Any advice for someone who gets hung up on philosophical questions to the point that they drift toward Ajnana, and away from Buddhism?

The problem is that one can, ostensibly, find strange arguments that Buddhism cannot answer. For example, one can ask the simple question: What if Des Cartes Demon theory is correct, and everything is a trick, including Buddhism (or any of the many other theories that posit similar things)? And so on, to similar questions.

When one ends up pondering these things, it is easy to end up concluding that the only truly safe philosophy is Ajnana, because they refuse to take a position, for exactly these reasons. No position, and you never are wrong. You can never have the rug pulled out from under you if you never concede, nor deny that there’s a rug there in the first place.

Nonetheless, a lot of time can be wasted after slipping into Ajnana, before one ends up back in Buddhism. One could even end up in Ajnana for the rest of their life.

Obviously, this is a very bad thing! Sticking to Buddhism until we are enlightened is the only way!

Hence, I thought it would be good to work together to come up with advice for avoiding this pitfall. Thoughts?

I haven’t heard of Ajanana but study the Brahmajala sutta where eel wiggling is one type of wrong view…

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The Buddha was clear about where to find the right point on Reality

“In the seen will be merely what is seen; in the heard will be merely what is heard; in the sensed will be merely what is sensed; in the cognized will be merely what is cognized.’ In this way you should train yourself”
Ud 1.10

“What is the All? Simply the eye & forms, ear & sounds, nose & aromas, tongue & flavors, body & tactile sensations, intellect & ideas. This, monks, is called the All. Anyone who would say, ‘Repudiating this All, I will describe another,’ if questioned on what exactly might be the grounds for his statement, would be unable to explain, and furthermore, would be put to grief. Why? Because it lies beyond range.”
SN 35.23

there is seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, tasting and thinking. Both Suttas and Abhidhamma are in agreement about the right scope of our Reality. Beyond that there are only degrees of trust, speculations and loops.

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According to Advaita Vedanta the “other” is outside the all . In buddhism we called it nibbana .

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Thanks, but are you implying that nibbana and the Advaita Vedanta Brahman are the same thing?

Either way, same problem: What if it’s wrong? Isn’t it safer to just have no position? To be clear, I am NOT arguing this point, I’m just putting forward hypothetical points that may pull one away from Buddhism, in order so that we may work together on solutions.

Thanks. The teaching from Classical Theravada abhidhamma/commentary is that we can see ultimate reality, which exists beneath our normal conventional reality. There are subatomic kalapas that we may see with training, and that these are ultimate reality, while conventional is what we normally see.

Regardless, though, one could simply say that an even deeper true reality is NOT out of scope, and it is a mistake to think it is. The very teachings you just quoted are part of a trick to fool you into thinking that they are the correct way to see things. True reality is hidden from us by Des Cartes demon who made them as part of a grand illusion, and we can break through if we pray to the right god, say a magic word, or some other such nonsense.

To be clear, I am NOT arguing this point, I’m just putting forward hypothetical points that may pull one away from Buddhism, in order so that we may work together on solutions.

This is the way of the Ajnana, and this is the kind of thinking that can throw people off of the path. For example, Mahayana is almost entirely based on thinking like this, that everything, even the teachings, is false, illusory, purely imaginary, or even entirely non existent. I chose Ajnana as my example, though, because they see the silliness in maintaining a framework at all, whereas the Mahayana hold the framework of dependent origination, and a lot of other Buddhist teachings, and then, inexplicably, negate them all, and relegate everything to an unreal status, which makes the teachings self refuting.

So, what is the solution? How do we debate the Ajnanas, and win?

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Thank you @RobertK. Excellent suggestion. That is one of my favorite suttas. It is where I learned about the Ajnana. In that sutta, they’re called “Endless Equivocators,” though, I believe they’re also called “eel wrigglers,” so, we are talking about the same philosophy. Where does the Buddha explain how to deal with these positions?

  1. Doctrines of Endless Equivocation (Amarāvikkhepavāda): Views 13–16
    “There are, bhikkhus, some recluses and brahmins who are endless equivocators. When questioned about this or that point, on four grounds they resort to evasive statements and to endless equivocation. And owing to what, with reference to what, do these honourable recluses and brahmins do so?

“Herein, bhikkhus, a certain recluse or a brahmin does not understand as it really is what is wholesome and what is unwholesome. He thinks: ‘I do not understand as it really is what is wholesome and what is unwholesome. If, without understanding, I were to declare something to be wholesome or unwholesome, my declaration might be false. If my declaration should be false, that would distress me, and that distress would be an obstacle for me.’ Therefore, out of fear and loathing of making a false statement, he does not declare anything to be wholesome or unwholesome. But when he is questioned about this or that point, he resorts to evasive statements and to endless equivocation: “I do not take it thus, nor do I take it in that way, nor do I take it in some other way. I do not say that it is not, nor do I say that it is neither this nor that.’

“This, bhikkhus, is the first case.

“In the second case, owing to what, with reference to what, are some honourable recluses and brahmins endless equivocators, resorting to evasive statements and to endless equivocation?

“Herein, bhikkhus, a certain recluse or a brahmin does not understand as it really is what is wholesome and what is unwholesome. He thinks: ‘I do not understand as it really is what is wholesome and what is unwholesome. If, without understanding, I were to declare something to be wholesome or unwholesome, desire and lust or hatred and aversion might arise in me. Should desire and lust or hated and aversion arise in me, that would be clinging on my part. Such clinging would distress me, and that distress would be an obstacle for me.’ Therefore, out of fear and loathing of clinging, he does not declare anything to be wholesome or unwholesome. But when questioned about this or that point he resorts to evasive statements and to endless equivocation: ‘I do not take it thus, nor do I take it in that way, nor do I take it in some other way. I do not say that it is not, nor do I say that it is neither this nor that.’

“This, bhikkhus, is the second case.

“In the third case, owing to what, with reference to what, are some honourable recluses and brahmins endless equivocators, resorting to evasive statements and to endless equivocation?

“Herein, bhikkhus, a certain recluse or a brahmin does not understand as it really is what is wholesome and what is unwholesome. He thinks: ‘I do not understand as it really is what is wholesome and what is unwholesome. Now, there are recluses and brahmins who are wise, clever, experienced in controversy, who wander about demolishing the views of others with their wisdom. If, without understanding, I were to declare something to be wholesome or unwholesome, they might cross-examine me about my views, press me for reasons and refute my statements. If they should do so, I might not be able to reply. If I could not reply, that would distress me, and that distress would be an obstacle for me.’ Therefore, out of fear and loathing of being cross-examined, he does not declare anything to be wholesome or unwholesome. But, when questioned about this or that point, he resorts to evasive statements and to endless equivocation: ‘I do not take it thus, nor do I take it in that way, nor do I take it in some other way. I do not say that it is not, nor do I say that it is neither this nor that.’

“This, bhikkhus, is the third case.

“In the fourth case, owing to what, with reference to what, are some honourable recluses and brahmins endless equivocators, resorting to evasive statements and to endless equivocation?

“Herein, bhikkhus, a certain recluse or a brahmin is dull and stupid. Due to his dullness and stupidity, when he is questioned about this or that point, he resorts to evasive statements and to endless equivocation: ‘If you ask me whether there is a world beyond—if I thought there is another world, I would declare that there is. But I do not take it thus, nor do I take it in that way, nor do I take it in some other way. I do not say that it is not, nor do I say that is neither this nor that.’

“Similarly, when asked any of the following questions, he resorts to the same evasive statements and to endless equivocation:

Is there no world beyond?
Is it that there both is and is not a world beyond?
Is it that there neither is nor is not a world beyond?
Are there beings spontaneously reborn?
Are there no beings spontaneously reborn?
Is it that there both are and are not beings spontaneously reborn?
Is it that there neither are nor are not beings spontaneously reborn?
Is there fruit and result of good and bad action?
Is there no fruit and result of good and bad action?
Is it that there both is and is not fruit and result of good and bad action?
Is it that there neither is nor is not fruit and result of good and bad action?
Does the Tathāgata exist after death?
Does the Tathāgata not exist after death?
Does the Tathāgata both exist and not exist after death?
Does the Tathāgata neither exist nor not exist after death?
“This bhikkhus, is the fourth case.

“It is on these four grounds, bhikkhus, that those recluses and brahmins who are endless equivocators resort to evasive statements and to endless equivocation when questioned about this or that point. Whatever recluses or brahmins there may be who resort to evasive statements and to endless equivocation, all of them do so on these four grounds or on a certain one of them. Outside of these there is none.

“This, bhikkhus, the Tathāgata understands …. and it is concerning these that those who would rightly praise the Tathāgata in accordance with reality would speak.
-DN 1

Sounds like an aversion to being wrong.

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But the Abhidhamma also argues there exist things out side of the all. Things not directly experienced, such as the water element, which can only be known by inference. That’s Rationalism rather than Empiricism.

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4 posts were split to a new topic: Merely inferential?

There is a conditional reality in where we talk about final realities which logically belongs to this conditional reality. And there is the unconditioned reality which remains hidden to us while we experience this atta delusion.

There is one access to the unconditioned reality by means nibbana which in our conditional reality exists like a door. Nibbana can be known through the moments in where the conditional reality is leaved. Like leaving a door. In that way this is a final reality.

Final realities are 4: citta, cetasika, rupa and nibbana. Are named ultimate realities because they are the final or fundamental bricks available for the knowledge, to know the building of the conditional reality. Kalapas are a description of rupa. Any label or description means the grasping of something and therefore it is conditional.

There is no that frame of Reality you insist about choosing between realism or idealism. This philosophical discussion only belongs to the conditioned Reality, in order to know if our common experience could be product of matter or mind. This is not applicable to anatta because there is no mind or products produced by something. The name “unconditional reality” is just a label to denote it is not the conditioned reality neither an imagination or invention.

yes, also the Buddha named “the other shore”
I don’t know exactly what Advaita says although I believe some Advaita people preach a type of oneness or similar, It isn’t?

The Channa Sutta of the Khandhavagga of the Samyutta Nikaya has

All formations are impermanent, all phenomena are anatta.
Sabbe sankhara anicca, sabbe dhamma anattaa’ti.

The commentaries state in reference to this passage:

Sabbe sankhara anicca’ti sabbe tebhumakasankhara aniccaa.
Sabbe dhammaa anattaati sabbe catubhumakadhammaa anattaa.

All formations of the three planes are impermanent; all phenomena of
the four planes are notself. [thus nibbana too]

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Good point.

This is how I understand it when it comes to this summary stanza:

rūpaṁ aniccaṁ
(Materiality is impermanent)

vedanā aniccā
(Feeling is impermanent)

saññā aniccā
(Perception is impermanent)

saṅkhārā aniccā
(Mental formation is impermanent)

viññāṇaṁ aniccaṁ.
(Consciousness is impermanent)

Rūpaṁ anattā
(Materiality is not Self)

vedanā anattā
(Feeling is not Self)

saññā anattā
(Perception is not Self)

saṅkhārā anattā
(Mental formation is not Self)

viññāṇaṁ anattā.
(Consciousness is not Self)

Sabbe saṅkhārā aniccā
(All conditioned is impermanent)

sabbe dhammā anattā’ti.
(All phenomena is not Self)

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Are you implying nibbana is phenomena ?

@Ceisiwr I didn’t even think of that, excellent point. Thanks.

No one know for sure .

Not really , it is beyond oneness .

I highly recommend you read Mahasi Sayadaws “On the Nature of Nibbana.” It will clear all this up for you, and get you to understand the classical Theravada position on what nibbana is.

The Classical Theravadin commentators knew for sure:

Therefore, just as a marionette is void, soulless and without curiosity, and
while it walks and stands merely through the combination of strings and wood, yet it seems as if it had curiosity and interestedness, so too, this mentality-
materiality is void, soulless and without curiosity, and while it walks and stands
merely through the combination of the two together, yet it seems as if it had
curiosity and interestedness. This is how it should be regarded. Hence the
Ancients said:

The mental and material are really here,
But here there is no human being to be found,
For it is void and merely fashioned like a doll—
Just suffering piled up like grass and sticks.
Vism. XVIII.31

There is no doer of a deed
Or one who reaps the deed’s result;
Phenomena alone flow on—
No other view than this is right.

-Vism. XIX.20

For there is suffering, but none who suffers;
Doing exists although there is no door.
Extinction is but no extinguished person;
Although there is a path, there is no goer
-Vism XVI.90

(v) Why do they attain it? Being wearied by the occurrence and dissolution of formations, they attain it thinking, “Let us dwell in bliss by being without consciousness here and now and reaching the cessation that is Nibbána.”13
13. “‘Reaching the cessation that is Nibbána’: as though reaching Nibbána without remainder of result of past clinging. ‘In bliss’ means without suffering” (Vism-mhþ 902).
-Vissuddhimagga XXIII 30

Aggregates cease and nothing else exists
-Vism XXI.24

after the last consciousness of the Arahant, who has
abandoned arousing [future aggregates] and so prevented kamma from giving
result in a future [existence], there is no further arising of aggregates of existence,
and those already arisen have disappeared.

-Vism XVI.73

So did Mahasi Sayadaw:

Absence of Mind and Matter in Nibbāna
In nibbāna there are no such things as mind or mental concomitants, which can be met with in the sense-sphere or form-sphere. It naturally follows that mind and matter that belong to the thirty-one planes of existence are totally absent in nibbāna. However, some would like to propose that after the parinibbāna of the Buddha and the Arahants, they acquire a special kind of mind and matter in nibbāna. Such an extraordinary way of thinking may appeal to those who cannot do away with self or ego.

With regard to this proposition a learned Sayādaw reasoned that if there is a special kind of mind and matter in nibbāna, there must also be a special kind of rebirth which gives rise to a special kind of old age, disease, and death, which in turn bring about a special kind of sorrow, lamentation, suffering, distress, and despair. When the teachings explicitly say cessation, it will be improper to go beyond it and formulate an idea of a special kind of existence. Extinction points to nothing other than Nothingness. Nibbāna, which is not involved in mind and matter, cannot be made to get involved either in this world or in other worlds.

Nibbāna Offers No Sense-objects
In the absence of mind, matter, consciousness, concomitants, etc., There can be no sense-objects, and in the absence of sense-objects no opportunities arise for mental formations to play their part. Nibbāna means the end of suffering. Since there are no primary elements and no mind and matter, everything ceases, and this cessation means eternal peace. All sufferings end.
-Mahasi Sayadaw, On the Nature of Nibbana

This bears repeating: everything ceases. There is nothing left to go and be one with nibbana, or the other shore, or Brahman, or whatever.

Also the suttas make this clear. Brahman is union with the atman, eternal being. Nibbana is nothing of the sort:

“Now what, bhikkhus, is the Nibbāna-element with no residue left? Here a bhikkhu is an arahant … completely released through final knowledge. For him, here in this very life, all that is experienced, not being delighted in, will be extinguished. That, bhikkhus, is called the Nibbāna-element with no residue left.
“These, bhikkhus, are the two Nibbāna-elements.”
These two Nibbāna-elements were made known
By the Seeing One, stable and unattached:
One is the element seen here and now
With residue, but with the cord of being destroyed;
The other, having no residue for the future,
Is that wherein all modes of being utterly cease.
Having understood the unconditioned state,
Released in mind with the cord of being destroyed,
They have attained to the Dhamma-essence.
Delighting in the destruction (of craving),
Those stable ones have abandoned all being.

-It 44

Excellent point @RobertK. There is no self whatsoever, including nibbana. There is no “other.” Thus, no one to live forever in oneness with nibbana, nor anything else we could dream up to take place after parinibbana.

Nibbana is a dhamma. This is the word sometimes translated as “phenomena.” A difficulty, and perhaps should be left untranslated, because the word “phenomena” has modern philosophical implications that were never present in the suttas.

Sabbe dhamma anatta
All things (dhammas) are not self
-SN 44.10

…The Buddha declares that “all phenomena are nonself” (sabbe dhammā anattā), which means that if one seeks a self anywhere one will not find one. Since “all phenomena” includes both the conditioned and the unconditioned, this precludes an utterly transcendent, ineffable self."-Bhikkhu Bodhi’s footnote to SN 44.10

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You misunderstand 1. what i say about “the other” . I didnt say it is true or not .
2. I didnt state what is nibbana .
Then your quote key word “in nibbana” is the problem . .