Author Topic: A question about critical understanding of a concept  (Read 941 times)

Offline DMR

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A question about critical understanding of a concept
« on: March 05, 2016, 02:14:30 pm »
Hello!

I am new to Buddhism concepts and I've just started my discoveries in this philosophy. I've read a few articles and watched some video lectures about Buddhism, but, unfortunately, I have no other people, experienced in this practices to talk with, and share my thoughts. So that's how I've faced the following problem - I've got some very difficult questions for me to resolve for keep going with my studies, but can't find reasonable answers. That's why I've decided to write a post on a form, seeking for some opinions and explanations of experienced ones.

Long story short, here is the deal:

I can quite understand the concept of suffering and desires, and I can understand why we can be free of suffering when we are free from desires. That's the point I can check by myself, without just believing in it - seems like it's a key point in the whole study, as Buddha told us not to believe in his words, but to check all of them through personal experience. So, that's the concpet I get through my experience.

As a consequence, I understand why meditations and self-control practices ARE good and helpful - they help to calm down your mind and think reasonably, understand which exmotions are coming from our addictions, etc.

But what I really can't get, is how could we possibly check by our self experience the concept of karma and sansara? How can I know for myself, that my intentions get me good or bad things in life? I know that if I'm good in self-control and mindfullnes I might look at some bad things in my life without great suffering and go on living more happily, than without this understanding, but how can I be sure that good intentions will get me away from all the possible sufferings? Or how can I be sure, that bad things are happening to me because of bad karma in the past? Can it be tested somehow? Or that's the key point I should really BELIEVE in?

Same thing with sansara. Can I be sure that my suffering will continue till I become enlightened? How can I not believe in it, but be aware of it from my own experience??


For now on, the best thing I like in buddhism is that it's not a religion in an ordinary way - for me it's like a set of practices and views which really help you to get away from suffering. So I would really like to know, whether these to concepts - karma and sansara, can be known, not believed in?

I will greatly appreciate any opinions and thoughts of yours!
Thank you so much!

Offline Kevin

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Re: A question about critical understanding of a concept
« Reply #1 on: March 06, 2016, 09:54:49 am »
Hello,

I have been studying Buddhism for several years, but I do not consider myself to be an expert in Buddhism. Therefore, please do not take anything I say as being authoritative, or as a reflection of the philosophical progress made by true Buddhist scholars. I will just do my best to discuss your questions with you as honestly and as openly as I can.

First, I share the problem that you have with determining the validity of the nature of samsara. Like you, I find it difficult to accept the doctrine of rebirth without some evidence to support it, and so far I have not been able to verify this claim through my own personal experience. I once read a comment by a Western Dzogchen teacher who claimed that he knew rebirth was possible because he remembered his past lives. I believe that this a spurious claim, but I am biased in that regard because I do not have any conscious memories of any previous life that I might have lived. Still, the onus is on the one who makes the claim to provide evidence to corroborate it.

Your questions regarding karma touch on the same issue. How can we know that karma is influential pushing the elements of consciousness along after death, and ultimately arising in some other form? To me, the issue of rebirth and its karmic associations are one of the few elements of Buddhism that require complete faith. I have been searching for literature that would support the belief in rebirth and the continuance of karmic imprints beyond death, but the literature that I have found so far just reiterate the claims without any decent descriptions of the machinations of such a process. If any readers of this thread have suggestions for literature to review that discusses the process, I would be grateful for the suggestions.

That being said, some of your questions touch on whether karma can apply to our current lives, and how it can be observed. Karma can be witnessed and experienced through self-evaluation. Westerners have oversimplified the concept of karma in an attempt to understand it. Western culture generally asserts that karmic theory revolves around direct, proportional punishment or direct, proportional reward for some kind of behavior. There have been many different interpretations of karma throughout the centuries, but this is not the Buddhist interpretation of it. The Buddha taught that karma is dynamic and flexible. Some deeds (both good and bad) might not have noticeable karmic consequences at all, and others might manifest on a continuum of immediate effect or much later effect. Furthermore, the karmic effects of a deed are not necessarily proportional to the severity of the deed originally committed. There is an excellent book available that deals with these issues with greater articulation and nuance than I can do the topic. It is called "Karma:  What it is, What it isn't, Why it matters", and it was written by Traleg Kyabgon.

As for observing the effects of Karma, it is important to know that every thought and action has karmic implications. If you a think a thought one day, and then return to that thought over time, that thought is shaping your perception of the world, your interaction with it, and your subsequent behavior. If you say something to someone one day, the karmic effects are present in how your relationship with that person might change, as well as in the consequent actions you or that person might take as a result of your speech. Karmic impressions can be traced back over the course of one's life with self-evaluation and honesty.

Hopefully this addresses your questions in some manner that you find valuable. I do not think I have addressed every concern you presented, but maybe it will give you some "food for thought".

May you be happy and healthy. May you be free from suffering.

Kevin

Offline DMR

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Re: A question about critical understanding of a concept
« Reply #2 on: March 06, 2016, 11:18:21 am »
Hello,

I have been studying Buddhism for several years, but I do not consider myself to be an expert in Buddhism. Therefore, please do not take anything I say as being authoritative, or as a reflection of the philosophical progress made by true Buddhist scholars. I will just do my best to discuss your questions with you as honestly and as openly as I can.

First, I share the problem that you have with determining the validity of the nature of samsara. Like you, I find it difficult to accept the doctrine of rebirth without some evidence to support it, and so far I have not been able to verify this claim through my own personal experience. I once read a comment by a Western Dzogchen teacher who claimed that he knew rebirth was possible because he remembered his past lives. I believe that this a spurious claim, but I am biased in that regard because I do not have any conscious memories of any previous life that I might have lived. Still, the onus is on the one who makes the claim to provide evidence to corroborate it.

Your questions regarding karma touch on the same issue. How can we know that karma is influential pushing the elements of consciousness along after death, and ultimately arising in some other form? To me, the issue of rebirth and its karmic associations are one of the few elements of Buddhism that require complete faith. I have been searching for literature that would support the belief in rebirth and the continuance of karmic imprints beyond death, but the literature that I have found so far just reiterate the claims without any decent descriptions of the machinations of such a process. If any readers of this thread have suggestions for literature to review that discusses the process, I would be grateful for the suggestions.

That being said, some of your questions touch on whether karma can apply to our current lives, and how it can be observed. Karma can be witnessed and experienced through self-evaluation. Westerners have oversimplified the concept of karma in an attempt to understand it. Western culture generally asserts that karmic theory revolves around direct, proportional punishment or direct, proportional reward for some kind of behavior. There have been many different interpretations of karma throughout the centuries, but this is not the Buddhist interpretation of it. The Buddha taught that karma is dynamic and flexible. Some deeds (both good and bad) might not have noticeable karmic consequences at all, and others might manifest on a continuum of immediate effect or much later effect. Furthermore, the karmic effects of a deed are not necessarily proportional to the severity of the deed originally committed. There is an excellent book available that deals with these issues with greater articulation and nuance than I can do the topic. It is called "Karma:  What it is, What it isn't, Why it matters", and it was written by Traleg Kyabgon.

As for observing the effects of Karma, it is important to know that every thought and action has karmic implications. If you a think a thought one day, and then return to that thought over time, that thought is shaping your perception of the world, your interaction with it, and your subsequent behavior. If you say something to someone one day, the karmic effects are present in how your relationship with that person might change, as well as in the consequent actions you or that person might take as a result of your speech. Karmic impressions can be traced back over the course of one's life with self-evaluation and honesty.

Hopefully this addresses your questions in some manner that you find valuable. I do not think I have addressed every concern you presented, but maybe it will give you some "food for thought".

May you be happy and healthy. May you be free from suffering.

Kevin


Thank you so much, Kevin, for sharing your thoughts!
I've read all your words carefully, and found them very useful and rational.

But if this point of view is a close one to a common viewpoint of Buddhist community, then it upsets me a bit, and I want to explain why. If some concepts cannot be checked personally based on self experience by everyone, than it contradicts (as it seems to me) to Buddha's words about "not believing". That means, if we want to see this philosophy only from a rational viewpoint, we should not use it as a solid structure, but only get things, which can be proven to exist and work 100% (like mediations and morality principles), and sceptically look at other base concepts of Buddhism - which is rather sad, actually, as it riddles all the great common study.

Still, I'm very greatful for your response, and I'd love to hear other members of the forum!

Offline Dianet

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Re: A question about critical understanding of a concept
« Reply #3 on: March 09, 2016, 05:03:53 am »
Hi,

I'm not going to attempt a comphrensive response to these questions, but just to offer an idea that I am currently working with. Much of the study and work of Buddhism relates to the concept of ego, or "self", and developing a new and different understanding of the self as much less solid as we go along. Sometimes I have a sense of myself more as an intersection of events at a particular point in time; or as a fluid process, rather than as a fixed identity.

From such a framework, if there is no solid "self" now, the difficulty of trying to locate the "self" in the past or future-- beyond the existence of the current body-- sort of dissolves. If I'm not sure quite what "I" am at this moment, trying to project this unclear idea through time leads not to a question about the validity of rebirth but a question about the validity of the ....continuation of identity?

 It's very difficult for me to express this.

I can clearly remember feeling for a long time like there was an intellectual crossroads with two different directions, either belief in an afterlife or no belief in an afterlife. Now I'm not sure the alternatives are quite that simple.

Good to hear from you and hope to hear more.

Diane   

Offline KarmaDrakpaYeshe

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Re: A question about critical understanding of a concept
« Reply #4 on: March 11, 2016, 09:08:07 pm »
The early teachings of the buddha are built on undeniable logic. Anyone who reads them and is able to logically understand them cannot deny it. But they are so difficult to accept, to me at least it was one of those things that I knew to be totally true in the bottom of my heart, but did not feel I was yet ready to accept it and take the truths into my heart and make living by them my way of life. Renouncing is a serious commitment not easily done or once done gone back from. It is truly for the brave, fearless and strong. There can be no glorious connotations at first for it to be sincere. It's more of something that needs to be done, like it or not. Like cleaning dishes. You need to recognize that it needs to be done even though it doesnt really appeal to you, and just do it for it to work. Eventually once one progresses very far down the line, the renunciation itself may become glorious, but at first I believe its natural for the ideas to be received with fear.
« Last Edit: March 11, 2016, 09:10:10 pm by KarmaDrakpaYeshe »

 


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