My view on the metaphysical

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This topic contains 24 replies, has 9 voices, and was last updated by Shane Presswood Shane Presswood 4 months ago.

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  • #40026
    Dan Hanly
    Dan Hanly
    Participant

    I’m still fairly new to Buddhism, and I come from a technical, logic orientated background (software engineering). This seems to cause me difficulty digesting the more metaphysical concepts of Buddhism (Karma and Rebirth) so, I’ve come up with a way that I can rationalise them, removing the metaphysical, without losing the spirit of the teachings. I hope by sharing this that I can either inspire discussion (feel free to tell me I’m wrong), or help someone else rationalise them. I will stress that I don’t want to invalidate anyone’s views/beliefs, I’m just trying to find a way to fit the spirit of the teachings into my understanding.

    My view on Karma is simply one of a chain reaction. Sometimes when we act negatively, the karma presents itself as a chain reaction that we ourselves instigate. Instead of the metaphysical force that many believe governs the dishing out of justice or good fortune, we bring this on ourselves and we are the only participants in this process. Simply put, if I gossip about a person, the ‘karma’ will be that I offer distaste of my views upon someone who feels differently – this could cause any number of subsequent situations – gossiping about me, the subject of the gossiping finding out and an argument being caused, others seeking revenge, etc. Here my gossip instigated the karma directly, without the need for a governing force. The teachings of the eightfold path are retained as well as possible, in this view.

    Lots of what I have read in the Dhammapada and the Suttas have been allegorical, or metaphorical. It is this that has led me to believe that the process of Rebirth, is a metaphor for our constantly changing ‘self’. The teachings also imply that in each moment, we are a new person, and that there’s no start or end in this process. Rebirth, to me, is simply an excellent way to encapsulate the spirit of the teaching, into something that is easily grasped. It’s the path to enlightenment through the various phases of our life. The Arahant (fully enlightened person) is said to be never reborn again, whereas the other stages of enlightenment, right down to being a lay-person, will be reborn. This whole process, for me, represents a single, real life, through all the stages of existence and enlightenment. Each ‘rebirth’, represents another stage on our path, but not another real life (with actual death and an actual process of being reborn). I hope that this view doesn’t conflict with the core teachings.

    I would welcome your views also – as I said, I’m new to Buddhism and as a result, I’m still on a journey of understanding myself. If another conflicting view is presented, my mind is open to being changed. I don’t have all the answers, but I can only use this to help me on my journey.

  • #40028

    Mark Knickelbine
    Keymaster

    Dan, thanks for your participation. I think many of us will agree with your take on karma and rebirth, seeing them as metaphors for various aspects of the conditioned arising of conscious experience. Traditionalists will object, first of all, that there are many passages in the suttas where Gotama and company are clearly not speaking metaphorically but are claiming to have personal knowledge about serial lifetimes and the effect of karma on their disposition. Secondly, they will claim that without some way of settling the karmic score over multiple lifetimes, Dependent Origination isn’t true. Either way, I think it’s clear that what Gotama told us to do — develop mindfulness and cultivate kindness, compassion, joy and equanimity — are things we can only do in this lifetime, and since they are their own reward, beliefs about the afterlife are irrelevant to dharma practice.

  • #40035

    steve mareno
    Participant

    Welcome Dan! Thanks for dropping by. Myself, I don’t deal w/ any of that as it involves beliefs of one kind or another, and Buddhism should be sans beliefs of any kind. That is what makes it unique.

    The practice that awakened Siddhartha, and has awakened many, many others, was sitting meditation. I would throw in some mindfulness when you’re out and about, and there you go. Yes, I know, it sounds too simple to work. It may be simple, but it certainly isn’t easy. Logic, analysis, cognitive thinking, etc will get you nowhere on this path. It’s about awakening to the mind’s wisdom that is before thinking. Reading too much can also be a big hindrance, and this comes from my own personal experience. Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind is a good, small book to start with, but even it has some very hard to grasp truths because they are so simple and seemingly contradictory.

    It’s a long path, and in two or three years of sitting meditation (and starting w/ 10 minutes a day is fine) you should have a better grasp of things. One does not undo decades of old behavior over night. Finding a sangha near you that is a good fit can be a big help as well, but by all means ask questions here and offer what you have experienced. We all had to let go of a lot of stuff before getting on this path, and that is what the path is really about, letting go and dropping of our preconceived ideas of reality.

    Feel free to message me here if you have any questions about the basic meditation. I teach a Basic Buddhist Meditation course here in St Pete that addresses the posture, what to do w/ the mind, etc. It’s all of a piece, and if the posture is a little off, or the breathing, etc, then the whole thing can be a little off as well. The course is always free, and always free of dogma or religion. There may be a way to shoot me an email through the forum as well, I don’t know. There are also probably many others here that can do as well on this, and surely know as much as I do, or more.

  • #40043
    Dan Hanly
    Dan Hanly
    Participant

    Thanks for your responses both.

    I’m thrilled that I have a community here where I can voice this kind of view, and have it understood and treated realistically (regardless of whether or not it resonates with yourselves).

    I’m getting involved in a local Triratna group, which is helping me with the specifics of the meditation – they are also surprisingly open to other views and schools of thought.

    • #41917
      Shane Presswood
      Shane Presswood
      Participant

      I am enjoying the discussion on the metaphysical aspects we often see in the “re-writing” of the original foundations of Buddhism. I would have to agree with Dan as well in saying that Buddhism does seem to be fundamentally secular.

      I often think and explain the mysticisms to myself and others as mystical dramatic metaphors people have used through the times to make a simplistic point Gautama was intending to make.

      Just as other religions have tweaked their original texts to have more impact I believe this has also been the case in much of Buddhism.

      This is why as I got along in my journey of study I feel it is essential to look at the origin and first known text while interpretating in my own mind and perspective and then discussing it.

  • #41904
    Daniel
    Daniel
    Participant

    So….. I commented here, and then I edited a spelling error and re-saved. Now, I can’t see the comment, and if I try to repost it, it says I’m duplicating. What happened exactly?

  • #41905
    Daniel
    Daniel
    Participant

    I guess I’ll try this again….

    This is how I think of karma & rebirth also. I can’t help but think (and I don’t know if I’m just nurtuting my own predilections here) that this view isn’t a rationalization or modification of what Buddha taught, but rather a more sophisticated (and accurate) understanding of it. This is part of why I struggle with the term, “secular” when applied to Buddhism, because I think (again, acknowledging my predilection and limited study here) that Buddhism simply *is* fundamentally secular.

    I have trouble with the notion that Buddha was enlightened, and saw through to the truth of reality, yet somehow believed in multiple individually-identifiable lives. I realize it’s solidly in the realm of supposition, but surely a being that penetrated to the truth would not have held onto notions we can see now to be based on erroneous beliefs? Perhaps in the world in which he lived, he needed to largely wrap his teachings in ideas that could be approached by minds at that time, and as such, he needed to gently nudge people toward rethinking their ideas about permanence without out-and-out saying it was all untrue. As such, discussing a process of continual change allowed him to guide people toward the truth he saw without scaring them off.

    I have, like Dan, a background of logic and science, and I may just be seeing what I want to see here, I admit.

    • #41921
      ScottPen
      ScottPen
      Participant

      Daniel-

      I agree that it’s possible that the Buddha could have been making his message more palatable to his audience. After all, the onus of effective communication is on the communicator, not the audience. However- isn’t it also possible that this person named Siddartha Gautama, however enlightened he may have been to the human condition and the “medicine” needed to improve it, was just as much a product of his time and place as those he taught? He was a human being. A very insightful and kind human being, but a fallible human nonetheless. Why is it necessary to elevate this man to some higher level of existence? It’s not relevant to my practice. I don’t believe for a second that there has ever been a single person to walk this earth that actually figured everything out. In my gratitude meditations I always include him, but I gotta say that’s about it. “Thanks, Sid. Good lookin out.”

      Humans have always been afraid of death, and self-awareness has caused virtually every culture to create elaborate platitudes to reduce the suffering caused by this fear. Also, the concept of “fairness” has, as far as I’m aware, always been a part of the way that humans have been trying to live together. This has made people search for, and sometimes create, reconciliatory systems and beliefs that explain why good things happen to “bad” people and bad things happen to “good” people. At the core of every spiritual system is this basic premise: don’t be a jerk and your life will probably be better. Buddhism just seems to include the most logical, practical, and thereby followable list of instructions and backup thereof to make it happen. If, that is, one finds oneself searching for such a thing.

      I, as I’m sure many or even most that are reading this, have the same views on karma and rebirth that the original poster provided back in 2016. I find that listening to modern teachers effectively relate the suttas to modern life makes the metaphysical irrelevant. The super cool thing about all of this is that it seems to work no matter what you believe.

      _________________
      “May all beings be at ease!” – Siddartha Gautama… probably… maybe… ah, who cares?

  • #41922
    Shane Presswood
    Shane Presswood
    Participant

    However- isn’t it also possible that this person named Siddartha Gautama, however enlightened he may have been to the human condition and the “medicine” needed to improve it, was just as much a product of his time and place as those he taught? He was a human being. A very insightful and kind human being, but a fallible human nonetheless. Why is it necessary to elevate this man to some higher level of existence?

    This is quite an excellent point! I enjoy remembering that Gautauma was indeed a human and made mistakes. I often like to remind myself that he too was not perfect and made mistakes.

    Thanks for this!

    • #41923
      ScottPen
      ScottPen
      Participant

      No problem, buddy. Sid was a righteous dude, but a dude nonetheless.

    • #42267

      Anonymous

      Whether Gautama taught any of the philosophical intricacies that later became ingredients of the Buddhist philosophies, or not, he would have been one among many Indian thinkers of his day that the turmoil of ideas produced. This included atomists and materialists as well as religious figures. Then, perhaps there was no such duality in the thought of the time.

      Hinduism is not a monolith, but a mass of innumerable schools, including atheists and materialists. So it was in Gautama’s time too. Hinduism is not united by doctrine, but by behaviour. As with ancient Roman religion, participation in the life of society, irrespective of belief, makes one a Hindu. We need to understand this, and see the ancient Indian schools of philosophy in the same light as ancient Greek and Roman, with striking similarities in content too.

      So, to paraphrase Napoleon, if it hadn’t been the Buddha, it would have been someone else.

  • #41924
    Shane Presswood
    Shane Presswood
    Participant

    Ha! I love that you call him Sid! I may have to do the same! It has a laxidasixal, yet respective tone!

    • #41925
      ScottPen
      ScottPen
      Participant

      I like to think of him as “Sid” when I’m considering his regular-guy-ness. Calling someone by their title rather than their name is just a way to perpetuate hierarchy and give people something to be indignant about. Everyone deserves respect, and no one deserves reverence. That’s just my opinion, of course.

  • #42084
    kauva
    kauva
    Participant

    I dont view karma in the same manner as others.

    First, it is NOT some moral compass. In fact, it doesn’t have any morality base at all except for negative effects. Thus if some particular behavior elicits a negative view from others or some negative effect then the momentum gained from those negative factors (negative momentum) will continue affecting the actor going forward. Same for positive actions.

    Thats how I view karma overall anyway. It’s momentum. All of the things that accompany any action or event (will from others, chemistry changes, friendships gained or lost, quantum mechanical changes) are the so-called “karma”. Thus the effects from your good act could continue to benefit you after the act itself due to those straggler-onners. Same with negative.

    I am still studying the Vedas to develop more of a foundation for rebirth. There are theories and even empirical data to support some of those karma effects carrying on past the death of our bodies. If those effects are also part of what makes up our “self” then a path for rebirth is discovered. Our very observations affect the basis of reality (see the double slit experiment) so I can see that aspect of our self being included in the universe encompassed by another self … maybe someone riding that same wave of misfortune or good fortune from an act … and our self goes on. Just a theory …

  • #42265

    Anonymous

    No, karma has nothing to do with judgment or “dishing out.” That is theism. There is no judgment implied. You are correct in saying it is about necessary effects springing from their cause. A “chain reaction.”

    There is no “free will” implied. Rather liberation through knowledge and understanding. If circumstances cast you into the sea, you act to save yourself from drowning. But you did not will the circumstances, although they were necessarily brought about by a chain involving actions you took. So then you act to remove yourself from danger, but this action too is a response to conditions. Your “choice”, then, is itself a response to conditions and governed by necessity. You reap what you sow, but BLAME is not involved, just ACTION, good or bad, positive or negative.
    Judgment, reward and punishment are Christian, not Buddhist.

    Regarding rebirth, there is no self migrating from one form to another, but rather particle memory: like there is genetic memory. Karma is carried materially, as life and death are an endless material (physical) process. But it is carrying into other organisms whilst you are still alive too. Think of death and decomposition as an extension of what is happening all the time, during your life too. Your atoms have been replaced constantly and you now have few if any of those you were born with. I am absorbing yours and yours mine, even though we’ve never met, as zillions and zillions of atoms speed round us and round all beings on Earth in less than seconds! And when we die it would be absurd to say your and my particles would pass together into any one life form. We are human and monkey, ant and lizard, spider and gorilla, flower and tree, animate and inanimate, ocean and mountain, all one!

  • #42362

    steve mareno
    Participant

    What was the original question?

    Just kidding, your post has attracted some great comments Dan. I’m with you on most of what you said. To me, karma is a belief, whereas cause and effect are demonstrable. Even the Dali Lama said that Buddhism and science should always agree, and if science later proves some of the Buddhist scriptures to be wrong, then they need to change the scriptures. While I applaud that, I also realize that he is a shrewd politician, and his Tibetan religion has a plenitude of beliefs that cannot be proved, so I take his words with a grain of salt. In any case, my instincts are with his original statement.

    Fortunately, my Zen path is very free of beliefs, and we don’t get into the metaphysical realm much. When we do, it’s considered stuff that can be experienced if we are present in the moment. If we’re operating from our ego, nothing works right, and none of these experiences make any sense. But once we experience something, then we know. It’s a tricky subject as words almost always lead to misunderstanding, since words are only symbols for the real thing and not the actual real thing itself. So whatever we say will be “wrong” even if it is agreeable to us, or makes sense. Logic can’t get us to these metaphysical places.

    I’ll touch on one (we don’t have many). To say that all things are one, are God, whatever is only a statement, but to actually experience that, that’s what we’re after. The reality of that experience, and yet that experience is no “better” than simply being in the moment and experiencing whatever comes our way fully. To see that all-is=one may seem like a huge event the first time we get that, but it has no worth beyond just that, and stubbing my toe and fully experiencing that is exactly the same thing and on the same level of reality. We have to always meet the next moment, and the moment after that, and the one after that w/ becoming attached to any of it. This stuff can’t be taught. It’s impossible to train yourself to do that, but if we simply return our awareness to our breath and practice with diligence and discipline, it happens on it’s own accord.

  • #42365

    steve mareno
    Participant

    I meant to type “w/o becoming attached to any of it”, but I had already edited the post twice, and for some reason, if I try it a third time the post seems to disappear! It really frustrated me at first, but now I keep the edits down to two and it always works. Not sure what’s up with that. It sounds like daniel experienced the same thing here.

  • #42371
    ScottPen
    ScottPen
    Participant

    I think that the concept of Karma is just another of the many ways that humans have used to explain these truths that folks just can’t seem to accept:

    1. there is no inherent moral or ethical fairness or justice in the universe
    2. we are specks on a speck in a speck
    3. good things happen to bad people
    4. bad things happen to good people

    People don’t necessarily “get what’s coming to them.” At least, we don’t notice it all the time. Besides, who the hell are we to decide who deserves what anyway? Yes, dependent arising is more of what Karma is supposedly about, and Buddhism certainly provides a more detached version of cause and effect than most “religions,” but I think any attempt to rationalize and reconcile the concept of Karma as an actual “thing” that must be fed into like an investment account is baloney. Heaven, hell, karma, whatever. They’re all just platitudes.

    Here’s what counts: Conduct an experiment of your own, and spend a bunch of years being a selfish asshole. It won’t help your happiness. Even if you don’t end up feeling regret and guilt, being an asshole ruins relationships and isolates us from real connection with other people. Evolution has resulted in humans being animals that require collaboration in order to process our experiences and emotions, therefore isolation results in a whole bunch of possible psychological issues which cause us to be dissatisfied and suffer. Then what do we do? We search for the inexorably evasive external sources of happiness because we can’t find inner tranquility.

    Karma is that, and that is Karma. Being an asshole will probably make you feel shitty in the long run.

  • #42448
    Shane Presswood
    Shane Presswood
    Participant

    [quote quote=42371]I think that the concept of Karma is just another of the many ways that humans have used to explain these truths that folks just can’t seem to accept:

    1. there is no inherent moral or ethical fairness or justice in the universe
    2. we are specks on a speck in a speck
    3. good things happen to bad people
    4. bad things happen to good people

    People don’t necessarily “get what’s coming to them.” At least, we don’t notice it all the time. Besides, who the hell are we to decide who deserves what anyway? Yes, dependent arising is more of what Karma is supposedly about, and Buddhism certainly provides a more detached version of cause and effect than most “religions,” but I think any attempt to rationalize and reconcile the concept of Karma as an actual “thing” that must be fed into like an investment account is baloney. Heaven, hell, karma, whatever. They’re all just platitudes.

    Here’s what counts: Conduct an experiment of your own, and spend a bunch of years being a selfish asshole. It won’t help your happiness. Even if you don’t end up feeling regret and guilt, being an asshole ruins relationships and isolates us from real connection with other people. Evolution has resulted in humans being animals that require collaboration in order to process our experiences and emotions, therefore isolation results in a whole bunch of possible psychological issues which cause us to be dissatisfied and suffer. Then what do we do? We search for the inexorably evasive external sources of happiness because we can’t find inner tranquility.

    Karma is that, and that is Karma. Being an asshole will probably make you feel shitty in the long run.[/quote]

    Another chapter of that book I mentioned in the self-non-self post? Spot on! Are we Facebook friends? I love your Dharma Demeanor man!

    • #42578
      ScottPen
      ScottPen
      Participant

      Shane, I took your advice and started a blog. It’s called The Space Between.

      I’m still working on the layout/design, but I’d certainly appreciate any feedback that folks would like to provide on the content and design. Be well!

  • #42467
    ScottPen
    ScottPen
    Participant

    The only Facebook I have is face-in-book

  • #42498
    XenMan
    XenMan
    Participant

    In some views of Dzogchen, Karma is as simple as anything that keeps you from the Dharma.

    It is nice and simple, making sense as actions and thoughts that increase reactivity are going to take away the goal of neutrality; which is the basic intent of the Dharma.

    Also the middle path/way is disrupted by strong thoughts on subjects.

    Tibetan Buddhism, which seems to be the focus here, is just plain madness on the subject of Karma as if there is an agency that keeps score or a dirty attachment that clings to you.
    Chan promotes that a weeklong retreat should be able to clear all your Karma and Zen, as with most things, just doesn’t care.

    I agree with the view above about it being an observed fact that do bad things long enough and bad things will happen to you, but I would add that most people have a strong optimism bias and expect that justice prevails and the wicked be punished; if not by mob violence or a judicial system, then Karma.

    My experiences are to the contrary and have seen in others the benefits of purely deplorable human behaviour for personal gain, without consequence. This has helped to reinforce the ‘cold dark universe that doesn’t care’ perspective for me on this subject.

  • #42499

    steve mareno
    Participant

    I think there’s a time for strong thoughts and strong actions if necessary. This doesn’t mean it’s OK to act like a jerk. Each situation is unique and calls for a unique response and action. We don’t want to sink into memorized pat answers made in a soft voice if a situation warrants something else. We shouldn’t ask what Buddha would do either. We ARE Buddha. Well, on our good days anyway.

    If there is injustice, one needs to speak with appropriate force and intent. Change requires courage and conviction.

    I have to agree that Tibetan Buddhism is quite another animal. It is really a mixture of Buddhism and the original Tibetan Bon religion. Someone once described Tibetan Buddhists to me as being the sorcerer end of Buddhism, and that is true. They have incorporated a mixture of magic, so called secret teachings, and charms (spells) into their lineage that does not exist in any other form of Buddhism. Anyone who has watched the Dali Lama on youtube interacting with the monk who was allegedly possessed by the demonic spirit of Dorje Shugden will find it shocking and very unBuddhist like.

    • This reply was modified 4 months, 3 weeks ago by  steve mareno.
    • This reply was modified 4 months, 3 weeks ago by  steve mareno.
  • #42539
    ScottPen
    ScottPen
    Participant

    [quote quote=42498]I agree with the view above about it being an observed fact that do bad things long enough and bad things will happen to you, but I would add that most people have a strong optimism bias and expect that justice prevails and the wicked be punished; if not by mob violence or a judicial system, then Karma.

    My experiences are to the contrary and have seen in others the benefits of purely deplorable human behaviour for personal gain, without consequence. This has helped to reinforce the ‘cold dark universe that doesn’t care’ perspective for me on this subject.[/quote]

    I completely agree. The observable truth that you mention here is, in my opinion, one of the reasons why people created the idea of a system of postmortem rewards and consequences for premortem behavior. As soon as humans developed the cognitive ability to ask “Why?” and “How?” and think “Not fair!” their sense of insecurity that came along with not having these answers inspired them to soothe their insecurities with stories of souls, creators, and the promise of an eternal freedom from their inexorable dirtnap.

    To borrow from Yoda- regarding human existence, “There is no why. There is only how.” We can answer how all day long. “Why” implies intent, is only theoretically determinable, and causes more suffering than its hypothetical “answers” reduce.

  • #42580
    Shane Presswood
    Shane Presswood
    Participant

    [quote quote=42578]Shane, I took your advice and started a blog. It’s called The Space Between.

    I’m still working on the layout/design, but I’d certainly appreciate any feedback that folks would like to provide on the content and design. Be well![/quote]

    Wow! My binder is my blog right now mostly. It’s what works for me! Maybe not everyone, but it does work for me. You can send me a message on Facebook (Shane N. Presswood) or e-mail (spresswood82@gmai.com) and I can share some actual pictures of my book. Just remember the format is what works for the individual. My binder changes and grows. It’s almost grown out of it’s current capacity actually lol!

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