On Materialist Disenchantment

Image courtesy of domdeen at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of domdeen at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

In Buddhism there are two main unskillful approaches we may have towards the world: greed and aversion. Most contemporary dhamma discussions tend to revolve around mitigating aversion. To do that, we practice mettā, the other Brahmavihāras, and learn to accept and embrace the world with kindness and compassion, just as it is. So for example in his recent book After Buddhism, Stephen Batchelor glosses the first part of the Buddha’s fourfold task as “embrace life” (70).

Perhaps this present-day focus on alleviating aversion has something to do with our Western tendency towards depression, self-hatred, and cynicism. For all our apparent sunniness, we in the West tend towards negativity much of the time.

But there is a flip side to this practice, one which seems to be significantly more emphasized in the Pāli material: the antidote to greed. Greedy personalities may find that practices of accepting and embracing the world are all too easy. They reinforce our natural desire to encompass, acquire, and own. On the other hand, practices designed to highlight the unsatisfactory nature of reality may work to lessen our knee-jerk tendency to want and grasp.

The Practice of Disenchantment

Two of the four “inversions of perception” that the Buddha says constitute ignorance are taking what is suffering to be pleasurable and what is unattractive to be attractive. (Aṅguttara Nikāya 4.49). These are profound and difficult teachings: while sitting on a beach sipping a cold drink we are not naturally inclined to think of ourselves as immersed in suffering. While looking at a beautiful scene we are not naturally inclined to think of ourselves as viewing something unattractive. But in both cases this is what the Buddha suggests we contemplate, and I don’t think we can really come to terms with him until we take this practice onboard.

Perhaps the most famous practices of finding the unattractive in the attractive are the viscera and charnel-ground contemplations in the Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta (Majjhima Nikāya 10). There we are supposed to contemplate our bodies not simply as viewed from outside, but also as a list of internal organs, fluids, heats, and gases. We are supposed to contemplate our bodies not simply as living processes, but also as things that will die and decay.

While such practices are intended partly to dispel sexual tension in young monks, the practices are quite general: things that appear attractive from one perspective (outside) will not from another (inside). Things that appear attractive right now did not before, or will not at a later time. Beauty is relative, perspectival, fleeting, and hence cannot be relied upon.

The Pāli scholar K.R. Norman, following Lambert Schmithausen (1990: n.17), suggests the account of the Buddha’s awakening found in the Ariyapariyesanā Sutta (MN 26) may be the earliest. There the Buddha says he rejected the dhamma of his teachers Āḷāra Kālāma and Uddaka Rāmaputta since in each case he felt,

This doctrine is not conducive to disgust (with the world), nor dispassion, nor cessation, nor quiescence, nor super-knowledge, nor awakening, nor nibbāna.

Norman goes on to say,

We may also deduce that the words in the Buddha’s statement are in the order in which the various states mentioned in it are to be realised, starting with disgust with the world, and going on to awakening and nibbāna. This would support the belief that the Buddha’s aim was to free himself from saṃsāra, and all aspects of his teaching were concerned with the acquisition of means to do this … (1997: 30).

On this account, the key insight necessary for nibbāna is disgust with the world (abhinibbidā), which Ñāṇamoli and Bodhi translate “disenchantment”, perhaps because “disgust” has an aversive connotation that is unwelcome in this context.

The Buddha’s teachers’ focus on higher states of jhānic meditation would not have resulted in disenchantment; rather, they would have substituted disenchantment with the world for an embrace of absorptive meditative states.

Disenchantment leading to liberation: this is the classic, arguably the earliest, formulation of the aim of practice. It is a path of renunciation, but not an ascetic path. Instead it involves renunciation of our tendency to enchantment with the world. We have many useful metaphors for this process: growing up, removing the rose-colored glasses, setting aside the Disney endings. It is coming to the realization that nothing is ever perfect and only rarely and temporarily is anything good enough.

There is gratification in sense pleasures, in taking the world as beautiful. But there is danger as well, insofar as these “inversions of perception” (or mindsets of ignorance) lead us towards the further proliferation of desires. Having enjoyed our days at the beach, we look back on them sadly as we pack our bags in the hotel room, wanting more.

Such desires can lead to striving that creates worthwhile things, such as scientific or medical discoveries. But they are fundamentally unending. They foretell a future of constant unease.

This attitude of disenchantment with the world is one, I think, that seems foreign to many of us who are more used to the contemporary rhetoric of positive thinking. Disenchantment sounds so negative! We may even assume such attitudes have something to do with the Buddha’s focus on escaping the rounds of literal rebirth. No literal rebirths to escape, we may say to ourselves, no need for disenchantment with the world.

But such a response would neither be true to the practice nor to what is most fundamental in the Buddha’s dhamma.

Materialism and Disenchantment

We are primed to believe that the Buddha’s attitude towards materialism was universally negative. And indeed, negative it was.

The Buddha taught that materialist belief would lead, or at least would tend to lead, to a kind of ethical nihilism, wrong action, and bad rebirth. But interestingly that is not all that he thought about the subject. For there were many such “outsider” (bāhiraka) views that the Buddha contemplated and argued against, materialism being only one.

Buried in one sutta is the surprising claim that the materialist view is the “foremost” (aggaṃ) outsider view. For one who holds this view that “I shall not be, [and] it will not be mine”

… will not be unrepelled by existence and will not be repelled by the cessation of existence. (AN 10.29.8).

That is to say, one who holds the materialist view that one will not survive the death of one’s body will be naturally inclined towards disenchantment with existence, and therefore naturally attuned to liberation from existence.

I would argue that this is perhaps overly optimistic on the Buddha’s part. Perhaps in his day those avowed materialists with whom he was familiar (such as Ajita Kesakambalī) were wise enough to have achieved this kind of equanimity with death. If so, I would submit they were not necessarily representative of the run-of-the-mill secular materialist today.

Nevertheless the Buddha’s point is intriguing for those of us who hold to a secular approach of the dhamma. Our view may not be exactly along the lines the Buddha intended, but it is as close as one got, at least in his day. And that is for this reason: it is implicitly liberative, by teaching disenchantment with all things.

From the point of view of theology, secularist materialism is ultimately a kind of counsel of despair: there is no final salvation, no everlasting life, no Disney ending in the clouds. Instead there is the dark future of deep time and the heat death of the universe, in which nothing will escape: the footman’s snicker. It is in learning to hold such truths with equanimity that we find a kind of liberation.

Conclusion

The Dalai Lama likes to remark on how self-hatred is a contemporary Western phenomenon with little or no Tibetan counterpart. Perhaps he is right, and of course to that extent the practice of mettā and the other Brahmavihāras are particularly apt in the West. Indeed, perhaps one could argue that the relative insignificance of the Brahmavihāras in the Pāli Canon stems from the same fact the Dalai Lama points to: perhaps kindness and self-love was more prevalent and hence less in need of support 2500 years ago in India. It’s hard to say.

But then nobody is only aversive. We may incline in certain ways at certain times, we may even find ourselves expressing aversion more than greed, but we all have both tendencies in us. If anything, our contemporary consumer culture (particularly, as this is written, around the holidays) tends to heighten our acquisitive desires and reinforce whatever tendencies we naturally have to view the world through rosy glasses.

Hence perhaps as secular practitioners we should consider from time to time the natural advantage of what the Buddha termed “annihilationism”, that which made it the foremost outsider view of his day: its power to disillusion us with the world.

 

 

———————————–

Stephen Batchelor, After Buddhism (Yale, 2015).

Bhikkhu Bodhi, Various Nikāyas (Wisdom).

K.R. Norman, “Aspects of Early Buddhism,” Panels of the VIIth World Sanskrit Conference, Vol. II (Cambridge, 1990).

K.R. Norman, A Philological Approach to Buddhism (University of London, 1997).

No Comments

  1. Gregory Clement on December 16, 2015 at 4:20 pm

    Thanks for this interesting article Doug. I’d like to respond to a minor part of your argument. You say that,

    ‘Perhaps this present-day focus on alleviating aversion has something to do with our Western tendency towards depression, self-hatred, and cynicism. For all our apparent sunniness, we in the West tend towards negativity much of the time.’

    It seems to me that this paragraph is an example of the tendency that it implicitly deprecates. I mainly come across Western negativity in the writings of Westerners drawing attention to Western negativity. Is there any objective evidence of different levels of optimism in the West and the East?

    You say,

    ‘The Dalai Lama likes to remark on how self-hatred is a contemporary Western phenomenon with little or no Tibetan counterpart.’ Does he have any objective evidence for this claim?

    You say that the practice of metta is particularly apt for those in the West, but it was developed by an Easterner for Easterners. Presumably he felt they needed it. Note also that the first step in the traditional teaching on the cultivation of metta was to develop metta towards oneself. This implies that self-hatred (or at least a lack of self-love) was the first and basic problem in cultivating metta. Does the Dalai Llama think this teaching was redundant in Tibet?

    My plea is that we avoid unhelpful stereotypes, that Easterners are like this and Westerners like that. We are just people and the Buddha’s teaching is relevant to all of us.

    With Metta

    • Doug Smith on December 16, 2015 at 4:38 pm

      Good points, Gregory. My comments stemmed from the Dalai Lama’s (oft repeated) confusion with self-hatred. It’s quite possible this is simply something of his and has nothing to do with culture at all. I certainly agree that east/west stereotyping often is problematic.

      One minor point, I don’t think that metta towards oneself actually was part of the early teaching, if I am remembering correctly.

  2. Gregory Clement on December 17, 2015 at 1:44 am

    It’s in the Visuddhimagga from 430 CE. Buddhaghosa may have got this from earlier oral tradition or it may be his own invention. Either way it was a long time ago and very definitely Eastern.

    The whole question of disenchantment or disgust is an interesting one. It all sounds very discouraging to modern ears. We all know people who resolutely look for the negative in anything good that comes along. Scrooge says, Bah, humbug! to Bob Cratchit’s, ‘Merry Christmas’, and we instantly know whose side we are on in the story. And it is not that we identify with Bob even though we know Scrooge is in the right. We recognize Scrooge’s frame of mind as a perversion of our humanity.

    The teaching on the unattractive contents of the body can easily lead to the view that our bodies are disgusting. This is a mistake. At the most basic level we could say that they are both beautiful and ugly. The beauty is not obliterated by the ugliness any more than the reverse. Better would be to examine the supposedly ugly elements and to see their beauty as well. Perhaps anatomists can recognize the beauty of our internal organs.

    To take another well-used example, beautiful flowers grow out ugly soil; but to the gardener the soil is not ugly but interesting, complex, an object of care.

    The practice of mindfulness involves looking carefully at whatever comes up, however humble or unattractive it may at first appear, and making our peace with it. This is more like seeing the unattractive as beautiful, rather than trying to see the beautiful as unattractive.

    There is a lot more to say on this but that’s enough for now. Merry Christmas!

    • Doug Smith on December 17, 2015 at 6:24 am

      Re. the Visuddhimagga, indeed making the self an object of mettā is in there, but interestingly Buddhaghosa feels he has to deal with the question of why it is not in the canonical texts. (IX.9-10). And indeed part of the argument he makes is based upon the Buddha’s expressing natural self-love, rather than (e.g.) countering self-hatred. So it’s quite interesting.

      At any rate, these should be looked upon as skillful practices: it’s not that the body, world, etc. are literally beautiful or ugly, but rather that one should use the practice of seeing ugliness to counteract desire and grasping. One should perhaps also use the practice of seeing beauty to counteract any aversion we might have. Though in this latter case I don’t really think this is a practice the Buddha suggests in the texts, perhaps because the dangers of sensual enjoyment seemed to him greater than those of sensual aversion. [Edit to add: the practice of mettā is the one the Buddha would suggest to counter aversion, rather than (e.g.) seeing things as beautiful.]

      Part of the point is that contemporary folks seem to see the Path as pretty exclusively ‘life embracing’ in Batchelor’s phrase. I think if one reads the texts they are rather more ‘life renouncing’. It’s certainly the case that both are practices that may be skillful in certain circumstances and not in others, but again the latter was the emphasis, and it seems one we have lost … at least today in the West. (Though I don’t know about other places and times).

      Thanks again, Gregory.

      • Gregory Clement on December 17, 2015 at 10:18 am

        You point to the heart of the matter here, Doug. Renunciation is not at all fashionable. In fact we are deeply suspicious of cultures and systems of thought that are seen as not being life-affirming. We wag our heads sadly to see over-strict parents or women with bags on their heads. Freud taught us about the dangers of repression. Even Jesus says, ‘I am come that they might have life and have it in abundance.’

        The texts do seem pretty heavy on renunciation as you say. This might reflect the mind-set of the early translators which custom has reinforced in subsequent versions. I’d like to think that we can get to a life-embracing synthesis of the different aspects of the path. Maybe the word ‘restraint’ captures things better than ‘renunciation’. We have to train and harness our instinctive appetites rather than smothering them. This fits with all that other stuff about channelling water, shaping arrows and training elephants.

        • Doug Smith on December 17, 2015 at 11:30 am

          Yes. I think one of the tasks of the historian is to look to the texts to see if they suggest different manners of practice than those we ordinarily engage upon, and ask ourselves if those practices might also be useful in certain circumstances.

          My point about this particular practice is that it seems so very central, so very useful (as Mufi below elaborates upon), and yet so very unfashionable. It is also one that fits surprisingly well within a secular outlook, as the Buddha himself noted using different terminology.

  3. Linda on December 17, 2015 at 7:35 am

    “…the key insight necessary for nibbāna is disgust with the world (abhinibbidā), which Ñāṇamoli and Bodhi translate “disenchantment”, perhaps because “disgust” has an aversive connotation that is unwelcome in this context.”

    I suspect they translate it as “disenchantment” because it’s a better translation than “disgust” — and there is no meaning of “with the world” included in the word.

    abhi is an intensifier, ni (as mentioned in my recent article on nirodha not meaning “the end” of suffering) means to stop performing an action — in this case the action is the “bida” part which, believe it or not, shares a root with vindati “enjoys; undergoes; knows; gains. (vid + ṃ – a)” so the word is actually saying to (intensely!) stop enjoying.

    I suspect that one of the reasons we have such a hard time parsing what’s being said is precisely because we tend to limit our discussions (and therefore our understanding) to the Buddha talking about material things. But that is only one of two strings he constantly plucked — the more critical, to my mind, is the other — the world of ideas, the world of “self”. To become disenchanted with our pleasurable reactions to statements that support our beliefs, and to be come less aversive to hearing information that disagrees with ideologies we hold dear. I think metta has more to do with the thread of ideas and self rather than greed and aversion as applied to things. Metta is about people, and we react to people based on ideas at least as much as on appearances.

    • Gregory Clement on December 17, 2015 at 9:45 am

      Translation is obviously a difficult business, Linda. To stop enjoying something is different from being disgusted with it. In fact to stop enjoying something might mean that it no longer gives you pleasure, or that you have decided not to continue to indulge in it. More shades of meaning.

      Would you care to suggest a translation for the rather similar sentiment expressed in the Dhammapada, verses 277 to 279? The third line of each runs,

      ‘….atha nibbindati dukkhe…’

      • Linda on December 21, 2015 at 1:37 am

        The phrase is taken from poetry, and I am no poet. That said, though, I’d give as a literal translation, “Then he is disenchanted in dukkha.”

        “dukkhe” being locative singular it is fairly literally *in* or *into* dukkha, since it’s talking about location. So maybe, breaking down nibbindati to address the stopping of (pick one: enjoying, undergoing, knowing, gaining) into dukkha. Perhaps that we stop going into dukkha is one sense of it.

  4. mufi on December 17, 2015 at 10:05 am

    Thanks, Doug. I generally find myself leaning towards words like “dispassion” and “equanimity” (or, in a Stoic context, “apatheia”) when reflecting on and discussing more or less the same idea. But “disenchantment” seems especially apt this time of year (as you alluded), when there is so much pressure to act cheerfully and to force the season to live up to its acclaimed status of being “the most wonderful time of the year” (to quote a popular song).

    I’m hardly above feeling enchanted by the holiday crafts, food/drink, and music (even as I try to keep the gift-buying consumerism down to a minimum), but I’ve come to associate this time of year with a heightened effort at mindfulness practice, if only to counter-balance the heightened pressure to give into our market economy’s particular brand of hedonism (an economy that is to a large extent global in scope).

  5. Mark Knickelbine on December 18, 2015 at 10:11 am

    Am I the only one here whose natural reaction to the material world, and especially the materialism expressed in consumer culture, is antipathy? I practice metta heavily this time of year, primarily to help me overcome the sense of dread and disgust that holiday trappings engender in me. Only after years of metta practice have I begun to be able to enjoy some aspects of the holidays.

    Which leads to two points: As Linda correctly points out, it is our own mental proliferation that we cling to. Therefore, our disenchantment is with those mental formations, not with “the world” per se. In fact, we can’t really love people or anything else until we recognize how those habits of perception and emotion arise, and learn to let them go. Once we do, however, the heart opens naturally.

    The second point is that, as Gotama’s strategy of skillful means illustrates, no one approach to the path will be effective for everyone. We bring the path into being in our own lives, and we make it out of our own lives. That’s why our principal guide to practice must be the texture of our own lived experience, not old texts.

  6. Gregory Clement on December 18, 2015 at 2:07 pm

    Well Mark there is an ambiguity about the word materialism. I think Doug is using it to refer to the idea that the only reality is material. You are using it in the modern sense of preoccupation with material possessions. I’m a materialist in the first sense but not the second one.

    My primary reaction to the material world (in the first sense) is fascination and wonder. It might not have existed but here it is in all its dazzling complexity. I might not have existed but here I am experiencing it for a few brief years. Wind and rain, falling leaves, sticky wet soil. How amazing! (Probably it’s different where you live.)

    Consumer culture? Foolish nonsense of course, but let’s not be too hard. It’s an expression of some aspects of our humanity. We want to please people we love by giving nice things to them. Parents try to create a special day for their children. We buy nice clothes to wear because we want people to like us. It merits a wan smile and a shake of the head, but let’s not be disgusted at the way people stumble in trying to make sense of their lives.

    • Mark Knickelbine on December 22, 2015 at 4:09 pm

      My use of materialism reflected Doug’s dual use of the word. He is talking about philosophical materialism, but in the context of cultivating disenchantment for the material world, especially those parts that entice us. And he says “Greedy personalities may find that practices of accepting and embracing the world are all too easy. They reinforce our natural desire to encompass, acquire, and own.”

      In general, I don’t see the value in trying to derive some set of coherent philosophical principles from the Pali texts and then judging them in the light of Western thought. First off, the Pali texts are no where near homogenous enough to use them that way. Second off, we will never think our way to awakening, no matter how hard we try. Gotama didn’t say “sit down and memorize all this stuff and think it all through.” He said, direct awareness to the body and mind. He said, make a light of yourselves, have no other light. He said, cultivate boundless kindness, compassion, joy and equanimity. Someone who lives that way does not despair that there isn’t any afterlife or eternal reward.

      As far as consumer culture, I confess I am only expressing my own aversion. It is not based in high-minded idealism but simply in reactivity derived from painful experience. I try to remember, though I forget and forget, that every movement of the human heart has its function, it leads our life forward, it points to our shared humanity.

      • Doug Smith on December 22, 2015 at 7:30 pm

        Mark, I have never claimed that one could think oneself to awakening, and I defy you to find such a claim in my writing. On the other hand, learning the dhamma in detail is something that the Buddha says is critical to that task, although he does allow also for those who pursue a path of faith. One does not simply come to this depth of awareness of the body and mind without a deep dhammic framework. (Or without a consummate genius that very, very few of us have).

        As for coherence, I find the material in the Canon to be quite so, certainly as coherent as that of any ancient philosophical school.

        It has long seemed from your comments that you see no value in my approach. Perhaps it would be good for you to expand your thinking to encompass other approaches to learning and practice than your own. Failing that, perhaps it would be best simply to avoid my posts. If indeed they are not worhtwhile then they are not worth wasting your time on.

        • Mark Knickelbine on December 23, 2015 at 11:35 am

          Doug, I never said that you made such a claim explicitly. But your work seems entirely focused on a philosophical analysis of the Pali texts vis a vis Western philosophy. That may be an interesting and valuable academic exercise, but I confess that I find it irrelevant to the actual practice of the dharma. And given our tendency to confuse the dharma with the texts that, at best, can only point to it, I think making that point explicitly from time to time is important. Many people who come to this site are quick to conclude that Secular Buddhism is about abstruse philosophical argumentation, and there may be some service in reminding them that it is about far more than that.

          I do strive to expand my thinking in many directions, perhaps not always with enough effort or success, and certainly with a chronic shortage of time. But the directions one can expand into are limitless, which requires one to choose carefully. My only criterion for doing so is my own knowledge and experience, a limitation that applies to both of us.

          • Doug Smith on December 23, 2015 at 12:54 pm

            Mark, very little of my work involves comparing Pāli texts to western philosophy. Unlike for example Steven Batchelor who is very upfront about his comparisons with (eg) western post modernists and post modern theologians I don’t believe there are many figures in western philosophy who capture well the Buddha’s message. I am of course bringing his message into western language and a western context, as is everyone else on this site.

            The dhamma comes across to us first and foremost in texts. You may claim to find study of such texts irrelevant to your practice when in the context of my posts, but you do not in other contexts. Perhaps that is because I am bringing up elements of those texts that do not fit your preconceptions as to what the Buddha dhamma is supposed to be. Fair enough, but my analyses do come from those same texts that you find so useful. Perhaps you could stand looking from another angle.

            As for “abstruse philosophical argumentation”, I have engaged in virtually none of that here; certainly no lengthy disquisitions on dependent origination for example. I think your description of my work speaks for itself: you are not a charitable reader. That’s fine, not every approach is to every interest. As you know my background is in both western and Buddhist philosophy, as well as many years of practice. That is where my writing comes from. If your approach is to act as gatekeeper to warn off people from my posts because you feel they are wrong headed then, as I say, it is best for you simply to cease reading them. Or perhaps it is that you would prefer I not post here at all?



        • Ron Stillman on December 24, 2015 at 12:59 pm

          Doug, if I understand you correctly, my awakening in this life is predicated on learning the dhamma in detail which is critical to that task. Does that mean I need to start reading and understanding all of the suttas? I’m not sure I understand what you mean by a deep dhammic framework. What does that include?

          • Doug Smith on December 24, 2015 at 2:34 pm

            Ron, I don’t think there can be any very specific answer to that question. Personally I find reading the suttas to be very helpful to my practice, but for some people I am sure that a less formal or scholarly approach would work better. And as I mentioned before, even in the suttas themselves the Buddha highlights a distinction between dhamma followers and faith followers, the latter of whom progress more out of general confidence and devotion than through understanding per se.

            The main issue (again though, one that is found in the suttas) is one of releasing clinging to and identification with all things. This process can be achieved in many ways.



  7. JamesT on December 19, 2015 at 3:05 am

    I don’t really agree with the positioning of kamma and rebirth and materialism as opposites.

    Mind states develop as a conseqeunce of perception and our perception is influenced by our choices. Our choices may not be real choices at all, but instead compelled and practice is intended to develop a measure of freedom of choice so that we can influence our own mind states.

    The expression of our mind states in the world do influence what comes back to us from the world whilst we are alive. It is an insight, although possibly not a very deep one.

    But the Buddha also appears to have said that those mind states reimplant in another life either at birth or shortly thereafter.

    In that there arises a practical problem because no-one has identified any mechanism whereby that can occur.

    But then this is not really such a surprising doctrine. We do know that parents via genetics, and increasingly the environment via epigenetics, are very influential on mental experience.

    When one starts to go beyond clinging to the self, one realises that the scope of individuality in thought is very limited. Thoughts of the type I am writing here are not even possible without language, and I certainly didn’t invent that. And isn’t it interesting how little of what we say and think is original?

    So what you end up with is an undertanding of mind states as part of timeless flow which if one looks across history is independent of individuals. Individual brains are the vehicles for that flow and our faculties are the means of its communication but we delude ourselves that we are these thoughts and mind states.

    We all know this don’t we?

    But this is also so much easier to see in our internet connected world with its huge flows of information.

    I wonder how this insight would have appeared 2500 years ago in a much more sparesely populated localised world where the mind states of an individual had a greater impact in their locality?

    There is little doubt in fact, that our mind states wise or compelled, are affecting the emerging global concsiousness and that our attemts or failures to achieve liberation do affect how this consciousness will flow through future humans.

    It is, or at least should be, wrong as some do fact to characterise secular buddhism as mainly concerned with personal therapy, the allevaition of personal suffering.

    Rather it is properly an attempt to relieve the suffering of the world, present and future.

    • JamesT on December 19, 2015 at 4:06 am

      Just to tie this off from my introductory line, I am suggesting that the Buddha was interested in the apparent phenomenon that consciousness, or mind states, repeat down the generations and can arise in better and worse form but those forms have common elements.

      Kamma properly refers to the development of mind states and rebirth to their observable perpeutation across generations in general terms, not in the latter case of their specific appearance in individual physical bodies – although clearly the Buddha formulated it in those terms.

      Really the only difference between a contemporary and traditional buddhist view of that need be that this is not something that follows a particular individual.

      You can see however, how the traditional view restricts social action. This has always been buddhism’s weakness and it is one that secular buddhsim can overcome – although there are serious issues there about technique.

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