Debating a Monk

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Debating a Monk

#1  Postby Spearthrower » Feb 04, 2021 11:29 am

Ive been asked by a group of Thai Buddhist friends to 'debate' a British Buddhist monk they're friends with who's lived in Thailand for much of his life. He's a kind of 'celebrity' monk. I don't imagine they're thinking of this in terms of a formal debate, but rather a more informal discussion. However, there'd be an audience - consisting entirely of Buddhists, presumably - and I've not yet really pinned down what the topic is meant to be, but it seems as if it'd be something revolving around the value of Buddhism as a belief system.

Basically, this comes from having discussions with them over months and years where they seem to accept that I have some substantive points of criticism of Buddhism as a belief system (although I do think it's probably the 'best' of the world religions) but despite their English being nigh-native, there's a host of meanings that are essentially untranslatable so they think that a fellow Brit might find more appropriate language to convey some of the ideas underlying Buddhism, and would be able to better understand what I mean.

But I'm not really sure what the point is to be honest. I am not looking to de-convert them or disprove their beliefs, and I am quite confident that they know I am not a candidate for conversion (not that Buddhism is a proselytizing religion anyway), and I'd usually expect that both sides would need a motivation for debating in the first instance which I don't know that I have.

Is it worth participating? I partly feel it could be in terms of challenging bad ideas and forwarding a modern, skeptical, purely humanist perspective, but I've never been one to go looking for bad ideas to challenge, just addressing those that land in front of me.
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Re: Debating a Monk

#2  Postby felltoearth » Feb 04, 2021 12:37 pm

Perhaps. Matt Dillahunty has strict rules for debating theists that he has put in place over the years. Paramount is that the question must be clear and well defined, and that the debate sticks to the question at hand. Otherwise you’re just trying to nail jello to the wall.


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Re: Debating a Monk

#3  Postby felltoearth » Feb 04, 2021 1:07 pm




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Re: Debating a Monk

#4  Postby Animavore » Feb 04, 2021 6:58 pm

Would debating Buddhism even make a great debate? I used to go to a Gelug Buddhist place in Dublin and went there to learn meditation and I found them to be quite agreeable with everything. They're not very dogmatic. I remember at the time I mentioned that I wasn't sure about some aspects of Buddhism but they would just say meditate and it will come to you.

There's even a Buddha saying that goes something like, "If you agree with something I've said take it in if you don't reject it." There doesn't seem to be any great onus on anyone to just believe the things just because someone said it.

I feel like the most that'll happen is you'll have some polite conversation. I don't think Buddhist apologetics are even a thing.
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Re: Debating a Monk

#5  Postby Spearthrower » Feb 04, 2021 7:51 pm

Buddhism in the West tends to be considerably different than Buddhism in a traditionally Buddhist nation, like Thailand. I'm not suggesting they're dogmatic, but there's an absolute horde of batshit beliefs and practices.
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Re: Debating a Monk

#6  Postby Spearthrower » Feb 04, 2021 7:57 pm

I remember at the time I mentioned that I wasn't sure about some aspects of Buddhism but they would just say meditate and it will come to you.


If you think about it, it's not all that different from 'pray and you'll get an answer'. You've got to be in it to win it!
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Re: Debating a Monk

#7  Postby Animavore » Feb 04, 2021 9:41 pm

I've actually got back into meditation recently. It does 'work' in that it's great for shutting up the incessant yap inside my head and helping me focus and stay attentive. But I don't expect to be able to walk through walls, change the weather, or hear an ant's foot-steps as it enters the room or any other supernatural things I've read about in Chinese Zen Buddhism. I regard them as physically improbable.

As far as I know one of the things with Buddhism is that there are beliefs in places like Thailand that aren't necessarily from Buddhism itself and rather already there when Buddhism arrived. Things like those spirit houses outside of many Thai houses. Though this is no different to Christianity adopting stuff from paganism where ever it took over. Last week many in Ireland celebrated St. Brigid, a person the Catholic Church around here treats like an actual person (I was certainly taught in school that she was real). But this is contested and she is probably a Christianisation of the goddess of the same name from Celtic lore.

Some schools of Buddhism have two Buddha/Siddhattha stories. A historical one which is as mundane as you would expect from a historical story, and another fantastical one which isn't viewed as historical but rather as allegorical. There seems to be some awareness of a divide between fantasy and reality at least in this case which a religion like Christianity lacks.

Still, I think its a hard one to debate because of all religions this is one that believes more freely what it wants to believe and picks and chooses its superstitions like it was à la carte. It may end up being a case of trying to nail jelly to a wall.
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Re: Debating a Monk

#8  Postby The_Metatron » Feb 05, 2021 1:29 am

I'd just bill it as a Conversation with a Monk. Or perhaps, A Monk having a conversation with a Spearthrower.

Leaves out any expectations.
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Re: Debating a Monk

#9  Postby Animavore » Feb 05, 2021 4:24 am

Just be wary if he offers you a cup of tea.
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Re: Debating a Monk

#10  Postby Spearthrower » Feb 05, 2021 6:00 am

Animavore wrote:I've actually got back into meditation recently. It does 'work' in that it's great for shutting up the incessant yap inside my head and helping me focus and stay attentive. But I don't expect to be able to walk through walls, change the weather, or hear an ant's foot-steps as it enters the room or any other supernatural things I've read about in Chinese Zen Buddhism. I regard them as physically improbable.


I completely accept that meditation has been shown to have health benefits. I think there tends to be a dollop of mysticism in many presentations of meditation that are irrelevant to the health benefits. My expectation is that merely sitting quietly and focusing on breathing for half an hour a day would net a similar benefit for many people.


Animavore wrote:As far as I know one of the things with Buddhism is that there are beliefs in places like Thailand that aren't necessarily from Buddhism itself and rather already there when Buddhism arrived. Things like those spirit houses outside of many Thai houses. Though this is no different to Christianity adopting stuff from paganism where ever it took over. Last week many in Ireland celebrated St. Brigid, a person the Catholic Church around here treats like an actual person (I was certainly taught in school that she was real). But this is contested and she is probably a Christianisation of the goddess of the same name from Celtic lore.


All absolutely true with multiple examples, but there are also plenty of things within Buddhism itself that are dubious. In fact, the most central elements of Buddhism are, for me, the most skepticism-inducing. For example, the primary objective of all Buddhism is to achieve nirvana, or a complete cessation of the cycle of rebirth (samsara). Even were reincarnation true, why would not existing be superior to existing? It's never explained why, and I think it's genetically flawed in the same way that anti-natalism is.


Animavore wrote:
Still, I think its a hard one to debate because of all religions this is one that believes more freely what it wants to believe and picks and chooses its superstitions like it was à la carte. It may end up being a case of trying to nail jelly to a wall.


It is a bit different here in that regard too - there are approved sects of Buddhism, and there are heretical ones.
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Re: Debating a Monk

#11  Postby Spearthrower » Feb 05, 2021 6:12 am

The_Metatron wrote:I'd just bill it as a Conversation with a Monk. Or perhaps, A Monk having a conversation with a Spearthrower.

Leaves out any expectations.



With an audience... it's that bit which makes me wonder whether there's a point. I am 50/50 on it as I don't really feel any motivation to seek out such a discussion (beyond answering questions directed at me by friends), but on the other hand, those bad ideas just don't get challenged here - culturally, Thailand and much of this part of the world doesn't have any established forums of skeptical scrutiny; generally, it's considered uncouth to question authority figures.

I keep flopping back and forth on it: last night I decided I wouldn't do it, then when I saw a Buddhist ceremony on tv this morning, I changed my mind again.

I'll meditate on it! :naughty2:
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Re: Debating a Monk

#12  Postby Animavore » Feb 05, 2021 6:20 am

Spearthrower wrote:For example, the primary objective of all Buddhism is to achieve nirvana, or a complete cessation of the cycle of rebirth (samsara). Even were reincarnation true, why would not existing be superior to existing? It's never explained why, and I think it's genetically flawed in the same way that anti-natalism is.


I don't think nirvana means the end of existence. Just the end of the cycle of suffering and rebirth in this supposedly illusionary world. Sort of your soul being set free from its mortal cage.

I agree it's likely nonsense. There's no real reason to believe we have a 'soul' to set free and that evidence points towards us being meaty automatons. I think it's also a sort of a disowning of life to believe that our human existence is a kind of hell which stops us from seeing things "as they really are" (whatever that means). I think to claim to be above it all is somewhat arrogant maybe.
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Re: Debating a Monk

#13  Postby Spearthrower » Feb 05, 2021 8:01 am

Animavore wrote:
I don't think nirvana means the end of existence. Just the end of the cycle of suffering and rebirth in this supposedly illusionary world. Sort of your soul being set free from its mortal cage.


It basically means 'blow out', perhaps better translated as 'snuff' as in what you do to a candle.

Of course, there are different traditions, but ultimately they all coalesce around an idea of being 'released' from existence, with other descriptions including ideas such as 'final nirvana' which can only indicate non-existence, and a sort of extinguishing of life force.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nirvana_(Buddhism)

Nirvana (Sanskrit: nirvāṇa; Pali: nibbana, nibbāna) is the goal of the Buddhist path.[1] The literal meaning of the term is "blowing out" or "quenching".[2] Nirvana is the ultimate spiritual goal in Buddhism and marks the soteriological release from rebirths in saṃsāra.[1][3] Nirvana is part of the Third Truth on "cessation of dukkha" in the Four Noble Truths,[1] and the summum bonum destination of the Noble Eightfold Path.[3]

In the Buddhist tradition, nirvana has commonly been interpreted as the extinction of the "three fires",[4] or "three poisons",[5][6][note 1] greed (raga), aversion (dvesha) and ignorance (moha).[6] When these fires are extinguished, release from the cycle of rebirth (saṃsāra) is attained.

Nirvana has also been claimed by some scholars to be identical with anatta (non-self) and sunyata (emptiness) states though this is hotly contested by other scholars and practicing monks.[web 1][7][8][9][10] In time, with the development of the Buddhist doctrine, other interpretations were given, such as the absence of the weaving (vana) of activity of the mind,[11] the elimination of desire, and escape from the woods, cq. the five skandhas or aggregates.

Buddhist scholastic tradition identifies two types of nirvana: sopadhishesa-nirvana (nirvana with a remainder), and parinirvana or anupadhishesa-nirvana (nirvana without remainder, or final nirvana).[12] The founder of Buddhism, the Buddha, is believed to have reached both these states.[12]

Nirvana, or the liberation from cycles of rebirth, is the highest aim of the Theravada tradition. In the Mahayana tradition, the highest goal is Buddhahood, in which there is no abiding in nirvana. Buddha helps liberate beings from saṃsāra by teaching the Buddhist path. There is no rebirth for Buddha or people who attain nirvana. But his teachings remain in the world for a certain time as a guidance to attain nirvana.


I also find the idea of suffering as the core essence of existence to be meaningless for the same reasons, because even if there is suffering, that doesn't mean there's no other experiences, and the cessation of suffering includes the cessation of all other positive experiences. It's just got a death cult feel to it for me, not that I think that's really how Buddhists see it, but then Christians don't see their beliefs as being dark or questionable either.


Animavore wrote:I agree it's likely nonsense. There's no real reason to believe we have a 'soul' to set free and that evidence points towards us being meaty automatons. I think it's also a sort of a disowning of life to believe that our human existence is a kind of hell which stops us from seeing things "as they really are" (whatever that means). I think to claim to be above it all is somewhat arrogant maybe.


This is part of why I think my friends want me to speak to this guy because they struggle to get the kind of responses out of me that they want to hear. When I say that I don't believe that there's any essential quantity - i.e. a soul - that exists independently of the body - like a mind absent a brain - they ask me why I was born into my family, which I then have to explain is a question I can't answer to their satisfaction given that it is predicated on a suite of beliefs I don't and can't share.

Other more minor complaints I have are concerned with the 5 precepts. For example, the first - and usually considered to be the most important - is a prohibition against killing either humans or animals; the problem is that this doesn't result in Buddhists or monks from most traditions being vegetarian because, so the argument goes, the meat they eat comes from an animal they didn't personally kill - that just seems such an obvious cop out to me as the animal was killed so that they could eat it - not by their own hands agreed, but for their consumption.

Hmmm... I am working myself up into argumentative form! :lol:
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Re: Debating a Monk

#14  Postby Mike_L » Feb 05, 2021 9:13 am





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Re: Debating a Monk

#15  Postby Animavore » Feb 05, 2021 2:36 pm

Spearthrower wrote:Other more minor complaints I have are concerned with the 5 precepts. For example, the first - and usually considered to be the most important - is a prohibition against killing either humans or animals; the problem is that this doesn't result in Buddhists or monks from most traditions being vegetarian because, so the argument goes, the meat they eat comes from an animal they didn't personally kill - that just seems such an obvious cop out to me as the animal was killed so that they could eat it - not by their own hands agreed, but for their consumption.


On a book I read by a Shaolin monk he tried to argue that any meat they got would be the result of alms and it's rude to refuse alms. Similar cop out.
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Re: Debating a Monk

#16  Postby Spearthrower » Feb 05, 2021 4:43 pm

Animavore wrote:
Spearthrower wrote:Other more minor complaints I have are concerned with the 5 precepts. For example, the first - and usually considered to be the most important - is a prohibition against killing either humans or animals; the problem is that this doesn't result in Buddhists or monks from most traditions being vegetarian because, so the argument goes, the meat they eat comes from an animal they didn't personally kill - that just seems such an obvious cop out to me as the animal was killed so that they could eat it - not by their own hands agreed, but for their consumption.


On a book I read by a Shaolin monk he tried to argue that any meat they got would be the result of alms and it's rude to refuse alms. Similar cop out.


A common point of theological discussion here is whether it would be alright to accept meat based alms if the animal had been killed specifically to be donated as alms. How tangled up is that? :lol:
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Re: Debating a Monk

#17  Postby Spearthrower » Feb 06, 2021 3:47 pm

felltoearth wrote: Paramount is that the question must be clear and well defined, and that the debate sticks to the question at hand.



After a few days of consideration, I think this is basically what it comes down to for me. It's not so much that I assume that the other guy would not stick to the debate at hand but that the debate at hand would necessarily require me to challenge and dismantle too many implicit assumptions which would go beyond any defined scope. There are just too many problematic foundational predicates to have a discussion about other beliefs built on those assumptions.
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Re: Debating a Monk

#18  Postby The_Metatron » Feb 06, 2021 5:13 pm

Spearthrower wrote:
felltoearth wrote: Paramount is that the question must be clear and well defined, and that the debate sticks to the question at hand.



After a few days of consideration, I think this is basically what it comes down to for me. It's not so much that I assume that the other guy would not stick to the debate at hand but that the debate at hand would necessarily require me to challenge and dismantle too many implicit assumptions which would go beyond any defined scope. There are just too many problematic foundational predicates to have a discussion about other beliefs built on those assumptions.

Exactly. Like discussing the color of unicorn nose hair.

The first question would have to be: What is your religion trying to solve? What problem requires your answer?
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Re: Debating a Monk

#19  Postby viocjit » Feb 07, 2021 12:50 pm

Spearthrower , I advise you to know if he's a Theravāda Buddhist or not.
I think he's probably a follower of this division of Buddhism because he lived in Thailand for much of his life but you should verify.

I think you must study texts in the Pāli Canon if you find a translation in English or another language that you know because I suppose you don't know Pali language.

If you make a analysis of these texts similar to the analysis made by Skeptic's Annotated Bible for Bible , Skeptic's Annotated Quran for Qur'an and Skeptic's Annotated Book of Mormons for Books of Mormons. You could show you did seriously studied Theravāda Buddhism.
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Re: Debating a Monk

#20  Postby Spearthrower » Feb 07, 2021 1:29 pm

viocjit wrote:Spearthrower , I advise you to know if he's a Theravāda Buddhist or not.


Well, of course I know! ;)


viocjit wrote:
I think you must study texts in the Pāli Canon if you find a translation in English or another language that you know because I suppose you don't know Pali language.


Of course I've read them.


viocjit wrote:If you make a analysis of these texts similar to the analysis made by Skeptic's Annotated Bible for Bible , Skeptic's Annotated Quran for Qur'an and Skeptic's Annotated Book of Mormons for Books of Mormons. You could show you did seriously studied Theravāda Buddhism.


Why would that be necessary? The books you've listed above took years, maybe even decades to complete - why would it be necessary for me to spend multiple years of my life to 'show I seriously studied' something that's not necessary at all just to have an informal discussion with a monk?
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