Monthly Archives: March 2014

Assumptions, Green Dragon Kung fu, and Removing Suffering

In reference to my last post, a friend of mine sent me this:

For example, here, to start off are, I suggest, two underpinning assumptions: (1) that a particular result can be properly attributed to a single cause (as opposed to a complexity of multiple causes and conditions); (2) that the cause is something that is able to be permanently prevented as opposed to being necessarily perpetual or otherwise some inescapable facet of our condition.

So these are good questions, I’ll start with the latter. But first, a quick work about assumptions… I discuss assumptions in my book; I often hear from people the opinion that we don’t need to worry about whether something is logical or not because all “logic” depends on assumptions. I disagree, for more please see Appendix F of my book.

But the gist of that chapter is that one of the purposes of logic (especially in its form as debate) is to undercover assumptions. So we often make assumptions, but eventually we should prove them all out. So let’s do some  here.

I want to take up the second question first, because that is where I was going next with our argument to prove that Buddhas exist. To prove that Buddhas exist (or any divine being), the first necessary step is to prove that it’s possible to become such a being. This involves proving that the cause for a Buddha (the collection of merit and wisdom) is possible. The collection of merit is a collection–a positive thing–the collection of all of the good deeds of a Buddha. The collection of wisdom, however, is actually the elimination of a thing: the obstacles to omniscience. This involves permanently removing all of your mental affliction obstacles. 

Is it possible to do such a thing? If you believe so, then why? If you do believe it’s possible, but can’t give me a reason, then I would argue that you’re in danger of practicing green dragon kung fu.

So let’s prove that you can.

Consider your mental afflictions,
You can eliminate them permanently,
Because you can eliminate their cause.

So then the question is, can you eliminate the cause of your mental afflictions? In traditional Tibetan Buddhism, the root cause of all mental afflictions is that we misunderstand where things come from. From the Yoga Sutra (1.2), yogash chitta virti nirodhah: Yoga is stopping the wrong turnings of the mind. We twist around where things come from; we misunderstand the real causes of our experience. If you accept that, then the question becomes, can we stop misunderstanding our world?

So, if my debate partner answers “reason not established” to the syllogism above, I follow it up with:

Consider your mental afflictions,
You can eliminate their cause,
Because there is an antidote.

And that antidote is right understanding. If you take the vaccine for chicken pox, you can’t get chicken pox. If you understand where things come from, you will eliminate the causes the suffering.

What do you think?


Proving Buddhas

So how do we know if Buddhas exist? One way to approach it is to ask, “What does it take to become a Buddha?” In Buddhism, the cause of a Buddha is called the two collections of merit. What this means is, is it possible to eliminate all bad mental seeds and collect a mental seed that would produce everything good?

So we’ll do the latter first: is it possible to eliminate the causes for pain and suffering?

This is the foundation of traditional Buddhism. Buddha sat under a tree and realized four things; but the first and second are what we’re interested in here: what is suffering, and what causes it? Because if we can identify the cause of suffering, then, by extension we can eliminate it. Because if you remove the cause, you must remove the result.

Consider suffering,
You can remove it,
Because it has a cause.

So this is the root of all we talk about; when I teach why I think people should learn logic, I tell the story of Charles Whitman. His father was raised in an orphanage and went on to own a successful plumbing business; he described himself as a “self-made man.” So what did he teach his son? If you work hard, you’ll be successful. Is that true? (I cover this in my book.) It wasn’t for Charlie. (He got court-martialed and demoted and in the marines, and never achieved financial independence from his abusive father.) So to prove to everyone he was a hard worker and was good at something (the last thing he wrote was, “I never could quite make it. These thoughts are too much for me”), he bought five rifles and a shotgun and shot seventeen people.

This is an extreme example, but we think like this. If I work hard, I’ll be successful. Then when you’re not, you suffer and wonder why. But it was never logical to think that way in the first place.

So run the three tests on our syllogism above and let me know if it isn’t true.

Creating Buddha

So I was talking about the logic behind whether or not God exists, but someone in Doylestown asked me, “How do we know that Buddhas exist?”

This is an important subject for me, because one of the classical reasons for studying logic is to prove the existence of things that we cannot see, but need to understand, such as: whether Buddhas exist, is it possible to reach Nirvana, and/or is the Buddhist conception of emptiness true?

I always tell my story about Green Dragon Kung fu; how someone made up a style called “Green Dragon Kung fu,” because they didn’t want to pay the franchise fee to their kung fu teacher. So they changed some things, made up some new kung fu forms, and viola! Green Dragon Kung fu.

The problem with practicing Green Dragon Kung fu is, does it work? If someone just made it up, we’re not talking about something that has worked for thousands of years: are you going to spend your time studying something that might or might not work when you need to defend yourself?

How important then is it that what you study for your spiritual life is true? Should what you believe in be true or not? Are you going to spend the little amount of free time you have studying something that isn’t true?

If you consider yourself a Buddhist, do you believe that Buddhas exist? If not, how are you a Buddhist? If so, how do you know Buddhas exist? Have you seen one?

If not, then do you believe in Santa also? What’s the difference between believing  in Santa or believing in Buddhas, if you don’t have a reason for believing in one or the other?

In Doylestown we covered a couple of different proofs for why Buddhas exist; I’ll do the easiest one first:

Consider Buddhas,
They exist,
Because the Dalai Lama says so.

So run the tests; the important test is going to be is it true that if the Dalai Lama says Buddhas exist, must they exist?

This is the concept in Tibetan Buddhism that they call “valid authority.” Of course you’re not supposed to believe something just because someone says it; if you do that then I have a bridge to sell you. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t believe what people tell us; we do this all the time. How much do you know about quantum physics? If not much, would you accept what a scientist tells you as true about quantum physics? Why or why not?

Whether you accept this syllogism or not depends on two things: whether you believe the Dalai Lama would lie to you or not and whether or not you consider the Dalai Lama to be able to possess such knowledge. If you believe the Dalai Lama wouldn’t lie to you, then the only thing left is to prove that he has the ability to know whether Buddhas exist or not. So we’ll cover that in the next post.


Creating a creator God

I received this comment to my FB page from my friend Leza Lowitz:

Love this post. How is “uncreated creator God?”defined? Why add the word “uncreated” here? Is that scriptural in Tibetan Buddhist texts? So then the question is– if Buddhism denies the existence of an “uncreated creator God” then does it accept the existence of a “created creator God?” And if so, who or what created that?

So these are good questions; I’ll try to answer them here.

I obviously can’t speak for Christianity; each denomination or church has different ideas about what God is or how we should think of God. But a simple google search gave me 100 Bible verses about how God is unchanging. I grew up Catholic and Church of Christ and both told me that God created the world, but was still somehow unchanging (unchanging and uncreated here being synonyms).

So as we said in the last post, logic would deny an unchanging creator as an internal contradiction. But then is the opposite true? Could a changing creator God exist?

This is the reason I do this debate; in Tibetan Buddhism we learn about hlas (LHA), that is, angels (also sometimes translated as “diety”). For example Chenrezig, Tara, or Manjushri. Tantric angels include Vajrayogini, Vajradhara, Chakrasamvara, or Yamantaka. What are these beings? How can we describe them?

Often in texts they are described as having created a mandala–meaning they have created their own world/paradise. Is this possible? Is there any logic behind it?

Basically, if you’re familiar with Geshe Michael teaching how the pen is coming from us, then if you extrapolate, everything is coming from us. This includes our world. So if the world is coming from us, then we are all changing creators: we all create the world we experience, based on the seeds we plant.

And so does Vajrayogini, for example. So:

Consider Vajrayogini,
She is a changing creator,
Because she projects the world she inhabits.

True or false? You have to run the tests…

There is no God

I went into DC this last weekend and found a place to stay on airbnb–I recommend it, save yourself some money and meet someone new. I met my new friend Chris, who is a thoughtful Catholic. We had a lot of nice conversations and hopefully both learned something new.

But I wanted to clear up what I see as a common misconception, that Buddhism denies the existence of God. Buddhism does not deny the existence of God. Buddhism denies the existence of an uncreated creator God.

I always teach in my classes that the first thing you have to do, if you want to debate with someone, is clarify your terms. It doesn’t do any good to debate with someone about the meaning of God, when one person thinks “God” is an old man in the sky and the other person thinks God is a divine formless principle; the debate will go nowhere.

But Buddhism does deny the existence of an uncreated creator God. Why? It’s a self-contraction. Anything that creates something, by the act of creation, changed: before you were something that hadn’t created something, but now you are something that created something. In the moment that you created something, you changed: you became someone who created something.

A syllogism would be:

Consider a creator God,
He/she must have changed,
Because he/she created something.

How do we know if this is true or false? We have to run the three tests:

Test #1: Did a creator God create something? Yes, they created the world.

Test #2: If someone created something, must they have changed?

Test #3: If someone did not change, must it be the case that they cannot have created something?

We would say “yes” to all these tests. What do you think?

Also, I’m in Doylestown so I’m going to randomly repost my event poster…