Category Archives: Dharma

A Recitable Creed

I’m continuing to work on what would be a valuable daily or 2x a month practice, roughly based on monastic uposotha days.

I believe…

… Shakyamuni and the people who followed him were ordinary people that collectively said something remarkable and useful. The work of the Buddhist is to find out that realization through thought and meditation and apply it to the problems of this world.
… we are not who we naively think we are.
… we are the intersection of the effects of everything.
… we are a collective consciousness
… we should not let our desire for immortality and fame color who we think we are.
… the soul does not exist, nor heaven, nor hell, nor reincarnation. These are stories. Freedom is freedom from the fear of hell and reincarnation. Peace is being at peace with our mortality.
… experience is governed by dependent-arising, things happen, we experience them, they pass away.
… the celestial Buddhas and Bodhisattva are archetypes, we seek to become like them.
… there is a fundamental problem for us to solve, we should be cautious in deciding what the problem is.
… we have a fundamental problem, suffering, due to aversion, greed, ignorance and an unwillingness to get along with others.

I will follow these precepts
… I will preserve life
… I will obey civil law and work for its change when it conflicts with the other precepts
… I will work to live harmoniously with everyone
… TODO: minor precepts.

I vow…
… to work towards the enlightenment of all living things.
… bring health and wealth to all living things

I promise…
… to meditate and develop concentration
… to meditate and study the nature of my mind
… to meditate by reading
… I will work to maintain enthusiasm for the task
… to repent when I realize I’ve made a mistake

Not worth reciting, but for completeness, what I don’t believe:
Tathagatagarbha is nonsense. Once you are enlightened, you’ll realize that tathagatagarbha was nonsense all along, you just needed to realize it.
Nondualism, especially applied as a theory of everything is nonsense. We should guard against see the same things as different. We should also guard against imagining different things are are actually the same.
Depending-arising and sunyata as a theory of everything is nonsense.
The cosmology with karma, heaven and hell is nonsense and in general, not salvageable. The universe is ignorant of our sense of fairness.
The celestial Buddhas don’t exist, can not help us, and as fictional devices, they care not for our flattery or devotion.

Sine qua non and Fundamental Questions

Why Buddhism at all?
As far as things without an essence go, what is the essence and sine qua non of Buddhism?

These are related– if not Buddhism, what else? Maybe Hegel or romance novels or pints of ice cream? And what are the parts of Buddhism that Hegel, romance novels and pints of ice cream can’t deliver?

0) It’s a club. A party of just me isn’t much fun for me.
1) Critical mass. A religion of 1 isn’t especially impactful on the world.
2) It isn’t an Abrahamic Religion or the progeny of medieval scholastics. While maybe has more god, gods, and soul than I’d like, it is relatively devoid of Abrahamic religious doctrine and polar reactions against it. Instead, it has it’s own peculiar admixtures: Zoroastrianism and Hinduism, which both are far less likely to be a problem for a convert like myself, since Zoroastrianism and Hinduism never were a substantial influence on me in the first place.
3) Of the religions with critical mass, it’s the only one that can be followed non-devotionally in a practice oriented way and has within it the mechanisms for independence–from institutions. Pratekyabuddha’s for the win!

0,1 can’t be delivered by ice cream or Hegel.

Buddhism’s sine qua nons- are a bit of non yet supported conclusions and premises with unworked-out consequences. The Mahayana Buddhists have a mean ahimsa & vegetarian & animal rights streak– the right conclusions. The pali texts have the right premise– the naive self isn’t what we think it is, it’s this eddy in a stream, a collective conscious, a thing that is hard to summarize… and harder to figure out what the consequences are.

And that is the starting point we have to practice with. We practice until we are dead. And then the project is carried on by the living. Until we are all at peace with being alive.

Anyhow, heterodox relative to institutional Buddhism, but still recognizable Buddhism.

Precepts of Conduct and Precepts of Doctrine

In Paul William’s book “Mahayana Buddhism: The Doctrinal Foundations” he posits that the early sangha was united by a vinaya that had little to do with doctrine. So two members of the sangha could both consider each other Buddhists in good standing because they both kept the vinaya, but disagree on doctrine.

In a sense, doctrine underlies all the precepts. That isn’t the point. The point here is that some precepts are very specific about doctrine. The BNS specifically mentions doctrine in many places:

8th minor – Do not be anti-Mahayanaist
34, 35-Vows and pledges
And all the precepts that mention hinayana, pratekyabuddha and sravaka references (roughly Theravadism, solitary Buddhism and beggar’s Buddhism)

Options
1) This ancient doctrinal argument is valid and worth pressing forward today.
2) This ancient dispute is no longer relevant
3) The specific doctrines should be reinterpreted.

Example
I’m going to interpret this as an exhortation to figure out what is the “state of the art” in doctrine and keep to that. At the time of the BNS, Mahayana Buddhism was the state of the art and I think, if these precepts aren’t just simple minded boosterism, these precepts were exhorting people to see the Dharma as something that we are getting better at understanding and isn’t a fixed think that is so well understood that no innovation or adaptation is possible.