Thread: Buddhist Metaphysics

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    Buddhist Metaphysics

    I'm reading an article in the magazine 'Philosophy Now' about whether there are four varieties of Buddhist metaphysics which could form one coherent system of thought. Before I go into them, the author, Brian Morris (emeritus professor of Anthropology at Goldsmiths), wonders whether there was ever a 'middle way' that Buddhism took to doctrinally, given "the focal emphasis that Buddhism places on the mind, its complete denial of a self, and the extreme idealist tendencies that developed within the the Buddhist tradition".

    Is this a fair comment? Do people here think that we have a 'middle way' or can it be seen as extreme in some ways?

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    In the 1st sermon, the Middle Way is defined as a way of happiness (based in jhana; avoiding sensuality & self-torment) that has no adverse side-effects. Therefore, this Middle-Way appears certainly a true 'middle-way' of happiness or pleasure.

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    Element, I think that you are right. At the very least it is a reminder to those of us practicing Buddhism, rather than a philosophical standpoint. It reminds us to think about any extremes we may happen across when studying Buddhism, such as some Zen practice and some guides to life in a monestary, and think about how they may relate to the middle way and to our own practice.

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    The first area of metaphysics the article looked at was anicca, or impermanence. Is this something unique to Buddhism, he ponders, or is it merely the Buddha's common-sense understanding of the world? For commonsense realists, the transient nature of everything is 'plainly evident' in that it is empirical knowledge we can investigate. It says that the Buddha realised that the human person is not a disembodied ego but a real organic being, embodied with moral agency and is subject to change. Is this enough to understand anicca?

    For me the problem with impermenance is that it can be understood on a commonsense level as an everyday 'fact' but this is really a superficial understanding of the problems we have in our relationship with change. We hold on to assumptions that we have about things around us and our selves, that things are what we assume they are, and that they will stay more or less the same. The alternative is too traumatic to cope with rationally. Unfortunately this only brings about more suffering as we try to hold on to things. In Buddhism there is a powerful meditation practice where you sit and meditate on death, in the past literally in places where bodies are being cremated. A bit extreme but it shows how hard it is to fully understand our 'commonsense' understanding of change, that we don't believe it at some fundamental level and there is a lot more we have to do.

    I would be interested in how other people understand anicca.

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