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 » Fri Feb 10, 2012 5:25 am

Huseng wrote:
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.



Buddhism has always been misappropriated and erroneously understood wherever it has been, east or west.

Are you really going to tell me that most "Asians" (whatever that term means) correctly grasp buddhadharma??

If you're saying that there's a helluva a lot of crap written about Buddhism in English, well, I entirely agree.

But there is also a helluva a lot of high quality, coherent, well founded scholarship - especially over the last 25 years or so.

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

Postby tobes » Fri Feb 10, 2012 5:28 am

Huseng wrote:
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?


Yes, both east and west.

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

Postby Fruitzilla » Fri Feb 10, 2012 7:09 am

tobes wrote:
Huseng wrote:
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?


Yes, both east and west.

:namaste:


So, here you can rightfully say that the mind is the forerunner of all things (conceptions)? :tongue:
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Re: Stephen Batchelor - A Critique of "Buddhism Without Beliefs"

Postby catmoon » Fri Feb 10, 2012 7:56 am

I do have to wonder, Tobes, if I were to tell you that you had fingers at the end of your arms, would you tell me "Not really, it's a matter of interpretation."?
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Re: Stephen Batchelor - A Critique of "Buddhism Without Beliefs"

Postby plwk » Fri Feb 10, 2012 8:23 am

I do have to wonder, Tobes, if I were to tell you that you had fingers at the end of your arms, would you tell me "Not really, it's a matter of interpretation."?
As if you can tell which of Lily's paw belongs to which leg in the dark.... :mrgreen:

And Tobes... I like your posts thus far lol
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Re: Stephen Batchelor - A Critique of "Buddhism Without Beliefs"

Postby tobes » Fri Feb 10, 2012 9:08 am

catmoon wrote:I do have to wonder, Tobes, if I were to tell you that you had fingers at the end of your arms, would you tell me "Not really, it's a matter of interpretation."?


I know you're being facetious, but frankly, yes indeed!

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

Postby daelm » Fri Feb 10, 2012 9:16 am

tobes wrote: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.

:anjali:


you're arguing that there is some merit in what he does and i don't think anyone disagrees. the positions that people reject are his notions that he's (a) uncovered the real buddhism and (b) that he's correcting buddhism, and (c) that he's teaching Buddhism. none of these rejections implies that he's not doing something of merit. in fact, i've often recommended him to people who can't stomach Buddhism, and who make claims to be hard-headed rationalists, precisely because his approach may still help, and even self-identified hard-headed rationalists need suffering reduced. so there is a place for it all.

the objection to (a) is grounded in the perceived arrogance of the adventure, and the perceived myopia of the adventurer. the objection to (b) is the same. these are valid objections that can usually be backed up and explained by the people making them and there are lots of examples in this thread, most of which are reasonable. i think these criticisms are grounded in truth, even though they sometimes veer into personal attacks on his presumed beliefs about Asians. their being true doesn't reduce whatever merit there is the exercise he's undertaking, they contextualize it and allow a judicious appreciation of it. lots of people have had blinkered views of others' intelligence and enhanced views of their own intelligence, and even not been aware of that, and still made important contributions.

the objection to (c) is definitional and is more tricky. by the normal definition he's not teaching Buddhism, he's teaching parts of Buddhism. the problem runs deeper than that, though, because - as people have raised on this thread - he's sometimes teaching a species of materialism that the Buddha rejected, according to the same Pali Canon that he draws on. the reasons that people cry foul are all around that fact that when it's a Westerner doing this, we don't automatically just let it go, we privilege his activity and take it more seriously. i think it's worth looking at why we accord him a priviliged frame of reference that we don't accord early Indian materialists. it's worth looking at why when a white guy does the same thing, we all collectively take a breath and presume he's being VEWY, VEWY CWEVER and must have good reasons, even though what he's doing looks the same as what other have done for thousands of years. this isn't exciting new ground. historically, different cultures have engaged with Buddhism in many common ways. one of those has always been to hive off a section of acceptable views and claim the others are poorly articulated. the views that are hived off as acceptable are, oddly enough, almost always equivalent to the views that the local clever people already had.

linked to that is a specific soteriological concern: if the Buddha expected people practicing to replicate his experiences, and that replication was effectively the complete cessation of suffering, and it had as its basis the first-person experience of a complete world-view, then the delimitation of that world-view has a consequent delimitation on the cessation of suffering. the nett result expected would be that the promise of such a delimited path would be much, much smaller than the promise of Buddhism. and it's very evident that there is a vast difference between things like complete enlightenment from a Mahayana view point, nirvana from a Sravakayana viewpoint and the (very middle-class) stress-reduction/existential calm that Stephen Batchelor's dharma offers.





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

Postby daelm » Fri Feb 10, 2012 9:40 am

tobes wrote:[
But there is also a helluva a lot of high quality, coherent, well founded scholarship - especially over the last 25 years or so.

:anjali:


agreed, completely. though if it's intended to apply to the case of Stephen Batchelor, it's disingenuous - he's not doing high quality scholarship, he's re-framing the base set of ideas based on (a) his disillusionment with Asian monasticism and (b) the set of cultural constructs he's already comfortable with, and having done that, he's seeking justification by cherry-picking the Canon. like a number of westerners, he's basically in extended rejection of teachers he once swore fealty to, because they turned out not to be what he needed them to be and "swearing fealty" turned out to be dumb. so now he's arguing for ownership the Buddha.

anyway.


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

Postby daelm » Fri Feb 10, 2012 9:54 am

tobes wrote:
catmoon wrote:I do have to wonder, Tobes, if I were to tell you that you had fingers at the end of your arms, would you tell me "Not really, it's a matter of interpretation."?


I know you're being facetious, but frankly, yes indeed!

:anjali:



the Buddha would agree with you - the difference between fingers and claws, for example, at the end of your leg is an interpretive one. it arises because karma is interpreted by consciousness as a birth (one of many).

Stephen Batchelor would disagree :)


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

Postby tobes » Fri Feb 10, 2012 9:54 am

daelm wrote:
tobes wrote: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.

:anjali:


you're arguing that there is some merit in what he does and i don't think anyone disagrees. the positions that people reject are his notions that he's (a) uncovered the real buddhism and (b) that he's correcting buddhism, and (c) that he's teaching Buddhism. none of these rejections implies that he's not doing something of merit. in fact, i've often recommended him to people who can't stomach Buddhism, and who make claims to be hard-headed rationalists, precisely because his approach may still help, and even self-identified hard-headed rationalists need suffering reduced. so there is a place for it all.

the objection to (a) is grounded in the perceived arrogance of the adventure, and the perceived myopia of the adventurer. the objection to (b) is the same. these are valid objections that can usually be backed up and explained by the people making them and there are lots of examples in this thread, most of which are reasonable. i think these criticisms are grounded in truth, even though they sometimes veer into personal attacks on his presumed beliefs about Asians. their being true doesn't reduce whatever merit there is the exercise he's undertaking, they contextualize it and allow a judicious appreciation of it. lots of people have had blinkered views of others' intelligence and enhanced views of their own intelligence, and even not been aware of that, and still made important contributions.

the objection to (c) is definitional and is more tricky. by the normal definition he's not teaching Buddhism, he's teaching parts of Buddhism. the problem runs deeper than that, though, because - as people have raised on this thread - he's sometimes teaching a species of materialism that the Buddha rejected, according to the same Pali Canon that he draws on. the reasons that people cry foul are all around that fact that when it's a Westerner doing this, we don't automatically just let it go, we privilege his activity and take it more seriously. i think it's worth looking at why we accord him a priviliged frame of reference that we don't accord early Indian materialists. it's worth looking at why when a white guy does the same thing, we all collectively take a breath and presume he's being VEWY, VEWY CWEVER and must have good reasons, even though what he's doing looks the same as what other have done for thousands of years. this isn't exciting new ground. historically, different cultures have engaged with Buddhism in many common ways. one of those has always been to hive off a section of acceptable views and claim the others are poorly articulated. the views that are hived off as acceptable are, oddly enough, almost always equivalent to the views that the local clever people already had.

linked to that is a specific soteriological concern: if the Buddha expected people practicing to replicate his experiences, and that replication was effectively the complete cessation of suffering, and it had as its basis the first-person experience of a complete world-view, then the delimitation of that world-view has a consequent delimitation on the cessation of suffering. the nett result expected would be that the promise of such a delimited path would be much, much smaller than the promise of Buddhism. and it's very evident that there is a vast difference between things like complete enlightenment from a Mahayana view point, nirvana from a Sravakayana viewpoint and the (very middle-class) stress-reduction/existential calm that Stephen Batchelor's dharma offers.





d



You make a great deal of good sense here daelm.

The only thing I disagree with is your assertion that "because he's a white guy we all collectively take a breath and presume he's being clever."

I think it's quite the opposite - there is a deep suspicion and often a kind of dismissive hostility directed at whitey dharma teachers. Nothing seems quite so inauthentic.....

And all the fauning and imputations of cleverness are usually directed to what appears as authentic. Westerners can have an unrivalled capacity to romanticize and embellish the qualities of teachers from the east. Wouldn't you say?

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

Postby tobes » Fri Feb 10, 2012 10:00 am

daelm wrote:
tobes wrote:[
But there is also a helluva a lot of high quality, coherent, well founded scholarship - especially over the last 25 years or so.

:anjali:


agreed, completely. though if it's intended to apply to the case of Stephen Batchelor, it's disingenuous - he's not doing high quality scholarship, he's re-framing the base set of ideas based on (a) his disillusionment with Asian monasticism and (b) the set of cultural constructs he's already comfortable with, and having done that, he's seeking justification by cherry-picking the Canon. like a number of westerners, he's basically in extended rejection of teachers he once swore fealty to, because they turned out not to be what he needed them to be and "swearing fealty" turned out to be dumb. so now he's arguing for ownership the Buddha.

anyway.


d


Not intended towards Batchelor; he is clearly in the 'popular author' bracket. A bracket which contains most of the.....how should we say it......recent literary manure.....

Having said that, I have a great deal of room for his critical posture. I liked his personal/biographical narrative and think it contained some interesting and insightful moments.

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

Postby Indrajala » Fri Feb 10, 2012 2:41 pm

tobes wrote:
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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That which is conducive to liberation from samsara is saddharma. That which deters one away from liberation from samsara is adharma.

Rejecting rebirth constitutes a wrong view, which deters one away from liberation, and is an example of adharma.
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Re: Stephen Batchelor - A Critique of "Buddhism Without Beliefs"

Postby daelm » Fri Feb 10, 2012 3:10 pm

tobes wrote:
The only thing I disagree with is your assertion that "because he's a white guy we all collectively take a breath and presume he's being clever."

I think it's quite the opposite - there is a deep suspicion and often a kind of dismissive hostility directed at whitey dharma teachers. Nothing seems quite so inauthentic.....

And all the fawning and imputations of cleverness are usually directed to what appears as authentic. Westerners can have an unrivalled capacity to romanticize and embellish the qualities of teachers from the east. Wouldn't you say?

:anjali:



i agree. i was unclear about who i was referring to who "takes a breath and presumes cleverness". you're quite quite right that the western laity (for want of a better term) has a tendency toward adulation of orientals and the more the merrier. the converse, though, is true for the western "academic" laity and that's what i was referring to.

neither "academic" nor "laity" are really any good as terms, but i hope you get what i mean: basically, there are people from western backgrounds who are critically engaged with Buddhism and people from western backgrounds who are uncritically engaged with Buddhism (i don't mean these terms in any sense to be derogatory, btw). generalizing wildly, we can say that the former will ensure the transmission and the latter will ensure the social framework and the extent of support and integration in communities. you seem to be saying - which i agree with - that the uncritical idolize "Asian-form" Buddhism. i'm agreeing, and saying that it is also often the case that the critical are biased in favor of materialist reduction, such as Stephen Batchelor's, partly because of upbringing, partly by training and often partly in reaction to the fetishistic adoption of Asian forms they see in others.

i would prefer for the people who are critically engaged with Buddhism to engage the whole of it, for the sake of the intact transmission of the whole of it. to refuse some parts here and some parts there is pretty hard to distinguish from cultural chauvinism, and (b) unlikely to spur the growth that is when once set of cultural artifacts is confronted by another. i suppose i'm hoping for an intelligently critical, who start from the premise that "just because this outside my own frame of reference doesn't mean it's wrong" while at the same time saying "let me clearly understands this, rather than just paying lip service to it".

anyway. it's late, and i'm supposed to be working. :)

later

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

Postby tobes » Fri Feb 10, 2012 11:50 pm

Huseng wrote:
tobes wrote:
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.....

:anjali:



That which is conducive to liberation from samsara is saddharma. That which deters one away from liberation from samsara is adharma.

Rejecting rebirth constitutes a wrong view, which deters one away from liberation, and is an example of adharma.


By this definition, most orthodox Indian schools/traditions would be dharma.

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

Postby Malcolm » Sat Feb 11, 2012 12:49 am

tobes wrote:
Huseng wrote:
tobes wrote:
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.....

:anjali:



That which is conducive to liberation from samsara is saddharma. That which deters one away from liberation from samsara is adharma.

Rejecting rebirth constitutes a wrong view, which deters one away from liberation, and is an example of adharma.


By this definition, most orthodox Indian schools/traditions would be dharma.

:anjali:



Indeed and rightly so, but not Bauddhadharma.
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Re: Stephen Batchelor - A Critique of "Buddhism Without Beliefs"

Postby Indrajala » Sat Feb 11, 2012 2:32 am

tobes wrote:By this definition, most orthodox Indian schools/traditions would be dharma.

:anjali:


I rather like the Jains and Mahavira, though I am and always will be a Buddhist.

Jainism for example has many of the same core ideas as Buddhism has, though their theories and approaches are obviously quite different.

Whether they are able to achieve true liberation from samsara or not, I can't say. In any case, they teach saddharma, though it isn't Buddhadharma.
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Re: Stephen Batchelor - A Critique of "Buddhism Without Beliefs"

Postby Josef » Sat Feb 11, 2012 4:06 am

21 pages. Really!?
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Re: Stephen Batchelor - A Critique of "Buddhism Without Beliefs"

Postby Lhug-Pa » Sat Feb 11, 2012 4:42 am

Nangwa wrote:21 pages. Really!?
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Re: Stephen Batchelor - A Critique of "Buddhism Without Beliefs"

Postby Dechen Norbu » Sat Feb 11, 2012 4:46 pm

Buddhadharma is known to have a wide set of different methods to help us attain liberation.
There's a large theoretical basis, with nuances according to different traditions, schools, lineages and even individual teachers, but still a basic core remains.
The teachings, commentaries and so on try to answer different questions. If some of these questions are directly related to the practical progression of the individual in terms of removing both cognitive and emotional afflictions- ultimately all the teachings address this- others try to answer what I see as more mundane concerns. People need to appease their necessities of knowledge about their experience in relation to the world surrounding them. It gives them a sense of safety to have an explanation for the existence of this universe, for how things work in it, for what is good and bad and so on and so forth. It doesn't really matter how accurate are these explanations as long as they appease those needs. Perhaps these needs are part of a human trait as we see the attempts to appease curiosity by many different means in every culture. Today many rely on science to answer these questions. Science is just another method to appease this sort of needs.

The evolution of what I personally consider the "peripheral teachings" reacted and was shaped by the attempts to deal with this natural curiosity. The way we satisfy such curiosity individually is influenced by what we, as individuals, consider satisfactory as an answer. This seldom implicates the accuracy of the answer in real terms, but is more related to the amount of satisfaction- thus safety- it brings us. This degree of satisfaction with a certain type of answer depends and changes with the niche or niches in which we are included that have a socially shared knowledge- part of a bigger civilizational culture. To a point this is all well and good, as we all need a sense of safety to have a balanced life that allows the practice of Dharma. The point in which that attempt to feel safe will become a hindrance comes further along the path, but at the beginning I think it is safe to say the we opt to do something that provides us safety and not instability. So these teachings, that can more or less safely evolve according to the needs of those seeking them, are, in my opinion at the periphery of Buddhadharma.

If we look at the way the path is systematized in 8 interrelated components, we see there's space for these teachings. Although not the most profound, they are helpful to the beginner, perhaps indispensable. However, as the practitioner matures he moves from the outer shell to the core of the teachings and these may be, if we think carefully, so far off that they blow our mind away. These teachings which, maybe I can say, address the dream like nature of reality, go way beneath the superficial, feel safe quality of the peripheral teachings. These teachings, the core, are what will lead to enlightenment and not just a better rebirth.
However, if this core was corrupted because of the need for safety (acceptance between peers being a huge factor when it comes to self esteem, self reliance and so on), the clock won't tick any longer. When we plunge to the depth of the teachings, we hit the rock bottom. There's no depth. All is considered a myth of sorts or, in opposition, the myth is all there is. The core was corrupted for the sake of the peripheral teachings. Buddhadharma is either transformed in a sort of superstitious hogwash no different that any other folk mythology in order to address more immediate mundane concerns or, at the other end of the spectrum, it's shaped as a worthless cheap psychotherapy, easy to digest by those keen of pop science, for instance. These people have traded the core of the Buddhadharma, the part that is really transformational, for their needs of safety rooted in self esteem, social integration and so on. The worse part is that they don't even know it, because once inside a paradigm that implies a particular worldview- whatever it may be- it's very hard to think outside of it. What we see clashing, most of the times and in my opinion, are two diametrically opposite approaches to the "peripheral teachings" of the Buddhadharma, even if those in such situation think that the implications of their approach are deep and solidly connected to the core. They aren't. In most cases, the root problem is lack of insight that results from lack of the experience arisen due to consistent and well informed practice.

In a nutshell and as Namdrol usually summarizes it, I believe: it's intellectual masturbation.
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Re: Stephen Batchelor - A Critique of "Buddhism Without Beliefs"

Postby Greg » Sun Feb 12, 2012 4:08 am

There is a slipperiness (if one is not feeling charitable, one might say disingenuousness) to Batchelor which I think is part of the whole problem.

He is often described as a scholar and in my experience his enthusiasts almost invariably believe him to be one. But he has no traditional scholarly credentials - he didn't come close to finishing his geshe degree, and he wasn't focused on scholarship in Korea. Neither does he have any relevant credentials from Western academia - no advanced degree in any relevant subject. It's true he has experience translating Tibetan texts. But considering his whole project as of late is concerned with the early canon, it is more relevant that he has none of the skills one would need to work in a rigorous and credible way with that material -- command of Pali, Sanskrit and Chinese, training in philology, a thorough familiarity with the contemporaneous literature of the other Indian religious traditions and the overall milieu.

It is true that at times he issues disclaimers such as "I cannot claim that my version of the Buddha is somehow more true or correct than yours." Nonetheless, the back of Bachelor's recent book promises “a stunning and groundbreaking recovery of the historical Buddha and his message.” He seems pretty happy to let the two be conflated. It's a lot harder to support yourself if you're just Joe Schmo selling your amateur opinions.

At times Bachelor admits that he has simply cherry picked the passages of the Pali Canon that appeal to him on the basis of his own preferences and dismissed large parts of it that don't, on the grounds that taken together the two things supposedly don't make sense, and his own preferences supposedly dovetail nicely with what is beneficial to the present day audience. But at other times he strongly gives the impression that he is the sort of expert whose specialized knowledge would lend his opinions and preferences a special gravitas, and that his methodology is sufficiently rigorous to allow for categorical claims. And it certainly isn't.
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