Logical Criticism of Buddhist Doctrines

A Thematic Compilation by Avi Sion

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Blog posts December 2017

Foreword and contents




This volume constitutes a critical review, mainly on logical grounds, of some of the main Buddhist doctrines, including impermanence, interdependence, emptiness, the denial of self, and the ‘five skandhas’ claim.

The essays here collected were written by Avi Sion, sp…

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1. Nagarjuna’s fake logic


The Indian Buddhist philosopher Nagarjuna (c. 113-213 CE), who founded the Madhyamika (Middle Way) school, one of the Mahayana streams, which strongly influenced Chinese (Ch’an), Korean (Sôn) and Japanese (Zen) Buddhism, as well as Tibetan Buddhism, is often touted by Buddhists as one of the…

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2. Nagarjuna’s privilege


1.    Making no claim?

The Buddhist[1] philosopher Nagarjuna (India, c. 150-250 CE) attacked every thesis he regarded as rational by every means he regarded as logical, and declared his own discourse immune from scrutiny and criticism, by saying (according to one translation):


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3. Philosophy and religion


1.    Reason and faith

It is important to distinguish between religion (including philosophical discourse based on a particular religion, for apologetic or polemical purposes) and philosophy proper (which makes no direct appeal to premises from a religious tradition, though it may disc…

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4. Devoid of a self


1.    Fallacious criticisms of selfhood

Since writing Buddhist Illogic, I have been reviewing Buddhist arguments against selfhood more carefully, and I must say that – while they continue to inspire deeper awareness of philosophical issues in me – I increasingly find them unconvincing,…

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5. The self or soul


1.    Abstract vs. concrete self

I finally managed to conceive (on a theoretical level, without making personal claims to the direct experience concerned) how the Buddhist idea of ‘emptiness’ of self (in subjects, and indeed in objects of consciousness) might be convincingly presented …

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6. “Everything causes everything”


One doctrine fundamental to Buddhism is the idea that ‘everything causes everything’, or ‘everything is caused by everything’. This is the idea of universal codependence (or interdependence); it is the idea that nothing exists independently of anything else, that all things depend for their …

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7. Understanding the self


1.    The individual self in Monism

Granting the Monist thesis [briefly described in the preceding chapters], we can understand that our respective apparent individual selves, whether they are viewed as souls (entities with a spiritual substance distinct from mind and matter) or as som…

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8. Meditating on self


1.    Dismissing the ego

On a practical level, such insights mean that what we regard as our “personal identity” has to be by and by clarified. We gradually, especially with the help of meditation, realize the disproportionate attention our material and mental experiences receive, and …

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9. Impermanence


1.    Impermanence: concept and principle

Buddhist meditators attach great importance to the principle of impermanence. They consider that if one but realizes that “everything is impermanent”, one is well on the way to or has already reached Realization.

However, the principle p…

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10. Illogical discourse


1.    The game of one-upmanship

People who think the law of non-contradiction and/or the law of the excluded middle is/are expendable have simply not sufficiently observed and analyzed the formation of knowledge within themselves. They think it is just a matter of playing with words, a…

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11. Causation and change


1.    Buddhist causation theory

Whereas skeptics such as Hume considered that nothing has a cause, or at least that if anything does cause anything else we cannot know about it – Buddhist philosophy went to the opposite extreme and advocated that everything is interconnected to every…

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12. Impermanence and soul


1.    Impermanence


Man is like a breath; his days are as a passing shadow. (Ps. 144)


The transience[1] of worldly existence is rightly emphasized by Buddhism; but it is wrongly formulated when it is stated as “everything is transient” (or some similar expression), becaus…

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13. Epistemological status


1.    The status of sense perceptions

I would like here to explore some more aspects of the controversy between Materialism and Mentalism[1]. Note that both views are here taken to acknowledge mental phenomena: the mentalist (or mind-only) view accepts mental phenomena to the exclusion…

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14. Mind and soul


1.    Behold the mind

Judging by a collection of essays attributed to Bodhidharma[1], the latter’s teaching of Zen meditation was quite introverted. He keeps stressing the futility of physical acts and rituals, and stresses the necessity of “beholding the mind”, to achieve enlighte…

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15. Historical perspectives


1.    Buddhist historicity

Buddhism emerged in northeast India about 6th or 5th Cent. BCE. It did not, of course, emerge in a cultural vacuum. India already had a rich religious culture, based on the Vedas and Upanishads, which gave rise to other religions, notably the Hindu.

It see…

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16. The five skandhas doctrine


In this essay, I critically comment on the Buddhist ‘five skandhas’ doctrine. This doctrine is attributed to the Buddha himself and considered as a core belief of Buddhism[1]. However, in my humble opinion, in view of its evident intellectual limitations, this doctrine should not be give…

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17. The five skandhas doctrine (cont’d)


1.    The metaphysical aspects

The Encyclopaedia Britannica (EB) defines the skandhas as “the five elements that sum up the whole of an individual’s mental and physical existence.” It lists them as “(1) matter, or body, the manifest form of the four elements—earth, air, fire, and water…

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Main References


A Treasury of Jewish Quotations.  Joseph L. Baron, ed.  Lanham, MD: Jason Aronson Inc., 1996.

Batchelor, Stephen.  Ed.  The Jewel in the Lotus: A Guide to the Buddhist Traditions of Tibet.  London: Wisdom, 1987.

Bhagavad-Gita, The Song of God.  Markham, Ont., Canada: Mentor, 1972.

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