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Thread: Not Faith -- Precepts 8 Fold Path

  1. #1

    Not Faith -- Precepts 8 Fold Path

    Hello Sangha,

    This post is really more me thinking out loud, but feel free to comment if you wish. I may be off-base here.

    Everyone has heard the phrase before "buddhism is not a faith-based religion" (let's not get into the religion vs. philosophy debate right now). But, until recently, I considered the Precepts and the 8-Fold-Path as "faith." I said to myself "can't everything be discovered through zazen? who needs these statements telling me what I should or shouldn't do?"

    However, now it makes sense. The Precepts and 8-Fold-Path were themselves discovered through the meditation practices of the Buddha. They have been "tried and tested" over the thousands of years since then in that they produce experiential results within ones lifetime. So, in that sense they are not "commandments of faith" but, rather, tried and tested tools developed out of meditation to compliment meditation (and for meditation to complement them).

    Pure "faith" implies something you can never personally experience in your lifetime (e.g., salvation in heaven or damnation in hell). The Precepts and 8-Fold-Path, therefore, are not based on faith.

  2. #2

    Re: Not Faith -- Precepts 8 Fold Path

    Hi,

    I think that meditation without the Precepts can lead to a self-centered, power-based, thinking which can, in my opinion, lead to terrible consequences. The most obvious thing that comes to mind is how Hitler, using a power he'd tapped into, led so many into horrendous circumstances. If precepts had been considered before action was taken, perhaps the events that took place would not have happened.

    I see, also, on a much smaller scale what happens when I do not look to the precepts to guide me in my own life.

    I have a magnetic thingy on my fridge next to the shopping list which reads: GREED!! Consuming humanity for over 10,000 years!

    That to me, is the epitomy of a helluva lot of the "wrongs" in our world.

    Eventually, the consumer becomes the consumed.

    And I'm not exempt. Usually, I end up having to make amends, apologize, or in some cases lose a friend through my own misguided notions. Runaway trains wreak a lot of havoc. So, in order to not hurt others or myself I try (don't always succeed) to apply the precepts to any situation. I, therefore, have faith, but only insofar as I can get my ego out of the way, and have faith in THIS.

    THIS is all there is and I'm a small part of IT, so when I hurt someone else, I hurt myself too. Kinda like cutting of one's foot when its only the toenails that need clipped. When I do not harm, only then does my life feel comfortable, no good or bad, perhaps just a tiny piece of eqanimity. I get any equanimity that I have from sitting, so I have faith that sitting works.

    Don't know if this makes a lot of sense but whatever...

    Great topic! Lots of food for thought and contemplation. Thanks.

    Many blessings,
    Lora

  3. #3

    Re: Not Faith -- Precepts 8 Fold Path

    I have a conversation centered around this topic from time to time with my wife. She often wonders what the point of life is if there is no faith involved. You can't know everything, so you MUST go on faith.

    My general response is something to the affect of...

    "You can't know everything, this is true, but when there is already a proven path available, why would you choose to blindly trust in faith? I don't see the need".

    Maybe I'm just ignorant, but it seems to me that there truly is no need to "just have faith" in something else when you can walk a path with some surety knowing that millions of others have walked the same path before you. That is real.

    I don't want to wait till some afterlife to see if it worked or not, that seems silly to me.

    Why wait when you can live it now?

  4. #4

    Re: Not Faith -- Precepts 8 Fold Path

    I've had some "faith" issues with Buddhism, though they weren't so much about the precepts or 8-fold path -- guess I see these more as a set of commitments or guidelines which one takes up as part of a spiritual journey, rather than a system of beliefs. On the other hand, there are beliefs underlying them -- such as the belief that intoxicants could harm meditation practice, or that the path is the right one to follow, or that Buddha wasn't talking nonsense. So maybe we can't take faith out of the equation altogether. Still, it seems like a fairly practical, common sense type of faith -- plus, as you say, it can be verified by experience.

    My problems have more to do with supernatural or superstitious aspects in mainstream Buddhism; I've struggled with these a great deal (as have a lot of people), though it's been productive too, pushing me to examine my own hidden assumptions.

  5. #5

    Re: Not Faith -- Precepts 8 Fold Path

    Quote Originally Posted by robert
    My problems have more to do with supernatural or superstitious aspects in mainstream Buddhism; I've struggled with these a great deal (as have a lot of people), though it's been productive too, pushing me to examine my own hidden assumptions.
    Count me in that category as well. That has been the only aspect thus far that has triggered the closing of my mind. I never bought into the supernatural aspects in the story of Jesus or any others for that matter, even being raised Christian. I clearly can't know one way or the other with 100% surety, but I have a hard time buying into it.

    My wife, trying to share my interests, has a low level of interest in Buddhism, though anytime the more supernatural/superstitious come into view she bails and says this is where she thinks it's all crap, but meditation and "living a good life" is just fine.

    I do find it funny however that Jesus can perform miracles and people see that as just fine and faith promoting, but any mention of someone else healing, or doing anything miraculous is looked at as a fraud, or harnessing the power of Satan. :twisted:

  6. #6

    Re: Not Faith -- Precepts 8 Fold Path

    Quote Originally Posted by robert
    My problems have more to do with supernatural or superstitious aspects in mainstream Buddhism; I've struggled with these a great deal (as have a lot of people), though it's been productive too, pushing me to examine my own hidden assumptions.
    Count me into this category as well!

    I believe that starting off in Buddhist practice takes a certain amount of "trust & dedication" (a term I prefer to "faith" because of all the baggage that "faith" carries with it for most folks). At the outset, one has to trust that there is something to what our practice and philosophy is about, because one yet has no personal experience and must just go on the assumption that the teachings and teachers and books are reliable. You need the same faith the first time you try anything without personal experience. Even a cake recipe from a book.

    But like that cake recipe, if it doesn't start to taste right, and prove itself in your life after a short time (and continue to deepen and deepen in your life over time) ... then forget it. Give it up. Become a scientologist or something! :roll:

    This is especially true for the most fundamental teachings such as the Four Noble Truths and the like ... the proof is in the pudding. Even those teachings that seem a bit fantastic and less "common sense" (such as that your "self" is not your "self", that "time is a state of mind", that "life and death are a state of mind" too, and the like), well, those need to be tasted by yourself personally ... and until they are, don't believe in them. Doubt 'em all. You can still get a lot out of practice without them (although missing what is, deep down at the center of the cake, the "best part").

    But as to the superstition, magical systems, talk of post-mortem rebirth as a bunny rabbit, hocus-pocus, Buddha's in the Sky floating on Golden Lotus', super-normal powers, angels and devils, heavens and hells (outside the heavens and hells we create for ourselves in our lives) ... you name it. Forget that stuff completely or, at best, remain an open minded, but very skeptical agnostic (I discount most of it, need little of that). That is what I do. A lot of that is extra baggage that Buddhism picked up over thousands of years as it made its way through civilizations populated by folks who explained the world through magic and lots of imagination. None of it is necessary to the central message of the Buddha. Even the Buddha, though brilliant on the central points of Buddhism, spoke often as a man raised in the Hindu environment of India, 25 centuries ago ... an age when people had little understanding of science (not to say that science has all the answers, or is even free of its own myths ... but that is a topic for another day).

    All the "magic" one needs is right before our eyes, and the Buddhist teachings are wondrous even without the flying Golden Lotus'.

    I give talks on this from time to time. I will repost one or two in the coming weeks.

    Gassho, Jundo

  7. #7
    Senior Member KellyRok's Avatar
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    Re: Not Faith -- Precepts 8 Fold Path

    Hello Mushin and all,

    Mushin - you've made a very important point here...good thread. I too have struggled with the word "faith" and if I was supposed to view Buddhism as a "faith" when I started practicing. I know now that the Precepts and the 8 fold path are the means through which we can live a more meaningful and true existence as long as we keep sitting.

    Jundo - I like your comment on when things start to not taste right, it's time to get out. That is so true for me. Once I was old enough to start thinking for myself, I realized I didn't believe in all that 'magical malarky' of the stories (Catholic bible stories, that is) I was told throughout my childhood. But, for a long time I felt like I was betraying something...someone, for denying all those ingrained beliefs. It took me a while to put on my big girl pants and to start exploring what did make sense to me. And here I am, on my way to becoming more of a whole person, if that makes sense. I finally figured out that once we drop the words, and cloaks of mystery, we find something pure and sensical and truly freeing. Sometimes I can be a slow learner :wink:

    Gassho,
    Kelly Rok

  8. #8
    Stephanie
    Guest

    Re: Not Faith -- Precepts 8 Fold Path

    One of my favorite Buddhist speakers on the topic of faith and common sense:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uCM7B8ODSCc[/video]]

    And I personally think that if you don't get what it means to say that angels, devils, Heaven, Hell, dakinis, gods, Buddha Worlds, etc., exist, you haven't been at this religion thing long enough! It's called subtlety, people! Your only options when it comes to such things are not (a) these things exist in some concrete, material way that can be measured with empirical instruments or (b) these things do not exist.

    If you think that religions that mention these things are just outdated superstition, you really, really don't get it. And you people tell me I don't sit zazen enough! Sheesh! :wink:

  9. #9

    Re: Not Faith -- Precepts 8 Fold Path

    Quote Originally Posted by Stephanie
    And I personally think that if you don't get what it means to say that angels, devils, Heaven, Hell, dakinis, gods, Buddha Worlds, etc., exist, you haven't been at this religion thing long enough! It's called subtlety, people! Your only options when it comes to such things are not (a) these things exist in some concrete, material way that can be measured with empirical instruments or (b) these things do not exist.

    If you think that religions that mention these things are just outdated superstition, you really, really don't get it. And you people tell me I don't sit zazen enough! Sheesh! :wink:
    I think I agree with the gist of Stephanie's post. There are many, many strange beliefs and practices associated with the various religions. Most of those (not all) are useful stories/ideas/concepts/gods that allow people of various backgrounds to attempt to lead a life of meaning and helpfulness. Myth, allegory, etc are all integral parts of most religions. Just because something is not literally true, does not mean it isn't true on another level.

    Bill

  10. #10

    Re: Not Faith -- Precepts 8 Fold Path

    Quote Originally Posted by Stephanie
    And I personally think that if you don't get what it means to say that angels, devils, Heaven, Hell, dakinis, gods, Buddha Worlds, etc., exist, you haven't been at this religion thing long enough! It's called subtlety, people! Your only options when it comes to such things are not (a) these things exist in some concrete, material way that can be measured with empirical instruments or (b) these things do not exist.

    If you think that religions that mention these things are just outdated superstition, you really, really don't get it. And you people tell me I don't sit zazen enough! Sheesh! :wink:
    Hi Steph,

    I believe in YOU!

    Actually, I had a hard time, for many years, incorporating into my practice many figures such as Kannon and Jizo (and many of the more arcane rituals and customs of Buddhism such as some chants and ceremonies directed to these very same "folks").

    To borrow your categories, Steph, I have some cautions I would offer both to people who say (a) these things do exist in a concrete way and (b) they do not. While both those extremes may be correct (only the universe knows for sure, and I remain an open minded mystic-skeptic), I have come to see "them" as archtypes, representing real characteristics of human life and (since we are just the universe) thus the universe.

    In other words, in a nutshell: When we feel in our hearts and act upon love and compassion, thereby love and compassion exists as a real, concrete aspect of the world which our hearts and acts create. And since, in our view, there is no "inside" or "outside" ultimately, what is inside you is just as much "the universe" and concrete reality as the moon, gravity and the stars. That is "Kannon", in that way a real and concrete aspect and 'force' of the world.

    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 girl 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 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/
    PS - I have given a few talks on this, most now faded into the air. I will try to post one up this week on the sit-a-long)

    PPS- Hans and I have had some very good chats on this, as he is interested in mythology. One can approach all this in a very Joseph Campbell way.

  11. #11
    Stephanie
    Guest

    Re: Not Faith -- Precepts 8 Fold Path

    You may tear apart the baby's rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart.


    Gassho

  12. #12

    Re: Not Faith -- Precepts 8 Fold Path

    Hello Folks!


    I like playing the devil's advocate, so please don't think that I am a defender of just about any superstitious folk belief that's attached to Buddhist traditions when I say that a lot of westerners like to point out time and again "X and Y and Z is wrong with the Buddhist dharma, it's all just because them traditional Buddhists didn't have access to modern science", yet in my humble opinion, there's nothing wrong with the dharma, but a lot is wrong with western students in many cases (myself included). If we're all so smart, how come we need the Buddha's teachings at all?

    It takes years (and I'm still working at it) to get over the whole idealized orient thing. Since I have lived in Japan for a year when I was 16, day to day life soon underlined the difference between my Kung-Fu Panda fantasies and reality. I guess the real trouble with the supernatural stuff comes down to our need to belong to some kind of group structure, otherwise there'd be a lot more people saying "I like some Buddhist ideas, but most of it is superstitious nonsense, and I am not a Buddhist" and less people saying " I am a Buddhist, but I have real trouble reconciling this with that".

    Not for one moment do I personally doubt that the Buddhadharma in its mainstream sense is good in the beginning, good in the middle, and good in the end....but as to when something was meant metaphorically and when it was meant literally....well, my personal approach doesn't really care all too much...the bottom line message of Mahayana Buddhism seems pretty clear across the board, the challenges to our accustomed way of living are out in the open. Our cognitive capabilites as shaven monkeys are so limited, that there could well be multiple universes and other types of consciousness unknown to us in the official scientific sense. What counts IMHO is the application of the Dharma, the diligent practice (which can include loads of doubt!!!) and the readiness to drop pre-conceived views at any turn of the road (even if it says so in the Abhidhamma collections I do no believe that the earth is flat). Depending what culture you're from a psychological/mythological or shamanic outlook on the supernatural elements of Buddhadharma can all become dharma gates that do indeed seem to lead to the same goal that is beyond any point of view and embraces reality as it is, everchanging, without clinging to it.

    No matter how much we might dislike it, there's no way of kicking out Karma and reincarnation and still call something Buddhism (unless we want to turn Buddhism into a term only used to describe personal opinions and as some kind of prosaic religious Rohrschach-test). Now, how we interpret karma and reincarnation is another matter, and whether these things are of particular importance to our own moment to moment practice is yet another matter.

    All I am saying is that we should be careful not to replace superstition with intellectual arrogance. Even the most superstitious religious rituals can only survive in the long term if they serve some kind of need on the practitioner's side. The razor's edge between upaya and silly superstition can be very thin and sharp indeed.

    Although I have a lot of intellectual issues with Mr. Campbell's work, I do think that his conversations with Bill Moyers " The Power of Myth" are doing a great job of acting as a bridge between materialists (sceptics) and idealists (devout religious types).

    To me all these questions come down to one question "Does your faith/trust etc. in XYZ help you in your quest to alleviate suffering and pull out the roots of suffering". If some "stupid" long forgotten dharani does the trick, one would be "stupid" in turn to discard it.

    Sorry for my rambling on for so long.

    Gassho,

    Hans

  13. #13

    Re: Not Faith -- Precepts 8 Fold Path

    Quote Originally Posted by Hans
    Not for one moment do I personally doubt that the Buddhadharma in its mainstream sense is good in the beginning, good in the middle, and good in the end....but as to when something was meant metaphorically and when it was meant literally....well, my personal approach doesn't really care all too much...
    Hi,

    This is a great discussion...!

    I've noticed that the split between "literal" and "metaphorical" has a funny way of dissolving. Awhile back I found myself trying to explain that, no, I don't believe Thousand-Hand Kuan Yin is "literally" floating around on some cloud, scattering goodness and compassion, but I that I accept her existence on another level...along the lines of Jundo's "Yes, Virginia" analogy. if you have a thousand people who devoutly honor Kuan Yin and (more importantly) try to embody in their own lives what she represents, don't they bring her into being? The more I pressed this point, though, the less meaningful the distinction seemed to be. If the ecosystem in which she exists happens to be a collective consciousness, is she any less real?

    Likewise with rebirth. I have no problem saying that most of what I regard as "my consciousness" is conditioned by previous existences, or that my actions in this life will condition existences in the future. The question at stake is whether previous and future existences are "me" in some literal way, empirically provable, consistent with neuroscience, etc. But again, what finally dawned on me was that it DOESN'T MATTER whether you interpret it figuratively or literally, and that the distinction itself breaks down -- due, in part, to anatta. If it helps someone to personalize things by talking about "their" next life, fine. It's just a pronoun.

    I think the root problem underlying most of these kinds of discussions has to do with Buddhism's entry into the West, and more generally into a new, science-driven era. Naturally some fusion is bound to happen, just as happened with Buddhism's entry into East Asia. And part of that fusing process is going to involve reinterpretation. There' s no way around it, I think, because the radical perspectival shift is a global phenomenon; practically no culture is untouched. I just read an essay by Bhikkhu Bodhi addressing these issues (among many others)...here' s the link if anyone is interested. One of the best on the subject that I've yet come across.

    http://www.abhayagiri.org/index.php/main/article/1537/

    As many have remarked, presentations of Buddhism aimed at Western audiences tend to de-emphasise, if not altogether ignore, supernatural aspects. The 300-some pages of Thich Nhat Hanh's "The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching" say practically nothing about rebirth -- if I remember correctly, he mentions it briefly in passing, maybe in a footnote. This was the particular door I came through, and like many, I was excited by Buddhism's seeming compatiblity with a scientific worldview. Things went along swimmingly until the day I carted home a bunch of free dharma texts from the Chinese grocery...after which I had serious stuff to work through. However, the process of doing so has been extremely helpful. I understand more now about the mindset I was coming in with and the assumptions I was taking for granted.

    Gassho,
    Rob

  14. #14
    Stephanie
    Guest

    Re: Not Faith -- Precepts 8 Fold Path



    "I know that This World is a World of Imagination & Vision I
    see Every thing I paint In This World, but Every body does not
    see alike. To the Eyes of a Miser a Guinea is more beautiful
    than the Sun & a bag worn with the use of Money has more
    beautiful proportions than a Vine filled with Grapes. The tree
    which moves some to tears of joy is in the Eyes of others only
    a Green thing that stands in the way. Some See Nature all
    Ridicule & Deformity & by these I shall not regulate my
    proportions, & Some Scarce see Nature at all But to the Eyes
    of the Man of Imagination Nature is Imagination itself. As a
    man is So he Sees. As the Eye is formed such are its Powers.
    You certainly Mistake when you say that the Visions of Fancy
    are not to be found in This World. To Me This World is all
    One continued Vision of Fancy or Imagination & I feel
    Flatterd when I am told So."


    -William Blake, Letter to Rev Dr Trusler, 1799

  15. #15

    Re: Not Faith -- Precepts 8 Fold Path

    Quote Originally Posted by robert
    I just read an essay by Bhikkhu Bodhi addressing these issues (among many others)...here' s the link if anyone is interested. One of the best on the subject that I've yet come across.

    http://www.abhayagiri.org/index.php/main/article/1537/
    Thank you, Rob, for introducing such a cogent and well written article on the evolution of Buddhism as it come west, and into current times and societies. For those interested in the subject, it is a very good read and explains the changes for the positive, as well as many of the tensions, as traditional doctrines meet modern, western points of view.

    I feel, in reading it, that one can see clearly where an "experiment" like Treeleaf Sangha fits in the scheme of these things.

    Gassho, Jundo

    PS - More information to follow later today or tomorrow, but we are ready for Jukai preparations! At last!

  16. #16

    Re: Not Faith -- Precepts 8 Fold Path

    Hey Rob!

    Another thank you for the link, a truly well balanced article.

    Gassho,

    Hans

  17. #17

    Re: Not Faith -- Precepts 8 Fold Path

    glad you liked it!

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