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Does Buddhism work? How do we know?

Does Buddhism work?
How do we know?

Is Buddhism any different to quack medicine (things like faith healing and homeopathy), where the answers are "I believe it works for me" and "because I experienced it, try it and you'll see" ... ?

Related questions:

Can suffering (and its reduction) be measured in some objective way?
How might a clinical trial of Buddhism be conducted?
Is Buddhism able to be assessed objectively in general?
samdiner
«13

Comments

  • Does Buddhism work to eliminate suffering? Compared to what?

    Individually, Dukkha is subjective to a large extent, I think. Hard to design a test for that, although psychology has some tests that measure happiness and depression in a person.

    Sociologists look at entire cultures and we can see in cultures that are mostly Buddhist people are no better or worse than other people, all things considered. People suffer under famine no matter what religion they have. However, a society is much more than its religion. So maybe we can look at temples.

    Sorry, but even there most monks in a temple are no better or worse than anyone else. They have worries and struggle with their desires and hate their bosses sometimes.

    If Buddhism had a magic solution, the world would be Buddhist by now. See, that whole "caused by selfish desires" thing? People don't want to give up their selfish desires. That's pretty much a given. What they want is for their desires to be met.

    But looked at another way, Buddhism has about as much success on an individual level as measured by observing a person's behavior as any other religion does is producing a compassionate, wise person.


    lobsterKundo
  • To begin with I think we can reason that the fact that Buddhism has existed for 2500 years gives weight of support to it being of value. With that in mind we can at least try to practice some of what the Buddha taught and, if it works, then we can reason that it would be worthwhile expanding our practice. If, then, our practice continues to bring benefit then we can reason that having faith in Buddha's teachings is reasonable and worthy of our commitment. I think it can be as simple as that.
  • Buddhism is a very big thing, under that heading are all sorts of practices and beliefs.

    This is one of the reasons mindfulness based stress reduction was created. It is a simple 8 week course that can be replicated. Makes it easier for scientists to study.

    There are many more study's on "meditation" and it's effects. They are not that hard to find.


  • Works for me! :D
    CinorjercvalueKundo
  • BhikkhuJayasaraBhikkhuJayasara Bhikkhu Veteran
    Oh also, i dont need science to tell me if something works or not. I use my own scientific method of experimenting and seeing what works for me.

    Science cant really quantify "if it works" other then to observe how the actions of people change over time.
  • BhikkhuJayasaraBhikkhuJayasara Bhikkhu Veteran

    Jayantha said:

    just like you know from experience that putting your hand in a fire will burn your hand, you know how the practice has changed you and made your life better through the benefits that come to your mind.

    so does it work? depends on the persons desire, effort, and skillful means.

    At the risk of exhibiting pride and being full of myself, I can see and feel a change in myself. Not always for the better, from a selfish pov. What I mean is that seeing the suffering of others now affects me more deeply than it did before when I was a cold hard bastard. OK, so now I'm a chilly firm bastard. :o So, I'd say it works.
    The practice seems to help you then. :-)

    Kind of funny, the practice has done the opposite for me.. It has made me "colder" with regards the suffering of all beings, simply because ive come to realize that this is just how life is and all beings are stuck in it.

    I dont have the "bleeding heart" anymore nor do i have a desire to change/save the world, which imo is good because it was based out of emotions and ignorance. Instead i have much more acceptance and simple compassion for the predicament of all beings. So I work on changing myself to make life better for both myself and others.
    Jainarayan
  • I hope I find a balance between the sadness for others and being a CHB. It's true that it's based in emotions and ignorance... ignorance of the truth of life, that it is all anicca and dukkha. I think it will settle in as time goes on and I practice longer. It's a journey, isn't it? :)
  • BhikkhuJayasaraBhikkhuJayasara Bhikkhu Veteran
    Until we awaken we all have plenty of ignorance to carry around on our backs like a heavy backpack. The journey, as you say, is the slow chipping away of that huge mountain of ignorance. We'll all get there eventually :-)

    The most important thing, as ever, is to keep going with the practice. Thats the only way to find out for yourself how far it can take you.
    MaryAnnecvalueEvenThird
  • Buddhism works for me too, so far so good, I find peace, my life has a purpose now.
    MaryAnneHamsaka
  • Buddhism has certainly worked for me in a big way these past three years of my life.

    Am I "enlightened"? No. But I certainly feel I have taken an important step in the right direction. That's the only thing that really matters.

    The Buddha didn't stop practicing the day he became enlightened. The Buddhadharma is a path to be walked upon--it is an activity, not a destination.
  • riverflow said:

    Buddhism has certainly worked for me in a big way these past three years of my life.

    Am I "enlightened"? No. But I certainly feel I have taken an important step in the right direction. That's the only thing that really matters.

    The Buddha didn't stop practicing the day he became enlightened. The Buddhadharma is a path to be walked upon--it is an activity, not a destination.

    Reminds me of a quote I heard along the lines of...

    'Forget enlightenment, just make sure you are facing the right direction'.
    riverflowlobsteranataman
  • JasonJason God Emperor Arrakis Moderator
    edited December 2013
    Unfortunately, there's not much in the way of empirical proof that Buddhism does what it sets out to do (besides some suggestive brain scans and the like). The results are difficult if not impossible to prove objectively. How can one objectively prove that another person's subjective experience of suffering has been lessened or even eliminated because of their practice? There are pragmatic proofs that one can test, however (e.g., observing the precepts, practicing meditation, developing insight, etc.). It's up to you whether you're willing to give them a shot.
    riverflowcvalue
  • seeker242 said:

    Daozen said:

    Does Buddhism work?
    How do we know?

    By practicing it!

    :thumbsup: Kalama Sutta. 'Nuff said.
  • GuiGui Veteran
    Does it really matter?
    MaryAnneChaz
  • TheswingisyellowTheswingisyellow Trying to be open to existence Samsara Veteran
    edited December 2013
    In a recent "pole" it was found 87.6324% of it's inhabitants found BUDDHISM both practical and "refreshing"
    From a very practical perspective it can be argued that what one promotes, what one builds up in life, tends to become reinforced, becomes stronger, maybe even habitual in one's life? So if one undertakes a practice that promotes joy, loving-kindness, equanimity, mindfulness and compassion, this overtime intertwines with one's character and outlook, and as with all actions bears a result. Does that "work"? Come from a different angle, promote and reinforce a Machiavellian nihilism in your life. What will those kind of actions work to bring about? All one's action will bear a result, what result does one want? What result "works"?
  • TheswingisyellowTheswingisyellow Trying to be open to existence Samsara Veteran
    There is no one "truth" out there to discover.
    riverflowpoptart
  • matthewmartinmatthewmartin Amateur Bodhisattva Suburbs of Mt Meru Veteran
    There is some research-- Buddhism is a big, heterogeneous thing. This feels a bit like the secular vs religious Buddhism thread. It might be more productive to narrowly pick out which practices you are interested in & see if there is any research to support them, e.g. mindfulness practice, zazen, etc.

    ref:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Research_on_meditation

    Also, some of the results of Buddhism work if they work for you. So some of the literature about the 'quantified self' might be relevant... that's where you take meticulous records of what you do and see if there is a correlation with outcomes you are interested in. Lots of pitfalls, but science is still better than making up your own conclusions according to whatever is pleasant to believe.
    Jeffrey
  • Daozen said:

    Does Buddhism work?
    How do we know?

    Science can do its thing . . .

    Each of us can practice our thing. From our experience what do we find?

    I know my formal practice works.
    I know following the practices of the eightfold path, works.
    I know this not because of what science says, or what you say, or what is written or what the Cookie Monster believes.

    I know experientially.
    I know from experience as has been said:

    Buddhism works for me

    Your experience?

    The Oracle: You know why Morpheus brought you to see me?
    Neo: I think so.
    The Oracle: So, what do you think? Do you think you're The One?
    Neo: I don't know.
    The Oracle: You know what that means? It's Latin. Means 'Know thyself'. I'm going to let you in on a little secret. Being The One is just like being in love. No one can tell you you're in love, you just know it. Through and through. Balls to bones.

    The Matrix
    TheswingisyellowEvenThirdpegembara
  • swaydamswaydam Veteran
    edited December 2013
    vinlyn said:


    Second, once again, why try to mix science and religion? It's about as practical as mixing religion and government. Render unto...

    So its impractical for science to see what happens to the brain during meditation or prayer?
    And should not a person who practices a spiritual path try and apply the values to all aspects of their life? (Eg. compassion, mindfulness).
    Not to mention also that a person exploring various paths would do well to apply critical thinking (a key ingredient in science) to determine which paths may lead somewhere, and which lead nowhere or to somewhere negative.
    vinlyn said:


    As a person with 2 degrees in the sciences, I vote "no" to the OP.

    Which sciences?
  • vinlynvinlyn Colorado...for now Veteran
    The geosciences, with an emphasis in invertebrate paleontology.

    Think about what science does. It takes some concept and questions whether or not there is a dependable outcome. For example, when is a new drug suitable for sale? When science says it solves or significantly improves a health condition without causing significant side effects for very many people.

    I don't care what happens to the brain during prayer. The question is: does prayer do what it's supposed to do. The scientific answer appears to be no. Most things that most people pray about, do not happen. Does prayer have some other positive effect? Perhaps. Let's say it lowers blood pressure. Okay, fine. But that is not why the majority of the people who pray, pray.

    There's nothing wrong with using the scientific method in your everyday life, but that is not the same as real science where similar outcomes should occur in the vast majority of cases (reliability) to be scientifically valid.

    And I would add one other caution. Do we really want to put Buddhism up to the scientific test? Because keep in mind how ofter science shows us something different than we expect to find...the majority of the time.
  • Your mind can tell when it uncovers a truth. It feels good for a few seconds before thinking mind comes again.
  • ZeroZero Veteran
    edited December 2013
    Daozen said:


    Does Buddhism work?
    How do we know?

    Is Buddhism any different to quack medicine (things like faith healing and homeopathy), where the answers are "I believe it works for me" and "because I experienced it, try it and you'll see" ... ?

    Related questions:

    Can suffering (and its reduction) be measured in some objective way?
    How might a clinical trial of Buddhism be conducted?
    Is Buddhism able to be assessed objectively in general?

    The premise of an objective standard here feels akin to a reliable foundation, however an objective standard focuses on a fictional test viewpoint to an agreed shared standard - thus I think outside of co-operative scenarios the subjective standard is more reliable (?) / natural - I don't know, just that it doesnt seem so much akin to being 'duped by a quack'.
    Given the personal nature of the journey, I suppose that the subjective standard carries at least as much merit as its more-reliable-sounding cousin.
  • JeffreyJeffrey Veteran
    edited December 2013
    Anything measurable is thereby conditioned. Being conditioned it is impermanence, non-self and dukkha when grasped.

    Thus the dharma to enlightenment can never be found by an objective analysis. That is because Nirvana is not objective or conditional. Buddha said that the range of a arhat during meditation is an imponderable. Thus a Buddha and an arhat are beyond the measurable.
  • DaozenDaozen Veteran
    edited December 2013
    Firstly, thanks all for your (more or less) thoughtful responses.

    To summarise the "results" so far, most comments seem to be along the lines of:

    1. Hey, it works for me
    Unfortunately, as I stated in the OP, this kind of response is far from satisfactory if we are trying to investigate (as I am) whether Buddhism has a demonstrable effect. It's not that I am saying these responses are 'wrong', but that anecdote doesn't equate to the kind of evidence I'm looking for. These kind of responses are also typical of believers of all kinds of demonstrably bogus theories, faith healing, homeopathy etc etc.

    2. Science doesn't apply here
    This I find strange. After all, Buddha presented his teaching not as a religion (although obviously it has taken on that status over time) but as a practice - a practice centred on meditation. And he claimed some pretty spectacular results - enlightenment, whatever that is :) I guess my OP could/should have been "does meditation work?" and "if so, how?" and also "what kind of meditation, done how/when/how often?" etc etc.

    3. Science could apply here, but it' tricky, and the results are inconclusive
    Now I think this might be getting closer to the murky truth. Digging further into this link uncovered a very helpful piece of research, where decades of meditation research was analysed. The conclusion:

    "Scientific research on meditation practices does not appear to have a common theoretical perspective and is characterized by poor methodological quality. Firm conclusions on the effects of meditation practices in healthcare cannot be drawn based on the available evidence."

    This was also interesting (from the Wiki link): "Of more than 3,000 scientific studies that were found in a comprehensive search of 17 relevant databases, only about 4% had randomised controlled trials (RCTs), which are designed to exclude the placebo effect. Reviews of these RCTs consistently find that meditation without a focus on developing "mental silence", an aspect often excluded from techniques used in Western society, does not give better results than simply relaxing, listening to music or taking a short nap."

    Right, i'm off for a short nap then :)
    vinlynlobster
  • vinlynvinlyn Colorado...for now Veteran
    Jeffrey said:

    Your mind can tell when it uncovers a truth. It feels good for a few seconds before thinking mind comes again.

    So slavery was "right". A whole society felt they had that "truth".
    So the KKK was "right". Tens of thousands felt they had that "truth".

    Funny how many "truths" people find that aren't true at all.

  • JasonJason God Emperor Arrakis Moderator
    Daozen said:

    1. Hey, it works for me
    Unfortunately, as I stated in the OP, this kind of response is far from satisfactory if we are trying to investigate (as I am) whether Buddhism has a demonstrable effect. It's not that I am saying these responses are 'wrong', but that anecdote doesn't equate to the kind of evidence I'm looking for. These kind of responses are also typical of believers of all kinds of demonstrably bogus theories, faith healing, homeopathy etc etc.

    Then it looks like you're going to be unsatisfied with both Buddhism and our responses for the foreseeable future because, besides some suggestive but vague and inconclusive studies, that's probably the best your going to get.
    MaryAnneDaozenChazlobster
  • TheswingisyellowTheswingisyellow Trying to be open to existence Samsara Veteran
    As a curious side note; when the majority of the world believed the world was flat was not this belief then true? If a majority of people believe in a certain thing and predicate their lives on it does it not make it true? If one's believes something whole heartedly is that not one's reality?
    vinlyn
  • As a curious side note; when the majority of the world believed the world was flat was not this belief then true?

    No it wasn't, because belief doesn't amount to truth. Think about it: people believe all kinds of contradictory things that can't ALL be true.

  • Daozen said:

    Does Buddhism work?
    How do we know?

    Is Buddhism any different to quack medicine (things like faith healing and homeopathy), where the answers are "I believe it works for me" and "because I experienced it, try it and you'll see" ... ?

    Well, kinda, yeah. But personally, if some alternative medicine treatment works for me, I don't care if it's been proven or tested or measured, or whatever. I'm just happy that I feel a lot better. And if I recommend it to others, and they come back thanking me and are relieved of their symptoms (i.e. suffering), who cares about the rest of it?


    But let me ask you this: how do you define "working" in the context of Buddhism? What's your criterion, your yardstick? Are we talking about: people begin to feel more calm, less prone to agitation? Or are we talking: full-blown Enlightenment? Are you asking if there is such a thing as Enlightenment or Nirvana? Or are you just asking if practicing Buddhism will help resolve stresses and neurotic tendencies?

    MaryAnne
  • TheswingisyellowTheswingisyellow Trying to be open to existence Samsara Veteran
    Daozen said:

    As a curious side note; when the majority of the world believed the world was flat was not this belief then true?

    No it wasn't, because belief doesn't amount to truth. Think about it: people believe all kinds of contradictory things that can't ALL be true.

    What is truth?
    riverflow
  • Daozen said:

    Firstly, thanks all for your (more or less) thoughtful responses.

    Are you enlightened?
    an aspect often excluded from techniques used in Western society, does not give better results than simply relaxing, listening to music or taking a short nap
    'Science' finds its level?

    Good luck 'science' with sleeping your way to awakening . . . which is not your remit, method or capacity.
    :vimp:
    Theswingisyellow
  • JeffreyJeffrey Veteran
    edited December 2013
    @vinlyn, that is a good point. The thing is that Buddhism relies on the mind's ability to recognize truth. Otherwise there is no kalama sutra say for example.

    But that's a good point that often people are wrong about the truth. I think the reason is that delusion can cover that truth.

    So it is like a precious jewel covered by mud and feces. Om Mani Peme Hum means the jewel (of the mind) is in the lotus (a flower going into the muck).
  • DakiniDakini Veteran
    edited December 2013
    Does psychotherapy work? How do we know? It only works if the patient is dedicated and makes an effort to follow the therapist's recommendations. Kinda like Buddhism. But there are those who call it quackery.
  • NevermindNevermind Bitter & Hateful Veteran
    Daozen said:

    Does Buddhism work?
    How do we know?

    Is Buddhism any different to quack medicine (things like faith healing and homeopathy), where the answers are "I believe it works for me" and "because I experienced it, try it and you'll see" ... ?

    Related questions:

    Can suffering (and its reduction) be measured in some objective way?
    How might a clinical trial of Buddhism be conducted?
    Is Buddhism able to be assessed objectively in general?

    Yes, it works. It works just as well as any other religion. The only essential thing a religion needs to work is offer meaning. That's all, and that's not all that hard to do.
  • vinlynvinlyn Colorado...for now Veteran
    Nevermind said:


    Yes, it works. It works just as well as any other religion. The only essential thing a religion needs to work is offer meaning. That's all, and that's not all that hard to do.

    Fair.

  • NevermindNevermind Bitter & Hateful Veteran
    cvalue said:

    Buddhism works for me too, so far so good, I find peace, my life has a purpose now.

    ;)
  • NevermindNevermind Bitter & Hateful Veteran
    riverflow said:

    I have taken an important step in the right direction. That's the only thing that really matters.

    ;)
  • NevermindNevermind Bitter & Hateful Veteran
    Gui said:

    Does it really matter?

    Yes, we need meaning and if a religion fails to provide that it won't work.
  • NevermindNevermind Bitter & Hateful Veteran
    Come from a different angle, promote and reinforce a Machiavellian nihilism in your life. What will those kind of actions work to bring about?
    Meaninglessness. ;)
    Theswingisyellow
  • NevermindNevermind Bitter & Hateful Veteran
    Jeffrey said:

    Thus the dharma to enlightenment can never be found by an objective analysis. That is because Nirvana is not objective or conditional.

    Indeed, it is only meaningful. That's all it needs to be, to work.
  • NevermindNevermind Bitter & Hateful Veteran

    As a curious side note; when the majority of the world believed the world was flat was not this belief then true? If a majority of people believe in a certain thing and predicate their lives on it does it not make it true? If one's believes something whole heartedly is that not one's reality?

    Indeed, a religion doesn't need to be true to work. It only needs to be meaningful.
  • NevermindNevermind Bitter & Hateful Veteran
    Daozen said:

    As a curious side note; when the majority of the world believed the world was flat was not this belief then true?

    No it wasn't, because belief doesn't amount to truth. Think about it: people believe all kinds of contradictory things that can't ALL be true.
    So how can they still work, you might ask. They all work because they only need to be meaningful. They don't need to be true.
    lobster
  • Nevermind said:

    The only essential thing a religion needs to work is offer meaning. That's all, and that's not all that hard to do.

    Yes meaning is definitely important ... although you don't need religion at all to have meaning. You can have a set of secular values that give meaning to your life.

    http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2013/08/meaning-is-healthier-than-happiness/278250/
    vinlyn
  • Daozen said:

    Think about it: people believe all kinds of contradictory things that can't ALL be true.

    . . . it does not bear thinking about . . . unless you require an answer.
    A couple of tales from Sufi comedian, the imponderable Nasrudin . . .
    The king’s three scholars had accused Nazrudin of heresy, and so he was brought into the king’s court for trial.
    In his defense, Nazrudin asked the scholars, “Oh wise men, what is bread?”
    The first scholar said, “Bread is sustenance; a food.”
    The second scholar said, “Bread is a combination of flour and water exposed to the heat of a fire.”
    The third scholar said, “Bread is a gift from God.”
    Nazrudin spoke to the king, “Your Majesty, how can you trust these men? Is it not strange they cannot agree on the nature of something they eat every day, yet are unanimous that I am a heretic?”
    A judge in a village court had gone on vacation. Nasrudin was asked to be temporary judge for a day. Nasrudin sat on the Judge's chair with a serious face, gazing around the public and ordered the first case be brought-up for hearing.
    "You are right," said Nasrudin after hearing one side.
    "You are right," he said after hearing the other side.
    "But both cannot be right," said a member of public sitting in the audience.
    "You are right, too" said Nasrudin.
    . . . finally a quote from Picasso
    Computers are useless. They can only give you answers.


    :wave:
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