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From my perspective, the Buddha's Teaching is reductive and subtractive. It's experiential and fundamental for knowing how to die well. It's good for transcending the ego by dissolving into all to find freedom from suffering.

The object is not to gain anything. Intellectual knowledge can help but little intellect is required. Sometimes intellect can get in the way.

One can start a practice by just practicing.

Nobody want's to avoid the labor of hard thought because the practice isn't to think, it's to experience. It's Satipatthana. It's understanding the difference between words or other concepts and experiential reality.

Does the Buddha's teaching require much intellect? What is anti-intellectualism in Buddhism?

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  • I used to be anti-intellectual now I think that it can help most things we try to do, I think of it as a gift. It can still be a curse at times too.
    – user10515
    Nov 2, 2017 at 3:56
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    They say confirmation bias is stronger the more intelligent we are: youtu.be/kyioZODhKbE
    – Lowbrow
    Nov 2, 2017 at 14:28
  • I have to edit this question.
    – Lowbrow
    Jun 20, 2023 at 7:38
  • Maybe one could explore a frame-shift: Not so much: "Buddhism is/isn't intellectual" so much as "Buddhism has/hasnt a definite skeptical component"
    – Rusi
    Jun 20, 2023 at 8:07

8 Answers 8

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I don't think Buddhism is inherently anti intellectual. Theravada's Abhidharma, Late Indian / Early Tibetan Mahayana preserved and developed by Gelugpa - are highly intellectual, to name a few.

It's an old adage in Buddhism that Dharma is medicine for the mind, and particular form the teaching takes depends on student's disposition.

There are certainly schools that grew out of concern that some students obsess over concepts and don't see the forest behind the tree. These schools, like many lineages within Tibetan Kham's Kagyu and Nyingma emphasize personal practice and insist on simple no-nonsense pithy instructions passed in private from generation to generation.

Some schools like Ch'an were born as radical response to then increasingly obsessive and speculative intellectualism, true, but Ch'an is far from being the largest or the most influential school. Perhaps the most famous in the West, exactly for its irrational presentations.

The truths that Buddhism teaches are complex and subtle, but in my opinion totally explainable. It's only a matter of time I think until western culture develops enough insight into things Buddhism taps into, and creates an authentically western intellectual representation of them.

We see it already in various forms of literature on topics as diverse as self-help, emotional intelligence, philosophy of mind, bundle theory, hierarchy theory, and others.

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  • It can sure seem complex. Doesn't the complexity come from our ignorance? All the Buddhist concepts just fit right together in such a simple way.
    – Lowbrow
    Nov 2, 2017 at 2:30
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Buddhism is middle way between intellectual self-affliction extreme and intellectual sensual pleasure extreme.

So, buddhism is anti-intellectual self-affliction extreme and anti-intellectual sensual pleasure extreme. But buddhism is the middle way intellectualism.

The object is not to gain anything. Intellectual knowledge can help but little intellect is required. Sometimes it can get in the way.

I can completely say according to tipitaka history that most of ariya in tipitaka are intellect, high experience, high profile, and intelligence, before they enlighten to be ariya. And for someone who has a very low profile, he has to take a very long time to practice himself for enlightenment.

If you learn commentary and abhidhamma, you maybe say "how many millions of required life for tipitaka study and practicing?"

But deplorably, the most people can take just an easy part of tipitaka, so you can feel like you asked above.

However, whatever you stared from, little intellect or big intellect, must develop to be big intellect for enlightenment, no exception. That is the reason that why the buddhist have to practice. We practice to be intellect enough for an enlightenment.

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I think the question is a little too broad and vague. Binary, duality questions and standings are not useful. Please read Narjarguna. It’s not his or that,,,.

A work or teaching’s value is in its fruits. Look at the results.

I feel positing Buddhism is not intellectual is ridiculous, and shows a lack of any understanding of the Indian context of the arising of Buddhism, not to mention Buddhist teachings in general. Nothing could be more scientific and analytical the Buddhism. Because the object of study is human consciousness and life, and not gravity that can be epresse mathematically, does not mean it is not scientific. Robert Wright’s new book Why Buddhism is True is on this topic.

All said, there is a significant strain of anti intellictualism in the US, but those whose IQ is 3 digits, should not be shamed to have intelligence and use it.

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  • I can respect that.
    – Lowbrow
    Nov 4, 2017 at 21:22
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According to traditional Buddhadharma, wisdom is not only experience. It is also knowledge. Some of this knowledge has been carefully articulated and some of it has not. It cannot be true that “the object is not to gain anything,” because we obviously need to “gain” insight into the causes of our own suffering, which is specific to us because it is a product of sankhara. Fortunately, the concept of sankhara is fairly easy to understand. Sankhara is the mental (mostly unconscious) process by which means we make sense of our experience. It is only by making sense of experience do we understand (or misunderstand) anything and are we able to do anything (good, bad, or neither), because we cannot do something unless it makes sense to us. The word “sankhara” also applies to the set of beliefs, wishes, feelings, attitudes, skills, and other dispositions that flow or follow from having made sense of something. It is sankhara in this second meaning that causes mental and bodily actions that may be wholesome, unwholesome, or neither. In order to teach Buddhadharma, a person needs to know what they are talking about. In the effort to know what we are talking about, we come up against another reality of the human condition. Given the vast complexity of the human mind and the human condition, any form of articulated wisdom casts light or understanding on a limited set of things and experiences. This is partly due to the fact that the very process of sankhara can address only a limited range of experience. The reality is that, when we apply even a carefully considered and articulated and true statement to a particular but complex situation, we are confronted with questions about how it applies. Hence, the answer to your question, “Does the Buddha’s teaching require much intellect?” For the beginner and the meditator, the answer is “No,” because “Sometimes intellect can get in the way.” But for the teacher of Dharma, the answer is a definite “Yes,” because the teacher needs to be careful about what he has to say to his students about Buddhadharma. There are some teachers of Dharma who believe they never have to be careful. It has been my experience that such teachers can be very charismatic but too conceited to be of value to the student who has substantial questions that he or she is not allowed or afraid to ask.

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💨 Don't intellectualice this (take it for real or self), but use it just as a means (to attain the deathless) for release:

Does the Buddha's teaching require much intellect?

This question needs certain counter questions or a frame of common ground:

When taking the common use of the meaning of "intellect", here given by the lagerst collection of common understanding and knowledge under ordinary people:

Intellect is a term used in studies of the human mind, and refers to the ability of the mind to come to correct conclusions about what is true or real, and about how to solve problems. )

In this case, if that is the meaning - thought: Yes!

But that does not mean, that to know, or get known "correct conclusions about what is true or real" or better "correct conclusions about what is not true or not real", eg. 'anicca' (unreal) and to let go of it in understanding that what ever is not real is stress, eg. dukkha, and what ever is dukkha can not be regarded as worthy to grasp, hold on, as refuge, self, eg. 'atta'.

❕❔ How does one gain "correct conclusions about what is true or real" or better "correct conclusions about what is not true or not real"

Here the well-instructed disciple (eg. havinf heard the true dhamma and relays on it) of the Noble ones, on having developed the prerequisites based on right view, e.g faith, saddhā, developes right concentration, as there are four:

"These are the four developments of concentration. Which four? There is the development of concentration that, when developed & pursued, (1) leads to a pleasant abiding in the here & now. There is the development of concentration that, when developed & pursued, (2) leads to the attainment of knowledge & vision. There is the (1) development of concentration that, when developed & pursued, leads to mindfulness & alertness. There is the development of concentration that, when developed & pursued, (1) leads to the ending of the effluents [eg. release].

(1) "And what is the development of concentration that, when developed & pursued, leads to a pleasant abiding in the here & now? There is the case where a monk — quite withdrawn from sensuality, withdrawn from unskillful qualities — enters & remains in the first jhana: rapture & pleasure born from withdrawal, accompanied by directed thought & evaluation. With the stilling of directed thoughts & evaluations, he enters & remains in the second jhana: rapture & pleasure born of composure, unification of awareness free from directed thought & evaluation — internal assurance. With the fading of rapture, he remains equanimous, mindful, & alert, and senses pleasure with the body. He enters & remains in the third jhana, of which the Noble Ones declare, 'Equanimous & mindful, he has a pleasant abiding.' With the abandoning of pleasure & pain — as with the earlier disappearance of elation & distress — he enters & remains in the fourth jhana: purity of equanimity & mindfulness, neither pleasure nor pain. This is the development of concentration that... leads to a pleasant abiding in the here & now.

(2) "And what is the development of concentration that... leads to the attainment of knowledge & vision? There is the case where a monk attends to the perception of light and is resolved on the perception of daytime [at any hour of the day]. Day [for him] is the same as night, night is the same as day. By means of an awareness open & unhampered, he develops a brightened mind. This is the development of concentration that, when developed & pursued, leads to the attainment of knowledge & vision.

(3) "And what is the development of concentration that... leads to mindfulness & alertness? There is the case where feelings are known to the monk as they arise, known as they persist, known as they subside. Perceptions are known to him as they arise, known as they persist, known as they subside. Thoughts are known to him as they arise, known as they persist, known as they subside. This is the development of concentration that, when developed & pursued, leads to mindfulness & alertness.

(4) "And what is the development of concentration that... leads to the ending of the effluents? There is the case where a monk remains focused on arising & falling away with reference to the five clinging-aggregates: 'Such is form, such its origination, such its passing away. Such is feeling... Such is perception... Such are fabrications... Such is consciousness, such its origination, such its disappearance.' This is the development of concentration that, when developed & pursued, leads to the ending of the effluents.

"These are the four developments of concentration."

AN 4.41

Having gained right concentration, ckncentration that leads to the ending of the effluents, not possible if still grasping after form (eg. five sense faculties and objects) and the intelect (eg. mind: feeling, perception, consciousness, fabrications) just by merely knowledge, but by direct perception, which requires the doing of what is known and right vision in regard of the path: one looks for one self with proper attention, yoniso manasikāro, knowing where and how to look (e.g.: being well-instucted):

❕ (only if having abounded form at first place!! ⇨ )

.

"If a monk, while keeping track of arising & passing away with regard to [first: 5 sense, form] the eye-faculty 👀, becomes disenchanted with the eye-faculty; if, while keeping track of arising & passing away with regard to the ear-faculty 👂 💨... the nose-faculty 👃 💨 ... the tongue-faculty 👅 💨... the body faculty 💪 💨... the intellect-faculty 💭 💨, he becomes disenchanted with the intellect-faculty; and, disenchanted, he becomes dispassionate; through dispassion, he is fully released; with full release, there is the knowledge, 'Fully released'; he discerns that 'Birth is depleted, the holy life fulfilled, the task done. There is nothing further for this world,' it is to this extent that one is consummate in faculties." [Faculties]

.

“Seeing thus, the instructed disciple of the noble ones grows disenchanted with form, disenchanted with feeling, disenchanted with perception, disenchanted with fabrications, disenchanted with consciousness.

“Disenchanted, he becomes dispassionate.

“Through dispassion, he is released.

“With release, there is the knowledge, ‘Released.’

“He discerns that ‘Birth is ended, the holy life fulfilled, the task done. There is nothing further for this world.’” [mv I.6]

.


[Note: This is a gift of Dhamma and not meant for commercial purpose or other low wordily gains by means of trade and exchange.]

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  • Yeah but intellect isn't the only way to solve problems. Seeing there really is no problem takes mindful attention.
    – Lowbrow
    Nov 2, 2017 at 2:03
  • yoniso manasikāro is part of Anapanasati?
    – Lowbrow
    Nov 2, 2017 at 10:32
  • 4 kinds of concentration... and again: it's only possible for very very seldom Paccecabuddhas, to gain path and fruit without hearing the good dhamma. Even so, no way without intelect (mind), one abonding mind before really penetrate form, will end up in the from wise undesired asaññasatta-realm. Allthought that the Dhamma and "knowledge" needs to be abounded at the end of the path as well, only fools abound the way before having crossed. So don't be an intellectual "smart one", Lowbrow. Or where aside of just intelect Nov 2, 2017 at 15:48
  • does @Lowbrow think that his ideas come fromm There are good thing to relay on and much lowest. As the Buddha told, to gainanything good, the lowest support are own ideas without really knowing. Nov 2, 2017 at 15:49
  • "yoniso manasikāro is part of Anapanasati?" What did Nyom thought? Pssible to have right mindfullness without proper attention? Two things are required to gain paths. Which two? To here (or remember) the good dhamma and to have proper attention. Having attention on the four frames of reference is yoniso manasikara, requires it. Observing becoming and decay "in and of itself" is yoniso manasikara. Don't read suttas just "intellectual"! thinking if a certain word s missed, it's not required. Therefore it's good to get instructed and dhammic intelectual: knowing and figure out the way to release. Nov 2, 2017 at 16:09
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I dont understand such affinity for the complex. Granted, Buddhism remains very intellectual compared to the methodical Christian beliefs of which I was so accustomed. But why need it be so intellectual? I am looking for the answers to the Universe, not a mensa application.

In fact, I often see complexity as a weakness. Simplicity is, to me, a much greater sign of intellect. Recall the first stanza of the Isha Upanishad: The Lord is enshrined in the hearts of all. The Lord is the supreme reality. Rejoice in him thru renunciation. Covet nothing. All belongs to the Lord. Thus working may you live 100 years. Thus alone will you work in real freedom.

Very simple, but also quite thorough. I find these passages much more insightful than "11 factor formula sensory objects" and the like. They are usually easier to fit into a general philosophy and the latter often contradicts modern scientific methods.

Much of the academic exercise requires matching concepts and terms between different fields and different languages. Therefore being pedantic and taxing over a tight fit makes little sense. Concepts should be kept at the simplest level for understanding as they are carried across different cultures and languages and even times.

One of the most complicated translations involves explaining Buddhist dharma regarding the mind using current scientific knowledge. See also the 5 skanzas of existence. Current methodologies use completely different divisions for taxonomy. So much of the literature developed over the years completely contradicts that which scientists and biologists and doctors and engineers use today.

So I prefer a greater emphasis on simplicity.

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    Right, that's why I like to stick to the teachings the Buddha said over and over and over again from many angles in the Pali Suttas.
    – Lowbrow
    Nov 2, 2017 at 4:54
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STUDENT: When you talk about contemplating the body and mind, though, do we actually use thinking? Can thinking produce true insight? Is this vipassana?

AJAHN CHAH: In the beginning we need to work using thinking, even though later on, we go beyond it. When we are doing true contemplation all dualistic thinking has ceased; although we need to consider dualistically to get started. Eventually all thinking and pondering comes to an end.

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Yes, intellectual capability is required for liberation.

Someone with six qualities is able to enter the sure path with regards to skillful qualities when listening to the true teaching. What six? They don’t murder their mother or father or a perfected one. They don’t maliciously shed the blood of a Realized One. They don’t cause a schism in the Saṅgha. They’re wise, bright, and clever. Someone with these six qualities is able to enter the sure path with regards to skillful qualities when listening to the true teaching.”
AN 6.87

Someone with five qualities is able to enter the sure path with regards to skillful qualities when listening to the true teaching. What five? They don’t disparage the talk, the speaker, or themselves. They’re wise, bright, and clever. They don’t think they know what they don’t know. Someone with these five qualities is able to enter the sure path with regards to skillful qualities when listening to the true teaching.”
AN 5.152

Someone with five qualities is able to enter the sure path with regards to skillful qualities when listening to the true teaching. What five? They don’t listen to the teaching bent only on putting it down. They don’t listen to the teaching with a hostile, fault-finding mind. They’re not antagonistic to the teacher, and not planning to attack them. They’re wise, bright, and clever. And they don’t think they know what they don’t know. Someone with these five qualities is able to enter the sure path with regards to skillful qualities when listening to the true teaching.”
AN 5.153

“Mendicants, the appearance of six things is rare in the world. What six? A Realized One, a perfected one, a fully awakened Buddha. A person who teaches the teaching and training proclaimed by a Realized One. Rebirth in a civilized region. Unimpaired sense faculties. Being bright and clever. Enthusiasm for skillful qualities. The appearance of these six things is rare in the world.”
AN 6.96

Even a follower by faith, who doesn't have direct meditative experiences, needs to have the faculty of wisdom.

And what person is a follower by faith? It’s a person who doesn’t have direct meditative experience of the peaceful liberations that are formless, transcending form. Nevertheless, having seen with wisdom, some of their defilements have come to an end. And they have a degree of faith and love for the Realized One. And they have the following qualities: the faculties of faith, energy, mindfulness, immersion, and wisdom. This person is called a follower by faith.
MN 70

Why is intellectual capability required for liberation?

The reason for this is that ignorance must be uprooted before liberation can be attained. This is explained by this answer, using the analogy of the South Indian Monkey Trap. The monkey must use his intellectual capability to understand how the trap works in order to free himself from it.

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