Unless you’re Nichren, who, I think at one point, condemned all the other Buddhist groups as being degenerate and foolish.
The central paradox of those who would follow the Buddhist path is that the first tends to interfere with obtaining the second - yet at the same time is necessary to interest the individual in pursuing the second.
The paradox is not so much a theoretical issue as a practical one …
This perhaps points out the difference between the Mahayana and Theravada branches of Buddhism. Your response has the flavour of Theravada about it - just grind along until you get there [and I mean that in a good way ].
Of course, his answer was just illustrative.
I don’t think the first interferes with the second actually. For instance Buddha himself spelt out his philosophy in quite a lot of detail while also presumably having experienced enlightenment
The 8-fold noble path has both "right understanding": an intellectual understanding of Buddhism as well as "right concentration" where through meditation you transform your mind so that it perceives the true nature of reality. So intellectual understanding and direct insight are supposed to be complementary not in conflict.
“The paradox is not so much a theoretical issue as a practical one”
I don’t think Buddhists would consider it a paradox on the practical level either. An intellectual understanding about what Buddhism is about gives you the motivation to proceed and also guidance to live your life. Of course if and when you reach enlightenment the intellectual understanding is no longer necessary but it is a useful tool along the way.
Also it’s important to note Buddhist practice isn’t an all-or-nothing proposition. Even before reaching enlightenment you benefit from having a calmer, more disciplined mind which is further motivation to continue. The Dalai Lama and Thich Nhat Hahn do not claim to be englightened but by all accounts are remarkably happy and at peace.
This is of course true from a Theravada viewpoint.
Zen techniques such as the Koan are based on the type of paradox I was discussing.
I think Lao Tzu put it best in the first verse of the Tao Te Ching (Taoist not Buddhist, but the two are similar and Taoism certainly influenced Zen through Ch’an):
The way that can be exlained
Is not the true way;
The reality that can be identified
Is not the “real” reality.
For all creation was nameless in the beginning;
Yet only in the process of naming can anything be identified.
Therefore, you must use objectivity to observe reality;
But you can only understand reality subjectively.
These two are the same
But diverge in the way we label them.
The fact that they are the same is a paradox
Paradox upon paradox -
But only through paradox will you understand reality.
(This is my own VERY LOOSE translation - no two translations of this verse are the same)
“This is of course true from a Theravada viewpoint”
Not only Thervada. For instance Tibetan Buddhism has a very sophisticated philosophy. Tibetan monks undergo training in philosophy and formal debating techniques. Presumably they don’t feel this interferes with their practice.
You are probably right that Zen has a more intuitve, less intellectual approach. But I think they consider “paradox” as a means to enlightenment not an impediment and the last line in your verses seems to indicate this.
You are correct in this.
The idea that paradox may be an impediment is my own. Example: if one understands that Koans are intended to shock the mind out of its habits of thinking, do they still work?
“Example: if one understands that Koans are intended to shock the mind out of its habits of thinking, do they still work?”
That question sounds like good material for a koan.
I guess you would have to ask a Zen practitioner. My guess many of them are intelligent enough to understand what koans are intended to do in a general way but that doesn’t stop them from working. Just like you listen to jokes expecting to to be amused and you still laugh, assuming the joke is any good.
*Originally posted by Malthus *
Good question - I think it would depend on the koan. Maybe a parallel way of thinking about it would be that koans are similar to magic tricks. Yes, one may know that a certain magic trick is in reality an illusion, but does it lessen the surprise of the trick? I suppose it could if we were privy to how the trick was done.
As someone who was introduced to Buddhism via Nichiren Daishonin then incorporated Taoism and Zen, this debate is rather interesting.
IMHO, if everyone, Buddhist, Christian or whatnot, took the time to reason every action for goodness or rightness, then we would never get anywhere.
Can we not do things just because?
In Buddhism all things should be done according to the right paths. Your way of life becomes right. One shouldn’t have to stop and consider ones actions. They just are.
All humans make wrong and right decisions, regardless of intention. Christians make wrong decisions. Buddhists make wrong decisions. We are human. The point is to make more informed, more appropriate, decisions that do no harm to others or the world as a whole.
Random acts of kindness do exist. From putting a coin in an expired meter for someone to helping an elderly person across the street to offering food to a stray animal. There are those who would do these things to appear better in the eyes of others, but there are those of us who do them to bring a bit of betterment to the lives of others.
This is really self-defeating. If doing good just for the sake of improving Karma becomes the key, then the goal of Nirvana is lost. You are thinking more of yourself than others.
It can be a vicious cycle, especially when just learning the concepts. This would be one of the traps easily fallen into. Rather than giving up self, one becomes centred on self.
Buddhism is very fascinating.
But I mean that this is the means to the end of Nirvana. The Buddhist needs to be selfish in the short term (in helping others so that Karma is improved) so that he/she can be completely selfless (enlightened) in the longer term.
So effectually to strive for Nirvana is an unselfish end, and the means (specifically right intentions and right action) although unconditionally kind and compassionate, are underpinned by a consideration of self.
It seems to me difficult to reconcile this with doctrines such as “no self nature”.
Wouldn’t you know it.
I had a huge response written and well cited… then Opera crashed.
Must have been Karma
i agree. it seems reasonable to say that doing good solely for the sake of your own karma wouldn’t work; it is the intention that counts, not the act itself.
so all the sinfully rich criminals who make (much appreciated) donations solely for other reasons such as karma or publicity would still be reborn as cow poop.