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Snowmelt
18 Feb 11, 20:34
Just separating a discussion on rationality from the thread the below quote comes from, to avoid off-topic-ness. ;D


If this were true in a given society or given time, how would man make choices between various alternatives? Put differently, is it really possible to relinquish our rational facility - which may be the only difference between us and much of the animal kingdom, witness the fact that over 50% of our genetic code is the same as that of a fruit fly -and continue to survive.

I ask this because, to me, there seems to be an implicit view in Buddhism that rational thinking can be dispensed with without compromising the ability to recognize the truth(damma) which doesn't make sense to me. I'm asking this because it is this impression that gives me pause about uncritically accepting some of the ideas of Buddhism.

I think the (gently) rational approach to Buddhism (and a lot of other things) is the right one, and of course such an approach is recommended and defined in the Pali Canon itself. But, it did occur to me that once one is liberated, critical thinking is no longer required for that purpose (obviously).

In that, rationality is like the words and concepts of the Dhamma as expounded by the Buddha: a raft to be abandoned once the river has been crossed. It is when the rational approach leads to violent disagreement that it can become counter-productive. This is not to say that it should then be abandoned, only that we should be aware of that pitfall.

I guess without rationality, people might make choices in the same way that non-human creatures make them (instinct? trial and error? mutation that leads to different behaviour?). Evolutionarily speaking, the ones who make the right choices survive, the others may become extinct, as a species.

I see the issue with accepting Buddhist concepts uncritically: we don't want to be screwed over, so to speak, because history is replete with examples of people accepting nonsensical and extremely harmful concepts because they did not question them. The one we've been talking about most recently is "self".

You implied somewhere, I think, that we can't validly use the word "self" in a proposition if we can't define it, or without implicitly accepting its existence. I am not skilled enough in philosophical argument to decide for certain if this implication is correct or not, but I think it is not.

From my layman's perspective: the concept of self existed before Buddhism, and the Buddha had to talk about it, since those things that pre-Buddhist people held to be self or part of self (atta) were held to be not-self by the Buddha. So, he took a proposition that was made by non-Buddhists, and denied its validity.

The body, he asserted, cannot be self, because it is rightly seen as belonging to conditioned reality, completely and utterly caused and conditioned by other things, by nature. For him, there was no valid foundation for asserting that it was somehow separate from the rest of nature. Thoughts, likewise.

The idea is now arising in my mind that the Buddha saw the world as being divided into caused and conditioned reality, and the uncaused and unconditioned. Anything that is caused and conditioned (influenced) by anything else, cannot be considered separate from the rest of nature: there are too many causes and conditions linking them.

It seems incorrect to say that the body and thoughts are uncaused and unconditioned, so they rightly belong to nature, and it seems incorrect to regard them as separate. Regarding them as separate would be a prerequisite to considering them self, or part of self, I think.

How do you think I am doing so far, in terms of refraining from indulging in non-rationality? ;D

plogsties
18 Feb 11, 20:48
You implied somewhere, I think, that we can't validly use the word "self" in a proposition if we can't define it
I like your way of thinking.

Actually, I said that the word "non-self" has no meaning unless the word self does - that is, you have to define "self" before using "non-self" in a way that is trying to communicate knowledge. To negate something you have to negate SOME THING. I am not saying that the teachings aren't trying to make a very important point - but I am saying the language used doesn't do it in a way that is clear to me (realizing it may be clear to someone else).

Cloud
19 Feb 11, 01:53
Another way of explaining Anatta is with the English word "interdependence"; no thing stands on its own. Every thing is made up of smaller parts, and simultaneously part of something larger. Any thought of separate, abiding essence is failing to realize this truth.

Esho
19 Feb 11, 02:09
Another way of explaining Anatta is with the English word "interdependence"; no thing stands on its own. Every thing is made up of smaller parts, and simultaneously part of something larger. Any thought of separate, abiding essence is failing to realize this truth.

A good aproach Cloud; it is needed reasoning and silent learning as experience. If there is not an experience of anatta it is very hard to get into the teachings through it.

plogsties
19 Feb 11, 14:41
"interdependence";
This, to me, is profoundly different than the label "non-self" and easy to understand, whether or not one agrees with it.

Cobalt
23 Feb 11, 05:08
In that, rationality is like the words and concepts of the Dhamma as expounded by the Buddha: a raft to be abandoned once the river has been crossed. It is when the rational approach leads to violent disagreement that it can become counter-productive. This is not to say that it should then be abandoned, only that we should be aware of that pitfall.

I can't think of any areas of my life that I could classify as being beyond "the river" here, if we're defining "the river" as situations where rationality is the best problem-solving tool available. I can think of no area or time of my life when an alternative tool to clear thinking and a ruthless sort of reasonableness is going to serve me better.

To understand what I mean when I'm talking about rationality, here's an excellent bit by Eliezer Yudkowsky about what he calls the Twelve Virtues of Rationality (http://yudkowsky.net/rational/virtues). It's the best summary I've found for how I personally define rationality as a problem-solving tool, and I have difficulty imagining any situation in which these do more harm than good. I also don't see why they would ever conflict with dharma practice. Buddhism as a folk religion fraught with superstition, sure, but dharma practice itself shouldn't have any problems with any of these twelve things.

Maybe I'm just so used to rationality as a base value underlying my decision-making and problem-solving that I am not able to conceive of alternatives that would serve me better in other situations. If this is so, perhaps somebody could name a situation where I wouldn't be well-served by rationality, where I would be beyond the shores of our metaphorical river and no longer in need of my raft?