Monday, February 15, 2010

Humanism And Buddhism

Read this interesting and well-written article on humanism, the prevailing secular philosophical outlook in the West today, and the Buddha’s teachings.


Scott said...

Thanks for pointing out this interesting essay. I must confess that I have some reservations about some of the content.

The part that concerned me the most is the discussion of the Kalama Sutta. Quite simply the quote from this sutta given in the essay does not seem accurate. Mr. Gunasekara renders this as "But after observation and analysis when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conductive to the good and benefit of one and all then accept it and live up to it." In fact no version of the Kalama Sutta that I've seen says anything about "agreeing with reason" as being a reason to accept a belief. In fact logic, inference, and probability are listed in this sutta among the bad reasons to adhere to a belief! (Access to Insight's translation goes "So, as I said, Kalamas: 'Don't go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, "This contemplative is our teacher.") Footnote 9 notes that the extract the author puts forward here only listed 5 of the 10 conditions that shouldn't be a basis for belief. I find it disturbing that the other 5, many of which are objectionable to humanists, are omitted, while the phrase "agreeing with reason" is inserted as an apparent interpolation. Am I wrong in thinking that the writer is probably deliberately misquoting a sutta here to make humanist and Buddhist epistemology seem more consistent than they are?

Scott said...

Continuing on these lines, I wonder whether the author is understating the vital role of rebirth and kamma in the Buddhist system. ("While the core propositions of Buddhism are verifiable, and indeed the Buddha asked that his disciples verify them before accepting them, there are some propositions particularly those relating to rebirth and karma which cannot be verified in a scientific manner (even though they cannot be disproved either).")

Without a belief in a literal rebirth, does the Buddhist lose the basis for pursuing the 8-fold path? As one bhikkhu put it to me once, "If I didn't belief in rebirth, I'd be much better off pursuing pleasure and having a good time until I die. While not a good strategy in the long run, in the short span of one human lifetime you can't really do better."

I'd be interested in hearing your own thoughts about whether a Buddhist can really discard with belief in physical rebirth, and what you think about thinkers such as Buddhadasa and Stephen Batchelor who have suggested such a thing.

imblogiful said...

These are good points, Scott, especially the point about rebirth. Like many who have studied Buddhism, the first sutra I learned was the Kalama Sutra, and I think its message is what attracts many rational-minded Westerners such as myself.

However, you are right, Buddhism is also a faith-based religion when it comes to the supernatural elements of Kamma and rebirth. Though I can certainly accept a Kamma within this lifetime, I have trouble with the supernatural. And yes, if this life is all there is, it would certainly change some priorities in my mind.

yuri said...

I understand the part of the Sutta devoted to four solaces states that absence of faith in rebirth or in the law of kamma will not hinder one to achieve the state of purification. I accept what the Buddha taught about births and kamma as plausible. Yet I do not worry much about these things, as Buddhist practice has changed me in many ways, made me happier and less selfish, and more understanding and kind towards other people. And I won't trade peace of mind I have here and now for any belief in a happier rebirth.

David ( said...

There are about a million or so different versions of the Kalama Sutta out there, but one of the original translations is the PTS and it states, "don't go by specious reasoning . . ."
which is not to go by mere logic and inference alone. Thus, logic and inference are good, but not a superficial based logic or inference.

Celestial Horizon said...

Thanks for sharing this article. It provides a comparison which I've not come across and the points in 5) & 6) are well thought out by the author.

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