Thursday 22 November 2018

What Does Christianity Have that Buddhism Doesn't?

I wrote this as a comment in reply to a question on the Free Will and Evil post. The image popped into my head as I was writing my reply and because I think it does illustrate something important about the difference between the two religions I have rescued it from its relative obscurity there and brought into the (relative!) light of day.

I wrote as follows:

"The Buddhist position is a well-established and coherent one and is worth taking very seriously even if, as I believe, it does fall at the final hurdle.

What I mean is that it approaches consciousness by going to its roots and seeing these as primal which they may be but then that ignores that roots grow and give form to branches, flowers and fruit etc, and these can't just be dismissed. They are part of the whole thing and maybe the reason for the whole thing. In terms of creation or manifestation anyway. So, I think that is what the position you mention does (Note: the Buddhist position of liberation from all aspects of the phenomenal world).  It's a valid position but I think it misses the purpose of our being here and having these pesky selves in the first place. It essentially misses out on the truth of relationship which, when all is said and done, might be at the heart of the reason for everything that is and why there is something rather than nothing."

This is what religions and philosophies that, in whatever way, reject the reality of the created world do.  They ignore purpose and they think that the relative (as one might call it) adds nothing to the absolute. But God is creative almost above all else and what he creates is not only good but always adds more to the whole. Christ came that we might have life and have it more abundantly. Ultimately it is the life more abundant that distinguishes the Christian vision from the Buddhist.


Unknown said...

This is a very interesting perspective, that God adds to the whole and improves it and makes it more perfect, and that we participate in this task, and therefore life is about growth, improvement, striving. But there is also a certain amount of anxiety because one can fail, and there is the sense that any given moment in time is incomplete and inadequate. So the genuine joy of this attitude, which I do not doubt, seems a little bit undermined by concern and a feeling of lack.

An alternative notion is creation is already infinitely and that we must awaken to this fact and when we do, life is about exploring and celebrating, and expressing, the beauty and wonder of gods infinitely good creation.

Did God create the world to make up for a deficiency or to celebrate perfection? Did he create out of a joyful feeling of overflowing gratitude and energy, or a sense that things weren't quite sufficient and needed to be improved?

Our intuitions about this will guide the kind of life we live and the job of art we try and create. Whether our art seeks to express beauty or is in search of it. If our creativity comes from a feeling of lack or a feeling of wholeness.

Underlying this notion is whether relationship has to be created as an effort of will or whether relationship is our birthright and cannot be lost, and we have only to awaken to this fact.

The illusion to which Buddhism refers isn't that the phenomenal worlds exists, but that it is composed of isolated fragments - the kind of world our logical minds show us. Buddhists say that while logic is useful it can receive us.

When I walk through a beautiful forest, do I explore it with fascination for its infinite mysteries and rapture at its excellence, or do I seek to gain something from the experience that has to do with improving.

Both attitudes have been legitimately expressed in all religions including Buddhism and Christianity.

And this cannot be resolved by logic, but is a matter of our deepest intuition. And may be we should be understanding and sympathetic towards anyone who differs from us on this fundamental matter.

William Wildblood said...

There's no contradiction between the fact that this moment is perfect and complete in itself and the fact that life is always capable of more. That it can grow and expand ceaselessly.

you say" Did God create the world to make up for a deficiency or to celebrate perfection? Did he create out of a joyful feeling of overflowing gratitude and energy, or a sense that things weren't quite sufficient and needed to be improved?". None of those. He created out of love and the desire to express himself but this is not a static thing. He also wanted to share his bounty which is why created us, his children.

Unknown said...

Who knows :)

All this logic chopping and subtle argumentation on matters none of us can know....its just vanity.

A mind of faith. In God and in life. Life isn't a problem to be solved intellectually.

Good luck, William. I hope you find peace.

Chris said...

Unknown , I’m sympathetic with what you are saying . Nevertheless , none of us can follow a spiritual way , let alone describe it to others , without using our minds to some extent , and that fact results inconsiderable irony. What are we to make of someone who knows better than others that logic/reason is of no importance ?

Chris said...

For those who are not moved by some kind of spiritual universalism , the data of revelation is preeminent . With regards to Christianity, it is the Incarnation that is of supreme importance . But, for me , there is a problem that lays in the fact that the particulars of Revelation require interpretation and that means that there must be a worldview through which the data of Revelation is passed through .

So , for example , from the perspective of unqualified nondualism , the meaning of the Incarnation necessarily is very different that of classical theism .

But, as you alluded to, the question of worldview seems to beyond the scope of human reason . Perhaps esoterism / mysticism can help? I don’t think so . Even mystical experience is mediated by worldview .

Unknown said...

Chris - I think our sense of alienation and unhappiness actually comes entirely from the misuse - or overuse - of the intellect.

There is a bit of an irony here because we must now use the intellect to overcome itself :)

It is possible to live life without interpreting at all, or having any world view.

The source of our suffering may be our need to cling to world views.

I think life is perfect just as it is - but we grow up with people telling us our spontaneous and natural selves are bad. So we begin analyzing life rather than living it - it become a a "problem".

But this analyzing itself is the disease. Religions are based on this insight. The good ones that least.

This is my view, I think, but whatever one needs to be finally reconciled to life - at peace and feeling whole - is good.

Good luck.

Unknown said...

Put another way, Chris, when it comes to metaphysics the proper function of the intellect is not to spin out a highly dubious system that doesn't even convince the person who created it - as they typically then feel the need to suppress those who disagree with them and often respond with anger or impatience to differences of opinion.

Rather, the true function of the intellect when it comes to metaphysics is self-criticism - to prevent the intellect from being wrongly used.

That's the Buddhist view, the mystic view, and many Christian sects view.

Unknown said...

I think I need to apologize for all the things I said on this blog. I do not fit in with what you guys are about, and you guys have a right to be who you are and you don't need me saying different things and bothering you.

So - thank you all, you've helped me develop my own path, but I sense tension, and I should probably go my own way.

Good luck guys, I hope it all goes well with you, but I should probably stop commenting.

Chris said...

Unknown , I can’t speak for others , but you are certainly not bothering me . With regards to tension , I think a little tension can be constructive .

Your view seems to line up with Krishnamurti’s - is that a fair assessment ?

William Wildblood said...

I have no problem with your comments at all, Unknown. I appreciate your points and you're very welcome to carry on making them here if you want to.

Unknown said...

Chris -

I suspect I am similar to K, although I have not read that much of his so I can't say for sure.

My position exists in all religions, although perhaps most fully in Zen, but even here in just one strand of it.

St Thomas Acquinas had a mystic vision and gave up writing as useless.

I think all religions tend towards simple faith and acceptance - what do you think the result of spinning out an elaborate metaphysics can possibly be? It all ends in silence.

But it may be that the spinning out is necessary to see its futility.

But the important thing is to reconcile your self to the world - heal the split. If you need elaborate metaphysics or a belief in growth to make peace with existence then go for it.

Thanks William!

Bruce Charlton said...

@William - I think we Westerners have a tendency to compare a very personal/ individual and abstracted form of Buddhism on the one hand, with actual Christian church practice on the other hand. Whereas it would make more sense to compare like with like - in order to discover the contrast.

This became clear when I was stidying the Eastern Orthodox ('Hesychast') mystical tradition, and what they were striving for; and Zen Buddhist meditation and what they were striving for. They are almost opposites!

So the broad similarity in practice of meditation (monasteries, monks sitting silently for long periods etc) masks a profound difference in the direction of spiritual striving.

They can't Both be right (although they could both be wrong).

William Wildblood said...

That makes a lot of sense, Bruce, in that motive is all important in spiritual practice.

The other thing to do, I would say, is simply to compare the originators of both religions; that is , Christ and the Buddha. They are the causes of everything else. And what they teach is fundamentally different. It really is even if there are similarities.

Unknown said...

Chris -

One of the best descriptions of the Zen/Taoist attitude within a Christian framework that avoids the sometimes hard to understand (for moderns) language of mysticism is Montaigne's essay Apology for Raymond Sebond.

Montaigne in general is excellent - one of the last great Western exponents of the Old Wisdom, and he can bridge the gap for us because he wrote on the cusp of modernity and avoided the mystifying language of the great Medieval mystics but used a clear, simple idiom very accessible to the modern mentality.

He was a great Christian who intuited the heart of Christianity as the great mystics had done. I am often reminded there is no need to turn to Zen or Buddhism to get these truths - unless of course one wishes to.

One of the timeless truths of all genuine religion is that the intellect and understanding cannot bring us happiness, and that we humans are rather puny in the grand scheme of things. The vanity and pride of modern times obscures this great truth for us, and we need to be periodically reminded if it.

Apologies to William because this is s philosophy that is very different than that of this blog :)

Chris said...

Hi Unknown,

I think you are probably right about Montaigne- I always associated him with Pyrrhonism which I believe is the closest thing to Buddhism in the Western tradition. When you referred to the "Old Wisdom", my thoughts immediately went to something like the Sanatana Dharma. Speaking as someone heavily influenced by the idea of a "Primordial Tradition" , I find it increasingly difficult to sustain the claim that Christianity does, in fact, have a nondual "mystical" core. The fundamental point of contention centering on the conclusions arrived at by the radical apophasis of unqualified nondualism. You could call this the metaphysics of no metaphysics. This is what I think you are trying to communicate. But, I'm skeptical of it. I'm skeptical of the skepticism.

According to this doctrine, the Absolute, being Infinite, cannot be limited in any way, even by itself, that is even Being itself. The category of "Beyond Being" or the the "clear light of the void" precipitates the doctrine that everything other than the "Pure Absolute" is an appearance, that is, neither real nor unreal. Real only from perspective of relativity, but not real in the ultimate sense. This is the famous doctrine of illusion.

William has written extensively on this subject and why it is problematic. I'm undecided.

Chris said...

What's super interesting to me is how the Advaitan position that I just referred to was largely an effort to maintain the radical apophasis of Buddhism and to also affirm some kind of realism- hence the doctrine of superimposition. But many Vedantists concluded that the effort didn't really succeed, that it was more of a word game than anything else. So ,then we got various articulations of qualified nondualism to "solve" the problem. I think they did succeed in dealing with the problem of realism, but then effectively compromised Divine transcendence. Ultimately, nondualism gets rejected in favor of a more Western style theistic transcendental dualism- which has problems of its own.

Now, I realize that you would say that when these mental gymnastics have finally exhausted us, a holy silence should ensue- the emergence of an orthopraxy over an orthodoxy. But the extent to which this practice or spiritual way is an orthopraxy , don't we actually have something very much like an orthodoxy?

Perhaps the practice need not be an orthopraxy, perhaps it can be totally individual - the spiritual but not religious view. I must say that I'm suspicious, most of all, of that position.

Unknown said...

Hi Chris -

The modern cast of mind is positivist - it wants to make positive affirmations about reality. It wants to claim that it knows - at least something.

This is why the modern mind has such a hard time understanding the mystics. It converts every mystic statement into a positive affirmation about reality, as a piece of knowledge.

If I say I don't know - then at least I know that I don't know, right? Its also a contradiction. If I know that I don't know, then I know, which cancels out the statement. That's how I just converted a negative statement into a positive affirmation and a piece of knowledge (and showed that logic cannot possibly capture reality, but that's another story)

If I say non duality, the modern mind will convert it into the positive statement that everything is One - which is now a piece of knowledge about ultimate reality.(and a new duality, as one can be distinguished from two)

If I say the undifferentiated, or the Absolute, then the positivist mind will imagine a sort of bland substance without qualities. It will convert it into knowledge - if a rather boring piece of knowledge.

When you say you are skeptical of skepticism that is the true Pyrrhonian position - and the true Buddhist and Christian mystic position.

Skepticism as a positive affirmation - as reality is unknowable, is just as much a positive view as anything and should be discarded.

The point is merely to negate every opinion without putting any other opinion its place - to have done with intellectualism. To throw away the ladder once you've climbed it.

Buddhist emptiness is not a statement about ultimate reality - it merely negates any statement you make. Nagarjuna says if, after negating all statements, you then convert emptiness into a positive affirmation about ultimate reality you have undone all your work.

What is left when all views are gone, even the view that reality can't be captured in views?

Freedom. A sense of wonder and magic. You approach the world with openness - not from behind the settlements of a view. You have trust and faith in the world

Unknown said...

Now, this view is found within a Christian framework by the great mystics but it is also found surprisingly scattered throughout the main body of Christian writings, from st Augustine to st Thomas Aquinas to eclectic writers like Montaigne.

Trust in God and have faith, don't investigate too deeply or inquire too much, have peace of mind - understand ultimate reality and God is so vast and majestic as to be beyond your ken.

Is any shaky edifice if metaphysics as conducive to happiness and peace of mind as acceptance of mystery?

And the greatest wisdom of the most intelligent people - has it not always just come back to acceptance of mystery?

Is it not only the people who don't see very deeply that can rest content with an intellectual metaphysics, where any outsider can pick a million holes in?

"But the extent to which this practice or spiritual way is an orthopraxy , don't we actually have something very much like an orthodoxy?

Perhaps the practice need not be an orthopraxy, perhaps it can be totally individual - the spiritual but not religious view. I must say that I'm suspicious, most of all, of that position."

Now, in regards to practice, the corollary of this view is that you more or less follow accepted wisdom and received custom - you have inward freedom, and are not oppressed by the sense that society represent eternal laws rather than expedients in order to live. You are free, but because of that, you don't need to be a rebel.

Now, this kind of liberation and freedom and direct sense of the divine unmediated by intellect or society can be subversive and even dangerous.

That is why traditionally, before this wisdom was imparted there was a screening process for character and sometimes a long preparatory training and discipline was mandated - at the end of which, the true pointlessness of it all was revealed.

It was "esoteric" and always revealed within a structure of discipline. But this has all been lost now, and these doctrines are dangerous but it is up to us to figure out how to mitigate them.

However, the doctrines mitigate their own destructiveness - if you accept your inability to know, you are more humble and less proud, and you have less interest in negative behavior. You are free.

Chris said...


Thanks for your response.

I get it.

Your last statement reminded me of why I believe that spiritual temperament is central to this discussion.

"Freedom, wonder, openness, etc." Yes, absolutely. But, whether you realize it or not, this perspective tacitly subordinates the path of love by relegating persons, even the Divine Person, to a "lower level" of reality, to the domain of illusion.

Unknown said...

Hi Chris -

Why is love not possible? When we abandon all standpoints and open ourselves to life, it seems to me love is very possible.

Conversely, a viewpoint can often make us act uncharitably and unlovingly to others - we dislike those who disagree with us, we fight them, try and suppress them, etc. The world is a gloomy battle between good and evil.

A viewpoint is fundamentally divisive - historically it led to wars and persecutions, not love. And it cannot be denied that there has historically been as much love in the Buddhist world as the Christian.

Viewpoints come from fear - we cling to them for security amid the flux. Buddhists and mystics say we will only increase our fear and misery that way - and that accepting impermanence is what frees us.

This desire to grab gold of things for security may be our problem. The attitude Jesus recommends is different - don't think too much of your security (God clothes the lilies of the field and he will you), and have an attitude of faith and trust.

Acceptance of insecurity is what frees us.

Unknown said...

Chris - what are you after?

Are you after a metaphysics that describes ultimate reality and a sense of purpose and goal?

If yes, then what's stopping you? You seem to be unsure - torn between what I am describing and the desire for a metaphysics. I can relate to that. In Zen the search is supposed to begin in a "Great Doubt" - only that can lead to enlightenment. Later, Zen tries yo artificially create a great doubt in its seekers, but that's already a mistake. The funny thing is - in Zen, the doubt is never resolved! You are led to see the meaninglessness of questioning. Zen is said to be like a ball of molten lead you can't swallow or spit out - you accept that the issue is unresolveable.

It's similar to Wittgenstein when he says questions are transcended not resolved.

The smartest men have been arguing about this for millenia - will we finally figure it out today? Do you find Charlton elaborate metaphysics, with its "primary assumptions" he refuses to question, so convincing as to dispel your doubts? (I'm guessing not). It's just one more entry in fantastically long list of entries. What about Williams? Does William know all he says he knows about God?

I am merely exposing you to my attitude - but if it doesn't find an echo within you, then it may not be for you. When I first encountered these views I responded with relaxation and happiness. There was an echo within me.

I would encourage you to read Montaigne essy about Sebond - i'm rereading it now and it is superlative in its evisceration of all positive metaphysics.

If you read it and it finds no echo in you, then maybe you need a positive metaphysics - but it sounds like you have a ball of molten metal trapped in your throat :)

And maybe in the end you will transcend the question rather than solve it.

Unknown said...

In other words, the point may not be to gain some new piece of knowledge - what would adding to what we already know benefit us?

The point rather is to see the old familiar things under a new light.

Chris said...

Hi UK,

The position of "the" mystics you are fleshing out, that of "quintessential esoterism" as the Perennialists would say, is attractive, both intellectually and experientially.

Trouble is, love , by definition, entails reciprocity. It takes two to tango, after all. The unreality of difference could be a problem for genuine love, no? Also, I think the principle of grace is difficult to make sense in the non-theistic systems.

".....molten metal trapped in your throat" -ha! I like that. Sadly, it might be more true than I'm willing to admit.

Chris said...

Substance metaphysics and process metaphysics- I don't see how they can both be true.

Unknown said...

This difference/unity is a false dichotomy.

While its true you can't love unless there is difference, and you emphasize that, it is also true you cannot love unless there is connection - but this you do not emphasize.

Now, difference and unity are actually the same thing in the following manner - you cannot have hot without cold. Their difference is precisely their unity.

Imagine there was only cold - a constant cold temperature that never changed. You would have no concept of cold or even of temperature whatsoever.

So - difference IS unity.

By wanting only one side of a pair you actually end up annihilating the world.

In Buddhism they say Samsara IS Nirvana - and the mystics say the world is a unity and perfect and we have nothing to fear. Because evil cannot win. A world of only evil would annihilate itself.

Now, Buddhism is the Middle Way - it does not deny difference, or affirm it. And Nagaejuna described his philosophy as the Middle Philosophy.

If they simply denied difference, that's an extreme position, and could not be called middle in any fashion.

In ancient India, the world was divided between saddhus who were busy transcending the world and princes and merchants who were materialistic and egoistic.

Both of these are rejection of the world - any extreme, either of transcendence or material aggrandizement, are forms of not accepting the world and your self.

The Buddha perceived rejection led to suffering - he called it desire, or behavior towards a future goal, which is rejection - and proposed the middle way, which was acceptance.

Philosophically, the middle way is neither affirming not denying. In ancient India, everyone was either affirming the soul or denying it, affirming the reality of the world or denying it. This led to endless controversy and much suffering. The Buddha say a way out in the middle way.

Mysticism similarly does not make one-sided statements about the world.

Process metaphysics and substance metaphysics are again a false dichotomy - you do not have to affirm or deny either.

Your problem may be that you have a need to "take sides" - choose ONE standpoint - in a world where all sides imply each other.

Unknown said...

As for deity, who says there isn't a deity? Certainly Buddhists dont deny it.It may be we cannot know the deity, and must accept him on faith, as a mystery. The deity of the mystics.

And this is much more conducive to peace of mind and happiness than spinning out endless theories we can never verify.

Let's face it - all of us want an end to suffering, or chronic dissatisfaction. Buddah just said it more clearly, but that's what all religions are after.

The question must be asked - does trying to understand ultimate reality assist in this? Or is it just human vanity and pride?

Is the quest for greatness just a form of not accepting the world or ourselves and thus a source of misery? And is desiring to know ultimate reality just a form of our quest for greatness?

Chris said...

Quickly, a couple of things.......

Your excellent defense of nondualism can easily be applied to the Trinity . Interesting that .

Do you regard the Buddha and the Tradition that followed as Revelation ?

Unknown said...

Absolutely, I think the Trinity illustrates the same concept, and I believe some kind of trinity is found in other traditions as well.

Do I regard Buddhism as revelation? That's an interesting question. On one level nothing has been revealed - no body of knowledge. On another level to realize that our attempt to know can act as a screen between us and the magic of the world can be said to be an inspiration that comes from a mind not functioning on an everyday level.

I have to think on that one.

Chris said...

There is an important point that can’t be overlooked - I think the traditional Christian could respond to what you said in saying “Yes, Buddhism makes perfect sense. I could even be convinced that it’s true . If Christ never entered the picture . But He did , so the conversation is eclipsed .”

Unknown said...

Chris - I don't think anyone needs to go to Buddhism if they are not feeling it.

There's no reason to. Stay within Christianity.

Accept the Revelation and have faith in God. Don't inquire too deeply into the nature of ultimate because you will never understand it. Recognize your dependence on God and that you are nothing on your own.

I'm not actually telling you to do these things :) Just that his would give you the same peace of mind as Buddhism.

Or, if you want to strive for greatness and understanding through your own efforts, go for it. Maybe that's the best way for you to get reconcile with the world.

The point is if if you are dissatisfied and unhappy - if you are, there is a school of thought that says clinging to statements about ultimate reality and striving for personal greatness is the source of our dissatisfaction.

If this does not seem right to you, then reject it.

From my view, the point is to avoid suffering and chronic dissatisfaction. But you have to do what works for you. I do not morally judge you - at most I would think you are making a mistake and will only mire your self in more suffering. But that's not be moral judgement or a condemnation of you.

William Wildblood said...

Unknown, it appears to me that a lot of what you are saying here denies the reality of what a human being is and replaces the wholeness of that with a retreat into the uncreated aspect of being. And this actually reduces the created aspect to near irrelevance. However much you may claim it doesn’t, it does.

But what if this created aspect and its development is what life is all about? Then to retreat from it is not only a dereliction of duty but a refusal of God's gift. And here's the point. For Buddhism and non-duality, God is just not important and that's because creation is not important and that means, yes it does, whatever you may try to rationalize away, other people are not important. No one disputes that behind differentiation there is oneness but non-duality uses that fact to reduce the differences to insignificance, in fact effective non-existence. It may say it doesn’t, probably because on one level it knows its position is incoherent, but it really does. You simply cannot have it both ways and to try to do so is an intellectual error or even dishonest. I’m speaking objectively here, not accusing you of anything because I know you are sincere.

Chris is right. The Buddha taught the highest truth until Christ came along. For the Buddha, the reality in creation was to be transcended but in Christ it is transmuted. Matter is not rejected for exclusive focus on spirit as it really is in Buddhism and advaita despite their protests to the contrary, but its fruits are raised up into spirit to make a new creation. Christ's first miracle of turning the water into wine at the wedding at Cana (and there is great symbolic significance in the fact that this was at a wedding) foreshadowed this.

You see, I think the view you espouse, though it may give you peace, is like a return to the Garden of Eden consciousness. We are meant to go beyond that to a higher state which incorporates all the fruits of life in this world. That is what this whole process of dualistic existence is meant to accomplish. For Buddhism and non-duality, life has no purpose, history has no direction or point to it. That is why they, especially Buddhism, seek to escape suffering while Christianity accepts suffering and turns it into something much more than anything conceived in the non-dualistic universe.

The marriage of spirit and matter is a higher thing than spirit alone.

Unknown said...

Thanks for chiming in, William.

Your understanding of Buddhism has done validity when it comes to Theravada, but not Mahayana or Zen.

Let's try and unpack this.

You say history has a purpose and a goal - this means our life is not OK as is. We start from a place of inadequacy.

This seems to me identical to the Buddha's claim that life is dukkha.

How are we to respond to this predicament?

One logical response is to accept this feeling of inadequacy at face value as real. We really are inadequate. Logically then, we must grow, develop, and get better. Makes perfect sense.

If our feeling of inadequacy is really powerful, we might say we have to grow forever without ceasing. We cannot imagine anything ever being enough, and we so we must forever be on the way. But we are always trying to get somewhere else and not satisfied where we are.

Where we are may be very good - the Garden of Eden even - but it is not quite enough somehow. There is an itch for more. It is never enough.

Since we are always on the way and never where we want to be, we live in hope. We are never happy where we are and always trying to get away, but hope is what allows us to take the edge off our feeling of chronic dissatisfaction. We always look to the future because the goal of creation and history is in the future.

Another response might be that our feeling of inadequacy is the result of a misunderstanding - an illusion, if you will.

In reality, life is fantastic just as it is and we ourselves are great just as we are. Only somehow we can't see this. Somehow our minds our clouded and fogged up, maybe by the accumulated social experiences of growing up, or maybe its inherent in the mind itself that has the potential to be used wrongly.

Whatever it is, our task so to speak would be to to wake up. Our task would be to see things differently.

Instead of the purpose of creation lying in the future, the purpose of creation is fulfilled every moment.

The more we try to get anywhere other than where we are now, the more we get lost in illusion, the more we further we are from realizing that we are already where we want to be.

Now, whatever higher state or superior place you think you are getting to, its significance for you is that it will cure you of your feeling if chronic dissatisfaction. You are quite willing to ensure lower forms of suffering so long as you can have this higher firm of happiness.

That is why you are opposed to the Buddhist desire to escape from suffering - in order to truly escape from suffering, you have to endure some suffering. You think Buddhism is too cowardly to face the necessary kind of suffering and gives up the great prize for a lesser prize - which may be good, like the Garden of Eden, but actually leaves us chronically dissatisfied.

Unknown said...

So your critique of Buddhism is that it actually fails to set out what it wants to do - it may take the edge off our suffering and take us to a very good place, the Garden of Eden, but the Garden of Eden is not enough, so our feeling of inadequacy and chronic dissatisfaction - dukkha - is not healed, only somewhat mitigated.

Naturally, mitigating pain while good is inferior to healing it entirely, which is what Christianity accomplishes. Or your form of it.

The Buddhist critique of your position would be that it is based on a misunderstanding - you think your feeling of inadequacy corresponds to a real state of affairs. You trust your intellect too much.

As we can see, our attitude to whether our perception of inadequacy corresponds to reality is the determining factor in which path we will take.

And that depends on our attitude towards the intellect - is the intellect - the discursive logical mind - something that really reflects reality or something that only give a us a vague useful approximations of it.

That is why Buddhism spends so much time showing how logic if carried far enough contradicts itself and so cannot correspond to reality. As in the statement "I lie" - if I am telling the truth, then I cannot be telling the truth.

Clearly, a faculty that gets itself entangled in this way can only give approximations of reality and cannot be relief on too much.

So if one is a positivist one will believe in growth, if one has less confidence in the intellect one will be more receptive to the idea that our perception of our inadequacy may be a mistake.

Now for instance, I myself grew up reading fantasy books and always had a strong sense of mystery and magic - reality always seemed unimaginably vast and mysterious and my mind rather puny by comparison.

I always seemed to "sense" something beyond the limits and frontiers of my mind - this has always been my "feeling for life", do to speak.

What best captures my "sense" of reality is Shakespeare's famous line "there are more things Horatio..."

Now, this is a sense and a perception with me - that there is something beyond the edge of my mind, beyond what I can understand, that reality us stranger, weirder, odder, and quirkier, then I can ever imagine. And it really is a personal sense, a direct perception, not something that can be argued or proved.

For someone who does not have this sense of the limits of his mind - someone perhaps who sits st the center of his mind so to speak and lacks this "sense" that there is a mystery beyond its frontiers, reality would look very different indeed.

Somehow, in Europe around 1500, this inner sense that there is something beyond the frontiers of the intellect steadily diminished, and what may be called the positivist mind emerged - where the frontiers of the mind seem coterminous with reality, and there is no sense if anything beyond, underneath, or behind the intellect.

This when religion as growth naturally had to take root - quite logically and quite correctly. But earlier Christianity was quite different.

William Wildblood said...

This is in reply to your first comment.

Unknown, either I’m not explaining myself very well or you misunderstand me because you interpret what I am saying through your own preconceptions. For you don’t actually respond to what I say but just repeat yourself in different ways!

You say “Your understanding of Buddhism has some validity when it comes to Theravada, but not Mahayana or Zen”. If Buddhism needed to be upgraded then that shows it was incomplete. I say it was and the upgrading just papers over the cracks. There is not this problem with the teachings of Christ which require no adjustment or reimagining.

Feelings of inadequacy are not the point. What is true is the point. You might feel that the “be here now” consciousness (essentially what you describe) satisfies you and your spiritual questions for the moment but I venture to predict that will not always be the case. Your created self will one day reassert itself and you will see that while every moment of creation may be complete in itself, that is not all there is to say on the subject. Creation also has an omega point to which it is headed. Time plus eternity really is more than just eternity on its own.

I don’t think Buddhism is cowardly at all, far from it. But I think it leaves out something important which I’ve spoken of many times on this blog so I don’t want to repeat myself on this thread.

William Wildblood said...

And this to your second.

No, Buddhism does what it sets out to do but what it does not fully do what God created us for. It is a way of dealing with duality that dissolves it but Christianity forges something new from both sides of this duality.

Everything I write comes from the intuition or direct perception, if that is not too fancy a phrase. The intellectual mind is only used to translate this into words and concepts but it is not primary. Of course, I may be mistaken in that my intuition is not completely developed and free of personal bias but still it is that not thought that prompts what I write here.

I think we should stop now because we will otherwise go on forever to no good purpose.

Unknown said...

So religion as constant growth towards a higher state emerged about 500 years ago together with the positivist mind that trusts its perceptions and does not have a sense of the mystery beyond, behind, or underneath itself.

No longer do we see through a glass darkly, but everything us bathed in light - and there can be but one remedy for our sense of inadequacy, growth, since our intellects cannot be showing us a false picture.

However, early Christianity was based on the sense that we see through a glass darkly. It had a keen sense of the mystery beyond the frontiers of our intellect, this feeling and perception that has been lost in the modern period.

So in early Christianity it was possible to believe that the purpose of the world is fulfilled at each moment, and that our ordinary everyday perception was mistaken, as the great Christian mystics had said.

Catholicism in particular had a very accepting and affirming attitude towards life - if you sinned, you confessed, and were forgiven. If you practiced the correct meditations and prayers, God may grant you grace to see that the world was perfect.

This joyous affirmation of life as it is we see in the phrase Merry England eighties many saints days and colorful religious festivals, and in figures like st Francis of Assisi and his hymn to nature, the sun, and the animals.

There is no notion of perpetual growth here - that satisfaction can only be found in the distant future. There is a sense that God's creation is perfect if we just saw it, and life as a round of celebration - hence the merry Saints Days and festivals.

But this joyous perception of life depends on a feeling that our intellects are not the final word and thus faith in God and acceptance of his bounty is our proper lit - not effortful self improvement, which is based on a misunderstanding.

Seeing through a glass darkly as the basis of our feeling for reality is essential for this attitude towards life.

It can be said that this faith in our intellects is pride and vanity, and our sense that we can improve ourselves also is pride and vanity - this idc what the old Christians thought, and it was a source of acceptance of life when thus happiness

Unknown said...

Sorry William, I wrote that comment before I saw your request to stop.

I assume you have no objection to my discussing it with Chris of he so wishes and is not done here?

If you wish me to stop completely, of course I will.

Unknown said...

I also just want to add one clarification - my picture of early Christianity above is partial, and obviously there was a gloomy works rejecting strain as well, and the seeds of the modern positivist strain were there from the beginning.

William Wildblood said...

No, of course, you and Chris can carry on here. I just meant I don't have anything to add myself.

Unknown said...


Chris said...

The Christian revelation and the teachings of the Buddha were both mediated by what is generally understood as "natural theology" . I think that this is of crucial importance. The Incarnation only makes sense within a theistic metaphysical framework. If you change the metaphysic, than the meaning of the Incarnation changes. This is what many folks who are influenced by Eastern philosophy/religion actually do. Christ changes from the unique God-man who dies for our sins to a Buddha-like figure, the cosmic Christ that saves us from ignorance- the ignorance of believing in the "realness" of the separateness of things, even of our own separate selves.

I very much would like to believe that "All Paths Lead to the Same Summit" There is a certain beauty and elegance to the notion of the Perennial Philosophy, that each Tradition is an instantiation of the one formless Truth that providentially emerges in different places and times suited to a particular human receptacle. It even has an Aristotelian ring to it.

But, is it true that contemplatives speak with a universal voice in their reports of mystical experience? Are the "raw" experiences actually the same and then merely described in different spiritual idioms? I'm not so sure.

Unknown said...

Hi Chris -

Your first paragraph seems correct to me.

As for deciding whether there is a perennial tradition or not...

One could spend a lifetime answering this question, and then other questions reqiring answers would suggest themselves..there is literally no way to finally prove it.

This goes back to what I was saying before - if you approach these issues intellectually you will never gain clarity...

People with positive metaphysics like Bruce Charlton and William have a hidden anti-intellectual basis for their thinking - they simply accept as "primary assumptions" all sorts of things that others might consider the very points to be proved.

Once one accepts certain assumptions, it becomes easy and trivial to build up a logically consistent system. Just pile brick upon brick.

I suspect the source of the happiness that William and Bruce get from their systems is from these unquestioned primary assumptions, which quiets the mind and function as a faith.

At the basis of their systems is the resolution NOT to think - not to question or investigate into the nature of ultimate reality but to accept.

For me, the function of unquestioned primary assumptions is served by faith and acceptance - that is my primary assumption so to speak. Bruce and William - and systemizers is general - base themselves firmly on faith but I diffee with them only in that I go all the way. If I am willing to have primary assumptions at all, there is no point in then going all intellectual.

So, can it be that the basis of every religious system capable of conferring happiness at least somewhat is a resolution not to go investigate reality too deeply, not to be too intellectual, and to accept things as they are?

Even the seemingly most intellectual systems like Bruce's seem to rest on a foundation of a resolution not to inquire too deeply and accept life on faith.

So how would this apply to your predicament?

Your starting point should be one of faith and acceptance when it comes to ultimate reality - to not approach it intellectually, as even the most intellectual systemizers do not.

And I think here there is a division between two types of people -

There are people who can accept on faith positive statements like God exists and he has such and such a character and wants such when such from us.

Then there are people like me - ego distrust positive statements - who cannot accept unverifiable positive statements but can accept on faith life, my self, just as they are and not needing to be questioned. And the sense of mystery beyond what I know.

But the important thing is to recover the "mind of faith".

And you have to decide what kind of person you are - can you accept the positive propositions of Christianity on faith without inquiring into them (a futile inquiry)?

Or are you the type that can have faith without accepting any positive statements?

So a decision is needed and no amount of intellectual investigation about whether there is a perennial tradition or not will help.

What the intellect CAN do is critique itself - and show that at some level, faith or primary assumptions are required.

But after that task, you have to decide - and the decision likely depends on how thoroughly the intellect has critiqued itself.

Unknown said...

So it seems to me now that Bruce and William also distrust the intellect and base their systems in unquestioned faith - the only difference is they half-trust the intellect and once they get their primary assumptions out of the way they are happy to use the intellect to build up a system.

To me that seems pointless - to distrust the intellect and then trust it later to build a system seems pointless to me.

If the intellect cannot be trusted to verify its primary assumptions but must accept them on faith, then why should the intellect be trusted to build up an elaborate system...

It seems they go half way but not all the way.

It seems the difference between the mystics and the mainstream is in degrees to which they trust the intellect - the mystics go all the way, the mainstream half way. That's why Aquinas can sometimes seem like a mystic and sometimes an intellectual.

And why Bruce or William can likewise sometimes seem like irrational mystics and sometimes intellectuals.

But the basic breach with unhappy modernity seems to be to corral the inquiring mind - put a limit on it - and accept on irrational faith, whether you go all the way and reject positive statements or only half way...

It seems in some level and to some extent, you MUST be unintellectual and develop a kind of faith - and the highly intellectual Bruce would refuse to publish any comment of mind suggesting, it is clear his system has a completely unintellectual basis.

But HOW to develop this unintellectual mind? Well, here is where the intellects critique of itself comes in handy....

The intellect us not meant to investigate ultimate reality but to critique itself and show that it is incapable of investigating ultimate reality...

The intellect itself if followed far enough will return us to faith...

And Immanuel Kant showed this in recent times, and Nagarjuna in India, and Pyrrho in ancient Greece...

But once you've established SOME need for faith through self critique of intellect, you can decide how far you want to go with it, and that will help you decide whether you follow a philosophy of growth and greatness or liberation from ignorance...

The journey doesn't end, but that's the first essential step...

William Wildblood said...

Non-dualists always tend to deal with criticisms of their system (and it is a system) in the same way. By repeating themselves, taking refuge in absolutist statements, admitting certain points but immediately qualifying the admission so it becomes not one at all and decrying the limited intellect which cannot see the truth. All these are actually beside the point and demonstrate to me that their argument is actually much less coherent than they imagine. For those who might not wish to wade through all the comments here the only relevant point is this.

Is reality personal or impersonal and, if the former, is that base level reality or merely a limited aspect of the impersonal? Non-duality says it is impersonal and positions itself entirely on that. Christianity says it is personal right down to the roots. No one transcends God. This is at the heart of the matter and leads to the effective denial of creation as properly real by non-dualists whatever word-spinning arguments they comes up with to deflect this truth. Sorry to be blunt but this is how things are.

Chris, mystical experiences are not all the same despite popular belief. There are different interpretations of similar experiences but there are different experiences too. But experience is not the best way to evaluate spiritual reality anyway even that experience in which the ego appears to be absent. The mind always mediates the experience which is why Ramana could talk such nonsense as his cow being liberated - no disrespect to him! But spiritual truth is best known through unclouded intuition and, I would say, revelation, the highest revelation so far given to humanity very clearly being that of Christ. Both Christ and the Buddha cannot be right, at least not to the same degree. Christ includes all of life and makes sense of creation. For Buddhism and non-duality, creation is a bit of an embarrassment to be tucked away out of sight. Of course, they can't completely deny it but nor can they accept it so they fall back on sophistries such as neither real nor unreal. Oneness is something we all accept. The point is does unity completely obliterate diversity or is the latter subordinate to the former but wholly real in its own right. For non-dualists the answer must be no. For Christians it is yes.

This really is my last comment on this thread!

Unknown said...

I welcome your comments on this thread William don't limit yourself.

What if one cannot decide between Buddhist and Christian metaphysics as you describe them? What if one spends years in anguish and just cannot decide?

Is there a middle way - or a way that does not involve deciding?

What should that class of people that cannot see any decisive reason to pick one over the other do, after years of investigating the issue have not yielded certainty?

Can one have a good life while having no opinion on these matters?

Is there a way to be religious and have a sense of wonder and love without coming to any conclusion on these matters?

Chris said...


Something is not entirely clear to me ........

You seem to be defending a kind of weak agnosticism, but then you move to a stronger version by objecting to those who claim to know. In your earlier comments, you affirmed my statement of being skeptical even of skepticism, but would push one to a more Wittenstein-ian position, one of silence? Right?

But, clearly, your view is not one of silence. You will tolerate those who claim to "know", but then surely you believe that this is, if not wrong, then certainly less true or less optimal? And if so, then it would seem that your epistemological commitments naturally have metaphysical implications.

Chris said...

Sorry for the awful writing- I'm juggling.

Unknown said...

Chris -

In Japan the two most popular sects are Zen and Shin - on the surface, they appear to be opposites. Zen is about practice and self effort that culminates in no longer approaching ultimate reality intellectually. Shin is about having absolute faith in a Boddhissatva.

Both sects end in the same result - a quietening of the intellect and acceptance.

Similarly, from my pov, anything that conduces to this is good. And different approaches work for different people.

One of the corollaries of thinking we cannot know is that you have more latitude in accepting different methods to reach peace.

freebird said...

William, I hope this isn't too rude but Unknown, it would be great if you would blog. I would read. :)

William Wildblood said...

Not rude at all. Unknown makes his points very well.