Ignorance of Ignorance

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Ignorance of Ignorance

Post by Wayfarer » Wed Jul 18, 2018 12:26 pm

I have quit posting on PhilosophyForum again - for a while at least. I tend to always gravitate to the spiritual side of philosophy, and in Western culture, that turns out to be mostly Christianised Greek philosophy which is anyway thoroughly out of fashion in the secular West. Of course one can discuss Buddhist ideas also, but philosophy as such is really a Western tradition.

The point that I notice, overall, is how Western people are so thoroughly immersed in the Western ‘scientific’ world-view, that they can’t actually stand outside of it to question it. It has taken over from Christianity, in the sense that it provides a framework within which to interpret life - ‘this is what we’ve evolved to be like’. Now, I’m not the least interested in Intelligent Design or Creationism, but I have come to understand that the acceptance that our identities are wholly and solely the result of evolutionary biology, is an essentially physical view - like, there’s nothing beyond the physical body. We live, we die, our achievements or children - our genes - may in some sense carry on, but death is absolute, and the physical domain of science is the only reality.

Now, within that world-view, there is nothing that maps against or corresponds with ‘avidya’, or ignorance. If you try and explain ‘avidya’, ignorance, the response wil be - ‘ignorant - of what?’ And that is a pretty hard question to answer. If you bring in the Buddhist teaching, it will be interpreted as ‘ignorance about Buddhism’ - ‘oh, to say that you don’t understand or don’t know about Buddhism means you’re ‘ignorant’ of it.’

But that is not actually the meaning of ‘ignorance’ in the sense of ‘avidya’. Avidya actually means not-knowledge, as ‘vidya’ means ‘knowledge’ and ‘a-‘ is the negation of knowledge. ‘Nescience’, is one translation - opposite of science. But knowledge of what? Modern science? No, not science. Well - what then? And that really can’t be explained in the Western cultural context. Because knowledge as ‘vidya’ is not a category in Western thought at all. As it’s basically a spiritual or religious type of understanding or vision, then what it most closely corresponds to is what Christians would think about in terms of ‘salvation’. But that’s not it, either, because salvation is something bestowed on you because of your faith in Jesus Christ; and besides, especially in later Christianity, nobody really knows if they are actually ‘saved’ - not in this life, anyway. All they can do is believe it. Nothing like ‘ehipassiko’ in Buddhism.

So I have been exploring ways of understanding this notion of ‘vidya’ in the context of Western philosophy. I think there’s some correspondence to it in aspects of the philosophies of Plato, Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas. But there’s a deep tension between science and religion, such that anything that leans too close to what is considered religious triggers a kind of defensive response. You have to explain it in terms that ‘make sense’ scientifically. And really, it can’t be done. Science is third-person, it deals with measurements, data sets and data points, and physical and scientific theories. Everything has to be mapped against that. And even if you make the effort, you’re constantly dealing with unstated assumptions which condition everything that is said - the two main ones being that, the Universe is essentially devoid of intelligence [other than the human], but that humans are ultimately just another species, and that beliefs about meaning are social or personal, even if they’re noble - they can’t refer to anything beyond the physical, because the physical is all there is. The only Western philosophers who really see through that, are generally outside the mainstream - some of the German philosophers, Catholic and Orthodox, among others. But any modern philosopher has to prostrate themselves before Science to be even taken seriously, and woe betide those who do not.

SO I’m going to take a break from all of it for a while. It’s been intense and often very interesting, but it’s also something of a hamster wheel. As it happens, life has brought me to the opportunity to have a lot more free time, as I’m approaching the age when a lot of people retire. But I want to really use this time to study and practice. I have some of the elements, but need to increase my effort. I think I will keep studying the Greeks - I realise they’re part of my own cultural heritage, and I don’t think they’re much appreciated. But also really home in on some key Buddhist texts and practices and really internalise them, and develop a more thorough spiritual practice. Mostly along the lines of Prajñāpāramitā. So that’s about all. Thanks for reading.

:namaste:
Only practice with no gaining idea ~ Suzuki Roshi

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Re: Ignorance of Ignorance

Post by Aemilius » Fri Jul 20, 2018 9:30 am

It is not true that philosophy is only a European tradition. At the time of Buddha and preceding him, there were the "heterodox" schools of thought and practice, that were called Shramanas, who can be called philosophers in the true sense, from the point of view of Brahmanism. There is a good book Early Buddhist Theory of Knowledge by K. N. Jayatilleke, which describes the views held by the other Shramana schools that existed in the first centuries after the Parinirvana of Shakyamuni.
Philosophical discussion certainly existed at the time of Shakyamuni and in the centuries and millennia following, between Buddhism and the other Shramana schools and between Buddhism and the Brahmanical schools. The continuing discussion is evident from the Abhidharma literature and the works of Madhyamaka and Yogacara.
Hindu tradition calls these different thinkers and philosophers as either astika or nastika, which roughly corresponds to theists and atheists.
svaha
"All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.
They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
Sarvē mānavāḥ svatantrāḥ samutpannāḥ vartantē api ca, gauravadr̥śā adhikāradr̥śā ca samānāḥ ēva vartantē. Ētē sarvē cētanā-tarka-śaktibhyāṁ susampannāḥ santi. Api ca, sarvē’pi bandhutva-bhāvanayā parasparaṁ vyavaharantu."
Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 1. (in english and sanskrit)

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Re: Ignorance of Ignorance

Post by Wayfarer » Fri Jul 20, 2018 10:02 am

I'm not saying that Eastern teachings are not philosophical. It's just that strictly speaking the term 'philosophy' designates the tradition descending from the Greeks. Darśana and other Sanskrit terms might have an equivalent meaning to 'philosophy' but there are ideas or principles in Buddhist and Hindu teachings for which there is no clear equivalent in Western philosophy - avidya being one. Even 'dharma' is not really a word which has a corresponding entry in the Western philosophical tradition.
Only practice with no gaining idea ~ Suzuki Roshi

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Re: Ignorance of Ignorance

Post by Wayfarer » Fri Jul 20, 2018 10:04 am

And also, Buddhism is a nastika darsana, according to Hinduism, but Buddhism still recognises dharma, which has no equivalent in Western atheism.
Only practice with no gaining idea ~ Suzuki Roshi

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Re: Ignorance of Ignorance

Post by muni » Fri Jul 20, 2018 11:54 am

But that is not actually the meaning of ‘ignorance’ in the sense of ‘avidya’. Avidya actually means not-knowledge, as ‘vidya’ means ‘knowledge’ and ‘a-‘ is the negation of knowledge. ‘Nescience’, is one translation - opposite of science. But knowledge of what? Modern science? No, not science.
Could there be that most what is classified as science is by gained knowledge, searching out, while Vidya is not "a gained knowledge" ( is already ), even investigations can be, (temporary) to be able to come to "see"? It is perhaps why it is called primordial wisdom.
Also the scientific investigations are continuing in gaining knowledge, which is subjective knowledge of objects (knowledge of what ). Primordial Knowledge is already.

H H Dalai Lama said however, that Science could come to this insight.

Also from H H: The goal is not to be better than the other man, but your previous self. ( Primordial)

Or before "mind", what can there be than peace?
Last edited by muni on Fri Jul 20, 2018 12:07 pm, edited 2 times in total.
:meditate:

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Re: Ignorance of Ignorance

Post by Queequeg » Fri Jul 20, 2018 12:06 pm

Back to basics?

Dukkha
The cause of dukkha (grasping due to avidya)
The end of Dukkha
8 fold path

Ignorance is assuming the existence of things that are not real.

Wouldn't a scientist relate to that?
Those who, even with distracted minds,
Entered a stupa compound
And chanted but once, “Namo Buddhaya!”
Have certainly attained the path of the buddhas.

-Lotus Sutra, Expedient Means Chapter

There are beings with little dust in their eyes who are falling away because they do not hear the Dhamma. There will be those who will understand the Dhamma.
-Ayacana Sutta

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Re: Ignorance of Ignorance

Post by Queequeg » Fri Jul 20, 2018 12:41 pm

Consider the Canki Sutta.

Continuing...

Ignorance is also assuming nonexistence of things that do exist...

----

As that great philosopher Donald Rumsfeld explained...

There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don't know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don't know we don't know.

What he may have missed is that things he assumes are knowns are actually unknown unknowns.

Reflecting on your experience with philosophy discussions... Maybe sticking to the madhyamika might be successful. Of course you will need to be fluent enough that you transcend those constipated verses (at least as they are translated).
Those who, even with distracted minds,
Entered a stupa compound
And chanted but once, “Namo Buddhaya!”
Have certainly attained the path of the buddhas.

-Lotus Sutra, Expedient Means Chapter

There are beings with little dust in their eyes who are falling away because they do not hear the Dhamma. There will be those who will understand the Dhamma.
-Ayacana Sutta

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Re: Ignorance of Ignorance

Post by Wayfarer » Fri Jul 20, 2018 12:59 pm

Queequeg wrote:
Fri Jul 20, 2018 12:06 pm
Ignorance is assuming the existence of things that are not real.

Wouldn't a scientist relate to that?
Most of the scientifically-inclined philosophers would include karma in the category of things that are not real, or at any rate, don't have any scientific warrant. There couldn't be, as the kind of causality they would consider is strictly physical. Buddhism itself would be understood through the lens of anthropology in terms of it being a social construct or adaption. These are the exact conversations I have been having.

It is one of the cardinal virtues of the Buddha to 'see things as they truly are' - yathābhūtaṃ is the Sanskrit expression. In all the ancient philosophies, the ability to 'see things as they truly are' requires virtue - the virtue of being a sage, sagacity. Science aspires to the same, but modern science can only envisage that in terms of what is measurable, what is quantifiable, and, crucially, what can be described and understood in the third person. 'Seeing things as they are' in a scientific sense, is to understand things in terms of the fundamental entities known to science, which are physical in nature. Certainly not all scientists are physicalist in their personal beliefs, but the underlying worldview is that only what is physical is real. (In fact the argument I really came to blows about on the philosophy forum was about the reality of numbers. I maintain that numbers are real, but not material in nature; which turns out to be a big controversy in modern philosophy, what with mathematics being so important to science.)

I think that originally, one of the motivations of science was to ameliorate the consequences of the fall of man. Actually, this is the subject of a book called The Fall of Man and the Foundations of Science. The fall is supposed to have corrupted man in such a way that he can't see things as they truly are, whereas Adam could have, before 'the fall'. If you interpret that allegorically (which I do) then there are parallels to the Buddhist and Hindu view of 'avidya'. But the basic conception of the fall and of avidya are regardless fundamentally different in important ways.

In any case, those kinds of ideas have, I think, been completely abandoned in modern Western culture. There's no sense of either 'fallen nature' or of 'ignorance' in the Eastern sense. To argue the case, is to be depicted as bringing a religious or spiritual type of perspective to the problem, which can only be a socially-constructed view, according to it. There can't be anything real in it, by definition, because whatever is real, has to be understandable in scientific terms, meaning that it has to be known to physics.
Only practice with no gaining idea ~ Suzuki Roshi

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Re: Ignorance of Ignorance

Post by Queequeg » Fri Jul 20, 2018 1:30 pm

Do they really handicap themselves with positivist demands? They're less than agnostics then?
Those who, even with distracted minds,
Entered a stupa compound
And chanted but once, “Namo Buddhaya!”
Have certainly attained the path of the buddhas.

-Lotus Sutra, Expedient Means Chapter

There are beings with little dust in their eyes who are falling away because they do not hear the Dhamma. There will be those who will understand the Dhamma.
-Ayacana Sutta

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Re: Ignorance of Ignorance

Post by Jeff H » Fri Jul 20, 2018 6:55 pm

Wayfarer wrote:
Fri Jul 20, 2018 12:59 pm
To argue the case, is to be depicted as bringing a religious or spiritual type of perspective to the problem, which can only be a socially-constructed view, according to it. There can't be anything real in it, by definition, because whatever is real, has to be understandable in scientific terms, meaning that it has to be known to physics.
So couldn’t the thrust of your pre-retirement leisure-time investigations be to build a case that independence is impossible, then replace “socially-constructed” with “conventionally-constructed” as the only explanation of “real”? Madhyamaka-Prasangika style. I believe there are some areas of physics that are beginning to recognize that nothing exists on its own.

Also, you have a strong ally in this pursuit with Alan Wallace. He also points out that part of the problem of paradigm shift is survival: scientists and academics who challenge the current paradigm don’t get jobs or funding.
We who are like children shrink from pain but love its causes. - Shantideva

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Re: Ignorance of Ignorance

Post by Aemilius » Fri Jul 20, 2018 6:59 pm

Wayfarer wrote:
Fri Jul 20, 2018 10:02 am
I'm not saying that Eastern teachings are not philosophical. It's just that strictly speaking the term 'philosophy' designates the tradition descending from the Greeks. Darśana and other Sanskrit terms might have an equivalent meaning to 'philosophy' but there are ideas or principles in Buddhist and Hindu teachings for which there is no clear equivalent in Western philosophy - avidya being one. Even 'dharma' is not really a word which has a corresponding entry in the Western philosophical tradition.
None of the definitions of philosophy state what you claim, for example the Merriam-Webster gives a very broad definition of philosophy, and same with the others that I looked up.

Also, the opposite of avidya is knowledge, knowledge includes diverse categories of knowledge, according to Arthaviniscaya sutra, which enumerates about 22 kinds of avidya. Many of these overlap, or express the same thing in another way.
Jayatilleke has a chapter about Means and Limits of Knowledge, if you think that the higher or direct knowledge has no equivalent in European tradition of philosophy, that is not the case, Husserl and others talk a lot about intuition as a means of knowing. Or even about direct seeing, which sounds very much like Buddha-dharma.
Last edited by Aemilius on Fri Jul 20, 2018 7:26 pm, edited 2 times in total.
svaha
"All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.
They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
Sarvē mānavāḥ svatantrāḥ samutpannāḥ vartantē api ca, gauravadr̥śā adhikāradr̥śā ca samānāḥ ēva vartantē. Ētē sarvē cētanā-tarka-śaktibhyāṁ susampannāḥ santi. Api ca, sarvē’pi bandhutva-bhāvanayā parasparaṁ vyavaharantu."
Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 1. (in english and sanskrit)

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Re: Ignorance of Ignorance

Post by Queequeg » Fri Jul 20, 2018 7:12 pm

I was posting from a mobile device before so it was hard to flesh out my comments and offer a more robust response.

Image

I think the fundamental problem with "Western" thought is that they stumble on non-dualism. All the rest is derivative.

Subject/Object, I/other. That's the fundamental building block of all meaning. That's elementary in Buddhism. In Buddhism, its also the fundamental error in perception. The rest of Buddhism is about dealing with that error.

Resolution of that duality is not a feature in the Western system of meaning. Its taken as an irreducible given.

I speculate that the assumption about its irreducibility has something to do with the particular notion of God in the Old Testament. God is always distinct from "me". God is categorically distinct from "me". And if you try to resolve that distinction (other than through Christ), for much of Western history, you were liable to get murdered. That arguably put a deep frost on that inquiry.

I don't know much about Western philosophy, but some guys have wrestled with non-duality, but its still not been explored thoroughly. Most people are still assuming the irreducibility of subject/object.

Even when they think they are resolving duality, it seems that its merely a matter of privileging an 'objective' fact that anchors all meaning. It was God, and then they killed him. Instead of heading into the deep unknown, though, they just put a place holder in for God to prevent the whole system of meaning they had from collapsing - many people seem to invest "matter" with the same irreducible character as God once had.

It all leads to a particular type of inquiry because only a certain inquiry is conceivable from the particular perspective.

Lacking non-dualism, of course ignorance of it cannot be conceived.

Actually, the Buddha points out non-duality to us. By making us aware of it, we realized we were ignorant of it. This is why as Buddhists, the Buddha is the ultimate teacher. He taught us how ignorant we actually are.

Your friends on the philosophy forum have no idea how ignorant they are. Their whole system of thought is woefully primitive and limited.

:rolling:
Those who, even with distracted minds,
Entered a stupa compound
And chanted but once, “Namo Buddhaya!”
Have certainly attained the path of the buddhas.

-Lotus Sutra, Expedient Means Chapter

There are beings with little dust in their eyes who are falling away because they do not hear the Dhamma. There will be those who will understand the Dhamma.
-Ayacana Sutta

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Re: Ignorance of Ignorance

Post by boda » Fri Jul 20, 2018 9:44 pm

We’re all ignorant of ignorance until we realize emptiness.

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Re: Ignorance of Ignorance

Post by Quay » Sat Jul 21, 2018 12:55 am

Wayfarer wrote:
Wed Jul 18, 2018 12:26 pm
...But there’s a deep tension between science and religion, such that anything that leans too close to what is considered religious triggers a kind of defensive response. You have to explain it in terms that ‘make sense’ scientifically. And really, it can’t be done. Science is third-person, it deals with measurements, data sets and data points, and physical and scientific theories....
Those terms that make sense scientifically point to one underlying nature of science that most scientists overlook: scientists are completely dependent on poetry because all scientific description is metaphoric.

Science talks about things but few scientists actually engage those things, spending their time in metaphorical arguments.

I think Buddhism has a lot to offer this especially in terms of what all those metaphors point to and what ground they exist in.
"Knowledge is as infinite as the stars in the sky;
There is no end to all the subjects one could study.
It is better to grasp straight away their very essence--
The unchanging fortress of the Dharmakaya."

– Longchenpa.

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Re: Ignorance of Ignorance

Post by Karma Dondrup Tashi » Sat Jul 21, 2018 1:33 am

boda wrote:
Fri Jul 20, 2018 9:44 pm
We’re all ignorant of ignorance until we realize emptiness.
There's no such thing to realize.

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Re: Ignorance of Ignorance

Post by Wayfarer » Sun Jul 22, 2018 12:05 am

Aemilius wrote:Husserl and others talk a lot about intuition as a means of knowing.
I'm an admirer of Husserl. But I'm really referring to philosophy in the English-speaking world, I had hardly any exposure to the Continental tradition, nor do I have the motivation to read broadly in it.

Where I went to University, the professor of philosophy was named Armstrong, and his best-known book is called A Materialist Theory of Mind. (And it is as bad as it sounds. For some reason, there are many well-known Australian materialist philosophers.) At the time I was enrolled, philosophy was split into two departments - Traditional and Modern, and General - the latter being mainly leftist and critical theorists. And in this landscape, believe me, there was not the remotest conception of anything like 'enlightenment' in the Buddhist sense. 'Enlightenment' was Voltaire, Kant, and the Scientific Revolution. That's why I eventually majored in Comparative Religion.
Queequeg wrote:Do they really handicap themselves with positivist demands?
If you call someone out for positivism quite often you'll get an elaborate reply - which often turns out to be positivism. The things that drive these attitudes are often beneath the threshold of conscious awareness. Remember Alan Watts' book 'the book on the taboo against knowing who you are'? He identifies the issue correctly as a 'taboo'. That's why Buddhism is basically counter-cultural - it actually requires you to be aware, and to question your own sense of reality. Look at your spectacles, not just through them. And it really is a taboo, you upset a lot of people on a very deep level by talking about it.
Queequeg wrote:Even when they think they are resolving duality, it seems that its merely a matter of privileging an 'objective' fact that anchors all meaning. It was God, and then they killed him. Instead of heading into the deep unknown, though, they just put a place holder in for God to prevent the whole system of meaning they had from collapsing - many people seem to invest "matter" with the same irreducible character as God once had.
Spot on. That's why I have realised the whole subject is more a matter of culture and history rather than philosophy per se. There's a great keynote speech that Bhikkhu Bodhi gave called A Buddhist Response to Contemporary Dilemmas of Human Existence which distills it into a nutshell. Actually I've done quite a bit of study of the history of the subject. It has to do with the rejection of classical metaphysics, and the 'flattening' of the world into a single dimension. There's a Christian critique called 'radical orthodoxy' which explores similar territory. Also, Greg Goode, who is a nondualist philosopher/therapist, has written on Nonduality in Western Philosophy.
Jeff H wrote:
Fri Jul 20, 2018 6:55 pm

So couldn’t the thrust of your pre-retirement leisure-time investigations be to build a case that independence is impossible, then replace “socially-constructed” with “conventionally-constructed” as the only explanation of “real”? Madhyamaka-Prasangika style. I believe there are some areas of physics that are beginning to recognize that nothing exists on its own.

Also, you have a strong ally in this pursuit with Alan Wallace. He also points out that part of the problem of paradigm shift is survival: scientists and academics who challenge the current paradigm don’t get jobs or funding.

I am thinking of trying to write something more formally. I had a great idea for a title: 'What Just Happened?' People don't realise how radical the change is and more importantly, what has changed.

I read Wallace's book on Taboo on Subjectivity a long while ago and agree with his analysis, although I don't know if it quite puts the finger on the historical causes.

The key point about modern naturalism is its rejection of anything they would describe or understand as 'transcendent'. And that covers quite a wide sweep. So the naturalist view is that the fundamental ordering principle must be understood as 'immanent', as opposed to 'transcendent'. One counter to that is that they're mutually-defining terms - that 'immanent' is only meaningful in relation to 'transcendent', so to speak of anything 'entirely immanent' is like speaking of something which is 'wholly up' or 'only left'. Anyway, the upshot is, that with its insistence on the primacy of 'the immanent' (what Charles Taylor calls 'the immanent frame') naturalism fundamentally accepts that the world is indeed self-existent. So this is the negation or the mirror-image of realising Śūnyatā.

Quay wrote:
Sat Jul 21, 2018 12:55 am

Those terms that make sense scientifically point to one underlying nature of science that most scientists overlook: scientists are completely dependent on poetry because all scientific description is metaphoric.
Yes and no. There are surely many metaphors in science but the strength of science surely is in accurate prediction and measurement: it discovers things, and invents things, that work. Where it becomes 'scientism' is where scientific models become social mythology (which happens all the time.)
Only practice with no gaining idea ~ Suzuki Roshi

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Re: Ignorance of Ignorance

Post by Quay » Sun Jul 22, 2018 12:07 am

Wayfarer wrote:
Sun Jul 22, 2018 12:05 am
Quay wrote:
Sat Jul 21, 2018 12:55 am

Those terms that make sense scientifically point to one underlying nature of science that most scientists overlook: scientists are completely dependent on poetry because all scientific description is metaphoric.
Yes and no. There are surely many metaphors in science but the strength of science surely is in accurate prediction and measurement: it discovers things, and invents things, that work. Where it becomes 'scientism' is where scientific models become social mythology (which happens all the time.)
The metaphors are demonstrably accurate in just the very way you note. Yet they are still metaphors. Even the descriptions of things that work are metaphoric.
"Knowledge is as infinite as the stars in the sky;
There is no end to all the subjects one could study.
It is better to grasp straight away their very essence--
The unchanging fortress of the Dharmakaya."

– Longchenpa.

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Re: Ignorance of Ignorance

Post by boda » Sun Jul 22, 2018 2:27 am

Karma Dondrup Tashi wrote:
Sat Jul 21, 2018 1:33 am
boda wrote:
Fri Jul 20, 2018 9:44 pm
We’re all ignorant of ignorance until we realize emptiness.
There's no such thing to realize.
Image

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Re: Ignorance of Ignorance

Post by Matt J » Sun Jul 22, 2018 2:31 pm

It is astounding how thoroughly Christianity has infiltrated Western culture. It is interesting to see how the more I practice in a Buddhist context, the things I used to accept as pure common sense seem so --- off. And so much of Christianity seems to trace back to Plato--- which is somewhat interesting since Skepticism took over the Academy and dominated later ancient philosophy (much as scientific materialism does today I would suppose). Under a Platonic-Christian worldview, the idea of an enduring, essential aspect that exists independently of people dominates the modern West. Yet in many ways, it is so anti-logical, and with the development of quantum physics, anti-factual.

I think there is hope for philosophy. For example, there has been a resurgence in interest in philosophy as a way of life instead of merely an academic study (tracing in part to Pierre Hadot and his work) that is also gaining popular appeal (for example, Stoicism). In addition, there are Christians who are fighting back using philosophy, as one can see in the debates about natural theology. Finally, there is a creeping realization that materialism isn't the answer. Here is a short excerpt from physicist Andrei Linde:
Now let us turn to consciousness. According to standard materialistic doctrine, consciousness, like space-time before the invention of general relativity, plays a secondary, subservient role, being considered just a function of matter and a tool for the description of the truly existing material world. But let us remember that our knowledge of the world begins not with matter but with perceptions. I know for sure that my pain exists, my “green” exists, and my “sweet” exists. I do not need any proof of their existence, because these events are a part of me; everything else is a theory. Later we find out that our perceptions obey some laws, which can be most conveniently formulated if we assume that there is some underlying reality beyond our perceptions. This model of material world obeying laws of physics is so successful that soon we forget about our starting point and say that matter is the only reality, and perceptions are only helpful for its description. This assumption is almost as natural (and maybe as false) as our previous assumption that space is only a mathematical tool for the description of matter. But in fact we are substituting reality of our feelings by a successfully working theory of an independently existing material world. And the theory is so successful that we almost never think about its limitations until we must address some really deep issues, which do not fit into our model of reality.
In this context, it is difficult to consider what Buddhism does. Buddhism doesn't necessarily create a system of physics--- it is an analysis of our experience. I would say that ignorance for Buddhism is ignorance of our lived experience, what our mind is, and how the mind works. There is an alternate in scientific philosophy in conceiving science as Linde suggests: as a way to organize patterns of experience rather than statements about a so-called objective reality.

Wayfarer wrote:
Wed Jul 18, 2018 12:26 pm
The point that I notice, overall, is how Western people are so thoroughly immersed in the Western ‘scientific’ world-view, that they can’t actually stand outside of it to question it. It has taken over from Christianity, in the sense that it provides a framework within which to interpret life - ‘this is what we’ve evolved to be like’. Now, I’m not the least interested in Intelligent Design or Creationism, but I have come to understand that the acceptance that our identities are wholly and solely the result of evolutionary biology, is an essentially physical view - like, there’s nothing beyond the physical body. We live, we die, our achievements or children - our genes - may in some sense carry on, but death is absolute, and the physical domain of science is the only reality.

Now, within that world-view, there is nothing that maps against or corresponds with ‘avidya’, or ignorance. If you try and explain ‘avidya’, ignorance, the response wil be - ‘ignorant - of what?’ And that is a pretty hard question to answer. If you bring in the Buddhist teaching, it will be interpreted as ‘ignorance about Buddhism’ - ‘oh, to say that you don’t understand or don’t know about Buddhism means you’re ‘ignorant’ of it.’
"The essence of meditation practice is to let go of all your expectations about meditation. All the qualities of your natural mind -- peace, openness, relaxation, and clarity -- are present in your mind just as it is. You don't have to do anything different. You don't have to shift or change your awareness. All you have to do while observing your mind is to recognize the qualities it already has."
--- Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche

Jeff H
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Location: Vermont, USA

Re: Ignorance of Ignorance

Post by Jeff H » Sun Jul 22, 2018 5:44 pm

Matt J wrote:
Sun Jul 22, 2018 2:31 pm
It is astounding how thoroughly Christianity has infiltrated Western culture. It is interesting to see how the more I practice in a Buddhist context, the things I used to accept as pure common sense seem so --- off. And so much of Christianity seems to trace back to Plato--- which is somewhat interesting since Skepticism took over the Academy and dominated later ancient philosophy (much as scientific materialism does today I would suppose). Under a Platonic-Christian worldview, the idea of an enduring, essential aspect that exists independently of people dominates the modern West. Yet in many ways, it is so anti-logical, and with the development of quantum physics, anti-factual.

I think there is hope for philosophy. For example, there has been a resurgence in interest in philosophy as a way of life instead of merely an academic study (tracing in part to Pierre Hadot and his work) that is also gaining popular appeal (for example, Stoicism). In addition, there are Christians who are fighting back using philosophy, as one can see in the debates about natural theology. Finally, there is a creeping realization that materialism isn't the answer. Here is a short excerpt from physicist Andrei Linde:
Now let us turn to consciousness. According to standard materialistic doctrine, consciousness, like space-time before the invention of general relativity, plays a secondary, subservient role, being considered just a function of matter and a tool for the description of the truly existing material world. But let us remember that our knowledge of the world begins not with matter but with perceptions. I know for sure that my pain exists, my “green” exists, and my “sweet” exists. I do not need any proof of their existence, because these events are a part of me; everything else is a theory. Later we find out that our perceptions obey some laws, which can be most conveniently formulated if we assume that there is some underlying reality beyond our perceptions. This model of material world obeying laws of physics is so successful that soon we forget about our starting point and say that matter is the only reality, and perceptions are only helpful for its description. This assumption is almost as natural (and maybe as false) as our previous assumption that space is only a mathematical tool for the description of matter. But in fact we are substituting reality of our feelings by a successfully working theory of an independently existing material world. And the theory is so successful that we almost never think about its limitations until we must address some really deep issues, which do not fit into our model of reality.
In this context, it is difficult to consider what Buddhism does. Buddhism doesn't necessarily create a system of physics--- it is an analysis of our experience. I would say that ignorance for Buddhism is ignorance of our lived experience, what our mind is, and how the mind works. There is an alternate in scientific philosophy in conceiving science as Linde suggests: as a way to organize patterns of experience rather than statements about a so-called objective reality.

Wayfarer wrote:
Wed Jul 18, 2018 12:26 pm
The point that I notice, overall, is how Western people are so thoroughly immersed in the Western ‘scientific’ world-view, that they can’t actually stand outside of it to question it. It has taken over from Christianity, in the sense that it provides a framework within which to interpret life - ‘this is what we’ve evolved to be like’. Now, I’m not the least interested in Intelligent Design or Creationism, but I have come to understand that the acceptance that our identities are wholly and solely the result of evolutionary biology, is an essentially physical view - like, there’s nothing beyond the physical body. We live, we die, our achievements or children - our genes - may in some sense carry on, but death is absolute, and the physical domain of science is the only reality.

Now, within that world-view, there is nothing that maps against or corresponds with ‘avidya’, or ignorance. If you try and explain ‘avidya’, ignorance, the response wil be - ‘ignorant - of what?’ And that is a pretty hard question to answer. If you bring in the Buddhist teaching, it will be interpreted as ‘ignorance about Buddhism’ - ‘oh, to say that you don’t understand or don’t know about Buddhism means you’re ‘ignorant’ of it.’
Thanks for this Matt. This is what I was referring to in my reference to Wallace, both in terms of Andrei Linde, whom Wallace quotes from and comments on in podcast 26 of his 2016 retreat, and regarding a methodology of creating an argument that deconstructs the supposed reality of a materialistic foundation as a basis for exposing our fundamental ignorance.
We who are like children shrink from pain but love its causes. - Shantideva

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