Fabrications or truth (through belief)?

Ever since embarking on the spiritual scene many years ago, I have always come up against the dead end of interpretation. Any text or teaching that goes back to some dead teacher of several thousand years meets the same end. In some regards, this sometimes seems worse by the incredible variety of Buddhist interpretations.

However, throughout the years, a more fundamental problem to interpretation seems to be at play. I will put this in the framework of practice though it can be even more far ranging. Namely, whatever practice I adopt seems doomed to be led by my prior beliefs into where I am heading. As Ven Sujato has mentioned, if I am a Christian I will see Christ in my meditations…and the same will apply to whatever deity or orientation I might harbor as a fundamental reference. So Abhidhammists will see ‘mind moments’ as Ven Sujato also concludes.

In other words, whatever we cherish in our minds we will somehow (re)create as an outcome. I somehow came to think that the deep jhanas as described and experienced by someone like Ajahn Brahm would be the exception. I mean, how can your mind create a state where all your senses shut down. How can the mind fabricate what some would also throw into the realm of placebo with such physical repercussions? Or can’t it?

If the mind can literally create anything, why couldn’t it also create realms of jhana that are so deep as (at least seem) to be cut off from the senses? But this is only one example of the discussion I wish to begin. We could take any other form of practice. The noting practice of the Western vipassana style (inspired by Ledi and Mahasi Sayadaws, etc.) wishes to lead to a state of “non reactivity” for example. And so it does, many practitioners will tell you. Same problem. Because the mind is led by its belief in attaining a certain mind state, it creates it; leaving the adept convinced that this is the objective truth that the practice has engendered. Or is there just brainwashing happening at a subtle level that the practitioner can’t discern?

So what? Mind is the forerunner of all things, so said the Buddha. That is what started me on the Buddha’s path to begin with. And though he hasn’t failed in many domains to expound this, wasn’t he also victim of the same problem? After all, he was also motivated by belief. That there must be a way out of suffering. That there must be a way of escaping the cycle of rebirth and attain the deathless.

A lot of questions to consider, I know. But the basic question remains: can a practice really be objective in its results? Or, put in another way, can there really be an objective truth out there that is independent of where we are coming from?


If we don’t hold on to anything we encounter, which according to my understanding is how we should practice, there should be no problem. As long as “we see” Jesus, or “we have” jhanas etc., we’re obviously not on the other shore yet. So we keep at it. And then when the “we” finally dissapears for good, the “where we are coming from” should no longer play any role.


When it is jhanas that led ‘me’ to lose ‘me’? Aren’t we still proceeding with an initial belief or hypothesis that, in the making, will create what we want because of where we are headed?

These are some very ultimate kind of questions you’ve asked. I think there are 2 major questions you’ve laid out:

  1. Aren’t all these experiences and mind-states placebo-like? Are they “real”?

  2. What is truly objective?

For 1, I would say this agrees with the Buddha’s teaching, that (almost) everything is saṅkhāra (conditioned). Jhāna is really important because it is a taste or glimpse of nibbāna, has the flavor of nibbāna, but is ultimately conditioned by the mind as you say (like a placebo). These states are impermanent, they have causes and conditions, and that is probably one of the reasons I think that the Buddha left his meditation teachers. Nibbāna, on the other hand, is said to be unconditioned (asaṅkhāta). It is also said to be uncreated, uncaused, unborn.

Taking a step back, is any ordinary experience free from the influence of the mind? I would say jhāna is influenced by the mind, and so is almost anything else. I would add though that faith in the Buddha and his awakening is in part founded on the impression that what he points to in his teaching seems to be some ultimate experience, something beyond (beyond ordinary conditions). However, the ordinary mind is conditioned and thus the gradual path of the Dhamma is about conditioning the mind to ultimately be ripe, in other words to be in the right condition, to be able to see and experience what is beyond all conditions.

As for 2, I would say that in Buddhism the arahant is the only one able to be truly objective. Since objectivity is logically contrasted with subjectivity, and subjectivity is dependent on a sense of being a subject (a self, a consciousness); the arahant has has seen self-view for what it really is and has thusly abandoned all self-view. This is true objectivity. (an absence of subjectivity)

(as a quick aside, maybe modern science is actually subjective in the sense that probably most if not all scientists hold onto a sense of subjectivity (selfness), any instrument used is an extension of the senses which are an extension of the mind)

anyway, just some thoughts at this stage of my studies.


I share pretty similar thoughts concerning science. Not being an arahant, I guess the same reasoning could apply to the Buddha’s claims. I see your reasoning but I wonder if anyone else has some more novel approach to this problem.

Thanks for all efforts in advance…

i think that if we accept the suttas as a reliable account of the Buddha’s own experience and teaching, then this must lead us to ackowledgement that what he awakened to was at the very least not conditioned by his prior experiences and personal propensities and if so with a high degree of surety can be regarded as objective truth

“‘This is the noble truth of suffering’: thus, bhikkhus, in regard to things unheard before, there arose in me vision, knowledge, wisdom, true knowledge, and light.

and so forth

SN 56.11

Can Buddhist practice be objective? Quite obviously not. It is based on introspection and this is by it’s very definition subjective.

Can Buddhist practice bring objective results? Certainly, it can - and it does.

  • for starters, there are scientific papers that prove, that long time meditation practitioners have physically different brain (thicker grey matter in some parts).
  • also there were some studies doing fMRI and EEG scans, and they also showed differences from normal brain functioning
  • on a less strict, non scientific level you could probably see differences in behaviour of people who started practising

The final realisation, Nibbana could also have (and I’m quite sure it does have) permanent impact on the structure and connections in the brain. My supposition (with no evidence to back it up) is that it either reroutes some paths or completely disconnects some parts of the brain - I think that in principle it should be possible to diagnose it medically.

That’s what can be said objectively. The different possibilities of visions you mentioned… yes, they could possibly be anything, from Jesus, through mind moments up to aliens - but visions are not the point of this practice, they’re quite often stated as hindrances to the practice.

Now to the real meat of your questions: was Buddha in reality also deluded? I don’t think we could ever really answer this satisfactorily. In my opinion, the best we can do is to decide what and how to practice (if at all), and see if it brings useful results (useful from our point of view).

I have my own problems with some parts of Buddhism. The biggest is that it is so backwards when it comes to evolution (from biological standpoint). Just think about it - arahants don’t reproduce, even if they’re not monks, because there is no desire in them anymore - and there is no backup plan in the teachings. The final effect is that it is going to be harder to reach those stages with every generation until it will no longer be possible at all :wink:


Is the question whether you could think you are attaining a release from suffering, but still be suffering just as much? Yes, I think such self-deception is possible. But personally, I have come to have more confidence in my own ability to discern the many and pervasive kinds of suffering I experience, and to work on ending that suffering. And on the basis of experience, it seems to be working. I personally feel like I am suffering less, and people around me seem to think I am suffering less and exhibiting other more positive qualities. So we go with where our experience takes us, but there are no guarantees.

But your connection of questions about the path to questions about “objectivity” raises questions in my mind. All I can offer are some reflections that capture realizations that eventually occurred to me as I practiced and read the suttas, and after which my practice seems to have progressed more rapidly, at least insofar as I am able to tell. But these are just my present opinions.

Suffering is a direct raw experience. Even relatively joyful states turn out, on examination, to be “stained” with some kind of unsatisfactoriness: fear of loss, grief, anxiety, a hint of imperfection, etc. The Buddha could tell from direct experience that there was still suffering involved even in some highly refined experiences. For example, if one manages to attain a state in which all representations of material form - all the sights, sounds, tastes, bodily feelings etc. are gone - but one is left absorbed in and fixated on the consciousness of only an unbounded empty “space”, one will at that point begin to be able to understand that one is still clinging to that space - the base of of the realm of unbounded space - and have anxiety about releasing from that experience. So achieving release from that experience becomes the next step. You can only begin to work with the subtle sufferings involved in subtle levels of experience after you have cleared away the cruder and noisier sufferings in coarser forms of experience. But the point is, whatever you encounter, and however you might be prone to describewhat you have encountered, you look for the suffering or unsatisfactoriness in what you have encountered, and then work on that suffering and seek the means to its cessation.

What kind of objectivity plays a relevant role here? The objectivity of one’s suffering? My understanding is that as people attain deeper levels of absorption, they generally have no doubt that the state they have reached is more peaceful, blissful or sublime than the states that preceded them. Is there something more than this that is required?

I do think there is some kind of leap of faith here. Comparing one’s own evolving spiritual experiences with the experiences described in the suttas and elsewhere can give one confidence that one is on the right path, but only to the extent one also is able to look around and say, “Well, for 2500 years people have been doing this, and a lot of them look pretty joyful about it, and maintain that it ends up in a really good place, and so far it seems to be working out well for me, so I’m going to keep plugging away.”

1 Like

Hi Jacques

Yes it can, what attracted me to the Pali Canon was the precise description of the first and second jhana that I was experiencing meditating in a “Zen” style. That proved me the universality of the teachings, what are the chances of a 2500 years old teaching talking about my present day experiences specially considering that I had never before heard about them?


the fetter of doubt is cast away at the attainment of stream entry and until that moment everything is done on faith and doubts are natural

the content of the breakthrough to stream entry - “whatever is subject to origination is all subject to cessation” - , that is impermanence is consistent with the Buddha’s own realization, that’s when one obtains confidence that their practice is not fantasies but rooted in certain objective principles


Good points, DKervick.

However, having walked through several ‘paths’ throughout my so-called spiritual life, I bring this whole discussion up because one can precisely think one is relieved of suffering and yet remain deluded. I have often heard the reasoning that if something works, then “hey, great…why kick it?” And so, for example, many alcoholics are relieved from their bad habits by believing that they were saved by (and through) Jesus or some other ‘higher power.’ They effectively seem to become more radiant in life; for both themselves and others. All the power to them if this ‘works.’

Sorry to be a party pooper but there are a variety of other methods that ‘work’…from believing in other higher powers going from deities, to psychotherapies to other remedial drugs.
Or Buddhism. My point is not to disparage any of these if they provide succor. But as U.G. Krishnamurti (not Jiddu) often remarked: “Go to the tavern or go to the temple, it’s the same thing.” One has just changed one pair of crutches for another.

My point being that I wonder if there is an objective truth that is independent of my mind’s prior input or objectives. Trying to escape suffering, as commendable as it is, is also an objective that comes with its own set of conditioning.

Nonetheless…Thanks for your and everyone else’s thoughts on this…

1 Like

I suppose one issue is whether one is trying to do more than seek a path to the end of suffering, but is also trying to seek a path to some kind of intellectual attainment. But it’s not clear to me how much training of the intellect is necessary for the proper cultivation of the Buddhist path. No particular belief about what a jhana is, for example, is a necessary condition for being in a jhana. And as far as I can tell from the Pali discourses and subsequent analytic commentary, the jhanas aren’t usually regarded as having some kind of intentional content or representational content. Since they don’t represent anything beyond themselves, it doesn’t seem like they are the kind of thing that could be objectively true or objectively false.

One might be concerned about the kind of solace or moral improvement people achieve through Christianity and other doctrinal systems, because one has in those cases taken on board a whole lot of Christian doctrine that might be delusional, and therefore potentially harmful in various ways. And one’s release is then dependent on something external, or something believed to be external, and will be jeopardized and shaken by anything that calls those beliefs into question. But I don’t think following the Buddhist path successfully involves absorbing very much of the “Buddhist world-view.” You need to cultivate your “heart” and learn very gradually to eliminate hatred, anger, any kind of ill-will, any kind of craving, clinging, etc. Once they are gone, they are gone, and it doesn’t matter why they are gone.

1 Like

Some of you might know this nice story: The-later-to-be-known-as Papaji was a devout Krishna bhakta, used to repeat his name millions of times in his mind and eventually started to see and interact with him. When he spent time with Ramana Maharshi he took some time off to play with Krishna again. On his way back he met Ramana and told him about his experience. Ramana asked “That’s nice. Do you see Krishna now?” “No”, and Ramana just replied “What comes and goes is not real”. That according to Papaji opened his eyes…

To me most of the teaching is a ‘functional brainwash’ - especially in the beginning, to trick the mind into a state where it experiences something so beautiful/profound that it loses its interest in ‘the world’. Call it what you will (jhana, samadhi, apana, calmness, gladness, acceptance…) but the ‘reality of it’ doesn’t matter - it has an effect, a result, I’m stirred, hooked, curious. So I investigate in that direction - there is a promise of more and better! But in order to get there, to repeat the experience and to have a better one, I have shed some skin, sacrifice some limbs. Yet it doesn’t matter, I dis-own parts I didn’t know I held on to, beliefs, thoughts, ideas, concepts, certain mental operations, maybe eventually the body and mind altogether. But I get stuck on the way, I don’t know how to continue, it stagnates.

So I start to talk to people, read texts, see videos (again). It’s confusing because there is this supermarket of ideas with slightly different products. But some things make more sense, and again I peel a thin layer off my experience, and there it is again, the ‘proof’ of deeper contentment. Still no hard reality, it’s still fabricated, but it makes me go deeper. Looking back, reading texts, I see that my development has been more or less ‘according to plan’. And that gives me hope, confidence that the rest of the way is also true, that in a combination of experience and recognition I will get closer and contentment will grow.

You are clearly right, it starts with concepts, and concepts are not absolute reality. But it has to start from there, from relative reality, where language and the every-day life meet our experience. And yes, it plants a seed, and then the mind, if properly aligned, brings this seed to its according life. So nothing we experience is ‘our’ experience, they are either reduplicated experiences of the world, or reduplicated experiences of the saints. Is there a non-conceptual permanence at the end? Most of us don’t know, and there is a logical jump at the end to a reality that maybe cannot be satisfyingly described. But I think we eat delicious crumbs on the way and that keeps us going.


I couldn’t agree more, Gabriel.

I am both familiar and even once adhered to the Papaji (H.W.L. Poonja) story. Though involved in other paths, much of my past involved Ramana Maharishi and Nisargadatta Maharaj. Devotion – or a path “with heart” – was often my guiding light, whether in more traditional yogic paths or Advaita Vedanta. But as I later came to observe, that doesn’t mean one has to leave the intellect at the corner store. I think the Buddha would be the first to concur.

As for the rest, funny you bring this up. I was reading some Thanissaro this morning; he was saying much of the same thing. That it is necessary to create new fabrications in order to dispel the older conditioned ones.
I guess there is no answer for my query. But your reply might be as close to a sense of resolve as can be.

Thanks Gabriel.

If I understand your situation correctly, the answer to your problem is in the above quote itself.
When you say “my mind” you think a “you” exists and that “you” has a mind and that combination of “you and your mind” expects to see what “you” call truth.

The way I understand Dhamma, everything is of a nature to arise and pass away. There is nothing one can call mine, I am, myself.

Through meditation, I try to see this phenomena and just observe the nature unfolds before my eyes and let go everything.
If you too try that approach patiently I do not think you will ask that question in the first place let alone looking to get answers.
If my reply is too brief please bear with me. If it make sense to you I will post a detailed response.
With Metta