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June 27, 2010


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Science doesn't know all of the answers. It knows that or it would have stopped. That doesn't mean we get to fill in the gaps however we like.

"We" used to fill in the gaps with stories about Zeus and thunderbolts, Apollo pulling the chariot of the Sun. (Although my Gaelic ancestors probably did something more appalling, today's "Wiccans" notwithstanding).

Some fill in those gaps with the Virgin Mary, the resurrection and grace of Jesus Christ and they kill people who do not fill in the gaps exactly the same way. Others fill in the gaps with stories of Allah and the need to exterminate everyone who doesn't tell the same story.

Of course, moderates always say, "but they are extremists!"...the problem is that when you're telling stories, why are moderate stories better than extreme ones if there is no evidence for either? If there is no evidence for filling in the gaps, how do you decide? Which story is "better", more "true"? Rebirth, resurrection, eternal hellfire, karma, final judgment...Mt. Olympus, Valhalla? Did you know that the original worship of Jehovah included references to a consort? How did that story get changed? New facts? New fashions, politics, power, war.

And if we move to Buddhism, can we buy our way to pure lands? Should we propitiate the dharma protectors? Did the empowerment really guarantee total Enlightenment (TB's believe in "big E" enlightenment) in seven lives (how do we know this isn't the 7th life)? Buddha was an emanation of an enlightened being, it was just a show to illustrate the way for us on this planet; Buddha was a regular--although wealthy--Joe who became awake (the TB version of the story disappointed me greatly). Lay practitioners cannot achieve Enlightenment/Nirvana/Awakening; lay practitioners can achieve enlightenment/nirvana/awakening. No, no, no...the dedication of merit must be done *this* way.

Personally I think rebirth is a crutch for Westerners coming from Christianity to Buddhism which is why Stephen Batchelor's ideas have met with such vociferous opposition.

What's wrong with the 4 noble truths, 8 fold path and meditation....one life, full stop. And you can either try to spend it awake or not. The Buddha is purported to have said,

“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 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.”

I can think of no better statement of the idea of living your life according to the evidence rather than magical or wishful thinking. Of course, you have to actually observe and analyze, you have to practice it. You can't sit down for an afternoon and think, oh, well, I guess this just isn't my cup of tea. That's the faith in Buddhism, it's the same faith you need to have when you first learn a subject or task...that your teacher knows what they're doing to some degree and is going to be able to guide and instruct you. This is the same "faith" you have the first day of algebra class even though it may take several months before you understand algebra.

I think also we should remember this story,
"Once the Blessed One was staying at Kosambi in the Simsapa forest. Then, picking up a few Simsapa leaves with his hand, he asked the monks, “What do you think, monks: Which are more numerous, the few Simsapa leaves in my hand or those overhead in the Simsapa forest?”
“The leaves in the hand of the Blessed One are few in number, lord. Those overhead in the forest are far more numerous.”
“In the same way, monks, those things that I have known with direct knowledge but have not taught are far more numerous [than what I have taught]. And why haven’t I taught them? Because they are not connected with the goal, do not relate to the rudiments of the holy life, and do not lead to disenchantment, to dispassion, to cessation, to calm, to direct knowledge, to self-awakening, to Unbinding. That is why I have not taught them."

The gaps are part of the forest...we don't need to fill in our practice with stories about them, we need to stick to the leaves in our hand.

You said, "It is only possible that full enlightenment is without beliefs. Thus, Zen without beliefs really means final knowledge. It is also impossible, short of enlightenment, to be without beliefs..."

Excellent point. That's it. Before enlightenment, one can choose to walk with the crutches of belief, crawl without them, or maybe just lie in the dirt.

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