Sunday, January 27, 2013

Buddha doesn't teach materialism.


Someone wrote: Science is not intrinsically materialistic. It's intrinsically skeptical. ... Opinion polls show that a substantial number of American scientists, perhaps a majority, have religious beliefs.  I have objected to the term "scientific materialism," which suggests some theory of materialism.


I think that science is intrinsically and inherently materialistic by definition.

Science is based on the assumption and theory of matter and materialism.
Materialism, the philosophical theory that regards matter and its motions as constituting the universe, and all phenomena, including those of mind, as due to material agencies.

Matter, as distinct from mind and spirit, is a broad word that applies to anything perceived, or known to be occupying space.

In Buddha Dharma, as articulated in the Lankavatara Sutra, the Sanskrit for "materialist" and "materialism" is lokayata which literally means "limited to the world."
Red Pine wrote: The Sanskrit for ‘materialist’ is lokayata. This term included all those whose approach to knowledge was based on knowledge gained from the five senses. (Note 128, p. 202.)

Because science deliberately limits itself to the five senses perceiving an external world, it is by definition materialism, and by definition is not what Buddha articulated.

That is not to say that Buddha Dharma is incompatible with science, only that the materialist basis of science should never be confused Buddha Dharma as it all too frequently is confused. Buddha Dharma is based on the personal realization that all manifested phenomena are only mind, and this is called the personal realization of noble knowing/knowledge (aryajnana) or Buddha knowing/knowledge (buddhajnana)

For example, in Zen especially, we see the confusion of materialism and Buddha Dharma in the raw examples of every day life such as “a cup of tea” or “hitting the floor” or “raising the stick” or “the plum blossom” used as examples of suchness. But without the personal realization of suchness, the person who has not the realization has only the sensory experience of “a cup of tea” or “hitting the floor” or “raising the stick” or “the plum blossom” and thinks of these as “things” (i.e., dharmas) and mistakes the experience of the thing-as-a-sensory-object for the realization of the thing as the manifestation of suchness.

To view things as external to our mind is called the “externalist ways” (外道).

Externalism. of or pertaining to the world of things, considered as independent of the perceiving mind: external world.


To mistake a thing in the sense being a thing-as-a-sensory-object, i.e., an external thing, is the practical meaning of materialism. Materialism comes in very many varieties and some of them are very subtle and sound like “immaterialsm,” but they are still materialism. In section LXXIII of the Lankavatara Sutra, the Buddha tells Mahamati unequivocally, “I do not articulate materialism.” The Buddha goes on to tell Mahamati about a previous encounter with a materialist Brahman (世論婆羅門). It is an amusing story. The internally quoted matter is quoted directly from the Lankavatara.


The materialist Brahman approaches the Buddha and rudely without seeking permission to question and without waiting he rudely calls the Buddha by his family name “Gautama” and asks, “Is everything actually created?”

The Buddha replied declaring, “Brahman, that everything is actually created is the initial materialism.”

The other then asked, “Is everything not actually created?”

The Buddha said, “That everything is not actually created is the second materialism.”

The Brahman starts a rapid fire succession of questions about permanency, impermanency, birth, and no birth and the Buddha replies, “That’s six materialisms.” A few more such questions and the Buddha says, “That’s eleven materialisms.” the Brahman keeps asking philosophical questions, and the Buddha keeps saying “that’s also materialism,” and then the Buddha says, “As long as there are mental outflows erroneously reckoning on the external dusts (i.e., sensory data), in all cases it is materialism.”

The Brahman in exasperation then asked, “Rather, there is that which is not materialism isn’t there? For the propositions of every one of the externalist ways, I correctly articulate every kind of flavor of phrasing, causes and conditions, parables, and rhetorical embellishments.”

The Buddha declared, “Brahman, there is that which is neither your possession, nor doing, nor propositions, nor articulations. nor is it not articulating every kind of flavor of phrasing, nor is it not causes, metaphors, and rhetorical embellishments.”

The Brahman declared, “What is the position that is not materialism and neither not a proposition, nor not articulating?”

And the Buddha declared, “Brahman, there is the non-materialism that your various externalist ways are not able to know, because they use the means of external natures, untruths, antithetical conceptions, deceptive reckonings, and attachments. I designate not giving birth to antithetical conceptions and the complete realization that existence and nonexistence are nothing but the manifestations of one’s own mind. By not giving birth to antithetical conceptualizations and not receiving external dusts, the antithetical conceptualizations are forever stopped. This is called non-materialism. This is my Dharma, and not what you have!
“Brahman, to articulate in outline: their consciousness supposes coming, supposes going, supposes death, supposes birth, supposes ease, supposes suffering, supposes the submerged, supposes the visible, supposes contacts, supposes attachments to every kind of characteristics, supposes harmonious continuity, supposes reception, or supposes attachments to causes and reckonings. So, Brahman, that which compares to this position is your position of materialism and is not what I have.”


To clarify how materialism is used, Red Pine includes a note from old Chinese commentary:


Red Pine wrote: In his commentary, T’ung-jun notes, “The stance of those who understand the way of truth of self-existence is firm. They teach materialism all day, yet it is not materialism. Meanwhile, the stance of those who don’t understand is unstable. They teach what is not materialism all day, yet it turns out to be materialism. (Note 135, p. 204.)


The truth of “self-existence” means the truth of one’s own nature, the ultimate truth of svabhava, the third of the three own-natures (trisvabhava). This important note shows us that when the Buddha and Zen teachers point to a flower, hit the floor, comment on the sound of the rain, etc., it may seem like they are teaching materialism, but in fact this is not a teaching of materialism and is actually the teaching there is nothing but the manifestations of one’s own mind. But, when the non-Buddhists speak of non-materialism such as energy, space, gods, heavens, spiritual matters, etc., they still believe in an external reality and external things so they are in fact teaching materialism.

6 comments:

Poep Sa Frank Jude said...

Alan,

This post -- wonderfully summarized in the quote below -- shows some of the "contributions" mahayana buddhism brought into the early teachings. Some might call them distortions. Alond with the Lankavatara understanding of tathagatagarbha, talk of "svabhava" and that nothing exists other than the manifestations of the mind is idealistic vedanta. It's essentialism despite all the denials.

This is the doctrine of zen (and some other mahayana schools, like yogacara) but it's a stretch to say this is the understanding of ALL buddhism. We are worlds apart on our relationship to the dharma. It seems to me -- maybe I'm wrong -- that you feel you've got the truth. I'm saying there's room for criticizing the tradition -- even saying the buddha may have had some of it wrong -- and still be buddhist.

As for shraddha... I take this to be no different than the confidence scientists have to have in order to do their work. You can call this faith if you want, but it's worlds away from what is usually understood by faith in religious traditions. I think you know that.


"The truth of “self-existence” means the truth of one’s own nature, the ultimate truth of svabhava, the third of the three own-natures (trisvabhava). This important note shows us that when the Buddha and Zen teachers point to a flower, hit the floor, comment on the sound of the rain, etc., it may seem like they are teaching materialism, but in fact this is not a teaching of materialism and is actually the teaching there is nothing but the manifestations of one’s own mind. But, when the non-Buddhists speak of non-materialism such as energy, space, gods, heavens, spiritual matters, etc., they still believe in an external reality and external things so they are in fact teaching materialism."

Alan Gregory Wonderwheel said...

Poep Sa, we will have to agree to disagree about whether the terms "idealistic vedanta" and "essentialism" apply to the Lankavatara's view that all manifestations are nothing but mind. Clearly the Lankavatara says it does not advocate essentialism or such, but you don't accept that.

The nuance that you overlook is that the Lanka does not say, as you asert, "that nothing exists other than the manifestations of the mind." The Lanka says that all manifestations are nothing but mind. Thus, there is no "nothing exists other than" because in the Mind-only there is neither existence nor non-existence. In other words, the mind-only teaching does not say that things "exist as" manifestations of mind and other things "don't exist", which would be an idealist view, but instead says all manifestations are manifestations of mind.

Likewise, the Lankavatara (and the Ekayana) does not teach essentialism, which I understand as a teaching that there are identifiable attributes characterizing a substance or form that make the thing being identified recognizible as an entity. This is not what the Lankavatara teaches. Instead, over and over, almost to the point of redunancy, the Lanka teachs that attributes are characteristics of our bifurcating cognition and therefore no attributes can ever attach to mind, Buddha, Dharmakaya, etc. But because we are humans with consciousness, we must use the language of attributes to communicate to each other, so we say words like "empty" (sunyata) to point to the actual inconceivablilty of things.

Yes, faith means having confidence or trust, and that is how I use it. There is also faith in a belief system, and science shares this as the faith in its own belief system. There is also faith in the religious beliefs and of course science does not share this because science has faith in scientific beliefs, not in religious beliefs. I think context and usage make it clear in most cases which kind of faith the speaker is referring to. The point is that followers of science can distinguish their faith system from the faith system of most religious beliefs, but they can't deny that they too have a faith system. Apples and oranges are both fruit.

Alan Gregory Wonderwheel said...

Also, should respond to the idea that one can even say "the buddha may have had some of it wrong -- and still be buddhist."

Actually, that is an untruth based on antithetical paradigms. A person can not claim to be a follower of the Buddha Dharma and at the same time say that Buddha was "wrong."

If someone says the Buddha was "wrong," then in that case the person is following their own Dharma or another Dharma, but not the Buddha Dharma.

People can differ as to what the Buddha said or did and about what meaning we are to take from the Sutras and still be followers of the Buddha Dharma.

But if someone alleges that the Buddha was "wrong" when he stated something, then a follower of the Buddha Dharma will not agree and instead will say something like, "You only think it was 'wrong' because you don't understand what the Buddha was saying. Perhaps you are taking it literally when the Buddha was stating a parable."

The Buddha never spoke unless asked to speak, therefore everything the Buddha said was responsive to the audience. What was true for that audience at that time may not appear true for another audience at another time, but it would be a fallacy of thinking to conclude that the Buddha was "wrong" when speaking to one or the other audience based on comparing the appearances of what was said using conventional models of comparison.

I would like to hear one example of where the person says the Buddha was "wrong" and the person still calls themselves a follower of the Buddha Dharma.

David Bennett said...

What did the Buddha do when he was hungry?

Alan Gregory Wonderwheel said...

Without intellectualizing over existence or nonexistence, he got up, fixed his robes, took up his bowl, and went into town following the rule to stand in front of a house at random. Than after the correct number of houses or when his bowl was full he returned to the encampment and ate his meal. That is the wonderful miracle that has no dependence on materialism.

David Bennett said...

Thank you for your reply. I can go with that.