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Is there room for the supernatural in western Buddhism?

KeromeKerome Love, love is mysteryThe Continent Veteran
edited April 26 in Buddhism Today

From this article in Buddha Weekly:

https://buddhaweekly.com/is-there-room-for-the-supernatural-in-western-buddhism-four-sutra-views-of-magic-and-metaphysical-and-why-a-supernatural-perspective-helps-see-beyond-ordinary-perception/

I think it’s a really tricky question. There are different streams in western Buddhism, from organisations like Rigpa and Shambhala to Thich Nhat Hanh’s mindfulness-centred Buddhism to the secular Buddhism of Stephen Batchelor. I think a lot of western Buddhists with a background in the New Age will at least be comfortable with the dualism of having a material world and a spiritual world. So a lot of those who would naturally be attracted to Buddhism would be ok with some supernatural elements.

On the other hand, the scientific mindset seems to be quite common in the much bigger group leaving the Christian denominations, and I reckon that if they felt that Christianity had too much woo, then the supernatural elements of Buddhism would probably also be too much to take. These people might get on board with a secular Buddhism but would be likely to poo-poo anything involving flying arahants.

What’s your opinion about the supernatural in Buddhism?

Comments

  • federicafederica Seeker of the clear blue sky... Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator

    I have to say, so far, I have been a Roman Catholic, and a Buddhist. One of the reasons I was finally content to leave Catholicism, was to abandon matter that took me outside my comfort zone with regard to suspending belief, and putting Faith into the alleged.

    Buddhism to me was out there, evident, plain and simple. t didn't ask you to believe anything, without questioning, examining and discovering the facts of the matter for yourself.
    That was very appealing. Very WYSIWYG.

    As I respond, I have not yet had a chance to read the article, So I may have got the wrong end of the stick. I will give it a go. But those are my thoughts so far....

    adamcrossleyBunks
  • Lee82Lee82 Veteran
    edited April 26

    Thanks for the link @kerome, an interesting read.

    From a pre-Buddhist position of believing there is only what I can see and feel, and a dismissal of anything other-worldly, I am now open to the possibility of there being more than meets the eye. A non-physical world, why not? An afterlife and reincarnation, why not? Karma spanning lifetimes, why not? I don’t need to believe it to be real but I also have no good reason to discount it.

    Buddhism has taught me to be open-minded and is accepting of my views regardless of what they are. I take comfort in being able to sit on the fence and not being told that I should or should not believe something.

    I’ve signed up to their newsletter having been unaware of that site previously.

    adamcrossleyBunksSuraShine
  • FosdickFosdick in its eye are mirrored far off mountains Alaska, USA Veteran

    @Lee82

    I am now open to the possibility of there being more than meets the eye.>

    Not just a possibility - it is logically compelled, and - to me - beyond question. Our senses are very limited. We live in the little bubble of our senses - but what is outside those senses?

    We don't know. Not knowing bothers us, so we make stuff up. There's something out there all right, but I have become convinced that none of the myriad speculative inventions of the human mind are in accord with the reality of it.

    I haven't read the article yet either, but I gleefully look forward to doing so and, hopefully, taking issue with it.

    BunksShoshinFoibleFull
  • JeffreyJeffrey Veteran

    I don't think western Buddhism is a single organization so yes and no.

  • ShoshinShoshin No one in particular Nowhere Special Veteran

    Buddhist practice can embrace a magical or non-magical world. It is equally valid to practice Buddhism as atheists, devotional worshipers — and all permutations in between. This is why Buddhists say “not two” instead of “this, or that.”

    This makes senses...

    When I sit the natural becomes super natural going beyond the scope of the mundane...

    There's magic in this here mind...

    "The most essential method which includes all other methods, is to behold the Mind...the Mind is the root from which all things grow...If one can understand the Mind...Everything else is included"
    ~Bodhidharma~

    federica
  • SuraShineSuraShine South Australia Explorer

    Of course there's room - IF people want to make room for it.

    I doubt a lot of Western Buddhists will because (big generalisation here) we in the West like to think we know better than the rest of the world so by default we always make things better...... (/end sarcasm font)

    Bunks
  • lobsterlobster Veteran

    What’s your opinion about the supernatural in Buddhism?

    The Super Natural state is the goal. Things hidden to the covid-19 herd mentality, phone zombie majority and bored again no fun fundamentalists, influencers and sheep. :p

    Join the Natural State. One World. A natural one. Super natural.

    meanwhile ...

    The hidden, mysterious, occulty, spooky super powers that come from right concentration and meditation are notorious ... For example it is no coincidence that coincides with our karma when we go Buddha. I find it is just every day life in the Purée Lands ... o:)

    BunksFosdick
  • KeromeKerome Love, love is mystery The Continent Veteran
    edited April 27

    @lobster said:
    I find it is just every day life in the Purée Lands ... o:)

    [imagines edible lands made of mashed potato]

    lobster
  • federicafederica Seeker of the clear blue sky... Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator

    @Kerome said:

    @lobster said:
    I find it is just every day life in the Purée Lands ... o:)

    [imagines edible lands made of mashed potato]

    Hey, if we have a Flying Spaghetti Monster, everything is possible...

    lobster
  • federicafederica Seeker of the clear blue sky... Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator

    Ok, started reading the article, came upon the '4 Views' and am basically very much a "1 and 3" person.

    Although I do have a saying I'm happy to refer to now and then: "A little Respect, a little Reverence, for the things we cannot see."

    Yup. 1 & 3, with a degree of accepting open-mindedness.

  • KeromeKerome Love, love is mystery The Continent Veteran

    This is the bit of the article that @federica is referring to...

    View 1: The supernatural or metaphysical is unimportant: Buddha made it quite clear that all attachments (including to deities and “magic”, if you believe in them) are nothing more than the cycle of Samsara, another attachment to be remedied. In Cula-Malunkyovada Sutta, he refused to answer questions of a Metaphysical nature. Why? Because they are “not important” to the path to Enlightenment.
    View 2: The complete opposite, that deities, magic and the metaphysical are subjectively real: For those who embrace the wonder of the labelled, including supernatural labels, this is just another relative aspect of what we perceive to be a reality. In the Mahayana sutra, there is room for the supernatural —and all things — but, at an ultimate level, all phenomenon are not as they appear to us — and all is Emptiness (Shunyata) or Oneness. (Mahayana Buddhist view)
    View 3: The supernatural and magical aspects are symbolic or metaphorical: Buddha would have spoken in terms commonly used in his day. It’s easier to say “Brahma” — as he did explicitly in Brahmajala Sutta — than to say “creative force.” It is easier to visualize a deity with 1000 arms than to say “compassionate force.”
    View 4: That all phenomena are ultimately non-dual — or as is often said, “not two” — perceptual, rather than tangibly “real,” and from this view, all are “aspects” of a One-ness. In this Mahayana view, not only are the “gods” and supernatural beings ultimately not real, the “you” and the “I” are not ultimately real, either; we are nothing more than ego and labels and incorrect perception. Or, the flip side — both are real in relative, dualistic terms, if you perceive them to be real. For example, one of the goals of Vajrayana deity practice is to help us see through dualistic appearances. One method: we visualize our “selves” as deities to help us understand both Emptiness — Shunyata or Oneness — and the doctrine of overcoming “ordinary appearances” of duality.

    I’m mostly a 1 person, although I sometimes get sucked into thinking there is some truth in the ideas of metaphysics and entities by persuasive experiences in meditation. But in my recent reading through new age spirituality I have come across some people who are very negative about casually associating with such beliefs, and also some people who view it as a great plus. Neither seemed very trustworthy.

  • lobsterlobster Veteran

    Yes I wouldn't trust me either @Kerome :)
    After all I favour all four interpretations plus a few others ...
    Different methods for various situations ...

    I am very wary of super powers because as Bodhi Spiderman learns, 'with great power comes great responsibility'. It would be true to say there is a karmic link between the capacity to serve and spooky stuff ...

    Some through concentration develop abilities without the maturity and are misled into thinking they are SuperBhodi.

  • KeromeKerome Love, love is mystery The Continent Veteran

    For me, whether or not to believe in the supernatural has to do with wanting my beliefs to be truthful. I’d like to be able to rely on my beliefs, that when I have accepted something as true that it actually is so. Which means that I admire scientific standards of testing for truth.

    WalkerlobsterBunks
  • Lee82Lee82 Veteran

    @Kerome said:
    For me, whether or not to believe in the supernatural has to do with wanting my beliefs to be truthful. I’d like to be able to rely on my beliefs, that when I have accepted something as true that it actually is so. Which means that I admire scientific standards of testing for truth.

    It's funny that I was 100% behind the scientific view of the world until I got into Buddhism, and now my belief in the truth of Buddhism is strong enough for me to be accepting of things that science cannot (yet) prove. I think Buddhism is compatible with the scientific view in many respects, more so than other religions, and you can cherry-pick your own Buddhist beliefs because you're implored to only accept what you can prove yourself to be true.

    ShoshinSuraShinelobster
  • ShoshinShoshin No one in particular Nowhere Special Veteran

    What’s your opinion about the supernatural in Buddhism?

    This too shall pass....

    "Everything evolves will come to mean nothing is true"
    ~ Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche~

  • BunksBunks Australia Veteran
    edited April 29

    @Kerome said:
    For me, whether or not to believe in the supernatural has to do with wanting my beliefs to be truthful. I’d like to be able to rely on my beliefs, that when I have accepted something as true that it actually is so. Which means that I admire scientific standards of testing for truth.

    Unfortunately we can't always rely on science.

    The only beliefs we can rely on are through personal experience.

    SuraShineShoshinKerome
  • ShoshinShoshin No one in particular Nowhere Special Veteran

    Very true @Bunks ...
    Lest we forget..."Ehipassiko"

    Bunks
  • KeromeKerome Love, love is mystery The Continent Veteran

    @Bunks said:

    @Kerome said:
    For me, whether or not to believe in the supernatural has to do with wanting my beliefs to be truthful. I’d like to be able to rely on my beliefs, that when I have accepted something as true that it actually is so. Which means that I admire scientific standards of testing for truth.

    Unfortunately we can't always rely on science.

    The only beliefs we can rely on are through personal experience.

    However science does show us certain patterns in how the natural world works, in processes small and large. Where in the past there was a role for deities, now there is a lot less need for such entities to explain the world. We can extend this knowledge, use these patterns of nature to clarify what is old and superstitious, and what is most likely valid.

    ShoshinBunksRen_in_blacklobster
  • lobsterlobster Veteran

    Science is beyond fable, poetry, fervour and quantum mechanicals.
    I am not (Strange but true)

    ... science is a seance of deadening ideas or an unravelling deepening of the Search for Truth.

    In Truth we find meditation transcends convenient conventions. Truth is a working theory.
    https://www.lionsroar.com/buddhism-science-teachings-reports-commentaries-and-conversations/

    Frogpond
  • Rob_VRob_V North Carolina Explorer

    Buddhism is, at it's core, an experiential religion. Belief is unimportant, experience is everything.

    When you see a flying Arahat with your own optical orbs, then you'll know.

    ShoshinWalkerBunks
  • ShoshinShoshin No one in particular Nowhere Special Veteran

    When you see a flying Arahat with your own optical orbs, then you'll know.

    Hmm...A case of..."But I be done seen about everything when I see an Arahat fly"...

    lobsterRob_VWalkerBunks
  • ShoshinShoshin No one in particular Nowhere Special Veteran

    On a more serious note (not that I haven't been serious all along)...

    If a practitioner has had an extraordinary experience an experience one can't really put into words, for example many here have had meditation experiences that are so profound that it's hard to put into words, word don't do it justice/credit, they can not begin to capture the experience.. Could this be seen as a super natural experience ?

    But along the same lines, if this person can only say that they have experienced something magical/mystical, but lack any proof, this could also be seem as the mind playing tricks on itself... after all...it is a great trickster/optical illusionist

    lobsterWalkerhow
  • lobsterlobster Veteran

    Could this be seen as a super natural experience?

    This is where it gets tricky ...
    The internal starts to effect the external. Intense concentration will manifest but without compassion and wisdom it can beguile. Hence samadhi is prone to yogi monk key madness.

    Truth or genuine insight has no absence, change or arriving and leaving. It is the presence of the empty see through mirror.

    how
  • KeromeKerome Love, love is mystery The Continent Veteran

    @Shoshin said:
    If a practitioner has had an extraordinary experience an experience one can't really put into words, for example many here have had meditation experiences that are so profound that it's hard to put into words, word don't do it justice/credit, they can not begin to capture the experience.. Could this be seen as a super natural experience ?

    But along the same lines, if this person can only say that they have experienced something magical/mystical, but lack any proof, this could also be seem as the mind playing tricks on itself... after all...it is a great trickster/optical illusionist

    In a way that is what enlightenment is, a great experience beyond the ordinary which happens in the mind. The question is, did it transform you and did it last? If it didn’t last then it was just in the manner of coming and going, and those experiences especially in meditation seem to happen with some frequency.

    It also depends on the character of the person who was meditating. If they were calm and not given to flights of fancy then it is more likely that they will be taken seriously when they say something out of the ordinary happened.

    lobsterShoshin
  • paulysopaulyso usa Veteran

    one affects another.in the thera strain,jhana is combination of right effort, right mindfulness,right concentration,will produce extraodinary feelings.for a lack of a better word,super high in brain modality or function.jhana experience can be supernatural.buddha suggest equimity in the jhana.meditation,which flowers gnosis,is only one of three aspect.the gnosis is put to use to develop virtue and wisdom.

    in mahyana strain,such as dao zen,is to be with or normalization of the super mundain or supernatural.to see clearly,and know the extraodinary in the ordinary.there are buddhas or awaken to auspicious thing called life .personally it gives me hope to appreciate our body is the vehicle or vessel of awakening.namaste.;)

    Shoshinlobster
  • FoibleFullFoibleFull Canada Veteran
    edited May 3

    The Lama/Geshe who teaches us, told us that supernatural experiences and ecstasy are both a common by-produce of meditation. But that we should ignore them, as they do not lead us to enlightenment and in fact we can become very attached to them and veer off from the path that leads to enlightenment.

    Personally, I have seen, and even succumbed to, the temptation to see things things as part of our ego's "how am I doing so far" focus, a self-measuring and reassurrance that we ARE getting somewhere ... and Buddhism urges us to step outside of this kind of self-focus.

    Also, Buddhism encourages us to remain open-minded and not start making assumptions or deciding on interpretations. As Pema Chodron said "“Holding onto any truth blocks true wisdom. The truth could knock on our door and we would not see it because of our fixed ideas. “

    ShoshinlobsterFosdick
  • lobsterlobster Veteran

    Well said @FoibleFull <3

    I too am guilty of meditating for others my gain. Becoming super natural is my plan. So far, so bad ... :o

    For example, The Truth is my Door. Or to put it another way,

    KNOCK KNOCK
    Who is there?
    Me Who?
    Just The Cat ...

    🤗💗🙏🏽

    FoibleFull
  • FosdickFosdick in its eye are mirrored far off mountains Alaska, USA Veteran

    What’s your opinion about the supernatural in Buddhism?>

    As a way to study the mind, well and good.

    As a distraction from the study of the mind, not so good.

    lobster
  • There is room, of course. Because it is there. Personally I'm a "3", with a "1" attitude towards the beliefs of others. They may believe in it if they want to, but it is not important to the path.

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