Sunday, August 31, 2008

Three Cheers For Crude Absolutism

Some time ago I thought of starting a web site called Dopey Dharma and inviting readers to submit the best example of nonsense taught by Buddhist teachers, outlandish claims made by them or gobbledygook they had written. Then at the end of the year I thought of selecting the best of the worst and giving them the Dopey Dharma Award. I finally abandoned the idea. Firstly I don’t have enough time and secondly I thought I might be sent so much material that it might be difficult to handle.
Last week I finished reading Miranda Shaw’s Buddhist Goddesses of India, an excellent and long overdue study. I did have problems with some parts of the book though. Including Mayadevi, the Buddha’s mother, and Mahapajapati Gotami, his step mother, is such a study is questionable (neither was never elevated to the status of a goddess, even in Mahayana) and Shaw’s failure to give the periods when the various goddesses evolved detracts from the study’s value. Nonetheless, the book makes interesting reading. On page 10/11 Shaw addresses the question of whether Tantric goddesses are real or not. She finds some Westerners ‘no they don’t’ reply to the question to be a regrettable example of ‘crude absolutism’ and then says -

‘Seeking to address this rather crude absolutism, Bokar Rimpoche, a contemporary Tibetan teacher clarifies the ontological status of the deities. He explains that the deities are not illusions produced by the human mind. However, human envisionments of deities are mental fabrications that do not correspond precisely to the form of those deities. In that sense, Bokor Rimpoche concedes, a deity can be said to be a creation of the human psyche. This illusionary statue, however, holds true only of the human concept and image and not of a deity himself or herself. The deities are realities that transcend this world and “spontaneously assume…various forms…to benefit beings.” Religious practice, he holds, is an interaction between deity and devotee that invokes the protection, assistance, blessing, and revelation of the deity. Human envisionments of deity, as in the practice of deity yoga, offers a means to approach the deity and eventually to attain a direct vision of the deity’s divine form in all its glory and living reality. When deity and practitioner merge in the culmination of deity yoga, and their identities dissolve into one, it is not because the deity was unreal all along but because the practitioner has entered the radiant, blissful realm of nonduel awareness the deity inhabits. Moreover, the practitioner comes to recognize that the qualities of the deity were already present in a dormant state in his or her own being, awaiting to be awakened.’

I’m just a simple monk so my mind can only operate in terms of the ‘crude absolutism’ of ‘Yes they do’ or ‘No they don’t.’ Bokar Rimpoche’s ‘clarification’ looses me completely. Am I right in thinking that someone is trying to avoid a simple, straightforward answer?

11 comments:

Yueheng said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Yueheng said...

Venerable, maybe there isn't always a simple, straightforward answer for everything.

Does the Buddha continue to exist after parinirvana?

Terrance said...

OK maybe things are actually very straightforward? A modern version of a "jataka" story:

"Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson go on a camping trip, set up their tent, and fall asleep. Some hours later, Holmes wakes his faithful friend.
"Watson, look up at the sky and tell me what you see."
Watson replies, "I see millions of stars."
"What does that tell you?" Holmes asked. Watson ponders for a minute.
"Astronomically speaking, it tells me that there are millions of galaxies and potentially billions of planets. Astrologically, it tells me that Saturn is in Leo. Time wise, it appears to be approximately a quarter past three. Theologically, it's evident the Lord is all-powerful and we are small and insignificant. Meteorologically, it seems we will have a beautiful day tomorrow. What does it tell you?"
Holmes is silent for a moment, then speaks. "Watson, you idiot, someone has stolen our tent."

;-)

Shravasti Dhammika said...

Very funny!

Yueheng said...

Terrance, funny stories aside, how about a very straightforward answer to the question I posed - Does the Buddha continue to exist after parinirvana?

Terrance said...

Actually that question, according to the Buddha is a non valid question. It was asked by Aggivessana Vacchagotta. See:

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/ptf/dhamma/sacca/sacca3/nibbana.html

"
What happens to one who has fully realized Nibbana?

[Aggivessana Vacchagotta:] "But, Master Gotama, the monk whose mind is thus released: Where does he reappear?"

[The Buddha:] "'Reappear,' Vaccha, doesn't apply."

"In that case, Master Gotama, he does not reappear."

"'Does not reappear,' Vaccha, doesn't apply."

"...both does & does not reappear."

"...doesn't apply."

"...neither does nor does not reappear."

"...doesn't apply."

"How is it, Master Gotama, when Master Gotama is asked if the monk reappears... does not reappear... both does & does not reappear... neither does nor does not reappear, he says, '...doesn't apply' in each case. At this point, Master Gotama, I am befuddled; at this point, confused. The modicum of clarity coming to me from your earlier conversation is now obscured."

"Of course you're befuddled, Vaccha. Of course you're confused. Deep, Vaccha, is this phenomenon, hard to see, hard to realize, tranquil, refined, beyond the scope of conjecture, subtle, to-be-experienced by the wise. For those with other views, other practices, other satisfactions, other aims, other teachers, it is difficult to know. That being the case, I will now put some questions to you. Answer as you see fit. What do you think, Vaccha: If a fire were burning in front of you, would you know that, 'This fire is burning in front of me'?"

"...yes..."

"And suppose someone were to ask you, Vaccha, 'This fire burning in front of you, dependent on what is it burning?' Thus asked, how would you reply?"

"...I would reply, 'This fire burning in front of me is burning dependent on grass & timber as its sustenance.'"

"If the fire burning in front of you were to go out, would you know that, 'This fire burning in front of me has gone out'?"

"...yes..."

"And suppose someone were to ask you, 'This fire that has gone out in front of you, in which direction from here has it gone? East? West? North? Or south?' Thus asked, how would you reply?"

"That doesn't apply, Master Gotama. Any fire burning dependent on a sustenance of grass and timber, being unnourished — from having consumed that sustenance and not being offered any other — is classified simply as 'out' (unbound)."

"Even so, Vaccha, any physical form by which one describing the Tathagata would describe him: That the Tathagata has abandoned, its root destroyed, made like a palmyra stump, deprived of the conditions of development, not destined for future arising. Freed from the classification of form, Vaccha, the Tathagata is deep, boundless, hard to fathom, like the sea. 'Reappears' doesn't apply. 'Does not reappear' doesn't apply. 'Both does & does not reappear' doesn't apply. 'Neither reappears nor does not reappear' doesn't apply.

"Any feeling... Any perception... Any mental fabrication...

"Any consciousness by which one describing the Tathagata would describe him: That the Tathagata has abandoned, its root destroyed, made like a palmyra stump, deprived of the conditions of development, not destined for future arising. Freed from the classification of consciousness, Vaccha, the Tathagata is deep, boundless, hard to fathom, like the sea."

— MN 72
"

Yueheng said...

I'm aware that the question was considered by the Buddha to be an unprofitable question, probably because there was no simple straightforward answer to it. If the Buddha had answered in the affirmative, he would have been thought to be propounding eternalism. If he had answered in the negative, it would have perceived to be nihilistic. Or perhaps the answer is simply beyond human conception. Which just goes to show that there isn't always a simple, straightforward answer for everything. And it isn't always possible to take an approach of "crude absolutism" for understanding Buddhist teachings, especially when it comes to something as complicated as the ontological status of deities and bodhisattvas in Mahayana Buddhism.

Terrance said...

Just like to comment that, The Teaching of The Buddha is within our understanding. And nothing has been hidden from us, if we are seeking Awakening.

YueHeng, you might want to attend some of Bante's Sutta and Dhamma sessions as both of you are actually on the same island of Singapore. I know for a fact that Bante Dhammika conducts very good classes! :-)

Anyway, on the Knowledge to Awakening, thus have I heard:

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn56/sn56.031.than.html

"
SN 56.31
Simsapa Sutta
The Simsapa Leaves
Translated from the Pali by
Thanissaro Bhikkhu


Once the Blessed One was staying at Kosambi in the simsapa1 forest. Then, picking up a few simsapa leaves with his hand, he asked the monks, "What do you think, monks: Which are more numerous, the few simsapa leaves in my hand or those overhead in the simsapa forest?"

"The leaves in the hand of the Blessed One are few in number, lord. Those overhead in the simsapa forest are more numerous."

"In the same way, monks, those things that I have known with direct knowledge but have not taught are far more numerous [than what I have taught]. And why haven't I taught them? Because they are not connected with the goal, do not relate to the rudiments of the holy life, and do not lead to disenchantment, to dispassion, to cessation, to calm, to direct knowledge, to self-awakening, to Unbinding. That is why I have not taught them.

"And what have I taught? 'This is stress... This is the origination of stress... This is the cessation of stress... This is the path of practice leading to the cessation of stress': This is what I have taught. And why have I taught these things? Because they are connected with the goal, relate to the rudiments of the holy life, and lead to disenchantment, to dispassion, to cessation, to calm, to direct knowledge, to self-awakening, to Unbinding. This is why I have taught them.

"Therefore your duty is the contemplation, 'This is stress... This is the origination of stress... This is the cessation of stress.' Your duty is the contemplation, 'This is the path of practice leading to the cessation of stress.'"

"

Soe Min said...

I guess the buddha might have considered the ontological status of deities to be unprofitable too. He might skip the question altogether or answer it in a way to redirect the focus on what is required like in the Tevijja Sutta, which is the subject of our discussion this later this evening. When two young brahmins went to Gotama Buddha to ask about the path leading to union with Brahma. The buddha redefines union with Brahma with perfection in the holy life.

Yueheng said...

Terrance:

Thank you for the recommendation, though the Buddha Dhamma Mandala Centre is rather far from where I stay to be able to come regularly. I have met Venerable Dhammika once last year when I came across the center by chance and walked in to take a look. We had a very interesting discussion on Buddhism and other religions.

Viyolina said...

Great post. My question is does the Buddha continue to exist after parinirvana? how to get your ex back !venapro