Is the central idea of Buddhism about being totally objective, see things as what they are and don't have a preference or judgement? If that is correct, then why we should prefer the ideas in Buddhism to any other ideas. Isn't that already making a judgement? Am I misunderstanding anything?
The Central Idea of Buddhism is the cessation of suffering. Everything else is a means to that end.
The goal is not to be objective, but rather, being objective can serve or be a milestone along that goal. Here's how it works out.
We suffer because we are attached to desire. Therefore, we let go of desire to stop suffering. Since desire permeates our experience, when we let go of desire, we transform our experience. This experience may still have desire, but we are not attached to it -- we see the desire as part of our experience and are not wrapped up in it. This is "seeing things as they are" or "objectivity". The subjectivity is there, but we're more aware of the subjective layer as something we add rather than part of the thing itself.
Judgments, preferences, and so on can still be there; after all, if the Buddha didn't have them, he would have just sat around until he starved to death. However, we are not attached to these preferences and so on. We don't get bent out of shape over them.
Why prefer this way? Well, because you want to cease suffering. If you don't care about suffering, there's no point in Buddhism.
"Is the central idea of Buddhism about being totally objective, see things as what they are"
Without elaborating on "objectivity", I think it might be somewhat fair to say that. Though there are many "central ideas" of Buddhism, and "central ideas" that are very particular to Buddhism (and being objective is not exclusive to Buddhism). I'd say it is a kind of attitude, stretching a little, maybe a method, that permeates it.
" [...] and don't have a preference or judgement?"
I hardly think so. I don't think it is possible to not establish preferences. And, if you understand judgement to be "discernment", I also don't think that is possible either. Or beneficial.
On the other hand, it is another "central idea" to watch and understand how these "preferences" and "judgements" unfolds in their minutia.
With that practice, then, another process (which is often referred to as "judgement") would hopefully be clearer: that of allowing our minds to fill in details about something (from our fears, or fantasies) and reacting to this mixture, instead of seeing the actual thing. And that seems much more the process behind something we know by another name: pre-judgement (prejudice, preconception, preconceived idea, etc).
If that is correct, then why we should prefer the ideas in Buddhism to any other ideas.
[Following the style of the arguments in the suttas], the same reason the Buddha preferred a certain practice over another: whether it leads to Nibanna or not.
You talk of Buddhist ideas...they can be referred to as Dhamma. Now the Dhamma is 'Ehipassiko' which means to come and see for ourself.
A human being is not born enlightened but has to work for getting even the simplest of knowledge let alone some profound wisdom. Consider for e.g. the stone age man...he had the knowledge of the base needs like food, clothing, shelter, sex etc. But he probably had no resources to learn about the workings of internal organs of his/her body. This doesn't mean that the internal organs didn't work according to their laws, s/he was just oblivious about it.
Now this Dhamma is universal and existed even before the Buddha but it took a Buddha, a perfectly enlightened one to compress this Dhamma into compact teachings. So we have these teachings, as propounded by the Buddha, before us. We would gain nothing by just preferring it or discarding it. It is for us to see if impermanence (anicca), suffering (dukkha) and non-self (anatta) are really the three marks of existence.
Now we believe in Newton's law of gravity because it can be verified. Similarly these Buddhist teachings/ideas are verifiable. Take for e.g. impermanence...I think even beginner meditators can easily verify impermanence for themselves. But verifying suffering and non-self may take time. Important thing is to be patient.
So basically we should not prefer or discard Buddhist teachings/ideas but cultivate the wisdom through meditative practice and verify them for ourselves.
"Is the central idea of Buddhism about being totally objective, see things as what they are and don't have a preference or judgement? If that is correct, then why we should prefer the ideas in Buddhism to any other ideas. Isn't that already making a judgement?
Sure, but in order for an un-enlightened worldling to attain that state of seeing things as they really are without preference or judgement, some wholesome preference and good judgement are required. One would need to make clear preference and judgement when facing the 3 poisons of greed, hatred and delusion. Ven. Ananda in SN 51.15 explains to Unnabha that the path of Dhamma is one with a definite goal: the abandoning of desire, which can only be attained by developing a strong desire to end desire:
""In that case, brahman, let me question you on this matter. Answer as you see fit. What do you think: Didn't you first have desire, thinking, 'I'll go to the park,' and then when you reached the park, wasn't that particular desire allayed?" "Yes, sir." "Didn't you first have persistence, thinking, 'I'll go to the park,' and then when you reached the park, wasn't that particular persistence allayed?" "Yes, sir." "Didn't you first have the intent, thinking, 'I'll go to the park,' and then when you reached the park, wasn't that particular intent allayed?" "Yes, sir." "Didn't you first have [an act of] discrimination, thinking, 'I'll go to the park,' and then when you reached the park, wasn't that particular act of discrimination allayed?" "Yes, sir."
Is the central idea of Buddhism about being totally objective, see things as what they are and don't have a preference or judgement?
Yes that does sounds fairly correct (although "objective" might not be correct).
I think that the "central idea of Buddhism" is what the Buddha preached in what was historically his first sermon, i.e. The Setting in Motion of the Wheel of Dharma.
That sermon included the "four noble truths", which include:
- Suffering exists
- Suffering is caused by desire
- Suffering can be ended
So yes, it's our preferences (or "desires") which cause suffering.
"Our preferences" can be called "desire": but also desire's opposite, i.e. "aversion"; and, "ignorance", which together are known as the "three poisons".
If that is correct, then why we should prefer the ideas in Buddhism to any other ideas.
We should prefer the ideas in Buddhism because they are a Way which (if followed) will lead to the end of suffering.
Isn't that already making a judgement? Am I misunderstanding anything?
I would guess so, that it is making a judgement: it's a judgement about what true and false, about whether Buddhism is practicable, whether we understand it, whether it's skillful, whether it's effective, whether it's "good in the beginning, good in the middle, and good in the end", etc.
Perhaps what matters is that some judgements lead to (i.e. cause) suffering, whereas some lead away from suffering. So it's not that all judgements are bad.
Maybe the issue here is "dharma", which has lots of different meanings, one of which is something like, "how things really are" another is "the principles of one mental model explaining how things really are propounded by Buddhists". An analogy would be heaven and heavens (getting your soul to heaven is religion, but explaining the heavens (meaning planets and stars in this case) is in the realm of science.) The former sense of the Dhamma is objective. If Buddhist confound them, is a sign of confidence.
In the pali texts, the historical Buddha had a story about seeing Buddhism as sort of a raft to get across a river, and once you reach the other side, you put it down.
Overtime though, Buddhism becomes an institutionalize religion and you begin see things like the 8th Minor Precept (this is from the Brahma Net Sutra, which is precepts for east Asian Buddhism):
- On Turning Away from the Mahayana
If a disciple of the Buddha disavows the eternal Mahayana sutras and moral codes, declaring that they were not actually taught by the Buddha, and instead follows and observes those of the Two Vehicles and deluded externalists, he commits a secondary offense.
This isn't to imply that Mahayanaists went down the wrong path... I think in just about all Buddhisms, enlightenment turned into an ideal that you never are expected to reach, at least not on human scales of time. In other words, hold onto that metaphorical raft forever, because you aren't enlightened.
Personally I'm optimistic about the prospects of enlightenment in this life, optimistic about finding parallels in science and Buddhism (of the calm, not so revolutionary sort, no the breathless claims of finding quantum physics being forseen by any buddhist writer), and I'm pessimistic about finding different religions to be saying the same thing (other than maybe hinduism and jainism, since they all drew on the same pool of ideas as Buddhism).
In short, science, Christianity, Buddhism, the man in the street all share the same universe (same objective dhrama in front of them), but only over have some overlap in the dharmas they "preach".
The central idea in Buddhism is to understand the law of cause and effect (Pratītyasamutpāda) with regard to mental and physical phenomena (Nama Rupa), thus also gain understanding of the 4 Noble Truths and 3 marks of existence.
This can be achived through the 3 fold practice (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Threefold_Training) or the Noble 8 fold path by developing the qualities / factors of enlightenment. The main ingredients of the path is the practice of morality and Vipassana.
NB: Realizing the 4 Noble Truths and Cause and Effect essentially equal as the results are the same. 4 Noble Truths essentially encompass the cause and effect regarding suffering. When you identify the cause and eliminate it suffering ceases. (A concise description on what is the Buddhist teaching is given in: “Ye dhamma hetuppabhava—tesam hetum tathagato aha, tesam ca yo nirodho—evamvadi mahasamano.” “Whatever from a cause proceeds, thereof The Tathagatha has explained the cause, Its cessation too he has explained. This is the teaching of the Supreme Sage.”)
- The Wheel Publication No. 15 - Dependent Origination by Piyadassi Thera
- Paticcasamuppada: Practical Dependent Origination by Buddhadasa Bhikkhu
- Significance of Dependent Origination
- On Dependent Origination by Ryuei Michael McCormick (Discuss interconnection of 4 Noble Truths and Cause and Effect - "The first two of the four noble truths explains the origin of suffering dependent on selfish craving for its cause. The third and fourth of the four noble truths describe the cessation of suffering by eradicating the causes upon which it depends.")
- Maha Nidana Sutta (Source of: "He who sees the Dependent Origination sees the Dhamma (teachings of the Buddha) he who sees the Dhamma sees the Dependent Origination.")
Deal with the paradox. Emptiness is form; form is emptiness.
But I think when they say to not have preferences or to not judge it means to not attach yourself to phenomena, to what is right or to what is good. Likewise don't refuse or avoid what is wrong or bad. Learn the Dharma but don't blind yourself with it.