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The Teaching on "Fortuitous Origins"

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The Teaching on "Fortuitous Origins"

Postby sunyavadi on Sat Mar 24, 2012 11:32 pm

I am interested in a particular passage from the Brahmajala Sutta. This is the first Sutta in the Digha Nikaya, the ‘long discourses’. What interests me is one particular paragraph in the Sutta.

The second and third parts of the sutta discuss the 62 beliefs which were devoutly practised by ascetics in the India of the Buddha’s day. These are divided into: 18 beliefs related to the past (pubbantanuditthino), and 44 beliefs about the future (aparantakappika). These beliefs cover a wide spectrum of philosophical views of life, many of which are still represented in the world today.

There are two verses (17-18) which criticize a view called ‘fortuitous origins’. This is the view that the world and the beings in it arise ‘without cause’. There are two forms of this view, the second of which is expressed as follows:

"Herein, bhikkhus, a certain recluse or a brahmin is a rationalist, an investigator. He declares his view — hammered out by reason, deduced from his investigations, following his own flight of thought — thus: 'The self and the world originate fortuitously.'


Now, this is presented as an ‘incorrect view’, one of the views which are a fetter or a hindrance to the seeking of liberation. Yet this is more or less the view of those who propose that life and the Universe are the consequence of ‘chance’, or arise fortuitously over long periods of time. This view is typically espoused by scientists, in opposition to the Christian idea of ‘special creation’ - and I suspect that in many parts of the world, this is the view of the educated majority of secular people.

Clearly in the case of Buddhism, the contrary to the view of ‘fortuitous origins’ is not that of ‘special creation’. In other words, while the view of 'fortuitous origins' might be an incorrect view, the alternative is not the view proposed by Special Creation. So - what is the alternative? If the origin of the world is neither the consequence of ‘special creation’, nor of ‘fortuitous origins’, then what is the correct view?

This is a difficult question. I am just looking for sources and perspective on it at this point. Any ideas gratefully received.

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Re: The Teaching on "Fortuitous Origins"

Postby Jok_Hae on Sun Mar 25, 2012 12:00 am

Hi Sunyavadi,

It seems to me that both views you have presented are contrary to the doctrine of dependent origination, so the Buddha calls them "false".

Here is another translation I found:

2.31. [Wrong view 17] ‘There are, monks, certain devas called Unconscious. As soon as a perception arises in them, those devas fall from that realm. And it may happen that a being falls from that realm and arises in this world. He…recalls his last existence, but none before that. He thinks:”The self and the world have arisen by chance. How so? Before this I did not exist. Now from not-being I have been brought to being.” This is the first case.

2.32. [Wrong view 18] ‘What is the second case? Here, and ascetic or Brahmin is a logician, a reasoned. He hammers out his own opinion and declares: “The self and the world have arisen by chance.” This is the second case.


From here.

Nothing arises by chance, only through causes and conditions. I am not a scholar though and it will be interesting to see other replies.

Good luck and thanks for practicing,
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Re: The Teaching on "Fortuitous Origins"

Postby Bob Skank on Sun Mar 25, 2012 2:11 am

Jok_Hae wrote: Nothing arises by chance, only through causes and conditions.

This is also the fundamental premise of science, is it not?
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Re: The Teaching on "Fortuitous Origins"

Postby Jok_Hae on Sun Mar 25, 2012 11:51 am

Bob Skank wrote:
Jok_Hae wrote: Nothing arises by chance, only through causes and conditions.

This is also the fundamental premise of science, is it not?
Bob


I would think so, Bob. Especially in the realm of physics. But there is segment of folks, who suggest that everything is random. Anyone who has done some practice understands this not to be the case. So, I suspect this is the type of reasoning the Buddha is suggesting is wrong view. Of course, it is easy to make the leap to fate or pre-determined outcomes, which is also a wrong view, imho.

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Re: The Teaching on "Fortuitous Origins"

Postby Dan74 on Sun Mar 25, 2012 2:21 pm

Jok_Hae wrote:
Bob Skank wrote:
Jok_Hae wrote: Nothing arises by chance, only through causes and conditions.

This is also the fundamental premise of science, is it not?
Bob


I would think so, Bob. Especially in the realm of physics. But there is segment of folks, who suggest that everything is random. Anyone who has done some practice understands this not to be the case. So, I suspect this is the type of reasoning the Buddha is suggesting is wrong view. Of course, it is easy to make the leap to fate or pre-determined outcomes, which is also a wrong view, imho.

Keith


Well the current view (for the past 80 years or so) is that on the most microscopic level, the subatomic level, chance plays a huge part (Quantum Mechanics).

The origins of life are also believed to be due to a string of lucky coincidences. Though if there are really 6x10^23 planets in the Universe, I suppose that one of them had to get "lucky"! :)

Of course we may yet come to another understanding in the future, or reconcile the current one with what the Buddha taught.

Or maybe the Buddha was wrong on this point. I wouldn't be massively upset if this was the case.
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Re: The Teaching on "Fortuitous Origins"

Postby LearningPatience on Sun Mar 25, 2012 3:45 pm

Could we frame the question this way? (This is just an attempt to stand back and look at the possibilities, please feel free to re-arrange, delete, or add to anything you want).

1) Things arise (originate) by accident, randomly, by chance, “Fortuitous Origins”.
-An expression of this would be Quantum Mechanics.
-An element of freedom (undetermined).

2) Things arise (originate) by cause and condition, cause and effect.
-An expression of this would be Newtonian Physics (Science).
-Determinism.
-Would this also be the Buddha’s Middle way?

3) Things arise (originate) by “Special Creation” that is to say, from a higher order outside the material order. (There is an assumption here of two distinct orders, Material and Spiritual).
-An expression of this would be the classic “religious traditions”, the “wisdom traditions”, the notion of the “spiritual order”.
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Re: The Teaching on "Fortuitous Origins"

Postby Jok_Hae on Sun Mar 25, 2012 9:55 pm

Dan74 wrote:
Jok_Hae wrote:
Bob Skank wrote:
Jok_Hae wrote: Nothing arises by chance, only through causes and conditions.

This is also the fundamental premise of science, is it not?
Bob


I would think so, Bob. Especially in the realm of physics. But there is segment of folks, who suggest that everything is random. Anyone who has done some practice understands this not to be the case. So, I suspect this is the type of reasoning the Buddha is suggesting is wrong view. Of course, it is easy to make the leap to fate or pre-determined outcomes, which is also a wrong view, imho.

Keith


Well the current view (for the past 80 years or so) is that on the most microscopic level, the subatomic level, chance plays a huge part (Quantum Mechanics).

The origins of life are also believed to be due to a string of lucky coincidences. Though if there are really 6x10^23 planets in the Universe, I suppose that one of them had to get "lucky"! :)

Of course we may yet come to another understanding in the future, or reconcile the current one with what the Buddha taught.

Or maybe the Buddha was wrong on this point. I wouldn't be massively upset if this was the case.


Hi Dan,

I look at it like this: if you roll a die, you will get a random number between 1 and 6. But, only a random number between 1 and 6. So, the random result is caused by the act of rolling a die. Causes and conditions...

Of course, if the Buddha was wrong about dependent origination, then there is no Buddhism.

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Re: The Teaching on "Fortuitous Origins"

Postby sunyavadi on Sun Mar 25, 2012 11:42 pm

Thanks for the responses!

I agree with that last comment, Keith. 'Dependent origination' is the centrepiece of the whole teaching. That is non-negotiable in my view. :)

Dan74 wrote:Well the current view (for the past 80 years or so) is that on the most microscopic level, the subatomic level, chance plays a huge part (Quantum Mechanics).


Actually there is an entire sub-school of thought around, going back to the very influential book Tao of Physics, that is called 'quantum Buddhism'. In fact there are many philosophically adventurous physicists that are attracted to Buddhism, like Arthur Zajonc. I think this could become an influential school of thought.

LearningPatience wrote:Could we frame the question this way? (This is just an attempt to stand back and look at the possibilities, please feel free to re-arrange, delete, or add to anything you want).

1) Things arise (originate) by accident, randomly, by chance, “Fortuitous Origins”.
-An expression of this would be Quantum Mechanics.
-An element of freedom (undetermined).

2) Things arise (originate) by cause and condition, cause and effect.
-An expression of this would be Newtonian Physics (Science).
-Determinism.
-Would this also be the Buddha’s Middle way?

3) Things arise (originate) by “Special Creation” that is to say, from a higher order outside the material order. (There is an assumption here of two distinct orders, Material and Spiritual).
-An expression of this would be the classic “religious traditions”, the “wisdom traditions”, the notion of the “spiritual order”


I am very attracted to the third position. That is one of the reasons I am asking the question. Maybe I still have latent Christian memes! But it doesn't have to be interpreted in the literal manner that believers tend to do.

Bob wrote:This (assumption of causality) is also the fundamental premise of science, is it not?


The general notion of 'causality' (in any sense other than strictly efficient causation, where A can be observed to cause B) was thrown into question by David Hume. Prior to Hume, the Aristotlean ideas of 'formal and final causes' were widely assumed. However the empiricists threw all of those kinds of ideas out. Any notion of a 'first cause' or a 'hierarchy of being' is generally rejected by science on this account. Even the ideas of 'natural law' are actually under question by radical empiricism. They think that such laws only hold in this universe. They have stranger ideas than theologians nowadays. :lol2:

But getting back to the Buddhist teaching - let's remember that the Buddha taught that speculation about whether the universe had a beginning or not was a pointless undertaking. He was always emphasizing the here-and-now, understanding the hindrances and overcoming them. I suspect that this is because it is one of the questions that begins to 'solve itself' as your understanding becomes more clear.

Philosophically speaking, the Buddhist view is that 'mind is the forerunner of all things' (Dhammapada). This ought not to be interpreted in an idealist or dualist way, however, where 'mind' is thought of as an entity or force in its own right. it is more subtle than that. But this is something I am still studying. I don't have the whole picture yet.

In any case, I think the lesson for our day-and-age is that the 'everything arises at random' equates to a 'nihilist' view. This does not provide for karma, or 'practice and the fruits of practice'. So it really negates the teaching - ultimately, it doesn't make any difference what you do. The opposing view, that 'everything was created by God', understood simplistically leads to the attitude 'it doesn't really matter what you do, have faith and you will be saved'. So both views encourage irresponsibility.
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Re: The Teaching on "Fortuitous Origins"

Postby Jok_Hae on Mon Mar 26, 2012 12:10 am

LearningPatience wrote:Could we frame the question this way? (This is just an attempt to stand back and look at the possibilities, please feel free to re-arrange, delete, or add to anything you want).

1) Things arise (originate) by accident, randomly, by chance, “Fortuitous Origins”.
-An expression of this would be Quantum Mechanics.
-An element of freedom (undetermined).

2) Things arise (originate) by cause and condition, cause and effect.
-An expression of this would be Newtonian Physics (Science).
-Determinism.
-Would this also be the Buddha’s Middle way?

3) Things arise (originate) by “Special Creation” that is to say, from a higher order outside the material order. (There is an assumption here of two distinct orders, Material and Spiritual).
-An expression of this would be the classic “religious traditions”, the “wisdom traditions”, the notion of the “spiritual order”.


I would be atheistic regarding view one, a true believer in view two and agnostic regarding the last view. As always, my views are subject to change and probably will. Soon. :peace:
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Re: The Teaching on "Fortuitous Origins"

Postby Bob Skank on Mon Mar 26, 2012 3:24 am

If scientists ever concluded that reality was the result of random chance, science would cease to exist. They do say, of course, that some phenomena appear [!] to be random, mysterious, but the premise of science is that all phenomena occur according to laws that can be learned by observation, study, and reason. In this I see no conflict with the buddhadharma whatsoever. I agree with Keith.

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Re: The Teaching on "Fortuitous Origins"

Postby Dan74 on Mon Mar 26, 2012 3:45 am

Well, the thing is that randomness like in Quantum Mechanics also obeys laws, except these are laws of likelihood, rather than certainly.
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Re: The Teaching on "Fortuitous Origins"

Postby sunyavadi on Mon Mar 26, 2012 4:13 am

Bob Skank wrote:If scientists ever concluded that reality was the result of random chance, science would cease to exist. They do say, of course, that some phenomena appear [!] to be random, mysterious, but the premise of science is that all phenomena occur according to laws that can be learned by observation, study, and reason. In this I see no conflict with the buddhadharma whatsoever. I agree with Keith.

Bob


Indeed, science recognizes order, but modern science refuses to consider that order exists for any reason. So according to the hardline scientific atheists, order is simply a fact of the universe, and, given time, it will give rise to living beings such as ourselves, who are, nevertheless, purely material beings. So the conflict here with the Dharma is exactly that there is no place for a moral principle. The only ground for moral principles is through the benefits they provide for the survival of the species. There is nothing intrinsically good in life, or about life, and certainly nothing that could correspond with the Nirvana of the Buddha - there would be no place in such a scheme for this idea. Of course, not all scientists believe this, but there is a vocal minority who argue it very forcefully.
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Re: The Teaching on "Fortuitous Origins"

Postby ground on Mon Mar 26, 2012 4:41 am

"The world in general, Kaccaayana, grasps after systems and is imprisoned by dogmas.[5] But he[6] does not go along with that system-grasping, that mental obstinacy and dogmatic bias, does not grasp at it, does not affirm: 'This is my self.'[7] He knows without doubt or hesitation that whatever arises is merely dukkha[8] that what passes away is merely dukkha and such knowledge is his own, not depending on anyone else. This, Kaccaayana, is what constitutes right view.

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Re: The Teaching on "Fortuitous Origins"

Postby TTT on Thu Mar 29, 2012 4:42 am

One culd say thet fortuitously means auspicious?


"I am very attracted to the third position".

Exemple: wisdom is the embodiment of women (Tantra tradition)?

An other exembple: What is DO (Zen tradition, i guess)?
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Re: The Teaching on "Fortuitous Origins"

Postby sunyavadi on Fri Mar 30, 2012 11:22 pm

"Fortuitous" means "by chance" or "for no reason".
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Re: The Teaching on "Fortuitous Origins"

Postby Jok_Hae on Sat Mar 31, 2012 12:41 am

sunyavadi wrote:
Bob Skank wrote:If scientists ever concluded that reality was the result of random chance, science would cease to exist. They do say, of course, that some phenomena appear [!] to be random, mysterious, but the premise of science is that all phenomena occur according to laws that can be learned by observation, study, and reason. In this I see no conflict with the buddhadharma whatsoever. I agree with Keith.

Bob


Indeed, science recognizes order, but modern science refuses to consider that order exists for any reason. So according to the hardline scientific atheists, order is simply a fact of the universe, and, given time, it will give rise to living beings such as ourselves, who are, nevertheless, purely material beings. So the conflict here with the Dharma is exactly that there is no place for a moral principle. The only ground for moral principles is through the benefits they provide for the survival of the species. There is nothing intrinsically good in life, or about life, and certainly nothing that could correspond with the Nirvana of the Buddha - there would be no place in such a scheme for this idea. Of course, not all scientists believe this, but there is a vocal minority who argue it very forcefully.


I have been thinking about this for a bit, mainly because I agree with the idea that there is no "reason" for the way things work in our universe. And I don't see any conflict at all with the Dharma. The function of Dharma, imho, is to end suffering. Certainly moral behavior is a necesary part of the path, but I am unclear where a "reason" fits into all this. Depenedent origination just explains how things work. There is no "reason" behind it, as far as I know. Certainly, not "good" or "bad". Thanks for bringing it up, though. It has been interesting to consider. :Namaste:
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Re: The Teaching on "Fortuitous Origins"

Postby sunyavadi on Sat Mar 31, 2012 1:22 am

Then, why did the Buddha bring it up? Why is 'fortuitous origins' criticized as a wrong view?

Think about the meaning of 'dharma'. We will all agree here that it is a key term in Buddhism. It is derived from the Sanskrit root, 'dhr-', meaning 'to hold together'. It is a hard word to translate into English, and actually there is no exact equivalent term in contemporary English (which is why it is most often left untranslated).

But I think that those who adhere to the notion 'fortuitous origins' would deny that there is actually any principle of 'dharma'. They might say, 'if you practice Buddhism, you will experience inner peace and personal happiness, but that is all. It is just a subjective state of mind that you will obtain in this life and has no more significance than that.'

There were those in the Buddha's day who said exactly this. Ajita Kesakambalin, the leader of a materialist sect, said:

"'A person is a composite of four primary elements. At death, the earth (in the body) returns to and merges with the (external) earth-substance. The fire returns to and merges with the external fire-substance. The liquid returns to and merges with the external liquid-substance. The wind returns to and merges with the external wind-substance. The sense-faculties scatter into space. Four men, with the bier as the fifth, carry the corpse. Its eulogies are sounded only as far as the charnel ground. The bones turn pigeon-colored. The offerings end in ashes. Generosity is taught by idiots. The words of those who speak of existence after death are false, empty chatter. With the breakup of the body, the wise and the foolish alike are annihilated, destroyed. They do not exist after death.'"


From Access to Insight

These were the kinds of thinkers that the Buddha said proposed the idea of 'fortuitous origins', and whom he argued against. They are exactly like current materialists in many ways. So that view is criticized by the Buddha.

But in our culture, the opposite to this view, is generally regarded as 'special creation', that is, the creator deity. Buddhism does not support that view, either. That's what is so interesting about this question! Buddhism does not teach either 'creation by a deity' or 'fortuitous origins', whereas, to most people, that seems to be the only choice.

My take: 'dharma' is very much like an ancient western idea of 'the logos'. The Stoics thought 'the logos' was an active reason that pervaded the entire universe. But they didn't conceive it as a 'personal deity' (and in fact the Stoics were much closer to Buddhism in many ways than to Christianity).

But anyway, this idea of the logos was developed in many different ways by the ancient schools, but eventually it just got incorporated in Christianity under the formula that 'logos is The Word of God'. That tended to kill the idea, in my view, by turning it into a dogmatic formula that undermines the real depth of the idea. 'Logos' is the root word behind 'logic', which is the idea that it is the fundamental order of the universe. There was another Sanskrit word, 'rta-', which is also related to the idea of 'divine order'.
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Re: The Teaching on "Fortuitous Origins"

Postby Jok_Hae on Mon Apr 02, 2012 12:08 am

sunyavadi wrote:Then, why did the Buddha bring it up? Why is 'fortuitous origins' criticized as a wrong view?


I believe the point is things don't just arise through chance, but through causes and condition. We are back to DO. I have to apologize, as I am not very good at articulating what I am thinking in these kinds of theoretical conversation. I don't see the conflict here, mostly because I am not a very deep thinker. :lol2:

sunyavadi wrote:Think about the meaning of 'dharma'. We will all agree here that it is a key term in Buddhism. It is derived from the Sanskrit root, 'dhr-', meaning 'to hold together'. It is a hard word to translate into English, and actually there is no exact equivalent term in contemporary English (which is why it is most often left untranslated).

But I think that those who adhere to the notion 'fortuitous origins' would deny that there is actually any principle of 'dharma'. They might say, 'if you practice Buddhism, you will experience inner peace and personal happiness, but that is all. It is just a subjective state of mind that you will obtain in this life and has no more significance than that.'


hmm...Dharma usually just means "teaching", or sometimes events or things. I think it is pretty clear, actually...my simple mind at work again. No need to complicate. But, I do see what you are getting at. Our life can have many different directions, one of which is becoming a Buddha, which is by definition better than a dukkha filled existence. So, the reason I practice everyday is that I know that I suffer, I know why, I know it can be avoided, and I know how to avoid this suffering. That can be said to be a "reason" for life. But, even as I write it, I don't buy it!

sunyavadi wrote:There were those in the Buddha's day who said exactly this. Ajita Kesakambalin, the leader of a materialist sect, said:

"'A person is a composite of four primary elements. At death, the earth (in the body) returns to and merges with the (external) earth-substance. The fire returns to and merges with the external fire-substance. The liquid returns to and merges with the external liquid-substance. The wind returns to and merges with the external wind-substance. The sense-faculties scatter into space. Four men, with the bier as the fifth, carry the corpse. Its eulogies are sounded only as far as the charnel ground. The bones turn pigeon-colored. The offerings end in ashes. Generosity is taught by idiots. The words of those who speak of existence after death are false, empty chatter. With the breakup of the body, the wise and the foolish alike are annihilated, destroyed. They do not exist after death.'"


From Access to Insight

These were the kinds of thinkers that the Buddha said proposed the idea of 'fortuitous origins', and whom he argued against. They are exactly like current materialists in many ways. So that view is criticized by the Buddha.



But in our culture, the opposite to this view, is generally regarded as 'special creation', that is, the creator deity. Buddhism does not support that view, either. That's what is so interesting about this question! Buddhism does not teach either 'creation by a deity' or 'fortuitous origins', whereas, to most people, that seems to be the only choice.


So, what's left...the Middle Path, perhaps? :)

sunyavadi wrote:My take: 'dharma' is very much like an ancient western idea of 'the logos'. The Stoics thought 'the logos' was an active reason that pervaded the entire universe. But they didn't conceive it as a 'personal deity' (and in fact the Stoics were much closer to Buddhism in many ways than to Christianity).

But anyway, this idea of the logos was developed in many different ways by the ancient schools, but eventually it just got incorporated in Christianity under the formula that 'logos is The Word of God'. That tended to kill the idea, in my view, by turning it into a dogmatic formula that undermines the real depth of the idea. 'Logos' is the root word behind 'logic', which is the idea that it is the fundamental order of the universe. There was another Sanskrit word, 'rta-', which is also related to the idea of 'divine order'.


Not much to say on that...it sounds like a plausible theory, but you are talking to a guy who grows grass for a living, so it's a bit over my head! :lol2:
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Re: The Teaching on "Fortuitous Origins"

Postby sunyavadi on Mon Apr 02, 2012 12:02 pm

Don't worry, Jok Hae, I'm sure you're on the right track! Quality of intention is the most important thing. Us academics just like to consider all the angles. Middle path is surely correct!
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Re: The Teaching on "Fortuitous Origins"

Postby Jok_Hae on Mon Apr 02, 2012 5:35 pm

sunyavadi wrote:Don't worry, Jok Hae, I'm sure you're on the right track! Quality of intention is the most important thing. Us academics just like to consider all the angles. Middle path is surely correct!


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