View Full Version : Fusion- when is a Buddhist not a Buddhist?

14 May 20, 11:34
I would like to hear some ideas about whether fusion is possible. If there are some new ideas, say about the science of consciousness, what do we do about it? Do we google every bit of the dharma to find anything against it, or for it, or what? There is such a vast array that would it always be possible to find a case for and a case against? Is giving it an airing but not coming to any firm conclusion the best we can do? Should we test things against schools of Buddhism, one at a time, or are there universal constants that we can have as a checklist?

I would like to start the ball rolling with any people into Zen, specifically if you use koans as part of your practice. Are the ideas on the threads about maths and consciousness worthy of incorporating into meditations about counter-intuitive stuff. Using "It's not possible, but that's how the universe works. What do you say to that?" as part of letting go what you think of as reality, or simply along the lines that there is no answer, but you have to give one?

14 May 20, 20:34
Hi Phil,

I am not a zen practitioner, I have only read books on it so my knowledge is purely academic. Isn’t the idea of koans to stop conceptual thinking, which invariably has self-view involved and hence is always dualistic? When one stops that whatever words or actions are offered as response are the “answers”. In mathematical and scientific knoeledge-gathering, the mystery is the stage before one hears somewhat cryptic and profound-sounding statements. Unfortunately, even if one knows some profound scientific or mathematical ideas, they are usually so far removed from daily experience that it remains an intellectual experience. Plus they are still temporary conventional mental conceptions, not any kind of absolute truths.
But I would agree that knowing and understanding the current scientific theories can definetely help with issues involving self-view, consciousness, conscious action, free will etc.

I was in fact thinking that the koan type of instructional practice might be good for some fields of science and maths, especially ones involving counter-intuitive concepts - better than just dry textbook stuff.

14 May 20, 21:18
I would like to start the ball rolling with any people into Zen, specifically if you use koans as part of your practice

I was previously a long-term Vajrayana practitioner, and I now prefer the Theravada Thai Forest Tradition lineage of Ajahn Chah, so I'm not a Zen practitioner! - However, I came across this article :"The Math Koan" at the Lion's Roar website and thought it might be of interest here.



15 May 20, 00:08
Hi both. An interesting article which brings in elements of how koans work. It really doesn't matter what the koan is, it's the process that it induces in the mind. I would add that it's an intensely destructive process because it builds up a tension which can't be resolved, at least not logically. The aim of the teacher in terms of koans is to keep the pot boiling in the student, not accepting any answer yet demanding one. If done properly then something happens. As the article says, "They work at it and it works at them, until suddenly the “problem” drops away and they communicate its meaning without speaking a word." In Buddhist terms, clinging is destroyed.

15 May 20, 03:53
they communicate its meaning without speaking a word.

Possibly a similar experience to receiving a "pointing out instruction" from one's teacher in Tibetan Buddhism.

15 May 20, 11:02
In scientific terms Kuhn's 'paradigm shift' comes close to the process. The scientific world thinks that the world is structured one way until the stress on new ideas backed by data reaches a certain point, upon which world view changes. Take plate tectonics. Everyone assumed that mountains were formed as the Earth cooled and wrinkled like an apple. Along comes the idea of plate tectonics which had a different explanation for mountain building and then suddenly, after many years, plate tectonics was recognised as the accepted explanation. For those interested in science these are the 'oh wow' moments where your world view changes. Another for me was unlearning that matter can neither be created or destroyed. Learning that matter pops into existence and pops out of existence all the time did something similar to the effects of a koan, at least for me.

19 May 20, 03:50
This is a bit weird connection to make but zen koans and zen stories in general always remind me of a star trek the next generation (TNG) episode “Darmok”, where the universal translator fails because people speak and understand the world in terms of metaphors. It is an example of a perfectly valid qualitative system of creating labels, conventions, and communication as opposed to a language with rigid almost mathematical grammer and rules. During the entire episode, tension builds up because the captain can understand the syntax but not the meaning - quite like the tension in “koan-solving”. It is finally released in a-ha moment, when the true nature of that language is understood, then everything makes sense but in a different way. I don’t know why I thought of mentioning this but I felt it might be of interest to some from the point of view of alternate ways of talking about and understanding things.

19 May 20, 05:56
I felt it might be of interest to some from the point of view of alternate ways of talking about and understanding things.

Not really, unless you want to show the clip from Star Trek and explain how its relevant to Buddhism and Buddhist practice!

(and bearing in mind that Star Trek is TV science fiction/fantasy! :green: )

............... :saucer:

19 May 20, 11:42
My interest in science and science fiction started as soon as I could read and first contact was always there, as a way of exploring all the different ways of thinking and communicating which alien species may show. It's interesting that mathematics is usually chosen as first subject as it communicates universal observations which have recognisable patterns. You recognise a pattern and render it in both methods of communication, and you have the first steps to a Rosetta Stone. Other common things come next, but they all assume that each species is communicating in a logical way that can be followed, given the 'key' to unlock the language. Such assumptions need to made in order to make sense of what the other is saying.

But what if those assumptions don't hold? Writing which is full of metaphors, figurative language, fables, fiction, parables and so on would be almost impossible for an alien to translate without an intimate knowledge of a civilisation. Which is directly relevant to Buddhism as it is based on a number of civilisations and languages which are pretty alien given that we cannot visit the past when they were written, so we have to make a lot of assumptions which may not reflect the original intent of the writer. Trusolo's comment, that other people may have had 'alternate ways of talking about and understanding things' should be of interest to any Buddhist from our culture wishing to get insight into Dharma written in someone else's past.

How do we know what people were trying to communicate to their own culture in their own time? What were oral stories, with the often flowery language associated with oral stories, what were meant to be taken literally, and what were assumed to be metaphors, and so on? We owe a lot to people who originally translated such writings, but we also have to be careful about the assumptions they made and those that continue to be made. Koans are a case in point, which I have studied over the years. originally they were never meant to be written down, but were solely between master and pupil, to be used to move the pupil on by creating the right mental tension at the right time. Things change and once written down and codified they began to be learned as formal steps in an automatic system of taught koans. To understand the system you have to look at assumptions made at the time in that culture.

Science fiction such as Star Trek is really about us rather than what is out there on the frontier.

19 May 20, 12:13
Trusolo's comment, that other people may have had 'alternate ways of talking about and understanding things' should be of interest to any Buddhist from our culture wishing to get insight into Dharma written in someone else's past.

trusolo didn't say that "other people may have had"......He said, regarding his own comments about an episode of StarTrek, : I don’t know why I thought of mentioning this but I felt it might be of interest to some from the point of view of alternate ways of talking about and understanding things."

It also didn't appear to me that he was talking about "insight into Dharma written in someone else's past" (who's the someone else with a past that you're refering to, Phil?) . He seemed to be talking about an episode of 'Star Trek', which he thought was "quite like the tension in koan-solving".

In circumstances like this it makes a lot more sense to show a clip of the episode itself, in order to avoid unnecessary confusion. There are plenty of videos of the old Star Trek stuff available on YouTube and elsewhere on the internet - and we have a video facility available right here in our posting boxes. Instructions can be found in our technology forum or just click on the second icon from the right at the top of the posting box and then insert the URL of the video in the box which appears.(the first icon shows a speech bubble and is the quoting facility).

Science fiction such as Star Trek is really about us rather than what is out there on the frontier.

Sure, because its written by human beings for light entertainment on the TV screens of other humans!


19 May 20, 16:21
Hi Aloka. Good discussion. I may have misunderstood Trusolo for my own purposes, for which I apologise. I want to like the idea of multiple Star Trek clips on the site but I have a confession to make, that I don't really watch them any more. I may have outgrown them at last. I'll whisper it, but I don't like Dr Who any more either, even though I saw the first ever episode when it was initially shown and I loved it for many years. On the other hand, I don't agree that science fiction, even of the Star Trek type is always 'light entertainment' as they went in for some heavy stuff on occasion, dealing with issues of racism and of misunderstanding other cultures. Slipping it past the radar, as it were.

This, for example, is a good example of dealing with issues of race:

where at first you don't notice that the black/white colouring is different between the two people, one black on the left side the other black on the right. It is vitally important to them, even though we wouldn't see the difference.

The " someone else with a past" bit is really " Dharma written in someone else's past", by which I mean the person writing it originally, writing in their time and culture for their audience, so the reader now has to be aware of not only the lineage of the writer but the culture at the time, in order to tease out the universal from the metaphorical imagery and other strategies they used.

19 May 20, 17:56
I wrote that post while on a short break from final exam grading so I didn't have the time to search around for start trek clips. Also, I could not elaborate on the point I was trying to make.

We know or understand most things through language. Apart from a few experiences that are directly understood, most need language to be processed. We even talk to ourselves using language (seemingly unnecessary). Any written or spoken language is full of ambiguities, nuances, etc. Mathematics is the ultimate logical extension of language - packing maximum information with minimum symbols and no ambiguities. It is meant to be as literal as you can possibly get.

The zen literature language and koan study is in some sense the exact opposite of mathematical language and more like the example of star trek story I gave. At some point it was deliberately devised, designed, and developed as a teaching tool to break the normal patterns of thinking and understanding. How does one confound someone while talking to them? You do that by using the same words but mean something completely different! The entire "zen language" is made up of "pointers", metaphors, where nothing is meant literally and everything is pointing to something else. What it points to is deliberately left unclear, that is for the listener to figure out. Forget the answers, even the questions are not meant literally, e.g. Why did Bodhidharma come to the west? The entire construction/teaching is about talking in metaphors and analogies and breaking the habit of sticking to rigid rules and conventions in the use of language to understand the world. The back and forth between student and teacher happens because the syntax is understood but not the meaning.

What is common between say koan study and mathematics is the broad process from being confronted with a conundrum to discovery or resolution. That inevitably involves a "tectonic shift" in understanding. Both also involve, at some point, forgetting about yourself and just let the mind or awareness do its job.

I agree with Phil that even when the language is used normally and not deliberately in confounding manner, it is still important to understand the metaphors and the context of the time and place.

27 May 20, 11:22
Going back to the theme of the thread, does it matter, if you are using koans, whether the koans used are the 'traditional' ones or not? I spent a year reading and re-reading 'Samurai Zen: The Warrior Koans' by Trevor Leggett, seeing which koans resonated and which didn't. It was interesting the effect some had while others brought in images of tumbleweed. I then searched my memory for similar things I had used as part of my practice and realised that I had used a lot of science, from big bang to bootstrap theory to chaos theory and so on. Cutting edge ideas from macro and micro areas of science. So my point is if you are following koan practice is there any need to use any Buddhist koans, but are you still a Buddhist if you don't and every koan is 'modern'?

27 May 20, 17:03
Ah, I see what you are saying. In that sense, it should not make a difference provided the goal is the same. “koan” for the sake of understanding some science theory or fact-gathering would probably not considered “buddhist” unless it is just an intermediate step in your investigations. The buddhist goal I think is always to experience three marks of existence ( Anicca, Dukkha, Annata: ADA ) in everything. My attitude is to use whatever helps in this regard. If it is science that helps me to see ADA, even though it may be only conceptually, it is still worth it. There are other methods to experience it directly.