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Thread: Something to believe in?

  1. #1

    Something to believe in?

    Hi all,

    I'm by nature a bit of a skeptic and a rationalist. I kind of feel that I fit in well enough here on the Treeleaf forum - with Jundo "Just-sit-zazen" Cohen. :wink:

    But a while ago, I visited another popular Buddhist web forum, where questioning the supernatural got me in quite a bit of trouble. I believe that I said something about having difficulty with the descriptions of the 31 planes of existence. For starters, the term "tongue-stretching hell" (I think that's where the liars go!) gives me a very Tom & Jerry mental image. I also have a hard time with the heavenly palaces of lapis lazuli.

    I wasn't universally condemned, but some of the people there did say that anyone who doubted the doctrine of these planes isn't a proper Buddhist. And I was called a "scientific materialist," but I don't know what that is.

    So... what do - or what should - Buddhists believe in anyway? I mean proper Buddhists, not yours truly!

  2. #2
    Read my signature

    Gassho Will

  3. #3
    Hi Paige,

    Oh, I believe in the Buddhist hells and such. But, whether they exist within or outside of us, that much I cannot tell you. Anyway, what is 'inside' or 'outside' in the end?? If they exist within you, then they exist within this universe after all!

    You can take them as poetic descriptions of a real state, or as a real place (I am squarely in the former camp) ... but how much difference is there between a real state of mind and a real place? ( ... and to mention in passing, there is also that whole mind/Mind way of looking at things ... )

    You know, you may be surprised to hear old 'down to earth' Jundo say this, but I also look at many of the 'Manifestations of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas' floating around Buddhism in much the same way. Are they 'real' entities, or just symbols of real aspirations for human beings and real aspects of our human psychology? Here, I lean strongly toward the latter 'aspirations and psychology' but ... but ... real in that way is still real.

    Gassho, Jundo

    PS - I still believe in Santa Claus too. I sincerely mean that.

  4. #4
    If you want to know what I beliave in Page...

    I am starting to believe in the possiblity for a life with joy and happiness involved. Doesn't mean I've reached it, but I'm catching glimpses now and then. I might be wrong, but in the end I think it's really up to you. Right now I try to live it a day or moment at a time, but that's me

    And what Jundo said. Hehe.

    Gassho Will

  5. #5
    Hi Will,

    Quote Originally Posted by will

    And what Jundo said. Hehe.

    Gassho Will
    But I wasn't kidding, Will.

    Gassho, Jundo

  6. #6
    Hello Paige!

    Funny that you should mention the "hell question" at this particular time. During the sesshin I participated in last weekend, exactly the same question came up as part of a conversation. I really liked your Tom and Jerry reference. No part of my personal experience (so far) indicates that there is an actual physical place like the Avici hell,...I mean do all those hell minions and ghoulies work 9to5 shifts or what? Is there some kind of union for professional imps and ghoulies? Yet one could argue that our own plane of being is not 100% solid real in the conventional sense either, so who knows.

    To me it's more than a coincidence that those hell descriptions fit in perfectly well within the cultural and general mythological context of the time and place when/where the sutras and/or shastras in question were written, but don't fit in nearly as well into other cultural contexts. However, I strongly believe that there is a great truth at the bottom of most of these descriptions. Maybe a Tom and Jerry description comes closest to what these states really are like. If they are something to be experienced, then does it matter whether they exist in a physical form (in the same way that the statue of liberty exists)?

    Let's not forget that psychology itself is just another framework that enables us to interpret the different reality states in a particular way. We can call a lot of stuff archetypes, or psychological states, but as long as these things have any kind of profound truth and reality-state at their core (even if it is "just" metaphorical) , they are not "just" psychological states, or "just" an archetype, or "just" a God(s).

    I personally think that interpreting the Buddhist scriptures is a balancing act between blind faith (e.g. in a Christian sense), and an arrogant attachment to scientific materialism. I trust and have faith in the three jewels, the four noble truths, the eightfold path and a lot of other things that I can personally verify. If the Buddha actually did speak of certain supernatural things, he probably had a very good reason for doing so.

    Yet again a lot of questions remain: Did the Buddha actually say these things, or did some of his students add to his teachings during the process of writing his sayings down? To whom did the Buddha say these things? Do we have any real reasons other than our scepticism to believe that most of the supernatural stuff was just Upaya (skillful means) in action?

    There is no easy way out of this. We have to take full responsibility for our own actions and opinions. All I think I know is that I wouldn't have been able to come up with the eightfold path and Zazen all by myself. My powers of reason do have limits, and I am glad to trust a 2500 year old tradition, that managed again and again to verify the truth its own core teachings. A tradition that is greater than my own individual capacities alone. If I can trust Shakyamuni Buddha with regards to the three jewels, four noble truths etc. etc. I can trust him with some odd stuff as well, though that odd stuff may not necessarily seem particularly important.

    As to the question who is and who isn't a real buddhist...well...we all have our own individual perspectives on that. I've never seen an -ism walk through the door or water the flowers, but once ina while it does seem to make sense to distinguish one approach from another. I am one fo those people who are e.g. pretty anti Christian-Zen for various reasons. Aum Shinrikyo isn't Buddhism to me, and I feel pretty confident saying this. then I look at movements like Soka Gakkai and Shinnyo-En and think...well...not really what I'd personally call Buddhism, but who am I to say??? Who am I to judge others? Once in a while I feel like I have to to...at other times I should better keep my mouth shut...a balancing act.


    Gassho,

    Hans

  7. #7
    Hi Paige,

    I too feel the hells are more psychological than geographical, and so I also believe that we are the architects and constructors of these hells.

    I think 'hell' is like 'home'. 'Home' has very little to do with sticks of wood, paint, shingles, location, and the like. It's a 'feeling', something that we create through emotion, memory, ideas, eye of newt, wing of bat, this and that. Which is why what 'feels like home' to one person, may or may not feel like home to another- it's not the location, it's the mind. Of course this doesn't make 'home' any less 'homey', any more than the definition or explanation of the hell's make them any less sinister or horrifying, especially when you find yourself IN the pit...

    Hell's a nice place to visit (because it gives you motivation to find a way out!), but I wouldn't want to call it home...

    And getting in trouble for questioning? They don't sound like Buddhists to me- are we not encouraged by the Buddhas to question and find the truth for ourselves?

    My 2cents,
    Greg

  8. #8
    I recognize the feeling. When I first started reading about buddhism I was so enthusiastic and read lots of things. Coincidentally, the first books I read were all in line with the no-nonsense zen I read in Brad's books and that I also like here in treeleaf. And then I read a Buddhist magazine, that was full of stories like "I have to be good to other people, because if I am not, I may come back as a mosquito in my next life, and that would suck". It was so weird to me that this is the same buddhism as the one that felt already so logical to me.

    In another life I studied catholic theology. In the bible lectures, inevitably the subject of whether to take the bible literally came up. The professor insisted that she took the bible very literally, but that that still did not mean that the world was made in seven physical days and that some big guy in the sky took a rib from Adam and made it into Eve. That would be simplistic. Those stories are important and to say they are "just" metaphors does them injustice. On the other hand, saying that they are "just" historical narratives of what happens does them injustice as well.

    We should always take in mind the time and place that stories were written. People thousands of years ago did not think of time and space the way we do.

    What I really like about treeleaf is that nobody is telling other people what to do or think or believe if they want to be "proper buddhists". I sometimes read another buddhist forum as well, and got tired of all the better-than-thou stories of people who seemed to know everything and were so sure of it.

  9. #9
    Quote Originally Posted by Hans
    scientific materialism.
    I still don't know what that means! I Googled it, but all I found were a bunch of Intelligent Design/ anti-Darwin websites.

  10. #10
    Senior Member Martin's Avatar
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    Paige, All

    "What do - or should - Buddhists believe?".

    A good question. I've had similar experiences and nowadays my problem is with the whole concept of "belief" as being something one "should" have.

    It's not that I don't believe in anything I can't check for myself. Until the other year I'd never been to Canada. But I'd met people who claimed to have come from there, my wife said she'd been there, I'd seen film purportedly made there, there was an aeroplane which said it was going there, all in all it seemed reasonable to believe that Canada would be at the other end of the flight. And I got on the plane, it set off from the UK and when I got out, there was Canada. Marvellous! And very nice it was too. In the same way I "believe" in Australia; on balance, the evidence suggests it's there. And they keep beating us at cricket.

    However, these are things that are plausible in terms of my own experience. But heavenly palaces, multi layered hells as physical places, the Invisible Pink Unicorn, these lie entirely outside my experience. They may exist. I don't know. But on the basis of what could I or should I possibly "believe" that they exist? Because somebody says so? I just don't get it, and I can't make myself "believe" just because somebody says I "should". I spent many years trying to "believe", but I can't.

    Now, I'm not sure I can even see that "belief" is necessarily a good thing, though it seems to be near universally assumed that "belief" is in some way a positive, almost regardless of what one is believing in. After all, what's so good about believing something that seems on the face of it unlikely and for which there is no evidence? And why should I demand respect for believing something unlikely for which there is no evidence? It seems to me history is full of people who did terrible things because some belief system or other told them it would be a "good" thing to do. Don't "beliefs" ultimately take us away from our life as it is here and now?

    I like to think that some of my doubts sit well with at least some of the Buddha's teaching. The Kalama sutra, being lamps unto ourselves etc. But even if I'm told that the Buddha does require me to "believe" in something, well, sorry, I still can't make myself "believe" just because someone says I "should".

    But then, I'm probably not the right person to comment on what Buddhists believe, because I don't know if I'm a "Buddhist". I'd quite like to be. All I do is try to follow what Jundo in particular and others in the Soto school teach. Does that make me a "Buddhist"? Is there a Register of Buddhists in the sky in which my name is or was entered? When did I become a "Buddhist"? What changed?

    Sorry, long post. But, Paige, you touched a nerve, and I stand to be corrected by others.

    Gassho

    (Doubting) Martin

  11. #11

    something to believe in

    Hello to all:
    Thank you Paige for a very wonderful, rich, topic of discussion!
    When people ask me my religion, I used to be a bit bashful and then later a bit too proud (if you ask me) about saying I was a buddhist. I would then have to explain that no, I didn't chant the name of buddha for hours on end. I now know for sure that I practice zazen, I practice shikantaza, I practice 'just sitting' and when I'm not doing that, then I'm doing a damn good imitation of quietly sitting crosslegged facing the wall. And even this 'imitation of quietly sitting' is, in and of itself, quietly sitting.
    I can definitely tell people I sit quietly. I find if I say I'm buddhist, then all kinds of qualifiers have to be made: no, I don't chant (other than the Great Heart of Wisdom Sutra--which I describe as being the 'Lord's Prayer' of buddhism); no, I don't believe in reincarnation, (other than we do it all the time--cells regenerating) no, I can't really say I'm enlightened, nor can I say I'm not: I've had experiences, but it's like having gas--or a cold--something that passes. So I tell people I really don't know what that word means. People get pretty bored with this pretty quickly--where's the pizzazz? And I'd have to ask them--where isn't it?
    gassho
    keishin

  12. #12

    Re: Something to believe in?

    Quote Originally Posted by paige
    But a while ago, I visited another popular Buddhist web forum, where questioning the supernatural got me in quite a bit of trouble. I believe that I said something about having difficulty with the descriptions of the 31 planes of existence. For starters, the term "tongue-stretching hell" (I think that's where the liars go!) gives me a very Tom & Jerry mental image. I also have a hard time with the heavenly palaces of lapis lazuli.
    Maybe this is something to do with those dragons and elephants, i think. There will be allways people judgin and and just talking.

    Gassho
    Jarkko

  13. #13
    When ever someone asks something or says something about what Buddhists believe I always think about the Kalama Sutra.

    "Rely not on the teacher/person, but on the teaching.
    Rely not on the words of the teaching, but on the spirit of the words. Rely not on theory, but on experience.
    Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it.
    Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations.
    Do not believe anything because it is spoken and rumored by many.
    Do not believe in anything because it is written in your religious books.
    Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders.
    But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and the benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it."


    Hope that is helpful

    Gassho,
    Jordan

  14. #14
    jundo
    But I wasn't kidding, Will.
    Hi Jundo. I didn't mean to make it seem like you were kidding or degrad your beliefs at all. I meant to say that you have your beliefs and each person must decide for themselves in the end. I guess I could of made myself clearer.

    Thanks for the Tuesday blog post by the way.

    Gassho Will

  15. #15

    Re: Something to believe in?

    Hey Paige

    Quote Originally Posted by paige
    So... what do - or what should - Buddhists believe in anyway? I mean proper Buddhists, not yours truly!
    I personally don't think that practice requires belief, disbelief, or agnosticism. So to the folks that would suggest that one must accept a particular mythological framework to be a proper Buddhist, I say "stick it".

    Diplomacy isn't my strong point at times. :twisted:

    To the meaty question, "be lamps unto yourselves" seems like pretty strong advice.

    Interestingly enough my original post timed out. I guess cliff's notes were what was needed. *shrug*

    Rodney

  16. #16
    Quote Originally Posted by Jordan
    When ever someone asks something or says something about what Buddhists believe I always think about the Kalama Sutra.

    "Rely not on the teacher/person, but on the teaching.
    Rely not on the words of the teaching, but on the spirit of the words. Rely not on theory, but on experience.
    Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it.
    Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations.
    Do not believe anything because it is spoken and rumored by many.
    Do not believe in anything because it is written in your religious books.
    Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders.
    But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and the benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it."


    Hope that is helpful

    Gassho,
    Jordan
    Jordan,

    I want to thank you so much for this. It will be part of our 'official' tenets around Treeleaf.

    Gassho, Jundo

  17. #17
    Jundo,

    You are so very welcome!

    Gassho,
    Jordan

  18. #18
    Quote Originally Posted by will
    Hi Jundo. I didn't mean to make it seem like you were kidding or degrad your beliefs at all. I meant to say that you have your beliefs and each person must decide for themselves in the end.

    Gassho Will
    Hi Will,

    I want to say again that I believe in Buddhist Heavens and Hells, Buddhas (apart from the historical Shakyamuni) and Boddhisattvas, and all the rest of the Buddhist cosmology, in much the spirit of that famous essay ... "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus". Did you ever read that? A little girle wrote to a newspaper editor, back in 1897, saying that she'd heard from friends that there is no Santa Claus. "Is it true?", she asked. Part of the response ran like this ...

    What? You don't believe in Santa Claus?

    Gassho and Ho Ho Ho, Jundo


    VIRGINIA, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except [what] they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men's or children's, are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

    Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no VIRGINIAS. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

    http://www.newseum.org/yesvirginia/

  19. #19
    All,

    This is a fascinating thread. Thanks to all for their contributions.

    Gassho.

  20. #20
    What? You don't believe in Santa Claus?
    Thanks Jundo.

    Gassho Will

  21. #21
    I sympathize with you Paige.
    It sounds to me like the argument that occurs in nearly all religions: 'literal' interpretation vs. symbolic or metaphorical interpretation. I, personally, think that most of the Buddhist writings (sutras, etc) are completely correct in terms of describing reality using symbolism and metaphor. Hell exists for me. When I am scattered, frustrated, angry, sad, even happy, I sense the hellishness of it because those states are inherently unsatisfactory. That hell never ends unless I drop it and get out of the cycle. That is the relief that I have found in the few glimpses I have had of the truth as I see it. I believe in reincarnation in that I am constantly being reborn as a new person (whatever that is). Each moment is a new universe, a new big-bang. It is my job to be sure that I am aware so that I will not be born into a hell, but the heaven of the present. Somehow this sounds a lot more pretentious that I want it to, but that is my take. I get very frustrated with unquestioned orthodoxy of any sort, be it Buddhist, Christian, or whatever.

    Later,
    Bill

  22. #22
    Wow, thank you all for your great replies, and for sharing your experiences so openly. It feels like I'm getting to know some of you much better - thanks!

    I'm glad Hans did say something about having faith in practice. Didn't Dogen, Hakuin and Hsu Yun all speak of the importance of Great Doubt and Great Faith? To sit goalless zazen day after day requires a lot of trust and faith, I think. There's "nothing to achieve," so you know we'll never get measurable results!

    Will, reading
    Quote Originally Posted by will
    I am starting to believe in the possiblity for a life with joy and happiness involved.
    put a big smile on my face.

    Martin, I really emphasised with your comments on not being able to force yourself to believe in something because some authority says you have to, or because everyone else does. I'm very much the same way. I'm also terrible at 'faking it.' (Which is why I'm shocked that anyone at all really does think I'm a 'real Buddhist!')

    Quote Originally Posted by helena
    I may come back as a mosquito in my next life, and that would suck".
    Haha! That's cute. I knew there was a reason I liked you, Helena!

    Thank you all again for such a great discussion. Every reply gave me a lot to think about, I'm grateful.

    Deep gassho,
    paige

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