September 08, 2009

"The Most Important Insight of the Buddha"

I read the following quote this weekend:

"The single most important or most basic insight of the historical Buddha is the claim that who we are and what we think exists is a function of our mind and its cognitive powers. In other words, it is our mind and our uses of it that determine how we see and understand our self, the world, and other things." - Stephen J. Laumakis, An Introduction to Buddhist Philosophy

This is from a textbook describing Buddhism in relation to competing schools of thought in ancient India, and I suppose I don't really disagree, but something about it rubbed me the wrong way. I guess it's because it's taking Buddhism purely as a philosophy and missing out on the experiential part of practice.

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Philip Ryan's picture

Andrew Olendzki, the executive director of the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies in Massachusetts, wrote in the Summer 2005 Tricycle that the core insight of the Buddhist tradition (so not the Buddha per se) is "the relentless emptiness of phenomena."

Joe's picture

The qoute describes a kind of "functionalim". The Buddha taught "conditionality". Also he taught that all answers to the question of "who we are" are unhelpful to liberation. As usual a modern western philosopher projects back onto the Buddha what they think is "important" about his teaching.

Bill's picture

Subjective reality is a function of all our previous experiences, our present moment, and our expectations. When those are no longer factors, we are enlightened, seeing what is.

The writer's observation, "...who we are and what we think exists is a function of our mind and its cognitive powers..." was simply another way of saying it.

Philip Ryan's picture

Hi chuck -- Indeed. But does the primary insight of the Buddha change as the focus of the book varies?

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chuck's picture

Book titled "An Intro to Buddhist Philosophy" that sounds like philosophy? Crank up those "cognitive powers" - mindfulness, attention, whatever you call them...

grace's picture

don't get caught up in the "activity" itself and forget about the ultimate goal. Experiential practices are important as they help deepen and purify our mind. At the end, it is the quality of the mind that dedicates our happiness