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Truth Propositions in Buddhism do not Depend on the Existence of an Historical Buddha

 
MrLovingKindness
 
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MrLovingKindness
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03 February 2017 07:16
 

This is the fundamental difference between Buddhism and Christianity (and most other religions). Christianity is fundamentally dependent on the actual existence of an actual historical Jesus Christ in order to make any sense at all. The fundamental truths of Buddhism do not depend upon the existence of the Buddha in order to be true. More broadly, Buddhism does not require faith. Its fundamental tenants are directly observable.

For example, the first and most fundamental truth of Buddhism is that there is suffering. This is directly observable. As you read this, you can look at your own mind and see whether there is suffering. No faith required.

Contrast this with a belief in an everlasting soul, which is completely unverifiable.

 
unsmoked
 
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unsmoked
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03 February 2017 10:23
 
MrLovingKindness - 03 February 2017 07:16 AM

This is the fundamental difference between Buddhism and Christianity (and most other religions). Christianity is fundamentally dependent on the actual existence of an actual historical Jesus Christ in order to make any sense at all. The fundamental truths of Buddhism do not depend upon the existence of the Buddha in order to be true. More broadly, Buddhism does not require faith. Its fundamental tenants are directly observable.

For example, the first and most fundamental truth of Buddhism is that there is suffering. This is directly observable. As you read this, you can look at your own mind and see whether there is suffering. No faith required.

Contrast this with a belief in an everlasting soul, which is completely unverifiable.

I often quote from the book, ‘ZEN ESSENCE - The Science of Freedom’ - translated and edited by Thomas Cleary.  The reason the subtitle is ‘The Science of Freedom’ is because of what you are saying here - the fundamental tenants of Buddhism are directly observable.  A few days ago I started a topic called, ‘The Scenery of the fundamental ground.’  Right where we stand, just now, the scenery of the fundamental ground is directly observable.

 
 
MrLovingKindness
 
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03 February 2017 10:34
 
unsmoked - 03 February 2017 10:23 AM

I often quote from the book, ‘ZEN ESSENCE - The Science of Freedom’ - translated and edited by Thomas Cleary.  The reason the subtitle is ‘The Science of Freedom’ is because of what you are saying here - the fundamental tenants of Buddhism are directly observable.  A few days ago I started a topic called, ‘The Scenery of the fundamental ground.’  Right where we stand, just now, the scenery of the fundamental ground is directly observable.

Sounds cool. I will check out your post.

 
jro
 
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03 February 2017 14:59
 
MrLovingKindness - 03 February 2017 07:16 AM

This is the fundamental difference between Buddhism and Christianity (and most other religions). Christianity is fundamentally dependent on the actual existence of an actual historical Jesus Christ in order to make any sense at all. The fundamental truths of Buddhism do not depend upon the existence of the Buddha in order to be true. More broadly, Buddhism does not require faith. Its fundamental tenants are directly observable.

For example, the first and most fundamental truth of Buddhism is that there is suffering. This is directly observable. As you read this, you can look at your own mind and see whether there is suffering. No faith required.

Contrast this with a belief in an everlasting soul, which is completely unverifiable.

At the same time, there are unverifiable supernatural claims: Karma, reincarnation, superpowers of enlightened persons etc. Yes, sure, Buddhist practice still works with any of these, and for the essential teachings, the four noble truths, the eightfold path, you can mostly ignore them, but at the same time e.g. reincarnation belief is deeply embedded (no only) in Buddhist societies. You might think that when you reject the notion of a permanent self, the idea of reincarnation becomes redundant or even irreconcilable, still it is postulated to be real.

I guess the historical Gautama, if he existed, was more of a pragmatist, who didn’t really care about those logical contradictions very much, his goal was just to reduce suffering and increase happiness, and he adopted the notion of reincarnation because this was what everybody believed at that time. I just wonder how to deal with these claims today. I guess you can have something cleansed of all supernatural claims whatsoever, but I am not sure that this could be called Buddhism…

[ Edited: 03 February 2017 15:01 by jro]
 
MrLovingKindness
 
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06 February 2017 04:44
 
jro - 03 February 2017 02:59 PM

At the same time, there are unverifiable supernatural claims: Karma, reincarnation, superpowers of enlightened persons etc. Yes, sure, Buddhist practice still works with any of these, and for the essential teachings, the four noble truths, the eightfold path, you can mostly ignore them, but at the same time e.g. reincarnation belief is deeply embedded (no only) in Buddhist societies. You might think that when you reject the notion of a permanent self, the idea of reincarnation becomes redundant or even irreconcilable, still it is postulated to be real.

There is no self that is re-born. Maybe I should take a stab at no-self.

Look at a picture of yourself as a child. That picture does not represent anything existing now. What it represents (the child) is long gone. However, what exists now (let’s call it you for convenience), is dependent on the existence of the child in the picture that did once exist. Shortening the duration, the “you” that existed yesterday is gone. The “you” that existed a moment ago is gone.

You might think there is a continuous self that evolves over time, but that is not true either. If we were to construct an exact duplicate your physical body now, on the spot, that body would think that it had been alive for as long as you have been, even though it had just sprung into existence a moment ago, so that “self” of the new double is obviously completely disconnected from any past self, and the same applies to your current “self.” It is not connected to a past self, only accessing memories that were created in the past and stored in a current brain.

Further, what one might consider a personal self in each moment arises completely dependent on completely impersonal causes and conditions. Put another way, there is no free will.

I hope that helps.

jro - 03 February 2017 02:59 PM

I guess the historical Gautama, if he existed, was more of a pragmatist, who didn’t really care about those logical contradictions very much, his goal was just to reduce suffering and increase happiness, and he adopted the notion of reincarnation because this was what everybody believed at that time. I just wonder how to deal with these claims today. I guess you can have something cleansed of all supernatural claims whatsoever, but I am not sure that this could be called Buddhism…

If we cleanse all unverifiable claims from Christianity, there is nothing left at all. If we cleanse all unverifiable claims from Buddhism, what is left is the core of Buddhism, basically the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path.

 
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07 February 2017 10:07
 
MrLovingKindness - 06 February 2017 04:44 AM

There is no self that is re-born.

The closest most religious people come to this realization is their acknowledgement that other species have no self that is re-born.  Eating meat, it would be unacceptable for them to think otherwise.

 
 
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07 February 2017 14:32
 
MrLovingKindness - 06 February 2017 04:44 AM
jro - 03 February 2017 02:59 PM

At the same time, there are unverifiable supernatural claims: Karma, reincarnation, superpowers of enlightened persons etc. Yes, sure, Buddhist practice still works with any of these, and for the essential teachings, the four noble truths, the eightfold path, you can mostly ignore them, but at the same time e.g. reincarnation belief is deeply embedded (no only) in Buddhist societies. You might think that when you reject the notion of a permanent self, the idea of reincarnation becomes redundant or even irreconcilable, still it is postulated to be real.

There is no self that is re-born.

And yet, the stories about the Buddha say that he live many lives. So there clearly is a contradiction here. What can be reborn if there is no self?

Maybe I should take a stab at no-self.

What do you mean to say?

Look at a picture of yourself as a child. That picture does not represent anything existing now. What it represents (the child) is long gone. However, what exists now (let’s call it you for convenience), is dependent on the existence of the child in the picture that did once exist. Shortening the duration, the “you” that existed yesterday is gone. The “you” that existed a moment ago is gone.

I know the discussion, and of course it is an interesting one, but for the sake of this thread, what’s important is that there is a clear contradiction between the no-self and the reincarnation teaching.

BTW, I don’t think that the self can be dismissed quite as easily as you seem to do, because although there is change all the time, there is also the feeling of continuity, I don’t wake up as a random new person each day. There are memories, there is a history, knowledge etc. which is distinct to me as a person. It is certainly less stable and durable than we traditionally may have thought, and there is no all-governing centre of it all, no “homunculus” behind my lobe, but still the feeling of personhood, of identity is there, and there are factors which make me me and connect me to whom I was yesterday and ten, twenty, thirty, fourty years ago..

You might think there is a continuous self that evolves over time, but that is not true either. If we were to construct an exact duplicate your physical body now, on the spot, that body would think that it had been alive for as long as you have been, even though it had just sprung into existence a moment ago, so that “self” of the new double is obviously completely disconnected from any past self, and the same applies to your current “self.” It is not connected to a past self, only accessing memories that were created in the past and stored in a current brain.

Further, what one might consider a personal self in each moment arises completely dependent on completely impersonal causes and conditions. Put another way, there is no free will.

I hope that helps.

Not really. I know that this is a view which is common in Buddhism, but again, it does solve the paradox that Buddhism at the same time claims some sort of continuity through many lives, also it does not fully do justice to the experience of continuity which exists despite the ever changing contents of consciousness.

 
sojourner
 
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07 February 2017 19:35
 
jro - 07 February 2017 02:32 PM

Not really. I know that this is a view which is common in Buddhism, but again, it does solve the paradox that Buddhism at the same time claims some sort of continuity through many lives, also it does not fully do justice to the experience of continuity which exists despite the ever changing contents of consciousness.


I have thought about this a lot myself. My best answer to this paradox is that it resembles fractions. Take a blank piece of paper and posit a point “1”, a hypothetical dot or circle. Perhaps it is a tiny orb or a huge one, but it still has parameters and meets the rest of the paper from the perspective of a geometrical space looking out. All kinds of mathematical relationships do in fact ensue. They are real, in a formulaic sense. But it is also true to say that while you could divvy up the paper into a literally infinite number of points and relationships, in the end it’s just one blank piece of paper. The conceptual possibilities are real, if somewhat more ethereal; the blank piece of paper is also real. If that makes sense, I think where the interesting burden of proof then lies, with Buddhism and other religions, is on proving how much and how possible it is to move those parameters for the good of oneself and others.


Regarding the continuity of “I” - I agree that this may well be a point that Buddhism and other spiritual paths tend to present in a skewed manner. I think it’s really, really hard not to get binary about such concepts as time goes by, and pop culture Buddhism has tended toward “no ego!” while western culture almost worships reified egos at times. I think both can be harmful. I feel like it’s a bit cheestastic to quote The Little Prince, but what the hell, I’ll let go of my own ego for a minute and say I love the theme of the beauty of individuality as something like in-depth mindful awareness in the book, vs. the competitive isolationism of egos. I think that what Buddhism points to is that the light side of individuality is ‘knowing’, the shadow side is ‘identifying’ (and of course one could draw a similar conclusion about the unified, no-self, ‘nibbana’ side of things - presumably that has a light and a dark side as well - perhaps something like the potentiality of knowing anything [a sort of seedling omniscience - maybe not actually knowing everything, as that implies an individual ‘knower’, but a sort of raw potentate ability to learn / experience anything] vs. total nihilism or entropy.)

[ Edited: 07 February 2017 19:45 by sojourner]
 
 
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08 February 2017 05:43
 
MrLovingKindness - 06 February 2017 04:44 AM

There is no self that is re-born.

jro - 07 February 2017 02:32 PM

And yet, the stories about the Buddha say that he live many lives. So there clearly is a contradiction here. What can be reborn if there is no self?

That is a good question, but what is reborn is not a self, so there is no contradiction. Even accepting the premise that the Buddha lived many lives, not a single one of those lives contained a self, so no self was reborn. No contradiction.

jro - 07 February 2017 02:32 PM

[…] but for the sake of this thread, what’s important is that there is a clear contradiction between the no-self and the reincarnation teaching.

There is no contradiction as explained above. You might be confusing reincarnation (a Hindu concept) with rebirth (a Buddhist concept), but for the sake of this thread, and sticking to the original topic, what is important is that unlike all other religions, one can remove the historical, unverifiable context from Buddhism and what is left remains valid (particularly the four noble truths).

jro - 07 February 2017 02:32 PM

BTW, I don’t think that the self can be dismissed quite as easily as you seem to do, because although there is change all the time, there is also the feeling of continuity, I don’t wake up as a random new person each day.

A feeling of continuity is not the same as actual continuity. A movie projects one frame at a time, but it seems continuous unless it is slowed down and observed carefully.

And before we can decide whether there is a new you every day, we need to define what you are. Please provide your definition what you are, then we can try to figure out if there is a new you every day, and if so, what might determine what creates the new you from the old, and how random that is.

jro - 07 February 2017 02:32 PM

There are memories, there is a history, knowledge etc. which is distinct to me as a person.

There are stored data (memories), but those data do not even in theory resemble an accurate history. For just one example, they can be easily manipulated according to a great deal of research on the topic of implanting false memories. https://news.mit.edu/2013/neuroscientists-plant-false-memories-in-the-brain-0725

Please define what you mean by a distinct person as it pertains to memories. If we changed all of your memories, would you still be you? If you were no longer you, who would you be?

jro - 07 February 2017 02:32 PM

It is certainly less stable and durable than we traditionally may have thought, and there is no all-governing centre of it all, no “homunculus” behind my lobe, but still the feeling of personhood, of identity is there, and there are factors which make me me and connect me to whom I was yesterday and ten, twenty, thirty, fourty years ago..

The feelings of personhood and identity are there, but those feelings are essentially non-cognitive models of reality. The mistake is in the reification.

The current consciousness (you) is not connected with a prior consciousness. The current consciousness is accessing stored data (memories) currently existing now in a brain through impersonal cause and effect mechanism, and those stored data may or may not represent the past (due to their unreliability). Even the consciousness that is presently accessing the stored data arises from cause and effect and does not represent a personal self.

I am curious though, you say, “there are factors which make me me.” What are those factors?

 
jro
 
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08 February 2017 07:11
 
MrLovingKindness - 08 February 2017 05:43 AM
MrLovingKindness - 06 February 2017 04:44 AM

There is no self that is re-born.

jro - 07 February 2017 02:32 PM

And yet, the stories about the Buddha say that he live many lives. So there clearly is a contradiction here. What can be reborn if there is no self?

That is a good question, but what is reborn is not a self, so there is no contradiction. Even accepting the premise that the Buddha lived many lives, not a single one of those lives contained a self, so no self was reborn. No contradiction.

So then, what is reborn? What is there that persists, when your central tenet is, that nothing does?

jro - 07 February 2017 02:32 PM

[…] but for the sake of this thread, what’s important is that there is a clear contradiction between the no-self and the reincarnation teaching.

There is no contradiction as explained above. You might be confusing reincarnation (a Hindu concept) with rebirth (a Buddhist concept), but for the sake of this thread, and sticking to the original topic, what is important is that unlike all other religions, one can remove the historical, unverifiable context from Buddhism and what is left remains valid (particularly the four noble truths).

jro - 07 February 2017 02:32 PM

BTW, I don’t think that the self can be dismissed quite as easily as you seem to do, because although there is change all the time, there is also the feeling of continuity, I don’t wake up as a random new person each day.

A feeling of continuity is not the same as actual continuity. A movie projects one frame at a time, but it seems continuous unless it is slowed down and observed carefully.

So what? We really experience there being continuity. Sure, if you look close enough you can cut everything into micro parts, but this doesn’t make the experience we have go away.

And before we can decide whether there is a new you every day, we need to define what you are. Please provide your definition what you are, then we can try to figure out if there is a new you every day, and if so, what might determine what creates the new you from the old, and how random that is.

Sorry, I don’t understand what you are asking for.

jro - 07 February 2017 02:32 PM

There are memories, there is a history, knowledge etc. which is distinct to me as a person.

There are stored data (memories), but those data do not even in theory resemble an accurate history. For just one example, they can be easily manipulated according to a great deal of research on the topic of implanting false memories. https://news.mit.edu/2013/neuroscientists-plant-false-memories-in-the-brain-0725

Please define what you mean by a distinct person as it pertains to memories. If we changed all of your memories, would you still be you? If you were no longer you, who would you be?

Yes and no. The most extreme form of amnesia in modern times must be the British musician Clive Wearing, and despite his inability to remember even what happened 15 seconds ago or to recognize any person on earth except for his wife, he is still a distinct person, with a lot of very distinct character traits. So it is somewhat complicated to say what exactly makes up personhood, but this difficulty doesn’t make the experience go away, both that I recognize the same person in others as they were yesterday or a year ago and I have this distinct sense of continuity for myself. For me, my life has a narrative, it may not even be (entirely) true, but I experience it as real

jro - 07 February 2017 02:32 PM

It is certainly less stable and durable than we traditionally may have thought, and there is no all-governing centre of it all, no “homunculus” behind my lobe, but still the feeling of personhood, of identity is there, and there are factors which make me me and connect me to whom I was yesterday and ten, twenty, thirty, fourty years ago..

The feelings of personhood and identity are there, but those feelings are essentially non-cognitive models of reality. The mistake is in the reification.

not sure what you mean by “non-cognitive models”, because when there is no cognition (=no consciousness?!?), how can there even be a model?

The current consciousness (you) is not connected with a prior consciousness. The current consciousness is accessing stored data (memories) currently existing now in a brain through impersonal cause and effect mechanism, and those stored data may or may not represent the past (due to their unreliability). Even the consciousness that is presently accessing the stored data arises from cause and effect and does not represent a personal self.

I am curious though, you say, “there are factors which make me me.” What are those factors?

I cannot just randomly become someone else, however I want. I remain constrained by the baggage of my past, my upbringing, my experiences, my genes etc. For instance, I am more of the pessimistic, introverted type of person. I cannot just decide to change my character to something totally different.  So however unstable, I don’t experience myself as totally volatile. Also, of course, there is the experience of object permanence, things don’t just randomly appear and disappear like in dreams. And this experience shapes my expectations.

So my understanding of “no-self” is not that I as a person with a history don’t exist, rather, this thing which I am has no all-controlling centre. As Dan Dennett says, the brains is like an anthill, it is mostly self-organised, there is no centre giving out directives and keeping track of them, but there are billions of neurons somehow working together in an archarchic manner to give rise to whatever I am.

 

 
MrLovingKindness
 
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MrLovingKindness
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08 February 2017 08:23
 
jro - 08 February 2017 07:11 AM
MrLovingKindness - 08 February 2017 05:43 AM
MrLovingKindness - 06 February 2017 04:44 AM

There is no self that is re-born.

jro - 07 February 2017 02:32 PM

And yet, the stories about the Buddha say that he live many lives. So there clearly is a contradiction here. What can be reborn if there is no self?

That is a good question, but what is reborn is not a self, so there is no contradiction. Even accepting the premise that the Buddha lived many lives, not a single one of those lives contained a self, so no self was reborn. No contradiction.

So then, what is reborn? What is there that persists, when your central tenet is, that nothing does?

You are using a strawman to imply a contradiction that does not exist in anything I have stated. At no point did I state that nothing persists, only that whatever persists is not a self, and so there is no contradiction between no-self and rebirth. The central tenet you are referring to is your own strawman about rebirth. My central tenet, on the other hand, is not your strawman, but rather concerns the difference between Buddhism and Christianity. Rebirth is irrelevant or tangential at best to my tenet, but you keep going back to rebirth, and claiming it is my central tenet, because you think you have found some kind of gotcha in rebirth, but the gotcha is only in your strawman, not anything stated by me.

jro - 07 February 2017 02:32 PM

[…] but for the sake of this thread, what’s important is that there is a clear contradiction between the no-self and the reincarnation teaching.

There is no contradiction as explained above. You might be confusing reincarnation (a Hindu concept) with rebirth (a Buddhist concept), but for the sake of this thread, and sticking to the original topic, what is important is that unlike all other religions, one can remove the historical, unverifiable context from Buddhism and what is left remains valid (particularly the four noble truths).

jro - 07 February 2017 02:32 PM

BTW, I don’t think that the self can be dismissed quite as easily as you seem to do, because although there is change all the time, there is also the feeling of continuity, I don’t wake up as a random new person each day.

A feeling of continuity is not the same as actual continuity. A movie projects one frame at a time, but it seems continuous unless it is slowed down and observed carefully.

So what? We really experience there being continuity. Sure, if you look close enough you can cut everything into micro parts, but this doesn’t make the experience we have go away.

Actually, the experience does go away when looked at closely. That is the almost entire point of meditation practice.

And before we can decide whether there is a new you every day, we need to define what you are. Please provide your definition what you are, then we can try to figure out if there is a new you every day, and if so, what might determine what creates the new you from the old, and how random that is.

Sorry, I don’t understand what you are asking for.

Tell me what defines this unique self that you claim to have. We can’t decide whether a self exists or not until we define what it is.

jro - 07 February 2017 02:32 PM

There are memories, there is a history, knowledge etc. which is distinct to me as a person.

There are stored data (memories), but those data do not even in theory resemble an accurate history. For just one example, they can be easily manipulated according to a great deal of research on the topic of implanting false memories. https://news.mit.edu/2013/neuroscientists-plant-false-memories-in-the-brain-0725

Please define what you mean by a distinct person as it pertains to memories. If we changed all of your memories, would you still be you? If you were no longer you, who would you be?

Yes and no. The most extreme form of amnesia in modern times must be the British musician Clive Wearing, and despite his inability to remember even what happened 15 seconds ago or to recognize any person on earth except for his wife, he is still a distinct person, with a lot of very distinct character traits. So it is somewhat complicated to say what exactly makes up personhood, but this difficulty doesn’t make the experience go away, both that I recognize the same person in others as they were yesterday or a year ago and I have this distinct sense of continuity for myself. For me, my life has a narrative, it may not even be (entirely) true, but I experience it as real

You are conflating the experience of a self with there actually being a self. If I experience a voice in my head that I think is god, that does not imply there is a god.

jro - 07 February 2017 02:32 PM

It is certainly less stable and durable than we traditionally may have thought, and there is no all-governing centre of it all, no “homunculus” behind my lobe, but still the feeling of personhood, of identity is there, and there are factors which make me me and connect me to whom I was yesterday and ten, twenty, thirty, fourty years ago..

The feelings of personhood and identity are there, but those feelings are essentially non-cognitive models of reality. The mistake is in the reification.

not sure what you mean by “non-cognitive models”, because when there is no cognition (=no consciousness?!?), how can there even be a model?

Feelings are models. The feeling anger implies something exists to be angry about, regardless of whether that is true. Rather than non-cognitive, let’s call it, non-verbal, non-explicit, subconscious.

The current consciousness (you) is not connected with a prior consciousness. The current consciousness is accessing stored data (memories) currently existing now in a brain through impersonal cause and effect mechanism, and those stored data may or may not represent the past (due to their unreliability). Even the consciousness that is presently accessing the stored data arises from cause and effect and does not represent a personal self.

I am curious though, you say, “there are factors which make me me.” What are those factors?

I cannot just randomly become someone else, however I want. I remain constrained by the baggage of my past, my upbringing, my experiences, my genes etc. For instance, I am more of the pessimistic, introverted type of person. I cannot just decide to change my character to something totally different.  So however unstable, I don’t experience myself as totally volatile. Also, of course, there is the experience of object permanence, things don’t just randomly appear and disappear like in dreams. And this experience shapes my expectations.

So… if you received a major brain injury due to a random accident, which caused you to become extroverted and optimistic, you would no longer be you? Who would you be if not you?

[ Edited: 08 February 2017 11:14 by MrLovingKindness]
 
jro
 
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08 February 2017 12:49
 
MrLovingKindness - 08 February 2017 08:23 AM
jro - 08 February 2017 07:11 AM
MrLovingKindness - 08 February 2017 05:43 AM
MrLovingKindness - 06 February 2017 04:44 AM

There is no self that is re-born.

jro - 07 February 2017 02:32 PM

And yet, the stories about the Buddha say that he live many lives. So there clearly is a contradiction here. What can be reborn if there is no self?

That is a good question, but what is reborn is not a self, so there is no contradiction. Even accepting the premise that the Buddha lived many lives, not a single one of those lives contained a self, so no self was reborn. No contradiction.

So then, what is reborn? What is there that persists, when your central tenet is, that nothing does?

You are using a strawman to imply a contradiction that does not exist in anything I have stated. At no point did I state that nothing persists, only that whatever persists is not a self, and so there is no contradiction between no-self and rebirth.

Sorry, when I wrote “your central tenet” I didn’t mean you, but I meant to use “you”  as an indefinite personal pronoun, as you sometime do in English (in my own first language, we have a distinct word for that, which avoids such misunderstanding). Impermanence is one of the foundational premises of Buddhism, what we identify as person is viewed as the combination of five ever changing skandhas, Buddism does away with the concept of an eternal, immortal soul (atman), which was the dominant belief in Jainism, which the historical Buddha, if he existed was familiar with.

I don’t expect you to tell me, what it actually is that is reborn (if we believe in such supernatural claims), but I am surprised that you deny that there is a contradiction here. I am not terribly worried about it, and I don’t think that the historical Buddha was, but it is there.

The central tenet you are referring to is your own strawman about rebirth. My central tenet, on the other hand, is not your strawman, but rather concerns the difference between Buddhism and Christianity. Rebirth is irrelevant or tangential at best to my tenet, but you keep going back to rebirth, and claiming it is my central tenet, because you think you have found some kind of gotcha in rebirth, but the gotcha is only in your strawman, not anything stated by me.

And I have no serious quarrel with you here. Myself I have been introduced to Vipassana about 10 years ago, and I agree that it works without any beliefs, at the same time, it is not that Buddhism as practised by the majority is free of supernatural claims.

jro - 07 February 2017 02:32 PM

[…] but for the sake of this thread, what’s important is that there is a clear contradiction between the no-self and the reincarnation teaching.

There is no contradiction as explained above. You might be confusing reincarnation (a Hindu concept) with rebirth (a Buddhist concept), but for the sake of this thread, and sticking to the original topic, what is important is that unlike all other religions, one can remove the historical, unverifiable context from Buddhism and what is left remains valid (particularly the four noble truths).

jro - 07 February 2017 02:32 PM

BTW, I don’t think that the self can be dismissed quite as easily as you seem to do, because although there is change all the time, there is also the feeling of continuity, I don’t wake up as a random new person each day.

A feeling of continuity is not the same as actual continuity. A movie projects one frame at a time, but it seems continuous unless it is slowed down and observed carefully.

So what? We really experience there being continuity. Sure, if you look close enough you can cut everything into micro parts, but this doesn’t make the experience we have go away.

Actually, the experience does go away when looked at closely. That is the almost entire point of meditation practice.

Sure, I know that, but at the same time, while a musical piece consists of individual notes, you do miss a lot if you notice only the individual notes and not the flow of the entire piece. I find this a good analogy for what I am trying to bring across here. So while the individual parts are real, the piece in its entirety is not just the sum of its parts. Noticing that the individual parts are real doesn’t make the entire arrangement unreal. It is not unreal, but merely impermanent or “empty” to use Buddhist phraseology.

And before we can decide whether there is a new you every day, we need to define what you are. Please provide your definition what you are, then we can try to figure out if there is a new you every day, and if so, what might determine what creates the new you from the old, and how random that is.

Sorry, I don’t understand what you are asking for.

Tell me what defines this unique self that you claim to have. We can’t decide whether a self exists or not until we define what it is.

Well, that’s a mix of my character traits, my biography etc. I am not saying that I am “special” but simply that the combination of things making up “me” is distinct from other sentient beings.

jro - 07 February 2017 02:32 PM

There are memories, there is a history, knowledge etc. which is distinct to me as a person.

There are stored data (memories), but those data do not even in theory resemble an accurate history. For just one example, they can be easily manipulated according to a great deal of research on the topic of implanting false memories. https://news.mit.edu/2013/neuroscientists-plant-false-memories-in-the-brain-0725

Please define what you mean by a distinct person as it pertains to memories. If we changed all of your memories, would you still be you? If you were no longer you, who would you be?

Yes and no. The most extreme form of amnesia in modern times must be the British musician Clive Wearing, and despite his inability to remember even what happened 15 seconds ago or to recognize any person on earth except for his wife, he is still a distinct person, with a lot of very distinct character traits. So it is somewhat complicated to say what exactly makes up personhood, but this difficulty doesn’t make the experience go away, both that I recognize the same person in others as they were yesterday or a year ago and I have this distinct sense of continuity for myself. For me, my life has a narrative, it may not even be (entirely) true, but I experience it as real

You are conflating the experience of a self with there actually being a self. If I experience a voice in my head that I think is god, that does not imply there is a god.

jro - 07 February 2017 02:32 PM

It is certainly less stable and durable than we traditionally may have thought, and there is no all-governing centre of it all, no “homunculus” behind my lobe, but still the feeling of personhood, of identity is there, and there are factors which make me me and connect me to whom I was yesterday and ten, twenty, thirty, fourty years ago..

The feelings of personhood and identity are there, but those feelings are essentially non-cognitive models of reality. The mistake is in the reification.

not sure what you mean by “non-cognitive models”, because when there is no cognition (=no consciousness?!?), how can there even be a model?

Feelings are models. The feeling anger implies something exists to be angry about, regardless of whether that is true. Rather than non-cognitive, let’s call it, non-verbal, non-explicit, subconscious.

The current consciousness (you) is not connected with a prior consciousness. The current consciousness is accessing stored data (memories) currently existing now in a brain through impersonal cause and effect mechanism, and those stored data may or may not represent the past (due to their unreliability). Even the consciousness that is presently accessing the stored data arises from cause and effect and does not represent a personal self.

I am curious though, you say, “there are factors which make me me.” What are those factors?

I cannot just randomly become someone else, however I want. I remain constrained by the baggage of my past, my upbringing, my experiences, my genes etc. For instance, I am more of the pessimistic, introverted type of person. I cannot just decide to change my character to something totally different.  So however unstable, I don’t experience myself as totally volatile. Also, of course, there is the experience of object permanence, things don’t just randomly appear and disappear like in dreams. And this experience shapes my expectations.

So… if you received a major brain injury due to a random accident, which caused you to become extroverted and optimistic, you would no longer be you? Who would you be if not you?

I did suffer a major brain injury about a year ago, after which I spent several weeks in intensive care, fortunately I mostly recovered, and I think it only moderately changed my personality. I am not sure how I would feel if my character would be profoundly changed. But I am pretty sure that a sense of continuity would still be there, (unless I would be caught up in this semi-conscious state which I experienced in hospital, where there is no object permanence, no feeling of time, I think my sense of identity and continuity was at least severely reduced until I regained full consciousness) 

That’s not to say that I would claim to still be the same after the accident, but if my cognitive faculties would be functioning reasonable, I don’t think I would see myself as totally disconnected from what I was before, from what I was 10, 20 or 30 years ago, therefore, again, I do understand the concept of Anata as pointing to the impermanent nature of myself as a person, without denying however, that I obviously do exist, have a sense of identity and continuity. But of course, I could also be completely wrong about any of this.

 
Brian888
 
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16 February 2017 07:47
 

I am not Buddhist, but from talking with several friends who have been deeply involved in Buddhism for years, here’s what I’ve gathered. 

The idea of reincarnation in many Buddhist traditions is actually not what we commonly understand it to be, the transmission of a certain “you-ness” into another life form after you die.  That idea would actually violate a core Buddhist teaching, namely that there isn’t really an eternal “you-ness” that’s even transmissible.  Instead, reincarnation (and apparently the Buddha discussed reincarnation largely because it was a prevalent idea in India at the time, so he sort of had to deal with it) is understood in terms of how your actions and intentions affect the world after you pass.  As a (negative) example, if you as a father beat and abuse your child, there’s a very good chance that that tendency to beat and abuse will live on in your child, who will treat his child the way you treated him.

It can also be understood in terms of the famous Wheel of Samsara (Hell, the Realm of Hungry Ghosts, etc.).  If you understand these Realms to not be literal places, but rather states of mind/being (as Mark Epstein has posited, and apparently as very ancient Buddhist traditions also posited), then “reincarnation” doesn’t mean dying and winding up in Hell because of your sins, but rather means that the progression of unfolding events that constitutes “you” has gotten wrapped up in very negative emotions and beliefs.  In a poetic sense, because of your actions and ignorance, the prior “you” ceased and the current “you” has found itself in Hell.

So, if Buddhist traditions know that literal claims to reincarnation are false (or at least recognize that they are unprovable), then why keep them around?  Well, they’ve been described to me as “skillful means.”  A good teacher might recognize that a certain student may need a belief in reincarnation, at least initially, in order to progress, so the teacher skillfully presents that idea to the student.  Once the student has sufficiently progressed, the idea can wither away. 

In theory, that sounds cool to me.  In practice, I’m not sure how successful it is.  It requires a long line of very good teachers who themselves were taught by very good teachers, for one thing.  For another, recent troubles in Tibetan Buddhism regarding the Dorje Shugden controversy suggests that these “skillful means” sometimes take on an unhealthy life of their own.

 
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16 February 2017 15:37
 

Hi Brian888. Who is the Rasputin Burt Reynolds love child in your avatar, btw? Is that from a historical painting or a personal drawing?


On reincarnation - this, randomly, is a belief I was raised with by my superstitious mom, even though it doesn’t feature in her actual religion (she’s since renounced the idea, but long after I grew up). And even as a kid, I remember wondering about it in a very circular way, that for me describes how you can’t really make a claim one way or the other about reincarnation (or you can make an equally good case for diametrically opposed claims.) Something like:


What if there is nothing when I die? What if I’m gone forever?


If there is no me, then what’s to keep ‘me’ from being born as a new person? There will be new people born, after all.


But I couldn’t be one of them. Because I’m not them, I’m me.


But if there is no me when I’m dead, then that doesn’t really apply. And there will be sentient beings, walking around, thinking “I am me”, in the future, so who or what is ‘in’ those heads and how does it get there? If there’s no more me could there be another me that seems to be ‘me’? It will seem to be ‘me’ to somebody, but to who?


I am inclined to believe in some form of transmigration largely because of how heavily it (reportedly) features in the psychology of people who have had near death experiences. In some Buddhist traditions it is broken down into specific layers of consciousness, and I believe the one that reincarnates is the “storehouse consciousness”. The closest thing I can liken that concept to (not speaking to how real it is, but just what it’s proposed to be, conceptually,) might be your impressions upon visiting a familiar place from your early, pre-verbal (or at least pre-fully-self-aware) childhood. In terms of specifics, there might be one or two things with real emotional charge that ‘popped’ enough to be fully remembered, but empirical details would be largely forgotten. The ‘you’ viewing it in the present, however, would certainly implicitly ‘remember’ many of the traits you had at that age, either in changed or transformed format. Traits would have changed and manifested in many different ways since that time and you wouldn’t be linked to it through the usual rational channels, but you would be linked to it causally and temporally.

 
 
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17 February 2017 08:59
 
NL. - 16 February 2017 03:37 PM

Hi Brian888. Who is the Rasputin Burt Reynolds love child in your avatar, btw? Is that from a historical painting or a personal drawing?

It’s a painting of the quasi-Satanic Master from the movie “Manos: Hands of Fate”, which is arguably the worst movie of all time.  The Mystery Science Theater 3000 commentary on it is priceless, however.

Also, it’s uncannily not a bad resemblance to me if I wore my hair like that and grew a large moustache.

 
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20 February 2017 13:03
 
jro - 07 February 2017 02:32 PM

And yet, the stories about the Buddha say that he live many lives. So there clearly is a contradiction here. What can be reborn if there is no self?

I don’t think there is a contradiction. Saying the Buddha had many lives is just saying that there is a certain chain of causes and effects that connect the Buddha’s previous lives to his present life just as there is a chain of causes and effects that links you as a child to you as an adult (and that includes your memories). But the mere fact that you feel a certain continuity, and that you have memories of your earlier self, is not a sign that there is an enduring self beneath your experiences and memories. What exists now is a set of present experiences, along with a set of tendencies that have become engrained in you (tendencies to get angry at certain things, etc.), and a set of memories.

Even if the Buddha remembered his past lives that does not imply there is some metaphysical substance underlying his memories and tendencies, etc. just as the fact that you remember your life as a child does not imply there is a metaphysical substance that endures through the continuity of your present life. By saying there is a contradiction I think you are assuming precisely what Buddhism denies: that the seeming continuity of the self implies there is some metaphysical ground of personal identity that underlies all the changes. Your argument would run something like this:

1) Saying the Buddha had many lives means there is a continuity between all the previous lives of the Buddha and his present life.
2) Continuity implies there is some enduring self underneath the changes.
3) Therefore, saying the Buddha had many lives contradicts the Buddhist claim that there is no enduring self.

All a Buddhist has to do is disagree with premise 2 and there is no contradiction and that is precisely what a Buddhist does disagree with when they say there is no enduring self.

 
 
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