How do Buddhists make decisions?

General discussion, particularly exploring the Dharma in the modern world.
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stevenpaul
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How do Buddhists make decisions?

Post by stevenpaul » Fri Oct 04, 2019 11:24 pm

I see how there is no self. There are images on the mental screen, speech emanating from the loudspeaker of the mind, and body sensations of numerous kinds. And that's about it. The persona is an idea, a fictitious character we use in relating to the world around us. People relate to each others' masks, but behind the mask there is no essential being who stands separate and apart from others. I still suffer from sensations of anger, guilt, hesitation, etc. But I understand those as conditioned responses to environmental triggers, not an experience being had by an entity sheathed within my skin.

But this raises a big problem for me. If there is no self, how are any choices made? There is no self to have an agenda, no being to have goals. So on what basis do we chose what to do, or not do?

We must act. Even inaction is a choice. So what actions should we take and why?

By way of example, I was showering this morning and noticed some dirt on the shower door. I thought to myself "why don't I clean that." But then a competing thought arose saying "why should I take time to out to clean that?" And then I realized (as I do everyday), that I have no framework for making a single decision.

If there were a self to be protected and promoted, nurtured and maintained, whose immortality must be secured one way or another, etc., it would be no problem. I would weigh the cost and benefit of cleaning the shower door. I would understand how cleaning is sanitary and lowers risk of disease, tending towards self preservation. But taking time out to clean will make me late to work and in turn fired, followed by poverty and death. I may think of cleaning the shower after work, and in turn enjoy the best of all worlds. I get to keep my health and my job.

The problem here is that there is no self to be preserved. Therefore it is not inherently virtuous to go on living. It is irrelevant whether I become sick or fired, because there is no "I." If sickness takes place in the body, it is no different really than leaves falling from a deciduous tree or snow falling from the sky. It's all just a process of nature.

Yet, decisions will always be made, even if passively. The choice to do nothing is as real a choice as to take bold action.

Thus, how does the Buddhist, who does not support the doctrine of self-preservation make any choice? What do we have to go on for deciding anything at all?

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Queequeg
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Re: How do Buddhists make decisions?

Post by Queequeg » Sat Oct 05, 2019 1:08 am

I've been told, practice for oneself and for others.

My goal is Buddhahood, so that I can be a supreme help to others. Incidentally, the practice to become a Buddha involves sharing what I can of Dharma, and supporting others on their way also.

Its just a matter of reorienting the goal. Instead of self gratification, I expand that scope of gratification to others.

That's the ideal. Generally, I just stumble through life, trying to be kind, often failing, and trying to adorn the world with my meager abilities.

Mostly, though, I fulfill my daily responsibilities.
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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LastLegend
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Re: How do Buddhists make decisions?

Post by LastLegend » Sat Oct 05, 2019 2:36 am

Non-self has to eat, sleep, work and pay bills too.
Clear!

narhwal90
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Re: How do Buddhists make decisions?

Post by narhwal90 » Sat Oct 05, 2019 2:45 am

One possibility for the basis of making the daily decisions is how to develop and express compassion and wisdom for the benefit of all beings, or if not all, perhaps those who cross your path today. Nonexistence of self as the sole basis for practice is like a one-legged stool. The sutras abound with lessons and instruction on these topics.

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Johnny Dangerous
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Re: How do Buddhists make decisions?

Post by Johnny Dangerous » Sat Oct 05, 2019 3:04 am

Buddhism does not deny a relative or apparent self. it is the relative self that must make decisions, work with relative circumstances etc.
Thus, how does the Buddhist, who does not support the doctrine of self-preservation make any choice
There are no doctrinal positions within Buddhism advocating against basic survival, or happiness of the relative person. In fact, many Buddhist practices emphasize the creation of happier circumstances in support of the larger goal of liberation. Statements on the ultimate nonexistence of inherent entities do not imply that you should stop making decisions relatively speaking, and idas to the contrary are a misreading of Buddhist literature and ideas.
"...if you think about how many hours, months and years of your life you've spent looking at things, being fascinated by things that have now passed away, then how wonderful to spend even five minutes looking into the nature of your own mind."

-James Low

tkp67
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Re: How do Buddhists make decisions?

Post by tkp67 » Sat Oct 05, 2019 3:11 am

I think the best way to put this into perspective is that "no self" is the lack of self bias in determining the fair treatment/outcomes among those in one's environment including one's own self.

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LastLegend
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Re: How do Buddhists make decisions?

Post by LastLegend » Sat Oct 05, 2019 3:19 am

Op,

Non-self doesn’t mean a rock! Even Buddha had to eat and work by teaching.
Clear!

katz_in_the_hat
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Re: How do Buddhists make decisions?

Post by katz_in_the_hat » Sat Oct 05, 2019 3:26 am

You tell me. You made the decision to write this post. How did that happen? Look!

It's not that there is no self at all. That would be absurd. You obviously exist or there would be nothing to write this post. But what wrote this post is constructed from various internal and external causes, there is no essence to it that appears spontaneously upon birth and disappears upon death.

SteRo
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Re: How do Buddhists make decisions?

Post by SteRo » Sat Oct 05, 2019 10:34 am

stevenpaul wrote:
Fri Oct 04, 2019 11:24 pm
I see how there is no self. There are images on the mental screen, speech emanating from the loudspeaker of the mind, and body sensations of numerous kinds. And that's about it. The persona is an idea, a fictitious character we use in relating to the world around us. People relate to each others' masks, but behind the mask there is no essential being who stands separate and apart from others. I still suffer from sensations of anger, guilt, hesitation, etc. But I understand those as conditioned responses to environmental triggers, not an experience being had by an entity sheathed within my skin.
...
Thus, how does the Buddhist, who does not support the doctrine of self-preservation make any choice? What do we have to go on for deciding anything at all?
It seems you are referring to the anatta tenet which is part of buddhist doctrine. But comparing what you are saying with the buddhist doctrine it seems that your understanding either is not right or incomplete because your understanding doesn't put an end to your suffering ('I still suffer from ...'). Based on that your concluding question can't be appropriate because it is based on that understanding.

Your doubt or uncertainty may be caused by your picking out only one aspect of the doctrine and neglecting all the other aspects. If self were categorically denied by the buddhist doctrine then the buddhist doctrine wouldn't make sense and would be inconsistent because it teaches a path which includes right resolve and right effort. It doesn't teach a path that consists only of the anatta tenet but an eightfold path. Considering this it seems that the buddhist doctrine does not categorically deny self as might be misunderstood when focusing on anatta tenet exclusively but denies the reality of how self is commonly experienced. Only if we could know by means of conventional concepts what uncommon experience corresponds to the anatta tenet we would be in a position to discuss decision making in that sphere of experience.

stevenpaul
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Re: How do Buddhists make decisions?

Post by stevenpaul » Sat Oct 05, 2019 10:43 am

Thank you for the generous replies. How nice to have the feedback and support of this group.

I have never understood the point of compassion towards others. If there is no self, why treat the non-existent other (themselves just as empty of existence) with compassion? Of course I myself am compassionate. Hence my initial sentence expressing sincere gratitude. But that's only because I'm used to doing it. My mother raised me to be polite and sincere. But compassion still seems irrational to me. Same with being vegetarian. If there is no self in those little animals, and they consist of mere atoms, what does it matter if we eat them? And why should I vow to save the numberless sentient beings? Those beings are empty of inherent existence, so what does it matter if we get them to realize there never was a self to begin with.

As to the question of promoting the safety, security, and comfort of the relative self, I'm also perplexed by that. It doesn't matter if the relative self feels pain. Pain is a body sensation. It is not inherently bad. I do not have a bias in favor of pleasure and against pain. My primary meditation practice is concentrating on pain. I feel the pain in my body, and in so doing, have adapted to it through familiarity such that it no longer perturbs me. Therefore, if my relative self is subjected to pain, there is no need to alter anything. Thus, some factor must motivate us to take action besides mere pain avoidance. I don't know what that is.

Another way to put it is, why go on living? When the car was about to run me over, I quickened my pace to avoid being hit by it. Then I asked why. I am not against pain, physical or emotional. And it doesn't matter whether this particular collection of atoms goes on existing in the way it does. So what then is the point of taking action to postpone death?

The best I can come up with is something like Pascal's wager, which goes "believe in God just in case he exists." Well, I go on living just in case there's some good reason to that I haven't figured out yet. But I'm not very satisfied by that.

Beside compassion for other non-existent selves and needlessly nurturing the persona, what other reasons do we have for lifting a finger in life.

Please, I'm not being a smart aleck. I do value your opinions and would like some food for thought on this and related topics. Thank you all.

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LastLegend
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Re: How do Buddhists make decisions?

Post by LastLegend » Sat Oct 05, 2019 12:33 pm

stevenpaul wrote:
Sat Oct 05, 2019 10:43 am
Thank you for the generous replies. How nice to have the feedback and support of this group.

I have never understood the point of compassion towards others. If there is no self, why treat the non-existent other (themselves just as empty of existence) with compassion? Of course I myself am compassionate. Hence my initial sentence expressing sincere gratitude. But that's only because I'm used to doing it. My mother raised me to be polite and sincere. But compassion still seems irrational to me. Same with being vegetarian. If there is no self in those little animals, and they consist of mere atoms, what does it matter if we eat them? And why should I vow to save the numberless sentient beings? Those beings are empty of inherent existence, so what does it matter if we get them to realize there never was a self to begin with.

As to the question of promoting the safety, security, and comfort of the relative self, I'm also perplexed by that. It doesn't matter if the relative self feels pain. Pain is a body sensation. It is not inherently bad. I do not have a bias in favor of pleasure and against pain. My primary meditation practice is concentrating on pain. I feel the pain in my body, and in so doing, have adapted to it through familiarity such that it no longer perturbs me. Therefore, if my relative self is subjected to pain, there is no need to alter anything. Thus, some factor must motivate us to take action besides mere pain avoidance. I don't know what that is.

Another way to put it is, why go on living? When the car was about to run me over, I quickened my pace to avoid being hit by it. Then I asked why. I am not against pain, physical or emotional. And it doesn't matter whether this particular collection of atoms goes on existing in the way it does. So what then is the point of taking action to postpone death?

The best I can come up with is something like Pascal's wager, which goes "believe in God just in case he exists." Well, I go on living just in case there's some good reason to that I haven't figured out yet. But I'm not very satisfied by that.

Beside compassion for other non-existent selves and needlessly nurturing the persona, what other reasons do we have for lifting a finger in life.

Please, I'm not being a smart aleck. I do value your opinions and would like some food for thought on this and related topics. Thank you all.
Mr. Stevenpaul,

Self is five aggregates and we would need to surpass or transcend all five aggregates in order to reach the true non-self of our nature which is Dharmakaya. Even though we talk about non self now, nobody is truly non-self until we have entered samadhi of Dharmakaya/nature. Also everyone suffers from everyday life and rebirth even though we have an understanding self is empty, that’s why there is a need for liberation. Suffering does not go away simply because the five aggregates is engine that continues to reinforce and create suffering/karma. This is why we practice.
Clear!

Simon E.
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Re: How do Buddhists make decisions?

Post by Simon E. » Sat Oct 05, 2019 1:22 pm

stevenpaul wrote:
Fri Oct 04, 2019 11:24 pm
I see how there is no self. There are images on the mental screen, speech emanating from the loudspeaker of the mind, and body sensations of numerous kinds. And that's about it. The persona is an idea, a fictitious character we use in relating to the world around us. People relate to each others' masks, but behind the mask there is no essential being who stands separate and apart from others. I still suffer from sensations of anger, guilt, hesitation, etc. But I understand those as conditioned responses to environmental triggers, not an experience being had by an entity sheathed within my skin.

But this raises a big problem for me. If there is no self, how are any choices made? There is no self to have an agenda, no being to have goals. So on what basis do we chose what to do, or not do?

We must act. Even inaction is a choice. So what actions should we take and why?

By way of example, I was showering this morning and noticed some dirt on the shower door. I thought to myself "why don't I clean that." But then a competing thought arose saying "why should I take time to out to clean that?" And then I realized (as I do everyday), that I have no framework for making a single decision.

If there were a self to be protected and promoted, nurtured and maintained, whose immortality must be secured one way or another, etc., it would be no problem. I would weigh the cost and benefit of cleaning the shower door. I would understand how cleaning is sanitary and lowers risk of disease, tending towards self preservation. But taking time out to clean will make me late to work and in turn fired, followed by poverty and death. I may think of cleaning the shower after work, and in turn enjoy the best of all worlds. I get to keep my health and my job.

The problem here is that there is no self to be preserved. Therefore it is not inherently virtuous to go on living. It is irrelevant whether I become sick or fired, because there is no "I." If sickness takes place in the body, it is no different really than leaves falling from a deciduous tree or snow falling from the sky. It's all just a process of nature.

Yet, decisions will always be made, even if passively. The choice to do nothing is as real a choice as to take bold action.

Thus, how does the Buddhist, who does not support the doctrine of self-preservation make any choice? What do we have to go on for deciding anything at all?
But Buddhists ARE interested in self preservation. Buddhism is not saying that there is no self, but rather that the self is temporary and defined by interaction with the world and with others. The best shot we have to discover Reality as it is, is to have a human form. Tibetans call this “ the precious human birth”. It is our ace card. So we should preserve it the best we can, and the precious human births of others too. So decisions to be made should start with gratitude for this birth. This precious opportunity.
“ When the demon is at your door, in the morning it won’t be there no more
Any major dude will tell you”.

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