short batchelor Critique

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short batchelor Critique

Postby JKhedrup » Fri May 10, 2013 7:24 pm

http://newlotus.buddhistdoor.com/en/news/d/33500



Spiritual fulfilment requires doctrinal commitment and ecclesiastical continuity

What is a Buddhism that denies rebirth and karma, the metaphysical and moral motivations for the Buddhist path? And what is a Buddhism that hesitates to affirm the paramount institution of the sangha, for all its faults and human defects?

For some practicing in the Western dispensation, this is a Buddhism that is willing to honestly face its philosophical and institutional problems. It is certainly true that we are more conscious of the need for self-examination. Re-thinking or re-presenting the Dharma in new contexts is always necessary, and even those who go too far can open up interesting avenues for reflection. However, what calls for caution is the potential undermining of confidence in practice (shradda), and the spiritual reasons for cultivating religious trust in the first place.

For many years, Stephen Batchelor has been outspoken about his Buddhist atheism, reintrepreting (or, as he would perhaps put it, returning) Buddhism to a more basic form that does not involve religion. This sincere Buddhist leader continues to organize and attend conferences, talks, and congregations, which speaks well of his faith in a particular understanding of the Buddha's Dharma. Yet true spiritual fulfilment in the Buddhist context surely demands a conscious doctrinal commitment to traditional teachings as well as an acceptance of the need for ecclesiastical continuity, lest the priceless Dharma disappear from the earth prematurely. As Ven. Zhi Sheng wrote in one of his columns on this publication, 'Our ego nature tells us what we want to feel good. Our ego nature is not satisfied with the intangible. It wants arguments so it can pretend to be “right”.'

Part of Batchelor's disrobing and 'reinterpretation' was informed by the willingness by Korean monks to train in the military, and the darker sides of Buddhist history. And of course, monastic figures should always be held to higher standards of morality and ethical behaviour. We therefore did not shy away from maintaining a critical stance about the pernicious deception by bogus monks in Hong Kong. We also emphasize that the Buddhist way of life and its arts and culture can be universally enjoyed by everyone. But never have the shortcomings of fallible sentient beings been representative of the ultimate holiness of Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha.

Furthermore, as Linda Heuman of Tricycle wrote, 'Our cutting-edge task is not to fit Buddhism into our world.' Alarmingly, Buddhist atheism or existentialism, as an individualistic search that follows only a person's fickle conscience and hidden biases, cannot allow continuity. There is no place for spiritual authority or orthodoxy, no place for a temple where the truths of Buddhism are protected and affirmed, and no legitimate ecclesiastical voice with which to transmit and diffuse for a Fourfold Community of monks, nuns, laymen, and laywomen. That is why Western Buddhism is not united about its vision of the Dharma. Conservative, Western monks like Bhikkhu Bodhi and the late German Nyanaponika Thera always stressed that radical attempts to reinterpret Buddhism's doctrinal foundations cannot be heirs to the Buddha's spiritual inheritance.

A woman cannot be only slightly pregnant and a Buddhist cannot be only slightly committed to the most basic teachings. Every major religion's teachings involve tensions, paradoxes, and apparent contradictions. They demand coexistence alongside our contemporary culture of individualism, liberal values, secularism, and scientific scepticism. We might find notions of no-self and rebirth or Dependent Origination irreconciliable with our personal worldview. But we will have to decide whether grappling with these doctrinal tensions is worth the authentic spiritual fulfilment offered by the progenitor of these tensions, the Triple Gem.
Last edited by JKhedrup on Fri May 10, 2013 7:30 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: short batchelor Critique

Postby JKhedrup » Fri May 10, 2013 7:25 pm

The byline sums it up. As long as we try to reconcile Buddhism with materialist views we can never have a complete Buddhadharma in all its richness.
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Re: short batchelor Critique

Postby jeeprs » Fri May 10, 2013 10:59 pm

I agree with the original post. I have met Stephen Bachelor, listened to his talks, read his books, and I find him a reasonable person, intelligent and articulate. But I think he's a (perhaps unwitting) player in a much larger battle. Materialism as a cultural force is trying to redefine man in purely material terms. That is behind many of the so-called 'culture wars' that are raging in Western society. Bachelor has thrown in his lot with the anti-religious side in the battle. The problem with materialism is that it can't understand what it can't compute. So there is nothing in their philosophy which corresponds with Nirvana. And Nirvana is something we can't conceptualise. I am sure that is why the ultimate preoccupation of their philosophy is space travel. That is their substitute for the higher consciousness. But that is unconscious, because they don't really get higher consciousness, and besides no matter how far you travel in physical space your problems always go with you.
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Re: short batchelor Critique

Postby Sherab Dorje » Sat May 11, 2013 1:45 am

The discussion on abortion has been split-off from this thread to a new topic which is pending review by the staff team.

Please stay on topic people.
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Re: short batchelor Critique

Postby Tom » Sun May 12, 2013 2:18 am

Batchelor's latest stuff continues to reject the traditional presentations of Buddhism, but now he feels the need to overlay his own contrived self-help strategies over the Buddha's teachings.

Through cherry picking Pali sources he argues that the Buddha didn't teach the "four noble truths" and instead recommends we replace these "truths" with what he has coined as E.L.S.A.

For example see here... http://www.globalbuddhism.org/13/batchelor12.pdf
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Re: short batchelor Critique

Postby jeeprs » Sun May 12, 2013 11:01 am

that is a very complex article with a great deal of information in it. I think I will have to print it and read it. But by way of a preliminary response, I don't think there is anything in Bachelor's re-invention of Buddhism that is equivalent to the designation of the Buddha as 'lokuttara', or world-transcending, or 'lokuvidu', 'knower of worlds'.

I think that Bachelor accepts that Western science is the arbiter of what ought to be considered 'real'. There is nothing in Western science which can accomodate the notion that 'the natural world' is but one of a number of 'realms' or 'dimensions' of reality. So for science, and Bachelor, Buddhism is a way of coping with or adjusting to the natural world; the very notion of 'going beyond' is completely unintelligible to him, as far as I can tell.

I have noticed that there a clique of very well-read scholars, such as those on a blog called X-Buddhism (I think it is) who are engaged in this task of 'naturalising' Buddhism. What this consists of is saying, well, as science knows there isn't really anything 'supernatural' (=lokuttara), then what did the Buddha really mean? The idea seems to be that it was the followers of the Buddha, and those who built a religious 'edifice' around him, that must be responsible for such beliefs about the supernatural. But I don't think you can take the 'beyond' out of Buddhism, without making it something else altogether. Which is what I think he's doing. He acknowledges that he might be doing that, so in that regard I think he is being very honest about it.

Anyway I shall read that article of Bachelor's, as he is a very good writer and it will give me a much better idea of what he is talking about.
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Re: short batchelor Critique

Postby JKhedrup » Sun May 12, 2013 11:08 am

Tom thanks for posting that link. Batchelor is intelligent and convincing, but having read that document I am even more convinced of the dangers of his approach.
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Re: short batchelor Critique

Postby jeeprs » Sun May 12, 2013 12:36 pm

I wonder if there might be a point in some kind of collective critique of Bachelor's project on the part of a number of schools. I think there is a developing consensus across many different schools that the secular Buddhist project is really trying to appropriate Buddhism for purposes that aren't in keeping with it's intent. I seem to recall that 'creating a schism' was a major violation of the Vinaya rules. Isn't this what is happening here?
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Re: short batchelor Critique

Postby BuddhaSoup » Sun May 12, 2013 1:23 pm

I have the impression that Batchelor, and others now emerging, have created this brand of "secular Buddhism," and are turning the brand into notoriety and sometimes profit. There have been "Buddhist Geek" conferences, and others like it, that weave technology issues into so-called mindfulness platforms, to provide Google and other corporations a platform to somehow integrate their products and technologies with mindfulness movements. Sort of a "how 4G wireless can achieve realization of shunyata faster and better." I am guessing that when you have Google and Microsoft attending your conferences, and when you have 'mindfulness' teachers at Davos, there's money to be made in all of this. People like Batchelor, Buddhist Geeks, etc see the future in the affluent techie west, and the monetized future does not rest with the good old foundational Buddhadharma.

I'm not necessarily lumping Batchelor in with the "technology as Dharma" groups, but I see all of this as part of the same fabric, and it's not a fabric cut from the Dharma. It's something else. And that something else is what many westerners are now beginning to confuse with Buddhadharma.
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Re: short batchelor Critique

Postby Tom » Sun May 12, 2013 2:57 pm

jeeprs wrote: But I don't think you can take the 'beyond' out of Buddhism, without making it something else altogether.


Yes, I'm awaiting Batchelor's re-interpretation of gate, gate, paragate, parasamgate, bodhisvaha !

jeeprs wrote: He acknowledges that he might be doing that, so in that regard I think he is being very honest about it.


However, I think it is a bit of slight of hand to in one moment to play all academic and say the Buddha didn't really teach something, and then in the next moment say this is a better way to think about Buddhism. People mistake him for a scholar and walk away from his presentations confusing Batchelorisms for what the Buddha really taught.

Worse still however are some real scholars, top of their field, who seem to be getting not just older but quite eccentric, and so overly confident in their own skills of Pali that they some how believe that they know, beyond the words, what the buddha's intention was. Some even go so far as to present "what the buddha thought" - now that is a claim!!!
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Re: short batchelor Critique

Postby Simon E. » Sun May 12, 2013 3:01 pm

A couple of simple straightforward questions.
Why are so many people so exercised by the opinions of Stephen Batchelor ?
Why has he become a bete noir for so many ?
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Re: short batchelor Critique

Postby Tom » Sun May 12, 2013 3:09 pm

Simon E. wrote:A couple of simple straightforward questions.
Why are so many people so exercised by the opinions of Stephen Batchelor ?
Why has he become a bete noir for so many ?


I don't think people are so concerned with him in particular. He seems to be on the Buddhist and College circuit again - I think maybe a new book is coming - his got some new and different ideas and so he becomes a topic of conversation.
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Re: short batchelor Critique

Postby Johnny Dangerous » Sun May 12, 2013 3:40 pm

Simon E. wrote:A couple of simple straightforward questions.
Why are so many people so exercised by the opinions of Stephen Batchelor ?
Why has he become a bete noir for so many ?



I think that the kind of stuff he argues for is better than no practice at all for sure, there are some very positive things about it, especially if it gets people practicing and thinking about Buddhist ethics that never would have bothered otherwise.

It just seems so tiresome though, this endless thing of trying to prove how Buddhism "isn't a religion", it seems very pedestrian. Even if some of his arguments and musings on proper meanings of terms etc. are interesting to read, the whole project just seems so dreary and predictable. It's a bit obsessive really, if one doesn't want to believe in certain parts of Buddhism they aren't under any obligation to, so I don't understand this revolt to try to create this kind of hyper-skeptical Buddhism. It just seems like a repackaging of Buddhism for people who religiously accept materialist notions of how the universe functions...which of course ironically is the opposite of what he claims to be doing.

Eventually what the "traditional" teachers who know how to speak to westerners are teaching, and this desire for a more explainable Buddhism might synthesize into something really great, but for now Batchelor is just one end of a spectrum to my mind, and every bit as ideological as the "religious" Buddhists he argues against. Personally this is what I dislike about it, he talks as if this new, belief-free Buddhism is somehow more authentic..which of course is the amusing bit.
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Re: short batchelor Critique

Postby BuddhaSoup » Sun May 12, 2013 4:38 pm

Eventually what the "traditional" teachers who know how to speak to westerners are teaching, and this desire for a more explainable Buddhism might synthesize into something really great, but for now Batchelor is just one end of a spectrum to my mind, and every bit as ideological as the "religious" Buddhists he argues against. Personally this is what I dislike about it, he talks as if this new, belief-free Buddhism is somehow more authentic..which of course is the amusing bit.


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Re: short batchelor Critique

Postby Simon E. » Sun May 12, 2013 4:57 pm

Does Buddhadharma need defending ? What will happen if no one feels the need to talk about Batchelor ?
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Re: short batchelor Critique

Postby Tom » Sun May 12, 2013 5:07 pm

Simon E. wrote:Does Buddhadharma need defending ? What will happen if no one feels the need to talk about Batchelor ?


Who is defending Buddhadharma?
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Re: short batchelor Critique

Postby PadmaVonSamba » Sun May 12, 2013 5:11 pm

JKhedrup wrote:What is a Buddhism that denies rebirth and karma, the metaphysical and moral motivations for the Buddhist path? And what is a Buddhism that hesitates to affirm the paramount institution of the sangha, for all its faults and human defects?


Those who deny karma generally do not really understand what it is
and many who assert it also do not really understand what it is.

Rebirth cannot be proven in the context of ordinary experience.
This fact doesn't disprove it,
but to suggest that dharma exists outside of what can be observed
is not supported by anything the Buddha taught.
Instead, he taught how to observe it.
Furthermore, the concept of rebirth is also generally supported or denied
by people who do not really understand what it is.
Metaphysics (whatever you mean by that) and moral motivations
are totally subjective concerns, arising only within the mind.
One person cannot hold another person obligated to their own point of view.
The sangha is very important
but is a constantly changing thing.
Since it is constantly changing,
then by Buddhist analysis, does it exist?
.
.
.
Last edited by PadmaVonSamba on Sun May 12, 2013 5:29 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: short batchelor Critique

Postby PadmaVonSamba » Sun May 12, 2013 5:18 pm

Simon E. wrote:A couple of simple straightforward questions.
Why are so many people so exercised by the opinions of Stephen Batchelor ?
Why has he become a bete noir for so many ?


People grasp and cling to the safety of their convictions.
Buddhist are not exempt from this.
Doing so helps to affirm the experience of a 'self'
even when, intellectually, they deny a self.
In practice, they still assert it.
"I am a good Buddhist and good Buddhists believe such and such. The end."
But when that cozy comfort zone is invaded
and the things we grasp onto are challenged,
and the invader becomes somewhat famous,
the ego is threatened, and out of attachment, people strike back.
And the more that one's beliefs are grounded in pure faith,
rather than in critical thinking, and wisdom,
the more threatened they become.
And the less they are motivated by compassion,
the stronger is their reaction.
Instead of letting go of attachment,
they become more attached, thinking that they are becoming less attached.
You see it all the time.
But Buddha would be a weenie
if he turned his back on skeptics.

On the other hand,
the more you try to leave your comfort zone,
the bigger it gets.
.
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Re: short batchelor Critique

Postby Jnana » Sun May 12, 2013 6:07 pm

Simon E. wrote:A couple of simple straightforward questions.
Why are so many people so exercised by the opinions of Stephen Batchelor ?
Why has he become a bete noir for so many ?

It's a pluralistic world. Obviously, Stephen Batchelor can talk about and publish whatever opinions and beliefs he wishes. But when he explicitly tries to package those opinions and beliefs as an improved "Buddhism 2.0" which requires disregarding or substantially reinterpreting Buddhist scriptures in novel ways and dismissing ancient Buddhist traditions in favor of non-Buddhist belief systems that have been argued against and rejected by every historical strata of traditional Buddhist discourse, then that is bound to raise a few eyebrows.
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Re: short batchelor Critique

Postby BuddhaSoup » Sun May 12, 2013 7:09 pm

Yes, I'm awaiting Batchelor's re-interpretation of gate, gate, paragate, parasamgate, bodhisvaha !


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