In the interest of (maybe) a new discussion... (Agnosticism)

by dhw, Monday, December 12, 2022, 14:08 (590 days ago) @ xeno6696

xeno: […] The common thread between Buddhist asceticism and well, all asceticism really is a rejection of the never-ending hamster wheel of wants and desires. Rejection isn't the right word though, because Buddhism's goal is to ideally have us be mentally present and not in the semi-conscious state that we tend to live in for most of our lives. The idea isn't to *reject* pleasures, but not to attach to them. Like, eat one chocolate, but not the entire box in a single sitting.

I don’t know why eating one chocolate constitutes full consciousness and hogging the whole box = semi-consciousness, or why the desire for one chocolate isn’t a desire, or why having wants and desires = semi-consciousness. You’re proposing that we should indulge our wants and desires in moderation, but that’s not what I understand by Ajahn Brahmali’s Buddhism, and in any case I don’t think it would cause much disagreement in non-Buddhist or secular Buddhist circles!

Next comes the discussion of “eternalists” versus “materialists”:

xeno: As suggested in the podcast, the Buddha proposed a "middle path" which says "It's not either/or, its both." I wish he went into more detail here.

I’m afraid this is a major problem, and Brahmali simply glosses it over. He goes on and on about rebirth being a (the?) central point. David and I are in total agreement on this. What/who are we when we are reborn – and what is reborn if there is no immaterial “soul”?

xeno: the key Buddhist observation […] is that when you observe your own thoughts, eventually you figure out that you're not in control of the majority of what's going on in that mind of yours. […] We don't even truly own our bodies... they are subject to aging and decay. Who you are as a person changes over time, so what we typically take of as a "self" is an illusion. […] So the first big thing we do as Buddhists, is to try and get in tune with our minds so that way we are always observing the process.

I don’t recall this being discussed in the podcast (maybe I nodded off?), but it’s nothing more than the question of whether or not we have free will. Did Gotama really teach you to remember that you act like a zombie though you think you’re an autonomous being? I don’t think my “self” is an illusion. I may not be in control of what makes me “me”, and I have changed and am still changing, but I’m fully aware of my personal characteristics, and I challenge the right of anyone to tell me these are “illusory”. If secular Buddhists dislike all this vagueness, I’m on their side, and Brahmali’s failure to address these problems makes me hostile to his calling their doubts “baloney”!

xeno: And I mean, if you're worried about what we give up, my percepts are 1) Don't kill 2.) Don't steal 3.) If I'm in a committed relationship don't break the rules 4.) Don't use intoxicants that lead to carelessness 5.) Don't speak unskillfully. (Other religions: 'don't lie' but Buddhists understand that there are moral or ethical times where lying is appropriate.) Core to the practice is Mudita (Other's joys), Metta (Loving kindness for all beings), and of course lots of meditation involving the deconstruction of our perceptions.

I think all of us would approve of your precepts and “core”, but I have no idea if these represent the teachings of the Buddha, especially since one of Brahmali’s key issues is monasticism, which “secular” Buddhists seem to have turned their backs on. How do you show your loving kindness and concern for other people’s joys if you shut yourself up in a monastery? And what happens to the human race if sexual desires have to be overcome? And once we have deconstructed our perceptions etc., what are we supposed to do with that knowledge? Be reborn as whatever, keep suffering and deluding ourselves, until eventually one of us realizes it just ain’t worth living life on Earth, so we’re better off lying permanently under it! As I suggested before, Nirvana = permanent death!

The rest of your post asks virtually the same questions as my own, and what I have written is just my response to the statements above. I sense that you reject Ajahn Brahmali’s dismissal of “secular” Buddhism as baloney. He seems to have dodged all the issues that you have difficulty with yourself! I’ll skip to your final remark:

xeno: Whether or not Rebirth is a relevant concept for me to consider in THIS life, I don't know, but I DO know that if people like myself took a much longer view of their lives, we might actually live in a kinder, gentler place.

I think that message would apply to most religions and to humanism as well, but I would put it slightly differently. If people like and unlike myself would take a less egotistical view of themselves and would treat others in the way they themselves would wish to be treated, we might all live in a kinder, gentler place.

Thank you again for giving us a new topic to discuss. I’ll be interested to hear what your monk has to say in response to your own questions, though I wonder if he is a “secular” Buddhist himself!


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