"Free Belief Buddhism"

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"Free Belief Buddhism"

Postby Jikan » Mon Jan 03, 2011 3:43 pm

Remember S. Batchelor's book Buddhism Without Beliefs?

Here is a relatively recent response to it by a Zen teacher down the street from me. He covers some unexpected ground with it. In particular:

In a nutshell, Mr. Batchelor's Buddhism is a safe place for atheists. Contrary to popular belief, Buddhism is not an atheistic tradition, it is non-theistic tradition in which the Deity (big 'D') or deities (plural) are not separate from nature, but rather part of the natural order of things. It is the once-human Buddhas and Bodhisattvas which are the decisive agents of salvation, in this case framed as the purpose of Buddhism--to relieve the suffering of all sentient beings.

However, because these brief sentances transmit a belief that is inherent in Buddhism, not subject to independant scientific verification, beliefs such as this have no room in Mr. Batchelor's version of Buddhism.


Thoughts on this?

Link to the article in full:

http://taegowashington.blogspot.com/201 ... dhism.html
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Re: "Free Belief Buddhism"

Postby Jikan » Mon Jan 03, 2011 4:16 pm

Some of the questions that came up for me while reading this:

Are "the once-human Buddhas and Bodhisattvas" usually presented as "the decisive agents of salvation" in Zen generally and the Taego school in particular?

If so, and also assuming that Batchelor's position is as the author describes it, does an atheistic attitude on the part of a student negate or preclude or make impossible the beneficent activities of the bodhisattvas in their lives? That is: do you need to believe in the Vows of the Cry Regarder in order to be helped in any way by her, or do bodhisattvas just meet beings where they are and help where they can regardless of their adherence or doctrine?
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Re: "Free Belief Buddhism"

Postby tobes » Mon Jan 03, 2011 4:29 pm

Jikan wrote:Remember S. Batchelor's book Buddhism Without Beliefs?

Here is a relatively recent response to it by a Zen teacher down the street from me. He covers some unexpected ground with it. In particular:

In a nutshell, Mr. Batchelor's Buddhism is a safe place for atheists. Contrary to popular belief, Buddhism is not an atheistic tradition, it is non-theistic tradition in which the Deity (big 'D') or deities (plural) are not separate from nature, but rather part of the natural order of things. It is the once-human Buddhas and Bodhisattvas which are the decisive agents of salvation, in this case framed as the purpose of Buddhism--to relieve the suffering of all sentient beings.

However, because these brief sentances transmit a belief that is inherent in Buddhism, not subject to independant scientific verification, beliefs such as this have no room in Mr. Batchelor's version of Buddhism.


Thoughts on this?

Link to the article in full:

http://taegowashington.blogspot.com/201 ... dhism.html



For some reason I've never actually gotten round to reading Batchelor, but I suspect that like many strong atheists, he commits the same kind of dogmatism which he is trying to dispel. I am very familiar with the anti-religion tendency, especially in intellectual circles.....but usually proponents within this trajectory disavow the incredible nuance and diversity within particular theologies. I could understand why someone would want to attack this particular theology or that, but to to try and destroy the whole category of "religion" is as nonsensical as even the most stringent believer of tooth fairies.

I like your Zen teacher's response: at the end of the day, practitioners are going to have a wide range of understandings; surely they all must be accepted. Right view is not something which can be forced upon a person ~ it must be cultivated slowly.

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Re: "Free Belief Buddhism"

Postby Indrajala » Mon Jan 03, 2011 4:30 pm

Jikan wrote:
In a nutshell, Mr. Batchelor's Buddhism is a safe place for atheists. Contrary to popular belief, Buddhism is not an atheistic tradition, it is non-theistic tradition in which the Deity (big 'D') or deities (plural) are not separate from nature, but rather part of the natural order of things. It is the once-human Buddhas and Bodhisattvas which are the decisive agents of salvation, in this case framed as the purpose of Buddhism--to relieve the suffering of all sentient beings.

However, because these brief sentances transmit a belief that is inherent in Buddhism, not subject to independant scientific verification, beliefs such as this have no room in Mr. Batchelor's version of Buddhism.


Thoughts on this?


Deva are sentient beings too. To understand their suffering one needs to have direct experience of their state of existence (particularly in the rupa and arupa lokas) which requires deep yogic insight and abilities. I suspect Batchelor has neither.
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Re: "Free Belief Buddhism"

Postby Jikan » Tue Jan 04, 2011 3:05 pm

tobes wrote:For some reason I've never actually gotten round to reading Batchelor, but I suspect that like many strong atheists, he commits the same kind of dogmatism which he is trying to dispel. I am very familiar with the anti-religion tendency, especially in intellectual circles.....but usually proponents within this trajectory disavow the incredible nuance and diversity within particular theologies. I could understand why someone would want to attack this particular theology or that, but to to try and destroy the whole category of "religion" is as nonsensical as even the most stringent believer of tooth fairies.

I like your Zen teacher's response: at the end of the day, practitioners are going to have a wide range of understandings; surely they all must be accepted. Right view is not something which can be forced upon a person ~ it must be cultivated slowly.

:namaste:


Batchelor's position is actually not atheistic, but rather agnostic. (At least by intention: these are the terms Batchelor uses.) It's more like the famous "Don't Know Mind" of Korean Zen than the atheism one might see in Bertrand Russell or Daniel Dennett. For what it's worth.

This leads to another question I have about Rev. Lissabet's article: is the bodhisattva path really a doctrine to accept or reject? That is: is it necessary to accept it as an article of faith to put it into practice?
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Re: "Free Belief Buddhism"

Postby Individual » Tue Jan 04, 2011 3:24 pm

Batchelor is one side of the coin. Useful for some people.

Don't let it bother you. Accept what's useful and move on.
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Re: "Free Belief Buddhism"

Postby Jikan » Tue Jan 04, 2011 3:52 pm

Individual wrote:Batchelor is one side of the coin. Useful for some people.

Don't let it bother you. Accept what's useful and move on.


Speaking for myself here: I'm not bothered by Batchelor. I think his project is a useful one insofar as it provokes people to thinking and discussion. One might draw an analogy to the Critical Buddhists in contemporary Japan, although their thinking is much more rigorous (or at least more radical and thoroughgoing) than Batchelor's.

Batchelor's more of a poet than a philosopher. Different kind of labor.

What I'd like to understand better is the how and why of certain kinds of responses to Batchelor. I don't have a very good understanding of this, hence my questions above.
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Re: "Free Belief Buddhism"

Postby Individual » Tue Jan 04, 2011 4:02 pm

Jikan wrote:
Individual wrote:Batchelor is one side of the coin. Useful for some people.

Don't let it bother you. Accept what's useful and move on.


Speaking for myself here: I'm not bothered by Batchelor. I think his project is a useful one insofar as it provokes people to thinking and discussion. One might draw an analogy to the Critical Buddhists in contemporary Japan, although their thinking is much more rigorous (or at least more radical and thoroughgoing) than Batchelor's.

Batchelor's more of a poet than a philosopher. Different kind of labor.

What I'd like to understand better is the how and why of certain kinds of responses to Batchelor. I don't have a very good understanding of this, hence my questions above.

Well, people have one-sided views. Batchelor has his and his opponents have theirs.
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Re: "Free Belief Buddhism"

Postby Jikan » Tue Jan 04, 2011 4:22 pm

Individual wrote:Well, people have one-sided views. Batchelor has his and his opponents have theirs.


That's true as far as it goes. I'd put it this way: people have different contours, hangups, and habits to their views. These don't always square, and sometimes come into conflict.

This is one reason why dialectical thinking (or at least dialogic thinking) has real value: there's movement to it. Learning happens instead of endless and vehement reiteration. &c.

Agonism > antagonism. :cheers:
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Re: "Free Belief Buddhism"

Postby Indrajala » Tue Jan 04, 2011 4:52 pm

Jikan wrote:One might draw an analogy to the Critical Buddhists in contemporary Japan, although their thinking is much more rigorous (or at least more radical and thoroughgoing) than Batchelor's.


I have no reason to believe that Critical Buddhism in Japan is more than an intellectual game amongst scholars who neither meditate or actually practise Buddhadharma.

Batchelor might meditate, but what he is teaching isn't Buddhadharma.
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Re: "Free Belief Buddhism"

Postby Jikan » Tue Jan 04, 2011 5:26 pm

Huseng wrote:I have no reason to believe that Critical Buddhism in Japan is more than an intellectual game amongst scholars who neither meditate or actually practise Buddhadharma.

Batchelor might meditate, but what he is teaching isn't Buddhadharma.


As I suggested, their intervention is in philosophy, in theory. Whether critical thinking is a pointless game, a means to get tenure or merit pay, or an authentic practice in itself is a separate issue. Just based on the Pruning the Bodhi Tree volume, I'd say they are more competent in philosophy than Batchelor is, but their intervention works in a parallel way to Batchelor's: encouraging readers not to take for granted what has been presented to them as established fact. I think this is very healthy.

Thta said, I'd rather avoid speculating on the meditative practice of others.

Anyway...

:focus:
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Re: "Free Belief Buddhism"

Postby Astus » Tue Jan 04, 2011 5:37 pm

Jikan wrote:Some of the questions that came up for me while reading this:

Are "the once-human Buddhas and Bodhisattvas" usually presented as "the decisive agents of salvation" in Zen generally and the Taego school in particular?

If so, and also assuming that Batchelor's position is as the author describes it, does an atheistic attitude on the part of a student negate or preclude or make impossible the beneficent activities of the bodhisattvas in their lives? That is: do you need to believe in the Vows of the Cry Regarder in order to be helped in any way by her, or do bodhisattvas just meet beings where they are and help where they can regardless of their adherence or doctrine?


Buddhas and bodhisattvas are not decisive agents in so far as their relevance for Zen stands only in the form of teachers, guides, examples, etc.
Ear Bodhisattva (Avalokita) is there for those who call her/him - so there is a prerequisit for knowledge and faith. As for the nature of help she/he can provide is limited to the capacity of the person being helped.
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This face, the face at birth."

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Re: "Free Belief Buddhism"

Postby tobes » Wed Jan 05, 2011 1:37 am

Jikan wrote:
Individual wrote:Well, people have one-sided views. Batchelor has his and his opponents have theirs.


That's true as far as it goes. I'd put it this way: people have different contours, hangups, and habits to their views. These don't always square, and sometimes come into conflict.

This is one reason why dialectical thinking (or at least dialogic thinking) has real value: there's movement to it. Learning happens instead of endless and vehement reiteration. &c.

Agonism > antagonism. :cheers:


Beautifully said.

I actually think that Buddhism is at heart a dialectical tradition. That might be a slightly grandiose claim, but can we understand anatman and anicca without understanding the Brahmanic ideas which are negated by them?

Then of course we have Nagarjuna's relentlessly dialectical method, and the long dialectical traditions within Buddhism which it spawned.

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Re: "Free Belief Buddhism"

Postby kirtu » Wed Jan 05, 2011 1:50 am

Jikan wrote:Some of the questions that came up for me while reading this:

Are "the once-human Buddhas and Bodhisattvas" usually presented as "the decisive agents of salvation" in Zen generally and the Taego school in particular?


The author is talking about the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas being just ordinary beings one and now are bringing the wisdom of the Dharma to samsara. In that sense they are decisive agents of salvation.

And that is standard Mahayana (and definitely standard Zen).

The author doesn't intend for the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas to be seen as liberative due to their power in the sense of the Islamic-Judaic-Christian deity.

If so, and also assuming that Batchelor's position is as the author describes it, does an atheistic attitude on the part of a student negate or preclude or make impossible the beneficent activities of the bodhisattvas in their lives? That is: do you need to believe in the Vows of the Cry Regarder in order to be helped in any way by her, or do bodhisattvas just meet beings where they are and help where they can regardless of their adherence or doctrine?


Buddhas and Bodhisattvas meet people where they are and help them irregardless. But the atheistic view will block people to the fullness of their blessings (atheism is not the only thing that will block this though).

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“All beings are Buddhas, but obscured by incidental stains. When those have been removed, there is Buddhahood.”
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Re: "Free Belief Buddhism"

Postby Jikan » Wed Jan 05, 2011 2:31 am

Hi Kirt,

I agree that the view described in the article is a mainstream Mahayana view. It's not hard to find it in the Lotus Sutra and other texts popular in the Zen tradition. But is this how practice is described in mainstream Zen/Soen? My exposure to Korean Zen is limited to Wonhyo, Kihwa, and Seung Sahn Sunim, so I'm definitely asking out of a desire to learn more rather than from a position of authority here: samadhi seems to be emphasized over devotional practice.

For instance, Wonhyo does have much to say about the role of *Dharmakaya* as one's own enlightened nature drawing beings toward enlightenment. This is a call to look to the Buddha within as authoritative. Kihwa's edition of the Sutra of Perfect Enlightenment is all about the cultivation of samadhi. &c.

Hence, my question.

Second and much less important point: is Batchelor's position really atheistic? As I suggested earlier, I have reason to think Batchelor's position is a lot more like the radical skepticism Seung Sahn promotes as Don't Know Mind than the Know For Sure atheism of analytical philosophy, for instance.
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Re: "Free Belief Buddhism"

Postby kirtu » Wed Jan 05, 2011 3:11 am

Jikan wrote:I agree that the view described in the article is a mainstream Mahayana view. It's not hard to find it in the Lotus Sutra and other texts popular in the Zen tradition. But is this how practice is described in mainstream Zen/Soen?


Hi Jikan -

the term "the once-human Buddhas and Bodhisattvas which are the decisive agents of salvation" is a unique phrase presented by the Zen teacher at that moment. The usual emphasis in Rinzai, Soto and in my limited experiences in Soen is on the individual's personal insight and then taking that insight to the teacher to check it and refine it (or more usually to throw it away). This phrase, if my interpretation is correct and I think it is, is from the opposite side: the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas bringing the essential wisdom teachings to us.

Daido Roshi (with whom unfortunately in hindsight I spent very little time actually over eight or so years ) would talk about this as a part of many teachings just not using these words. He once startled me at least whenj he said directly that Shakyamuni Buddha came to this world for each and everyone one of us personally echoing the words of Christians and esp. Christian fundamentalists. In this part of an hour long teaching he basically said that Shakyamuni Buddha saw us individually through time with his wisdom. He would also often talk in different ways of the manifestations of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas in our suffering world in different forms and clearly intended this as both metaphoric and literal (for Daido I don't think there was a real difference between metaphor and literal experience on this subject since for him the Zen teaching of the entire phenomenal universe being the manifestation of enlightenment was really real).

My meager experiences in Soen are similar but not expressed in this way. She once told of stories though of the manifestations of Kwan Seum Bosal (Avalokiteshvara) in whom she has great faith as Seung Sahn definitely did. One of these stories was risqué; another said that he manifested as a demon or very ugly strange person and frightened people out of a structure that collapsed in the next few minutes. She also urged people to chant Kwan Seum Bosals mantra as she often does for others. This is to awaken ourselves and to effect positive change in the world. But she just says things simply and directly.

My exposure to Korean Zen is limited to Wonhyo, Kihwa,


Gosh I have no idea what Kihwa is (- ah a Korean Buddhiost monk circa 1350 CE)! I find Wonhyo's interpretation of Dharmakaya that you mentioned interesting.

samadhi seems to be emphasized over devotional practice.


Yeah that is true but I have to say that all my Zen/Soen teachers have been devotional. This may just be me seeing that in them as they can teach on different levels to different people according to their needs and perceptions. I would have to say that Daido was clearly devotional.

Second and much less important point: is Batchelor's position really atheistic? As I suggested earlier, I have reason to think Batchelor's position is a lot more like the radical skepticism Seung Sahn promotes as Don't Know Mind than the Know For Sure atheism of analytical philosophy, for instance.


I haven't read Batchelor. He said in an interview or two that he was basically agnostic on the issues of karma and rebirth. It seemed to me to be upaya because he thinks that's where Westerners are. I don't know if you can say that he is promoting radical skepticism. Batchelor seems to have become frozen in these views.

Seung Sahn used don't know mind to cut through everything conceptual. Really the only way to practice his school is on retreats because it's more than just don't know mind. They also have (or had) vigorous mantra/dharani practice specifically to effect change in the world and in practitioners (Seung Sahn told them this was energy practice). Hopefully they haven't thrown that out. I don't know if Seung Sahn was devotional or not (I would suspect he was though) but he definitely had faith in interdependence as that was the basis for the mantras/dharanis working and I'm getting that from my former Soen teacher by inference based on what she said.

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Re: "Free Belief Buddhism"

Postby Kyosan » Thu Jan 13, 2011 11:57 pm

So long as both sides, the "believers" and the "non-believers", are practicing in a way that leads to the other shore both forms of practice are acceptable. The "believers" should accept the "non-believers" way and the "non-believers" should accept the "believers" way. They say that in Buddhism there are 84,000 Dharma Doors. There are a multitude of ways to practice. In different times and places and with different people the most suitable way varies. That is the bodhisattva's practice of Upaya.
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Re: "Free Belief Buddhism"

Postby Kyosan » Fri Jan 14, 2011 12:32 am

tobes wrote:
Jikan wrote:
Individual wrote:Well, people have one-sided views. Batchelor has his and his opponents have theirs.


That's true as far as it goes. I'd put it this way: people have different contours, hangups, and habits to their views. These don't always square, and sometimes come into conflict.

This is one reason why dialectical thinking (or at least dialogic thinking) has real value: there's movement to it. Learning happens instead of endless and vehement reiteration. &c.

Agonism > antagonism. :cheers:


Beautifully said.

I actually think that Buddhism is at heart a dialectical tradition. That might be a slightly grandiose claim, but can we understand anatman and anicca without understanding the Brahmanic ideas which are negated by them?

Then of course we have Nagarjuna's relentlessly dialectical method, and the long dialectical traditions within Buddhism which it spawned.

:namaste:


The purpose of Buddhism is to reach the other shore. Sometimes arguments can help and sometimes sitting in meditation with a quiet mind can help. The important thing is that a person is actually seeking enlightenment and trying to attain the same understanding that Sakyamuni attained.

In the Lotus Sutra, Sakyamuni said that this understanding that he attained is impossible to describe in words. But persons who sincerely follow the Buddha way eventually attain that understanding.
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Re: "Free Belief Buddhism"

Postby Dharmakara » Fri Jan 14, 2011 4:13 am

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):

One question has framed this paper: Is Buddhism still Buddhism according to Batchelor’s agnostic interpretation? The answer arrived at through much analysis is yes. Yes, Batchelor’s Buddhism is still Buddhism, albeit a Buddhism stripped of many of its conventional trappings.

This conclusion has been arrived at primarily because Batchelor’s motivation, as evidenced throughout his books and as illustrated throughout this paper, is to make Buddhism comprehensible and accessible in order to increase its relevance in the lives of practitioners. His goal is to elicit an emotional response within practitioners that will in turn trigger inward questioning. In doing so Batchelor strips Buddhism down to its bare bones. He removes the spices so practitioners can taste its flavor. It is because of this strong and enthusiastic desire to perpetuate the Dharma, that it is impossible to accuse Batchelor of discarding the essence of Buddhism.

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. Batchelor refers to Buddhist texts, extracts from Buddhist terminology, translates from Buddhist manuscripts, and expresses no desire to call his spiritual tradition anything other than what it is – Buddhism. Although he advocates cultural dialogue, his work directly affects the permeable boundaries of Buddhist communities around the world. His thoughts and philosophies are not only about Buddhism, but they directly implicate Buddhism. For example, whereas certain new age traditions or cults draw upon Biblical sources, their philosophies do not necessarily impact on Judeo-Christian communities. This is not the case with Batchelor’s work. His agnostic ideas directly affect Buddhist philosophy and practice, because they are fundamentally about Buddhism.

It is evident that testing one’s level of commitment to a religious tradition is not as straightforward as testing pH levels with litmus paper. Determining whether a religion’s boundaries are still intact is a highly subjective enterprise, especially in the case of a religion such as Buddhism in which there is no God-given authority, but rather a focus on human agency. The Buddha was simply a human being who taught his disciples about dukkha and the path out of dukkha. Yet, he also taught disciples not to become attached to this path. In this respect, although there subsequently developed many authoritative Buddhist texts, there is room throughout for a high degree of individualism.

The boundaries of the problem are thus “objective authority”, God-given or top down, on one end, and relativism, individual or bottom-up, on the other. On this scale between “objectivity” and relativism, Batchelor lies somewhere in the middle, as do probably most practitioners of most religions. In other words, Batchelor draws upon, and regards as valid, many authoritative Buddhist texts, yet he injects his own interpretations and personal adjustments – adjustments that he feels enhance, rather than undermine, the tradition. He accepts the general framework of Buddhism, yet emphasizes its spirit of individual questioning.

These boundaries between objectivity and relativism are relevant to all aspects of contemporary life. Throughout the world today, not only in the study and practice of religion, we are witnessing shifting boundaries and definitions. For example, many ultra-orthodox Jews do not regard non-orthodox Jews as being “true” Jews. Many Catholics do not regard Protestants as being Christians. In a world in which religious and cultural dialogue is gaining in popularity and necessity, how we define what makes a Jew a Jew or a Christian a Christian will continue to be pertinent questions. These questions are particularly relevant for Buddhist communities in the Western world, as they are only in their formative stages.

This paper has provided simply one example of current debates regarding spiritual definitions and the boundaries of religions. As illustrated throughout this paper, many feel uncomfortable with expanding boundaries and subjective spirituality and wish to tighten the reigns of authority. As globalization continues to grow in all areas of life, such issues will also grow in importance and further study will be a necessity.

In the meantime, there are many with whom Batchelor’s vision resonates. They connect with his vision of a Buddhism that emanates from within each of us, yet which carries a sense of existential responsibility. They resonate with his call for small spiritual communities in which practitioners actively formulate a spirituality based on their own inner questioning. This pared down and exposed Buddhism is perhaps less a Buddhism without beliefs, and more a Buddhism without baggage.
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Re: "Free Belief Buddhism"

Postby tobes » Fri Jan 14, 2011 5:54 am

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):

One question has framed this paper: Is Buddhism still Buddhism according to Batchelor’s agnostic interpretation? The answer arrived at through much analysis is yes. Yes, Batchelor’s Buddhism is still Buddhism, albeit a Buddhism stripped of many of its conventional trappings.

This conclusion has been arrived at primarily because Batchelor’s motivation, as evidenced throughout his books and as illustrated throughout this paper, is to make Buddhism comprehensible and accessible in order to increase its relevance in the lives of practitioners. His goal is to elicit an emotional response within practitioners that will in turn trigger inward questioning. In doing so Batchelor strips Buddhism down to its bare bones. He removes the spices so practitioners can taste its flavor. It is because of this strong and enthusiastic desire to perpetuate the Dharma, that it is impossible to accuse Batchelor of discarding the essence of Buddhism.

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. Batchelor refers to Buddhist texts, extracts from Buddhist terminology, translates from Buddhist manuscripts, and expresses no desire to call his spiritual tradition anything other than what it is – Buddhism. Although he advocates cultural dialogue, his work directly affects the permeable boundaries of Buddhist communities around the world. His thoughts and philosophies are not only about Buddhism, but they directly implicate Buddhism. For example, whereas certain new age traditions or cults draw upon Biblical sources, their philosophies do not necessarily impact on Judeo-Christian communities. This is not the case with Batchelor’s work. His agnostic ideas directly affect Buddhist philosophy and practice, because they are fundamentally about Buddhism.

It is evident that testing one’s level of commitment to a religious tradition is not as straightforward as testing pH levels with litmus paper. Determining whether a religion’s boundaries are still intact is a highly subjective enterprise, especially in the case of a religion such as Buddhism in which there is no God-given authority, but rather a focus on human agency. The Buddha was simply a human being who taught his disciples about dukkha and the path out of dukkha. Yet, he also taught disciples not to become attached to this path. In this respect, although there subsequently developed many authoritative Buddhist texts, there is room throughout for a high degree of individualism.

The boundaries of the problem are thus “objective authority”, God-given or top down, on one end, and relativism, individual or bottom-up, on the other. On this scale between “objectivity” and relativism, Batchelor lies somewhere in the middle, as do probably most practitioners of most religions. In other words, Batchelor draws upon, and regards as valid, many authoritative Buddhist texts, yet he injects his own interpretations and personal adjustments – adjustments that he feels enhance, rather than undermine, the tradition. He accepts the general framework of Buddhism, yet emphasizes its spirit of individual questioning.

These boundaries between objectivity and relativism are relevant to all aspects of contemporary life. Throughout the world today, not only in the study and practice of religion, we are witnessing shifting boundaries and definitions. For example, many ultra-orthodox Jews do not regard non-orthodox Jews as being “true” Jews. Many Catholics do not regard Protestants as being Christians. In a world in which religious and cultural dialogue is gaining in popularity and necessity, how we define what makes a Jew a Jew or a Christian a Christian will continue to be pertinent questions. These questions are particularly relevant for Buddhist communities in the Western world, as they are only in their formative stages.

This paper has provided simply one example of current debates regarding spiritual definitions and the boundaries of religions. As illustrated throughout this paper, many feel uncomfortable with expanding boundaries and subjective spirituality and wish to tighten the reigns of authority. As globalization continues to grow in all areas of life, such issues will also grow in importance and further study will be a necessity.

In the meantime, there are many with whom Batchelor’s vision resonates. They connect with his vision of a Buddhism that emanates from within each of us, yet which carries a sense of existential responsibility. They resonate with his call for small spiritual communities in which practitioners actively formulate a spirituality based on their own inner questioning. This pared down and exposed Buddhism is perhaps less a Buddhism without beliefs, and more a Buddhism without baggage.


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?

This text, that tradition, this institution, that teacher, this scholar........when is any of this free from the question of interpretation?

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