Ajahn Brahmali is the guest on this episode to talk about how and why Secular Buddhism misrepresents the original teachings of the Buddha. This discussion goes in to some depth about the importance of understanding the place of karma and rebirth in t...
Ajahn Brahmali is the guest on this episode to talk about how and why Secular Buddhism misrepresents the original teachings of the Buddha. This discussion goes in to some depth about the importance of understanding the place of karma and rebirth in the Buddha's teachings, and how our views impact upon the way that we act, including upon our practice. There is also discussion about the role of mindfulness in Secular Buddhism, and how mindfulness is a good thing, but also, how we cannot practice Buddhism fully without other important factors of the Eightfold Path.
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Welcome to Treasure Mountain, the podcast that inspires and guides people to find the treasure within human experience. I'm your host. So hannah. On this episode of Sage Advice, we have as our return guest Arjun Primali from Bonnet monastery in Western Australia. Arjun Bramali was born in Norway in in 64 and first became interested in Buddhism when traveling in Japan in his 20s. After completing university degrees in finance and engineering, he decided that his true calling was the dedicated spiritual life of Ubiku, a Buddhist monk. Having heard the teachings of a Jambraam, he traveled to Western Australia in 1994 and took care of ordination in 1996. Arjun Bramali is both a dedicated meditator and as a love for the teachings of the Buddha. And he has become widely respected for his work, both translating Buddhist texts, but also explaining the context of early Buddhism to modern audiences. In this episode, we're going to delve into controversy by finding out why secular Buddhism is baloney and the reasons may not be what you think. And who better to lift the lid on secular Buddhism than both a scholar of early Buddhism and a monk with nearly three decades of experience meditating in the forests of the southwest of Australia? So join us as we seek an authentic treasure of the Dharma. 5s Welcome to Treasure Mountain. Ajahn, how are you today?
I think I'm good enough, actually.
I know for previously you said that. Is this a philosophical question? 1s But not just at the moment. I hear that you're quite busy at the moment. Have you got a course coming up on is it on early Buddhism? 6s John, have you got a course coming up?
Yes, you were breaking up a little bit, but yes, indeed, we have a course coming up, starting on Friday. In just over two weeks. It's going to be on Samusamadi. Right, stillness. Or write Samadhi in the early Buddhist text. It's going to be with my good friend Benny Bolsonaro, who is also at the monastery, actually is in Poland right now. And we're going to do this together at the Tamaroca Centre. And that's going to be, I think, very exciting. At least exciting for me, hopefully for the audience as well. So we'll see how things go. So, please, anyone, tune into that one? It's going to be a good learning experience for everyone, I hope.
And I believe also you've got an upcoming tour of the United States. Could you tell us a little bit about that?
Sure. So I will be going to the US in mid January and I will be basically going across the entire US continent. I'm starting in California and going to some of the various Buddhist groups in California. Then after that I will be staying at a place called the Karuna Buddhist Bahara, which is in the kind of Silicon Valley area. And then I will be going off to Minneapolis for a retreat, then off to Chicago for a few talks, then to New Jersey, New York Post at the monastery there and then finally and also to the Barrier Center for Buddhist Studies in near Boston. So a big tour. So if anyone is interested in that, then there is already actually information on that on the BSWA website and the itinerary is there and all the various details, how to contact, how to take part, etc. Is all available. So 2s that's
it. I will be making sure to put a link in the description below because that sounds really, really interesting and worth going along to if you are in the United States. Anyway, let's get stuck into our topic, but before we get stuck into this idea what secular Buddhism is baloney. What is it? How can we define what secular Buddhism is?
Okay, so 1s secular Buddhism is really kind of what you might call a reaction to traditional Buddhism. Traditional Buddhism around the world is the kind of Buddhism you find in the various countries around the world. What you find in place like Thailand and Sri Lanka, etc. For and of course, if you go to those countries, what you find you find a lot of things that remind you of religion in the west, of Christianity or of Islam or whatever else it might be. I think for many people who have given up on Christianity, they don't want to go back into that kind of same feeling of religion that they had before, and they want to actually advance. They want to go somewhere else, something which is more secular in nature rather than have the same trappings as they had in their previous life as Christians or whatever. I think that is where kind of the idea comes from. So they want to throw out all what they've consider superstitions, what they consider empty rituals, what they consider meaningless 1s cultural additions to the kind of core teachings of the Buddha, and then come back to something that is more essential, something more core about these teachings. 1s I think you really understand what secularism is about. I think we have to just briefly just talk about what secular, the word secular actually means. And the idea of secularism, it kind of grew out of the Enlightenment in Europe back in the 1s century, 18th century, et cetera. And it was obviously a reaction to Christianity. Christianity at that time was very dogmatic. He was very inflexible. It was very unwilling to listen to reasons and all of these kind of things. It was very stuck in a particular world viewing. And then when people started to say, well, actually, maybe the sun doesn't go around the earth, the Church put down his foot saying yes, the sun goes around the earth. And that kind of suddenly created an enormous kind of conflict between people who were naturalists and people who were religious or copernicus was kind of banned or had problems with the Church. And Galileo famous people, had lots of problems with the Church. And so, out of that understanding that the Church was not really amenable to the realities of the world, the secular movement started to come out from that. And they were then saying that, well, we want to run our society based on naturalism, based on what actually exists, based on real things, not on some dogmatic adherence to some kind of ancient idea which came out of the Middle East 2000 years ago or whatever, then that is the start of the secularist movement. And the very important point here is that it was a lot naturalism. In other words, the study of nature, the study of the world, contradictmatism. That is kind of the whole point. Here what this was about. 1s So then, of course, then comes what I was saying before about Buddhism. What is Buddhism? If you know what secularism, what then is Buddhism? And of course, the interesting point about Buddhism is that there is a large variety of things depending on the people who are concerned with it. So you have Buddhism that is, as I mentioned before, the traditional Buddhists who mix Buddhism with culture and mix Buddhism, all kinds of ideas that they have been bringing along for a very long period of time. But then there is also Buddhism, which is 1s more the kind of the early Buddhism, the Buddhism actually the Buddha himself taught two and a half thousand years ago. And these things are not the same. So secular Buddhism, I would argue, should really be a response to many of the ways that Buddhism is practiced, where it is practiced as a religion, that is where secular Buddhism actually fits the bill very well and 2s it has a job to do. But where secular Buddhism goes too far and where I think there is a problem, that is, where we can talk about this later on, obviously, is where it actually sets itself against the early Buddhist teachings of the Buddha. That's where it becomes problematic. Maybe we'll start with that. So let's see what we can
have. No, that's excellent. That's a really excellent description of the context and where secular Buddhism is coming from. I think that's really valuable. But no, let's get stuck straight into it. You're implying that there's something about secular Buddhism that is flawed, that something is left out, deliberately left out in terms of its presentation of Buddhism. What is that thing that's left out and why is it a problem?
Yes, so the. 3s Again, we need to make this distinction between, if you wish, modern Buddhism and religious Buddhism and early Buddhism. And lots of people practice Buddhism almost the same way as Christians would practice Christianity. They would pray to the Buddha. They would do all kinds of things which are just the the power of ritual for its own sake and these kind of things, very common things that happen in the world. And I think there is a grounds for saying that maybe some of those things actually are problematic and some that are superstitious medallions. And this kind of thing, we're supposed to protect you. There's a famous story of a Thai general. Apparently there's very, very expensive medallion there, and they get really expensive, right? This was like $50,000 or something for a medallion, something really crazy. And of course, the value of these medallions, they go up 1s depending on the supposed power of the monk or the nun who are the best medallion, the value goes up a lot. And so this monk, this general, he got hold of this medallion supposedly blessed by some very powerful monks or whatever, and he was convinced that now he was never ever again going to he couldn't die because of this medallion there, right? And so because he couldn't die because of Italy, it meant that anyone could shoot at him and he would be fine because one of his underlings, to point the pistol at him, shoot him, and what happened? He died. 3s So this is the kind of thing here which kind of goes on. That's the way kind of secular Buddhism actually really has a place because it actually takes, you know, we come back to reality again, we come back to naturalism again. But when it comes to early Buddhism, the teaching of the Buddha himself, it actually is a very important question there. To what extent is the teaching of the Buddha really a religion at all? And this is a very important point. What actually do we mean by the word religion? And if we mean something that is akin to Christianity, buddhism is actually very different. And the reason why Buddhism is different is because the Buddha always claimed one simple thing that he had realized the nature of reality. He had understood the conditions of the human mind and the human body, what it means to be a human being. That is what it claims. So the claim is not counter to naturalist. Naturalist understood in the Western context just means understanding nature, right? So early Buddhism does not. 2s Really make a claim to be outside of the world. Actually, it's very much part of the world. And so when a secular Buddhist comes along and says, what we're going to throw out the things that we think are superstitious in Buddhism, well, basically what they are throwing out is things that the Buddha claims to have discovered. So this is right. Right there is really, really problematic, because actually, 3s you're making a value judgment on what the world really is like, when actually you don't know her. You're saying, this is right, this is wrong. And the reason is saying, this is right because this is our modern society. In our modern society, we have these ideas, this way of looking at the world, this must be correct, because we are more advanced, and India was two and a half thousand years ago, ergo, the Buddha was wrong, we are right. We can take out the stuff that the Buddha got wrong and then we're going to present Buddhist manufacture. 2s It's very problematic, it's very hubristic. Again, we'll talk more about this later on, probably, but it shows to me a lack of taking refuge in the teachings of the Buddha. We haven't really accepted that there are limitations in our current worldview as the world is now. You haven't really understood how culture develops, our scientific and philosophical understanding and insights, how they develop over time. And because of that, you hold on too much to our current ideas and our current worldview and don't give enough credit to the insight of someone like the Buddha. But coming back to your question, so, because what you were really asking about, why is this problematic, what does it actually mean? And what it means is that some of the very core teachings of the Buddha are basically thrown out. Yeah. Because ideas that are not really generally accepted in the modern materialist paradigm, the kind of the world view that we haven't, are things like rebirth. There's no way that rebirth is acceptable to the materialist worldview, because from the materialist point or the physicalist worldview, the mind is. 2s A result of material phenomena. So if the material phenomena are no longer there, if the material phenomena cease like they do at death, then of course the idea rebirth becomes impossible by definition in that kind of paradigm. So then the secular would argue that, well, then we should throw out rebirth. Rebirth cannot be possibly be true. And by doing that, what we are doing is we are throwing out one of the very fundamental pillars of what Buddhism really is about. It's hard to overstate the importance of rebirth according to the Odyssey. In fact, I want to get into this a bit more at some point during this conversation because it is so important. So rebirth is thrown out, but not just rebirth. What you also throw out, you throw out a very large part of the Buddhist idea of kamma. Kamma is the idea that we reap results from our actions. And a very important part of that, I would say the most important part of that. Other results we reap in future lives. So again, this has to do with rebirth. Another aspect that gets thrown out is the very idea of awakening or enlightenment itself, because awakening enlightenment is defined in the suitors and it's always defined in exactly the same way it is defined as the ending of rebirth. So there are three things right there. You will deny rebirth, that you deny a large part of comma, and you deny or you take away basically the idea of what awakening is about. Now, those three things rebirth, kama and awakening, well, these are precisely the three insights that Buddha had on his nights of awakening. This is exactly what he saw, right? This is the essence of the whole Buddhist teachings, for goodness sake. Yeah, they're known as the teh vida. And so if you take that out or you only see a very, very small part of those things, you're essentially going counter to the entire insight that the Buddha had on this night of awakening. So it is really problematic. Let me just stop there.
Yeah, so it sounds like that really secular Buddhism is really just modernistic sorry, materialism with a veneer of Buddhism on top, with certain bits that feel good to us, we can put them in on top. I know that you previously said in our previous correspondence that Buddhism without rebirth is not Buddhism, and you did say you wanted to go into more detail about that. 1s I mean, obviously this is one of the key insights of the Buddha upon his awakening. 2s What else can we say about that?
There's an enormous amount that can be said about that. This is really kind of critical. And I think Buddhism without rebirth just isn't Buddhism. It's something completely different, because all the main teachings of the Buddha have to be rewritten. They have to be re understood in a different way. And that is exactly what is happening around the world. Some of these people who call themselves secular Buddhist aren't actually doing just that. They're rewriting Buddhism, and they're creating a new religion. And that new religion is I don't know what it is, but it's not Buddhism anymore. So to give you some examples, and one of the things that I think people sometimes don't understand is that the Four Noble Truths, every one of the Four Noble Truths revolves around the idea of rebirth. So let's start. And of course, the Four Noble Truth. This is really what Buddhism is about. It said somewhere else. It said in the longest suit down the elephant footprint, it said that all the good teachings of the Buddha, all wholesome things, are included in the Four Noble Truths. So this is really the container for everything else, and it revolves around the idea of rebirth. So let's start with the first Noble Truth. The first Noble Truth starts off by saying that birth is suffering. Old age is suffering. Death is suffering. Right? 4s And that is where it starts out with. And what does that actually mean? Okay, birth is suffering. And what that actually means in this context. And this is kind of the critical point. And to understand this, you have to remember that the purpose of Buddha is to overcome suffering. Writer so because the purpose is to overcome suffering, when the Buddha says birth is suffering, it must refer to rebirth. It must refer to birth in the future, cannot refer to past birth. Yes, our past birth may have been suffering, but it's kind of irrelevant. We're finished with that. We've been through that already. So the correct translation of jeans in this context really should be rebirth is suffering. Yes. Rather than birth is suffering. And I have noticed some of our contemporary translators have actually started to translate Janti as rebirth. And then we start to understand the first level of truth in an entirely different way. Rebirth is suffering. OK, then you understand that this is about the future. It's about where we're going. It's about the perpetuation of this thing we call Sang Sarah. They're kind of wandering on in this realm of never being satisfied, always finding more problems and suffering in the world. There. And so this is a very, I think, very interesting point of translation. Please forgive me for talking about translation. I've been deeply involved with translation. I'm really kind of keen on this kind of ideas, how to translate properly or to translate something. And people might say, like, well, jade means birth. How can you translate as rebirth? But I think this is where we need to understand the cultural context. When we translate something, words and concepts and ideas don't exist in isolation. They exist as part of a whole cultural matrix, 2s all these things that influence how we understand individual words. Individual words hardly have any meaning at all unless they are part of a larger context. And so giant the word in Parliament, the cultural context, is that an instance of birth is always an instance of rebirth. These two things are basically acquainted in the ancient Indian worldview, and for that reason, when they hear the word birth, aren't they, they actually hear rebirth. Whereas when we hear the word birth, we don't even think about rebirth at all. It's completely out of our minds. So to be able to bring that across understanding properly, actually, it is appropriate to translate zahti as rebirth rather than bird. So we actually get the same message as the ancient Indians were getting when they heard this particular version. 1s So anyway, that's how we need to translate. We need to be very, very careful with the context. And when you are careful, actually, First Noble Truth becomes rebirth, and it changes our entire idea of what the First Noble Truth is about. Then you have Jarrah, which is old age, exactly the same thing again. Yeah. The old age that we can overcome is not the old age in this life. We're already going to get older. This life, if we are lucky, that is, we're going to get older. 1s But assuming that we are lucky enough to get reasonably older, maybe not too older, but kind of middle way, then 2s again, it must refer to future life, because we are doomed to get old in this life, and certainly we are doomed to die. So death is always going to come with us. So if we are going to overcome death entirely, sure, we can reduce the suffering of dying by practicing well, by being wise about it, by having thoughts of loving kindness, letting go of all of these kinds of things, we can reduce the suffering of death, but we cannot eliminate it completely. The only death that can eliminate completely is death in future lives. So the first overture is a steep in the idea of rebirth. Then you have the very last part of the 2s First Noble Truth, which says sankitaina panchamana kanda duca. In brief, the five grasping activists with five personality factors, or whatever you want to call them, aren't suffering. And these two can only this suffering, too, can only be eliminated upon rebirth. We are stuck with these personality factors in this life. Only on rebirth can we really overcome those personality factors. So rebirth is everywhere. That's only the first noble truth. 1s Can I carry on a bit? So I'm just going to
please do. Yeah.
Okay. So then we have the Second Noble Truth, which of course, is about the original suffering. Why do we suffer in the first place? And this original suffering? 2s It says that craving is the original suffering, right? This is kind of a standard and Buddhist idea, and sometimes people understand this to mean, well, when I crave, I suffer. Therefore, craving is a cause of suffering. That's a misunderstanding of the second novel truth, because if craving makes you suffer right here and now, it actually is. Craving is actually a state of suffering in its own right, because when you crave, you are separated from where you want to be. You're separated from what you would like the world to be like. Yeah. So actually, the fact that craving in suffering belongs to the first Noble Truth, not the second Noble Truth. And if you read the first novel truth properly, you will see it is actually there. Yeah. Being separated from what you like, your suffering, being united with what you don't like, your suffering is actually part of the first Noble Truth. So the second Noble Truth is about something completely different. And if you read it properly, it specifically says in the Second Noble Truth that it is the pornobika. Tana pornobika means reexistence craving, the craving that has to do with rex distance, in other words, rebirth. That is the craving that is talked about there. It is very specific. It is really if you read it properly, it is very obvious what is going on in that particular context. Then we come to the third Noble Truth. And the third Noble Truth says tasa yeva Tanhaya, says saviraganeroda, et cetera, and tasa yeva tanghaya, that means that very craving, it refers back to the craving of the second novel truth. So because of that, it also has to do with the craving that leads to rebirth. It's the same kind of coming to the fourth novel Truth. Well, there it starts off with Right view. Right view is about the Four Noble truth. We have just seen that the Four Noble Truth is all about rebirth. 3s Even if Right View is not that full insight into the Four Noble Truths, if it is a lesser kind of right view, it is everywhere. Any kind of right view in the suit that is about rebirth in one way or another. 1s So there you are. The very skeptical thing of what all of what Buddhism is about concerns the idea of rebirth through and through all the way through. And I think once people start to realize that, they start to understand, actually Buddhists without rebirth, the only way you can kind of get the grid to the four noble truth without rebirth, you have to rewrite the whole idea of the four noble truths. That is exactly what is happening. I'll give you a very severe example of that, and that is the example of someone who said that, well, that's actually not craving that leads to suffering. It's suffering that leads to craving. So he reversed the second noble tree, and that's kind of 2s pretty radical stuff. 2s And what is problematic about it is not so much that okay, of course you can reverse that if you want, but the problem is that you present yourself as a Buddhist. You present yourself as an authority. You're saying, this is basically, I'm coming. I'm here as a Buddhist to tell you about Buddhism. You're selling your books in the name of Buddhism, and you're presenting something that's completely counter to what the Buddha taught. That, to me, is really problematic. If you're going to pretend to be a Buddhist, at least if you are following the Buddha, you should present with the Buddha told, not your own ideas. So 1s that is, for starters, why it is really problematic to talk about rebuilding the four noble truth. Let me just. 1s Please stop me at any time. Sold if you think I'm kind of carry on too much. But another very obvious place to look at this is dependent origination. Dependent origination has is its beautiful formula by the Buddha. Show is how suffering arises from the root cause of a bizarbidja being delusioned or ignorance or however you want to translate it. And in this particular twelve sequence formula, it's a causal formula showing how abidjan leads to suffering. Always through twelve links. We can't really go into detail here, but in one of these links, again, you have the word jati. Just as we have in the first noble truth, we have an independent origination as well. Now, if you say that yahti, if you say that jari does not mean rebirth, perhaps it means something else. But then again, this whole sequence of dependent origination really depends on how we understand this particular word. If there is no rebirth, well, then sharp, it must mean something else. It must mean maybe it is a metaphor for mind states or maybe just I don't know what it could mean. But we have to redefine this whole, this whole particular sequence. So what that means then is that instead of dependent origination being something, a formula which shows us how our 1s lives are kind of propelled on in this sanctuary existence of ours, how we kind of renew the idea of rebirth and suffering and death, et cetera, from life to life is ever showing us that, which is like a big picture idea of what the world is. Instead it becomes something completely different, something to do with this life, some kind of psychological mechanism that drives ego consciousness or whatever it is. It's kind of standard interpretations of people. And so we have basically we're looking at another of the core teachings of the Buddha in a completely new way and kind of deficiting the idea that the Buddha came with. So again, very problematic, I think. John, you've given a very eloquent examples of how sad Buddhism is. At best, misrepresenting the teachings of the Buddha, and at worst is a counterfeit version of Buddhism. 2s And you give an excellent explanation of that. I'm interested to try and understand what are the consequences of that, because these teachings can be very persuasive. 1s They can appeal to the views of particular of Westerners.
If someone was to say, well, this rebirth thing is just superstition karma, wow, maybe a little bit sometimes, but we've got a slightly dubious view on karma, what would be the outcome for a person if they were trying they think they're practicing Buddhism, but would they be practicing Buddhism at all?
Yes, that's a very good question. And I would argue they're not practicing Buddhism. Actually, I would argue that they are practicing some aspects of Buddhism. They're practicing some parts of it. They do a bit of mindfulness or whatever, but they are not really kind of understanding what this really is about, what these teachings are really are about. They've really misunderstood the teachings. The teachings are not about being mindful day to day. Arguably, that is part of it, but it's only a tiny part of it. The actual purpose is much, much larger and much more kind of the aim. The goal is much larger than that. So they are really missing out on these teachings of the Buddha, and that is very, very serious. If there is such a thing as rebirth, well, then there is a massive problem in our lives. It's a really serious problem if you try to start to understand the consequences of rebirth, what it actually means for us. The consequences are are enormous. In fact, it makes a whole difference on 1s how we deal with life, how we approach life and all of these kinds of things. So I would say that when we. 2s Present the Buddhist teachings, we should ensure that we don't at the very least, we don't kind of go counter to what the Buddha talk. We shouldn't dismiss the idea of rebirth. We may not have to talk about rebirth straight away. You don't have to bring these things in straight away. But at the very least, you shouldn't kind of go counter to these things and dismiss them as if they were not the teasings of the Buddha. Because what you end up with, you end up with a very, very shallow version of Buddhism, a very poverished version of Buddhism, which actually doesn't take you very far at all. And the consequences are very serious. I think one of the important consequences, 1s and I've seen this with many people, actually, is that monastics who don't believe in rebirth, they have a tendency to disrobe. And the reason is because why would you want to kind of invest so much time in a monastic life? As a monastic? Potentially, you are giving up a lot. It depends what you get back in return. If you are a good meditate to get some nice states, some meditation, then you're not giving up anything. You're actually enjoying it. But let's say that your meditation is kind of average, or maybe it's not really going anywhere. This happens in monastic life as well. But then you need a larger picture. You need some kind of understanding of the world for why you should keep on doing this, despite the fact that you're giving up so many things. So it's a very common thing that people don't believe in rebirth. After a while, your desire for a relationship or your desire for worldly things kind of returns. Maybe a meditation isn't going so well, and you meet some potential person who is very nice, and then why carry on? 1s If you can live late life, you can enjoy yourself. At the end of the end of your life, you die and everything is finished anyway, and then you can be done with it. There's no issues. So I think what we are doing is that we are undermining things like monasticism, for example, if we do this and you find in secular circles tend to be laypeople oriented, all about lay practice, basically, and monasticism is kind of sideline. In fact, one of the things that secular Buddhists will tell you is that monasticism is perhaps redundant. Yeah, it's not really required. We don't really need this in the modern age because, well, it doesn't really answer 1s to any problem that we have. It doesn't really have any there's no need for it, really, in the way things are on it. 1s So 1s those are the things that I kind of find very problematic. And if there is such a thing as a rebirth and you're not told about it or you don't believe in it, then of course you are. You know, the consequences of them not being able to act or live according accordingly are going to be very severe for you. You've done the track. Yeah. John I'd like to just add a supplementary question onto that. 2s When we talk about rebirth, in the beginning, when you start practice, it is an idea we may not have direct evidence or any kind of certainty to begin with about rebirth. And so I think that might be the context in which secular Buddhists say, well, you know, it's just a superstition. It's not true. However, my first two part question here, first part is in meditation. If one gets into deep meditation, sam are samari.
We could say that. 2s Rebirth becomes validated in some way through experience. That's the first part of my question. And the counterpart, I guess, to that is if we don't if we don't get good meditation, we don't believe in rebirth, maybe it becomes a block on ever being able to get deep enough meditation and to be able to validate the reality of rebirth for ourselves. 2s Yeah. 2s Yes. 1s I think the first part is largely true. If you have some the deep your meditation is, the more you can understand that the mind has like a separate existence, that the mind can exist on its own, the body disappears completely, you have no awareness of the world. It's obviously not obvious that you have entered some kind of realm which is beyond the ordinary physical realm. And so 4s it's a short step to take to assume that the mind can somehow exist independent of material phenomena, where it is with other kind of material phenomena and the ones that we are used to. 1s Right, yeah. So I would agree with that. It's very, very helpful to have deep meditation, for sure. Now, the other side of the story, if you don't believe in rebirth, is it going to be a hindrance to achieve meditation? I would say it can be. Not necessarily. I would say that there are people who even can't believe in God or anything. And we know from the history of religion that there have been people in all religions that have mystical experience that are similar to Samadhi and Jana and these kind of things, and with all kinds of views, all kinds of ideas. But on the other hand, I think the idea of rebirth can certainly be used to help you achieve some ODI. Absolutely. And one of the reasons because once you start to understand the implications of rebirth, you start to lose your interest in the world. You see that the world is actually this place that you are tied down to forever. Going round and round, seeing the death of your loved one, seeing the disappearance of all your possessions, seeing that you're always moving from. One realm to another one always attaching to something and being forced to let go, then reattaching again afterwards like a madman making the same mistake again and again and again. When you start to understand what's going on, it's kind of scary. It's kind of terrible, I find it really kind of 1s so the idea of rebirth can actually help you if you use it in a wiser way to let go of the world a little bit, because actually it is not interesting at all. And instead you want to take a refuge in the mind instead. But what I would like to do so I want to say a little bit more about. 3s Why I think it is fully acceptable from a modern point of view to actually believe in rebirth. And the reason I think one of the problems, as I was kind of hinting at the beginning, is that we take our current society, our current values, our current and worldview far too seriously. Sometimes we don't understand that we are just like a short little blip in history. And that the idea that we have now, the scientific insight that we have now, the philosophical idea that we cling onto now, they are just going to pass away like a fad or a fashion and there will be new philosophical ideas coming up again in the future and we don't really see ourselves clearly. We think that we are kind of the pinnacle of civilization after 2s 1 million years of homo sapiens or 200,000 years of homicide or whatever. I can't remember that at most 2s not like a hundred thousand, right?
And this is such a naive idea. And this was written about. 2s Maybe it's unfair to say it's naive. It's kind of obvious that we would tend to think that way because it seems to be this development all the time. But actually, when you look at 1s if you start looking at history properly, you start to understand, actually, that's not how the world works. And one of the very interesting books that was written back in the 1960s, this became one of the kind of great intellectual bestsellers at that time that was called the 1s what is it called again now? 2s Something about scientific revolutions 4s structure. Scientific revolutions, yeah. And the argument that the author makes is that every age, every civilization, every society is trapped in a certain way of looking at things. He was talking about science and about the problems of scientific research, and then he was saying that, well, we are trapped in a certain way of looking at things. We don't see all the countervailing evidence that actually is there all the time, and then all that evidence had to build up and build up and build up until the kind of the mass of evidence is so great that you can't really ignore it anymore. And the moment you get to that point is what he calls a paradigm shift, a shift in world view, a shift in outlook that makes us see the world in a different way. So things like the 1s Einstein's theories of relativity would have been such a paradigm shift. The quantum understanding of the quantum nature of the world would be another such paradigm shift. And but in while you are within that paradigm, you tend to take that paradigm for truth, even though we know that things are going to change again in the future. And so we are also trapped in a paradigm right now, and that paradigm is called physicalism. It's called materialism. The idea that the world kind of emerges from the mind. And once you start to understand that you are trapped in a paradigm, you start to not take it so seriously anymore. You know that there's going to be more evolution of these ideas in the future. 1s And one of the I totally
agree. Yeah, continue. I totally agree, but continue.
Yeah. Right. 1s So this is kind of really significant. And that can be added to even more one of the kind of interesting other insights that comes from a little bit of understanding of the or philosophy. I'm just dabbling at this. So it's not as if I have any much knowledge, but have enough knowledge to know a little bit about what is going on. And this is the kind of the sea sowing or the pendulum swinging back and forth between different ideas. And if you go back to the ancient Greeks who had Plato, plato was an idealist. And an idealist is someone who believes that the world is basically mind. Mind is the primary thing in the world, and material phenomena are secondary. It's somehow come from mind. And then you had Aristotle, who was kind of his pupil, right? And he was a materialist. He said, the material world is primary, mind is secondary. Mind somehow emerges from material phenomena. And this has been the way the world has always been going to come to the 19th century. And Germany is very famous for having had all these idealist philosophers like Hegel and Schopenhauer and many others. And to them, Qantas was probably the first one of them. And they also had this idea that mind is primary. Then comes the 20th century and the pendulum swing swings back again to materialism, right? And we start to understand that these things are actually very uncertain. Is the world material or is it mental or is it something else completely? Maybe both of those theories are wrong, actually. Buddhism might actually posit a third alternative to these things. And the point here is that the philosophy, whether you are a physicalist materialist or you are an idealist, has nothing to do with the results of science. The scientific results of the world can be accommodated to either of those worldviews. So whether we are physicalist or we are idealists, actually, that is a philosophical position, not the scientific position. And this is something I think is largely miscommunicated underappreciated in the world, actually. We take these things to be scientific truths that have to be real because science has shown that the world is a material and physical and root. But actually that is not true at all. That is a philosophical position. And once you start to understand that, then you start to think, well, actually, that is the it opens up the possibility that we can look at the world in a different way. We can take entirely different philosophical positions. And once you start to see that, you start to. 1s Understand that this whole secular approach to Buddhism may actually be fundamentally flawed because we are buying in way too much buying into this present moment or the way we're viewing the world now, not understanding the see sawing the swinging of the pendulum back and forth between different ideas. And when we let go of that, suddenly all of these other things become possible as a consequence.
I think that's why I reiterate the point though, that in the Western philosophy you've had this kind of need to reduce reality down to a single thing and it's all material or it's all mental, whereas Buddhism says well, actually it's both. And why that's not occurred to Western philosophy seems to be 1s beyond me. But please go
on. 2s I agree and I think that Buddhism is somehow the very fact that philosophy has been kind of going back and forth between materialism and idealism suggests to me that there might be another solution which actually is right because otherwise the fact that we can't settle on anything seems to be that both ideas are flawed somehow. Deeply, maybe. But anyway, one of the interesting little anecdotes, one of the things I heard recently was 1s one of these people who are actually an idealist. So he's one of the people's leading kind of idealist philosophy in the world. And he said that in the last decade he's also part of a publishing company and he published all these things and he kind of organizes debates between physicalist and idealist and these kind of things. He probably has a lot of fun doing that. I can imagine. 1s And he has said that in the last ten years it has almost been impossible to find anyone in the world who is willing to stand up for their classical pure physicalist understanding of the world. 1s And that's kind of radical, right? That means that the idea that physicalism somehow is deeply flawed is really starting to take hold not just among a few philosophers but actually in the kind of more broadly among scientists and philosophers in a very broad sense that no one is willing to start to understand and that actually has some very, very serious consequences or problems with this whole approach. So I think seeing that and seeing how some of the philosophers and some of the scientists are starting to shift ground, looking at the world in new ways, famous physicists like Carlo Robelli, who is kind of taking it he actually has a little bit of Buddhist background as well. They're kind of starting to shift, and they started to look at the world in very different ways. I think that we are actually in the middle of one of these paradigm shifts. That book talks about the structure of scientific revolutions. We're actually in the middle of moving from one web worldview to another one. And I think the next decade or two or whatever, it's going to be very interesting to watch what happens in this particular area. And 1s I can only imagine if you are a secular Buddhist and you have based your entire understanding of the world on the materials outlook, then it turns out to be wrong. It's going to be devastating. You know, it's going to be really, really rough. And I think if I were those secular Buddhists, I would start to reconsider my position and 2s understand that actually, maybe by teaching in this way, perhaps we're leading people down the garden path in the wrong direction, that we should reevaluate what actually is going on and try to kind of put place more faith in the Buddha. Maybe the Buddha did have some very, very significant insights. Maybe we really should take this message extremely seriously because they are truly that kind of are more overarching than the contemporary truths of science or philosophy.
Absolutely. And also, I have to agree that, like, going away from perhaps intellectual elites, like philosophers, what I'm seeing as I spent too much time on the Internet is there's a lot of near death experiences being reported. Like, literally, that thousands. And one of the things that's interesting, I find, is that regardless of their religious or philosophical background, which often gets added on as part of their perception, you keep hearing one of the key features is this is not just one life. This is not your only life. You've lived before, you will live again. And that message just keeps on coming back from these people who have died. And it's interesting that it comes back so consistently,
right? Exactly. I just read a book, by the way, and it was a very nice book. There's maybe the world's number one expert on near death experiences, a fellow called Bruce Grayson, and he has a book called after, in which he talks about his career and talks about many examples of the death experiences. And that's exactly what you're saying now is this kind of feeling that there is more than one life. Not only that, but that even many of them seem to understand the ideas of karma as well, 2s how they were kind of affected. Many of the ideas that you find in it, it's actually fascinating. Many of the ideas you find are actually ideas you find in the suitors. The idea, like the Life review is kind of found also in kind of embryonic form in the suitors. The idea of self judgment you judge yourself. Also found in the suit. This is found in the suit in the numerical discourse, is three number 38 or something like that. Yama, suit on, etc. Had a lot of parallels in the suitors. But what I find is interesting about 1s when you actually listen to anecdotes when you listen to these real stories, is that they add a very significant dimension to what you find in the suit. In the suitors tend to be very dry and very kind of there's kind of a very bare bones kind of vision of the truth. But when you hear these stories, even though they are nowhere near as deep as the suitors are, they still add some realism to the suit. They add an extra layer, which I think for many people, we are just not clever enough or intelligent or wise enough to really grasp the suitors properly. So we need these additional those stories to really bring the suitors alive. That is what I found by reading some of these books. While it actually touched me quite powerful to read these stories. And I realized this is actually helping me to understand the suitors. And I read these things. So I fully agree what you're saying.
Now, can I like to take things in a slightly different direction, 1s maybe to play devil's advocate for secular Buddhism for a moment by pointing out that one of the things that has been popularized by secular Buddhist teachers in the west is the practice of mindfulness. And now we see mindfulness meditation being taught everywhere. We have versions of this where I guess in some way the Buddhism has been taken out like cognitive 1s mindfulness therapy and so forth. And here in Australia, Christian schools are teaching mindfulness. That's got to be a good thing, isn't it?
Right. You'll be out of the devil. That's True. Okay? 3s Sure it's a good thing. I don't have any problem with Christian schools, teaching mindfulness, problem with anyone taking any aspect of Buddhism and teaching it whatever they want. Buddhism is a teaching that talks about reality and insofar as people want to use that and improve their lives, I think it's wonderful. And I think, for goodness sake, absolutely do it. 1s So I agree. And it's also a way of maybe entering the Buddhist ideas, a way of kind of getting access to these things as a starting point and all of these things. And then maybe once you start to understand some of these ideas actually come from Buddhism, maybe you would look further, and maybe you actually get even more inspiration, even more access to these teachings, which will enable you to have even a better life, hopefully, because you are doing these things. No, absolutely. It's a very, very good thing. I agree with you, and I don't really have a problem with that at all. What I have a problem with is where we present Buddhism as something different from how the Buddha presented. That is where I have a problem, and this is really what kind of is the crux of this issue. And so we need to ensure that when we present Buddhism, we are represented. When we say that we are Buddhists, when we quote the Buddhist suitors, when we write books in the name of Buddhism, we should know that we are actually representing the Buddha when we are presenting the Buddha. If we have faith in the Buddha, if we have faith in the understanding and enlightenment of the Buddha, we need to be humble about our own understanding. We need to be accepted that maybe the Buddha has some insights. We don't. So if we don't like the idea of rebirth, we don't mention it. But don't say it's wrong here, because if you're saying it's wrong, you're saying the Buddha was wrong here. How can we say the Buddha is wrong? It's kind of madness to say the Buddha was wrong. I mean, 1s the Buddha was, as far as I can tell, the greatest spiritual genius in human history. It was an astonishing person, standing head and shoulder above everyone else. Just reading the suitcase is a mindblowing experience because it is so different from any other religious literature you can find in any other tradition. It is seeped with the idea of morality, and there's nothing in there which kind of has any sense of immorality or doogenous. Has this consistent. 1s Spiritual uplifting feeling all the way throughout. So when we have someone like that, the whole idea of having faith in good, the whole idea of being a Buddhist is that you take refuge. Taking refuge means that you take the Buddha as you teach, the dumb as you're teaching and the sangha of monastic or the sanctuary go up enlightened disciple as your guide to help help out. Now, if you take the Buddha as your teacher, you have to represent him properly. You have to listen to what he has to say, you have to take his ideas seriously. If you don't do that, you're not taking him as a teacher. You haven't taken refuge. So we need to be honest about who we are. We need to be honest about whether we are real Buddhists or not. And as long as you haven't taken that refuge, you're still sitting on the fence and at the very least we should be honest about that fence sitting and then I think we are on the right track. But as far as mindfulness is concerned, all these things I have no problem at all. One thing I should say is that what is precisely what is the idea of mindfulness based stress reduction and mindfulness based cognitive therapy, whatever it's called. 2s This was started out in the US back in the 1970s and one of the kind of main people behind that is a fellow called John Cupboards Lynn who started much of this movement, become very, very popular around the world. And at the beginning he made a deliberate decision to to withdraw, take out all the Buddhist elements and kind of present the purely mindfulness teacher teaching from that because he was afraid that the Buddhist teaching would be too controversial and it would reduce his ability to present the mindfulness part of things, then, okay, we can agree or disagree with that, but that's not such a big problem because it at least didn't misrepresent Buddhism. He just took out one part and presented it separately without saying anything about Buddhism at all. But the problem of course with that, and this is what they are starting to see now in mindfulness circles is that mindfulness on its own is a very weak thing. It doesn't really have much power. Yes, it is useful to some extent, but if you really want to have success in your spiritual life, if you really want to kind of make advances, you want to purify yourself, you want to become, you really want to change your mental state, you have to do so much more. And that is where the rest of the Buddhist path comes in. So I think we are. 2s We are selling ourselves very short. And I think that yes, we can use Mindfulness, but at some point we should also reintroduce some of these other aspects of Buddhism. And sometimes I think it is a good idea to say that the Mindfulness teachings we have actually are largely taken from with the sources because when people know the source, at least then they have the opportunity to go back to those sources. And inquire further but if we kind of imply that this is a purely secular teaching and it doesn't really have any kind of religious affiliation whatsoever, then we are not really giving people an opportunity to go back to the sources and go deeper into the basis of what these things really are about.
That's excellent. I would like to ask a question which is perhaps you partially answered this largely answered this already, but maybe by way of summing up what we've been discussing, 1s if secular Buddhism is untrustworthy and if there are parts of it which are misleading or maybe even counterfeit forms of Buddhism. 2s What can we trust? What is authentic? What's an alternative that we should be striving to find and to practice?
Yes, that's a very important question, I think. And I think think the answer is essentially, first of all, we need to inquire into what actually is the word of the Buddha. Yes, this is already quite a difficult thing to answer properly because Buddha has been so incredibly varied. There are so many scriptures, there have been so much development over two and a half thousand years. It is very difficult for people to judge properly what really is the word of the Buddha. But we need to do that inquiry. We need to really get into that. And some people have done that. And I have been part of a project called the Authenticity of the Early Buddhist Text. We're together with a man called Banter Suggest, who is a very good friend of mine. And 1s this book has been praised at least by some very significant people and 1s being kind of worthy of a read and understanding. And what we argue in that book is that if you look at the history of Buddhism and you start to peel away the various layers of philosophy, the various linguistic layers, trying to understand what was developed first, what came later. And of course, this is possible because language develops, philosophy develops, ideas develop over time. It's very obvious when you start to look at it what scriptures are early, what scriptures are late. When you start to look at that, you start to realize that there are certain scriptures that converge on a certain time and place. And that time and place is the Ganges plane 2500 years ago. And that, of course, is exactly what we are. What the suitors themselves, the word of the Buddha that we call them now claim they claim to be from that area, coming from one person who lived there at roughly that time period. So the whole linguistic and philosophical and all the. 1s Elements that we see, these descriptions of these places, all these kinds of things, it fits with the claims made in the suitors themselves. It's all pointing in a similar kind of direction. So because of that, we are basically in possession of something is very similar to what the Buddha himself taught two and a half thousand years ago. These are known as the four main nicayas in buddhism the dejanika, the long discourse, the midnight discourse, the connected discourse, and the numerical discourses. And that is really the source of all later buddhist ideas. Without those, fornicayas all the rest of Buddhism is meaningless. Built on that. And without that, the foundation of the house is taken away. Everything comes crashing down. So that's where we need to go. And when you go to those suit, that what you find. You find ideas 1s that the whole buddhist tradition is steeped in. Buddhist is steeped in these ideas. You find ideas such as rebirth, very fundamental part of these things. You find ideas like kama, of course. You find ideas like enlightenment. You find the ideas like the importance of monasticism and Buddhism, because monasticism is a way of bye. 1s It's almost like a way, basically, the Buddha for the Buddha is the highway to awakening if it is pranked as well, but only if it is practiced well, of course. And so all of these ideas are there. And that is why we can say that if you the only way that you can really take proper refuge in the Buddha is by taken these ideas seriously, because these are obviously ideas that came from the Buddha itself. So that's really, I think, the Buddha mistake there. Here.
Absolutely. Is there anything else that you wanted to add that we haven't touched on so far regarding our discussion on secular Buddhism? 5s Because I do think we've established that secular Buddhism is baloney.
I should maybe say that I don't want to kind of be saying anything. I don't want to be too hard on people. I think I recognize that there has been a place in the world for secular Buddhism. It has actually made an important contribution. It has kind of highlighted the point that there are things in Buddhism but definitely are superstitious in traditional Buddhist circles. Actually, one thing I should maybe add as well, which I think is interesting, is that I don't think it's possible to say that secular Buddhism is an entirely Western phenomenon. I think all Buddhist cultures have had similar ideas throughout history, and those ideas, they're taking a slightly different form, but the Western form, of course, but the ideas have always been there, and these have been like the reform movement that you've seen in Asia. You've seen, like, places in Thailand where suddenly someone real cheaper. We're just doing rituals in the Buddhist and teach rituals, okay, we've got to purify Buddhist. We've got to get rid of all the superstition and get back to the core. And that, to me, is exactly the same movement we find in Asian cultures as we find in the west today. And this has been going on throughout history, all the way back to the time of the Buddha. So this movement back towards the core of things, back to the essence of what Buddhism is about, secular Buddhism is just the latest iteration of some of those movements. So I think secular Buddhism has had an important role to play in kind of highlighting certain deficiencies within Buddhism, and that has been very significant and very important. But I think now the time has come to also recognize the limits of secular Buddhism itself. In fact, the very severe limits, even going so far as to having thrown the baby out with the bathwater and where we have actually lost what woods really is about and the question of whether someone who takes the secular ideas really seriously, really can be considered a Buddhist in the ordinary sense of the word. I think it's very important. 3s Yeah,
well, look, I want to thank you, our Jump Romali, for taking time out of your busy teaching schedule to share your insight and wisdom on this episode of Treasure Mountain. Thank you once again.
Thank you so much.
And thank you to all our listeners for joining us for this challenging and somewhat controversial episode of Treasure Mountain, in which Argentramale a monk at the forefront of connecting modern audiences to the meaning and practices of early Buddhism. Has pointed out that secular Buddhism is not really an authentic form of Buddhism at all and only provides an acceptable veneer of Buddhism without the substance. Treasure Mountain Podcast is now part of the Everyday Tama Network. You can find out more about the Treasure Mountain Podcast by going to www 1s everydaydamma. Net treasure mountain. And if you go to this website, you can find out all the previous episodes and information about all our guests. And if you go back to the Everydaydummer. Net home page, you can discover more about the three other podcasts on the network. Also, I thought you might like them. Tell me what you think by contacting me via the Contact page. If you enjoy this podcast, you can subscribe to the Treasure Mountain Podcast by using your favorite podcast app in order to get notified about future episodes. And don't forget to tell your friends about Treasure Mountain too. I have more inspiring guests and topics in the coming weeks. Until then, I wish you all the best on your spiritual voyage.
Ajahn Brahmali was born in Norway in 1964. He first became interested in Buddhism and meditation in his early 20s after a visit to Japan. Having completed degrees in engineering and finance, he began his monastic training as an anagarika (keeping the eight precepts) in England at Amaravati and Chithurst Buddhist Monastery.
After hearing teachings from Ajahn Brahm he decided to travel to Australia to train at Bodhinyana Monastery. Ajahn Brahmali has lived at Bodhinyana Monastery since 1994, and was ordained as a Bhikkhu, with Ajahn Brahm as his preceptor, in 1996. In 2015 he will be entered his 20th Rains Retreat as a fully ordained monastic and received the title Maha Thera (Great Elder).
Ajahn Brahmali’s knowledge of the Pali language and of the Suttas is excellent. Bhikkhu Bodhi who translated most of the Pali Canon into English for Wisdom Publications called him one of his major helpers for the recent translation of the “Numerical Discourse of the Buddha”. He has also published two essays on Dependent Origination and a book called “The Authenticity of the Early Buddhist Texts” with the Buddhist Publication Society in collaboration with Bhante Sujato.
The monastics of the Buddhist Society of WA (BSWA) often turn to him to clarify Vinaya (monastic discipline) or Sutta questions. They also greatly appreciate his Sutta and Pali classes. Furthermore he has been instrumental in most of the building and maintenance projects at Bodhinyana Monastery and at the emerging Hermit Hill property in Serpentine.
Apart from the regular talks at Dhammaloka Centre in Perth Ajahn Brahmali and Ajahn Sujato have also lead two ongoing courses on Early Buddhism and Kamma and Rebirth in 2014 and 2015.
Ajahn Brahmali’s clear and thoughtful talks make the teachings of the Buddha easily accessible to all. As his teachings and Sutta Retreats in Australia were getting more and more popular over the years and as the word about him spread, he started to travel to Singapore, Indonesia and Sri Lanka recently to share his knowledge and experience.