Dechen Norbu wrote:
So considering everything one has to ask, are all the Buddhist texts (sutras, tantras and suttas) true? And to what extent? To what extent are they allegorical or literal, metaphorical or culturally/historically irrelevant to our times? Can we cherry-pick the texts? As someone on here mentioned, this prohibition may be because of "Brahmanical sexual rulings" (I may have slightly misquoted but this seems to have been the basic statement). How much of the sutras do we take inspiration from? How much not? When I see Buddhist monks or priests lift up the sutras in reverence, are they believing word for word everything? I like Stephen Batchelor, author of "Buddhism Without Belief"'s approach, although despite how much we can secularize Buddhism or abstract the texts or look at them in a cultural context, they seem to be quite clear about the inferior status of women and homosexuals, as well as promoting sexual repression and austerity as the only way to be truly happy, thus eschewing a healthy sex life, and positing the existence of supernatural beings (devas, Buddhas and bodhisattvas) that we cannot prove exist through any epistemological investigation or Socratic deduction. They posit karma an rebirth and enlightenment, which cannot be proven as true.
Look: I'm playing the Devil's advocate here for a reason: I like Buddhism. There are aspects of it that make sense to me. But before I even slightly accept any belief I like to test and prod and debate. A Zen priest once told me to exercise "great doubt", so that's what I'm doing. Don't take my statements as an attack on Buddhism. Any good philosophy should be tested on a proving ground of evidence and reason.
I am eagerly awaiting your responses and I have enjoyed the ones posted thus far.
Nothing in Buddhadharma is actually true in the ultimate sense. It's a raft. Means to an end. What matters is if it works, meaning if it takes you from ignorance to enlightenment, whatever illusions you need to be told to such effect. A set of illusions to cut trough the biggest of them all. If I'm worried when a supposed scientist starts talking about intelligent design, for example, it doesn't worry me the least if a Buddhist teacher uses ancient cosmogony to make a point. The aim is different. While science will try to provide you an accurate description of what you experience as real, Buddhism will shatter your notion of reality It will get you to the realization that this life is a dream. So, more important than if this or that text is true in similar terms of those used science, what matters most is if it works. That you can only find out for yourself, hopefully with the help of the experts in this. Buddhadharma is loka samvriti satya, not paramartha satya. It is not Sadharma, the fruit of the practice. It is the finger pointing, not the moon.
In a certain way we all cherry pick as nobody practices all the methods available. We need to find out the one that works better according to our circumstances. Now, if we dramatically change the teachings, we may be left without a working method, just because we took Buddhadharma for what it isn't. That's Batchelor's case, when he misunderstood the aim of Buddhism and mixed it with a competing metaphysical system. It is not good for science or Buddhism and Batchelor isn't an expert in any of them. His hybridized version of the Dharma doesn't worth the paper where it is written. It's a finger pointing to his self image. If you like his work, and you have every right to do so, try to be critical about it too for your own sake.
He seemed fair to me. But I'll have to look over his stuff again.
The only thing that concerns me about what you said is that we need, "A set of illusions to cut trough the biggest of them all." Self-deception can certainly help a particular cause, yes, (I tend to think of, for example, the Siege of Antioch, when a Christian monk essentially made up a story about finding the spear that pierced Christ's side beneath a church in the city to bolster the morale of the defending army against their attackers... and, not surprisingly, they came out victorious although they were quite outnumbered) however I see no reason why we need to lie to ourselves about grandiose metaphysical matters in order to achieve personal liberation. How does believing in Avalokiteshvara make me any more compassionate than I am already, say, in instances when I see a beggar on the street or a sick child in need of help? How does vowing to save devas and beings I on't even know exist extend my commitment to the Bodhisattva path when I can simply vow to help those who I know
are in real need of help in this world? Sure, you can argue, as others have to me on this site, that, "Avalokiteshvara is as real as we are," (i.e. not much at all -- given annica), but this seems like a cop out. Under this pretense unicorns are real, and so are meatball monsters and giant floating coffee cups from Neptune. I just find uncertainty to be a much safer and more tenable position than epistemological uncertainty. Other Buddhists have told me to meditate and that I will eventually experience different realms and beings, but y'know the contemplative Christian monks say they experience the Holy Spirit and Sufis experience the presence of Allah and Hindu sadhus experience Shiva's presence when they smoke hashish and sit by the Ganges. Can we really make an argument from religious experience when so many religious experiences differ?
I don't want to go off topic from the issue of homosexuality too much, but that's just my two cents. And that's why I'm a skeptic about bodhisattvas, rebirth, devas, hell realms, and, to a lesser extent, enlightenment and karma and the possibility of a Buddha even existing.