

(a) Causality: Phenomena exist dependent upon causes and conditions.

(b) Structure: Phenomena depend upon the relationship of whole to parts.

(c) Most profoundly, phenomena depend upon imputation, attribution, or designation by the mind. It's the mind that designates what's a tray and what's a box.

More on Lack of Inherent Existence:    
Sunyata   
Inherent existence   
Reification   
Existence and Impermanence    
Ideal forms and essentialism   
Partless particles



Second Seal -  Impermanence
The impermanence of all functioning phenomena is an inevitable logical consequence of their emptiness of inherent existence.

No functioning phenomenon can be static, because to function it must change and be changed, it must give something of itself or receive something into itself. A truly unchanging phenomenon would reside in splendid isolation and could never even be known to exist. All functioning phenomena are composite and impermanent.  What we term ‘existence’ is really just impermanence in slow-motion.

From  Impermanence, Interdependence & Emptiness
“The ideas of impermanence, interdependence and emptiness are central to Buddhist teaching - and to the whole Buddhist worldview actually.

What these ideas boil down to really is that there is no permanent essence to anything. No part of anything lasts forever or is eternal. Everything (and everyone) that exists does so because of the interrelatedness of various parts - not because it has a permanent essence or "soul" around which all the parts are organized..."

This is true of all things and all people. All things exist interdependently - not as permanent essences. Thus, all things are ultimately "empty" - which is the Buddhist teaching of emptiness.

Because things are empty, they are impermanent. We forget this, says the Buddha, and act as if things are permanent. We desire them to be permanent and when they turn out not to be, we suffer. We suffer especially when we desire permanent happiness from impermanent things or people. It is not possible for impermanent things or people to provide permanent happiness because they themselves are not permanent..."


More on Impermanence:    
Process Philosophy   
Existence and impermanence
Subtle impermanence, the quantum vacuum, radioactive decay and causality



Third Seal -  The Unsatisfactoriness of Material Existence
All emotions based on the three mental poisons of attachment, aversion and ignorance are ultimately painful. You can never have enough worldly possessions, and even if you did you'd worry about losing them since - as stated in the paragraph above - they are all impermanent.  And you've got to lose the lot eventually when you die.

This sense of unsatisfactoriness can range from the severe physical and mental sufferings of people being bombed, burned and raped in war-zones, to the feeling of humiliation suffered by a billionaire who discovers that his business rival has a slightly larger and more luxurious yacht. An object that appeared to be a source of pride and happiness when he bought it, has now turned into a source of shame and aversion.

All materialistic cravings eventually and inevitably lead to disappointment and worse. They cannot provide any ultimate satisfaction.  See  Dukkha, Dawkins, Darwinism and the Selfish Gene  and Symbiotic Mind.




Fourth Seal -  The Ultimate Liberation of the Mind
The first three seals of dharma analysed the factors that imprison our minds in a ceaseless and futile process of chasing after the mirages of impermanent phenomena as if they were permanent,  in the hope of achieving ultimate satisfaction. The fourth seal provides an escape route from this labyrinth of confusion.

The method for liberating the mind from its delusions consists of meditational techniques.   These techniques have been empirically tested and shown to provide psychological benefits in the here and now, though of course Buddhists would also claim that they provide benefits in the hereafter (of which more later).

So as far as clinical assessment is concerned, Buddhist meditation does do what it says on the box.  As Ed Halliwell writes:

"It is not long since just mentioning meditation tagged you as a gullible new-ager or self-indulgent hippie. Buddhism, if considered at all, had a reputation for promoting withdrawal from this pain-filled world. But in the space of a few short years, core dharma has permeated western society's most influential institutions.

Madeleine Bunting charts the cracks in our once-cherished concepts of individual identity, and notes how the Buddhist teaching of egolessness resonates with corresponding insights from neuroscience and evolutionary psychology. Ideas that chime with Buddhism are being championed by the Royal Society of Arts and the New Economics Foundation, and reported in mainstream media. Before cif belief, I never dreamed I would synchronise my journalistic career and meditation practice, finding national newspaper space to write from a Buddhist perspective.

Buddhism is reaching beyond academia, think tanks and the media. Most GPs are aware of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) and cognitive therapy (MBCT), well-researched approaches to health problems which feature meditation as their core component. MBCT is endorsed by the National Institute For Clinical Excellence, and thousands of people are being referred to mindfulness training on the NHS. In Scotland, the government has funded more than 200 healthcare professionals to teach MBCT."




So does acceptance of the Four Seals of Dharma make you a Buddhist?
 "Anyone who accepts these four seals, even independently of Buddha’s teachings, even never having heard the name Shakyamuni Buddha, can be considered to be on the same path as he."  - Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche
- 

However, 'the path' in Buddhism is considered to extend beyond the present lifetime, which brings us on to the next topic - the nature of the mind. According to Buddhist philosophy, the mind is non-physical and formless. The mind 'knows' its object, in the sense of designating meaning to it.

The mind survives the physical death of the body. It is a fundamental aspect of reality that cannot be reduced to physical or biological structures, and is not dependent upon them

The fourth seal of dharma aims to clarify the mind from delusions on a permanent basis, from this life onwards.
Buddhist philosophy rejects materialist explanations for the mind.
Materialism is the belief that all phenomena in the universe, in particular the human mind, are explainable in terms of matter.

In other words, such mental experiences as beauty, love, spirituality, pleasure and pain are reducible to nothing but physical and chemical interactions. According to the materialist view, the mind does not actually exist, but is an emergent property or epiphenomenon of matter.

Although there are not many people who enthusiastically promote the materialist worldview, it has become the default belief of many scientifically educated people that all phenomena are reducible to the activities of matter.


- The Malaise of Materialism
Materialism leads to a rejection of spirituality, both in terms of declining religious belief, and also in the arts where the cult of ugliness, with its obsessions with the sordid and brutalistic, seeks to reduce humans to biological automata.

Of course all religions reject materialism as an article of faith, but none apart from Buddhism attempts to provide any rational philosophical refutation of the materialist worldview.


- Buddhism offers the only coherent critique of materialism
Whitehead said "Christianity ... has always been a religion seeking a metaphysic, in contrast to Buddhism which is a metaphysic generating a religion." In other words, Christianity does not have the metaphysical foundation needed to withstand materialism.

So nowadays it's left to Buddhism to defend the spiritual aspect of humanity from mechanistic materialism, and show that not everything about the human mind can be explained in mechanistic terms.

The Buddhist argument against materialism is to demonstrate that mind is an aspect of reality that is not reducible to material causes and structures.

Note that in Buddhist metaphysics, mind is not a kind of 'thing' or 'substance' because 'things' and 'substances' are dependent upon structure for their existence. The mind can apprehend structure, but does not itself have any vestige of structure, nor can it be reduced to structure (mind is said to be 'formless').

So how does the materialist worldview map on to the Buddhist worldview, and what are the discrepancies?


-  Materialism, physicalism and computationalism.
In discussing the differences between Buddhist metaphysics and materialism, we need a more precise definition of the materialist philosophical position, which introduces two rather more modern terms - physicalism and computationalism.

Physicalism is a more precise formulation of the rather vague term 'materialism'. It states that all phenomena, including the mind, are reducible to the laws of physics.

Computationalism is physicalism specifically applied to explaining the function of the human mind. Since all physical systems can be modelled, simulated and explained in terms of datastructures and algorithms, (see Church-Turing Thesis), it follows that if physicalism is true, then the human mind can be modelled, simulated and explained by a computer. This is a more precise statement than the traditional materialist view that the mind is a machine.



Buddhism versus Computationalism
The difference between the Buddhist and the Computationalist view of reality can be stated quite simply:

The Buddhist believes that all functioning phenomena are dependent upon
- Causality
- Structure
- Designation by mind


The Computationalist believes that all functioning phenomena are dependent upon
- Causality
- Structure

...with the mind being reducible to the operations of causality on structure in the same way that the activities of a computer are reducible to the operation of algorithms on datastructures.

To the Buddhist, in contrast, the mind is an irreducible foundation of reality.




Arguments against computationalism.
If computationalism is false, then it seems very likely that mind must be an axiomatic aspect of reality, which is not dependent upon the mechanism of the brain or body, and so may continue to exist after death.

See here for arguments against materialism in general, and here for arguments against the computational theory of mind.





Metarationality versus irrationality in religion

Metarationality - the mental landscape beyond the end of the tracks



Metarationality deals with valid phenomena which lie beyond the limits of discursive thought.  Qualia are prime examples, and much meditational practice deals with the deliberate invocation of qualia. 

Also, some types of meditation deliberately seek to go beyond conceptual thought in order to reach nonconceptual awareness.

Other metarational phenomena are those paradoxes that lie at, or just beyond, the limits of logical thought, and which have been investigated by Buddhist philosophers such a Nagarjuna.

According to Hume, the entire field of ethics may be metarational, since reasoned and logical arguments are incapable of going from an 'is' to an 'ought'.  Ethics cannot be rationally derived  either from  knowledge based on logic and definitions, or from observation.

The difference between metarationality and irrationality, is that with metarationality you attempt to explore the landscape beyond the end of the tracks of logical thought, whereas with irrationality you come off the rails long before you reach the end of the line.

Irrationality - coming off the track before you reach the end of the line

Buddhist philosophy is rational until it reaches the limits of logic, wherupon it goes metarational, whereas some religions are just plain irrational from the very start of the journey.  See THE LIMITIS OF SCIENTIFIC EXPLANATION.


Buddhism and ...
Faith, the ultimate F-word for rationalists
For rationalists such as Richard Dawkins, 'Faith' is very much an F-word .

Faith makes a virtue out of believing unprovable and often improbable propositions.  Dawkins contrasts this with the scientific method, which he describes as a system whereby working assumptions may be falsified by recourse to reason and evidence.

The Place of Faith in Buddhism
So is 'Faith' in Buddhism the same kind of unquestioning belief in bizarre and often mutually contradictory assertions as found in other religions, or is it more in the nature of 'Trust'.

Buddha, in his rejection of essentialism and affirmation of the importance of impermanence, displayed an insight into the way that things exist that has only recently been confirmed by science.   Buddhist meditational techniques have also recently been empirically verified to have measurable beneficial effects.  But how far should we trust Buddhist doctrine when it deals with topics that are metarational?

Trusting the Guide to the Path
Consider the situation where we are hiking on a mountain in the Scottish Highlands.

We are following a map, when suddenly a fog closes in and we can only see a few feet ahead.  We decide to get off the mountain as quickly as possible and wait for better weather.   The map shows a quick way down which appears to be shorter than the route we took to get here. But do we trust the map?

Well, there are good maps and not so good maps. There are maps originating from the observations of competent mountaineers using suitable equipment and accurate record keeping, and there are maps originating on the back of beer mats drawn from hazy memories in Highland bars at 11 o'clock at night after traversing the malt whisky shelf. 

So how do we decide whether to follow the route on the map? How do we know it won't lead us over a cliff or into a bog?   Are we prepared to stake our safety and maybe our life on this map?

One way to weigh the risks would be to judge the reliability of the map by what it has shown so far. Has it accurately described the route we've taken?
Or has it shown things that aren't there, and missed out major features that are?   

If Buddha's map to the path has proved accurate up to where we are now, then maybe we should have sufficient faith in it to take us a bit further along the path.



TIP - If some aspects of Buddhist beliefs seem unfamiliar, obscure, or confusing, then bear in mind that Buddhism is a process philosophy.   Difficult aspects of Buddhism often become much clearer when viewed from a process perspective.


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* I have listed the Four Seals out of their traditional order to correspond to the logical development of this particular presentation. Impermanence is usually number one.

- Sean Robsville


Related Posts

BUDDHIST PHILOSOPHY

 

Process Philosophy and Buddhism

Evolution, Emptiness and Delusions of the Darwinian Mind

Mind and Mechanism – Buddhism and the Turing Machine 

The non-physical mind

Is Buddhist Philosophy neglected and discriminated against in the West?

How do we bridge the gap between mind and brain?

How do we reconcile non-physical mind with the theory of evolution?

The Emptiness of the Mind in Kadampa Buddhism

Buddhism and Quantum physics: does quantum weirdness produce the mind, or vice versa?

Are some forms of faith contagious mental diseases?

How does the mind form categories and concepts?
 
Regularities in nature

Uses and limitations of computer science in understanding Buddhist Philosophy 

The structure of composite things


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17 comments:

Wappy said...

Great concept, looking forward to following along.

Ian said...

Fantastic article! Thanks for putting the effort into this--I've been looking for a resource like this for a while now.

Jeeprs said...

Love your work. Will cross-post on my blog.

C. Clark said...

Well written and a nice layout. Straight and to the point.

vtgaw said...

Excellent article. Best exposition on Buddhism i have ever read. Brief but concise. My concern with Buddhism is how can we trust the map that the Buddha have drawn for us to be the true original teachings he has provided, since the first known Buddhist scripture appeared about 400 years after his death. The Buddha's teachings was primarily memorized by his followers and was transmitted orally. Some corruption will probably be introduced during these period. Would metarationalization led to delusional ideas of deification of the Buddha and acceptance of reincarnation or rebirth?

Natty said...

Insightful! I think Buddhism must be more relevant to our spiritual needs than other belief systems.

Michael Harry Anifantakis said...

My novel, This Moment Is My Home
deals with a meditator seeking to regain the enlightenment he lost, and other things, like reincarnation and ghosts.

www.zenwhiperer.blogspot.com

eternian said...

"Exclusivism = 'Our religion is the only path to salvation. All unbelievers are destined for hell.' Anyone who claims this is at best suffering from memetic delusions, and at worst is a charlatan and a liar." which makes you a liar, because this is a contradiction. You have said, "Exclusivity is a sin, you are evil or mentally ill if you are exclusive" and have therefore excluded those who exclude.

That's called, a contradiction, and an Exclusivity Fallacy, fallacy in Informal Logic as identified by me, a teacher of I.L. It's similar in hypocrisy to a person who says, "You shouldn't judge" yet by that statement has made a judgment that judging is wrong, a contradiction.

It's also morally hypocritical. Excluding a thing is not morally wrong merely because you, an imperfect hypocrite who can't see obvious contradictions, said so or feels so. You're not God either to declare right and wrong for all. GOD IS GOD, HE MAY DECLARE RIGHT AND WRONG FOR ALL. You didn't learn what you were supposed to in your Christian schools, because you were taught poorly and were self centered. THIS, IS WHAT YOU SHOULD HAVE LEARNED:

The right path is Christ, who said the second greatest law is "Love your neighbor as yourself," and the first greatest from which it comes: "Hear oh Israel, 'the Lord your God is One, and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart," and that all the laws could be fulfilled by this one: "Do to others as you would have them do to you." But without repentance, there will be no forgiveness from the One and the unrepentant like the demon worshipers will be met with eternal shame and pain.

Not: "Whatever you feel is true and whoever you call a liar is a liar because you have said so and don't like the thought of criminals being punished for criminal behavior." You're so ignorant that you don't even know that Buddhism also has a Hell. You're thoroughly stupid and arrogant. You don't even show an email showing what an intolerant arbitrary exclusivist you are.

eternian.wordpress.com/life

"YOU SHALL NOT BEAR FALSE TESTIMONY" - MOSES

"DON'T LIE" - YESHUA.

WHAT IS A LIE? TO SAY WHAT IS FALSE, WHAT IS NOT TRUE, WHAT DOES NOT AGREE WITH THE FACTS, WITH WHAT IS EVIDENT, WITH WHAT IS LOGICAL, NOT "WHAT DISAGREES WITH YOUR FEELINGS AND YOUR WORD."

jps said...

As always, another excellent article. However, there is a distinction that might be made between 'rationality' and 'tangibility'. What most modern people mean by the former, is actually the latter. What they mean by 'rational' is 'what can be demonstrated empirically, or inferred by mathematical reason on the basis of such a demonstration'. In other words, they are prepared to believe only what can be observed and measured in third-party terms. But this rests on an a priori that the world is rational - that it 'makes sense', that the principles by which it can be understood, exist within it.

I think if you go back to some of the ancient thinkers, notably Parmenides and Zeno in Greece, and Nagarjuna in India, the point of their philosophies is to demonstrate that the world of observation is actually internally inconsistent - that the world, as such, is not logical. This does not mean that logic is at fault, but that the bounds of experience cannot be circumscribed by logical laws.

I suppose that is a big argument, now I spell it out. But anyway, the point remains that what moderns mean by 'rational' is 'what I can see and fee' (by means including instruments.) And now, as a result, we have evolution by random mutation and multiverses and the other infinite cans-of-worms that modern people believe are 'rational'.

seanrobsville said...

@jps
It's not only the ancients who have detected internal inconsistencies and deficiencies in logic. In modern times Kurt Godel and Betrand Russell have come to similar conclusions: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gödel's_incompleteness_theorems and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russell's_paradox

'...For example, the Barber paradox supposes a barber who shaves all men who do not shave themselves and only men who do not shave themselves. When one thinks about whether the barber should shave himself or not, the paradox begins to emerge.'

Anonymous said...

Let's examine this rationality of Buddhism:

"No phenomenon is a ‘thing in itself’."

What about YOU? Can you divide yourself into pieces?

" Phenomena exist dependent upon causes and conditions."

Well that's right, but from it doesn't follow that "all phenomena exist dependent upon causes and conditions" and that "phenomena exist dependent only upon causes and conditions".

"Phenomena depend upon the relationship of whole to parts."

That is how we perceive things (and you perfectly showed it), but this doesn't mean that our perception can be treated like ontological truth (it just doesn't follow).

"Most profoundly, phenomena depend upon imputation, attribution, or designation by the mind. It's the mind that designates what's a tray and what's a box."

Whoa, wait a minute. There is a big leap of faith between the fact that we perceive things in particular manner and designate them and the statement that phenomena depend upon imputation, attribution or designation by the mind. We need good evidences to make such an assumption and you did not show any.

" The impermanence of all functioning phenomena is an inevitable logical consequence of their emptiness of inherent existence."

So it is no sense to comment more, because you didn't give any convincing evidence that inherent existence is true.

seanrobsville said...

@Anon

"What about YOU? Can you divide yourself into pieces?"
- Whenever I cut my nails. I could do a more drastic division, but I'm not sure I have the surgical skills to reverse the process. Sometimes I'm in two minds, like when I'm gardening or driving along familiar roads while thinking about something entirely different.

"...it doesn't follow that "all phenomena exist dependent upon causes and conditions"
- The universe and all that's in it started with a Big Bang followed by an inflationary phase, so as far a we can observe, everything had at least these causes and conditions.

"There is a big leap of faith between the fact that we perceive things in particular manner and designate them and the statement that phenomena depend upon imputation, attribution or designation by the mind. We need good evidences to make such an assumption and you did not show any. "
- See Roger Scruton on algorithms, data structures and mental attribution and Intentionality.

- "So it is no sense to comment more, because you didn't give any convincing evidence that inherent existence is true. "
That's because I don't believe there is any such thing as inherent existence. In fact, quite the contrary.

robin hood said...

I have spent a lot of the time in different blogs but this is really a unique blog for me.the four noble truths

Anonymous said...

These seals you mention are connected.

We imagine a timeline, which begins, stretches through the aeons, there is a slice of it called "the present moment", and it extends into the future. This timeline is created from the collating of memories, ideas and perceptions. We imagine solid objects moving on that timeline.

In actual experience, however, there is only now. Not the present moment, as a slice of time. Simply the ever present now. Past appears in now as a memory that comes and passes away. Future appears as a projection that comes and passes away. Neither are ever experienced.

When we pay attention now, we see that whatever is now is in a constant flux. There is change. That change is the only constant. In order to have inherent existence (seal 1), it would have to actually _be_ something, but never in experience does something actually remain something.

There is no coming, no going, no remaining. There is emptiness. Even the idea of causes and conditions is incoherent because no alleged cause or condition is inherently existing. Such language is a tool, a pointer. Nothing more.

Impermanence is another word for the same thing. Things are impermanent (or in reality, there are no things to be permanent) because there is no inherent existence. There is just flow. The breath is impermanent because it is empty. The emptiness and impermanence of the breath is so easy to see, which is why it is such a good idea to pay attention to it.

The third seal is a consequence of the first and second seal coupled with the grasping of that which is not. We suffer when we try to hold on to something we imagine has solidity, whether it be the "me", or objects we believe make us happy. Since neither me nor objects are what we imagine them to be, suffering arises when the truth of what is collides with our beliefs and wishes.

The fourth seal is simply seeing what is, knowingly. When what is, is clearly seen, grasping ceases and suffering ends. But it is not something that can happen to the "me", because when the seeing of thusness happens knowingly, the "me" is also seen as empty and no different from any other phenomenon. So "I" can never become enlightened. If enlightenment has occurred, the "I" is already gone (it was never actually there in the first place as an existing entity).

Larry Rowe said...

I thought Buddhism was all about getting beyond dualism so why all the strange focus on a supposed duality between materialism and spirituality? What exactly is wrong with seeing mountains as mountains and rivers as rivers?

Anonymous said...

@Larry Rowe. I feel the same way, that kind of dualism is absurd imo and dualism of the body/mind is perhaps even worse.

seanrobsville said...

@ Larry Rowe and Anonymous 31-Oct-14

The confusion about dualism can be resolved by bearing in mind that Buddhism is a process philosophy, which regards process and change as being the fundamental nature of the universe.

Of course there's nothing wrong with seeing mountains as mountains, and rivers as rivers, especially if you're an engineer planning to build a baseline railroad through the Alps. These are conventional everyday ways of looking at things which are adequate for most normal purposes. But if we view rivers and mountains philosophically, or on a long enough timescale, we may come to the same conclusion as Heraclitus, that you can't step into the same river twice because it's a process, not a stable thing with its own inherent existence.

Similarly, a mountain is a snapshot of a combination of geological processes. Mount Everest appears stable and inherently existent because its lifetime is long in comparison with human lifetimes. But in geologicaly terms, mountains are ephemeral. They are thrown up by tectonic processes and then eroded by rain, frost, ice and wind.

The shorter the lifetime of a natural feature, the more it resembles a process than a thing. Is a sand dune advancing across the desert a thing or a process? Is a wave on the ocean thing or a process?

As regards body/mind duality, there is no 'substance dualism', because both body and mind are interlinked processes (not separate things or substances). However there may be a kind of 'process dualism' in that there are two types of processes at work in our lives: mechanistic and mental.

Mechanistic processes explain the working of all machines including computers, and all the classical laws of science including biology, chemistry, and physics. The brain is a physical machine no different in principle from a computer, and carries out mechanistic processes.

But mental processes are fundamentally different.

Mental processes consist of irreducible aspects of consciousness that have no mechanistic explanation, for example qualia (qualitative experiences such as pleasure and pain) and intentionality or aboutness (the power of minds to be about, to represent, experience, cognise or to stand for, things, properties and states of affairs).

When the mechanistic processes of the brain shut down, mental processes can still continue.

For a more detailed explanation of mental and mechanistic processes see Buddhist Philosophy.