Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Buddy Was Wrong About the Buddha

Here's a series of e-mails with a webmaster who invited me to join his website's forum. I declined, as outlined below, and a discussion over this ensued as follows. Names and links to his site have been removed to avoid inadvertently supporting the activities of the aforementioned website.



Dear Webmaster,

Thank you for your invitation to visit your website, but I think the content
of your website is overly simplistic and terribly misguided. I would rather
not be involved with your activities.

If you have time, however, and are interested, I would be happy to discuss
the finer points of how the Buddha was indeed not wrong and why the
simplistic logic on this website is fallacious.

Please feel free to contact me at my e-mail address.

Best wishes,

Yuttadhammo




Dear Yuttadhammo,

I would be most interested in your comments that point out my errors. We can
discuss by email or if you would like to make it public discuss on my forum
here: (link removed)

Kind Regards,

C (name removed)




Dear C,

Thinking over it again, I am worried I might be ill-provided for the task. I will try my best, though. Let's go page by page. First at your page:

(link removed)

you say:

"And speaking of the Buddha's predictions, the Buddha constantly told us that psychic phenomena were unreliable and were lower arts yet he seemed to have no trouble seeing several gazillion years into the future. Of course, pondering the Buddha's attainments are an imponderable. Rather convenient if you ask me."

Please accept that this is simplistic and, in places, wrong. The Lord Buddha is known to have said that certain occult practices are tiracchana-vijja (lower arts). To quote Thanissaro Bhikkhu (for lack of time to pick out the suttas myself, please let me know if it is required):

"There are other occult abilities that are not based on jhana and for this reason do not count as mahaggata dhamma: such things as divination, giving protective charms, casting malevolent spells, psychic healing, practicing as a medium, etc. The discourses list these and other similar activities as tiracchana-vijja, bestial knowledge, which — as the name implies — is far removed from superior human states."

Source: http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/thanissaro/bmc1/ch04.html

It is therefore wrong to imply, as you do, that there is any incongruence in the Buddha's practice and his detraction of tiracchana-vijja .

Further, it would be better (syntactically) for you to say:

Of course, the Buddha's attainments are imponderable.

And this is also wrong. It is the extent of the knowledge of a Buddha that is imponderable because there is no extent. Rather logical if you ask me. There is nothing stopping one from pondering how it is that the Buddha could, for example, see into the future; the answer is both logical and scientific.

I'll try to go through every page on your website and explain the problems to you as I have time. Please reply if my answers are insufficient.

Best wishes,

Yuttadhammo




Hi again.



For starters, the simple fact that the Buddha could see the future would imply that the future has already happened and the concept of predeterminism is out of line with the buddhas teaching of karma. If everything was predetermined there would be no need to make choices or follow the buddhas path because all choices are already made. Either claims about the buddhas ability to see far into the future to predict the next Buddha are fraudulent or the Buddha was telling story tales.





Dear C,

This is also simplistic logic. If I see you falling from an airplane without a parachute, I can be pretty certain that you are going to get hurt when you hit the ground. Maybe at first I'm not sure, but I get pretty certain as you get closer to the ground. Does that imply that you've already hit the ground? The Buddha's understanding of cause and effect allowed him to see into the future in this way.

Your conclusion that there is no need to follow the Buddha's path is actually correct. There is no need to do anything. But if you do follow the Buddha's path, you will become free from suffering. That's cause and effect.

Best wishes,

Yuttadhammo




Well I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree.

I didn’t come to my conclusions lightly and I think if you took a serious look at the ludicrousness of seeing 3 gazzilion years into the future and telling people that it probably happened you may see things a little differently.

Good luck with your preaching but your supernatural claims will become more of a hard sell as the species becomes more intelligent.

C




Dear C,

For people with little insight into how the mind works, your conclusions are not hard to come to. Maybe you should visit India and try some of the meditations there. Seeing into the future is not a difficult thing, it is sad that you would rather use simplistic logic to disprove the idea than consider it from an empirical standpoint, or better yet, try it for yourself. Seeing three gazzilion (sic) years into the future might be difficult, but then the Buddha was pretty special in a great many ways (evinced by the empirical insights into the universe of gazzilions of followers). And I don't think you are capable of disputing the fact; at least you haven't presented any cogent logical argument against it; it is therefore highly improper to create a public website proclaiming your unsubstantiated views. But, to each their own.

If you would like me to continue, I can point out all what is wrong with the rest of your pages, but if you would rather cling to your views dogmatically, it is of little use.





Hi again.

I would be more than happy for you to continue critiquing my views but you will need to do better than “gazzilions of followers say so”. For a start, there hasn’t even been a gazzilion humans in all of known existence and speculating about other worlds and universes is just as ludicrous as your claims to being psychic.

There a thousands of Indian psychics. India is a poor country and if they are really psychic they will go to the following website and claim the one million dollar reward: http://www.randi.org/research/index.html This has been run for many years and not one of the many “psychics” have managed to pass.

There is nothing in India but disease, poverty and superstition so I am amazed that you would suggest I go there as this is somehow the 60s and I’m seeking a guru like john lenon. Those days are over.

If you have anything of substance then by all means keep talking but if not, keep your dogma to yourself.

Regards,

C




Dear C,

Okay, first of all, let's get it straight. I was joking about the gazzillions (however you spell it), because THERE IS NO SUCH NUMBER. Look here: http://www.straightdope.com/mailbag/mgazilli.html

Personally, I don't remember claiming to be psychic, just remarked that it is not nearly as impossible as you think. Also, I never said "gazzilions of followers say so". I said " the Buddha was pretty special in a great many ways (evinced by the empirical insights into the universe of gazzilions of followers)". A little different, no? If you are truly interested in whether the Buddha was right or wrong, why don't you spend some time researching these empirical insights for yourself? I would be happy to guide you through the process.

India is anything but poor; if you'd ever been there you might know yourself. It's laughable to think that an Indian Psychic might be tempted at a one million dollar reward, and typically Western. Suit yourself, though. The Buddha said that such a thing was like a prostitute showing her privates for money.

At any rate, this is a silly argument, as psychic powers like seeing into the future have little to do with the Buddha's teaching. I am sorry that all you could come up with for your first page on "the buddha was wrong" was a criticism of prediction of the future. The Buddha's three special attributes are: 1) parisuddhi - purity of heart; freedom from mental defilements of greed, anger and delusion; 2) panya - wisdom to see the four noble truths for himself; 3) mahakaruna - great compassion in giving up his own happiness to teach others. Why don't you write about these?

Best wishes,

Yuttadhammo

PS I will take it that you wish for me to go on to the next page.




Hi again,

Yes, I think we should move on as this psychic nonsense is probably the most superficial argument against the Buddha. Why don’t you start your analysis on my forum?

Thanks J




Dear C,

As I said, I am not interested in getting involved in your activities; I think what you have created is a terrible thing and will only lead to upset and suffering.

Please let me know if I should continue with my e-mails and I will write to you about the rest of your pages as I have time.

Best wishes,

Yuttadhammo


The final letter has yet to receive a response, but I have created a critique of his argument against nibbana, which I post here:

You say that "nibbana only makes sense in the context of a rebirth world view therefore, without rebirth, there is no need for nibbana."

First of all, this is not entirely accurate. Buddhism explains that birth and death occur at every moment. What science calls death is a physical thing, and really only a concept, as the matter is still there, and continues to function, albiet in a less systematic way. Nibbana is the cessation of the continuous process of birth and death of the five aggregates which occurs at every moment and is empirically verifiable. The conceptual death of another person is not empirically verifiable, though it is very difficult for the average modern person to understand this, indoctrinated as they are.

But the crux of your argument against Nibbana, that "modern science has ample evidence that consciousness is produced by the physical brain and ceases to exist automatically at death," is a terrible premise. Modern science hasn't even found consciousness, let alone know what produces it. The most science can do is map the affects of consciousness on the brain as it uses the brain just as a beaurocrat uses an office. At the moment of "death", the brain shuts down, and the mind takes on a new office.

To make this clearer for you, I would ask you to conduct an experiment. Close your eyes and try to take inventory of what, empirically, exists. There should be sounds and smells, tastes and feelings and thoughts. When you open your eyes again, there will be sights as well. Where is the brain? In truth it doesn't exist, it is simply a name we give to a certain sight or thought based on past memory. Empirically, no brain can be found. All that exists, empirically, is seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, feeling, and thinking. And these never cease, empirically, nor have they, empirically, until the empirical realization of nibbana, a common enough realization among those who practice wholeheartedly in the correct manner under the guidance of a qualified instructor.

Next, you say, "it is this concept of complete annihilation that scares so many people into believing in god and an afterlife in the first place so it is ironic that the thing most people fear is what Buddhists strive to attain."

Yes, most people are ignorant and scared into believing in god and an afterlife. Since the Buddha didn't hold any speculative belief in death, he had no need to hold a speculative belief in afterlife. Buddhists strive to attain only annihilation of greed, anger and delusion. I don't see anyone who is afraid of such an annihilation.

Finally, "it makes sense after all if rebirth has been happening forever and the whole thing is a cause for suffering the logical end for suffering would be the end of existence."

Not an end to existence, an end to birth. Existence is only a concept, made up of birth and death at every moment. With no birth, no death. The deathless.



If you are really curious, and able to avoid getting swayed by what are really pretty unconvincing arguments, here is the website in questions:

www
dot
thebuddhawaswrong
dot
com