In Chandrakirti’s Madhyamakavatara, there is a debate with the Charvakas (ancient materialists) about the existence or non-existence of past and future lives. In the commentary, Rinpoche compares and contrasts the Charvakas tenets with modern day scientists who would deny the conventional existence of past or future lives.

Rinpoche accuses modern scientists with the phrase "divorcing the view and the action" and advises that this is a saying among masters to describe something considered very dangerous:

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As Rinpoche implies that this phrase is commonly used by masters to describe something very dangerous I am wondering if there are other examples of masters using this phrase and why it is considered so dangerous. Can anyone find Sutra/Treatise/Commentary/Anecdote of other masters using this phrase?

I'm also wondering if it is appropriate to describe modern Secular Buddhists who also deny the conventional existence of past or future lives as holding the same view as modern scientists and subject to this same phrase? If so, why is this so dangerous and what is meant by "divorcing the view and the action?"

What is the translation of this phrase in Pali, Sanskrit, or Tibetan to the extent that there are examples of masters using this phrase in a similar way in any of these languages?

2 Answers 2


"Divorcing the view and action" means someone who does not walk the talk, someone who's practice in real life does not match the philosophy they declare.

It is dangerous because it is a kind of hypocrisy, a kind of false speech. It creates a situation where expectations potentially don't match reality, a basis of dukkha. It can greatly mislead other people, creating long-term bad karma for many lives.

In this particular situation, Rinpoche speaks about scientists who declare open-minded view but in actual life are convinced materialists. Like wolves in sheep's clothes they insist their view is provisional and is evidence-based (and therefore is the best!) while at the same time limiting the scope of consideration for evidence to coarse material phenomena only.

So the phrase is not specific to denying past and future lives or other alternative descriptions of reality. The phrase points to the hypocrisy of modern science, and hypocrisy in general.


...we should at least hope for additional evidence, better controlled experimentation, showing that it is possible to recover memories that are not encoded in neural tissue, that it is possible to sustain consciousness in organisms that lack nervous systems, that it is possible for mental causation to cross time and space and alter physical substrates.

Negative experiments along these lines are legion, though they rarely find their way to the front page of your local newspaper, since nobody has any reason to promote them. One can find mention of them in places like Skeptical Inquirer magazine, or outlined at websites like the Skeptic’s Dictionary or Quackwatch.

It is for reasons such as these that any contemporary, scientifically informed Buddhist practice should reject belief in rebirth and its associated kammic causation.

Quoted above is from the link you attached with regards to Secular Buddhists. In short, the set of arguments is... because we can't experimentally recover memories that are not encoded in neural tissue, etc.. it follows that rebirth is false. That right there is a pure materialist view, similar to the Charvakas idea which the Rinpoche said has no place in Dharma.

Following the same analogy, the Secular Buddhist will not find a different neural tissue memory imprint representing intention between the monk approaching a certain nun and the lover.

So the danger in the materialistic view is that the modifiability of Kamma (intention) is denied and without that, there is no liberation from the samsaric cycle of suffering.

Quoted below is from Kamma and its Fruit by Nyanaponika TheraNyanaponika.

However, a scientist's view is not finalized, a scientist doesn't start with a premise that everything is material or that the equipment he/she has can recover everything knowable thus will not reject the unproved rebirth idea or any unproven idea for that matter. That is why I think Rinpoche says a scientist could be a vessel for the Dharma.

Most writings on the doctrine of kamma emphasize the strict lawfulness governing kammic action, ensuring a close correspondence between our deeds and their fruits. While this emphasis is perfectly in place, there is another side to the working of kamma — a side rarely noted, but highly important. This is the modifiability of kamma, the fact that the lawfulness which governs kamma does not operate with mechanical rigidity but allows for a considerably wide range of modifications in the ripening of the fruit.

If kammic action were always to bear fruits of invariably the same magnitude, and if modification or annulment of kamma-result were excluded, liberation from the samsaric cycle of suffering would be impossible; for an inexhaustible past would ever throw up new obstructive results of unwholesome kamma. Hence the Buddha said:

"If one says that in whatever way a person performs a kammic action, in that very same way he will experience the result — in that case there will be no (possibility for a) religious life and no opportunity would appear for the complete ending of suffering.

"But if one says that a person who performs a kammic action (with a result) that is variably experienceable, will reap its results accordingly — in that case there will be (a possibility for) a religious life and an opportunity for making a complete end of suffering."

— AN 3.110

  • Thank you for the answer. I'm specifically looking for an answer for the meaning and usage of the phrase "divorcing the view and the action" and Rinpoche's mentioning that this seems a common or known diagnosis for a view that is deemed very dangerous.
    – user13375
    Commented May 3, 2021 at 15:22

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