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Thread: Confusion upon Confusion

  1. #1

    Confusion upon Confusion

    Recently I began reading Paul Williams' 'Mahayana Buddhism - The Doctrinal Foundations'.
    I was curious to find out a bit more about the author as so many books on Buddhism are by American authors and this
    was someone from the UK who is regarded as an authority.

    I was surprised to read of Williams' conversion to Catholicism from Buddhism. I followed a link to an interview on You Tube - it is fairly long
    but I found it fascinating and confusing. The description Williams gives of Buddhism (albeit mainly Tibetan) seems so off the mark and not in keeping
    with the sense of teachings we share here.

    He throws in a kind of koan that he feels Buddhists don't bother asking and that can't be answered by Buddhism even if asked.

    'Why is there something rather than nothing?' or put another way - 'Why is there anything at all?'

    I'm pretty sure we do ask those kind of questions from time to time

    Whilst respecting the path Williams is on (he still teaches Buddhism in a secular setting) and he obviously 'knows' his subject at an academic level
    I do find his representation of meditation off key.

    Anyway - here is the link



    Gassho,

    Willow

    (who sat today - and wasn't just interested in her 'own mind - didn't have nice floaty feelings
    and felt care and concern, because as Buddhism teaches we are all interconnected !)
    Last edited by Jinyo; 04-28-2015 at 10:56 PM.

  2. #2
    Hi William,

    I am also fascinated by Dr. William's story. His books are detailed and well researched histories of the Mahayana and Buddhism in general (in fact, we rely on them heavily for historical study in our priest training program here). And yet, despite all that, Dr. Williams seems to have some rather narrrow image of aspects of Buddhism which caused him to return to Catholicism which he, somehow, found more "rational" in its beliefs (with all due respect to that wonderful religion, I find it difficult to see how it is much more "rational" than the wildest aspects of the Buddhist religion). As you point out, Willow, his objections seems to be to certain aspects of traditional Buddhism (such as rebirth), yet he seems mysteriously to overlook those flavors of Buddhism which step beyond such matters (such as many Zen folks have who have an agnostic view on literal rebirth). He says that Buddhism has no "God", while his own books reveal that Buddhism is rather traditionally more focused on having no stance and a "take it or leave it" attitude on such metaphysical questions.

    Human psychology is very interesting when it comes to religion, and the heart ... even a scholar's heart ... seems that it can have great blind spots and its own reasons when it comes to personal religion.

    Here are portions of a written essay by him on why he returned to Catholicism.

    However, over many, many years as a Buddhist I became more and more uneasy about my Buddhism. Absolutely central to my growing unease with Buddhist affiliation were worries about rebirth and associated worries about the doctrine of karma. Buddhists believe in rebirth, that is, as it is broadly understood, reincarnation. And, Buddhists claim, there is no chronological first beginning to the series of past lives. We have all of us been reborn an infinite number of times. No God is needed to start the series off – for there simply was no first beginning. Things have been around (somewhere) for all eternity.

    Now, belief in rebirth (and indeed karma – I'll come that) seems to be quite common nowadays even among those who would not claim to be Buddhists or Hindus. One even finds Christians who say they believe in rebirth. But rebirth was well-known in ancient Greece and Rome, and it has never been part of Christian orthodoxy. And there are good reasons for this. Rebirth is incompatible with certain absolutely central Christian doctrines, including the inestimable value of each and every individual person, and the justice of God. If rebirth is true, realistically we really have no hope. It is a hope-less doctrine. As a Buddhist, it dawned on me that I had no hope. Let me explain.

    Hands up who wants to be reborn as a cockroach? ... What is my point here? My point is this: What is so terrifying about my being executed at dawn and reborn as a cockroach is that it is simply, quite straightforwardly, the end of me. I cannot imagine being reborn as a cockroach because there is nothing to imagine. I quite simply would not be there at all. If rebirth is true, neither I nor any of my loved ones survive death. With rebirth, for me – the actual person I am – the story really is over. There may be another being living its life in some sort of causal connection with the life that was me (influenced by my karma), but for me there is no more. That is it – end of it. There is no more to be said about me.

    ...

    I began to see that if Buddhism were correct then unless I attained enlightenment (nirvana) or something like it in this life, where the whole cycle of rebirth would finally come to a complete end, I would have no hope. Clearly, I was not going to attain enlightenment in this life. All Buddhists would be inclined to accept that as true concerning just about everyone. Enlightenment is a supreme and extremely rare achievement for spiritual heroes, not the likes of us – certainly not the likes of me. So I (and all my friends and family) have in themselves no hope. Not only that. Actually from a Buddhist perspective in the scale of infinite time the significance of each of us as such, as the person we are, converges on nothing. For each of us lives our life and perishes. Each one of us – the person we are - is lost forever. Buddhism for me was hope-less. But was I absolutely sure Buddhism was true? As St Paul knew so well, Christianity at least offers hope.

    ...

    Well – it was thoughts like this that gradually led me away from Buddhism. Buddhism was for me hope-less. Christians have hope. I so wanted to be able to be a Christian. I returned, to look again at the things that I had rejected in my earlier Christian faith. I detail the stages of my journey in my book The Unexpected Way (T&T Clark/Continuum: 2002). Through grace I came again to God. I convinced myself that it was rational to believe in God, as rational – indeed I now think more rational – than to believe with the Buddhists that there is no God. Coming to believe in God, I could no longer be a Buddhist. I had to be a theist. I looked carefully at the evidence and was astonished to find that the literal resurrection of Our Lord from the dead after His crucifixion was the most rational explanation of what must have happened. That, I felt, made Christianity the most rational option out of theistic religions. And, as a Christian, I argued that priority has to be given to the Roman Catholic Church. I needed a good reason not to be received into the Catholic Church. In my book I examine various arguments that were given to me against becoming a Catholic, and I argue that as a reason for rejecting the Catholic Church they fail to convince. So I was received into the Catholic Church.

    http://whyimcatholic.com/index.php/c...-paul-williams
    It is fascinating to me that a man who literally "wrote the book" on Buddhism in all its varied, often totally opposite, many sided flavors nonetheless seems to stick to such a narrow, limited and vanilla view of Buddhism as if he never read his own books describing the great variety. Some interesting psychology at work here.

    Gassho, J

    SatToday
    Last edited by Jundo; 04-29-2015 at 02:32 AM.
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  3. #3
    Hello,

    'Why is there something rather than nothing?' or put another way - 'Why is there anything at all?'


    Shayamuni Buddha often talks of this: "things" are conditional, e.g. hurricanes are conditional with the flapping of a butterfly's wings in Brazil . . . uhm . . . or something.



    Gassho
    Myosha sat today
    Last edited by Myosha; 04-29-2015 at 03:17 AM.
    "Recognize suffering, remove suffering." - Shakyamuni Buddha when asked, "Uhm . . .what?"

  4. #4
    Not very subtle, and not a very subtle Christian view either. So one's question is....can a person who has an introspective 16 year old's view of Buddhism and Christianity write the book on Buddhism?

    Gassho
    Daizan

    Sat today

  5. #5
    Mp
    Guest
    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo View Post
    Human psychology is very interesting when it comes to religion, and the heart ... even a scholar's heart ... seems that it can have great blind spots and its own reasons when it comes to personal religion.
    Thank you Willow and Jundo, I really appreciate this point.

    Gassho
    Shingen

    #sattoday

  6. #6
    'Why is there something rather than nothing?' or put another way - 'Why is there anything at all?'
    As the Buddha repeatedly said "I teach one thing and one thing only, how to end suffering." Asking why Buddha doesn't talk about this is a bit like asking why a Greek cook book doesn't have a recipe for tortillas.

    Buddhism is, to me, a pragmatic religion and a religion of practice and action. We can pontificate all we like about why there is something rather than nothing but the point is that the something is here and people are suffering. Buddhism has never much bothered with who or what created the world and why it is here but more about what we are going to do since we are here.

    I didn't know about Williams' history so thank you so much for bringing it up, Willow. As Jundo points out, it does seem strange that he describes Buddhism in such narrow terms when his books paint a very different reality. Sometimes we can become fixated with small details and forget about the larger picture.

    In any case, I am very grateful to the man for his writing.

    Gassho
    Kokuu
    #sattoday
    ------------------------------------
    Feel free to message me if you wish to talk about issues around practicing with physical limitations. This is something I have been sitting with for a fair while and am happy to help with suggestions or just offer a listening ear.

  7. #7
    I so agree with what you say Jundo.

    I read the account of 'coming back as a cockroach' before watching the interview and it really piqued my curiosity. I think it is pertinent because the essence of what Buddism
    points towards - the loosening of the hold of our notion of self and craving for permanence - seems to evoke a deep sense of fear in Williams.

    I think it is this issue of fear that interests me most because recently I have also felt there is an element of wanting/needing to contain fear and sadness in Thich Nhat Hahn's book
    'no death - no fear'. I keep going back to this book because I understand it contains important Buddhist teachings but I'm not there with it.

    Anyway - each to their own personal path - blind spots and all.

    Gassho,

    Willow

    sat today
    Last edited by Jinyo; 04-29-2015 at 08:49 AM.

  8. #8
    Quote Originally Posted by willow View Post
    the loosening of the hold of our notion of self and craving for permanence - seems to evoke a deep sense of fear in Williams.
    First of all I need to say I am very grateful for Mr. William's work. I have learned a lot.

    But yes, I think fear is a pretty common cause for people to convert to theistic religions. Fear of death, of the unknown, of the future, you name it. When fear grows it's very easy to lean on a god that pulls the strings of destiny.

    Religion is super personal. If Catholicism works for people and makes them better, happy people, the Universe wins.

    Gassho,

    Kyonin
    #SatToday
    Hondō Kyōnin
    奔道 協忍

  9. #9

    Confusion upon Confusion

    So, what is our Sangha's view of rebirth? Is it inline (not that it has to be) with the Soto Zen tradition? Zen in general?


    ..sat2day•
    Last edited by Troy; 04-29-2015 at 01:13 PM.

  10. #10
    I think it is this issue of fear that interests me most because recently I have also felt there is an element of wanting/needing to contain fear and sadness in Thich Nhat Hahn's book 'no death - no fear'.
    For me the removal of fear (although fear and sitting with it is also a part of life) is not dependent on eternal life but in coming to terms with impermanence and not being in control with what happens next.

    This is experienced both in sitting (in which we become aware that we are not even in control of our own thoughts) and in life.


    So, what is our Sangha's view of rebirth?
    I can only speak for myself on that, Troy, and say that I have no idea what happens after death.


    Gassho
    Kokuu
    #sattoday
    ------------------------------------
    Feel free to message me if you wish to talk about issues around practicing with physical limitations. This is something I have been sitting with for a fair while and am happy to help with suggestions or just offer a listening ear.

  11. #11
    Hello,

    "what is our Sangha's view of rebirth?"

    Personally, life is a constant cycle of rebirth. Humans have countless rebirth; beginning with the cellular level.

    Mostly every cell in the body is renewed (on average) every eight years - rebirth.

    Look at a childhood photo. One would be hard-pressed to imagine one is the same human reflected in a picture - rebirth.

    (Thanks to Brad Odo Warner, Hardcore Zen)


    Gassho
    Myosha sat today


    .
    "Recognize suffering, remove suffering." - Shakyamuni Buddha when asked, "Uhm . . .what?"

  12. #12
    Quote Originally Posted by Troy View Post
    So, what is our Sangha's view of rebirth? Is it inline (not that it has to be) with the Soto Zen tradition? Zen in general?


    ..sat2day•
    Hi Troy,

    Well, there is no "Sangha view". I will say that some in Soto Zen believed and believe in a very traditional view of rebirth (for example, probably Dogen as would be expected of most folks of his day and age) and some do not. In any event, it is not as central to Zen as to most other flavors of Buddhism, because of Zen's general emphasis on transcending such questions and the immediate moment here and now. Nonetheless, I believe that the majority of Zen folks thru the centuries probably believed in very traditional views of rebirth in some way.

    In my case, I am rather agnostic (and skeptical of more detailed, mechanical views) on the matter, although I do believe that we are born and born constantly in each moment, and also born with every blade of grass and distant star (whatever is born is also our birth too). But on the question of coming back as a cockroach or a goddess, I say usually ...

    If there are future lives, heavens and hells ... live this life here and now, seek not to do harm, seek not to build "heavens" and "hells" in this world ... let what happens after "death" take care of itself.

    And if there are no future lives, no heavens or hells ... live this life here and now, seek not to do harm, seek not to build "heavens" and "hells" in this world ... let what happens after "death" take care of itself.

    Thus I do not much care if, in the next life, that "gentle way, avoiding harm" will buy me a ticket to heaven and keep me out of hell ... but I know for a fact that it will go far to do so in this life, today, where I see people create all manner of "heavens and hells" for themselves and those around them by their harmful words, thoughts and acts in this life.

    And if there is a "heaven and hell" in the next life, or other effects of Karma now ... well, my actions now have effects then too, and might be the ticket to heaven or good rebirth.

    In other words, whatever the case ... today, now ... live in a gentle way, avoiding harm to self and others (not two, by the way) ... seeking to avoid harm now and in the future too.
    Here are a couple of threads I have written on the topic.

    Jundo Tackles the 'BIG' Questions - VI (Karma)
    http://www.treeleaf.org/forums/showt...VI-%28Karma%29

    Jundo Tackles the 'BIG' Questions - VII (Life After Death?)
    http://www.treeleaf.org/forums/showt...fter-Death-%29

    Gassho, Jundo

    SatToday (and was born and born today)
    Last edited by Jundo; 04-29-2015 at 02:51 PM.
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  13. #13
    I feel the same Kokuu - giving up the need to control has been the most liberating aspect of buddism for me
    Don't always succeed of course !

    Gassho

    Willow

    sat today

  14. #14
    Death holds no fear, but dying does. Because there is a life that is loved, people, places, and times. At some point letting go will get down to sinew, and that is rough. Death though... No problem.

    Btw it wasn't meant be harsh comparing Williams to a 16 year old. He sounds like a recent talk with my kid, who is reading a bio on the Buddha for school.

    Gassho
    Daizan
    Sat today
    Last edited by RichardH; 04-29-2015 at 04:18 PM.

  15. #15

    Confusion upon Confusion

    Thank you Kokuu, Myosha and Jundo.

    Quote Originally Posted by Myosha View Post
    Hello,

    "what is our Sangha's view of rebirth?"

    Personally, life is a constant cycle of rebirth. Humans have countless rebirth; beginning with the cellular level.

    Mostly every cell in the body is renewed (on average) every eight years - rebirth.

    Look at a childhood photo. One would be hard-pressed to imagine one is the same human reflected in a picture - rebirth.

    (Thanks to Brad Odo Warner, Hardcore Zen)


    Gassho
    Myosha sat today


    .
    Myosha, I like this. There is a constant physical rebirth of ourselves. This makes me think of the classic and one of my favorite analogies of an ocean wave returning to sea to become a wave again. It is so beautiful. For me, there is also a deep spiritual level to it too.

    --------

    I am a theist, but it does not come from a fear of the after life. In Christian circles, I have heard this referred to being a Vampire Christian. Sucking at the blood of Christ for the sole purpose of gaining entry to heaven and avoiding hell.

    I experience God with an attitude of gratitude and amazement. God is a big word and I don't think any religion (or person) can claim to have the definitive definition. I don't think God can be put in a box and then we say look there he is (he being used in most generic sense). In the end, I don't think religion really matters when it comes to the ultimate experience.

    These are just my views. I know there are many different opinions and I respect and learn from them all.




    ..sat2day•
    Last edited by Troy; 04-29-2015 at 10:34 PM.

  16. #16
    Hi,

    I like The Dude's quote from the movie The Big Lebowski:

    That's your opinion man.

    Gassho, Jishin, _/st\_

  17. #17
    Quote Originally Posted by Jishin View Post
    Hi,

    I like The Dude's quote from the movie The Big Lebowski:

    That's your opinion man.

    Gassho, Jishin, _/st\_
    Ha! That is true :P


    ..sat2day•

  18. #18
    Hi All,

    I was surprised by this too. It seems that maybe he never really accepted or experienced for himself the wholeness and unity of everything. It is clear that he rejects the concept of no-self. How many of us have accepted it 100%? I’m still holding on. It doesn’t take away from his scholarly rigor in writing a very fine history of Buddhism. He seems like an earnest, thoughtful chap and I’m guessing he lives a good life, so it all comes out pretty well I suppose.

    For the record, I’d be very happy to come back as a cockroach. They are beautiful creatures (not in my kitchen though, thank you), magnificently adapted to life on earth. Little Buddhas, at home where they are, living in the moment, responding appropriately, probably not clinging to too many delusions.

    Gassho
    Lisa
    sat today

  19. #19

    Confusion upon Confusion

    Quote Originally Posted by Troy View Post
    Ha! That is true :P


    ..sat2day•
    Talking about myself here

    ..sat2day•
    Last edited by Troy; 04-29-2015 at 06:33 PM.

  20. #20
    Quote Originally Posted by Troy View Post
    So, what is our Sangha's view of rebirth? Is it inline (not that it has to be) with the Soto Zen tradition? Zen in general?
    Hi.

    I don't know but I'm eating mango now. Then I have to go help a friend who is going through depression.

    Gassho,

    Kyonin
    #SatToday
    Hondō Kyōnin
    奔道 協忍

  21. #21
    Quote Originally Posted by Kyonin View Post
    Hi.

    I don't know but I'm eating mango now. Then I have to go help a friend who is going through depression.

    Gassho,

    Kyonin
    #SatToday
    Thank you Kyonin. I like that view too


    ..sat2day•

  22. #22
    I'm not really sure what I think of rebirth either. When it starts to weigh on my mind I think of the parable of the poisoned arrow and that I'm better off focusing on what I can do now.

    Gassho

    #sattoday

  23. #23
    Hello, thank you for this fascinating thread. I'm new to zazen but after many years of searching, and weighed down by the baggage of a Roman Catholic background, I find that I have finally come 'home' (in a homeless way) in Soto Zen. I believe that most Abrahamic and Dharmic religions seek the destruction of self as a core practice but I so love the beautiful simplicity of zazen. Non-acceptance of our mortality as the origin of suffering is also key to many of the existential philosophies (Heidegger, Sartre etc) of the west.Charlotte Joko Beck, whose insightful but simple observations led me Zen Buddhism, wrote very simply of the self (the selves of all sentient beings), as little whirlpools which fade and flow back into the stream (of being/non being). I try to keep the marvellous sense of liberation this has brought me as a non-goal but it is indeed joyous.

    Gassho,
    Cathy
    Sat today
    Gassho,

    Cathy

    Sat today

  24. #24
    Quote Originally Posted by Catherine View Post
    Hello, thank you for this fascinating thread. I'm new to zazen but after many years of searching, and weighed down by the baggage of a Roman Catholic background, I find that I have finally come 'home' (in a homeless way) in Soto Zen. I believe that most Abrahamic and Dharmic religions seek the destruction of self as a core practice but I so love the beautiful simplicity of zazen. Non-acceptance of our mortality as the origin of suffering is also key to many of the existential philosophies (Heidegger, Sartre etc) of the west.Charlotte Joko Beck, whose insightful but simple observations led me Zen Buddhism, wrote very simply of the self (the selves of all sentient beings), as little whirlpools which fade and flow back into the stream (of being/non being). I try to keep the marvellous sense of liberation this has brought me as a non-goal but it is indeed joyous.

    Gassho,
    Cathy
    Sat today



    Beck's imagery of whirlpools is wonderful. Is the whirlpool a separate entity within the water, or just the play of water? Is anything gained when the whirlpool forms, or lost when it dissolves? Water images.. oceans and waves and steams and eddies.. always seem to feel so right.

    Gassho

    Daizan


    Sat today

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