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General Buddhism => The Dharma Express => Topic started by: moSh on November 26, 2015, 07:35:58 am

Title: The 'Magical' Side of Buddhism?
Post by: moSh on November 26, 2015, 07:35:58 am
Hi everyone

Firstly, please excuse my choice of words, I'm struggling to think of a word to use in the place of 'magic', but hopefully I'll be able to explain myself well enough for it to make sense.

To provide a bit of context, I hail from a white, middle class British family, from parents who are atheists to the extent that they don't seem to have ever really given religion or spirituality much thought. That was my approach growing up, and thus became atheist by default. The term 'spiritual' to me had connotations of believing in higher powers that could never be seen and had to be believed in blindly. To me, spirituality meant religion, and religion was laughable in the face of science.

Since finding my secondary passion in psychology (my primary being music), I've come to understand how wrong I was. Not only is spirituality something wholly personal and based in experience, but being a hardcore atheist is just as ignorant as following any religion without question. I've landed myself into agnosticism--to me the only rational position on religion--but with a huge amount of respect and 'faith' in everything I've encountered within Buddhism.

However, much of what I encounter that opposes my atheist background (energies, karma, rebirth, etc.), I have always put down to psychological processes, as means to an end. For example, I wouldn't necessarily believe that there are invisible energies that can be harnessed, but I do believe in their potential effect when thought of in this way--as a product of the psychological processes that arise. For this reason, I will happily visualise energies or other such images, as I think it can have more benefit this way.

My question therefore is this: is there anything within Buddhism that might be considered purely 'magical' or supernatural (for the viewpoint of a scientist or atheist)? By this I suppose I mean anything that can never really be proven to the self experientially, anything which has to be blindly trusted in the teachings (such as the existence of the Judeo-Christian God). I would essentially like to expose myself to any such ideas and see how my mind takes them.

Thanks in advance!
Title: Re: The 'Magical' Side of Buddhism?
Post by: aboddhisattva on November 26, 2015, 09:46:06 am
The most magical discovery for me was to discover that you can with a calm mind and steady practice come to transform the way you experience yourself, and the rest of the world, in a way that makes the ordinary appear unbelievably extraordinary and magical. 

For instance, Time.  We have been taught, and have taken it for granted, that we have a past and a future and head from one to the other in a linear way - the old journey from the cradle to the grave. Yes time can be experienced in this way, but when you do the result is that this means we live our lives in such a way that we are actually missing out on the experience of the the actual place where our consciousness resides: The present!

So Time can be experienced in another way, where there is one eternal moment and everything flashes in and out of existence in a sensational symphony of transformation of energy, always and forever.

It is really something for you to discover, and not be told that this is the case, that you really live in an eternal moment which is Now, and it is happening Now, and everything, everywhere is connected in such a way that its relationships are constantly transforming in the most beautiful and harmonious patterns.  I use these terms because you say you are also a musician, and you will probably understand the state you find yourself in when you are playing a piece of music that resonates with you. May these words resonate with you i the same way.

When you experience the extraordinary harmony of the eternal moment and what that actually leads to...  Magic, and miracles are everywhere, and then you come to understand it's source.  Sorry, there is no concept that can be conveyed of it; you have to REALISE it, but wow, when you do... WOW!  then Nirvana and Samsara, light and dark, sound and silence, materiality and spirituality, good and evil are united in a very simple way, and it is by your experience of that realisation.  It is not something that you have to work hard at to achieve, unless you want to make it so.

So enough about magic from me, as it's nothing special; it's everywhere and its easy to miss or forget if that is what you are normally experiencing anyway. 

Be present, and enjoy the gifts it brings.

Tat Tvam Asi

Title: Re: The 'Magical' Side of Buddhism?
Post by: moSh on November 26, 2015, 10:43:59 am
Thanks for your input!

Allow me to slightly amend my choice of words, as I've only just now realised what (I think) I meant: mystical!

The things you speak of are things I have definitely experienced many times in my meditations, though I know that I am yet to experience them to their full effect. The euphoria that has come with it has been astounding enough to make me believe that what I'm thinking is truly valid.

However, I would still consider these psychological experiences and phenomena, rather than mystical teachings that must be followed.

I think the idea rebirth might be the best example of what I'm talking about. I understand it's not the same as reincarnation, as for Buddhists there is no self to be transported into another being, so I am happy to see rebirth as a 'returning to the earth', so to speak. However, I do sometimes see it mentioned in a more fantastical way, and the way in which enlightenment could ever stop the process of rebirth baffles me!

Oh yes, and something else that has just come to me! I remember reading briefly about powers that are sometimes given to monks that progress far on the eightfold path--flight being one example! This was of course enough to make me stop and think. I've always admired the way that Buddhism only presents ideas that can be found within the mind of a person, but flight? In all honesty it made me slightly sad to think that Buddhism might allude to such fantastical things in a similar way to the Bible, for instance. (Please note, I mean no offence, to Buddhist or Christian beliefs, this is purely my view which I am completely open to being changed!)

Thanks
Title: Re: The 'Magical' Side of Buddhism?
Post by: Dianet on November 26, 2015, 05:27:08 pm
Hi,

What I really like about Buddhism is that there is no one who is going ex-Buddhicate you if you have some skepticism about stories of the supernatural. Within certain cultures and traditions there are a lot of "add-ons" to the basic bones of Buddhism. But there is enough worthwhile core material that, for me, I never really find that I have to get fixated on things that sound really far-fetched.

For a long time, I would say that I was a Buddhist who didn't believe in reincarnation as a sort of a joke. The more I study and think, the more I'm convinced that working with the idea of truly ceasing to cling to --anything--- has a lot of value without trying to hard to figure out what the afterlife "payoff" is.

I'm good with the idea of understanding as I go along, one thing at a time. I just steer around things that stretch my credulity farther than it is ready to go at the moment.  So that's my 2 cents worth.

Metta,

Diane
Title: Re: The 'Magical' Side of Buddhism?
Post by: moSh on November 27, 2015, 02:57:12 am
Thanks for your input Diane, I couldn't agree with you more! I'm quite happy to carry on focussing on the elements I know to be true from experience and/or intuition. I've always been very attracted by the way in which Buddhism allows you take what you want from it, rather than giving any sort of 'all or nothing' kind of ultimatum.

It would be interesting to know how many Eastern Buddhists truly believe in the various mystic aspects as literal, and many see them as metaphor (and how many see it as something between these two binaries). Something tells me my Western position makes the two more black and white than necessary; I feel like the typical language of 'exist' or 'not exist' might be something of a restriction when studying Buddhism.
Title: Re: The 'Magical' Side of Buddhism?
Post by: Karma Dondrup Tashi on November 27, 2015, 09:58:08 am
In the Vajra world magic isn't fantasy.
Title: Re: The 'Magical' Side of Buddhism?
Post by: moSh on November 27, 2015, 04:05:01 pm
Could you elaborate? What is Vajra? After a quick googling I've seen it means diamond or thunderbolt.
Title: Re: The 'Magical' Side of Buddhism?
Post by: francis on December 13, 2015, 02:47:50 am
Hi moSh,

I chanced back here when a FreeSangha topic crossed my facebook feed. 

I was taught to distinguish between supernatural (magic) and supernormal powers. Traditionally, the supernormal powers are developed through meditation to reach the Jhana’s. Though, once having obtained the higher Jhana’s, some consider them to be a distraction.   

Mahamoggallana, along Sariputra, was one of the Buddha’s leading disciples.  He had advanced supernormal powers. However, in the end Mahamoggallana’s supernormal powers were of little value in avoiding karma, and he died a horrible death.

With Metta
Title: Re: The 'Magical' Side of Buddhism?
Post by: moSh on December 17, 2015, 07:11:15 am
Hi Francis

I appreciate your input, but how does a Buddhist explain how this could possibly come about? Or have I been mistaken in thinking that Buddhism is a purely psychological (and therefore explainable within the contexts of psychological processes)?

It's always been my understanding (or misunderstanding!) that Buddhism is a philosophy almost exclusively based on the workings of the subject's mind, and not the authority of a mysterious deity or scripture like most religions. Supernormal powers I could perhaps get behind, if they were simply extensions of the powers we already have, but it's things like flight that defy fundamental laws that I have trouble with. Does that make sense? i.e. I couldn't possibly imagine how the force of one's mind, however impressive, could have an impact on the particles around them in order to defy gravity.

Title: Re: The 'Magical' Side of Buddhism?
Post by: dunmatter on December 22, 2015, 07:17:32 am
the word magic is used to describe something unexplainable but logic solves that, fundamental factors, only perception and concept. look past.
Title: Re: The 'Magical' Side of Buddhism?
Post by: zafrogzen on December 24, 2015, 10:49:37 am
Aboddhisattva gave you some good advice. We should be grateful we have a linear reality to enjoy. If you could really succeed in tearing it apart, looking for something different and magical, you would regret it.
Title: Re: The 'Magical' Side of Buddhism?
Post by: totheha on December 27, 2015, 12:46:28 am
Hi Mosh,

In my point of view, I see Buddhism has lots of "magics" or "supernature"
First, It's the one of religions that believe in reincarnation including Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism and some others. (Wiki)
Until today, Scientists have just observed the surface of the reincarnation which are many cases of children who remembered their past life. A representative scientist is Doctor Ian Stevenson.

Furthermore,  Buddhism also teaches that reincarnation has 6 ways or 6 realms of existence: Nakara beings (hell), Preta (hungry ghost), Animal, Human, Asuras (anti-god), and Devas (Heaven). It's magical.

Secondly, although Gotama/Sukiyaki Buddha does not encourage to publicize supernatural abilites, some monks after becoming Arhant have at least 5 supernatural abilities: super-hearing (able to hear any sound on the earth), divine seeing (if Arhant wants, he can see any thing on universe without obstacles), telepathy or reading minds, astral travel or fly, and past life remember (including himself and others).

Some magics to share with you.
Tks!
Title: Re: The 'Magical' Side of Buddhism?
Post by: a-skier-bows-to-the-dharm on December 29, 2015, 03:12:11 pm
If Buddhism is an-atman, what is reincarnated? Or do we mean that the (non-separated) karma goes on?
What do you think the reason for supernatural powers is? I mean does everyone have them? where do they come from?
Title: Re: The 'Magical' Side of Buddhism?
Post by: moSh on January 05, 2016, 08:25:43 am
Hi Mosh,

In my point of view, I see Buddhism has lots of "magics" or "supernature"
First, It's the one of religions that believe in reincarnation including Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism and some others. (Wiki)
Until today, Scientists have just observed the surface of the reincarnation which are many cases of children who remembered their past life. A representative scientist is Doctor Ian Stevenson.

Furthermore,  Buddhism also teaches that reincarnation has 6 ways or 6 realms of existence: Nakara beings (hell), Preta (hungry ghost), Animal, Human, Asuras (anti-god), and Devas (Heaven). It's magical.

Secondly, although Gotama/Sukiyaki Buddha does not encourage to publicize supernatural abilites, some monks after becoming Arhant have at least 5 supernatural abilities: super-hearing (able to hear any sound on the earth), divine seeing (if Arhant wants, he can see any thing on universe without obstacles), telepathy or reading minds, astral travel or fly, and past life remember (including himself and others).

Some magics to share with you.
Tks!


All very interesting, thank you totheha! I suppose there is then an element of faith in the unseen involved in Buddhism.

I feel I'd struggle to get behind the idea of supernatural abilities outright. The six realms of existence are slightly less aversive to me, though I do take issue with the distinction between animal and human. For me the only thing that separates us is brain functioning, particularly considering the animals that have equal or greater functioning in certain faculties (emotional intelligence in whales, for example). I feel the distinction between animals and humans therefore is a purely human one, which devalues the rest of the distinctions in my mind. That's not to say there are no god-like beings or suchlike, but for me it calls into question the validity of those particular six realms.

With regards to reincarnation (and correct me if I'm wrong), but Buddhists not distinguish it as rebirth instead? The way I understood it was that it's not one 'soul' going from one being to another, but merely a continuous stream of consciousness moving throughout vessels; one is not 'born' and does not 'die' in the classical sense, but instead constantly in flux within the whole global consciousness. I don't have a problem with this idea, but probably would be inclined to attribute it to a lack in scientific understanding than magic. I know there's ongoing research into the idea of a global consciousness, so perhaps in this lifetime we'll come to understand it properly!
Title: Re: The 'Magical' Side of Buddhism?
Post by: totheha on January 06, 2016, 12:57:16 am
Hi Mosh,

In basic, I agree with you. I also hope that scientist can soon to prove all the magical things of Buddhism that is right or wrong. But sadly, most of them cannot be rejected or accepted by scientists.

In my point of view, I tend to believe that all the things is written in Sutra are real including reincarnation (not only rebirth), superpower abilities, the exist of Gotama Buddha and many other Buddha. I remember in a Sutra, Gotama Buddha said all the Sangha are only allowed to drink water after refinering. The reason is that Gotama Buddha knew that there's lots of tiny creatures in water (What modern scientists name them bacteria through microscope ). If the Sangha drank water without refinering, they would kill them. The fact that Gotama Buddha knew 2500 years ago is just found by scientist in 20th century. It's miracle.

Some thoughts to share.
Thanks and Regards!
Title: Re: The 'Magical' Side of Buddhism?
Post by: Dairy Lama on January 06, 2016, 06:34:18 am
People have all kinds of beliefs and disbeliefs, but are these conducive to developing insight and attaining liberation?
Title: Re: The 'Magical' Side of Buddhism?
Post by: moSh on January 06, 2016, 01:46:03 pm
In basic, I agree with you. I also hope that scientist can soon to prove all the magical things of Buddhism that is right or wrong. But sadly, most of them cannot be rejected or accepted by scientists.

In my point of view, I tend to believe that all the things is written in Sutra are real including reincarnation (not only rebirth), superpower abilities, the exist of Gotama Buddha and many other Buddha. I remember in a Sutra, Gotama Buddha said all the Sangha are only allowed to drink water after refinering. The reason is that Gotama Buddha knew that there's lots of tiny creatures in water (What modern scientists name them bacteria through microscope ). If the Sangha drank water without refinering, they would kill them. The fact that Gotama Buddha knew 2500 years ago is just found by scientist in 20th century. It's miracle.

You're totally right! You've actually moved me to agree with you almost completely! The things that Gotama, and Buddhism in general, knew about the nature of reality are in fact being closer and closer found by science. Like relativity theory, or the idea that everything is made up of vibrations rather than tiny discrete particles.

People have all kinds of beliefs and disbeliefs, but are these conducive to developing insight and attaining liberation?

I suppose, in my case at least, in the initial stages it could be beneficial to have a stronger faith in the path you're setting off on, in order to give you the most effective drive to concentrate and move forward. But of course on the other hand a fixation on them would no doubt be a hinderance!
Title: Re: The 'Magical' Side of Buddhism?
Post by: Dairy Lama on January 07, 2016, 06:13:28 am
I suppose, in my case at least, in the initial stages it could be beneficial to have a stronger faith in the path you're setting off on, in order to give you the most effective drive to concentrate and move forward. But of course on the other hand a fixation on them would no doubt be a hinderance!

I've found over time that the most important aspect has been developing some confidence in Buddhist practices, not least because without that confidence one can be easily discouraged or distracted.
Title: Re: The 'Magical' Side of Buddhism?
Post by: moSh on January 07, 2016, 10:37:02 am
Yes I agree, confidence in the practices would be most valuable. Faith in the surrounding features is no doubt more of an extra benefit, at least up until the point at which it becomes overly fixated on.
Title: Re: The 'Magical' Side of Buddhism?
Post by: Lobster on January 22, 2016, 03:28:04 am

Allow me to slightly amend my choice of words, as I've only just now realised what (I think) I meant: mystical!


 :hug:

There are experiences and phenomena that practitioners come across through practice that are currently not widely or usefully explored by science. If you come across them just remember they are of little significance and often a mark of 'pride in progress'. So they are not often discussed openly because people being as they are, can be attracted to such developmental qualities.

From personal experience I know that developing calm and tranquility can effect others, including animals.
The ability to be still in meditation practice, heightens the sensitivity to others external and internal processes.
Mindfulness gives an ability to pick up on quite subtle sense impressions ... and so on ...

I still can not fly incidentally ... :smack:
Title: Re: The 'Magical' Side of Buddhism?
Post by: mysticmorn on January 26, 2016, 08:56:49 pm
OP, your query includes a number of questions, and you added to them as the thread progressed.

Regarding so-called supernatural abilities, those develop naturally and gradually as one's meditation practice advances. As you become more adept at focusing the mind, what happens is that you learn to still the chatter of the monkey-mind, as it's called in Buddhism, the busy left brain that is in charge of our constant thinking and ruminating, our "to do" lists and anxieties, our problem-solving, etc.  With that busy-ness out of the way, the intuitive qualities of the right brain come to the fore.  This can lead to intuitive experiences and eventually, clairvoyance, or clairaudience, and so forth. We also come to experience the proverbial sense of Oneness with All.  For more info on this, check out the book by a neuroscientist who lost the use of her left brain after a stroke, "My Stroke of Insight".  She describes what life is like, how the world is experienced, exclusively via the right brain.  It's a fascinating first-hand account.

Regarding your question about whether Buddhism has doctrines that are faith-based, the answer is "yes".  We're told the Buddha taught about 32 realms of existence, including multiple hell realms, heaven, and so on, though some scholars say that was added to the canon later, after the Buddha's death, due to Hindu influence. It's important to keep in mind the fact that there are many Buddhisms, and some have more of the faith-based elements than others.

And there's always the sticky wicket of rebirth.  Tibetan Buddhism, for example, has full-blown reincarnation, though they never call it that. But reincarnate high lamas are believed to have the power of recall of texts they learned in preceding lives, which facilitates their unusually quick progress as children in their monastic studies.  They are also believed to be able to identify objects that belonged to them in the lifetime immediately preceding the current one, from among groups of identical objects clustered together.  Tibetan teachers never call it "reincarnation", in order not to contradict the Buddha's teachings against belief in a permanent "soul", but if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it's a pretty safe bet that we're observing a duck, and not an elephant. The pre-Buddhist Tibetan spiritual tradition was all about the soul, maintaining its purity, healing it, and so on.

You might feel most at home in the "school" of Buddhism known as Secular Buddhism, which rejects rebirth and other faith-based teachings. To get a grounding in that, you might enjoy a book by the person considered to be the founder of that branch of Buddhism, Stephen Batchelor:  "Confession of a Buddhist Atheist".  Though in the book, he states his position as more agnostic than atheist, saying of rebirth, "We really don't know", we can never know for sure pro or con.

Secular Buddhism is controversial for reasons I don't entirely understand, but it provides a useful orientation for newbies who can't bring themselves to swallow the concept of rebirth, not to mention the rest of it.

 I hope this has been helpful, and good luck to your studies and your nascent Buddhist practice!
Title: Re: The 'Magical' Side of Buddhism?
Post by: Dairy Lama on January 27, 2016, 02:07:27 am
It's important to keep in mind the fact that there are many Buddhisms, and some have more of the faith-based elements than others.

Yes, an important point.  Buddhism is diverse and pluralistic, there are many different schools, all with their own assumptions and methods. 
Though it's interesting to note that Secular Buddhism is the only school which actually rejects the teachings on rebirth and kamma.
Title: Re: The 'Magical' Side of Buddhism?
Post by: mysticmorn on January 27, 2016, 10:51:51 am
I don't think Secular Buddhism rejects the idea of karma.  It doesn't hold that karma applies across rebirths, though--only to the current lifetime.  And I forgot to mention (for the benefit of the OP) that some Buddhists interpret the Buddha's teachings on rebirth as referring to the process of growth, evolution and change we go through in our daily lives, maturing, learning and hopefully evolving toward Buddhahood as we go through this life.  In this way, we experience many rebirths, small and larger. Though this sounds like something that would come from Secular Buddhism, I've seen this argued by practitioners and scholars from other schools, as well, mostly different Theravada sects.
Title: Re: The 'Magical' Side of Buddhism?
Post by: nirmal on January 30, 2016, 08:26:24 am
Just sharing
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Title: Re: The 'Magical' Side of Buddhism?
Post by: Dairy Lama on January 30, 2016, 11:32:10 am
In this way, we experience many rebirths, small and larger. Though this sounds like something that would come from Secular Buddhism, I've seen this argued by practitioners and scholars from other schools, as well, mostly different Theravada sects.

These ideas are mostly a result of western re-interpretation.  People impose western values on BuddhaDharma and then claim they are stripping away the cultural baggage.  Yeah, whatever.   :wink1:
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