On Knowledge and Belief

Definition of acatalepsy . 1 : an ancient Skeptic doctrine that human knowledge amounts only to probability and never to certainty. 2 : real or apparent impossibility of arriving at certain knowledge or full comprehension
What do I know…what do I believe…and what does Buddha require of me? These are the thoughts I entertained after a brief discussion on another topic. Another member of the forum said “Everyone believes in something”, which I took as a decent topic for introspection and discussion. My
response-without much forethought -was “I don’t believe in anything”. Then today I found myself thinking/worrying about some interaction I had with a friend. Then I realized that of course I believe in myself…one of the greatest Buddhist errors a serious follower can one can commit. Does anyone here not have some belief in the validity of their ‘self’ or is this a non self a virtue available only to the Arahant?

Thank you, My Sangha. I appreciate you all more than you know…w/Metta

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I am puzzled about this as well.

In western philosophy, some truths are considered necessarily true; they are true in any possible or conceivable world. I think it is possible that, suitably unpacked, the second and third of the four noble truths both fall into this category: craving is the source of suffering; end craving to end suffering.

But the sheer fact that these truths are necessary or a priori in character does not mean that they are well-instantiated in the practices of any particular individual, such that the individual is immune to all possible forms of suffering. In Kant’s terms, this would be a transcendental illusion:

Although the demand for the unconditioned is inherent in the very nature of our reason, although it is unavoidable and indispensably necessary, Kant nevertheless does not take it to be without problems of a unique sort; for the very same demand that guides our rational scientific inquiries and defines our (human) reason is also the locus of error that needs to be curbed or prevented. In connection with this principle, then, Kant also identifies reason as the seat of a unique kind of error, one that is essentially linked up with metaphysical propensities, and one which he refers to as “transcendental illusion [ transzendentale Illusion ].” … Kant’s claim is that it is a peculiar feature of reason that it unavoidably takes its own subjective interests and principles to hold “objectively.” And it is this propensity, this “transcendental illusion,” according to Kant, that paves the way for metaphysics. Reason plays this role by generating principles and interests that incite us to defy the limitations of knowledge already detailed in the Transcendental Analytic. The Introduction to the Transcendental Dialectic is therefore interesting for Kant’s presentation of reason as a presumably distinct capacity for cognizing in a way that, as Kant puts it, incites us to tear down the boundaries already enforced in the Analytic (cf. A296/B352). Kant refers to this capacity of reason as one that leads to the specifically transcendent judgments that characterize metaphysics. Thus, the Transcendental Dialectic is said to be concerned “to expose the illusion in transcendent judgments” (A297/B354). Indeed, Dialectic is defined as “the logic of illusion [ Schein] ” (A293/B350).

To use an analogy: There is much, much distance between someone who can give the mathematical formula for a perfect circle… and someone who can pick up a pencil and draw a perfect circle. The former is like understanding Buddhism. The latter is like being Awakened.

Kant’s objection suggests that even when we correctly understand an a priori true hypothetical statement (e.g. even when we correctly understand “If I am free from craving, then I am free from suffering”), still we cannot be sure, by means of our understanding, that we are personally free from craving and can remain in that state. Craving might always arise again from some unappreciated corner of the mind, and there seems to be little prospect of ever saying with certainty “I have extinguished even the possibility of craving.”

I have found my doubts on this matter a significant obstacle to accepting Buddhism, and I would welcome any advice at all about it.


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Isn’t it enough if you find that the practices reduce craving and reduce suffering? One might not be convinced that the end state of a total cessation of craving and suffering is actually achievable, but still benefit from the path.


The strong sense of an abiding continuing self, and the I-making and and my-making processes that constitute it and reinforce it, are only said by the tradition to be eradicated at the highest pitch of spiritual attainment. For all of us who haven’t attained that lofty summit, they are part of the normal psychological makeup of human life. Rather than think of them as a doctrinal “error” that you are required to correct at the outset before moving on, I think it’s better to think of the sense of self as a completely normal, labyrinthine knot that only a few people are ever able to untie.

Also, the Buddha taught a path to the end of suffering. And he’s dead now. He is not requiring anything of you. Whether or not you want to follow the path and see where it leads is your own choice.

An arahant has rightly cast off the mind as ‘this is not mine, this is not my self’. There is no possibility they will be fooled, once again by the mind.

May be this ?

“Bhikkhus, I will teach you the Dhamma for abandoning all. Listen to that….
“And what, bhikkhus, is the Dhamma for abandoning all? The eye is to be abandoned, forms are to be abandoned, eye-consciousness is to be abandoned, eye-contact is to be abandoned, and whatever feeling arises with eye-contact as condition—whether pleasant or painful or neither-painful-nor-pleasant—that too is to be abandoned.

“The ear is to be abandoned …

The mind is to be abandoned, mental phenomena are to be abandoned, mind-consciousness is to be abandoned, mind-contact is to be abandoned, and whatever feeling arises with mind-contact as condition—whether pleasant or painful or neither-painful-nor-pleasant—that too is to be abandoned.

“This, bhikkhus, is the Dhamma for abandoning all.”

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An arahant has rightly cast off the mind as ‘this is not mine, this is not my self’. There is no possibility they will be fooled, once again by the mind.

This seems like it’s just restating the problem. How can there possibly be knowledge that one will never be fooled again?

I know I don’t personally need this knowledge to practice Buddhism. But to call myself a Buddhist would seem to entail faith in the Buddha’s Awakening. This would require that he, at least, had the knowledge that I suggest seems formally impossible. At least on Kant’s terms.

Of course, Kant could always be wrong.

Love the Kant passage. I am not a philosophy student except in my own personal context, but I think the ultimate philosophical argument must begin with that age old question: what is truth , or is there truth. And of course the reduction being can a subjective truth also be an objective truth which raises a larger question if objectivity can not be achieved then can a truth be agreed upon.

Seems like this is the problem with all ‘systems’ in that we must accept certain principles with ability to validate them which seems to require belief. For example using my original post, if I agree that I am merely a set of conditions ideas, principles or beliefs, then that would necessarily negate my ability to determine anything objective.

Seems like the transcendent must be illusory on a subjective level and only possible by means of referencing other’s experience.

Depends on what you mean by ‘enough’ because to me Buddhism is not only a path to ‘enlightenment’ but is also a hierarchy in which the blessings of liberation are passed down to us mere mortals with instructions for ascendance

So there is no gradient through the study and use of the Dhamma? At what point, and how do we measure our progress on the path to spiritual awakening? So are we merely to content ourselves with our humanity gazing wistfully at the deathless state?

Not trying to be a smart ass. But your comments struck me as “quit whining and get over it.”

No doodoo…I mean that is self evident to the most ignorant among us.

So you suggest that we admire pinnacle of Buddhist enlightenment from afar, while continuing to muddle thru the mire?
W/ Metta

That’s why when people ask me, “Are you a Buddhist?,” I reply “I practice Buddhist teachings.” It might seem like a fine line, but often a fine line demarcating a distinction is the most important thing.


For you experientially does knowledge arise with the mind or do you experience it separately from your mind ?

For you experientially does knowledge arise with the mind or do you experience it separately from your mind ?

Knowledge is known by the mind… if that answers the question. But such knowledge is not “for me” if I understand correctly. (It seems like it may be best to avoid merely conventional “me”-talk here, because anatman is definitely at hand here.)

Which raises a question: Who or what exactly experiences Awakening? Certainly it’s not “you,” yes? Is Awakening a phenomenon in the brain? If that’s so, then Awakening is dependent on the body… and the body is impermanent. Even a Buddha-like human will still die; one by one, or all at once, the human capacities associated with this individual will fade or fail. And by exactly the same token, how can we know that the Awakening won’t perish before the Awakened?

SN 55.21 promises that mind and body are different, seemingly, and that while the body may fail, the mind does not. The mind appears as though it were the locus of Awakening:

Suppose a person was to sink a pot of ghee or oil into a deep lake and break it open. Its shards and chips would sink down, while the ghee or oil in it would rise up, headed for a higher place. In the same way, take someone whose mind has for a long time been imbued with faith, ethics, learning, generosity, and wisdom. Their body consists of form, made up of the four elements, produced by mother and father, built up from rice and porridge, liable to impermanence, to wearing away and erosion, to breaking up and destruction. Right here the crows, vultures, hawks, dogs, jackals, and many kinds of little creatures devour it. But their mind rises up, headed for a higher place. Your mind, Mahānāma, has for a long time been imbued with faith, ethics, learning, generosity, and wisdom. Do not fear, Mahānāma, do not fear! Your death will not be a bad one; your passing will not be a bad one.”

All of which may be completely true, but it doesn’t solve the problem of human fallibility. It doesn’t get us from the a priori truths to the perfection of practice.

I believe the Buddha was capable of stating the attainments of his followers and was the sole source for many years until in the later years when the ‘mirror of the dhamma’ teachings were given.

Well, sort of, yes. I think most Buddhsts agree that arahantship is a remote spiritual ideal, only achieved by a very few. And in the world of the suttas - where there seem to be more arahants - even those who are admired by their friends for being very advanced on the path confess to still possessing a sense of self.

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No, I suggest that we continue to practice, but understand that it is a long process of rubbing away our mountain of attachments, cravings and egoism with a cloth. Things get gradually better, one can hope, if one is practicing well.


That makes sense. Thanks.

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This is only an friendly disagreement :slight_smile:

It seems to me there is an implicit assumption here. That some thing called knowledge exists in its own right, independent of the mind but which the mind some how has access to. But what is the mechanics of that ?

If you say, visual objects exist and we see those objects with our eyes. That seems pretty strait-forward. But when when you say there is this eternal priori truths that mind has access to. you will have to explain where do these truths exist and how does the mind access them ?

From what i understand, the heart of buddhism is dependant origination. My knowledge of ‘A’ arise with the mind and cease with that mind. My knowledge of ‘B’ arise with a different mind and cease with that mind.

This type of questioning has been answered by the buddha in the following sutta.

By & large, Kaccayana, this world is supported by a polarity, that of existence & non-existence. But when one sees the origination of the world as it actually is with right discernment, ‘non-existence’ with reference to the world does not occur to one. When one sees the cessation of the world as it actually is with right discernment, ‘existence’ with reference to the world does not occur to one.

"By & large, Kaccayana, this world is in bondage to attachments, clingings , & biases. But one such as this does not get involved with or cling to these attachments, clingings, fixations of awareness, biases, or obsessions; nor is he resolved on ‘my self.’ He has no uncertainty or doubt that just stress, when arising, is arising; stress, when passing away, is passing away. In this, his knowledge is independent of others. It’s to this extent, Kaccayana, that there is right view.

"‘Everything exists’: That is one extreme. ‘Everything doesn’t exist’: That is a second extreme. Avoiding these two extremes, the Tathagata teaches the Dhamma via the middle: From ignorance as a requisite condition come fabrications. From fabrications as a requisite condition comes consciousness. From consciousness as a requisite condition comes name-&-form. From name-&-form as a requisite condition come the six sense media. From the six sense media as a requisite condition comes contact. From contact as a requisite condition comes feeling. From feeling as a requisite condition comes craving. From craving as a requisite condition comes clinging/sustenance. From clinging/sustenance as a requisite condition comes becoming. From becoming as a requisite condition comes birth. From birth as a requisite condition, then aging & death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, & despair come into play. Such is the origination of this entire mass of stress & suffering.

I’ll try to answer with a counter question. lets say, you go to the barber and he cuts of your hair, then he sweeps it away . Now he may burn it or throw it in to the rubbish but is it possible that you will suffer on account of that ?

So i maintain my previous answer.
An Arahant has rightly thrown-off(given up craving) both mind and body. There is no possibility they will fall in to suffering ever again.


Thank you for your wise comment. And I do not intend to play word games. But if an Arahant rightly throws off the mind, who is doing the throwing?


Not only that, but what does it mean in practice to throw off the mind? As a beginner, when my mind goes someplace it shouldn’t–like when I get angry–I try to recall that I ought not to be angry, because anger is the result of clinging, and it leads to sorrow.

Someone who has perfected themselves would not experience anger, or any other results of clinging. So… why would they need to let go of the mind? A mind such as that could never harm anyone.

Clinging to it might harm someone, of course, but… maybe this is weird… as someone coming from a materialist background, who has been mentally living as a materialist for a while, I am fairly comfortable with the idea that the mind is not-self. It’s just the product of the elements that compose it. I don’t crave its preservation, and I’ve made my peace with this type of impermanence.

I think. But I still sometimes get angry.

what if i say it this way. Due to the culmination of the eightfold path craving is eliminated. No craving no clinging. No clinging no becoming. No becoming no birth. No more birth no more suffering.

Bet then you might ask who travels on the eightfold path. Then i will refer you to this sutta.

At Savatthi. “Monks, I will teach you the burden, the carrier of the burden, the taking up of the burden, and the casting off of the burden. Listen & pay close attention. I will speak.”

“As you say, lord,” the monks responded.

The Blessed One said, "And which is the burden? ‘The five clinging-aggregates,’ it should be said. Which five? Form as a clinging-aggregate, feeling as a clinging-aggregate, perception as a clinging-aggregate, fabrications as a clinging-aggregate, consciousness as a clinging-aggregate. This, monks, is called the burden.

"And which is the carrier of the burden? ‘The person,’ it should be said. This venerable one with such a name, such a clan-name. This is called the carrier of the burden.

"And which is the taking up of the burden? The craving that makes for further becoming — accompanied by passion & delight, relishing now here & now there — i.e., craving for sensual pleasure, craving for becoming, craving for non-becoming. This is called the taking up of the burden.

“And which is the casting off of the burden? The remainderless fading & cessation, renunciation, relinquishment, release, & letting go of that very craving. This is called the casting off of the burden.”


Wow. Thanks for your honesty. It affirms my humanity.

Well that helps a lot, but it still implies a central controller…who is doing the elimination?

And I am confused further by the use of the word ‘person’ which seems to muddy the whole mind self-soul waters.
Do we begin each life as a person with hindrances, then whittle away at every opportunity while aiming at the next rebirth which may reveal more ultimate truth or reality, what ever that may be?

Hope I don’t sound like a trouble maker, but Buddha loved us too! :thinking::face_with_raised_eyebrow::roll_eyes::persevere::sunglasses:

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