Logical Criticism of Buddhist Doctrines

A Thematic Compilation by Avi Sion

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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, sporadically over a period of some fifteen years, following the publication in 2002 of his initial book on this subject, Buddhist Illogic. These essays were scattered in several of his books, namely: Phenomenology, The Logic of Causation, Volition and Allied Causal Concepts, Ruminations, Meditations, and Logical and Spiritual Reflections; the last essay, concerning the five skandhas doctrine, has (at this time) not yet been formally published (except online).

The present essays deal with essentially the same topics, but with increasing breadth and depth. The themes are recurrent, but the issues are progressively clarified and further addressed. The author’s thoughts on the subject have evolved, but his overall conclusions have remained much the same: many of Buddhism’s traditional doctrines are open to sustained criticism from an objective, logical (both inductive and deductive) point of view.

The essays are ordered more or less chronologically, although some later essays are placed before earlier ones for literary reasons. Essays on related topics, written in the same period, are grouped in common chapters; but chapters on similar subjects, written in different periods, might be placed far apart. The goal, in such cases, is to avoid monotony and to make the material readable. Normally, when a topic is treated again, arguments are not needlessly repeated, but new arguments are brought to bear.

The author’s motive in writing these critical essays has never been antagonistic. He has no axe to grind against Buddhism, far from it. He respects many aspects of Buddhism, and admits having been personally and philosophically inspired and helped by it. However, albeit such influence, he would not label himself ‘a Buddhist’. Also, to be clear, although he has for many years regularly practiced meditation, and benefitted much from it, he makes no claim to being ‘enlightened’.

It should also be said that this author’s writings on Buddhism are not intended as scholarly studies of Buddhist literature or history. Many such studies exist, and he has of course read some of them. He is not interested in making a show of erudition, but in studying thoughts. His writings focus on examining concepts, theories and methods found in many Buddhist source-texts and modern books about Buddhism. It does not matter to him who said what, when; what matters to him is whether what was said is credible, or at least conceivable.

The author does not subscribe to a purely faith-based approach to the doctrines examined; his prime loyalty is to reason. He is not credulously passing on Buddhist claims or dogma, or engaged in apologetics. He is a sincere searcher, looking for objective truth rather than for emotional comfort. He is not interested in pleasant illusions, but intent on knowing the facts, or at least knowing how logically defensible any given thesis is. His work is addressed to like-minded individuals.

All this is said because of the negative reactions that the author’s past book, Buddhist Illogic, has triggered in some readers. That book has been one of his most read publications; but, while many readers have expressed pleasure and gratitude for it, some have on the contrary very aggressively reviled the author for it. The author, to repeat, has no antipathy to Buddhism, no polemical intent in writing some critical things about it. His approach is clinical, unprejudiced.

The author treats Judaic doctrines, which he also has interest in, in an equally dispassionate and demanding manner. His Buddhist and Judaic interests are not greatly at odds in his mind; rather, they complement each other, enrich each other. Moreover, while they have both brought much to the author intellectually and spiritually, he has always (though especially since the writing of Future Logic in his early forties), looked upon them both with a healthy dose of caution and questioning.

Logic and philosophy, in the most rational sense of these terms, must always be referred to for judgment of doctrines with spiritual intent. The factual, theoretical and methodological claims of such doctrines must be subjected to serious scrutiny. When one is a novice, and still absorbing and understanding spiritual ideas and guidelines, one may (and indeed must) enthusiastically receive them. But when one matures, and these ideas and guidelines are fully assimilated, one should certainly question them, carefully analyze them, and determine (to the best of one’s ability) their precise intellectual standing.

There is no honor in naivety, or in blind loyalty to any dogma pro or con. An independent thinker does not play favorites, but tries to be scrupulously honest and fair. This is just respect for reality, the refusal to be fooled or to fool. The present volume is, it is hoped, an illustration of this worthy attitude.


(Written in the third person by the author, 2017.)






1.         Nagarjuna’s fake logic

1.         Fallacies in Nagarjuna’s work

2.         The Tetralemma

3.         Neither real nor unreal

4.         Misuse of dilemma

2.         Nagarjuna’s privilege

1.         Making no claim?

2.         Plain trickery

3.         Non-apprehension of non-things

4.         A formal impossibility

3.         Philosophy and Religion

1.         Reason and faith

2.         Different grounds

3.         Wise judgments         

4.         Right attitudes

4.         Devoid of a self

1.         Fallacious criticisms of selfhood

2.         What “emptiness” might be

3.         Feelings of emptiness

5.         The self or soul

1.         Abstract vs. concrete self

2.         About the soul

3.         About the divine

6.         “Everything causes everything”

1.         The idea of co-dependence

2.         Conclusions of first phase of studies

3.         Conclusions of second phase of studies

4.         Conclusions of third phase of studies

7.         Understanding the self

1.         The individual self in Monism

2.         The impression of self

3.         Distinguishing the ego

8.         Meditating on self

1.         Dismissing the ego

2.         With or without a self

3.         Whether mind or matter

9.         Impermanence

1.         Impermanence: concept and principle

2.         Not an essence, but an entity

3.         Relief from suffering

10.       Illogical discourse

1.         The game of one-upmanship

2.         In Buddhist discourse

3.         Calling what is not a spade a spade

11.       Causation and change

1.         Buddhist causation theory

2.         A formal logic of change       

3.         Buddhist critique of change

4.         Different strata of knowledge

12.       Impermanence and soul

1.         Impermanence

2.         Buddhist denial of the soul

3.         The laws of thought in meditation

13.       Epistemological status

1.         The status of sense perceptions

2.         The status of dreams and daydreams

3.         The status of conceptions

14.       Mind and soul

1.         Behold the mind

2.         Behold the soul

3.         The Buddhist no-soul theory

15.       Historical perspectives

1.         Buddhist historicity

2.         About Buddhist idolatry

3.         Buddhist messianism

4.         Assimilating Buddhism

5.         Reason and spirituality

16.       The five skandhas doctrine

1.         My own phenomenological reading

2.         A more orthodox psychological reading

3.         A plainly mechanistic thesis

17.       The five skandhas doctrine (cont’d)

1.         The metaphysical aspects

2.         Soul and emptiness

3.         In conclusion

Main references



Figure 1. Three types of continuity

Figure 2. How momentary subjects and objects give rise to abstractions

Figure 3. Visualizations of negation

Figure 4. Matter, mind and spirit presented as three dimensions of existence


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