Comments on “Approaches to religion”

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approaches to religion

Kate's picture

At the risk of being boringly consistent in my appreciation-- thanks for this, David. My forays into the seemingly expanding world of Buddhist blogs has ranged wider of late; the choices are wider and better than they had been. There seem to be a great many sane, considered, and informed practitioners who've begun writing. This is a wonderful thing! Nonetheless, from my point of view, you're one of the ones who set the standard for clarity, engagement, wide-ranging exploration, and forthrightness.

The Buddhist Blogosphere

Hi, Kate,

Always nice to hear from you! Thanks for the appreciation.

Yes, I read several Buddhist blogs, and sometimes comment on them there. Some serious thinking is happening there, and the blogosphere is likely to have a strong influence on the way Buddhism develops.

I'm expecting to start writing some pieces that respond directly to other writers' blog posts. Look out for one about the (emerging, possible) hardcore Dharma movement over on the Buddhism for Vampires metablog.

If you have recommendations for blogs to read, I'd like to hear them!

Thanks,

David

buddhist blogs

Kate's picture

Hi, David--

I sent an email with a bunch of blog links, but it bounced back. In any case, I hadn't listed one I just found this week that I like a lot: http://theendlessfurther.com/

For your researches on the 'hardcore dharma' front, there is a young woman who seems to take a very evenhanded, grad-student sort of approach: http://wanderingdhamma.wordpress.com/

Both of these blogs have waded into the 'hd' fray, of late. On the proponent side, there's Kenneth Folk Dharma and Dan Ingram's forum.

And, of course, Brad Warner's Hardcore Zen blog. Enter the comments zone with your seatbelt buckled and a lot of time at your disposal...

Cheers,
Kate

Thanks!

Hi Kate,

Thank you very much for these! I have also got your email. I am sorry not to have followed up until now – I have been traveling and mostly off-line for the past month. (Buddhism For Vampires is running on autopilot – I wrote a couple months' worth of material and scheduled it for publication in what as then the future.)

These, and the ones you mentioned in your email, sound really interesting. Most of them I don't know. I will definitely follow up on them.

Unfortunately my hard drive crashed a couple weeks ago and I have been in a new place, most of them remote, every couple days since then. So I haven't been able to get it repaired. I have probably lost 2-3 weeks work, so the next installment of The Vetali's Gift is is likely to be delayed somewhat. It's about the hero's teenage crush, and I have to try to remember what it is like to be a 14-year-old boy in love.

I have got a ton of stuff that is "almost ready to go" -- for Approaching Aro, B4V, and the Meaningness site (which I hope to open Real Soon Now). I really wish I could write faster. I'm trying to use the blog format (on B4V, and soon on Meaningness) to write less formally and to relax and not polish pieces so much. It is helping some...

Cheers,

David

The Dark Side of "Effective" Groups

I have seen some Christian groups tell their followers that the fellowship is not suppose to be comfortable. That following Christ is hard. The the guidance of the groups shepherd or apostle will often make you uncomfortable as they help guide you to understand God's will for you and make you into a servant of Christ.

We can easily see that this is exactly what you could expect a manipulative, abusive group (AKA, a cult) to use to manipulate their followers. Your advice has a very dangerous side to it.

I totally understand the idea of tough love or finding that conflict comes from within and thus you should welcome the insight conflict brings. I get the tradition of rough gurus uses expedient means to justify teaching methods and Sangha moods.

We all know that this is dangerous ground -- a two edged sword.

How would you advise the naive seeker to avoid the pitfalls of those type of groups who would use your same arguments? You points are well taken, growth may not be comfortable -- but neither is abuse.

Diversity within the sangha

A point well-taken.

What I was pointing at is that it is useful if the sangha has diverse viewpoints, and it is that which makes you uncomfortable. Cults enforce a unity of view, which is quite a different thing.

The Buddhist path is meant to decrease your "reactivity" or compulsion to act on the basis of emotions. For example, if someone expresses a political view you disagree with, it can be hard not to jump in and argue with them, and get increasingly upset as they insist on their wrong-headed ideas.

Many Western convert Buddhist groups are made up entirely of lefties. In such a group, you can talk at length about the evils of capitalism, and everyone will agree, and this brings about a warm feeling of mutual understanding and trust and self-righteous moral superiority. That is actually unhelpful, from point of view of "undermining ego's reference points." Political certainty is a huge "reference point" of self-definition.

The Aro sangha is somewhat more politically diverse. If you start going on about the evils of capitalism, someone is likely to say "on the other hand..."

That then is an opportunity for Buddhist practice: you can watch your own emotions rising, and see how you you behave. Do you get angry, or self-righteous? Do you mentally denigrate the other person? Do you cut off the argument out of fear of losing control, or appearing un-spiritual? Or can you have an affable, open-minded discussion?

This is the same key practice we do "on the cushion" in formal meditation.

Amen

If you were saying tolerance and nurturing diverse, unshy opinions, I can say nothing but "amen!"

Faith != belief

I also relate to Buddhism as path, though I am told this is not the stereotypical mode of approach for most Shin Buddhists.

One thing: in stating that "For some religions, the important thing is that you believe in them. Faith is sufficient to make you a member," you are erroneously equating faith and belief. These are two very different things - and though their confusion grows more and more common, it is nevertheless quite inaccurate and very lamentable.

Faith refers to experience of a thing and the re-capitulation of that experience such that one has faith that given the same cause and conditions, one will end with the same result. The sun may not come up tomorrow, but I have faith that it will because I have seen it happen every day of my life.

Belief may be ill or well-founded. I may believe that Nile Crocodiles are pink. This belief may not be very well-founded, but I can believe it without any need for proof, without seeking proof, and since I have no plans to go to Egypt to verify the claim, I can even deny the claims made by others that such is not the case. Even better, I can make the circular argument that because I haven't been to Egypt to see for myself, all the photos or videos or testimonies of others are fake and/or exist strictly to test my belief.

Very different things ... but, again, often used interchangeably in public discourse and we are the poorer for it.

Faith ≈ belief

Hi, James,

I think the distinction you draw is a very important one. It's one the Aro teachers talk about frequently.

However... I don't think it's true that the meaning you are giving to "faith" is the only common one, or that it is standard. The dictionary I just consulted has:

1. strong or unshakeable belief in something, esp without proof or evidence
2. a specific system of religious beliefs: the Jewish faith
3. (Christianity) trust in God and in his actions and promises
4. a conviction of the truth of certain doctrines of religion, esp when this is not based on reason
5. complete confidence or trust in a person, remedy, etc
6. any set of firmly held principles or beliefs
7. allegiance or loyalty, as to a person or cause (esp in the phrases keep faith, break faith)

So, it would be really useful if "faith" meant exclusively "experience of a thing and the re-capitulation of that experience such that one has faith that given the same cause and conditions, one will end with the same result"; but it doesn't.

My teachers use the phrase "reasonable faith" for this. That has to be explained each time, but at least it's clear that it's not "blind faith".

Best wishes,

David

I relate to Buddhism and

Anonymous's picture

I relate to Buddhism and every other system as a tool instead of a path. I don't follow it anymore than I follow a hammer or a calculator. I use all these tools at various times to follow my own path, and sometimes I break them to show that no tool is worth worshiping or even throw them at people's heads when I am not so nice, just for the pleasure of seeing people squirm.

Adjectives for "Faith"

Great points for both James and David. I have fumbled with the notion of Definitions and in particular with "Faith" for which, agreeing with David, attaching adjectives helps a lot.

I updated my list of "Faith" definitions to include "Reasonable Faith" as an AKA with my "Trust-Faith". I looked on Aro encyclopedia and did not find a definition except here. Do you know of other locations?

Does Aro share these Vajrayana notions of faith?

Taxonomizing faith

I haven't seen that particular taxonomy before. It makes sense, but I think it would be wrong to take it as expressing a fixed truth. You can usually categorize things in many different ways, which might be more or less useful depending on circumstances.

Unfortunately, as of now, the Wikipedia is mostly worse than useless when it comes to any Vajrayana topic. Nearly all the Wikipedia write-ups consist of random quotations taken out of context and reified as Truths, apparently by people who don't understand the principles involved. They're often seriously misleading. Probably eventually this will be corrected.

I don't know if there's a publicly-accessible extended discussion of "reasonable faith" in Aro... If you can't find it, then probably not. There's not a lot to say beyond what James did: reasonable faith is based on experience.

Faith

Usually when approaching meaning I prefer to do so from archaic roots rather than contemporary or even ancient English usage, and this brings in the matter of what authority to believe regarding pronouncements about things difficult to verify at the present time without considerable time and effort not to mention linguistic ability and breadth and depth of literary awareness (in which I find myself lacking). However, your point has its own validity and is well-meant and well-taken. Thank you.

whoops - credit where credit is due

@Sabio - I have to agree with David, that is very interesting taxonomy.

@David - I also meant to say, that, despite the seeming arrogance and pomposity of my assertion that original meaning = true meaning, I really am aware that such an assertion is rather silly ;)

Regarding the whole Belief-faith-credence-credit continuum, I did find this which has some interesting elements:

Belief, faith, credence, credit all generally mean assent to the truth of something offered for acceptance.
Belief may or may not imply certitude in the believer .
Faith almost always implies certitude even where there is no evidence or proof .
Credence suggests intellectual assent without implying anything about grounds for assent .
Credit may imply assent on grounds other than direct proof .

And +1 re: wiki

Keeping The Faith

Karmakshanti's picture

It seems to me that a great deal of the confusion is crammed into the too terse statement of definition #4. a conviction of the truth of certain doctrines of religion, esp when this is not based on reason

Much of the Christian discussion of faith turns on the notion that faith and reason are antonyms. Hence, "Can you believe in God based on reason alone?" [generally the answer has been "no"] or "Must you believe in the Holy Trinity based on faith alone?" [generally the answer has been "yes"]

With this in the background, and it is so for all of us on some level, "reasonable faith" sits very uneasily in the mind, which may be why it has to constantly be re-explained.

I have taken to using the terms "faith" or "belief" as distinct from "trust". When Christians ask what I "believe in" as a Buddhist, I tell them, "Two things: karma and rebirth. Given these two things as unproven premises, all the rest of Buddhist doctrine follows quite logically."

Speaking to Buddhists, I would revise this to say that I must take "karma, cause, and effect" and "past and future lives" on trust because I cannot prove or disprove them, but every other Buddhist doctrine can be resolved satisfactorily by either reasoning from karma and rebirth, or by looking at experience directly.

Presumably, in the Bardo we will no longer need to take either of these two things on trust.

re:keeping the faith

@ karmakshanti - I would say that as close as I come is to anything definitive would be the absolute nature and availability of compassion, and cause + condition = result. I tend to take everything else as upaya - things useful to to work with and through to bring about subtle changes in perception, conception and being. As a Shin Buddhist, having distance between faith and belief is critical (imho), though as a human being I am prone to delusion.

I am also quite curious as to why you presume that "in the Bardo we will no longer need to take either of these two things on trust." Unless consciousness has been clarified, or so I was taught during my years within the Nyingmapa, the bardo offers great opportunities for self-generated-delusion. Thanks.

Delusion in the Bardo

Karmakshanti's picture

My closing sentence was a deadpan exaggeration. I'm prone to those. But, actually, I think my Kagyu teachers would say that even if you have not made much progress in tranquility and insight, if you have supplicated with all your heart for the blessings of the guru and have been diligent in the practice of your yidam, you are likely to encounter some real help over there which you will be able to recognize and take advantage of.

Since, in the bardo, the power of your karmic accumulation is so overwhelming, the more you have focused on purification and the accumulation of merit through practice in this life, the more likely you will be to be able to focus your mind in the bardo to take advantage of your situation and make the power of your karma work for you rather than against you. This is particularly so if you have worked with a practice, such as Nam Cho Amitabha, that focuses on rebirth in Dewachen.

Kagyu teachings are pragmatic and don't make so many fine distinctions between "faith", "belief", "credence", and so on. The practice of right aspiration, right accumulation, and right dedication of the merit involved for the benefit of sentient beings is usually sufficient. They stress that even as simple a practice as regular recitation of the Mani mantra, if undertaken in this spirit, has the potential to help you tremendously when you need it.

In practical fact, the usual place and time that such issues come up for a Buddhist is when addressing Christians, a personal Christian past, or Christian ideas in the abstract. "Faith" is a matter of far more burning importance for them than for us, particularly since no real understanding of karma, cause, and effect leaves them very vulnerable to the conundrum of "when bad things happen to good people." We have a pretty good idea why they sometimes do.

Bad Things Happen to Good People (period)

This is not a thread for Karma, in response to Karmakshanti(KS) speaking of the Christians being very vulnerable:
I have good Buddhist friends who were devastated when their Guru was killed in a generic traffic accident in India. I watch them try to jump through Karma hoops to help it make sense.
But then, I guess I don't have faith in either Jesus or the big Karma machine. KS -- no need for a long discourse. Just wanted to give my blind opinion.