Author Topic: Buddhism and supernaturalism  (Read 721 times)

Offline pragmatic432

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Buddhism and supernaturalism
« on: September 16, 2016, 09:50:15 am »
Hi Everyone. This question is posed by way of introduction.

First I should explain what mean by supernatural-ism. I take it that anyone interested in the spiritual life has an intuition that the ultimate (groundless) ground - whether of being or of knowing - is supernatural in the sense of ineffable, deeply mysterious, whether we style that intuition “suchness”, “emptiness”, “the unconditioned” or - to go farther a field - “nirguna Brahman” or “God” etc.

It seems to me that this intuition of the supernatural is precisely here, where we are, and that it becomes supernatural-ism when it’s projected out into the creation of imaginary beings, powers or realms.

For me this has always been a stumbling block to spiritual practice, since I’ve observed that supernaturalism, as I’ve defined it here, is almost universally seen as synonymous with spiritual life itself.

So I’m curious as to how others view this question, and the way I’ve posed it. In Buddhism is supernaturalism a problem, a necessity, merely upaya, or something else altogether?

Thanks in advance for your response.

Offline Ron-the-Elder

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Re: Buddhism and supernaturalism
« Reply #1 on: September 16, 2016, 11:07:01 am »
Well, supernaturalism is what I refer to as cultural luggage designed to enthral children and the mythologically encumbered.  There is not much more to say about it, other than I suspect it may also be a way for "believers" to avoid doing the heavy work of personally verifying and validating what is being put forth as fact.  It also may be a means of capturing and securing the devotion of followers for personal gain, to keep the donations coming in to the monastery. 

This is certainly not what Buddha intended.  He came to this plane of existence to share what he had discovered:  The Four Noble Truths, a means to end ignorance, the root cause of dukkha and to end it in our life-times should we wish to put forth the effort.  He did not promise to save anyone, but instead to provide the means by which we could end our suffering:  "The Dhamma", "The Middle Way". :r4wheel:

Buddha outlines his intentions as reported in a sutta  in which he refers to  "A Hand Full of Leaves" "

Quote
SN 56.31 PTS: S v 437 CDB ii 1857
Simsapa Sutta: The Simsapa Leaves
translated from the Pali by
Thanissaro Bhikkhu

Once the Blessed One was staying at Kosambi in the simsapa[1] forest. Then, picking up a few simsapa leaves with his hand, he asked the monks, "What do you think, monks: Which are more numerous, the few simsapa leaves in my hand or those overhead in the simsapa forest?"

"The leaves in the hand of the Blessed One are few in number, lord. Those overhead in the simsapa forest are more numerous."

"In the same way, monks, those things that I have known with direct knowledge but have not taught are far more numerous [than what I have taught]. And why haven't I taught them? Because they are not connected with the goal, do not relate to the rudiments of the holy life, and do not lead to disenchantment, to dispassion, to cessation, to calm, to direct knowledge, to self-awakening, to Unbinding. That is why I have not taught them.

"And what have I taught? 'This is stress... This is the origination of stress... This is the cessation of stress... This is the path of practice leading to the cessation of stress': This is what I have taught. And why have I taught these things? Because they are connected with the goal, relate to the rudiments of the holy life, and lead to disenchantment, to dispassion, to cessation, to calm, to direct knowledge, to self-awakening, to Unbinding. This is why I have taught them.

"Therefore your duty is the contemplation, 'This is stress... This is the origination of stress... This is the cessation of stress.' Your duty is the contemplation, 'This is the path of practice leading to the cessation of stress.'"


source:  http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn56/sn56.031.than.html
« Last Edit: September 16, 2016, 11:16:17 am by Ron-the-Elder »
What Makes an Elder? :
A head of gray hairs doesn't mean one's an elder. Advanced in years, one's called an old fool.
But one in whom there is truth, restraint, rectitude, gentleness,self-control, he's called an elder, his impurities disgorged, enlightened.
-Dhammpada, 19, translated by Thanissaro Bhikkhu.

Offline pragmatic432

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Re: Buddhism and supernaturalism
« Reply #2 on: September 16, 2016, 04:34:58 pm »
Well, supernaturalism is what I refer to as cultural luggage designed to enthral children and the mythologically encumbered.  There is not much more to say about it, other than I suspect it may also be a way for "believers" to avoid doing the heavy work of personally verifying and validating what is being put forth as fact.  It also may be a means of capturing and securing the devotion of followers for personal gain, to keep the donations coming in to the monastery. 

This is certainly not what Buddha intended.  He came to this plane of existence to share what he had discovered:  The Four Noble Truths, a means to end ignorance, the root cause of dukkha and to end it in our life-times should we wish to put forth the effort.  He did not promise to save anyone, but instead to provide the means by which we could end our suffering:  "The Dhamma", "The Middle Way". :r4wheel:

Buddha outlines his intentions as reported in a sutta  in which he refers to  "A Hand Full of Leaves" "

Quote
SN 56.31 PTS: S v 437 CDB ii 1857
Simsapa Sutta: The Simsapa Leaves
translated from the Pali by
Thanissaro Bhikkhu

Once the Blessed One was staying at Kosambi in the simsapa[1] forest. Then, picking up a few simsapa leaves with his hand, he asked the monks, "What do you think, monks: Which are more numerous, the few simsapa leaves in my hand or those overhead in the simsapa forest?"

"The leaves in the hand of the Blessed One are few in number, lord. Those overhead in the simsapa forest are more numerous."

"In the same way, monks, those things that I have known with direct knowledge but have not taught are far more numerous [than what I have taught]. And why haven't I taught them? Because they are not connected with the goal, do not relate to the rudiments of the holy life, and do not lead to disenchantment, to dispassion, to cessation, to calm, to direct knowledge, to self-awakening, to Unbinding. That is why I have not taught them.

"And what have I taught? 'This is stress... This is the origination of stress... This is the cessation of stress... This is the path of practice leading to the cessation of stress': This is what I have taught. And why have I taught these things? Because they are connected with the goal, relate to the rudiments of the holy life, and lead to disenchantment, to dispassion, to cessation, to calm, to direct knowledge, to self-awakening, to Unbinding. This is why I have taught them.

"Therefore your duty is the contemplation, 'This is stress... This is the origination of stress... This is the cessation of stress.' Your duty is the contemplation, 'This is the path of practice leading to the cessation of stress.'"


source:  http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn56/sn56.031.than.html


Thanks Ron-the-Elder for your response, which raises another side/question to this problem. That is, how do we distinguish between core claims that we hope to verify through practice and purely supernatural add-ons?

For example, when we refer to the Buddha coming to “this plane of existence”, do we necessarily need as Buddhists to conceptualize it in this way? That is, do we need to assume other planes of existence?

Again, this I think would qualify as a supernatural supposition, so how do we distinguish it from other such suppositions, which as you point out may exist for quite extraneous reasons?

Thanks again for taking the time to respond my posts.

Offline Ron-the-Elder

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Re: Buddhism and supernaturalism
« Reply #3 on: September 16, 2016, 07:42:04 pm »
Quote
pragmatic432:  "when we refer to the Buddha coming to “this plane of existence”, do we necessarily need as Buddhists to conceptualize it in this way?"


No.  As a matter of fact, as I explained in my previous post Buddha advised that we are not required, but are obligated for the sake of our own benefit to verify and validate advisories and teachings for ourselves, if we want to be certain that what we are going to pratice, what we are practicing, and what we have practiced is The Dhamma (The Truth.  Things as they are.  Reality).  Most importantly, if we wish to unbind and release, become enlightened, we will never know for certain if The Noble Eight Fold Path works, unless we personally follow its advisories.  Otherwise, the best we can ever do is read, study, and debate it with each other.

Buddha discusses this issue of the falsity of belief and untested faith in a sutta, where he advizes leaders of  a community, called the Kalamas, to this effect:

Quote
Kalama Sutta
The Buddha's Charter of Free Inquiry

Commentary Excerpt:  "The Kalama Sutta, which sets forth the principles that should be followed by a seeker of truth, and which contains a standard things are judged by, belongs to a framework of the Dhamma; the four solaces taught in the sutta point out the extent to which the Buddha permits suspense of judgment in matters beyond normal cognition. The solaces show that the reason for a virtuous life does not necessarily depend on belief in rebirth or retribution, but on mental well-being acquired through the overcoming of greed, hate, and delusion."   resource for study:  http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/soma/wheel008.html



Quote
pragmatic432:  "That is, do we need to assume other planes of existence?"


Assumption, like belief, is not necessarily fact.  That is why personal validation and verification is advised.  However, there are some planes, which we may be currently incapable of personally verifying and validating.  This was the case before the invention of the microscope with regard to the plane of microorganisms, and before the invention of The Telescope, with regard to the planes of astrophysics.  The same before advancement of many realms of mathematics and sciences.
« Last Edit: September 16, 2016, 07:51:22 pm by Ron-the-Elder »
What Makes an Elder? :
A head of gray hairs doesn't mean one's an elder. Advanced in years, one's called an old fool.
But one in whom there is truth, restraint, rectitude, gentleness,self-control, he's called an elder, his impurities disgorged, enlightened.
-Dhammpada, 19, translated by Thanissaro Bhikkhu.

Offline pragmatic432

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Re: Buddhism and supernaturalism
« Reply #4 on: September 16, 2016, 11:12:43 pm »
Thanks for citing the Kalama, always a good reminder. Unfortunately many Buddhists violate the spirit of the sutta when they insist that a literal belief in rebirth, for example, is absolutely essential to the practice, and to Buddhism itself. The sutta clearly holds that whether or not rebirth is true Buddhist practice is beneficial, legitimate and leads toward the goal.

Offline stillpointdancer

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Re: Buddhism and supernaturalism
« Reply #5 on: September 17, 2016, 02:50:51 am »
This is the problem with Buddhism. It arose in a very different time and place and developed in many different ways. Luckily there certain key elements that transcend these local interpretations of the dharma, and that allow us to follow the path without having to suspend our disbelief of stories from different oral traditions. On the minus side it does mean that we have to put in more work than most, teasing out what is essential without leaving behind bits that are also important, maybe later along the line as we make progress.
“You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait, be quiet, still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.” Franz Kafka

Offline francis

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Re: Buddhism and supernaturalism
« Reply #6 on: September 17, 2016, 06:30:55 am »
Good question, I’ll have a go at answering with a little help from wiki and other sources.

In Buddhist cosmology there are 31 planes of existence contained within three worlds. They are the immaterial or formless world, the fine-material or the form world, and the sensuous or desire world (samsara).

There are six realms in the world of desire (samsara) in which most of us dwell. They are illustrated in the Bhavacakra or Wheel of Life.

The three inner layers of the Wheel of Life show the three poisons leading to karma, which leads to suffering in the six desire realms in which we are trapped by our desires in a cycle of suffering (samsara).

In the outer rim Wheel of Life we find the twelve links of the Nidana chain. The twelve links show how this all works by presenting the process of cause and effect. Being able to break the links is what gets us out of samsara.

It is up to individuals to decide whether they interpret the planes/worlds/realms as cosmology or allegories.

The supernormal powers (rather than supernatural powers) referred to in Buddhism are obtained through higher meditation. The Buddha said not to be distracted by them, as they were a stage on the way to enlightenment, rather than enlightenment itself.

« Last Edit: September 17, 2016, 06:55:10 am by francis, Reason: clarity as planes/realms/worlds differ with different sources. »
"Enlightenment, for a wave in the ocean, is the moment the wave realises it is water." - Thich Nhat Hanh

Offline pragmatic432

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Re: Buddhism and supernaturalism
« Reply #7 on: September 17, 2016, 09:39:45 am »
Thanks stillpointdancer and francis. These are liberal, reasonable views I would agree with. Of course there are far more sectarian views out there, which I’m sure everyone is aware of, so no need to litigate them here.

But again I appreciate the citing of the Kalama sutta. Reading it again I realized that I had a slightly incorrect sense of it based on the way it’s usually advertised as something like “the Buddha’s statement of free inquiry”. In reality the focus of the sutta is not on free inquiry but on practice, in particular on those practices that decrease greed, anger and delusion. As long as you’re doing that you’re on the Buddhist path, regardless of your views, and the farther you are along that path the clearer and more wholesome your views will be.

 


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