Jun. 11, 2007

The Importance of Rebirth

Barry writes;

could you post on 'rebirth' re your comments agreeing with 'onemind' at 'thebuddhawaswrong.com' I would be interested to read more of your view on this matter since you place a particular emphasis on it and it is a seeming point of agreement between you and the owner of the anti-Buddhist website.
To recap; OneMind had said that without rebirth, the whole structure of Buddhist teaching falls apart. Phrased a little strongly, but essentially he is correct. (The only correct statement on the web-site perhaps)

There have been many attempts to cobble together some kind of Buddhism that leaves rebirth out of the picture. I can't really understand why anyone would try. The result is either stoicism or existentialism with an optional dash of vegetarianism perhaps, but it sure isn't any Buddhism that the old teachers would recognize. I guess the motivation comes from a misguided impulse to make the Dhamma more palatable to modern people by pandering to their delusions.

Actually, and I've said this before, rebirth per se isn't the most important issue. Denial of rebirth means a total misunderstanding of the First Noble Truth. But the real damage in these bastardized materialist/agnostic/existential "Buddhisms" is to the Third Noble Truth. I'll go into this in a little detail, bear with me here.

The First Noble Truth is the statement of the problem. It implies dukkha, annica, anatta in every moment of consciousness. But it implies something much more profound than this; it teaches that there is no way out within the confines of samsaric existence. At each moment there is just mind vainly seeking satisfaction from the ten thousand objects. This is repeated ad infinitum. The only way out is to stop doing that.

Now, it is vitally important for the full grasping of this situation to realize that this process has been going on for an indefinitely long period in the past, and has the potential to go on for an indefinitely long period in the future. The true hollowness of samsaric satisfaction can only be fully understood in the context of manifold lifetimes.

This makes a crucial difference in the depth of meditation. If one is to realize the unconditioned, then there has to be a complete and radical relinquishment of the conditioned. No half measures will do. Every arising object, and every potential object, must be seen as completely empty, vain and undesirable. This is possible if one has really internalized the reality of multiple lifetimes. Whatever fantastic desirable thing may be out there is essentially just more of the same. Been there, done that, billions of times.

If however, one is working from the concept of one life-time only, this level of relinquishment is not possible. The experiences of the senses take on a different flavour, a greater importance or perhaps one should say, piquancy, if this is the only shot at the can. In fact, it would be fair to ask if relinquishment is even a worthwhile goal in this context.

So awakening is simply not possible if one adheres to miccha-ditthi (erroneous views.) Sorry to all the "agnostic Buddhist" but the Unconditioned is one place that particular eel is unable to wriggle to.

This brings us to the Third Noble Truth. Nibbana has to be written out of materialist or agnostic reworkings of the Dhamma. This is for both philosophic and experential reasons. Philosophically, there is no possible place for a transcendental reality in a materialist world. Experentially, Nibbana cannot be realized by adherents of false view, so none of them deal with it their writings. Or they redefine it into something that "fits" onto the flat-land of their impoverished world-view. And if one of them ever did attain the path and fruit, he would immediately and forever cease to be a materialist thereby.

Loose Ends

OK, I've got the log-in problem solved. Blogger now wants me to use my email address as my user name instead of my user name. I don't remember when they changed that; certainly seems counter-intuitive and the error messages they give when you do it wrong are particularly useless even by the low standards of computer error messages. Grumble, gripe.

Now, onto a philosophic issue. A couple of comments have questioned my assertion that chess ability is culturally specific.

There is nothing special about chess. It takes the average person 5 minutes to learn how each peice moves and the objective of the game. The game is completely mechanical and a persons skill at it is determined by how many variables a persons short term memory can keep track of via thinking about moves in advanced and that is completely determined by dna. Otherwise computers would not be unable to beat grandmasters at the game. There is nothing cultural about algorithms or memory and these human traits are completely genetic.
Oh dear. I can only assume the writer of that has never played serious chess. There are so many misconceptions in the above paragraph, it's hard to know where to begin.

Of course, chess is highly algorithmic, but only at a very deep level. The complexity of the game is such that it is only very recently that the most powerful computers have been able to play at a grandmaster level. Even now, they can't consistently beat the top human players.

There is more, a lot more, to the skill of a top player than being able to think ahead several moves. The algorithms needed to work ahead more than a half dozen moves are so complicated, and the number of possible scenarios so literally astronomical, (there are more possible chess games than there are atoms in the universe) that no human, or even any current computer, can play the game by brute force analysis alone.

For human players, there is a great deal of intuition involved; a mental faculty that can't be quantified (another hole in the swiss cheese of the materialist's world-view). The computer uses very clever algorithms that try to maximize factors like control of the centre-board, or conservation of pawn structure. There simply isn't the computer power in the world to play a purely brute force game.

The actual playing of the game by masters is as much an art as a skill. The fact that the grandmasters can hold their own against these powerful computers when no human can possibly hold so many variables in memory demonstrates this.

There is a lot more to learning chess than just knowing how the pieces move.

Jun. 10, 2007


I'm still having trouble logging in here; I need to "recover my password" every single time. Something is screwed up and I don't know what. I got some advice in an email from one of the readers here, a reference to a web-site that talks about Blogspot's software is incorrectly flagging some blogs as spam. I don't think that's the problem. Anyway, I'm working on it.

BTW, I hadn't heard of spam blogs before.

On another issue, one of the comments took mild umbrage at my decision to go to moderated posting. Sorry about that, I don't particularly like it either, but we had a serious problem here a while back with extremely nasty posts and even threats. To re-iterate, I will only ban posts that are abusive or obscene, never just because they disagree with me. (Otherwise known as "being wrong.")