Stephen Batchelor - A Critique of "Buddhism Without Beliefs"

No holds barred discussion on the Buddhadharma. Argue about rebirth, karma, commentarial interpretations etc. Be nice to each other.

Re: A Critique of "Buddhism Without Beliefs"

Postby Dechen Norbu » Sat Apr 30, 2011 6:55 am

Exactly.
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Re: A Critique of "Buddhism Without Beliefs"

Postby ground » Sat Apr 30, 2011 9:56 am

Huseng wrote:It is normally called "adharma" or false dharma. :namaste:



What appears to be "adharma" or "false dharma" may be so from the perspective of teaching others.
However what appears to be "adharma" or "false dharma" not necessarily is "adharma" or "false dharma" from the perspective of the one who tries to express what is inexpressible on the basis of lacking the skill to express in a way that may convey conducive meaning to others.

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Re: A Critique of "Buddhism Without Beliefs"

Postby Aemilius » Sat Apr 30, 2011 10:05 am

Dechen Norbu wrote:Huseng, you want to see real crap?
There. Buddhism Lite at its best (or, as I like to call it, psychobullshit dharma):
Not that I disagree with EVERYTHING, but as this is a trend, there you have it.

(from: http://www.zenforuminternational.org/vi ... =64&t=6557)

-----------------------------
I have a confession to make: I don't believe in Buddha.

It may be shocking for a Buddhist priest to say so, as shocking as hearing a Catholic priest say he "doesn't believe in Jesus". But it's true nonetheless. I am a Buddhist priest who thinks "Buddha" is largely bunk and baloney.

At least, I think there's a lot of "bull" to how Buddha is typically portrayed. I think many of the utterly fantastic Mahayana Sutra stories of Buddhas are ridiculous ... hyper-exaggerated ... just unbelievable! (meaning that they cannot be literally believed any more than children's fairy tales). The imagery is incredibly beautiful ... but the tale just incredible nonsense, purely the product of human imagination. I think the image of a "Perfect Buddha" ... either in this world or some Buddha Land ... as a flawless being beyond all human weakness, conflict and ignorance ... is a fable, a religious myth. I think most of the old miracle filled stories are well meaning fictions, sometimes holy lies, and the golden statues and paintings of Buddhas are but depictions of exaggerated dreams.

Oh, I believe that there was a man who lived whom we now call "the Buddha", but I think what happened over the centuries' is his victimhood to a process of hagiography. A Buddha or Ancestor dies (same for Jesus, saints and holy men in other religions) and ... century by century ... those in the religion (looking from afar at what the attainments actually were on the part of their "religious icon" and with need to depict the top value of the religion) go over the top, start to imagine, fantasize and exaggerate the wonderful nature of the teacher and teaching into something super-human. A flesh and blood teacher who was merely "Great, Profound and Wonderful" must unfortunately becomes someone "Magical, Miraculous and Mythical" ... all to the point of Malarky. The worshipful dip the man in gold, remove all human qualities and gradually turn their hero into a statue, a super-hero. As a result, "Buddha" is no more real than "Beowulf" or "Batman".

However ... my doubts about make believe "Buddhas" are not important to my Buddhist practice in the least.

As well, although I do not believe in imaginary Buddhas ... I believe in Buddhas.

Better said, I know Buddha for a fact!

How? What? Let me explain.

I believe in ... I KNOW ... Buddha in many ways, each Real as Real can be.

One way is to see that such Buddhas (Bodhisattvas too) exist as a paradigm, an ideal, a goal representing the best of the human condition to which men and women can aspire. As I said in a talk last week on Kannon, the symbol of Compassion: It does not matter that she "may not be really real", for we make Kannon "really real" in life:


I had a hard time, for many years, incorporating into my practice many figures such as Kannon and Jizo ...

I have come to see "them" as archtypes, representing real characteristics of human life and (since we are just the universe) thus the universe.

In other words: When we feel in our hearts and act upon Love and Compassion, thereby Love and Compassion exist as real, concrete aspects of the world which our hearts and acts create. There is no "inside" or "outside" ultimately, thus what is inside you is just as much "the universe" and concrete reality as the moon, gravity and the stars. That is "Kannon", in that way a real and concrete aspect and 'force' of the world. Her 1000 helping hands are our hands, and our actions make her real in the world.



As with Bodhisattvas, so it is with the Buddha, all the Buddhas. Wisdom and Compassion realized in each of us is the realization (meaning both "the discovery" and "the making real") of Buddha in the world. We make Buddha real, Kannon and the other Bodhisattvas too. (Mara and the Devil too if we act badly).

Next, I believe in the Buddha when I prove the worth of the Buddha's Teachings in my own life. The proof here is right in life's pudding. The Teachings are the Truth of Buddha that we can each verify in our lives. The Heart of the Buddha's teachings ... the Four Noble Truths, the Eightfold Path, Non-Self, Non-Attachment, Dependent Origination, the Middle Way, so much more, ... are all here now and can be known to all of us ... worth the whole ticket of admission!

What's more, I recognize that the fantastic stories, the idealized images of Buddhas ... even the most incredible allegories and hallucinatory images of the Mahayana Sutras ... are merely attempts to convey these wondrous Truths and Teachings, to show their power. Even if I do not take the Sutra stories literally, I can dig what they are trying to say behind the wild way they do it. In that way, even the most bizarre image found in some Sutra tale is True if the Teaching it attempts to convey is True.

And ultimately, although I do not believe at all in so-called "Awakened Buddhas who have mastered the Dharma 100% and are Perfect Beings beyond all human flaws" ... I believe through and through in "Awakened Buddhas who have mastered the Dharma 100% and are Perfect Beings beyond all human flaws".

Huh? Sounds like a contradiction there? Sounds like I am speaking out of both sides of my no sided mouth? Well, get over it. This Buddhist Way allows for countless "contradictions" held in total harmony!

You see, I believe in Buddhas who are Perfectly Buddha, Perfectly Reality ... beyond small human concepts of the "pure" and "impure", fully manifesting and enlivening the Dance of Emptiness. That is a kind of Purity and Perfection when there is dropped all human judgments of the stained vs. the pure. I believe in Buddhas who are always moral, never breaking a Precept ... for there is no Precept that can ever be broken, nothing to steal or do violence to, and no separate 'other' to take or injure in any way. Yes, Virginia, there is a Buddha beyond all thought of lack or flaw! In fact, in the realm of Real Buddha, even small minded judgments of "real" and "unreal" cleanly drop away.

And when we couple this Great Buddha with the Buddhas we make real in our lives ... by manifesting Wisdom and Compassion in our thoughts, words and acts ... we have a way to manifest that Perfect Buddha right here in the Saha world. We do our best in this life to live Compassionately by the Precepts avoiding harm. We fill ourselves with Prajna Wisdom, seeing this world for the 'dream within a dream' it truly is. At the moment, Buddha and all the Great Bodhisattvas are also real as real can be, walking the earth.

The extreme and exaggerated stories of Buddhas' powers are but a mental mirror reflection of human imperfections, extrapolated to the ultimate by men based on seeing what men are now not. These images are themselves just 'Made in Samsara'. Paintings of 'Nirvana' are themselves imperfect goods of Samsara! Yet, there is Nirvana, this Perfection swallowing all small human mirages of perfection and imperfection ... and such is Buddha!

Thus, Buddhas are but fables and lies, Buddhas are human aspirations, Buddhas are True Teachings, Buddhas are Whole and Complete beyond "full" or "lack", Buddhas live and breathe in the world when we live and breath like Buddhas.


The Buddhist Path is Real



Liberation is Real



Buddha is Real
---------------------------------------------


Do you then believe that the Mahayana sutras are concretely true? -that they portray the historically true? If so you are capable of much more belief in the miraculous and the fantastic than most others. Which is very good. But it is a difficult thing to do.
I think this Zenforum-man is an honest and sincere person, and therefore he doesn't deserve to be ridiculed.

with kind regards
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Re: A Critique of "Buddhism Without Beliefs"

Postby Jikan » Sat Apr 30, 2011 12:32 pm

Dechen Norbu wrote:No. I think the guy is deluded that's all. I wouldn't consider him a charlatan. Only a fellow deeply biased by materialist metaphysics.


Maybe a materialist in a colloquial sense, but a rigorous materialist would regard Batchelor as an idealist or a nihilist by turns.
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Re: A Critique of "Buddhism Without Beliefs"

Postby Jikan » Sat Apr 30, 2011 12:36 pm

TMingyur wrote:
Huseng wrote:It is normally called "adharma" or false dharma. :namaste:



What appears to be "adharma" or "false dharma" may be so from the perspective of teaching others.
However what appears to be "adharma" or "false dharma" not necessarily is "adharma" or "false dharma" from the perspective of the one who tries to express what is inexpressible on the basis of lacking the skill to express in a way that may convey conducive meaning to others.

Kind regards


This is an interesting and subtle point. It's not uncommon for this expression to be unconventional (upaya...). For ordinary students seeking direction, however, I wonder if the more conventional expressions of Dharma may be more useful or at least more risky.

There are other kinds of cases, though. For instance, is this adharma or is it upaya?

viewtopic.php?f=64&t=3949&start=20#p37441
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Re: A Critique of "Buddhism Without Beliefs"

Postby Lazy_eye » Sat Apr 30, 2011 1:58 pm

I think Batchelor and a few others are attempting to locate some viable common ground between spirituality and science, a project which is apt to get them hated by the ideologues on both sides of the line. The religious true believers and doctrinal enforcers can't tolerate Batchelor's heterodoxy, while the hardcore scientific materialists dismiss the whole enterprise becase they see religion as useless, outdated and even malignant -- a "virus of the mind".

Still, if a way out of the current impasse is found, it may be partly thanks to their efforts. And I would rather see people interested in Batchelor as opposed to the various new age hucksters out there.
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Re: A Critique of "Buddhism Without Beliefs"

Postby Dechen Norbu » Sat Apr 30, 2011 6:45 pm

That has a problem though. You won't succeed in bringing Dharma and science together by corrupting the Dharma. (I don't believe they can be brought together either, but there may be some cross pollination that would need further discussion to be properly understood, but this is out of the scope of this thread).
This is what Alan Wallace tries to do with his Shamatha Project, this is what the Mind and Life Institute aims... there are many good examples.
And then there's Batchelor and others that do little more than corrupting the Dharma so that it fits their biases. I'm sure they mean well, but corrupting the Dharma is not the way to achieve good results, IMO. To me, seeing people interested in Batchelor or in other new age fellows is pretty much the same. Both are useless. Dharma will be corrupted from within, so there's where the biggest danger lurks. When Dharma teachers start spreading adharma, there's reason for concern.
If a scientist thinks about Buddhism in the way Batchelor does, I see no problem. But Batchelor was a monk, if memory doesn't fail me. He should know better.
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Re: A Critique of "Buddhism Without Beliefs"

Postby Dechen Norbu » Sat Apr 30, 2011 7:09 pm

The "upaya" argument is abused too often. Upaya means a very qualified teacher using skills to lead students under certain conditions in the right track, not being oneself deluded and spreading delusion. I would say Alan Wallace's book "Choosing Reality, : A Buddhist View of Physics and the Mind" could be considered upaya. Batchelor's "Buddhism without Beliefs" is simply garbage.
We have to accept that not everyone will follow the Dharma. Period. People have the right of believing in God, of being materialists, of being whatever they want to be as long as they don't hurt others.
Dumbing down Dharma or giving it a spin so that it fits alien biases is a subtle form of proselytism. We shouldn't corrupt Dharma so that it becomes amenable to everyone, risking that one day it becomes completely useless for all. That's my take, at least. :smile:
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Re: A Critique of "Buddhism Without Beliefs"

Postby Dechen Norbu » Sat Apr 30, 2011 7:52 pm

Aemilius wrote:
Do you then believe that the Mahayana sutras are concretely true? -that they portray the historically true? If so you are capable of much more belief in the miraculous and the fantastic than most others. Which is very good. But it is a difficult thing to do.
I think this Zenforum-man is an honest and sincere person, and therefore he doesn't deserve to be ridiculed.

with kind regards
Aemilius

If you read my post carefully, you would see I said I wasn't disagreeing with all he said. Your post got stuck in the part I mostly agree with.
Explaining exactly what I disagree with and why would lead to a long post that is unnecessary.
I'm well aware of what are hagiographies. But he goes from 88 to 8 while I find we have a lot in the middle.

I won't discuss his honesty and sincerity, since I don't know the fellow that well. I'm talking about what he says, not about him as a person, although I wouldn't choose him as a close friend because of some attitudes he had in the past (not against me personally). Pretty ugly, IMO, and not suitable to a Dharma teacher.

Now, I think his version of the Buddhadharma is worthless bullshit. That's all. That crap doesn't even have mundane value, if you ask me. Better CBT if one has issues to deal with instead of that pseudo Dharma.

Anyway, I'm sure there's people who like it. Some also like Batchelor and others. This doesn't mean I consider what they say valid and I'm pretty sure they don't give a damn about my considerations.
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Re: A Critique of "Buddhism Without Beliefs"

Postby Fa Dao » Sat Apr 30, 2011 8:14 pm

Welcome to the Dharma-Ending Age!!!
I agree with you about batchelor et al. Let it go brother...those that are fortunate enough to know, Know...those that dont, dont
"But if you know how to observe yourself, you will discover your real nature, the primordial state, the state of Guruyoga, and then all will become clear because you will have discovered everything"-Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche
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Re: A Critique of "Buddhism Without Beliefs"

Postby Dechen Norbu » Sat Apr 30, 2011 8:56 pm

I'm less definitive than that! :lol:
Sometimes people have unnoticed biases that make quite hard for them to think outside the box. Nowadays, the moment you step an university (or sooner), philosophical naturalism is presented as a scientific fact, not a metaphysical assumption. Without noticing, people swallow hook, line and sinker and their mind becomes deeply conditioned. As if this wasn't enough, we westerners live in a society influenced by a Judeo Christian worldview, Hellenic in nature, where it's assumed a creation, a reality out there, in which we participate solely as observers. This is also a metaphysical assumption, and lately it's been questioned even by Physics.
One may be a Christian, for instance, and have a worldview more similar to an atheistic scientist than a Buddhist practitioner. It would be easier to think that the Buddhist and the Christian, being both religious (since Buddhadharma has religious aspects) would have a more similar worldview. Such isn't the case. Both the scientist and the Christian share the idea of a creation (by chance or by God), existing out there. It's even said that these are the bases of western science, knowing the Creator through the creation. Time went by and the idea of a Creator was set aside in science, but as the Cheshire cat who leaves the grin when he disappears, so did the Judeo Christian worldview left in science the metaphysics of realism (as Alan Wallace so well puts it), of the existence of a reality out there existing solely on its own.
It's then rather natural that some people find very, very hard to think outside the paradigm, this steaming from the definition of paradigm itself, by Kuhn.
So no wonder one has such materialistic prejudices when one approaches the Dharma.
Zen folks talk a lot about emptying the cup. But when we look carefully, we see that this is really, really hard to do.
If we empty the cup, we approach Dharma with an open mind (not so open that the brain falls out though, thus knowing what is an hagiography) and things that seemed impossible, disturbing and so on start becoming experience and part of our understanding.
I think some who teach the Dharma should still be students. Not shouting to the winds the importance of a beginner mind, but really understanding that beginners don't teach. Beginners learn and don't spread their confusion. People who aren't yet ready to accept the main tenets of Buddhadharma lack study and practice, thus being too immature to teach Dharma. If they start doing it, their cup was never emptied and they are making honest students waste a human life.

End of rant. :smile:
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Re: A Critique of "Buddhism Without Beliefs"

Postby Lazy_eye » Sun May 01, 2011 5:31 pm

Dechen Norbu wrote:That has a problem though. You won't succeed in bringing Dharma and science together by corrupting the Dharma. (I don't believe they can be brought together either, but there may be some cross pollination that would need further discussion to be properly understood, but this is out of the scope of this thread).
This is what Alan Wallace tries to do with his Shamatha Project, this is what the Mind and Life Institute aims... there are many good examples.
And then there's Batchelor and others that do little more than corrupting the Dharma so that it fits their biases. I'm sure they mean well, but corrupting the Dharma is not the way to achieve good results, IMO. To me, seeing people interested in Batchelor or in other new age fellows is pretty much the same. Both are useless. Dharma will be corrupted from within, so there's where the biggest danger lurks. When Dharma teachers start spreading adharma, there's reason for concern.
If a scientist thinks about Buddhism in the way Batchelor does, I see no problem. But Batchelor was a monk, if memory doesn't fail me. He should know better.


Batchelor and his followers, though, wouldn't say they are corrupting the dharma. On the contrary, they would probably argue that their approach is closer to the Buddha's intent and that, if anything, it is you who are practicing a corrupted dharma -- distorted by various cultural influences, religiosity and politics. Indeed, many Theravadins would say that Vajrayana represents a major deviation from the Buddha's teachings. So who exactly is the arbiter of what constitues "dharma" and "adharma"?

Probably an unresolvable question -- one can only answer within the framework of one's own tradition. Maybe it would be possible to do some study measuring degrees of deviation among denominations in various world religions and see where Batchelor is on the curve. Long-term, if he provokes enough interest and his school of thought survives, it might someday win recognition as "legitimate". Or it will fade out, a minor heretical blip in the history of Buddhism. Who can predict?

Sometimes people have unnoticed biases that make quite hard for them to think outside the box.


But let's be honest here: do you really support "open-mindedness"? I don't get that impression. What your post conveys is that "thinking outside the box" and "questioning assumptions" are good things as long as they result in people dropping their ideas and embracing your religious belief system. But when it comes to the latter, the box snaps shut. So basically this has nothing to do with free inquiry as a value in itself; you simply invoke it as a persuasive device with the goal of overcoming resistance. The tenets of your belief system are not, themselves, open to question because for they are simply The Truth. This is a familiar strategy which ideologies use to win recruits and propagate themselves -- deconstruct the competing beliefs, and then reprogram the recruit.

But here's the point: Batchelor is trying to approach Buddhism in a way which does allow for inquiry, investigation and reinterpretation. He is positing it as a set of practices and beliefs which at any time are subject to rethinking, should they prove to be dead ends or otherwise non-beneficial. It's a fundamentally different paradigm.

Nowadays, the moment you step an university (or sooner), philosophical naturalism is presented as a scientific fact, not a metaphysical assumption. Without noticing, people swallow hook, line and sinker and their mind becomes deeply conditioned. As if this wasn't enough, we westerners live in a society influenced by a Judeo Christian worldview, Hellenic in nature, where it's assumed a creation, a reality out there, in which we participate solely as observers. This is also a metaphysical assumption, and lately it's been questioned even by Physics.
One may be a Christian, for instance, and have a worldview more similar to an atheistic scientist than a Buddhist practitioner. It would be easier to think that the Buddhist and the Christian, being both religious (since Buddhadharma has religious aspects) would have a more similar worldview. Such isn't the case. Both the scientist and the Christian share the idea of a creation (by chance or by God), existing out there. It's even said that these are the bases of western science, knowing the Creator through the creation. Time went by and the idea of a Creator was set aside in science, but as the Cheshire cat who leaves the grin when he disappears, so did the Judeo Christian worldview left in science the metaphysics of realism (as Alan Wallace so well puts it), of the existence of a reality out there existing solely on its own.
It's then rather natural that some people find very, very hard to think outside the paradigm, this steaming from the definition of paradigm itself, by Kuhn.
So no wonder one has such materialistic prejudices when one approaches the Dharma.
Zen folks talk a lot about emptying the cup. But when we look carefully, we see that this is really, really hard to do.
If we empty the cup, we approach Dharma with an open mind (not so open that the brain falls out though, thus knowing what is an hagiography) and things that seemed impossible, disturbing and so on start becoming experience and part of our understanding.


Science isn't really comparable to philosophy or religion -- these are different disciplines with different methodologies. The issue isn't that people in the modern age have been brainwashed by a philosophical position known as "scientific materialism"; its that people are convinced by the results of scientific inquiry and that these results tend to support materialism more than they do, say, various religious/metaphysical constructs (whether "God" or "the law of karma"). But we should always be careful about equating the two --it's by no mean a "done deal".
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Re: A Critique of "Buddhism Without Beliefs"

Postby plwk » Sun May 01, 2011 6:10 pm

This is all so reminiscent of my days back in the Catholic Church: traditionalists vs modernists...Vatican II vs Trent...Ratzinger (Benedict XVI) vs Hans Kung :smile:
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Re: A Critique of "Buddhism Without Beliefs"

Postby adinatha » Sun May 01, 2011 7:00 pm

To the original poster re original posting: You could have summarize the book as follows:

White folks think reincarnation is beneath them. If the Buddha were a white guy born today, there's no way he'd buy into the superstitious nonsense spouted off by silly little hairy brown men wearing diapers.

Well to that I have one thing to say: If you want a dharma lineage that has no belief in reincarnation you got it. But one quick question...

In modern science, nothing is true or proven true. There are theories and experiments that serve only one possible purpose: to test whether a theory is *false*. This is known as "falsifiability." In falsifiability, there is no "truth."

Is it possible to devise a test that proves reincarnation is false?

The answer to that is an unequivocal "NO!"

So there is no possibility of divest ourselves of an illusion that there is such a thing as reincarnation, any more than it is possible to divest ourself of the illusion that there is just this body and when it dies the mind is just gone.

Furthermore, there is evidence of Near Death Experiences where people report witnessing things from outside of their bodies, when their brains were technically not supposed to support any conscious function, let alone hearing, seeing and memory.

Does this prove, according to modern science that reincarnation is true? Perhaps with refined enough instrumentation consciousness as energy could be detected. Watch "Ghost Hunter Adventures" and you will see how much effort is going into building such technologies. But detecting things is not disproving anything.

I just said that theories are only falsifiable. I don't see a possible theory that could be proven false regarding the existence or nonexistence of consciousness, let alone whether a consciousness is reborn. Perhaps this is the limitation of my own mind, and others will be able to formulate one. But I'm going to go out on a limb and say we will NEVER know what consciousness is from a scientific standpoint. Once science is willing to admit that, there is going to be a whole wave of new approaches to life, many incorporating the old ways whole cloth.

So this leaves us with our EXPERIENCE of consciousness and logic. The Western Theravada tradition is hamstrung with very limited methods of meditation. The silly brown people protected the really esoteric stuff, but the bottom line is there is a common experience of the continuity of consciousness from waking to sleep to dreaming to waking to dying to waking up in a dead guy's dream to going to sleep in a dead guy's sleep to waking up in a new body. That's number one.

Number two is just based on logic, in a post-modern world. Math says there must be infinite universes. INFINITE I SAY! Infinite universes means there is not just you in this body, but INFINITE NUMBERS OF YOU with INFINITE NUMBERS OF BODIES!

Where EVERY POSSIBLE ITERATION of ANY POSSIBLE EVENT...

HAS ALREADY HAPPENED! WILL HAPPEN! AND IS HAPPENING NOW!

This is because in an infinite universe situation, the pasts, presents and futures of each of these universes has ALREADY HAPPENED in some other universe. This is a total collapse of the structure of time. This means that at this very moment, now, HERE!...

Every possibility is NOW!

And every time you blink you are reborn in a new universe. So rebirth HAS TO BE TRUE!

Otherwise, the mathematical models are totally wrong and time will tell.

BUT WAIT THERE'S MORE!...

Basic awareness is said to be timeless. If one wants one can EXPERIENCE TIMELESSNESS, by recognizing the nature of awareness which is nothing more than a moment.

So timeless awareness is the point of convergence been now and all possible iterations of all possible events in all possible universes.

Which means this moment of your experience of awareness is OMNISCIENT BUDDHA!!!!

Because this moment of awareness, then, must subsume all universes.

But if you fail to realize it, and continue to hold to a limited idea of yourself, when you die, there is some version of this exact and/or basically identical version of you about to be born somewhere in some universe that has a planet resembling Earth, just about the moment they throw the sheet over your face in this one.

:buddha1:
CAW!
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Re: A Critique of "Buddhism Without Beliefs"

Postby zengammon » Mon May 02, 2011 2:43 am

hi adinatha,

I understand your pov.......

SB's teacher here was Master Kusan, a highly acclaimed monk . And yet......

All I can say is that when I don't understand what my own teacher here says, I don't go around refuting it publicly.


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Re: A Critique of "Buddhism Without Beliefs"

Postby Dechen Norbu » Mon May 02, 2011 3:21 am

Lazy_eye wrote:Batchelor and his followers, though, wouldn't say they are corrupting the dharma. On the contrary, they would probably argue that their approach is closer to the Buddha's intent and that, if anything, it is you who are practicing a corrupted dharma -- distorted by various cultural influences, religiosity and politics. Indeed, many Theravadins would say that Vajrayana represents a major deviation from the Buddha's teachings. So who exactly is the arbiter of what constitues "dharma" and "adharma"?

How could they argue such thing if what they say violates what is considered the teaching of Buddha? In a wild exercise of imagination, I may decide to interpret from the teachings that Buddha taught pantheism. Yet that doesn't mean he did. How do we know that? Because of the scriptures and the Sangha. Schools have variations, but they stay within a certain range.
Perhaps it can be said thus that the arbiters are those who haven't adulterated the core teachings of Buddhadharma at the light of their own metaphysical predilections. If Buddha wanted to be a materialist, there were such schools of thought already. He had no need to be cryptic about it.
There's more or less a consensus about what the core of the Dharma might be. The Basic Points Unifying the Theravada and the Mahayana is an important Buddhist ecumenical statement created in 1967 during the First Congress of the World Buddhist Sangha Council, and it's widely accepted. The formula has been added and pretty much represents what Buddhists consider their cannon.
I also think the words of those more qualified (meaning educated and with time spent in retreat) to teach the Dharma can serve as pointers. I would hardly qualify Batchelor as such a teacher. Ultimately the arbiters are both scriptures and masters recognized as such in their traditions. You don't become such by reading Dharma at the light of several metaphysical predilections totally alien to Buddhism, yet very patent in western scientific thought. I find quite strange that Buddha intended us to twist his teachings in such a way that they can be interpreted at the light of the XIX-XXI century metaphysics patent in a system of knowledge whose purpose is quite different. Seems reasonable to assume that the Sangha, that we still assume to be also composed of higly advanced practitioners, know what they are saying. They are the experts of Buddhadharma. We see differences between the different schools, we know why those differences exist and accept them, probably because none of them goes even close to Batchelor's presentation. The guy is an annihilationist. That's all.

Probably an unresolvable question -- one can only answer within the framework of one's own tradition. Maybe it would be possible to do some study measuring degrees of deviation among denominations in various world religions and see where Batchelor is on the curve. Long-term, if he provokes enough interest and his school of thought survives, it might someday win recognition as "legitimate". Or it will fade out, a minor heretical blip in the history of Buddhism. Who can predict?

I understand what you are saying, but I wouldn't easily agree. If the core teachings become corrupted, it may even become a huge and long lasting movement. It just won't be Buddhadharma. All schools accept some common tenets which allows them to recognize themselves as Buddhist. Batchelor doesn't. He reads Buddha's teachings according to his own prejudices. Besides, there's no movement there. Just a very small minority mainly composed of students and sympathizers, not long life practitioners. No, in the end it's just a deluded author and a few western(ized) people who want Dharma to fit their previous metaphysical predilections. Unfortunately, those biases are incompatible with Buddha's teachings.


But let's be honest here: do you really support "open-mindedness"? I don't get that impression. What your post conveys is that "thinking outside the box" and "questioning assumptions" are good things as long as they result in people dropping their ideas and embracing your religious belief system. But when it comes to the latter, the box snaps shut. So basically this has nothing to do with free inquiry as a value in itself; you simply invoke it as a persuasive device with the goal of overcoming resistance. The tenets of your belief system are not, themselves, open to question because for they are simply The Truth. This is a familiar strategy which ideologies use to win recruits and propagate themselves -- deconstruct the competing beliefs, and then reprogram the recruit.


Yes, it would be nice to be honest and not using fallacies and rhetoric to prove a point. You don't get that impression because maybe your system of beliefs is attacked, I don't know. It's not my religious belief we are talking about. Otherwise I would be referring to the Tibetan schools. It's Buddhadharma in general.
Now, and honestly, let me define what thinking outside the box means to me. There's this box composed of the metaphysical beliefs that we acquire while growing up, beliefs that may even pass unnoticed. Such is being inside a paradigm. So, if we talk of thinking outside a box, it's not the box of our friend born and raised in Thailand! Last time I've checked, the box most westerners live in is either composed by materialist biases, judeo christian biases or different combinations of both (e.g. I'm a doctor from science, but a man from God, and so on). So, this is the box I'm talking about: questioning OUR hidden metaphysical beliefs (e.g. there's a universe out there that exists on it's own), not questioning the box of a fellow born and raised in Tibet. He too will have to think outside his box (e.g. going to see a lama only to get a blessing, instead of trying to learn the Dharma; or seeing the commonalities between schools and not disparaging Theravada; considering science as valid relative knowledge, better than traditional knowledge to deal with physical trauma and so on, and so on).
So, for most westerners, thinking outside the box means thinking outside the materialist or the judeo christian paradigm, not thinking outside the box of traditional Buddhism. We have a deep belief in a creation (by chance or by God) and use different ways to access this creation. This is a bias very deeply rooted in western thinking. There are many others, materialist and not. My box was this box, not a Buddhist box. Those born Buddhist, in Buddhist cultures, will have their box to deal with.
Now, one can question the tenets of Buddhadharma. And one can totally disagree with them. One just can't call himself a Buddhist afterwards. That's what I'm saying. I believe Batchelor's followers believe he is closer to truth than Buddhists. Fine, that still doesn't make him a Buddhist to the eyes of others than his own followers.
When you say The tenets of your belief system are not, themselves, open to question because for they are simply The Truth. This is a familiar strategy which ideologies use to win recruits and propagate themselves -- deconstruct the competing beliefs, and then reprogram the recruit, you remind me hard core skeptics and the huge amount of techniques they use to avoid disturbing data or convincing evidence. You remind me fundamentalist Christians and revelation. You surely don't remind me Buddhists. Neither do I recognize myself in such statement. I just call a spade a spade. I don't question Batchelor's truth. Just his teaching as being Buddhist. I've seen that truth stated many times in college. All is physical. It didn't convince me then, it doesn't convince me now and it isn't Buddhist for sure. I'm not accessing its truth though.

But here's the point: Batchelor is trying to approach Buddhism in a way which does allow for inquiry, investigation and reinterpretation. He is positing it as a set of practices and beliefs which at any time are subject to rethinking, should they prove to be dead ends or otherwise non-beneficial. It's a fundamentally different paradigm.

He is approaching Buddhism with his mind set in another metaphysical system: ontological naturalism. It's indeed a different paradigm, one which is incompatible with Buddhadharma. IMO, his questioning is just lip service. What happens is that Buddhadharma is interpreted at the light of this set of metaphysical beliefs. I see no questioning there, just twisting so it fits inside the most common box in western scientifically minded circles. Inside his box, really.

Science isn't really comparable to philosophy or religion -- these are different disciplines with different methodologies. The issue isn't that people in the modern age have been brainwashed by a philosophical position known as "scientific materialism"; its that people are convinced by the results of scientific inquiry and that these results tend to support materialism more than they do, say, various religious/metaphysical constructs (whether "God" or "the law of karma"). But we should always be careful about equating the two --it's by no mean a "done deal".

I disagree. Who are we talking about here? People are convinced? Who are these people? There's billions of people in the world who believe in a God. Or are we talking about atheists, hardcore skeptics? Who?
The fact is people don't think much about it or even know how to think about it. I was referring to a very specific set of the population who got their mind wrapped around materialism, sometimes without even noticing, usually people who go through college. Yes, most people get convinced about the efficaciousness of technology. Most still believe a God. Science has done a very poor job answering the most basic questions of humanity, as you know, and perhaps that's the reason. Most people live almost in a schizophrenic way. They believe in science, but they believe in God, which science refutes.
The fact is that we can't consider materialism deriving from a certain set of scientific facts, even by a long shot! The data doesn't seem to suggest this metaphysical system any more than many others. This is a myth propagated by materialists. As Heisenberg said "We have to remember that what we observe is not nature herself, but nature exposed to our method of questioning". This statement alone would open a whole new discussion. If we assume all is physical, all we get are physical answers. If we probe the brain to search the mind, all we get is brain. A whole giant topic right there, but outside the scope of this one. Anyway, this materialistic bias has more to do with sociological reasons than scientific inquiry. And it's a western thing with roots in our particular History of economics/religion/philosophy/science and so on (although with the process of globalization it's spreading). Anyway, materialism failed and this is why we now have Physicalism, instead, quite broader. Same bullshit, different wording, if you ask me.
You also seem too eager to consider Buddhadharma a religion. I think the worldview of Abrahamic religions is much closer to western scientific paradigm than Madhyamaka's worldview, for instance. Western religions and science both believe in a world out there, existent by its own.

I would stay here for a long time debating this issue. I don't need to, though. When I hear the experts of Buddhadharma defending an annihilationist view and explaining it in a convincing manner (I don't see that coming, though), I'll say such view is indeed Buddhist. I'll also stop being a Buddhist, since materialism has more holes in it than a fishing net.

Anyway, I'm not here trying to convince anyone. I've stated my opinion which happens to coincide with mainstream opinion. By mainstream opinion I mean the opinion of those widely considered true experts. I know it's an argument of authority, but hey... I also believe mankind went to the moon and was never there myself. But if you like Batchelor's presentation, be my guest. It's your life.

Kind regards.
Last edited by Dechen Norbu on Mon May 02, 2011 6:13 am, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: A Critique of "Buddhism Without Beliefs"

Postby Dechen Norbu » Mon May 02, 2011 5:44 am

There's also something I find quite strange with these people who watter down Dharma to a point where it's no more than a shabby type of psychotherapy. As such, there are much better methods presented by several schools of credible psychotherapy. Of course the easy way is becoming a "dharma teacher" instead of going through the many pains implied in becoming a proficient psychotherapist.

Now, here's a point I would like to see debated. If one believes materialism, why on Earth would such a person become a Buddhist?! I can think of faster ways of getting satisfaction, for goodness sake. Because if one is a materialist, one doesn't speak about happiness, much less Enlightenment. One speaks about subjective life satisfaction. One can't be a materialist and get rid of the duality subject/object by many reasons, the first being the metaphysical stance of realism. If objects have inherent existence, then there's always this duality. This duality is avidya and this is the opposite of Buddhahood.

When we practice, we have an aim and that aim is Enlightenment. Let's forget a bit the methods, if they are gradual or not, the attachment to the concept of Enlightenment and so on, for discussion's sake. The path to Enlightenment bares many signs of progress, many experiences that guide us and utterly change our life. It's not about feeling good as we cruise along or surfing the moment or whatever new idea folks decided to invent. Striving for Enlightenment brings great pains, deep suffering, bearable only because we know where we're heading and are rooted in a deep understanding of Duhkha and the Dharma Marga. Those who think it will be a walk in the park, know nothing about it. It won't. If these pains don't come along, then the only thing getting stronger is their Ego, not insight, not wisdom. Anyone who has practiced long enough knows this.
It simply wouldn't worth all the trouble it if the purpose was a shabby well being that also ended with death. Come on! There's drugs for that, there's psychotherapy and definitively there's an easier way of having a balanced and satisfiable life. There are so much easier ways of having a fulfilling life if one thinks it ends with death! There's no need to go through the pains that practice will bring. We have a lot of shit down there that comes up as soon as we start doing it for real. It isn't pleasant and it gets worse before getting better.

All beings want happiness, all beings avoid suffering. That said, if you believe you're a robot walking towards annihilation, because that's the corollary of materialism, what's the point of going through any pain at all? Attachment to existence? Why if it has gone wrong? Fear? Perhaps...

I'm convinced materialist buddhists who come with that banter about worldly pleasures (mind you that having a family can be considered as such) not bringing long lasting well being and all that do so because they are coward and weak, if they believe death is the end. We can pig in the "good stuff" of the world while being decent folk. OK, it's only deceitfully good stuff, but who cares? We won't be around long enough to really find that out. Let's forget attachment and all that because life is too short. Let's get attached to good things and fight for them. When we are fighting we are too much distracted to even feel the lack of plenitude that characterizes life. But this takes brains, looks and guts, so they settle for a sort of mild "peace of mind", a mediocre existence whose only solace is that artificial state they call peace. Real peace comes from insight and insight needs real practice, practice not possible if one believes he is a robot.
We could discuss moral outside any soteriological perspective, but in the end and for the common folk, it's about lacking guts, capacity and opportunity, not empathy or compassion. Compassion, real compassion, not faked pious and "make believe" compassion is born from wisdom, not social skills. So it's easier to strive for that watered down version of enlightenment instead of having the guts to fight for what we want. The other way? Becoming a real Buddhist and this means having a long run perspective, encompassing multiple lives. Getting the good stuff for one life doesn't cut it any longer. We have to face that after all the good stuff is not good stuff. Even the pleasure that we get from the good stuff is nothing compared to Nirvana. In fact, good stuff is suffering and even if we get away with it in one life, who knows when our good karma will run out?

So, if one is a materialist (using the term more or less loosely) one has to be stupid to become a Buddhist. Better get a good job, a nice wife and cool kids and be happy. Or become a libertine! Whatever! It will be over soon enough (or so they think).

Anyone wants to discuss this?
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Re: A Critique of "Buddhism Without Beliefs"

Postby Dechen Norbu » Mon May 02, 2011 6:02 am

Oh, I forgot another point. The easy way out! :lol:
If one practices for 30 years and still acts like a complete jerk and has achieved little in terms of mind taming it's easier to "humanize the Buddha", filling him with our flaws and the like, instead of recognizing that one's practice is failing miserably. That's what I call the easy way out.

I've remembered this because once the abbot of the Dzogchen Monastery in Tibet told at a teaching that if our life and mind (here I think we was referring to taming it) weren't radically changed after 20 years or so practicing, that surely meant we weren't practicing correctly (not that the Buddha had flaws!). :rolling:
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Re: A Critique of "Buddhism Without Beliefs"

Postby Aemilius » Mon May 02, 2011 12:16 pm

Dechen Norbu wrote:If you read my post carefully, you would see I said I wasn't disagreeing with all he said. Your post got stuck in the part I mostly agree with.
Explaining exactly what I disagree with and why would lead to a long post that is unnecessary.
I'm well aware of what are hagiographies. But he goes from 88 to 8 while I find we have a lot in the middle.

I won't discuss his honesty and sincerity, since I don't know the fellow that well. I'm talking about what he says, not about him as a person, although I wouldn't choose him as a close friend because of some attitudes he had in the past (not against me personally). Pretty ugly, IMO, and not suitable to a Dharma teacher.

Now, I think his version of the Buddhadharma is worthless bullshit. That's all. That crap doesn't even have mundane value, if you ask me. Better CBT if one has issues to deal with instead of that pseudo Dharma.

Anyway, I'm sure there's people who like it. Some also like Batchelor and others. This doesn't mean I consider what they say valid and I'm pretty sure they don't give a damn about my considerations.


I'm also talking about what he says, I wonder if you have read at all what he says ? I mean that he has a literary style, he expresses himself very well and elegantly, like a true literary person does, like poet or a well known author would do. Please read his posting again, like when you are reading a well known novelist. His literary style is far above anything that we normally see in the Dharma Wheel, this is my impression of it.
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Re: A Critique of "Buddhism Without Beliefs"

Postby ground » Mon May 02, 2011 1:48 pm

When there is doubt there is arising of interest in "Buddhism Without Beliefs". Without doubt no interest arises.

There are so many books telling people "Buddhism is 'that' but not 'this'". Why care about second hand opinions at all?

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