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The Scope Of Doctrines


tariki
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There was a Buddhist Theravada monk who said that "at the moment of emancipation, effort falls away, having reached the end of its scope"

Reflecting upon the "scope of effort" has been rewarding for me, affecting as it does trying to understand the relationship between "faith" and "works" in the Christian Tradition.

I would like to open a thread that sought to reflect upon the scope of Doctrines.

One of the most famous of all Buddhist parables, as found in the foundational texts of Theravada, is the Parable of the Raft. The meaning is that the Buddhist teachings, in all their scope, are for "passing over, not for grasping".

Thinking along those lines I would like to weave my way through a few Quotes from a Christian deeply interested in Buddhism, Thomas Merton. Not interested merely in an academic sense, but as a practice. He often spent time in the woods and in his Hermitage in Zen meditation.

Here is the first quote, written by Merton in a letter before he entered the monastic community........

But it certainly is a wonderful thing to wake up suddenly in the solitude of the woods and look up at the sky and see the utter nonsense of everything, including all the solemn stuff given out by professional asses about the spiritual life: and simply to burst out laughing, and laugh and laugh, with the sky and the trees because God is not in words, and not in systems, and not in liturgical movements, and not in "contemplation" with a big C, or in asceticism or in anything like that, not even in the apostolate. Certainly not in books. I can go on writing them, for all that, but one might as well make paper airplanes out of the whole lot.

This was before he took a vow of obedience to the authority of the Church and its representatives which he took very seriously all his life. I believe the words and their meaning stayed with him to the end, though evolving.

Here is a second quote, this concerning his meeting with D T Suzuki, written long after his entry into the monastic community.......

"I did feel that I was speaking to someone who, in a tradition completely different from my own, had matured, had become complete and found his way. One cannot understand Buddhism until one meets it in this existential manner, in a person in whom it is alive. Then there is no longer a problem of understanding doctrines that cannot help being a bit exotic for a Westerner, but only a question of appreciating a value that is self-evident." (My own emphasis)

I will not seek to direct anyone. For me the relevance to the subject of the thread is also "self-evident".

Let me move on to a letter written by Merton to the vary same man, in the 1960's..........

I want to speak for this Western world.................which has in past centuries broken in upon you and brought you our own confusion, our own alienation, our own decrepitude, our lack of culture, our lack of faith...........If I wept until the end of the world, I could not signify enough of what this tragedy means. If only we had thought of coming to you to learn something..............If only we had thought of coming to you and loving you for what you are in yourselves, instead of trying to make you over into our own image and likeness. For me it is clearly evident that you and I have in common and share most intimately precisely that which, in the eyes of conventional Westerners, would seem to separate us. The fact that you are a Zen Buddhist and I am a Christian monk, far from separating us, makes us most like one another. How many centuries is it going to take for people to discover this fact?......

Once again, for me the relevance is self-evident. A human being who had been formed and raised within doctrines and teachings alien to Merton, not of his own Church, is nevertheless seen as a true brother with no reservations. And he asks how long...........how long...........how long....................

The final quote (gasps of relief all around) is of a well known and oft quoted mystical experience of Merton when in Asia, very near in time to when he died.

The vicar general, shying away from "paganism," hangs back and sits under a tree reading the guidebook. I am able to approach the Buddhas barefoot and undisturbed, my feet in wet grass, wet sand. Then the silence of the extraordinary faces. The great smiles. Huge and yet subtle. Filled with every possibility, questioning nothing, knowing everything, rejecting nothing, the peace not of emotional resignation but of Madhyamika, of sunyata, that has seen through every question without trying to discredit anyone or anything - without refutation - without establishing some other argument. For the doctrinaire, the mind that needs well-established positions, such peace, such silence, can be frightening. I was knocked over with a rush of relief and thankfulness at the obvious clarity of the figures.................looking (at them) I was suddenly, almost forcibly, jerked clean out of the habitual, half-tied vision of things, and an inner clearness, clarity, as if exploding from the rocks themselves, became evident and obvious. The queer evidence of the reclining figure, the smile, the sad smile of Ananda standing with arms folded.....The thing about all this is that there is no puzzle, no problem, and really no "mystery". All problems are resolved and everything is clear, simply because what matters is clear. The rock, all matter, all life, is charged with dharmakaya.....everything is emptiness and everything is compassion.

How do others see the scope of doctrines, the importance of "correct" beliefs", the need for certain "rites" and "rituals"? It seems to me here that Merton has indeed evolved from his first insight regarding "paper airplanes". Yes, he continued to celebrate the Catholic Mass right to the end. Yet should such should be seen in the light of his insights expressed here?

 

Thanks.

 

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Derek,

 

Enjoyed the read.

 

What can i say that could add or subtract a thing from what you posted?

 

It does seem to summarize the journey as best i can relate to.

 

Correct beliefs, rites and rituals and even books have little meaning to me at this point. Yet there is no leading within me to to label such things as nonsense for its necessity was self-evident for me and i see as self-evident for others who require such until no longer required or seen as necessary.

 

Merton asked "How many centuries will it take for people to discover this fact?" (That which we see as outward differences do not separate that which we share intimately in common) Perhaps the answer is "as long as it takes". Is that a problem? It seems to me, NOT.

 

It kind of reminds me of a famous John F. Kennedy quote. "Our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children's future. And we are all mortal." Of course i think Merton was referring to that which is more intimate and expressed in our compassion and actions.

 

Joseph

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I think there is some kind of natural affinity between contemplative Catholicism and Buddhism, particularly Zen. Merton intuited this as did D.T. Suzuki. As a Catholic who has studied and practiced Buddhism, myself, I can also feel this affinity.

 

I’m re-reading a book by Suzuki titled “Mysticism, Christian and Buddhist”. In it, Suzuki compares the sermons and teachings of Meister Eckhart with various Zen masters, finding many common threads, despite obvious doctrinal differences.

 

Personally, I think it is appropriate to laugh at “existence”, at least our perception and thoughts about existence. It is probably the only sane approach to what, from time to time, appears to be merely a sensate dream or magical illusion, rather than anything inherently permanent and lasting. We really know nothing at all about it, as St. Augustine came to understand.

 

So, Merton continued celebrating Mass and Suzuki his meditation, perhaps because there is no real harm in ritual. In fact, it can be very enjoyable. For “realized” people, everything is allowed, and nothing needs to be eliminated. At least, so I've been told.

 

Steve

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Thanks Joseph and Steve.

 

Just to say that I have the Suzuki book and find the section devoted to the Pure Land myokonin Saichi inspirational.

 

Steve, As I see it you eventually imply that anyone can leap from the raft before the other shore is reached. Oh yes, yes indeed!

 

I'm hanging on tight.

 

Saichi says "Gratitude is all a lie.....there is nothing the matter with one".

 

For the moment I will continue to give thanks for all things.

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"Gratitude is all a lie.....there is nothing the matter with one". Love this quote, Derek. But, like you, I can't help myself from feeling grateful. No "boat", no "other shore". Rite and ritual, words and doctrine as means to a goal are redundant. They should only be practiced for pure enjoyment. A great Buddhist teacher (can't remember which) said "abandon all spiritual method". Sounds like a plan.

 

Steve

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A great Buddhist teacher (can't remember which) said "abandon all spiritual method". Sounds like a plan.

 

Steve

 

 

Maybe that guy got lost and was never heard of again.

 

Unfortunately for you, you have unknowingly triggered more tariki waffle.........

 

If you want to find satisfactory formulas you had better deal with things that can be fitted into a formula. The vocation to seek God is not one of them. Nor is existence. Nor is the spirit of man. (Merton)

 

There is an affirmation of the world that is nothing but ruin and loss. There is a renunciation of the world that finds and saves man in his own home, which is God's world. In any event, the "way" of Chuang Tzu is mysterious because it is so simple that it can get along without being a way at all. Least of all is it a "way out." Chuang Tzu would have agreed with St John of the Cross, that you enter upon this kind of way when you leave all ways and, in some sense, get lost. (Merton, from "A Note to the Reader" in "The Way of Chuang Tzu")

 

And St John of the Cross himself, "If we wish to be sure of the road we tread on, we should close our eyes and walk in the dark"

 

And back to Merton........."The road to joy, which is mysteriously revealed to us without our exactly realising it"

 

For me, on my own Pure Land path, "made to become so of itself" purely as a result of the surrender to grace.

 

For me, in a Christian context......."faith not works". The "works" follow from faith, made to become so of themselves. If we claim the works they "stink in God's nostrils".......a lovely phrase! He is a jealous God.

Edited by tariki
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This is a great thread, thanks tariki. The quotes are powerful and they put you on the raft, push you off the raft and show you the raft is going no where. I am in Vegas helping my son move in 113 degrees, all the lifting is in legs, back, and arms, but I strained the muscles in my neck which is taking me through the same cycle as your quotes. Our only mission is to enjoy the show, in any climate, situation and environment and it doesn't matter what theater we go to Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, Christianity or Atheist. If we are not enjoying the show then it is time to move to another theater, which is the universe housing them all. The theater of pain gives images that are very sharp and to the point, but its path is razor sharp.

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It seems my previous quote was from Tilopa, here's another:

 

"No thought, no reflection, no analysis, no cultivation, no intention; let it settle itself."

 

Tilopa

 

Yep, gotta love Tilopa!

 

Stay hydrated, Soma.

 

Steve

Edited by SteveS55
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Could I just quote again from Merton and then ask another question........

 

The spiritual life is something that people worry about when they are so busy with something else they think they ought to be spiritual. Spiritual life is guilt. Up here in the woods is seen the New Testament: that is to say, the wind comes through the trees and you breathe it.

 

The speech of God is silence.......everything else is fiction, half-hiding the truth it tries to reveal.......we are travellers from the half-world of language into solitude and infinity.....

 

What part does "doctrine" play in the insights of Merton here? Can their reality be realised in a human heart without any "doctrine" at all? Are some doctrines more able to bring such to reality to a human heart? If so, which?

Or is Merton wrong. Are there "formulas" ?

 

Thank you

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Those are interesting questions, Derek. I don't know the answer to any of them. I can say that I think we get "doctrine" wrong much of the time. Doctrines must have started with an "experience of something", whether we are talking about Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, or other doctrines. The experience of that "something" gave rise to a collective desire (doctrine) to understand it within a particular culture.

 

I think Merton is pointing out that we falsify pure experience the moment we attempt to speak it, categorize it, classify it, analyze it, and intellectualize it. That is not to say the underlying "doctrine" given as an explanation is incorrect, but it is only a dim reflection of pure experience, and is ultimately flawed.

 

I was recently reading another book by Suzuki, called "Zen And The Doctrine of 'No Mind'". In it, Suzuki says that we mainly attempt to fit our experiences to the language already available for similar shared experiences. He claims that what comes first is "pure experience", which is incommunicable and ineffable. Attempts to explain it in words, language, symbols, by human logic, etc., are futile. This is why most people can't make any sense of statements by Zen masters. They are contradictory, illogical, or just plain nonsense. I guess the point of these masters is to get their students to understand this futility.

 

Reliance on doctrine seems to be putting the cart before the horse. Theoretically, we could probably all come up with our own doctrines, but some of us would simply remain silent in the face of pure experience. I think the human ego has much to do with our inability to remain in the silence.

 

Steve

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For a long time I have found questions are far better than "answers" in my own stumbling path of unknowing (and of not wanting to know about some doctrines.....)

 

The Pure Land teaching, that "salvation" is found in Grace alone, in the very nature and "will" of Reality-as-is, and not in our own allegiance to doctrines, has been my own guide for many years now. Another observation is that often we seem to be "saved" in spite of our beliefs rather than because of them.

 

We have already arrived in God, yet how far I have to go to find You in Whom I have already arrived. (Thomas Merton)

 

The distance we have to go may well involve doctrines, even hanging on tight, and some may well be better than others, but in the end all is pure gift, which is a realisation, not an attainment of something that beforehand was not ours at all. Such is how I see it.

 

Just another little verse from Saichi............"Not knowing why, not knowing why.........This is my support........Not knowing why.......This is the Namu-amida-butsu"

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In my own journey I found science, philosophy, and doctrine were keys to quieting the questions in my mind so I could get a glimpse of the experience that is beyond and encompassing them in silence.

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For a long time I have found questions are far better than "answers" in my own stumbling path of unknowing (and of not wanting to know about some doctrines.....)

 

Yes questions are fun ... for ourselves and in the Socretean tradition to test other people's thoughts.

 

But the good thing about answers is that they lead to other questions which may lead to new places or even undermine the very answers we thought we had.

 

ps is not a Doctrine (an answer) that can be questioned?

Edited by romansh
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Yes questions are fun ... for ourselves and in the Socretean tradition to test other people's thoughts.

 

But the good thing about answers is that they lead to other questions which may lead to new places or even undermine the very answers we thought we had.

 

ps is not a Doctrine (an answer) that can be questioned?

 

Hi, good morning

 

I think you are alluding to dialectic.........but none too sure as I am not really the philosophical or logical type. At the very first syllogism I tend to leg it for the Pure Land and curl up into a tight ball.

 

But as I see it the end of the dialectic is that the only thing we can know is that we know nothing. Which in fact is potentially everything, only we don't know it as such.

 

Thomas Merton said that God is pure freedom and that such freedom is the gift (of Himself) that He gives us. He does not give us "the Law", a set of morals/commandments to be followed. (well, according to the Bible He does to start with........which is very much on-topic)

 

As I see it, all this is the answer to various conundrums of "objective" and "subjective" morality and all the stuff about "without God there can be no absolute truths or whatever. The answer (hey, I'm getting the hang of this now) is that truth is both. Relative to each moment we find ourselves in, but absolute for that moment.

 

My favorite Buddhist writer is Stephen Batchelor, and he touches upon this in his book "Buddhism Without Beliefs".......

 

........we act in a way that startles us. A friend asks our advice about a tricky moral choice. Yet instead of offering consoling platitudes or the wisdom of someone else, we say something that we did not know we knew. Such gestures and words spring from body and tongue with shocking spontaneity. We cannot call them "mine" but neither have we copied them from others. Compassion has dissolved the stranglehold of self. And we taste, for a few exhilarating seconds, the creative freedom of awakening.

 

First we must work with it yet as we open to grace, and surrender to it, to the creative power of love, we find ourselves "working" by "non-working". The "working" becomes effortless, and is a real sense not of ourselves. (Or, as a Christian would say, "Not I, but Christ lives in me")

We finally go beyond the gestures and words of a parent, an authority figure or a religious text, beyond psychological or social habit, beyond our own "self" and its egotism.

 

As St Augustine said......"Love God and do what you will". All comes from the love and grace of God, the Hidden Ground of Love, ineffable in and of itself, yet known by love/compassion within each moment, when not driven by "self".

 

Must be a nice feeling!

 

(This all relates to the central philosophy of Buddhism, the madhyamika, which is all about transcending the dialectic, of how the Middle Way is not a position midway between two extremes, but more a "no-position" that transcends ALL positions. But I'm off to the Pure land to curl up into a ball..........................)

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I can't say I have read any of Stephen Batchelor's books, but I do visit his (and his wife's) website periodically.

 

I came across him with his piece on Buddhism and agnosticism and have followed his works at a great distance since then.

 

There are things I find contradictory in Buddhism such as beliefs in not-self and dependent origination (which I think are fine) and yet many Buddhists, I gather, believe in free will.

I also gather from the little I have read of Batchelor he does not believe in free will either.

 

Regarding your quote from Batchelor, I would love to discuss it with him. I have similar experiences and perhaps conclusions.

 

But when we talk of love, compassion and other positive attributes ... the source is of the same place as is our fear, loathing, hate. I have no problem for striving for the former but denying God's place (whatever your God happens to be) in the latter, to me seems ridiculous.

 

Should I ever have a gravestone here is my personal sound bite I would be happy to have on it:

 

When I look deep inside myself,

I see the universe staring quietly back.

 

 

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But when we talk of love, compassion and other positive attributes ... the source is of the same place as is our fear, loathing, hate. I have no problem for striving for the former but denying God's place (whatever your God happens to be) in the latter, to me seems ridiculous.

 

 

 

I would agree that love, compassion and other positive attributes can be learned just as fear, loathing, hate and the like can be learned. Yet i would contend that self in a sense is an illusion and that anatta, in Christ, or no self has a mind which is neither at the mercy of outside stimuli or its own moods. In that 'state' there seems to be no opposites to at least peace, and possibly joy and love, but being ineffable, words seem to fail to describe those moments.

 

Joseph

 

PS . I think this says it better from tariki post ...

 

My favorite Buddhist writer is Stephen Batchelor, and he touches upon this in his book "Buddhism Without Beliefs".......

........we act in a way that startles us. A friend asks our advice about a tricky moral choice. Yet instead of offering consoling platitudes or the wisdom of someone else, we say something that we did not know we knew. Such gestures and words spring from body and tongue with shocking spontaneity. We cannot call them "mine" but neither have we copied them from others. Compassion has dissolved the stranglehold of self. And we taste, for a few exhilarating seconds, the creative freedom of awakening.

Edited by JosephM
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Perhaps it is essentially powered by the same source but could one side be nothing more than make-believe fiction or illusion?

 

I suspect both sides are illusions ... at least ultimately. And this is, I think partly, Tariki's point.

 

I don't think of the universe as symmetrical or asymmetrical, but it is I suspect balanced. Chaotically perhaps, balanced nevertheless.

 

I am told (possibly read) that the not-self is a better translation rather than no-self. I tend to use the term intrinsic self (which we seem to assume in our daily lives)... a self that is somehow detached from its environment. That for me is the illusion. I am a product of the universe ... it took a whole universe to make me. You, Jen, Paul, Tariki et al. are contributing to my evolution.

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II made changes to my post 1 minute before you posted. I guess you got a copy of what i first had written. That happens with longer edit times. :)

 

That's why I like the longer edit times, one gets to clarify one's thoughts ... so long as the spirit or intent has not been changed. And even if that too has changed that too is OK.

 

In my experience, of ideas thoughts and suggestions etc as Stephen Batchelor alludes to, I don't think I have come up with truly original that is "mine". What has happened is various implanted ideas and thoughts have been jumbled up dissected and recombined to get what might be new ideas, or at least ideas/thoughts that are new to me. Also I am not totally aware of whether "my" ideas are simply regurgitated from a piece of work long hidden in memory. This is why I would like to talk to Stephen Batchelor, to discuss the dialectic.

 

Evolution has given us a capacity for love and fear ...

 

We want to make ourselves somehow better (more successful?) ... evolution I don't think has this want.

For Stephen it appears compassion has dissolved the sense of self ... for me it was reason and logic of the observable world.

I have read not-self is a more accurate than no-self. wrt anatta.

 

Incidentally, spontaneous has very specific meaning from a thermodynamic point of view. It essentially means something is thermodynamically favourable.

 

The only line that I am aware of, in the Bible, that speaks to the lack of division is John 10:30, interestingly I gather a concept added by later scribes, or at least as some literary Bible scholars suggest.

Are there any others?

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I have posted this before ... but it seems apt to repost:

 

by Siddhãrtha Gautama (Buddha):
Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it.
Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumored by many.
Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books.
Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders.
Do not believe in traditions simply because they have been handed down for many generations.
But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.

 

My observation, analysis and reason seem to think this is something I can live with.

Edited by romansh
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The edit function seems to have been shortened again :mellow:

 

A bit of fact checking ...the Buddha quote is not quite accurate ..

 

Apparently the original (or at least an earlier version) can be found here

 

Either way ... the internet version can be seen in the same light as how later scribes improved upon the Jesus story.

 

:)

 

And Confession of a Buddhist Atheist

Edited by romansh
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Goodness me, what has happened to my little thread since I last took a peep?

 

The quote is from the Kalama Sutta and is often seen as some sort of Free Thinkers Charter, yet includes the clause "and commended by the wise". Which has caused me to ask "Who are the wise?" on various Forums. Being Buddhist Forums, 100 Buddhists, 100 answers ( which can possibly be mocked, yet holds out hope if seen another way )

 

Yes, "not self" seems the preferred translation of the Pali "anatta". A reputable Buddhist Dictionary ( very Theravada orientated ) tells us that if "not-self"/anatta is not understood then Buddhism will inevitably be misunderstood. This becomes even more significant when it is acknowledged that to "understand" as far as Buddhism is concerned is to LIVE it, BE it, not merely to have/seek an intellectual grasp.

 

Anyway, thanks for your interest.

Edited by tariki
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'

This becomes even more significant when it is acknowledged that to "understand" as far as Buddhism is concerned is to LIVE it, BE it, not merely to have/seek an intellectual grasp.

Anyway, thanks for your interest.

 

tariki ... I can't say I live the not-self, I am not even sure I completely understand it. But then I am comfortable in that as well.

 

Having said that I do by and large understand my "illusion of an intrinsic self". Zen practitioners like Susan Blackmore seem to have some success living this way.

This is OK, but it is not my path or at least not at this time.

 

I live the life I lead. Some claim other paths are better.

 

And this brings us back to the free will thread ... whether I will take on a particular mantle will depend on dependent origination will it not?

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Hi, yes, in effect I am saying much as you. I do not "know it". I'm just passing on what others have said or taught.

 

The Buddha did say once to a guy who spoke of him ( the Buddha ) as "the fully enlightened one".The Buddha told him that he could not know any such thing until such time as he was enlightened himself.

 

So until such time we grub around consoling ourselves that the "journey is home" and suchlike.

 

It is why I am a Pure Land Buddhist.

 

"Not knowing why - not knowing why - that is my support - not knowing why - that is the Namu amida butsu!

Edited by tariki
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