Saturday, December 11, 2010

Everything in A Single Moment (Buddhism: A Series, Part 8)

I really enjoyed The Universe in a Single Atom by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. It was interesting to hear his take on physics, based on his interactions with scientists from around the world. Some interesting quotes.

"Although Buddhism has come to evolve as a religion with a characteristic body of scriptures and rituals, strictly speaking, in Buddhism scriptural authority cannot outweigh an understanding based on reason and experience. In fact the Buddha himself, in a famous statement, undermines the scriptural authority of his own when he exhorts his followers not to accept the validity of his teachings simply on the basis of reverence to him. Just as a seasoned goldsmith would test the purity of his gold through a meticulous process of examination, the Buddha advises that people should test the truth of what he has said through reasoned examination and personal experiment."

"In essence, Nagarjuna and Chandrakirti are suggesting this: when we relate to the empirical world of experience, so long as we do not invest things with independent, intrinsic existence, notions of causation, identity, and difference, and the principles of logic will continue to remain tenable. However, their validity is limited to the relative framework of conventional truth. Seeking to ground notions such as identity, existence, and causation in an objective, independent existence is transgressing the bounds of logic, language, and convention. We do not need to postulate the objective, independent existence of things, since we can accord robust, non-arbitrary reality to things and events that not only support everyday functions but also provide a firm basis for ethics and spiritual activity. The world, according to the philosophy of emptiness, is constituted by a web of dependently originating and interconnected realities, within which dependently originated causes give rise to dependently originated consequences according to dependently originating laws of causality. What we do and think in our own lives, then, becomes of extreme importance as it affects everything we're connected to."

"The theory of karma is of signal importance in Buddhist thought but is easily misrepresented. Literally, karma means "action" and refers to the intentional acts of sentient beings. Such acts may be physical, verbal, or mental--even just thoughts or feelings--all of which have impacts upon the psyche of an individual, no matter how minute. Intentions result in acts, which result in effects that condition the mind toward certain traits and propensities, all of which may give rise to further intentions and actions. The entire process is seen as an endless self-perpetuating dynamic. The chain reaction of interlocking causes and effects operates not only in individuals but also for groups and societies, not just in one lifetime but across many lifetimes.

When we use the term karma, we may refer both to specific and individual acts and to the whole principle of such causation. In Buddhism, this karmic causality is seen as a fundamental natural process and not as any kind of divine mechanism or working out of a preordained design. Apart from the karma of individual sentient beings, whether it is collective of personal, it is entirely erroneous to think of karma as some transcendental unitary entity that acts like a god in a theistic system or a determinist law by which a person's life is fated."