The Buddha's omniscience and Selective Attention - Buddhists and Selective Attention

In the EBT’s - it is said - the Buddha could understand that which he turned his attention to (correct)? Perhaps, there are places - situations - where he did not look (for reasons unknown). I guess, you can’t think of everything? Perhaps, there are issues we need to give attention to now that did not exist 2600 years ago? As a consequence - as Dhamma heirs - we may need to open ‘our’ eyes and take a look around at what is going on. What needs attention that was not on the radar in the good old days? We may need to coordinate our best efforts for the benefit of one and all - is this misguided thinking? Does Buddhism - the EBT’s - actively discourage this approach? Can we afford to ignore the obvious and focus exclusively on ourselves - and our immediate circle - and dismiss the world as a bad-dream that we need to wake-up from and vanish? :heart_eyes:

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Firstly Buddha can not predict the future except he knows which ever form the future Samsara unfold it will be suffering, impermanence and not self.
Secondly, what Buddha’s concern was to help people to overcome suffering.

I think Sarath above is correct that his main concern was helping people ‘cross the stream’ as it were -to Nibbana. He utilized his capabilities for this purpose- but he could potentially see anything he wanted. He would have known what was (I suspect) the best outcome for his ‘religion’ and acted along those lines.

Karma sometimes dictates and influences things too- so sometimes the Buddha suffered from a headache, and this is traditionally said to be due to bad kamma vipaka from a past life -caused by fishing in that lifetime. So I suspect everyone’s karma has some influence on the process as well. Karma is considered to be like gravity- at some point in history people didn’t know it existed as a force of nature. This is not to justify bad actions be people on others, rather more like walking off a cliff will cause some painful after-effects, but if someone thinks gravity doesn’t exist… We all have a mixed bag of good and bad kamma vipaka and they can have an effect unpredictably. It would have affected the Buddha, causing pain and pleasure, we can safely assume. I daresay it would have shifted attention away elsewhere, even when it came it his own teachings.

That the teaching were corrupted in some aspects, centuries later, is almost to be expected when he wasn’t around.

He provided with the basic tools to approach a given issue- like in the kalama sutta for example- and said go to work. It works even now because he provided principles to work with and not commandments-the vinaya is of course more concrete. Lay practice a lot less so. I think the Buddha said to relax some of his minor rules- may temples can take local decisions by a sangha and lay panel, which would provide leadership and confidence for others to perhaps follow suit, if they are comfortable to do it.

with metta

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Several suttas speak ill of “forcasting”. But one aspect of karma might encourage us to make a forcast of the results of our actions.
For instance, social policy discussions/debates often look to economic models and other ways to predict what the impacts of a tax change might have on society; or a change of a welfare policy would have on the recipients and families. What difference do you perceive between these kinds of “forecasts” and karma as discussed in the EBT’s.

Seems to be that most references to karma in the EBTs mostly speak to the idea in the abstract. Then perhaps to situations where the outcomes of actions are obvious and not in dispute. For example, if you get shot by an arrow it’s better to remove the arrow.
Buddha seemed to assume that medicine of some kinds were effective and useful.

Or he might say: ‘Whereas some recluses and Brahmāns, while living on food offered by the faithful, earn their living by a wrong means of livelihood, by such debased arts as predicting:
there will be abundant rainfall; there will be deficient rainfall;
there will be a good harvest; there will be scarcity of food;
there will be sickness; there will be health;
there will be security; there will be danger;
or predicting that there will be an earthquake;
there will be a comet; there will be an eclipse of the moon; there will be an eclipse of the sun; there will be an eclipse of a star, or there will be no any eclipse;
they predict whatever they can in various fields—the recluse Gautama abstains from such wrong means of livelihood, from such debased arts.’ … da21

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Predicting the results of karma (kamma vipaka) is said to be impossible, for someone without that particular ability, which is often depicted as arising very close to the final act of enlightenment. However while it is impossible to determine the exact outcome, it becomes possible to know that positive acts will have generally positive karmic outcomes- either positive outcomes and/or in mitigating negative karmic effects. It similar to saying that if the moon aligns itself in front of the sun it will be dark- but we cannot tell in more detail what other consequences there would be affecting people, in the dark. So the Buddha taught kamma out of compassion so that negativity wont befall people.

It also serves as a motivation in the path to practice, because the three poisons of craving, aversion and delusion or also the same as the three root of unwholesome karma. So where motivation is lack to avoid negative actions, at least for some, thinking of unwholesome after effects might help them with the path. Just to be clear- it isn’t eternal damnation or ‘evil’ or ‘sin’ in quite that way, but more similar to bad weather- your raincoat will be the satipatthana, and home and hearth will be the divine abodes- for good weather!

Well those forecasts are for a specific duration of time, and are more likely to be accurate as one can have knowledge of how those factors work. Karma is more general, like the weather, IMO

Karma has been sold to the west as ‘cause and effect’. There is an element of cause and effect but there’s more- perhaps more in line with a ‘living in a computer simulation theory’, but not the same of course! The more obvious cause and effect, mental and physical, are abundantly present in the EBTs. For example, medicines without any evidence based research to back them up, would be been a predication, in those days. The Buddha forbids his monks, but not the layity, not to practice it as it would be a distraction and there would be deception involved. However now medicines aren’t mere prediction- there is science behind it and we know the rate of positive response etc. The Buddha had the ability to predict kamma- but this I think would be more like an ability to see what would happen, rather than merely predicting -he knew a village would go underwater that night, for example from the rains. Under those (kammic) circumstances which he could also see, he did what he could to help. He could see whatever he wished (under karmic constraints) but he wasn’t omnipotent as well. I think the Buddha knowing kamma is like a modern doctor knowing his or her medicines -ie more particular, detailed and specific for his role as the teacher of Nibbana.

with metta

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Its an interesting ability this seeing future events - clairvoyance:

The supposed faculty of perceiving things or events in the future or beyond normal sensory contact.

From the past, we re-member being somewhere where we ‘saw’ things take place. In clairvoyant experiences there can be the ‘seeing’ of things or events taking place that in ‘theory’ have not happened yet. I have heard one of my teachers insisting that we cannot know what is going to happen next or, later on. This seems perfectly reasonable but perhaps time and space don’t work in a purely reasonable and linear way. Einstein hatched the notion that the past and the future coexist with the present and it is only our individualised consciousness that is limited to the present ‘frame of reference’.

If, there is the genuine ‘seeing’ or re-membering of the future - through clairvoyance - this may be evidence for Einstein’s notion of time. In contrast to the theory that it is a sequence of momentary happenings.

Yes it is quite interesting- I wondered if it was an ability to see causes and effects far beyond what is normally possibly- to see all the pathways interacting and merging and ending with a final result. Maybe some nexuses are unavoidable… and a Buddha I think is one of them.

with metta

That would not be a direct ‘seeing’ but a super-human form of inference - prediction. Like a super-computer being able to crunch an enormous amount of data about todays weather and producing a forecast that it will rain in Fremantle next Friday at 1.17.7 p.m. for, 32.6 minutes. I remember ‘Stephen Hawking’ speculating that if we had enough data we could predict the future.

I can imagine this scenario but - in the case of clairvoyance - it would entail an enormous amount of information processing at lightning-speed to produce the mental-image of an event that has not happened yet.

A more elegant explanation - applying the principle of Ockham’s Razor* - is the possibility that the future is already ‘here’ in a way that we don’t understand - yet. That would mean that clairvoyance involved the ability to see-beyond our limited frame of reference - tied to the present - and re-member the future.

"Laplace famously suggested that a sufficiently powerful intellect could, if it knew the position and velocity of every particle at a given time, along with the laws of nature, calculate the position of any particle at any other time:

An intellect which at a certain moment would know all forces that set nature in motion, and all positions of all items of which nature is composed, if this intellect were also vast enough to submit these data to analysis, it would embrace in a single formula the movements of the greatest bodies of the universe and those of the tiniest atom; for such an intellect nothing would be uncertain and the future just like the past would be present before its eyes." - Essai philosophique sur les probabilités, Introduction. 1814

*Ockham’s Razor is the principle of parsimony or simplicity according to which the simpler theory is more likely to be true. Ockham did not invent this principle; it is found in Aristotle, Aquinas, and other philosophers Ockham read… - Wikipedia

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If we bring the past present and future all being ‘present’ at the same time into the picture and if we would build into that concept the ability to choose different outcomes as well, so that the future is not somehow ‘fixed’; then we kind of arrive at different quantum universes side by side, depending on the combination of these factors.

The actors on this stage would be simulated in some ways, as autonomy would be an illusion. Yet, they feed into the simulation semi-independently, and their interactions affect one another!

with metta

Ok, I see the issue here and, how this would not be compatible with the teachings about no-fixed-destiny. If the future is already ‘here’ that would mean a fixed fate - predetermined? We need indeterminacy in the Dharma-Teachings - found in the EBT’s - in order to be able to go in different kammic-directions - according to the kammic-valence. However, we also have the notion that the EBT’s provide us with an account - an understanding - that has a specific purpose (the hearts sure release). The Buddha shared a ‘way of looking’ with us that was for the purpose of waking up.

A fully awakened Buddha may understand many things that go beyond what they share for the benefit of those still practicing and purifying ‘defilements’ - that which obscures clear knowledge and vision.

There may be things that the Buddha did not turn his attention to - such as some of the questions that are of interest to modern physicists - including the ultimate nature of time?

That which ‘appears’ to us as the expression of a range of possibilities - that are variable and unpredictable - may be, from another perspective, something else entirely? I am not saying this is true I am just asking the question. It all depends on the nature of time and, that is still an open-question for most of us (it is not understood).

The Buddha may have had a targeted interest in the realisation of the purpose at hand - the path-factors and there realisation etc. He may have had little interest in many things that are unrelated to this central theme of the teachings. An ability to see ‘impermanence’ (annica) clearly and, understand the ‘escape’ from this ever-changing phenomenal existence is what he turned his attention to and ‘fully’ penetrated. The realisation of ‘not-time’ (akalika) - the ‘deathless’ liberation from dukkha - ‘Nibbana’ (the cessation of desire) was all he was inclined to focus on or, emphasise. The process of awakening in all its aspects and particulars is his precious gift to humanity (those born and, to be born).

This is related of the question I asked in the OP - about ‘selective attention’. When it comes to the pressing issues of our time, such as, burning fossil fuels and its environmental and, by implication, social-consequences, the Buddha may not have explored this possibility, this future predicament. It may not have occurred to him that something like this could happen. The Buddha lived at a time when there was no overpopulation - no mega-cities etc. A world where there was no shortage of pristine wilderness - full of natural abundance.

The difficulties we now face require us to ask many questions that have complex answers that had no relevance 2600 years ago. It was a totally different time, place and, set of circumstances. We are faced with serious problems that we cannot afford to ignore and turn away from if we are responsible human beings who wish to be helpful to future generations who will need this place to practice - or simply live. This is something that requires a great deal of care-full attention and an appropriate course of action - here and now.

If we ignore it or, fail to see the full implications of pressing modern issues there may be dire consequences. In a situation like this, we may need to look beyond the EBT’s for answers and an appropriate response to the challenge?

Observing and listening ‘carefully’ involves a lot more than conformity to an existing norm. An inability to give appropriate and care-full attention to matters of great consequence is a common human failing. This is one of the main problems we face when it comes to the realisation of meaningful change.

I agree with what you are saying, but what methodology has proved to be effective in changing this type of issues in the past? (Ie talking about it on DD isn’t changing the world outside).:slightly_smiling_face:

With metta

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It’s not just happening in this little corner of nowhere. If you see no point in the process you are not obliged to participate. I feel it’s a conversation that’s worth having - an inquiry that is worth undertaking - and I don’t feel that enough of it is taking place as to few of us take it seriously.

When people see a clear and present danger they get out of the way but if they feel comfortable and sedate they may see little reason to pay attention until its to late. I don’t feel this is an inappropriate place to speak freely and openly about things that matter a lot.

My interests may seem a bit strange to some and, misguided to others. Judging from the discussion I have had here it would seem that my interests are not important to a lot of other people - not all - who enjoy this site. This might change over time - feel free to ignore.

To many people, who have no interest in Buddhism, all of us may seem a bit strange - to say the least! Why would anybody in their right mind express an interest in this site? So, I guess I am in the right place but maybe its the wrong time - who knows?

You asked: what is the benefit of this kind of inquiry and discussion? How does it translate into meaningful change in the world at large? That is up to you to discover - it is up to each one of us to find out the relationship between what we find important and what we do about it. It’s easy to believe in the importance of human kindness and goodness and, that’s about it! There are as many answers to your question as there are people who ask it and, put their findings into practice. We are spoiled for choice!

When you say ‘I agree’ or ‘I understand’ that can have more than one meaning. I can (understand) that the neighbourhood is on fire, smell the smoke, hear the screams, and sit on my cushion in my shrine room and contemplate/understand impermanence and suffering and, radiate loving-kindness.

Alternatively, it may occur to me that it would be a good idea to get up and do something about it. This is another kind of understanding that makes a lot more sense than sitting still when there are things that need to be done. It is nice to practice our smiles whenever we can - smiling is good (no doubt). Smiling inwardly- smiling outwardly - breathing in, breathing out, you know the drill!

When it comes to discerning when it’s appropriate to remain calm and inert and when it’s appropriate to remain calm and do something - this can be challenging. Especially, if we have been encouraged to do a great deal of ‘nothing’ as the highest ideal in life. There needs to be an appropriate balance - don’t you think?

It is easy to understand why this kind of confusion is everywhere to be found outside of Buddhist circles but, inside? and so it goes …

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I always liked the “Not one, not two” dialectic of Zen. And the Ox-herding pictures. The Mahayana does seem to have the best politics :wink: 5

Not at all. I only recently encouraged someone to change their career and he started work in a an organisation which facilitates fair-trade brands in the UK. If your positive impulses are not being satisfied you should get the exposure you need in an organisation that that makes maximum use of your strength, in that area, so by all means go for it. However, I don’t mean to come across the wrong way, but I’m not in favour of armchair politics, as in sitting around internet forums pretending your are making a difference to the world ‘out there.’ Lets not ‘save’ a conceptually created world, but do it in the real world, if that makes sense.

I’m here because learning, teaching (as well as practicing the dhamma, to a degree) can be done on an internet forum. So this works for me…

with metta

That makes sense but I don’t see why we should not talk about these issues if we feel so inclined. I find this useful, particularly exploring the the convergence between the teachings and modern issues. I am not encouraging ‘arm chair philosophy’ unless you need to be in an armchair - or a bed - for health reasons. A lot of good deeds can be carried out while sitting down, in a wheel chair etc. If you are finding my area of interest troubling or difficult or inappropriate and, it differs from your particular interests then, thats OK. Your support and interest is not mandatory - its optional.

Thanks for your concern but my positive impulses are being satisfied and I am not in need of exposure. I am just expressing myself in a way that I find beneficial.

Sure- I was thinking you’d make a great director at a environmental agency! :grinning:. I agree with what you are saying- I’m just not that much of a talker; I don’t think my samadhi is compatible with it. :slightly_smiling_face:

with metta

I have enjoyed everything you have said ‘thus far’ - on this site - and, I see no evidence for an unwillingness to share a great deal in this way. However, please don’t feel the need to relate to what I have to say if you feel my interests are inappropriate, misguided or, a waste of time that could be used in better ways. I am capable of managing my time - and I do - in ways that are useful and of benefit to myself and, others. I have been actively involved in many ways with regard to the concerns - and issues - I express on this site and, I look forward to making a positive difference for as long as this body keeps breathing.

That’s not what I’m saying. Look at this approach to overcoming discrimination in schools for example:

The had looked at what worked, what didn’t, where the best practice pilot projects are, etc. It has been well researched, and you feel they have a much higher chance of success in what they endeavour to do.

with metta

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All good - I studied sustainability at university and there are myriad ways that positive change can - and is - taking place. Educating kids from the outset - in practical and ethical ways - is very important. Many kids care about the Earth and ‘their’ future in ways that put many of us to shame. I have heard ‘more than a few’ adults say: they don’t care about the environment and the future because they will be dead - so its not their problem. Kids need to see this problem - it’s a spiritual and environmental crisis. They need to be helped - like us, through working together - to find a way to make a difference (every bit helps).