The Pitfalls of Western analysis of "Dharmic Traditions"

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The Pitfalls of Western analysis of "Dharmic Traditions"

Postby JKhedrup » Wed Aug 08, 2012 4:24 am

At the moment I am reading a fascinating book called "Being Different: An Indian Challenge to Western Universalism" by Professor Rajiv Malhotra of the University of Massachussets.
http://beingdifferentbook.com/

The books brings up many fascinating points, one of which follows (quoting liberally).

"In his book Inner Revolution, Robert Thurman... notes that a myth prevalent in the West is that only "hard" science ca be objective, in the sense that experiments are carried out, and scientists then report their findings in an unbiased and neutral fashion. In contrast, ethical disciplines of psychology, philosophy, consciousness studies, ethics and so forth, are, by their very nature, subjective, because they deal with various inner private experiences. Yoga, meditation and other spiritual techniques are even more suspect because of their mystical nature. Theis dichotomy presupposes that inner experiences do not follow predictable lines of causation whereas as the outer world does.... As per this prevailing myth, only outer revolutions have shaped history.... The inner disciplines are subjective and well-meaning at best, superstitious or arbitrary at worst...

Thurman strongly disagrees with this myth. Scientists, he points out, are limited to studying the world of physical matter and mistakenly see this as objectivity. On the other hand, dharmic practitioners have long discerned the interdependence between object/subject, percept/concept, body/mind, other/self, society/individual, experience/belief, signified/sign etc., and they have a legitimate claim to using scientific methodology. The inner sciences were developed though observation, experimentation, critical inquiry and debate, and they should not be confused with religious beliefs of the Judeo-Christian genre...
While the inner sciences have a long history countries such as India, Tibet and China, they have never rejected the outer sciences., and there has never been a conflict between dharma and science as there has between Western religion and science.

Then he quotes from Thurman:

The enlightenment tradition discovered the micro and macro dimensions more than two thousand years ago by using sophisticated contemplative practice to augment the sixth mental sense of inner vision. This realm is supernatural only in relation to a constricted definition of natural. It is mystical only when its analytic investigation is not completed. It is magic only when the technique involved is not understood.


any thoughts?
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Re: The Pitfalls of Western analysis of "Dharmic Traditions"

Postby Indrajala » Wed Aug 08, 2012 5:58 am

I've listened to countless lectures like Dr. Thurman and read some of his work. I definitely appreciate his approach of pointing out how western norms often distort how we read, analyze, practice and judge Buddhism, or any other tradition that challenges the mainstream western framework.

Take for example how plenty of people like Buddhism, but find rebirth and karma disagreeable, and then proceed to rework their Buddhism to suit their own reality-world views. Such appropriation is not only common, but in the end the revisionists indirectly declare they have a more authentic, realistic, true and proper version of Buddhism than the people they initially got it from. They position themselves as directors of truth, feeling proud they have sanitized their Buddhism of disagreeable religious elements, making it in line with "what we know is really true". They think they're being objective, but really following one standard set of biases and assumptions.

I believe the notions of 'objectivity' versus 'subjectivity' are products of European thought. I know in contemporary East Asian languages like Chinese and Japanese they are recently coined terms derived from translations of European works. I imagine it is the same with Indic languages, but correct me if I'm wrong.

Then he quotes from Thurman:

The enlightenment tradition discovered the micro and macro dimensions more than two thousand years ago by using sophisticated contemplative practice to augment the sixth mental sense of inner vision. This realm is supernatural only in relation to a constricted definition of natural. It is mystical only when its analytic investigation is not completed. It is magic only when the technique involved is not understood.


Dr. Thurman has suggested that yogis in ancient times had no need for instruments, but instead used their minds for a similar effect.

I really don't know about that (I like the idea though). Ancient India definitely had a tradition of atomic theories and even if they didn't have instruments like we do now for measuring and gauging things, the theories were still sound and based on inference and deduction.

Advanced yogis and their qualia are off limits to most humans unless they cultivate equivalent abilities, meaning we have to take their word for it and accept their testimonies. On the other hand, we do the same today with a lot of physicists and chemists whose claims normal individuals do not really understand, but accept anyway. The big difference though is that modern science has a clear ability to manipulate the physical world in profound ways (often destructive) while ancient yogic sciences were aimed at transcendence rather than playing around with the mundane world for military or commercial purposes.
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Re: The Pitfalls of Western analysis of "Dharmic Traditions"

Postby viniketa » Wed Aug 08, 2012 6:17 am

Thank you for the link, JKhedrup. Thurman (as quoted from Inner revolution: life, liberty, and the pursuit of real happiness) has a point. Here is another quote from Malhotra:

To challenge the Western view of globalization, one needs a strong and compelling argument that there exists value outside of the West. It is critical to bring to light and evaluate the cultural traditions hitherto unknown or unappreciated in the West. For this, Indian civilization offers an especially interesting opportunity. Essentially, there are at least five different ways in which India defies the meta-narrative of linear history:

[*] Many advances happened in India long before the West, and these seem to confound many Westerners' assumptions of their place in history, so they seek to deny or downplay these.
[*] Archeologists continue to find older civilizations with more sophistication than is permissible in the linear narrative of history, as such findings challenge the logical sequence in which advances are supposed to have occurred.
[*] India is rich in worldviews built on non-locality and non-reductive ontologies, and this is threatening to the prevailing paradigms of science and philosophy.
[*] India poses a serious theological challenge by insisting that Abrahamic religions do not have a monopoly on legitimate paths to the ultimate truth, and that its own tapestry of dharmas is rich and most sophisticated.
[*] The assumption that Western social norms are universal is challenged by Indian culture. For instance, Hindu women have challenged Western Feminism's claim to be the sole ideal for all womanhood...
http://www.infinityfoundation.com/ECITI ... ameset.htm


The history of Indian thought and philosophy is inseparable from its dharmic traditions and is full of thinking that is fully compatible with contemporary Western thought in astrophysics, quantum physics, neuroscience, chaotic dynamics, fractal theory, fuzzy logic, and many other fields. HHDL, of course, has also written about this in The Universe In A Single Atom: The Convergence of Science and Spirituality.

P.S. Here's a link to some of that history of thought: http://www.infinityfoundation.com/manda ... ameset.htm

In my own studies, I've often marveled at early Indian thought on such weighty subjects as time-space, dynamics, and atoms. It is an integral part of the culture, not just a separate 'scientific' realm. For example, Westerners often think of it as naive art, but look at all the many-armed deities -- right up to the thousand-armed Avalokitesvara -- that represent movement long before anyone ever had a thought about 'moving pictures'.

This may be true of other Eastern thought traditions, as well, but I am most familiar with Indian thought.

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Re: The Pitfalls of Western analysis of "Dharmic Traditions"

Postby Leo Rivers » Wed Aug 08, 2012 8:04 am

and then proceed to rework their Buddhism to suit their own reality-world views.


They think they're being objective, but really following one standard set of biases and assumptions.


I believe the notions of 'objectivity' versus 'subjectivity' are products of European thought.


I don't see how the first two statements don't lay behind the reasoning of the final chapter of the Samdhinirmocana Sutra, for instance - and I am picking a Sutra of what is called "The Third Turning of the Wheel of Dharma" that I like.

The Samdhinirmocana Sutra's own explanation of what had happened three times actually accords with all three assertions... if you understand interpret Subjectivity as "one's own Degree of not possessing Omniscience." and "Objectivity" as "The high self-estimate of one's own Conceptual Representation of the Absolute". All concepts are dualistic and thus exist on a line with one direction being "Less enlightened " and the other "less endarkened", More Subjective and More Objective. European Thought did not invent the notion of Objectivity (not self centered) and Subjectivity (self-foreshortened in concern).

What people refer to in "Spirituality verses Science" arguments as "European Thought" is really the Cultural Chauvinism and Cloying White Man's Burden Paternalism of Western Intellectuals who rationalized nauseating "reasons" Western Thought was distinct from or superior to Savage Pre-Rationalism.

But Oriental-ism and a willful ignorance of spiritual nuance so typical of the 19th and 20th Century in the West is rapidly becoming only a lazy man's conceptual Straw-Dog for people threatened by Historical Criticism. The last 30 years has seen a New Age of sympathetic and nuanced Scholarship. Buddhist scholarship by Buddhists as well! Wayman, for instance, composed his core works in the 60s and 70s. A New Continent of Buddhist Scholarship has arisen in the wake of the 1970s and the upheavals in Western History and Philosophy that have overthrown Orientalism and the obnoxious Notion of the Buddha as "A yellow man who made sense like a white man".

Even the His Holiness the Dalai Lama has said that if science and history show tradition needs correcting, than Buddhism must be adaptable. And - it was a Buddhist who said "This isn't true because it is Buddhist, it is Buddhist because it is true".

I am an atheist.* And as a Mahayanist, I believe to leave bad karma to ripen for ANYONE is unacceptable. (cause and effect and the chain of 12 links remains intact). In fact, striving out of fear for one's own future elevated over the good of others is, in a way, counter to sound Buddhist ethics. My personal belief is that I am a Buddhist and my highest aspirations lay directly in the shadow of the Buddha's Intent. Not that I can look in the mirror and claim that I live up to it.

But in a thread dedicated to academic pursuits of Buddhist themes, I think I will put my own tiny-minded soap box back in the closet and go back to lurking to follow the amazing learned folks I come here to learn from…

:bow: :bow: :bow: :bow: :bow: :bow: :bow: :bow: :bow: :bow: :bow: :bow: :bow: :bow: :bow: :bow: :bow: :bow:


* please pursuit either Baggini, Julian. Atheism. Sterling, 2009.
or Atheism: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press, USA, 2003.
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Re: The Pitfalls of Western analysis of "Dharmic Traditions"

Postby catmoon » Wed Aug 08, 2012 9:26 am

Up until roughly the 1950's there was a strong thread of introspection and analysis of introspection in Western science. William James and Sigmund Freud were prime examples. About that time, with the advent of Skinnerian behaviourism, objectivity became the rage and introspective approaches were decreed passe.

We are now witnessing the return of the introspective approach, to a degree. We are sticking monks in fMRI machines and correlating their subjective reports with objective data. Researchers are finding that the "rate your happiness on a scale of one to ten" approach is pretty barren, but qualitative descriptions of internal experiences do correlate well with the physical picture and indeed, in some case such reports have been proven essential.

For instance in one study the brain readings were all over the map and it looked like a random porridge of numbers. However, when the data were divided up according to subjective reports, suddenly everything made sense... group a was focussed, group b was distracted, group c was blank and so on. Suddenly the researchers found themselves in possesion of objective physical descriptions of the brain activities associated with clearly defined mental states.

There is a fair bit on this topic in 'Destructive Emotions", which is an informal report of the proceedings of a meeting between philosophers, neurobiologists, pschologists and... Buddhists! The Dalai Lama convenes these meetings, perhaps every three years or so.
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Re: The Pitfalls of Western analysis of "Dharmic Traditions"

Postby dharmagoat » Wed Aug 08, 2012 9:57 am

Huseng wrote:Take for example how plenty of people like Buddhism, but find rebirth and karma disagreeable, and then proceed to rework their Buddhism to suit their own reality-world views. Such appropriation is not only common, but in the end the revisionists indirectly declare they have a more authentic, realistic, true and proper version of Buddhism than the people they initially got it from. They position themselves as directors of truth, feeling proud they have sanitized their Buddhism of disagreeable religious elements, making it in line with "what we know is really true". They think they're being objective, but really following one standard set of biases and assumptions.

Who is doing this? I would like to research this and come back with a response.
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Re: The Pitfalls of Western analysis of "Dharmic Traditions"

Postby catmoon » Wed Aug 08, 2012 10:14 am

Might be good to start with Stephen Batchelor's "Buddhism Without Beliefs". He's not exactly trying to expunge karma and rebirth from Buddhism, and those looking for a classic anti-rebirth stance may be disappointed in his agnostic position, but he is a major figure on the scene. If there are "Pitfalls of Western Analysis of Dharmic Traditions", they should show up in his writings.
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Re: The Pitfalls of Western analysis of "Dharmic Traditions"

Postby Osho » Wed Aug 08, 2012 10:28 am

Pitfalls ia a useful thesis. Not especially novel. He draws on Postfeminist and Subaltern Studies
methodologoes to present a coherent position that old order scientistic paradigmatic approaches are just one was of looking at the world and rather old fashioned ways they are too. We comment on Dharma.. ethnographers then analyse what we've had to say.... that's the latest trend in research. The rest is just historicism. No text lives until someone comments on it... as here.
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Re: The Pitfalls of Western analysis of "Dharmic Traditions"

Postby Indrajala » Wed Aug 08, 2012 10:47 am

dharmagoat wrote:Who is doing this? I would like to research this and come back with a response.


You might consider this essay written by Jayarava:

http://jayarava.blogspot.com/2012/01/re ... e-nor.html

This is what I have in mind:

On face value, in rejecting rebirth, I am adopting an annihilationist view (ucchedadiṭṭhi) which I imagine will please my so-called secular Buddhist readers and appal my more traditionalist readers. Coming out as an annihilationist (ucchedavādika) might be seen as rather contrary for someone who claims to be a religious Buddhist. After all Buddhism quite distinctly positions itself as a middle-way between eternalism and nihilism. However I think I can justify my position with reference to Buddhist doctrine, and show that not believing in rebirth is not necessarily heterodox, even if it goes against the received tradition!


In fact his whole essay is a reflection of the revisionism you see among a lot of western intellectuals who approach Buddhism. They might like it (and like it a lot), but so much of the fundamentals just do not agree with them and so they go to great lengths to justify reworking things or ejecting whatever is disagreeable to formulate a kind of religion in line with what the mainstream would deem suitable and realistic.

I do not like using the expression "cultural appropriation", but it does happen a lot. Modern people (not just in the west, but the world over in our newly globalized monoculture) often have a hard time tolerating alternative reality-world views and values. In some ways it might be a result of science, which was born from Christianity originally and inherited the bad tendency of refusing to accept any competing or differing ideologies, going so far to actively destroy them.
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Re: The Pitfalls of Western analysis of "Dharmic Traditions"

Postby tobes » Wed Aug 08, 2012 11:10 am

I think it's a huge (and wrong, and bad) reification of 'western' epistemic/ hermeneutical frameworks.

Postivism and objectivism - the targets of what is meant here by 'western universalism' - have been off the menu for decades and decades.

So this kind of critique, by Thurman and the other fellow, is a critique that was highly relevant a very long time ago.

Not now, in this time.

There a lot of scholars trying to understand Buddhism via phenomenology, anthropology, sociology, psychology, cultural studies, art history etc etc - often from a standpoint which really and genuinely privileges 'the inner' domain.

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Re: The Pitfalls of Western analysis of "Dharmic Traditions"

Postby Indrajala » Wed Aug 08, 2012 12:36 pm

tobes wrote:I think it's a huge (and wrong, and bad) reification of 'western' epistemic/ hermeneutical frameworks.

Postivism and objectivism - the targets of what is meant here by 'western universalism' - have been off the menu for decades and decades.


They might be off the menu, but they continue to inform and influence the present, their residual effects still widespread.

In the intellectual domain it might be different, but what is presently popular in the ivory towers must trickle down before the plebs get a real taste.
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Re: The Pitfalls of Western analysis of "Dharmic Traditions"

Postby Osho » Wed Aug 08, 2012 12:38 pm

Osho wrote:Pitfalls ia a useful thesis. Not especially novel. He draws on Postfeminist and Subaltern Studies
methodologies to present a coherent position that old order scientistic paradigmatic approaches are just one was of looking at the world and rather old fashioned ways they are too. We comment on Dharma.. ethnographers then analyse what we've had to say.... that's the latest trend in research. The rest is just historicism. No text lives until someone comments on it... as here.

.................................. Malhotra draws on postfem and subaltern methodologies but is charitable in certainly one of his citations. Read in the context of Malhotra's interesting if somewhat methodologically nostalgic approach Thurman is a cited as a mystagogue and referenced accordingly in order to illustrate a broader point. You're as likely to find a Dalai Lama book on a NKT bookstall as you are to discover agreement amongst Buddhisists if one adopts a faux empiricist approach as some here seem to do e.g. Western Buddhism [or other path derided]- bad: what I do - good. That's akin to undergraduate polemic and serves naught beyond ego. There is no epistemological paradigm in Buddhisms and to adopt that argument via those concepts of epistemology and paradigms is, in itself; an act of conscious or more likely unconscious irony. To bring scientistic methodologies be they either quantitative or qualitative [the writer of course defining 'qualia]' to bear on the intuitive transcendent performativities we separately enact in each of our Buddhisms is beyond futile.
Apologies for posting my original query on this 'Academic' strand. I shall repost it under the Pure Land link where,one hopes; that it may well find itself to be more at home.
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Re: The Pitfalls of Western analysis of "Dharmic Traditions"

Postby viniketa » Wed Aug 08, 2012 1:31 pm

Huseng wrote:I believe the notions of 'objectivity' versus 'subjectivity' are products of European thought. I know in contemporary East Asian languages like Chinese and Japanese they are recently coined terms derived from translations of European works. I imagine it is the same with Indic languages, but correct me if I'm wrong.


In classical Sanskrit, at least, there is no opposite of 'subjective' that can be pointed to as meaning 'objective'. There are several terms that reflect the idea of 'mind-only' perception though, e.g., prātītika, sāṃvittika. Probably more telling are the many terms for 'perception', including a host that indicate both 'correct' and 'incorrect' perception, as well as some in-between. How the world is perceived by mind is a prevalent question that runs through much Indian thought, including Buddhist thought. It is the underlying question that pervaded the Cittamātra school and literature of Yogācāra, Vijñānavāda, and Vijñapti-mātra or Vijñapti-mātratā thought.

tobes wrote:I think it's a huge (and wrong, and bad) reification of 'western' epistemic/ hermeneutical frameworks.


Agree that it is largely reifying.

Osho wrote:Malhotra draws on postfem and subaltern methodologies...


Perhaps. Does this dismiss his ideas?

The discussion may have moved far away from JKhedrup's original point, though, which I think is the idea "that inner experiences do not follow predictable lines of causation whereas as the outer world does.... ". This is certainly Westernized thinking, and seems contrary to Buddhist thought in particular.
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Re: The Pitfalls of Western analysis of "Dharmic Traditions"

Postby Malcolm » Wed Aug 08, 2012 2:29 pm

catmoon wrote:Might be good to start with Stephen Batchelor's "Buddhism Without Beliefs". He's not exactly trying to expunge karma and rebirth from Buddhism, and those looking for a classic anti-rebirth stance may be disappointed in his agnostic position, but he is a major figure on the scene. If there are "Pitfalls of Western Analysis of Dharmic Traditions", they should show up in his writings.



His explicit rejection of karma and rebirth happens in Confessions of a Buddhist Athiest.
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Re: The Pitfalls of Western analysis of "Dharmic Traditions"

Postby JKhedrup » Wed Aug 08, 2012 3:13 pm

Dear viniketa,

It's okay if the discussion moves away from the main thrust of the first quote.

In fact, this posting is partly due to my own selfish wish to discuss what I am reading.

I realize full well that Malhotra is a controversial and polarizing figure. But I find his arguments compelling, and his premise of switching up the game by viewing the west through the lens of the East instead of the other way around. Since he was a successful businessman before entering the academic field, he funds a variety of Hindu projects. This is not at all disturbing to me, considering the enormous sums of money Christian missionary and evangelizing groups receive.

There is a major dispute between him and religion scholar Wendy Doniger about the the Orientalist and rationalist historical analysis of specifically Hinduism but generally Dharmic traditions. I enjoy Doniger's books but do find that her very Western, academic approach to analyzing Indian philosophy is not nearly as compelling as Malhotra's. Perhaps this is merely because what Malhotra is doing is quite new in the academic sphere.
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Re: The Pitfalls of Western analysis of "Dharmic Traditions"

Postby viniketa » Wed Aug 08, 2012 4:52 pm

JKhedrup wrote:... and his premise of switching up the game by viewing the west through the lens of the East instead of the other way around.


Thank you for the note, JKhedrup. I found the description of the book compelling, this aspect makes it all the more interesting. Added to my 'to read' list. :thanks:

This idea that, somehow, 'inner' sight is less 'valid' than 'outer' sight and that the 'outer world' is what 'really' matters is precisely the 'pitfall' of Western analysis, which even fails to adequately describe what happens in the 'science' of the West. Yet, it is this view to which most Western scientists still cling, as well as the East's most Westernized scientists. When I, years ago, first read Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan's two volumes on Indian Philosophy I was struck by two things: 1) the breadth and depth of his knowledge of Indian thought; and 2) the thoroughly Western analysis and presentation of that thought. So, I will look forward to reading Malhotra.
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Re: The Pitfalls of Western analysis of "Dharmic Traditions"

Postby Greg » Wed Aug 08, 2012 5:49 pm

Further to tobes' point, Western academia has in fact had lively discussions about how to approach inner experiences. See, for example, the debates between Stephen Katz and Robert Forman over whether "mystical" insight (for our purposes we would say yogipratyaksha) is unmediated or not, as it is claimed to be.
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Re: The Pitfalls of Western analysis of "Dharmic Traditions"

Postby catmoon » Wed Aug 08, 2012 6:38 pm

Malcolm wrote:
catmoon wrote:Might be good to start with Stephen Batchelor's "Buddhism Without Beliefs". He's not exactly trying to expunge karma and rebirth from Buddhism, and those looking for a classic anti-rebirth stance may be disappointed in his agnostic position, but he is a major figure on the scene. If there are "Pitfalls of Western Analysis of Dharmic Traditions", they should show up in his writings.



His explicit rejection of karma and rebirth happens in Confessions of a Buddhist Athiest.


Haven't read that one yet. Can you pitch me a choice quote or two? I'm not doubting you, just curious about how strongly he phrased it.
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Re: The Pitfalls of Western analysis of "Dharmic Traditions"

Postby dharmagoat » Wed Aug 08, 2012 7:21 pm

Huseng wrote:
dharmagoat wrote:Who is doing this? I would like to research this and come back with a response.

You might consider this essay written by Jayarava:

http://jayarava.blogspot.com/2012/01/re ... e-nor.html

Jayarava is a member of the Triratna Buddhist Order and has a blog titled Jayarava's Raves. Neither are to be taken seriously.

I am, however, interested to read what Stephen Batchelor has to say.
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Re: The Pitfalls of Western analysis of "Dharmic Traditions"

Postby BuddhaSoup » Thu Aug 09, 2012 1:35 am

I feel as though Batchelor found a niche that he could brand and sell books by.

What the Buddha taught seems to be by its nature secular. For Batchelor to lay claim to a "secular" form of Buddhism is, to me, redundant.

Within the suttas/sutras, there is the foundational teaching of kamma/karma and the Nikayas discuss the Buddha's own teachings of his awareness of his past lives.

People have a right to reject karma and rebirth. People at one time thought the world was flat. Now, we can prove the Earth is a sphere. We may never be able in this life to prove rebirth, or disprove it...but to reject it goes against what Buddha understood. That's not secular Buddhism, that's just one man's opinion, and he's entitled to it.
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