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

 
no_profundia
 
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no_profundia
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20 February 2017 13:22
 
jro - 08 February 2017 12:49 PM

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

I think this just goes to show that our sense that we are the same person we use to be is composed of a lot of factors. Phineas Gage, for example, had a famous brain injury and to all his acquaintances he seemed like a totally different person. But, as far as I know, he still felt like he was the same person. That just goes to show that there were enough factors that remained unchanged (memories, etc.) that he still recognized his earlier self as connected to his new self.

The brain is exceedingly complex. Every time we change our opinion about something the brain changes in some way. But a lot of our opinions are pretty superficial and do not effect our entire personality structure. If I change my mind about my favorite movie I do not feel like that is a radical alteration in my personality.

It is like there is a giant web. On the periphery of the web we have all of our superficial opinions and tendencies and memories (my favorite movie is X, I don’t like onions, I remember going to the movie on Friday). If anyone of those things change (I have a new favorite movie, I start to like onions, I forget what I did on Friday) we do not feel like we have become a different person.

Then there are things that are a bit deeper (I like action movies more than serious dramas, I enjoy fast food, I remember playing baseball as a kid). If any of those change (I prefer art house movies now, I like fine dining and can’t stand fast food, I don’t remember ever playing baseball) we feel there is a larger alteration in our personality but we still feel like the same person.

We can go to a deeper level yet but as long as we only change one thing at a time we still might feel like the same person. We might transform from a responsible worker into a petty criminal - our tendencies have totally changed - but we still remember most of our childhood so we still feel like the same person. But, I think if you reached a deep enough level, and you changed enough, you would no longer feel like the same person.

I guess the point is: the Buddhist position is not inconsistent with the claim that there are things that are relatively more enduring than other things. My favorite movie changes often. The genre of movie I enjoy changes less often. Our sense of self-identity is potentially based on the fact that there are lots of things that remain relatively constant about us though we are changing in some way all the time. But to say that those things are “relatively constant” does not mean they are not subject to impermanence like everything else about us.

Buddhists do not deny that you feel like the same person throughout your life and there is no doubt a neural correlate (or correlates) for our feeling of self-identity. What Buddhists deny is that there is some metaphysical substance beneath all our memories, tendencies, etc. that remains unchanged throughout our entire lives. At least, as far as I understand the Buddhist position.

P.S. I am just starting to study Buddhism again after a detour of many years but I very much enjoyed reading and thinking about this discussion so thank you all for your contributions smile

[ Edited: 20 February 2017 13:31 by no_profundia]
 
 
sojourner
 
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23 February 2017 07:02
 
Brian888 - 17 February 2017 08:59 AM
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.


Wow, that is a blast from the past, ha ha!! I loved that show when I was a teen.

 
 
sojourner
 
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23 February 2017 07:07
 
no_profundia - 20 February 2017 01:22 PM

Then there are things that are a bit deeper (I like action movies more than serious dramas, I enjoy fast food, I remember playing baseball as a kid). If any of those change (I prefer art house movies now, I like fine dining and can’t stand fast food, I don’t remember ever playing baseball) we feel there is a larger alteration in our personality but we still feel like the same person.


I would go even a step further than that and say you do still feel like the same person in that case, simply because you and the earlier version of yourself both shared the strong sense of “I am me.” That is what I find so frustrating about the concept of reincarnation. Say it’s two thousand years from now and you and I don’t exist at all. And yet, sentience in general exists. There are beings walking around feeling “I am me.” What is the ethereal deciding factor there wherein we say 1) Sure, one of those people could be ‘me’. or 2) None of those people could ever be ‘me’.

 
 
Zenshin Roshi
 
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Zenshin Roshi
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29 March 2017 14:50
 

Buddhism as it’s taught in the West is generally simplified philosophically to a point where it almost becomes absurd. Let me start with this Dukkha is a Sanskrit word which is usually translated as suffering but it does not equate on a one-on-one basis to the English word suffering. It is more like unsatisfactory, maybe painfully unsatisfactory would be best. This directly follows from the Buddhist teaching which is quite obvious that life involves sickness, old age, and death.
What the Buddha was arguing was anatman or no Atman, and by no means does the Indian concept of Atman equate exactly to the Western concept of soul. All composite things come apart, he did not argue that the elements of that unity are annihilated but the unity becomes disassembled.Atman consists of the idea of an unchanging entity that retais its uniqueness throughout eternity. Well at least that’s one interpretation there are obviously many many schools of Indian thought.

From a Buddhist perspective or at least from a Zen perspective you are reborn second by second every cell in your body and every atom is recycled every few years, the thoughts can change from moment to moment and your memories pretty unreliable. The stories of the Buddhas previous lives called the jataka tales, are not part of Buddhist scriptures they are more part of the mythology. There are two other things to consider as well. Buddhist pedagogical approach called upaya or skillful means meaning that he doesn’t talk to a farmer the same way talks to a philosopher. Finally in Buddhism there are considered to be two truths, provisional truth and ultimate truth.This post would get too long to go into to that

 
Brian888
 
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04 April 2017 12:11
 

Building on that, my understanding is that even in those stories about the Buddha living multiple lives, it’s possible that the stories are meant as satire at the expense of the idea of the Atman, at least in part.  I mean, a story which states that someone lived 10,000 lifetimes as this specific person is pretty clearly not meant to be taken literally.

 
sojourner
 
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05 April 2017 14:16
 
Zenshin Roshi - 29 March 2017 02:50 PM

Buddhism as it’s taught in the West is generally simplified philosophically to a point where it almost becomes absurd.


I agree with this on some points. The way that “In the moment” has become practically interchangeable with “YOLO” is certainly a pet peeve of mine. This morning I found out that my friend’s infant niece died unexpectedly in her sleep, after what seemed like a routine virus and fever. I think “be in the moment” is important for helping me not to just be completely sick over it, not to say I can’t go to work because I want to both cry and vomit at the thought of someone checking in on a sick baby to find them dead. Not getting completely lost in the story is important. But I really don’t think it would be appropriate for me to go “Now I am just driving, just eating, just…”. I think there is something to the phrase “in my thoughts and prayers”. Remembering the significance of events and keeping those in consciousness with you, even while trying not to ‘identify’ with them. Remembering who you are and your relationships and responsibilities, holding that in awareness - I think that can be incredibly important, and is also a part of what Buddhism is ‘about’, to my mind.

 

Let me start with this Dukkha is a Sanskrit word which is usually translated as suffering but it does not equate on a one-on-one basis to the English word suffering. It is more like unsatisfactory, maybe painfully unsatisfactory would be best. This directly follows from the Buddhist teaching which is quite obvious that life involves sickness, old age, and death.
What the Buddha was arguing was anatman or no Atman, and by no means does the Indian concept of Atman equate exactly to the Western concept of soul. All composite things come apart, he did not argue that the elements of that unity are annihilated but the unity becomes disassembled.Atman consists of the idea of an unchanging entity that retais its uniqueness throughout eternity. Well at least that’s one interpretation there are obviously many many schools of Indian thought.

From a Buddhist perspective or at least from a Zen perspective you are reborn second by second every cell in your body and every atom is recycled every few years, the thoughts can change from moment to moment and your memories pretty unreliable. The stories of the Buddhas previous lives called the jataka tales, are not part of Buddhist scriptures they are more part of the mythology. There are two other things to consider as well. Buddhist pedagogical approach called upaya or skillful means meaning that he doesn’t talk to a farmer the same way talks to a philosopher. Finally in Buddhism there are considered to be two truths, provisional truth and ultimate truth.This post would get too long to go into to that


I am listening to Buddhism: One Teacher, Many Traditions by the Dalai Lama and Thubten Chodron right now. I actually don’t like that it highlights the more traditionally religious aspects of Buddhism, which I have mixed feelings about, but it is a good way to better understand the diversity of schools of thought and views covered under the umbrella term “Buddhism”.

 
 
sojourner
 
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14 April 2017 10:01
 

Wanted to add, after listening to One Teacher, Many Traditions, it’s interesting to note that in many places there seems to be a much, much larger emphasis on education, analysis, and study vs. meditation alone (I’m not sure if this is just the Dalai Lama’s particular framing and meditation is more strongly emphasized in other places; or if the more ‘be in the moment’ emphasis in this country is a result of our history with romanticism and “personal relationship with God” reformation-ism.) Actually, the book goes so far in the other direction that I find I have to temper my reactions to it and think about “what’s helpful for me”, lest my intuitions about Buddhism turn into “Ugh, another drag religion bossing me around and taking all the fun out of life,” ha ha! (I say that not to disparage Buddhism, but to speak to my personal baggage, btw - I realize it’s me, not them.)


I find this contrast interesting. To use a Harris-esque example, if someone was ‘mindfully’ watching a ‘witch’ being burned at the stake in the Middle Ages, would they: a) Really, genuinely, at the most visceral level, enjoy what they were seeing, because of false beliefs that only information and study could change or b) Does your heart, deep, deep, deeeeep down, always sort of inherently know the truth if you just listen hard enough?

 
 
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