"Free Belief Buddhism"

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Re: "Free Belief Buddhism"

Postby Dharmakara » Fri Jan 14, 2011 7:03 am

Very true, Tobes. We've even started a sub-section and collection of resource material related to Batchelor at Buddha Forum, doing so with the intent to provide a safe-haven from such behavior, the declarations of what "is" or is not Buddhism by others, ect.

Don't know if anyone here is aware of it, but Stephen is also working on a new book specifically related to his thoughts on the Four Noble Truths... probably published in a year and half from now.
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Re: "Free Belief Buddhism"

Postby Mr. G » Fri Jan 14, 2011 1:29 pm

Dharmakara wrote:Very true, Tobes. We've even started a sub-section and collection of resource material related to Batchelor at Buddha Forum, doing so with the intent to provide a safe-haven from such behavior, the declarations of what "is" or is not Buddhism by others, ect.



Hi Dharmakara,

When you say "save haven", what does that mean? Does that mean discussion critiquing Batchelor is not given as much breathing room as discussion in favor of Batchelor?
    How foolish you are,
    grasping the letter of the text and ignoring its intention!
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Re: "Free Belief Buddhism"

Postby Kyosan » Fri Jan 14, 2011 8:17 pm

tobes wrote:
I suppose what's interesting about this is the question of who has the authority to assert: this is Buddhism and this is not Buddhism? And on what basis can that assertion be made?
...


A teaching is Buddhism if it brings beings closer to realization of the fundamental teaching of Buddhism. The fundamental teaching is the same in all true forms of Buddhism even though those forms of Buddhism can appear quite different. A bodhisattva has the authority to assert: this is Buddhism and this is not Buddhism. A bodhisattva has an advanced level of understanding the fundamental teaching, is able to discern the minds of beings and guide them to understanding the fundamental teaching.
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Re: "Free Belief Buddhism"

Postby Blue Garuda » Fri Jan 14, 2011 9:50 pm

Dharmakara wrote:The following from an academic paper entitled "A Critical Examination of the Agnostic Buddhism of Stephen Batchelor" by Majorie Silverman, Department of Religious Studies at McGill University (Montreal QC):

Secondly, Batchelor’s Buddhism is still Buddhism because he calls it such. He considers himself a Buddhist, as do other scholars and practitioners who take his work seriously. [/i]



Is she serious?

Through such logic, anything may be defined as Buddhism, because I say so and have persuaded some others to agree with me.

Then there is the sideswipe at the opposition:
'as do other scholars who take his work seriously'.
This clearly imples that anyone who does not swallow Batchelor's teachings is not a serious analyst.

Even for a supporter of Batchelor, this is hardly a ringing endosrement.
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Re: "Free Belief Buddhism"

Postby Dharmakara » Fri Jan 14, 2011 11:19 pm

mr. gordo wrote:Hi Dharmakara,

When you say "save haven", what does that mean? Does that mean discussion critiquing Batchelor is not given as much breathing room as discussion in favor of Batchelor?


No, it doesn't mean that, but that every discussion has it's place, that it would be no more appropriate to go into a sub-section of a forum dedicated to the Tibetan tradition and take digs at it.

That's not to say that Batchelor's writings are being put at the same level as the major traditions of Buddhism, but that it should be afforded the same protection for discussion, allowing posters to discuss how Batchelor's books have benefited their practice and how they have not.

In other words, certain conversations belong in certain sections of a forum, like here at Dharma Wheel we have the "Dharma-Free-For-All", the equivalent of the "Hell Realms Colliseum" at Buddha Forum.

All we've done is provided a section of BF to address the concern voiced by others that they have not been able to discuss such material without being attacked for doing so. For example, this thread here (started by Jikan) would not be in the Hell Realms at BF because it is in fact a meaningful discussion.


Yeshe wrote:Is she serious?


Yes, she is, but it might be advisable to read the entire paper, so her own conclusions are not taken out of context, where she actually examines the criticisms against Batchelor:

http://buddhaforum.org/Critical_Examina ... t1355.html
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Re: "Free Belief Buddhism"

Postby Luke » Sat Jan 15, 2011 4:08 am

Yeshe wrote:Then there is the sideswipe at the opposition:
'as do other scholars who take his work seriously'.
This clearly imples that anyone who does not swallow Batchelor's teachings is not a serious analyst.

Yes, I also take issue with her biased language.

Her concluding sentence is:
"This pared down and exposed Buddhism is perhaps less a Buddhism without beliefs, and more a Buddhism without baggage."

This implies that she thinks that any Buddhist belief which is not featured in Batchelor's version of Buddhism is unnecessary, superfluous "baggage" of little value.

Liking Batchelor's ideas is one thing, but seeing all traditional Buddhist views as useless nonsense is another. I hope other Batchelorites don't become this radicalized.
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Re: "Free Belief Buddhism"

Postby Dharmakara » Sat Jan 15, 2011 5:43 am

I certainly don't mean to put words in her mouth, but I take her statement to mean something else entirely, something akin to a question I have often asked: What's the point in getting rid of one's spare baggage, only to collect a whole new set of Samsonite?

In other words, I believe she's referring to sociocentric underpinnings.
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Re: "Free Belief Buddhism"

Postby Kyosan » Sat Jan 15, 2011 5:53 am

Luke wrote:Yes, I also take issue with her biased language.

Her concluding sentence is:
"This pared down and exposed Buddhism is perhaps less a Buddhism without beliefs, and more a Buddhism without baggage."

This implies that she thinks that any Buddhist belief which is not featured in Batchelor's version of Buddhism is unnecessary, superfluous "baggage" of little value.

Liking Batchelor's ideas is one thing, but seeing all traditional Buddhist views as useless nonsense is another. I hope other Batchelorites don't become this radicalized.

There's no doubt that she prefers Batchelor's Buddhism but is she a follower of Batchelor or is she even a Buddhist at all? I think all we know from Dharmakara's post is that she is from the Department of Religious Studies at McGill University.
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Re: "Free Belief Buddhism"

Postby Dharmakara » Sat Jan 15, 2011 6:09 am

Don't know if for sure if she's a Buddhist, but since it's her Master's Thesis from McGill one would assume that the study of Buddhism was of interest to her, especially with the broad variety of subjects she could have choosen from.

Of course, this by no means makes her an authority on the topic, but, when one examines her citations and primary sources for the paper, she certainly was no slacker in her research.

BTW, it's Marjorie L. Silverman... sorry for the earlier typo.
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Re: "Free Belief Buddhism"

Postby Kyosan » Sat Jan 15, 2011 7:47 am

Dharmakara wrote:Don't know if for sure if she's a Buddhist, but since it's her Master's Thesis from McGill one would assume that the study of Buddhism was of interest to her, especially with the broad variety of subjects she could have choosen from.

Of course, this by no means makes her an authority on the topic, but, when one examines her citations and primary sources for the paper, she certainly was no slacker in her research.

BTW, it's Marjorie L. Silverman... sorry for the earlier typo.


That's true. I think it's safe to say that she has at least an intellectual interest in Buddhism.
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Re: "Free Belief Buddhism"

Postby Dharmakara » Sat Jan 15, 2011 8:06 am

If I may offer another observation, it appears that some people might be seizing on the term "baggage" without having read the entire paper.

For example, a specific search for "cultural baggage" in regard to Buddhism nets no less than 22,400 results on Google, both pro and con in use, with a citation even appearing on BuddhaNet as follows:

An Important factor one may find in Buddhism is the Indian cultural baggage which tends to suppress women. Critical American Buddhists became more aware of the need to do away with unnecessary cultural burdens and by so doing they have, to a great extent freed Buddhist women from suppressing elements. A unique characteristic of Buddhism in the US is the strong participation of women in Buddhism.

I'm sure that there are still those who would support such a cultural bias within Asia, where likewise they would also seize on the term "baggage" to deflect the subject at hand.

I'm not saying that this is what's at play here, but it's still a fair question, especially if they haven't read the complete paper, for certainly something else could have been found that they disagreed with, other than the excerpt that contained the use of the term "baggage" from the conclusion section of her paper.

In hindsight, I'd also like to point out a flaw in the title of this thread, as Batchelor has not advocated a "Free Belief Buddhism". This is quite clear in his statements in regard to what he means by Buddhism without beliefs:

"The expression "Buddhism without beliefs" is not meant to suggest that beliefs are completely dispensable in every sense of the word. For example, if one is doing a practice, one still has to believe that it has value—that it's worthwhile, that it's worth sitting on a cushion—and that is definitely one form of belief. But the way I'm mainly using the word "belief," as you've correctly understood, is to address the idea that the practice of Buddhism is somehow contingent upon buying into certain metaphysical beliefs. We may or may not think of such beliefs as superstitious, but they usually are views of the world that we are expected to accept on the basis of a kind of blind devotion or faith, without actually having any experience of our own on the basis of which to accept or reject them. So "Buddhism without dogma" would perhaps be more precise. I don't think it really matters, you see, what one's metaphysical views are because the practice of Buddhism, as I try to make clear in the book, is to my mind a practice of freeing ourselves from certain psychological delusions. "

The above is from a published interveiw on EnlightenNext site:
http://www.enlightennext.org/magazine/j ... asp?page=1
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Re: "Free Belief Buddhism"

Postby Kyosan » Sat Jan 15, 2011 7:17 pm

I think that people shouldn't be offended by the word "baggage". There's a famous analogy that, if I'm not mistaken, comes from Zen. It says that Buddhism is like a raft used to get from one shore to another. When you reach the other shore you wouldn't want to carry the raft on your back. This analogy clearly means that even Buddhism itself (or at least your conception of Buddhism while you were crossing the river) is dispensable.

Dharmakara wrote:[Quote from Batchelor]
"The expression "Buddhism without beliefs" is not meant to suggest that beliefs are completely dispensable in every sense of the word. For example, if one is doing a practice, one still has to believe that it has value—that it's worthwhile, that it's worth sitting on a cushion—and that is definitely one form of belief. But the way I'm mainly using the word "belief," as you've correctly understood, is to address the idea that the practice of Buddhism is somehow contingent upon buying into certain metaphysical beliefs. We may or may not think of such beliefs as superstitious, but they usually are views of the world that we are expected to accept on the basis of a kind of blind devotion or faith, without actually having any experience of our own on the basis of which to accept or reject them. So "Buddhism without dogma" would perhaps be more precise. I don't think it really matters, you see, what one's metaphysical views are because the practice of Buddhism, as I try to make clear in the book, is to my mind a practice of freeing ourselves from certain psychological delusions. "


I don't know much about Batchelor so I haven't taken sides on this issue up to this point. But I for the most part agree with this statement. I think it's possible to have a form of Buddhism without the metaphysical beliefs. I do not consider the metaphysical beliefs to be essential to Buddhism. I think that Buddhism without the metaphysical beliefs would be much more appealing to modern people, both Asian and Western, who don't belief in the metaphysical. New forms of Buddhism need to be created to benefit the most number of people. This is the way Buddhism is supposed to be. Buddhism is supposed to be dynamic and adjust to the situation. There is nothing wrong with new forms of Buddhism so long as they share the essential teaching and help beings reach the other shore.

I do however think the Batchelor could be kinder with his choise of words. He doesn't need to imply that other forms of Buddhism are dogmatic.
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Re: "Free Belief Buddhism"

Postby Dharmakara » Sat Jan 15, 2011 9:44 pm

Hi Kyosan. The Simile of the Raft is actually from the Alagaddupama Sutta (MN 22), where the Buddha concluded the discourse with the following:

"In the same way, monks, have I shown to you the Teaching's similitude to a raft: as having the purpose of crossing over, not the purpose of being clung to.

"You, O monks, who understand the Teaching's similitude to a raft, you should let go even (good) teachings, how much more false ones!"

As for Batchelor's use of the word "dogmatic", a look at the definition might be in order, to examine how it can used:

1. (of a statement, opinion, etc.) forcibly asserted as if authoritative and unchallengeable or (of a person) prone to making such statements

2. (Philosophy) of, relating to, or constituting dogma, dogmatic writings

3. based on assumption rather than empirical observation

Batchelor is advocating empirical observation over dogmatic adherence... dare I mention the much groaned upon Kalama Sutta when it pops up in some forum discussions?
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Re: "Free Belief Buddhism"

Postby Blue Garuda » Sat Jan 15, 2011 9:58 pm

I can only agree that the choice of words is unfortunate, and reminiscent to me of aggressive anti-rebirth members on other sites who also used words like 'metaphysical' and 'superstitious' ,mainly when slapping the Mahayana and Vajrayana, so I arrive at this pundit with misgivings and prejudice, as I freely admit.

Buddha, according to the scriptures, used words like 'after death, after the breaking up of the body'..............'will be reborn'..................etc etc.
I'm not saying that one needs to have encountered every word of Buddha's teachings to be a Buddhist, but neither can we ignore those we are familiar with just because they don't fit our prejudices or those of a pundit.

I still can't understand why there seems to be an 'either/or' approach. I find that belief in post-mortem rebirth within the realms is entirely compatible with a constant flux where there is nothing to grasp which is 'the past' 'the present or 'the future'.
The problem seems to be the contentious belief in a moment of death and a moment of birth/rebirth - as these moments do not exist and cannot be pointed at. The model of a continuum works as long as 'something' migrates from being to being.

There are many paths to follow which deal with ending 'psychological delusions' but are they Buddhism without an acceptance of karma, realms and rebirth?

Did Buddha intend us to follow his teachings or to take them as a guide and then invent our own variants? IMHO we are all ultimately on our own and we are certain to have our 'own' Buddhism. The risk comes when a pundit intervenes and expects people to accept his 'Buddhism' instead of Buddha's Buddhism as interpreted ourselves.
I call that acceptance 'lazy Buddhism'.


I recall a story about Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of Aikido. Many of his first students had started their own schools and imposed their own styles. Ueshiba was approached by a young man who asked him: 'Please may I learn your Aikido?' to which he replied: 'Are you sure? Most people seem to want to invent their own.'

Maybe Batchelor will inspire people to become more sceptical and anaytical, or maybe he will acquire a group of followers who are grateful that he has done the thinking for them and will just parrot his words. I hope it is the former. ;)
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Re: "Free Belief Buddhism"

Postby Dharmakara » Sat Jan 15, 2011 10:06 pm

Yeshe, should it not also be noted that Walpola Rahula took an anti-metaphysical approach, albeit a different methodology as undertaken by Batchelor, but with a similar intent?

Maybe a more import question is when did "metaphysical" and "anti-metaphysical" become dirty words for either side of the debate or a deal breaker when it comes to the beneficial nature of Dharma practice?
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Re: "Free Belief Buddhism"

Postby Luke » Sat Jan 15, 2011 11:49 pm

Kyosan wrote:I think that people shouldn't be offended by the word "baggage". There's a famous analogy that, if I'm not mistaken, comes from Zen. It says that Buddhism is like a raft used to get from one shore to another. When you reach the other shore you wouldn't want to carry the raft on your back. This analogy clearly means that even Buddhism itself (or at least your conception of Buddhism while you were crossing the river) is dispensable.

Yes, that raft analogy is great, but I believe that the Buddha meant that methods can be discarded when one has already mastered them (become enlightened?) and no longer needs them. However, it would be foolish to throw away one's raft when one is still in the middle of the ocean!
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Re: "Free Belief Buddhism"

Postby Dharmakara » Sun Jan 16, 2011 2:36 am

Hmmm.... would it be any more foolish than clinging to the teachings with a death grip, in essence transforming the raft, where it becomes the equivalent of booking one's passage to the other shore on the SS Titanic?

That is what clinging does, its the end result, whether we're talking about good teachings or false ones, where we're all on the lower deck dancing the night away while the band plays on, oblivious to the iceberg that looms before us.

News Alert: The SS Titanic did not reach its destination.
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Re: "Free Belief Buddhism"

Postby Mr. G » Sun Jan 16, 2011 4:03 pm

I don’t find the raft analogy helpful. I see Batchelor’s raft as being unable to make it to the shore due to having too many holes. Karma, rebirth and enlightenment get classified as cultural trappings and are dealt with on mundane psychological terms.. Does his form of agnosticism preclude cultural trappings as well? The 4 Noble Truths seems to be based on the model of Ayurvedic medicine…this is cultural too…should this be gotten rid of? Can we get rid of the 4 Noble Truths and still classify what is remaining as “Buddhism”? Is not the rejection of the supernatural and metaphysical also a cultural trapping?

Here’s another amusing thing I read in reference to that article:

For example, the first verse of chapter 16 is translated by Jay L. Garfield as follows:

If compound phenomena transmigrate,
They do not transmigrate as permanent.
If they are impermanent they do not transmigrate.
The same approach applies to sentient being


The same verse is translated by Batchelor in a vastly different manner:

Is life what drives me?
Whether constant or fleeting,
Drives are not alive like life.
How am I alive?


Say what?

And the author then writes:

Batchelor’s poetic translation opens the door of Nagarjunian philosophy to those who would not normally have access.

Oh really? Because to me it seems as though Batchelor has completely mangled Nagarjuna into some pseudo-haiku that has no point of reference to Nagarjuna’s original work.

I have to agree with Yeshe that this is intellectual laziness. If someone finds Nagarjuna to be impenetrable…well then, read and discuss with people to understand it. Read Gorampa, read Tsong Khapa, read Mikyo Dorje, read Gendun Chopel.

If someone doesn’t know how enlightenment is defined, or what transmigrates during rebirth, read the Kosha. I know I am trying to gather the resources to do so myself.

But it seems as though Western Buddhist apologists want it both ways. They want their cake and to eat it too. They attempt to disguise their writings as a form of upaya, but instead of referencing scripture or commentary, they reference scientific materialism. They seem so eager to redefine and re-appropriate everything that is not in Buddhism into labeling it as something that is. It’s no different than a Christian who says “I’m a Christian, but I don’t believe in the resurrection”. The entire edifice comes falling down.
    How foolish you are,
    grasping the letter of the text and ignoring its intention!
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Re: "Free Belief Buddhism"

Postby Indrajala » Sun Jan 16, 2011 4:50 pm

mr. gordo wrote:But it seems as though Western Buddhist apologists want it both ways. They want their cake and to eat it too. They attempt to disguise their writings as a form of upaya, but instead of referencing scripture or commentary, they reference scientific materialism. They seem so eager to redefine and re-appropriate everything that is not in Buddhism into labeling it as something that is. It’s no different than a Christian who says “I’m a Christian, but I don’t believe in the resurrection”. The entire edifice comes falling down.


Such is a sign of our present degenerate times. What is often called Buddhadharma now is nothing more than robes and incense cloaking what is really adharmic (non-dharma) ideologies and packaged as feel-good spirituality that is furthermore commodified and sold on the market.

The reason materialism rings well with many people rather than Buddhist lines of thought is because we're brought up with an education system and government that sanctions scientific materialism as the chief ideology that forms the criteria for what is realistic and true. Added to that is the existentialist bias that is generally thought of as the optimally objective approach. If you deviate from these ideologies you deviate from the default basis of thought. You take a risk socially when you do it.
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Re: "Free Belief Buddhism"

Postby Blue Garuda » Sun Jan 16, 2011 7:56 pm

Dharmakara wrote:Yeshe, should it not also be noted that Walpola Rahula took an anti-metaphysical approach, albeit a different methodology as undertaken by Batchelor, but with a similar intent?

Maybe a more import question is when did "metaphysical" and "anti-metaphysical" become dirty words for either side of the debate or a deal breaker when it comes to the beneficial nature of Dharma practice?


Yes, some like his work, but I wince at the temerity of a person who claims to tell me 'What The Buddha Taught' in 150 pages of a highly selective nature.

It doesn't improve my view of the other pundit, though. ;)
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