Episode 245 :: Doug Smith :: Was the Buddha an Anti-Realist?

| April 16, 2016 | 2 Comments

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Doug Smith

Doug Smith joins us to speak about his paper from the Journal of the Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies, Was the Buddha an Anti-Realist?

We see the debate all the time, particularly online. Did Buddha believe this, or did Buddha believe that? In particular, the gravity well seems to deepen when it comes to assertions about the nature of reality and existence, rather than centered on dukkha. So what might Gotama have thought about this thing we call reality, and how could we know it?

Doug Smith has a PhD in Philosophy, with a minor in Buddhist philosophy and Sanskrit. In 2013 he completed the year long Integrated Study and Practice Program with the Barre Center for Buddhist studies, and NYIMC. A long time scientific skeptic, he pursues a naturalized approach to practice. He is also interested in scholarship about the Tipitaka, and the theoretical and historical origins of the dhamma.

So, sit back, relax, and have a nice Ginger Chai Spice tea.

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The music heard in the middle of this podcast is from Rodrigo Rodriguez. You can visit his website to hear more of his music, get the full discography, and view his upcoming tour dates.

Category: The Secular Buddhist Podcast

Ted Meissner

About the Author ()

Ted Meissner is the host of the podcast Present Moment: Mindfulness Practice and Science. He has been a meditator since the early 90’s, has been interviewed for Books and Ideas, Mindful Lives, and The Whole Leader podcasts, spoken about mindfulness with various groups including Harvard Humanist Hub, and has written for Elephant Journal and The International Journal of Whole Person Care. He is the Executive Director of the Secular Buddhist Association, host of the SBA’s official podcast The Secular Buddhist, and is on the Advisory Board for the Spiritual Naturalist Society.

Ted’s background is in the Zen and Theravada traditions, he is a regular speaker on interfaith panel discussions, and is interested in examining the evolution of contemplative practice in contemporary culture. Ted teaches Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) at the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care & Society, where he is the Manager of Online Programming and Community Development.

Comments (2)

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  1. Doug Smith Doug Smith says:

    FYI: Alex Wynne’s interesting response to my paper can be found here: Early Buddhist Teaching as Proto-śūnyāvada.

    (My paper is linked to above, in the Web Links section).

  2. David S says:

    Hi Doug.

    As I read your article I agreed that there is much in the texts that is inherently based in realism. Although in Wynne’s writing, I found his thoughts on cognition also relevant (although his conceptual bias appears by repeatedly focusing on thoughts alone, and leaves out sensations). His idea that the material world is an illusion strikes me as a metaphysical statement in itself, although he says, “…metaphysical statements of truth are ultimately impossible.” (p217) And, how can he think anyone could be both existing in this world and be enlightened, if to be enlightened was to be beyond this world? This important issue he doesn’t address.

    Sure our perceptions of reality are constructed, and there can be states where the world disappears, but in reality one doesn’t disappear at all. It is a mental state. But as Wynne points out, the crux of Buddhism is based upon experiential phenomenology, so when the world disappears it is then taken literally, because that is exactly how it was experienced. Out of this arises interpretations and the belief in mind-only. What isn’t solved by this belief is that the Buddha explained that consciousness doesn’t arise without the world.

    If the mind produces the world, then why isn’t this how it is explained by the Buddha? Wynne gives some thoughts on how it could work, but it is all an exegesis (p224). And when Wynne states, “…there is no assertion that cognitive construction depends on, and is a sort of representation of, things that really do exist in space-time.” (p223) Wynne seems to be ignoring how D.A. ties consciousness to form, and without such, neither exists. DN 15: “…from name-and-form as a requisite condition comes consciousness. From consciousness as a requisite condition comes name-and-form.” SN 12.65: “This consciousness turns back at name-&-form, and goes no farther.”

    Why would the enlightened consciousness he speaks of be any different?

    It’s clear to me that all such statements came from jhanic experiences, or after exiting jhana, and these have become the basis of Buddhist thought. But in practical use the reality is much different than the idealization of such experiences. Every night the world disappears when my consciousness goes to sleep, but there I lay. If for the enlightened person there is ‘no remainder’ and there is mind-only, then the person wouldn’t even exist.

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