Is a logical questioning process of every thought(almost) a useful way to break through thought itself and possibly understand enlightenment? For eg:- What is this thought? What is the mind? And try to inspect it clearly. If no answer appears, (because you see they are difficult, almost impossible questions) that is still ok, but you begin to question things with a scientific temper and rationality.


Logical thinking about Buddhism is like route / trip planning. The practice of Buddhism is the journey which will take you to the desired destination.

The Buddha has his for or adventure over countless lifetimes and found a long lost path and said this take you to this place. Thinking and pondering on how to take the trip is at the realm of logic. Travening is the realm of pratice. Arriving at your final destination following the direction and landmarks is the final realisation. As not body can fully describe the city to the minute details he just mostly mentioned how to get there with some attributes of the destination to entice you to try out the journey.

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  • I'd like to think I understood what you said. But my logical thinking does involve meditation and vipassana. In a way. I understand the arising and passing of thoughts. But rationally looking at it would enable me to understand that it actually passed and figuring out mostly how the thought came may help me understand the patterns more clearly. But is there a confirmation bias from the reading and knowing the Suttas or other sources? Yes, I think so. And that's where we might falter. – esh Dec 27 '15 at 4:52
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    When the description is of a path, landmarks on the path and obstacles on the path without taking and without taking the path and seeing the landmarks and obstacles. Trying to logically infer this is very difficult. If say simply it is said there a tall hotel here there are so many ways you can imagine it to be than when you actually see it. Say if there is road block here there any many ways you can imagine it to be without seeing it. – Suminda Sirinath S. Dharmasena Dec 27 '15 at 4:59
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    Similarly for the final destination at the end of the path. – Suminda Sirinath S. Dharmasena Dec 27 '15 at 5:03
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    I am also beginning to understand why Gautama thought that it might NOT be worthy to tell others about his experience. Because people may be ignorant and delusional. Sure, a lot of people are. In that case it becomes very difficult to convey the path. I can say he attempted to. And it helped some people, and to most others, it didn't. And currently, there is a lot of time overhead. So some of the aspects of thought might have been lost. So I am thinking is it necessary to restart the whole process? Maybe. – esh Dec 27 '15 at 5:20
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    There are 2 aspects to approach learning the Buddhist teaching: 1) listen, memorize and retain, pratice 2) learn the theories, practice, realise – Suminda Sirinath S. Dharmasena Dec 27 '15 at 5:46

While we are discussing the role of rationality and logical questioning of every thought as a way to understanding and enlightenment, an analogy may help.

How would an amateur rational astronomer with scientific temper looking at sky would go about understanding universe? S/He would not start from first principles. He starts with an established body of knowledge, tools and techniques already discovered. He won't spend time on any theories that are based on Sun revolving around earth, he takes planets orbiting around Sun as an established fact.

I think similar approach is needed to understand the mind. The issue with logically analyzing thoughts is, a thought is not an individual entity standing independently apart on its own. It arises based upon conditions within and outside the mind body complex. Not only it depends upon the current sensory inputs, it stems from what happened in the past and how it was processed and stored in memory.

Let us consider another analogy of tracking and destroying a missile. By the time a thought arises it may already be too late to analyze and understand it, just like trying to destroy a missile that is close to its target.

If a missile is launched and is following an unpredictable path, how can it be tracked and destroyed? One way is to launch another missile that uses some features of the original missile (like heat seeking) to follow and destroy it. I think there are similar challenges in understanding the mind. The thoughts and emotions that spring up in the mind are like missiles launched by the surrounding conditions. We don't know when a thought or emotion springs up and what path it will follow. But I think it is feasible to come up with some general guidelines and practices that can be used to set up thought patterns in the mind that follow (just like the heat seeking missiles) to observe and then strengthen or weaken the arising thoughts.

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  • You may make edits to your answer to suit a heavily edited question. – esh Dec 29 '15 at 5:50

Logical reasoning and rationalism are necessary tools but they can only get you so far. Awakening requires much more than just logic. Imagine a muddy and constantly agitated pool of water, one can use logical reasoning to deduce what lies beneath the water surface. But only after the water has become completely stilled would s/he be able to see things as they really are. Similarly, the direct experience to awakening only happens after much effort and cultivation to "still the water", or the complete stilling of all physical, verbal, and mental defilements.

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Is a logical questioning process of every thought(almost) a useful way to break through thought itself and possibly understand enlightenment?

First and foremost: to understand enlightenment, one needs at least some clear sense of what it is to achieve it. As analogy, if one is going to a specific restaurant -- specially when one is not there yet -- one needs some way to refer to it and to identify it: things that distinguish it from any other place, so one doesn't end up in the wrong place without knowing it.

In Buddhism, enlightenment is the permanent extinction of dukkha.

Having established that...

For eg:- What is this thought? What is the mind? And try to inspect it clearly. If no answer appears, (because you see they are difficult, almost impossible questions) that is still ok, but you begin to question things with a scientific temper and rationality.

What you describe above is roughly -- at least in spirit -- the Buddhist method1. Now, one could question why not try to figure out the path on your own own versus try out the buddhist practice.

As analogy, imagine yourself popping up in the middle of a desert somewhere in this planet having to figure out which way to go in order to reach your home. You can take any direction and, if you think about it, the great majority of the possibilities will be fruitless -- you will be only walking endlessly to reach nowhere. The risk of you not finding home is huge.

But that's still not much a good analogy to current circumstances. So let's say you're given a bunch of maps. They are all different and they all diverge on where you are, where your home is, and how to go there.

Some people pick the map they think is the most comfortable. Some people are annoyed by all the maps and go on wander on their own. And some people test the maps they have to see which one is correct (there's the problem of one having to learn a bit of the specific cartography language of each map in order to understand what they mean, but that's another issue).

But in propounding some theories, he may have taken away some of the aspects of the beauty of the process for "our own individual experiences".

Leaving aside that he did not just "suggested some theories", he did emphasize that this is something to be carried out individually by one's own effort. Now, if you think the method he proposes takes out "the beauty of the process", you are naturally free to try out own your own.

There's legitimacy in following your own nose, but may I suggest how this may not be as virtuous or effective as one might fantasize? Take calculus: no reasonably intelligent person will try to come up with calculus on their own: they will try to learn what has been developed. It took specific circumstances in the development of science and mathematics and specific characters with a specially strong will to answer specific questions to be able to successfully develop this subject. Disappear with all knowledge post-calculus from earth, and it could take many centuries to rediscover it again -- if that soon.

Extinguishing dukkha does not require one to figure out everything from scratch. It requires extinguishing it. If some teachings are known to be useful, there's only one reason not to use it: if one wants something else than extinguishing dukkha (for example: to experience some particular kind of beauty in an spiritual process)

I hope this message is clear. Each individual needs to question for himself/herself, the procedure to achieve something or why they are here. Sure you may go by faith, but I am afraid that might be a hindrance to true experience.

The buddhist sutras advert against blind faith. But there's ordinary faith: a weak type of knowledge that is useful to make a decision with partial understanding while one is still in the process of gaining knowledge. We all use this daily.

So, in a sense, a buddhist go by faith in the Buddha's teaching in the same way one goes by faith in a calculus text book. One scans the summary of chapters and provisionally accepts (i.e.: believes) it is a text book that teaches calculus. Then one reads the chapters, performs the exercises, and if one comes to conclusion that one learned what that chapter is about, and if one understands that chapter to be a steeping stone in the path to understand calculus, one's faith is made stronger and one will likely continue.

If otherwise one learns the contents of the chapter and comes to the conclusion these subjects won't lead to the declared goal, one's faith is made weaker, and one might end up abandoning such book.

1: Of course, there's more to it than simply questioning what is something that is present in our mind. Buddhism not only helps with how to frame the questions and observations to yield progress (instead of falling in an endless loop of silly and sterile interrogations), but practices to help we see with greater precision (a precision required to be able to see what we are looking for). Hope it goes without saying that mere logical inference is broadly insufficient for an investigation that requires experimenting and experiencing.

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The Buddha came up with some theories, the basics of which are common sense to me. He cultivated a practice and figured some things out. There are stories and practices about how and what he found. Sure he may be the Blessed one. But then maybe I have missed out something here. I can't help but think he may not have gone through his thought process completely ? When he talks about the five aggregates and consequences and hindrances, that is all fine. But how do I truly know for myself? So I may have a different method to figure that out.

What I am saying is that, the Buddha may have had "his experience". But a combination of many people translating and propounding some theories and giving explanations, they may have taken away some of the aspects of the beauty of the process for "our own individual experiences". The Buddha himself didn't make the "religion" as it is now.

I hope this message is clear. Each individual needs to question for himself/herself, the procedure to achieve something or why they are here. Sure you may go by faith, but I am afraid that might be a hindrance to true experience.

I'd like to add that I sense some amount of confirmation bias might creep in when we try to understand the Buddhist philosophy and actually practice that.

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In my own search, as a non-Buddhist, I have found that logical questioning is useful, but it has limits. In particular, it is reasonably effective at identifying paths that cannot lead to enlightenment once you have decided on characteristics of enlightenment that are important to you, and reasonably effective at identifying the general direction towards enlightenment in many situations. It can be a useful tool to assist you in your search alongside the advise of those teachers you respect. In particular, it can be a powerful tool for upsetting existing assumptions in your own mind. These assumptions can be dealt with in other methods but sometimes logical thought can arrive there faster.

If you go far enough down the path of trying to apply logical thought, you'll eventually come across Gödel's incompleteness theorems or Tarski's undefinability theorem. These theorems demonstrate limits in mathematically rigorous thought when dealing with self-referential systems (such as nearly any religious statement including the word "I"). They demonstrate that, for a large body of questions which are highly related to enlightenment, logic simply cannot provide the answer. Often it can barely even phrase the question.

From experience, I can also provide a warning: if you rely too heavily on logic, once you reach its limits you can feel lost. Always try to find a happy medium between logic and the more traditional approaches such as meditation and vipassana. Also be ready for that ideal balance to both change as you grow and to be extremely difficult to quantify using the logical and mathematical part of your approach.

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  • Agree. Also, Heart Sutra is a good counterbalance to overly-rational ideation. "Those who are not shocked by it have not understood it." (well, not exactly) – user2341 May 27 '17 at 14:58

[Note: the question was revised, yet I decided to leave this answer as is for the benefit of the earlier points asked.]
You make a couple interesting points that I wish to say more about. Point 1:

We may not question it enough because it becomes uncomfortable.

This is important because much of life appears to me to be an attempt to keep safe and comfortable. This is a great way to realize the First Noble Truth: we know it intuitively because of what we do to prevent it! When we stop trying to escape from suffering, what happens? It gets worse, but we gain insight. Eventually, we see how most people are trying to escape suffering by distracting themselves, self-medicating (with things like alcohol, smoking, food, television, etc) and we see why those things are to be avoided: we cannot get in charge of our minds until we stop running. This realization can bring compassion as well, when the huge extent of actual suffering is clear.

If we find a "way" that promises to end suffering, it becomes enshrined in our minds in such a way that again, we do not want to look too closely, lest it unravel. Then all hope would be lost!

Your Point 2:

But in propounding some theories, he may have taken away some of the aspects of the beauty of the process for "our own individual experiences".

I realized recently that my desire to "help" people can have the wrong effect. It is possible to turn people away from insight by presenting it before they are ready, or too strongly, or in the wrong way. This is worse than useless. Another problem is, as you say, that we can take away from someone else's experience or realization by "previewing" it for them. This deflates the experience of overcoming something, and so the person might lose heart by thinking that they did not really achieve something worth persisting in.

These are important points and I am glad that you brought them up. I wish for you strength and peace.

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  • Thank you but not just because you agree with me. This is somewhat true because I see a pattern in answers here on Stack Exchange. Even in my own practice. I feel like the results are already out before I know it for myself and I start to compare THE results with mine. And it doesn't feel right. I may be misleading myself. Sure the practice is not for everyone, and they may choose something else. But I am just making the point about what I personally felt as a hindrance maybe. And also the suttas in translation into English and also the time overhead may have lost its essence. – esh Dec 28 '15 at 19:46
  • I am not against Gautama or the teachings. Please note. It is just that we could allow people to experience life in ignorance as is and probably their time will come when they liberate naturally. – esh Dec 28 '15 at 19:48
  • @BlackFlam3 you are stating a point of view which is compatible with Self Inquiry and nondual awareness. There is less "canon" and scripture involved with that, and so more allowance of people reaching realization in their own way. You could do some exploring of that topic. – user2341 Dec 28 '15 at 19:56
  • You may make edits to your answer to support a highly edited question. – esh Dec 29 '15 at 5:51
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    Well, of course Stack Exchange is a question-answer based forum, and that is fine because that's how it should be. And I had a lot of opinions in the question and just more opinions would have been made with it really going nowhere. So I only merely left out that one question. – esh Dec 29 '15 at 6:01

One path to resolution is thought itself and where it leads to. That is pure Buddhism along with the awakenings and suddenness of the mind. How to say, you could also see the process of exploring your thoughts in the kantian way while letting ideas collide. Anyways, good luck.

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  • If you learn to apply episteme, the way Foucault, Derrida and Kant had used, in de-constructing the key Buddhist Pali words, you may find other deeper meaning to them that are of a supra mundane nature. For example you will find nine different ways the word ‘Mind’ is used. – Saptha Visuddhi May 31 '17 at 3:10
  • @SapthaVisuddhi out of curiosity I asked a follow up question about your comment here : buddhism.stackexchange.com/questions/20968/… – hellyale Jun 12 '17 at 20:00

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