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Dear Mighty friends and learned colleagues,

I am a Scientist and have been a philosopher (I don't want to reveal my identity) so far. I have been a strong theist, raised up in an orthodox Hindu Background, with vedic training. So I read Vedas and other texts and always believed in God. Sometimes by convention and sometimes by experiential intuition. God was - unfortunately or fortunately - presented to me in a dogmatic manner. Top-Down. Here is God. Take it. Accept it. Believe it.

I was OK with it, till it started to disturb me deep down. Firstly due to my heavy involvement with the foundations of sciences, I was caught in the method of science. So I can't believe in God and do my science at the same time. At one point one has to give up traveling in two boats.

Buddhism offered solace at that point. I thought it's a logical religion. Totally banishing the dogmas and blind beliefs. But I found some paradoxes in it as well. Perhaps due to my ignorance. I will be grateful if someone throw some light and enlighten me here:

Buddhism's ontology posits a world which don't need a creator. That's fine. But how about the soul? What proof does Buddha have for soul? and What about reincarnation? What are the proofs for it?

What about the Maitri? or Metta? When you close your eyes and let your heart radiate, should we imagine a field (akin to quantum fields) that radiates outside your heart? What's the proof for this again?

Also what about Karma? How can I reap bad when I sow bad? Where does this transaction take place? In ordinary space-time? Because attributing causality to action and reaction posited by Karma principle, is against the modern science whose fundamental elements are quantum particles. Where are this Good and Bad situated?

What about Amitabha?

So the issue is simple. In for pound. In for penny. If Buddhism doesn't accept anything by blind belief, then these elements should be dropped. Because there's no scientific/cognitive proofs of the aforementioned elements given our sensorimotor apparatus.

Can someone enlighten me? Or suggest me some books? Any brief answers addressing these things will be greatly helpful.

Your humble servant.

  • Dear friend Marcus, you are asking a very broad question. You have to narrow down to a single answerable question. Also, a lot of questions you have posted have already been answered on this site you might want to search. – user14568 Jan 8 at 10:44
  • Dear friend, @XlkkyuX, thanks for your comment. I searched the forum and couldn't find any questions relevant to the topic at hand. On Ontology. Though there were a few questions about God. Nothing about the inconsistent views suggested or misconstrued by me. Peace be with you. – Marcus. AR Jan 8 at 11:15
  • I think you should read the 'Kalama Sutta' (very short), which gives guidelines on what to believe and why: accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/an/an03/an03.065.than.html – user10515 Feb 1 at 0:38
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It's a good question but has some erroneous assumptions.

First, and this would be crucial, if we are speaking of the 'Middle Way' then there are no paradoxes in Buddhist doctrine . This is demonstrable and it has been demonstrated, most notably by Nagarjuna. Nor is there an individual soul or reincarnation.

Rebirth is the usual word and this is not quite reincarnation. Individual souls would not exist but we would share a common 'Self'. (Schrodinger writes well about this, dismissing monads and souls as unworkable ideas. As a scientist you might like to read him since he says a lot about the Upanishadic view and endorses it).

Karma is about causation. Basically it says 'As you sow so shall ye reap'. If you jump off a cliff you'll get hurt, etc. But it operates in more realms than science observes. It operates in time, as you say, and it is able to operate because it is not a process external to our consciousness. That is, no Divine judge that is 'other' would be required for its operation, just our own internal records of our own motives and actions. We would be our own judge and jury.

Karma is tricky in the context of ontology because by reduction it would evaporate along with the subjects and objects on which it operates.

Regarding ontology, for a fundamental analysis nothing would really exist or ever really happen. The world we live in would be a creation of consciousness and as such would have the nature of a dream. To all everyday intents and purposes it would be real but this reality would be 'conventional'. To understand this as an idea would mean studying Nagaruna's doctrine of 'Two Truths' or 'Worlds'.

We normally say a piano is a real object but know that by reduction it's just a thin fog of quanta. The Perennial philosophy says it is not even this but is empty of inherent existence. For Buddhist ontology we need to study 'emptiness' and the idea that all phenomena are empty. Only if they are empty can they be explained, and this would be why Buddhist metaphysics is able to work where theoretical physics and western metaphysics ends in paradox and confusion.

The idea of a field radiating from the heart may be meaningful and useful and perhaps there is such a thing, but in the end Buddhism asks us to look beyond extension. Extension is a paradoxical idea and thus all extended objects - the number line, the continuum, space-time, pianos etc - and by reduction Buddhism disposes of them, thus avoiding the paradoxes that arise for realism.

You say there is no scientific proof of certain elements of the teachings. This is inevitable since they dispose of mundane science and speak of what lies beyond sensory empiricism. This does not mean there is no proof. Buddhist teachers should not be teaching things they have not verified for themselves. The difficulty with discussing this with those unfamiliar with these ideas is that in a sense you'd be right, karma and rebirth are non-existent. This would be why it is possible to transcend them. But to all intents and purposes they would exist until we know they don't.

As for where good and bad are situated they'd be in your mind, along with right and wrong and sin and evil and fear and guilt.

There are many good books. For ontology I'd suggest The Sun of Wisdom by Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamptso (Shamabala). Schrodinger is worth a read, perhaps What is Life and What is Mind. The mathematician Hermann Weyl is good on the continuum and explains the Perennial view. His The Continuum is too much maths for me but his other writings expand on his thoughts. If you're into maths you could try Spencer Brown's Laws of Form in which he reduces the world to formlessness. Bradley's Appearance and Reality is a more chatty reduction of the space-time world to a collection of conceptual imputations for a Reality that is 'non-dual'. If you can do the maths you might like Ulrich Mohrhoff and his text-book The World According to Quantum Mechanics, which gives the interpretation of QM necessary for Nagarjuna's universe.

The literature is so vast we're spoilt for choice. If you specify a topic I could give a more specific recommendation but all the topics overlap so it's just a question of wading in and following your nose.

I'm happy to add to this if I've missed anything. I feel that when scientists ask questions it would be vital to answer them.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – ChrisW Jan 31 at 20:27
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Dear Great sophist Marcus,

The Buddha knows all things science, but science doesn't know all knowledge of the Buddha. Like a satellite in space can zoom into any landscape of the Earth, but a traveler tracking the Himalaya can only observe the surrounding with his eyes, or his drone with monitor; or by checking the compass in reference to the map to confirm his location. Science is in discovering new unknowns everyday. Buddha has known all, is the all, science is a set within the all. This is important to bear in mind. Aside from this, your questions are answerable. Here is my perspective, I don't expect all to agree, nor do I get the best verbal explanation for the ineffable.

But how about the soul?

In Buddhism, the soul should be understood as consciousness. It is consciousness that animates matter. It is consciousness that gives rise the notion of self. However, in contrast, Buddhism discerns the soul - consciousness, impermanent. Hence it cannot be the self. Therefore, different from Vedas, there is not any eternal, unchanging self, nor an undying soul existed.

What is the proof that consciousness is impermanent? Or,

What proof does Buddha have for soul?

If consciousness is permanent: a) you will never forget anything; b) you will not at one moment feel happy then the next moment unhappy; c) information procured by the eyes, ears and nose etc. shouldn't be in different format. Etc.

Therefore, consciousness - the soul, is impermanent. It is a momentarily continuum, like a river. If a thing is impermanent and cannot be controlled, it is not the self. Like you can't stop forgetting, or stop hearing.

What about reincarnation? What are the proofs for it?

Reincarnation is an autonomous, self-induced birth. The entity reincarnated is a clone of the self, in Vedas called avatar. But in Buddhism, birth is not autonomous, self-induced. Often it translates as rebirth. A rebirth takes place when the matter the consciousness animated deteriorated, i.e., the death of a physical body. As the deteriorated matter no longer fits for animation, the consciousness will animate an associated matter. Like the electricity powers the microwave, when broken, you can plunge in an oven to replace it.

Rebirth will have to take place because consciousness cannot be destroyed, just like electricity cannot be destroyed. You can destroy the circuit, but cannot destroy electricity.

What about the Maitri?

Yes, compassion is an "energy" field. Thought, which is conscious consciousness, is energy. The proof is that there is headgear invented (the best and lightest is a Taiwanese made) which amplifies the signal generated by the mind to switch on/off lights (certain brain-wave), without physical contact. I don't think this the perfect solution with proper understanding of how the mind works, but a good try. Normal human's consciousness is scattered, it jumps here and there incessantly. An accomplished meditator can have more condensed, focused consciousness. That's why the Buddhist training on Dhyana. Such training also exists in ancient India and China, though not exact the same as the Buddha's method.

Also what about Karma?

Karma will have to take place too. Because the mind doesn't bind by space-time, but space-time is created by the mind. This is answered in a sublime and profound teaching of the Buddha, that preserved only in the Chinese Tripitaka:

「...隨眾生心, 應所知量, 循業發現。」 ── 《楞嚴經》

Translate:

...yields to the mind of the sentient, responding to its capability of quantification, manifesting according to its Karma. -- Surangama Sutra

Quantification - quantum, long ago has been mentioned in Buddha Sutra.

This good and bad is cached in the mind.

From my limited and amateur knowledge of quantum particles, a) that could exist in multiple places at once, b) and they correlate with each other instantly despite astronomical distance. These quantum attributes are recognized based on assuming space-time a constant and primary factor. But in Buddhism, the Chinese Mahayana understanding, space-time is a structure we projected to the phenomenal world. It is also a framework where the tangible consciousness operates. However, in the intangible, consciousness never arises nor ceases, space-time doesn't exist, it is one.

When a bad deed is carried out, there is the offender and victim. In order to fulfill the roles, the intangible consciousness materialized into the offender and victim in space-time. Here we have sentient A and B, like the quantum particles appear in different places at once, or correlating. In the ultimate, both the experiences of the offender and victim are lived. However, in space-time, our world, these experiences will be lived consecutively. Hence the old idiom says, "you reap what you sow", a wisdom procured by observation and intuition.

What about Amitabha?

Amitabha is the Light. Consciousness its material manifestation is light. An accomplished meditator can directly see it in his meditation. (That's all I should say, for an esoteric knowledge.)

Because there's no scientific/cognitive proofs of the aforementioned elements given our sensorimotor apparatus.

I don't think consciousness can be measured by instrumental apparatus. We can measure brain-wave, but brain-wave is a manifestation of consciousness. Like space cannot be measured by sensorimotor apparatus, can scientist deny the existence of space? In the same way, accepting the existence of space by the scientist then is anything but blind belief, which should be dropped too.

Or suggest me some books?

If you want to have the purest understanding of Buddhist doctrines, you should only read the Sutras, as the beginning.

Unfortunately its unlikely you can read Chinese Sutras, which were translated by the most extraordinary and accomplished Indian and Chinese historical Buddhist masters who proficient in both Sanskrit and Chinese. If you read Pali Suttas, which have approx. 1/10 of the complete teaching of the Buddha, the best and most sincere translator is Bhikkhu Thanissaro. However, from my reading, probably Pali Suttas can't satisfactorily satisfy the mind of a scientist and philosopher.

Of import, I would advise to get away from those:

  1. books written by modern Buddhist-scholars on introduction to Buddhism, full of misinterpretations; also avoid
  2. books written by those Rinpoches/Geshes who are not scientists neither philosophers nor psychologists but trying to interpret with a distorted scientific, philosophic or psychologist's tone; keep from
  3. books written by scholars on Nagarjuna, Madhyamaka, Two Truths, Middle Way, Conventional vs Ultimate Truth, or (Vedanta) non-duality. These topics can only be correctly understood by a Buddhist master who proficient in Buddhist doctrines, with direct insight acquired in Samadhi. Scholars without such are just doing the mind-games or playing with words. It only adds pollution.

Mine is an unconventional approach, but closest to the Buddhist hereditary. May it delight you.

  • Dear Mishu, peace be upon you! Thanks for this divine teaching. I will keep reflecting over and over till I get a grasp of it. It is too deep and thanks again for taking efforts to explain me and enlighten me. – Marcus. AR Jan 9 at 6:26
  • So could you suggest me some books to read? That has a scientific as well as Buddhist outlook? You have indeed suggested books to ~read. But I want those books that let me understand this beautiful subject. – Marcus. AR Jan 9 at 9:48
  • I also have checked the blog on Celestory. Very informative and enlightening. Thank you! – Marcus. AR Jan 9 at 10:57
  • Also could you suggest me any Teacher? of Mahayana Buddhism? I am ready to travel to China and leave everything and spend my life there learning the Dhamma. Are there any online YouTube lectures that I can hear? In English? – Marcus. AR Jan 9 at 11:15
  • @Marcus.AR - Gets my vote. i'd agree about books by (pure) scholars on Nagarjuna. They are often over-complicated and unhelpful if not actually uncomprehending. But good books on Two Truths, non-duality etc.would be completely vital for a scientist or philosopher arriving at Buddhism since this is way into the doctrine for a scholar. To do the formal philosophy one doesn't need a full understanding. I feel that the only hope for academic philosophy is to acquire an understanding of Nagarjuna but it doesn't have to be the sort of understanding and acquaintance that a Buddhist would want. . – PeterJ Jan 9 at 14:50
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But how about the soul? What proof does Buddha have for soul? and What about reincarnation? What are the proofs for it?

I think that the Buddha doesn't posit that there is a soul -- that ("non-soul") is the Buddhist "anatta" doctrine.

I think that doctrine says that the way (or a part of the way) to liberation is to not assume that various things -- that anything at all -- is "me" or "mine" or "my soul".

When you close your eyes and let your heart radiate

I suppose that (i.e. "heart" and "radiate") may be figures of speech.

How can I reap bad when I sow bad?

When you sow something like "studying mathematics", what do you reap from that? I think you reap a knowledge of mathematics, some skill with mathematics, acquaintance with other mathematicians, opportunities to practice mathematics, and so on.

I suppose that what's true for "mathematics" is true for "bad" or for "good" too.

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