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: Stephen Batchelor - A Critique of "Buddhism Without Beliefs"

Postby tobes » Wed Feb 08, 2012 11:48 pm

Huseng wrote:
tobes wrote:But surely you see the problem here Huseng? Both you and Batchelor are making an argument that what is being proposed really agrees with what the Buddha taught.


There is no problem, because I am correct in my assertion that the Buddha taught rebirth and karma, and defended these teachings against those who attempted to refute him. There's no scriptural support for Batchelor's views.



It's a very odd argument to make - given that Batchelor's whole trajectory is based on rejecting what he considers 'Tibetan dogma' and therefore explicitly returning to the Pali suttas.

What it comes down to, is how you and Batchelor interpret what the Buddha taught - what is and is not important. I don't think you can really claim a privileged position anymore than Batchelor can. Both of you are involved in a hermeneutical enterprise, and both of you necessarily ignore some of what is given and prioritise some of what is given. Both of you are fundamentally making the claim: this bit of the teaching is the essential dharma.

As it happens, I agree with your claim more than Batchelors - but I do not at all buy the dharma/adharma rhetoric. Calling an interpretation which prioritises different elements "adharmic" is just an empty ideological gesture.

Moreover, what constitutes 'scriptural support' according to you? Is Zen adharma because it basically ignores the Pali tripitaka and has its own canon? Is Dzogchen found in the Pali suttas?

Which scriptures Huseng? Only those that the Buddha taught? Anything composed by Buddhists? Only those composed by enlightened Buddhists?

Who gets to decide? And what gives them the authority to do so?

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Re: Stephen Batchelor - A Critique of "Buddhism Without Beliefs"

Postby tobes » Wed Feb 08, 2012 11:58 pm

Mr. G wrote:
Huseng wrote:based on scriptural evidence that he is teaching adharma.


Yes. How else would one judge whether a teaching is Buddhist or not? It only makes sense to reference the sutras.

There's no scriptural support for Batchelor's views.


It strikes me as pretty dogmatic to assert this when his project is explicitly grounded in a direct engagement with the Pali suttas.

He is clearly making the argument: the scriptures most primarily point to existential and pragmatic modes of being-in-the-world. The point is that he gets there via scriptural support.

Now someone earlier posted a link to Bhikkhu Bodhi, who I thought, completely nailed him on that argument.

But no one else has really bothered to actually take issue with Batchelor's interpretative argument......by engaging with it sufficiently and offering a refutation.

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Re: Stephen Batchelor - A Critique of "Buddhism Without Beliefs"

Postby Malcolm » Thu Feb 09, 2012 12:08 am

tobes wrote: Is Dzogchen found in the Pali suttas?


If you are a Dzogchenpa, of course.
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Re: Stephen Batchelor - A Critique of "Buddhism Without Beliefs"

Postby Malcolm » Thu Feb 09, 2012 12:12 am

tobes wrote:
But no one else has really bothered to actually take issue with Batchelor's interpretative argument......by engaging with it sufficiently and offering a refutation.



It is a self-defeating argument as he expects us to believe that Buddha did not believe what Buddha himself was saying, that Buddha was merely catering to the "primitive" and naive views of his day.

He overlooks the fact that during the time of the Buddha there were soteriological alternatives to rebirth and karma. Ajivikas mendicants rejected both.

India has a long tradition of very eloquent materialist philosophers.

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Re: Stephen Batchelor - A Critique of "Buddhism Without Beliefs"

Postby tobes » Thu Feb 09, 2012 5:11 am

Namdrol wrote:
tobes wrote: Is Dzogchen found in the Pali suttas?


If you are a Dzogchenpa, of course.


And what do you suppose the Theravadans would say about this?

Which brings me to the only point I'm trying to make here: hermeneutical contestation - good, necessary, interesting, fruitful.

The claim of privileged hermeneutical authenticity - dubious, without basis, ideological, unfruitful.

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Re: Stephen Batchelor - A Critique of "Buddhism Without Beliefs"

Postby tobes » Thu Feb 09, 2012 5:12 am

Namdrol wrote:
tobes wrote:
But no one else has really bothered to actually take issue with Batchelor's interpretative argument......by engaging with it sufficiently and offering a refutation.



It is a self-defeating argument as he expects us to believe that Buddha did not believe what Buddha himself was saying, that Buddha was merely catering to the "primitive" and naive views of his day.

He overlooks the fact that during the time of the Buddha there were soteriological alternatives to rebirth and karma. Ajivikas mendicants rejected both.

India has a long tradition of very eloquent materialist philosophers.

N


Agree, it is a big weakness in his argument.

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Re: Stephen Batchelor - A Critique of "Buddhism Without Beliefs"

Postby Indrajala » Thu Feb 09, 2012 10:53 am

tobes wrote:What it comes down to, is how you and Batchelor interpret what the Buddha taught - what is and is not important. I don't think you can really claim a privileged position anymore than Batchelor can. Both of you are involved in a hermeneutical enterprise, and both of you necessarily ignore some of what is given and prioritise some of what is given. Both of you are fundamentally making the claim: this bit of the teaching is the essential dharma.


It is not a matter of interpretation. It is a matter of identifying the fact that according to all known scriptures which record the Buddha's teachings, he taught rebirth (punarbhava) as a process whereby one's actions dictate where one will be reborn and the quality of that life to be lived. That is not an interpretation. This is clearly the dharma of the Buddha. To reject it would qualify you as an externalist, making it inappropriate to self-identify as a Buddhist. However, that being said, if you don't really believe the Buddha knew what he was talking about, why bother identifying as a buddhaputra?


As it happens, I agree with your claim more than Batchelors - but I do not at all buy the dharma/adharma rhetoric. Calling an interpretation which prioritises different elements "adharmic" is just an empty ideological gesture.



It isn't an empty ideological gesture. He rejects the Buddha's dharma. He does not "prioritize different elements." Prioritizing generosity over meditation would be prioritizing different elements. In his case, he rejects the Buddha's dharma.


Moreover, what constitutes 'scriptural support' according to you? Is Zen adharma because it basically ignores the Pali tripitaka and has its own canon? Is Dzogchen found in the Pali suttas?


In the current context of discussing the "historical Buddha" we have to rely on Nikaya literature as scriptural support, which is not limited to the Theravadan Pali canon. We also have the Āgama literature of various Indian schools preserved not only in Sanskrit, but in Chinese and to a limited extent in other Indic languages.

Which scriptures Huseng? Only those that the Buddha taught? Anything composed by Buddhists? Only those composed by enlightened Buddhists?


Scriptural support in this context is anything that can reliably said to record what the flesh and blood Śākyamuni Buddha verbally taught to his disciples.


Who gets to decide? And what gives them the authority to do so?


Well this is religion. We all get to decide for ourselves at the end of the day. Some individuals have a lot more power of speech than others however.
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Re: Stephen Batchelor - A Critique of "Buddhism Without Beliefs"

Postby Indrajala » Thu Feb 09, 2012 10:56 am

Namdrol wrote:It is a self-defeating argument as he expects us to believe that Buddha did not believe what Buddha himself was saying, that Buddha was merely catering to the "primitive" and naive views of his day.

He overlooks the fact that during the time of the Buddha there were soteriological alternatives to rebirth and karma. Ajivikas mendicants rejected both.

India has a long tradition of very eloquent materialist philosophers.

N



Dharmakīrti would roll in his grave if he found out that materialism passes for Buddhism these days.
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Re: Stephen Batchelor - A Critique of "Buddhism Without Beliefs"

Postby Indrajala » Thu Feb 09, 2012 11:10 am

tobes wrote:But no one else has really bothered to actually take issue with Batchelor's interpretative argument......by engaging with it sufficiently and offering a refutation.

:anjali:


Besides maybe in Japan if it got translated, almost nobody in Buddhist Asia would find his argument worth addressing as it would come across as so arrogant and incomprehensible as to merit no serious consideration.

I'm not kidding. If you tried to pitch such ideas around the monastery here in Taiwan, people would just smile and nod, and just feel sorry for you having such wrong views. If you tried teaching such ideas as legitimate in a classroom here, you'd be politely asked to stop.

Again, it just isn't worth the effort. He's a cultural imperialist who seems to assume the little natives in India were too stupid to get the real truth, so had to be given a watered down culturally-appropriate version. His appropriated version of Buddhism has little in common with how it is actually understood in Buddhist cultures. To stand up and write them all off as ignorant little natives while presuming to have a better idea than all of them is nothing more than hubris coupled with an unrecognized superiority complex. People like him just project their own cultural values and philosophical ideas onto Buddhism and then argue their version is right while those of the natives are completely wrong. They like to point out "cultural influences", but fail to point out their own biases given their background, but then that background is unquestionably regarded as the default from which all others can be judged.

Pure hubris.
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Re: Stephen Batchelor - A Critique of "Buddhism Without Beliefs"

Postby Paul » Thu Feb 09, 2012 11:31 am

Huseng wrote:
tobes wrote:But no one else has really bothered to actually take issue with Batchelor's interpretative argument......by engaging with it sufficiently and offering a refutation.

:anjali:


Besides maybe in Japan if it got translated, almost nobody in Buddhist Asia would find his argument worth addressing as it would come across as so arrogant and incomprehensible as to merit no serious consideration.

I'm not kidding. If you tried to pitch such ideas around the monastery here in Taiwan, people would just smile and nod, and just feel sorry for you having such wrong views. If you tried teaching such ideas as legitimate in a classroom here, you'd be politely asked to stop.

Again, it just isn't worth the effort. He's a cultural imperialist who seems to assume the little natives in India were too stupid to get the real truth, so had to be given a watered down culturally-appropriate version. His appropriated version of Buddhism has little in common with how it is actually understood in Buddhist cultures. To stand up and write them all off as ignorant little natives while presuming to have a better idea than all of them is nothing more than hubris coupled with an unrecognized superiority complex. People like him just project their own cultural values and philosophical ideas onto Buddhism and then argue their version is right while those of the natives are completely wrong. They like to point out "cultural influences", but fail to point out their own biases given their background, but then that background is unquestionably regarded as the default from which all others can be judged.

Pure hubris.


:good:

I don't often have time for accusations of things like 'cultural imperialism' but Batchelor is a perfect example of it. The underlying assumptions of just how dumb, superstitious and backwards he assumes most of Asia to be are quite incredible.

That there's no good argument against the physicalist worldview (often mischaracterised as the scientific view) and that anyone who disagrees is an idiot is pretty common in certain circles.
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Re: Stephen Batchelor - A Critique of "Buddhism Without Beliefs"

Postby Indrajala » Thu Feb 09, 2012 11:36 am

Paul wrote:That there's no good argument against the physicalist worldview (often mischaracterised as the scientific view) and that anyone who disagrees is an idiot is pretty common in certain circles.


That's basically what you find in among western intelligentsia. Said worldview is the default and anything else is an aberration easily crushed by the might of "established fact".

Interesting how the old dogmatic ways of Christianity are reproduced in modern western thought. If you're against the establishment, you're an uneducated heathen. Everyone should have the same worldview as the establishment has whether they like it or not.
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Re: Stephen Batchelor - A Critique of "Buddhism Without Beliefs"

Postby mindyourmind » Thu Feb 09, 2012 11:55 am

I can't say that I pay Batchelor much attention, but I always, when reading or listening to his thoughts, have this sneaking suspicion that he is really just trying to be controversial for its own sake, that he is trying to chip out a little niche for himself where otherwise he would not have been able to. That this is more marketing than a true, genuine dharma opinion. In other words, I have huge problems with his credibility.
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Re: Stephen Batchelor - A Critique of "Buddhism Without Beliefs"

Postby Paul » Thu Feb 09, 2012 12:06 pm

Huseng wrote:
Paul wrote:That there's no good argument against the physicalist worldview (often mischaracterised as the scientific view) and that anyone who disagrees is an idiot is pretty common in certain circles.


That's basically what you find in among western intelligentsia. Said worldview is the default and anything else is an aberration easily crushed by the might of "established fact".

Interesting how the old dogmatic ways of Christianity are reproduced in modern western thought. If you're against the establishment, you're an uneducated heathen. Everyone should have the same worldview as the establishment has whether they like it or not.


I have quite a few friends in academia. If you are not a socialist with a strong materialist bent and a dislike of the usual bad guys (in the UK that's Christianity, the Tories etc.) you are a major abberation. And possibly evil (I mean this seriously).

It's interesting just how poorly many fields are represeented in academia and in othwer institutions in general, such as the media and government. Science seems to be held up in a very strange way. Even academics often have a poor understanding of what 'science' actually is, let alone the current understanding in very diverse fields. Many may claim to be materialists, but according to the current scientific understanding, what is matter? Certainly not something nice and straightforward. The 'established fact' you mention is not quite so factual if looked at carefully.

As a side not, I now find that the more you understand and appreciate any point of view, the harder it is to dismiss it or argue against it.

mindyourmind wrote:I can't say that I pay Batchelor much attention, but I always, when reading or listening to his thoughts, have this sneaking suspicion that he is really just trying to be controversial for its own sake, that he is trying to chip out a little niche for himself where otherwise he would not have been able to. That this is more marketing than a true, genuine dharma opinion. In other words, I have huge problems with his credibility.


Well, those bills need paying...
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Re: Stephen Batchelor - A Critique of "Buddhism Without Beliefs"

Postby Anders » Thu Feb 09, 2012 12:10 pm

Namdrol wrote:It is a self-defeating argument as he expects us to believe that Buddha did not believe what Buddha himself was saying, that Buddha was merely catering to the "primitive" and naive views of his day.

He overlooks the fact that during the time of the Buddha there were soteriological alternatives to rebirth and karma. Ajivikas mendicants rejected both.

India has a long tradition of very eloquent materialist philosophers.

N


It also ignores the fact that the Buddha's modus operandi was not catering at all. He was a frequent and often scathing commentator on contemporary views. And he rejected a lot of it, including all contemporary views on karma and rebirth, saying straight out he was the only one around who got this stuff right.

In terms of pedagogy, he was very culturally adaptive, but he never allowed pedagogy to get in the way of the substance of his message.
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Re: Stephen Batchelor - A Critique of "Buddhism Without Beliefs"

Postby Malcolm » Thu Feb 09, 2012 3:23 pm

tobes wrote:
Namdrol wrote:
tobes wrote: Is Dzogchen found in the Pali suttas?


If you are a Dzogchenpa, of course.


And what do you suppose the Theravadans would say about this?

Which brings me to the only point I'm trying to make here: hermeneutical contestation - good, necessary, interesting, fruitful.

The claim of privileged hermeneutical authenticity - dubious, without basis, ideological, unfruitful.

:anjali:



Well, claims of privilege might be fraught, but not claims that this or that position represents a violation of obviously stated principles. For example, if someone were to claim that Marx was a royalist, it requires no privilege to point out that such a claim is not born out by the writings of Marx. Likewise, to claim that Buddha did not believe in rebirth, or even if he did, did not think it important, is to ignore the persistent mention of the four types of aryas found all over the Pali canon.

Basically, Buddha's Dharma takes rebirth as the central problem of existence and proposes a solution to it. This is the central axiom of Buddhism.

N
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Re: Stephen Batchelor - A Critique of "Buddhism Without Beliefs"

Postby daelm » Thu Feb 09, 2012 3:42 pm

Namdrol wrote:
Basically, Buddha's Dharma takes rebirth as the central problem of existence and proposes a solution to it. This is the central axiom of Buddhism.

N



this is such a nice, sensible way of framing it.

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Re: Stephen Batchelor - A Critique of "Buddhism Without Beliefs"

Postby daelm » Thu Feb 09, 2012 4:02 pm

Fruitzilla wrote:
daelm wrote:[

There is nothing wrong with Stephen Batchelor deciding what he can and can't accept. We all have to do that. It's just that past a point, it's no longer an attempt to recreate the Buddha's experience - and therefore, not Buddhism, which while it has lots of social faces, should always be nothing more than recreating the Buddha's experience as your own.

d


I like your post, but I think here you get into a bit of muddy water...
I would hardly qualify doing what Batchelor does as anything other than putting a social face on Buddhism. Same old as 2000 year ago.
Further, you say Batchelor is not trying to recreate the Buddha's experience. I think he would disagree here also.



as others have also made clear, he cannot be trying to recreate the Buddha's experiences, by definition. he is settling for less, and arguing that the Buddha really didn't mean the things he said.

so so whether he agrees with that estimation or not is moot. please don't get me wrong. i'm not being nasty - it's just that it's the same as standing in your kitchen, listening to a man in front of you tell you that he's flying through space. It could be interesting, it might be brilliantly argued, it may challenge you and extend your thinking and it may even be an inspirational life-changing experience. it's just not true.


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Re: Stephen Batchelor - A Critique of "Buddhism Without Beliefs"

Postby tobes » Thu Feb 09, 2012 11:03 pm

Huseng wrote:
tobes wrote:What it comes down to, is how you and Batchelor interpret what the Buddha taught - what is and is not important. I don't think you can really claim a privileged position anymore than Batchelor can. Both of you are involved in a hermeneutical enterprise, and both of you necessarily ignore some of what is given and prioritise some of what is given. Both of you are fundamentally making the claim: this bit of the teaching is the essential dharma.


It is not a matter of interpretation. It is a matter of identifying the fact that according to all known scriptures which record the Buddha's teachings, he taught rebirth (punarbhava) as a process whereby one's actions dictate where one will be reborn and the quality of that life to be lived. That is not an interpretation. This is clearly the dharma of the Buddha. To reject it would qualify you as an externalist, making it inappropriate to self-identify as a Buddhist. However, that being said, if you don't really believe the Buddha knew what he was talking about, why bother identifying as a buddhaputra?



It is certainly true that there are better and worse interpretations, but there is no such possibility of establishing a "fact" which is apriori to interpretation.

Even if you were sitting with the Buddha 2,500 years ago, this would not be possible.

How much more so now.

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Re: Stephen Batchelor - A Critique of "Buddhism Without Beliefs"

Postby tobes » Thu Feb 09, 2012 11:08 pm

Huseng wrote:

Moreover, what constitutes 'scriptural support' according to you? Is Zen adharma because it basically ignores the Pali tripitaka and has its own canon? Is Dzogchen found in the Pali suttas?


In the current context of discussing the "historical Buddha" we have to rely on Nikaya literature as scriptural support, which is not limited to the Theravadan Pali canon. We also have the Āgama literature of various Indian schools preserved not only in Sanskrit, but in Chinese and to a limited extent in other Indic languages.



You missed the point here: if some Japanese traditions, for example, have been allowed to develop particular ideas about "the" dharma which are in many respects quite distinct from what is found in the suttas and Agama's, then what does that do to your conception of dharma/adhama?

If a 12th century Japanese fellow does something radical and innovative, that's okay.

But if a 21st century Western fellow does something radical and innovative, that's heresy.

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Re: Stephen Batchelor - A Critique of "Buddhism Without Beliefs"

Postby Anders » Thu Feb 09, 2012 11:12 pm

tobes wrote:
Huseng wrote:
tobes wrote:What it comes down to, is how you and Batchelor interpret what the Buddha taught - what is and is not important. I don't think you can really claim a privileged position anymore than Batchelor can. Both of you are involved in a hermeneutical enterprise, and both of you necessarily ignore some of what is given and prioritise some of what is given. Both of you are fundamentally making the claim: this bit of the teaching is the essential dharma.


It is not a matter of interpretation. It is a matter of identifying the fact that according to all known scriptures which record the Buddha's teachings, he taught rebirth (punarbhava) as a process whereby one's actions dictate where one will be reborn and the quality of that life to be lived. That is not an interpretation. This is clearly the dharma of the Buddha. To reject it would qualify you as an externalist, making it inappropriate to self-identify as a Buddhist. However, that being said, if you don't really believe the Buddha knew what he was talking about, why bother identifying as a buddhaputra?



It is certainly true that there are better and worse interpretations, but there is no such possibility of establishing a "fact" which is apriori to interpretation.

Even if you were sitting with the Buddha 2,500 years ago, this would not be possible.

How much more so now.

:anjali:


Although true, I think the arguments for the Buddha teaching rebirth in a quite literal and intentional manner are so overwhelming in number and strength, and backed pretty much universally by modern academia, and the arguments against it so tentative and lacking in academic rigour, that for the purposes of making a lay summation, we can say: "the Buddha taught and meant rebirth. FACT."

Of course, there will be gaps in such a summation, but for prescriptive purposes I think it provides a more accurate baseline for lay people to start with in approaching this issue than: "Whether he Buddha taught rebirth or not is a matter of interpretation."
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