Stephen Batchelor - A Critique of "Buddhism Without Beliefs"

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

Postby tobes » Thu Feb 09, 2012 11:14 pm

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.


I actually think you're the one adopting an orientalist position on this ~ you posit a distinction between Asia and the West, in which the former has the authentic and true ideas, and the latter is perniciously appropriating and falsifying those authentic and true ideas.

This is a very naive and problematic construct, which bears little relationship to a reality which is far more complex.

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

Postby tobes » Thu Feb 09, 2012 11:22 pm

Anders Honore wrote:
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."


I'm not denying this Anders - I'm merely point out that if we call such a thing a fact, it is only on the basis of, as you yourself point out, academic rigour et al.

Such rigour is largely philological, historical, philosophical ~ all acts of interpretation.

I am merely saying that we do not have accesss to pre-intepretative facts about what the Buddha taught.

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

Postby tobes » Thu Feb 09, 2012 11:31 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.


Do I really need to point out that there is no coherent entity called "western intelligentsia" and therefore no findable worldview which can be attributed to it.

If you're talking about academic institutions - they are global, and contain people from all places, east, west, north and south.

They are also inherently pluralistic - no one agrees with anyone on anything.

But if you must find a particular dominant epistemic framework to satisfy your desire to construct a straw man - surely it is post-structuralism....we live in a climate where there is deep suspicion of "established fact".

Whatever you're attacking, it is nothing I have ever seen or encountered....

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

Postby tobes » Thu Feb 09, 2012 11:42 pm

Namdrol wrote: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


Good example - although no one to my knowledge claims that Marx was a royalist, there are endless interpretive contestations about which bits of Marx are important and which are wrong or problematic and ought to be abandoned.

I think everyone here is obsessively hung up on Batchelor's claims about rebirth - we all agree that it's a bogus argument.

But as far as I can tell, his project is mainly about emphasising existential and pragmatic elements in the sutta's, which are also clearly there in some respects. This is akin to western Marxists who reject the labour theory of value but retain the idea of commoditity fetishism.

Someone who is a card carrying communist might find that heretical, but others might find that an interesting reading, leading to fruitful theoretical and practical outcomes.

Those people are probably unconcerned whether the card carrying communists regard them as heretics; that's not really the point.....

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

Postby Malcolm » Thu Feb 09, 2012 11:49 pm

tobes wrote:But as far as I can tell, his project is mainly about emphasising existential and pragmatic elements in the sutta's, which are also clearly there in some respects.


The point is that the exisential aspect of the suttas are about rebirth, and offer a pragmatic solution to that exisential issue. Suffering is intimately bound up with rebirth.

Toss out rebirth, and there is no meaning to Buddha's pragmatic method. It is not pragmatic -- it's a waste of valuable time better spent getting rich, getting drunk and whoring, and running over anyone who gets in your way.

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

Postby tobes » Fri Feb 10, 2012 12:09 am

Namdrol wrote:
tobes wrote:But as far as I can tell, his project is mainly about emphasising existential and pragmatic elements in the sutta's, which are also clearly there in some respects.


The point is that the exisential aspect of the suttas are about rebirth, and offer a pragmatic solution to that exisential issue. Suffering is intimately bound up with rebirth.

Toss out rebirth, and there is no meaning to Buddha's pragmatic method. It is not pragmatic -- it's a waste of valuable time better spent getting rich, getting drunk and whoring, and running over anyone who gets in your way.

N


Indeed. From the point of view of a card carrying communist, rejecting the labour theory of value means that there is no meaning to Marx's pragmatic method - you knock out the root cause of why capitalism is a problem and needs to be overthrown.

But the retort would be: there is still something of a pragmatic value in simply emphasising commoditiy fetishism - it does tell you something quite insightful about the way people in these times embellish and reify and prioritise the accumulation of material goods.

So returning to Batchelor, emphasizing particular Buddhist methods such as meditation and mindfulness are not without value, simply because rebirth is not playing a role.

The card carrying Buddhist is offended and retorts: you're not getting it! But maybe that is not the point.....

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

Postby Malcolm » Fri Feb 10, 2012 12:24 am

tobes wrote:So returning to Batchelor, emphasizing particular Buddhist methods such as meditation and mindfulness are not without value, simply because rebirth is not playing a role.



The point is that mindfulness and meditation are not especially Buddhist. So there is no need to dress them up in Buddhism. But when you do, there are some conventions to which you ought to adhere.

If you want mindfulness and meditation without rebirth, I can suggest a number of wonderful Neo-confucian masters, such as Wang-yang Ming, and so on. But there is also no real soteriology here, apart from the experience of serenity and inner harmony.

I would suggest that Batchelor would do well to spend more time searching out such non-Buddhist meditative traditions which are more reflective of his intuitions, rather than trying to torture Buddhism into fitting his post-modernist model.
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Re: Stephen Batchelor - A Critique of "Buddhism Without Beliefs"

Postby Anders » Fri Feb 10, 2012 12:26 am

Namdrol wrote:
tobes wrote:But as far as I can tell, his project is mainly about emphasising existential and pragmatic elements in the sutta's, which are also clearly there in some respects.


The point is that the exisential aspect of the suttas are about rebirth, and offer a pragmatic solution to that exisential issue. Suffering is intimately bound up with rebirth.

Toss out rebirth, and there is no meaning to Buddha's pragmatic method. It is not pragmatic -- it's a waste of valuable time better spent getting rich, getting drunk and whoring, and running over anyone who gets in your way.

N


Though as a straight-up Mahayana Buddhist I believe in rebirth and am quite content to be in it for the very long haul (perhaps unlike some vajrayanists [joking, I am joking :tongue: ]), I do not think the long haul is necessarily the Raison D'Être of Buddhism. It's a really good reason, no doubt, but I think the wish to have truly profound happiness in the here and now, can be as potent a driving force. And getting rich, drunk and whoring just do not seem very adequate if you have the intuition that it should be possible to be totally and immaculately happy all the time.

On the pedantic side, I do believe the Buddha agrees with me since he himself argued that he taught the Dhamma for the welfare of beings in the present, later in this life and for future lifetimes. To steal a slogan mostly used for slightly other purposes: Good in the beginning, middle and end.

If there should be people who don't really care so much about the end result as they do about the beginning and middle ones, they'll get no objections from me. It may not be the thoroughly rigorous pragmatism the Buddha envisioned, but then again very few beings have such true rigour ironed out in their life's purpose. I'd say it has a pragmatic character to it nevertheless.
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Re: Stephen Batchelor - A Critique of "Buddhism Without Beliefs"

Postby Jikan » Fri Feb 10, 2012 12:28 am

Nobody asked me, but I accept the labor theory of value. :geek:
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Re: Stephen Batchelor - A Critique of "Buddhism Without Beliefs"

Postby Malcolm » Fri Feb 10, 2012 12:39 am

Anders Honore wrote:
but I think the wish to have truly profound happiness in the here and now, can be as potent a driving force.


Sorry, that is not Buddhism, that is the vehicle of gods and men.

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

Postby Anders » Fri Feb 10, 2012 12:46 am

Namdrol wrote:
Anders Honore wrote:
but I think the wish to have truly profound happiness in the here and now, can be as potent a driving force.


Sorry, that is not Buddhism, that is the vehicle of gods and men.

N


It's a good thing no one told me this when I first got into Buddhism then.
"Even if my body should be burnt to death in the fires of hell
I would endure it for myriad lifetimes
As your companion in practice"

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

Postby Anders » Fri Feb 10, 2012 12:53 am

I suspect we need to clarify our terms here.

Are you in fact using 'Buddhism' here not in the sense of all that Buddhism includes but in the more exclusive sense of that which distinguishes Buddhism from other paths?
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Re: Stephen Batchelor - A Critique of "Buddhism Without Beliefs"

Postby gad rgyangs » Fri Feb 10, 2012 1:32 am

re-birth is not especially Buddhist either. Buddhism's original contribution is no-self, and its extension into the doctrine of emptiness. so really, if thats what you're presenting, then you're presenting what is most characteristically Buddhist.
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Re: Stephen Batchelor - A Critique of "Buddhism Without Beliefs"

Postby wisdom » Fri Feb 10, 2012 1:44 am

Anders Honore wrote:I suspect we need to clarify our terms here.

Are you in fact using 'Buddhism' here not in the sense of all that Buddhism includes but in the more exclusive sense of that which distinguishes Buddhism from other paths?


On the Mahayana path Joy is generated for the benefit of all sentient beings. Why? Because our emotions are intimately connected with our aura- which is to say the energy whereby we are connected to other beings, the field of energetic perception that others can feel and see, experience and so forth. If we radiate joy and happiness, then we will bring joy to others, we will benefit them merely because they encountered us on the street, and we will ease their suffering merely because they are in our presence. However to frame the path in the context of seeking happiness as an end in itself, as a motivation for the path, is what Namdrol is referring to as "The Path of Gods and Men". The reason being that it leads to being reborn as a God and is still part of Samsaric existence. Ultimately it can't even be framed in a Mahayana context. Perhaps happiness if you think of happiness as Nirvana can be framed as the Hinayana vehicle and the paths of the Sravaka and Pretekyabuddhas. However the Bodhisattva avoids Nirvana because they are unable to help all sentient beings in that state. Hence "The Middle Way" between Samsara and Nirvana.

In essence, the Bodhisattva generates Joy as one of the immeasurables for the benefit of others, but not as a goal in itself. The entire Path is Bodhicitta, as the motivation Bodhicitta in aspiration, the Path is Bodhicitta in action, and the Fruit is Absolute Bodhicitta.
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Re: Stephen Batchelor - A Critique of "Buddhism Without Beliefs"

Postby Will » Fri Feb 10, 2012 1:50 am

Namdrol wrote:
Anders Honore wrote:
but I think the wish to have truly profound happiness in the here and now, can be as potent a driving force.


Sorry, that is not Buddhism, that is the vehicle of gods and men.

N


Sure it is; maybe not "truly profound", but all sorts of worldly benefits are promised - wealth, children, beauty etc. They were not his main emphasis, but they were presented as legitimate goals, for some people.
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Re: Stephen Batchelor - A Critique of "Buddhism Without Beliefs"

Postby Indrajala » Fri Feb 10, 2012 4:12 am

tobes wrote: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?


We're not discussing that. We're discussing what the historical Buddha taught. Everything here is about false interpretations of what the historical flesh and blood Buddha taught. As far as I know, people like Batchelor are not terribly concerned with what the Buddha in Mahāyāna scriptures or what Huineng taught. They're interested specifically in what Śākyamuni Buddha taught.

In present day western discussion of Buddhism, the Mahāyāna scriptures are written off as later fiction. Everyone wants to "get back" to what the Buddha "really taught".

It is within such a framework that our discussion is staged.



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.


The thing is is that most radical Buddhists in pre-modern times still upheld rebirth and karma.
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Re: Stephen Batchelor - A Critique of "Buddhism Without Beliefs"

Postby Indrajala » Fri Feb 10, 2012 4:19 am

tobes wrote:I actually think you're the one adopting an orientalist position on this ~ you posit a distinction between Asia and the West, in which the former has the authentic and true ideas, and the latter is perniciously appropriating and falsifying those authentic and true ideas.


Nonsense. I live in Asia and know very well there is a huge difference between how Asians see Buddhism and how most westerners see it. This is my experience in real life, not as some armchair intellectual.

The latter does tend to appropriate and force Buddhadharma into a rather sloppy and disagreeable mold. Just look at all the works comparing Buddhism to Jungian philosophy, or translating Buddhist terms with items from the lexicon of western psychology.

I reckon a lot of Buddhist thinkers in Asia are likewise aware that Buddhism is misappropriated and erroneously understood in much of the English speaking world at least.


This is a very naive and problematic construct, which bears little relationship to a reality which is far more complex.


It isn't a construct. It is my experience. This is real life I'm talking about.
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Re: Stephen Batchelor - A Critique of "Buddhism Without Beliefs"

Postby Indrajala » Fri Feb 10, 2012 4:19 am

tobes wrote:Do I really need to point out that there is no coherent entity called "western intelligentsia" and therefore no findable worldview which can be attributed to it.


Have you been in university anytime lately?
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Re: Stephen Batchelor - A Critique of "Buddhism Without Beliefs"

Postby tobes » Fri Feb 10, 2012 5:11 am

Namdrol wrote:
tobes wrote:So returning to Batchelor, emphasizing particular Buddhist methods such as meditation and mindfulness are not without value, simply because rebirth is not playing a role.



The point is that mindfulness and meditation are not especially Buddhist. So there is no need to dress them up in Buddhism. But when you do, there are some conventions to which you ought to adhere.

If you want mindfulness and meditation without rebirth, I can suggest a number of wonderful Neo-confucian masters, such as Wang-yang Ming, and so on. But there is also no real soteriology here, apart from the experience of serenity and inner harmony.

I would suggest that Batchelor would do well to spend more time searching out such non-Buddhist meditative traditions which are more reflective of his intuitions, rather than trying to torture Buddhism into fitting his post-modernist model.


I more or less agree. I only read one of his books - I think it was called "confessions of a Buddhist atheist" - and the thing that really struck me was not his rather dim reading of the Pali suttas, but his even dimmer reading of Heidegger.

My critique would be: if you want to present Buddhism as some kind of phenomenology or existentialism, you ought to sufficiently grasp Husserl and Heidegger.

At least with respect to Buddhism, he has decades of monastic experience, translation skills etc....

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

Postby tobes » Fri Feb 10, 2012 5:17 am

Huseng wrote:
tobes wrote: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?


We're not discussing that. We're discussing what the historical Buddha taught. Everything here is about false interpretations of what the historical flesh and blood Buddha taught. As far as I know, people like Batchelor are not terribly concerned with what the Buddha in Mahāyāna scriptures or what Huineng taught. They're interested specifically in what Śākyamuni Buddha taught.

In present day western discussion of Buddhism, the Mahāyāna scriptures are written off as later fiction. Everyone wants to "get back" to what the Buddha "really taught".

It is within such a framework that our discussion is staged.



Well, I think there is more at stake in this discussion than that particular issue - primarily, what are the terms which constitute something to be dharma or adharma?

How about you define this for us, and we take it from there.....

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