Nibbana tangent part 1 (Agnosticism)

by dhw, Thursday, May 16, 2024, 11:26 (28 days ago) @ xeno6696

First and foremost, it’s clear that Buddhism has been of enormous help to you, just as religious faith can be of enormous help to believers, and since nobody knows the ultimate truth about any of the matters we discuss, I’ve no desire to cast shadows. In fact most of what you write makes perfect sense to me, but there are some areas which I find confusing and even off-putting. This may well be because of misunderstandings on my part, but as I said before, perhaps you will be able to enlighten me!

MATT: […] the first jhana, which is accompanied by applied and sustained thought, with rapture and pleasure born of seclusion.

dhw: Rapture and pleasure seem mighty positive to me, but at a single stroke the jhana eliminates what for me is the greatest imaginable source of rapture and pleasure, which is love for others, including partner and children. Seclusion demands absolute focus on the self, which contradicts what I thought was another central precept of Buddhism: empathy and compassion for others.

MATT: To be direct, it isn't possible to reach the first jhana if you aren't engaging in empathy and compassion for others. Just, full stop, it's never going to happen.

Forgive me, but I don’t understand this. You seem to be saying initially that prior to becoming a monk, your Buddhist has experienced the rapture of love and has shown compassion etc., but now leaves all that behind him in order to focus purely on himself. But then you say it’s never going to happen, so are you telling us that only misery-guts who have had lousy lives will enter the monastery? How can the rapture of isolation teach you to love and be kind to others? And how does begging teach you to be compassionate when all it does is make YOU the recipient of compassion?

MATT: Part of the problem here, if I may make a suggestion, is that I think you find it difficult to see why someone would want to become a monk.

No, I can quite understand that someone who is having a rotten life might want to get away from the causes of their rotten life. But I find it difficult to see why a philosophy which apparently supports the concept of love for others tells us to abandon others and focus on ourselves “in seclusion”.

Upekkha: equanimity – impartiality towards living beings (opposite: attachment and resentment).
MATT: […] I suspect Upekkha might give you heartburn…

Yes, it does. Impartiality implies no feelings, and it is not the opposite of resentment. Empathy and compassion towards living beings is what I would expect as the ideal opposite.

MATT: I feel the issue you might have is less with equanimity and more with attachment. The best way I can explain this, is that attachment implies a notion of control. […]when you see the word "attachment" in Buddhism, you should be thinking more along the lines of a love that does not control or make demands. […] Any feeling that creates a sense of possession ought to be discarded. "This is ME! That is MINE!" are OK with a healthy detachment.

I have no idea why you think attachment implies control, especially in the context of love. Of course relationships break down if one partner takes no notice of the other’s needs. If you think that form of attachment implies control, you need a language lesson and a marriage guidance counsellor! And your last comment seems to me to be contradictory. I possess my house and my worldly goods, and my students thanked me for the help I gave them, and the audience cheered my last play production. I get pleasure out of “this is me and mine”. Why should I “discard” that sense? But then you say I needn’t discard it if I have a healthy detachment. Thank you! My view is that there is intrinsically nothing whatsoever wrong with possession or with thinking in terms of this is me/mine. But as in most areas of human life, something perfectly “healthy” can turn into something extremely unhealthy when carried to extremes, e.g. the only thing that matters in life is that I should own as much property as I can get, and to hell with the damage I cause to other people. (See Part Two for my concept of a "healthy" balance.)


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