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 daelm » Mon Feb 13, 2012 11:55 am

Tewi wrote:As far as I know, Mr. Batchelor is a sincere Buddhist who has had the courage to honestly critique the central assumptions of his own faith. It is true that most Buddhist authorities are more conservative, doctrinaire types (who would not otherwise have risen to become authorities). At the same time, Buddhism has not customarily been a religion centered around articles of faith, as Christianity is, and it would be unusual for a Buddhist group to judge its members according to conformity with a list of credal articles. In fact, this mindset may represent as much of a Western influence as the postmodern, critical turn which Batchelor represents.



no-one can speak to Batchelor's sincerity except himself. what can be assessed is his activity, and you'll find a wealth of discussion on that subject on this thread. personally, i doubt Batchelor represents anything like you describe - certainly not actively. his own preoccupations have luckily coincided with a popular theme in the culture he's in, that's all.

from the point of view of Buddhism's successful transmission to the West - a project that is still ongoing - he has been damaging, since he's actively campaigning to have that transmission limited. he should certainly not be stopped, or pilloried or otherwise inhibited. he should just be understood for what he is.

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

Postby Mr. G » Mon Feb 13, 2012 1:00 pm

catmoon wrote:

He can claim to be a piece of broccoli if he wants. What's in a name?


A good deal. This postmodern anything-goes mentality is quite absurd. Amusingly enough, the results can be seen be seen as in the Sokal Hoax. It would be as if one were a member of the Thuggee cult (religious cult and an organized gang of professional assassins), and yet one referred to themselves as Buddhist. Sure, one could do so, but it would be absurd. A lot is in a name.

No one could follow his teachings for more than a week before discovering there are big differences from the mainstream, and at that point they'd have to make a decision.


I don't give that much credit to people just by looking at the current state of Zen in the U.S. I have a feeling they are quite thoroughly convinced that rebirth is irrelevant, if not wrongly understood by the Buddha.

Besides, he's not fighting against karma and reincarnation, he's just an agnostic.


Agnostic and....

    I am not interested in whether or not one is reborn. I find the whole issue irrelevant, an unnecessary distraction from what is central to the Dhamma
    - Stephen Batchelor
    How foolish you are,
    grasping the letter of the text and ignoring its intention!
    - Vasubandhu
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Re: Stephen Batchelor - A Critique of "Buddhism Without Beliefs"

Postby Jikan » Mon Feb 13, 2012 2:52 pm

catmoon wrote:
Depends how you define "cake".


:rolling: Well played!
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Re: Stephen Batchelor - A Critique of "Buddhism Without Beliefs"

Postby catmoon » Mon Feb 13, 2012 6:28 pm

Mr. G wrote:
catmoon wrote:

He can claim to be a piece of broccoli if he wants. What's in a name?


A good deal. This postmodern anything-goes mentality is quite absurd. Amusingly enough, the results can be seen be seen as in the Sokal Hoax. It would be as if one were a member of the Thuggee cult (religious cult and an organized gang of professional assassins), and yet one referred to themselves as Buddhist. Sure, one could do so, but it would be absurd. A lot is in a name.


Gee, I hope you haven't got me confused with our resident post-modernist deconstructionist, against whom I have argued so strenuously and at such length. The question "What's in a name?" in this case dates to Shakespeare at least, and before he wrote the words, the question was doubtless posed many times before. So, I am surrounded by people who call themselves the silliest things, like Christians who don't attend church, Buddhists who don't meditate and so on. None of them upset me in the least. It would be interesting the see how many centuries passed before the sangha started calling themselves Buddhists.


No one could follow his teachings for more than a week before discovering there are big differences from the mainstream, and at that point they'd have to make a decision.


I don't give that much credit to people just by looking at the current state of Zen in the U.S. I have a feeling they are quite thoroughly convinced that rebirth is irrelevant, if not wrongly understood by the Buddha.


I see. Not sure quite why that would bother anyone though.

Besides, he's not fighting against karma and reincarnation, he's just an agnostic.


Agnostic and....

    I am not interested in whether or not one is reborn. I find the whole issue irrelevant, an unnecessary distraction from what is central to the Dhamma
    - Stephen Batchelor


So he finds it irrelevant. I see nothing worthy of condemnation in that. Let he who is without error cast the first stone.
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Re: Stephen Batchelor - A Critique of "Buddhism Without Beliefs"

Postby Mr. G » Mon Feb 13, 2012 6:44 pm

catmoon wrote:
Mr. G wrote:Agnostic and....

    I am not interested in whether or not one is reborn. I find the whole issue irrelevant, an unnecessary distraction from what is central to the Dhamma
    - Stephen Batchelor


So he finds it irrelevant. I see nothing worthy of condemnation in that.


But that's precisely the point - it is completely relevant and his flippant statements do not stand up to scrutiny on any level.
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Re: Stephen Batchelor - A Critique of "Buddhism Without Beliefs"

Postby Malcolm » Mon Feb 13, 2012 6:59 pm

catmoon wrote:It would be interesting the see how many centuries passed before the sangha started calling themselves Buddhists.


Almost right away -- they termed themselves "sakyaputtiyā", sons of Shakya.
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Re: Stephen Batchelor - A Critique of "Buddhism Without Beliefs"

Postby Paul » Mon Feb 13, 2012 7:03 pm

Mr. G wrote:
catmoon wrote:
Mr. G wrote:Agnostic and....

    I am not interested in whether or not one is reborn. I find the whole issue irrelevant, an unnecessary distraction from what is central to the Dhamma
    - Stephen Batchelor


So he finds it irrelevant. I see nothing worthy of condemnation in that.


But that's precisely the point - it is completely relevant and his flippant statements do not stand up to scrutiny on any level.


Indeed. Karma and rebirth are central to dharma. It makes absolutely zero sense without it.

But of course it's a clever sounding soundbite - especially if the recipient either has a materialist inclination or doesn't know much about Buddhism.
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With such a confidence, empowered by the regal state of natural mind,
The training now is simply this: lets your six senses be at ease and free." - Princess Parani
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Re: Stephen Batchelor - A Critique of "Buddhism Without Beliefs"

Postby catmoon » Mon Feb 13, 2012 8:05 pm

Namdrol wrote:
catmoon wrote:It would be interesting the see how many centuries passed before the sangha started calling themselves Buddhists.


Almost right away -- they termed themselves "sakyaputtiyā", sons of Shakya.


Ok, so how many centuries would that be?
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Re: Stephen Batchelor - A Critique of "Buddhism Without Beliefs"

Postby Tewi » Tue Feb 14, 2012 12:29 am

On the charge that he is "unqualified" to teach his views, well, it is true that he lacks either a geshe or a doctorate, and I doubt that he would lay claim to direct perception either. However, his years of experience as a monk in two quite different traditions have given him a certain basis for expertise. This does not make him infallible, but it certainly does make him well-informed--better than many who DO have doctorates, I might add.

On the charge that he has somehow limited the transmission of Buddhism in the West, how could he possibly have done that? He wrote books describing his doubts, and arguing that it is possible for skeptics like himself to remain Buddhists--that Buddhism need not depend on appeals to metaphysical authority. Whether he is right or wrong about that, his books have not misled as to facts, and there are plenty of other interpretations out there (not all of which agree).

If the Buddhas and bodhisattvas teach in numerous ways, in accordance with the needs and capacities of their auditors, is it possible that Mr. Batchelor might be one of those Buddhas or bodhisattvas?
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Re: Stephen Batchelor - A Critique of "Buddhism Without Beliefs"

Postby Greg » Tue Feb 14, 2012 1:23 am

Tewi wrote:On the charge that he is "unqualified" to teach his views, well, it is true that he lacks either a geshe or a doctorate, and I doubt that he would lay claim to direct perception either. However, his years of experience as a monk in two quite different traditions have given him a certain basis for expertise. This does not make him infallible, but it certainly does make him well-informed--better than many who DO have doctorates, I might add.

On the charge that he has somehow limited the transmission of Buddhism in the West, how could he possibly have done that? He wrote books describing his doubts, and arguing that it is possible for skeptics like himself to remain Buddhists--that Buddhism need not depend on appeals to metaphysical authority. Whether he is right or wrong about that, his books have not misled as to facts, and there are plenty of other interpretations out there (not all of which agree).

If the Buddhas and bodhisattvas teach in numerous ways, in accordance with the needs and capacities of their auditors, is it possible that Mr. Batchelor might be one of those Buddhas or bodhisattvas?


I don't think anyone made the charge that he is unqualified to teach his views. Everyone is qualified to teach their own views. He is unqualified to do what his promotional material says that he can do -- recover a “a stunning and groundbreaking recovery of the historical Buddha and his message” which overturns the understanding of scores of experts in the field and thousands of years of Buddhists themselves. He has no training in the necessary skills--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--that would allow one to do that, if such a thing were even possible. It's as if a non-physicist advertised that they had overturned the fundamental principles of physics when they can't even do calculus.

Further, his books do mislead as to the facts. He is constantly saying stuff like "The Buddha never taught cosmology" which is just patently false.

He's basically writing his own Jefferson Bible with the Pali Nikayas, but allowing people to believe that he has recovered the original meaning through expert scholarship.
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Re: Stephen Batchelor - A Critique of "Buddhism Without Beliefs"

Postby Huifeng » Tue Feb 14, 2012 2:00 am

catmoon wrote:
Namdrol wrote:
catmoon wrote:It would be interesting the see how many centuries passed before the sangha started calling themselves Buddhists.


Almost right away -- they termed themselves "sakyaputtiyā", sons of Shakya.


Ok, so how many centuries would that be?


During the time of the Buddha himself.

eg.

Ud pg. 44:
‘‘Passathāyyā samaṇānaṃ sakyaputtiyānaṃ kammaṃ! Alajjino ime samaṇā sakyaputtiyā dussīlā pāpadhammā musāvādino abrahmacārino. ...

or:

Vin. 3.210
6. Aññātakaviññattisikkhāpadaṃ

515. Tena samayena buddho bhagavā sāvatthiyaṃ viharati jetavane anāthapiṇḍikassa ārāme. Tena kho pana samayena āyasmā upanando sakyaputto paṭṭo [paṭṭho (syā. ka.)] hoti dhammiṃ kathaṃ kātuṃ. Atha kho aññataro seṭṭhiputto yenāyasmā upanando sakyaputto tenupasaṅkami; upasaṅkamitvā āyasmantaṃ upanandaṃ sakyaputtaṃ abhivādetvā ekamantaṃ nisīdi. Ekamantaṃ nisinnaṃ kho taṃ seṭṭhiputtaṃ āyasmā upanando sakyaputto dhammiyā kathāya sandassesi samādapesi samuttejesi sampahaṃsesi. Atha kho so seṭṭhiputto āyasmatā upanandena sakyaputtena dhammiyā kathāya sandassito samādapito samuttejito sampahaṃsito āyasmantaṃ upanandaṃ sakyaputtaṃ etadavoca – ‘‘vadeyyātha, bhante, yena attho. Paṭibalā mayaṃ ayyassa dātuṃ yadidaṃ cīvarapiṇḍapātasenāsanagilānappaccayabhesajjaparikkhāra’’nti. ...

or

8. Kimilattheragāthā
155.
‘‘Pācīnavaṃsadāyamhi, sakyaputtā sahāyakā;
Pahāyānappake bhoge, uñchāpattāgate ratā.
156.
‘‘Āraddhavīriyā pahitattā, niccaṃ daḷhaparakkamā;
Ramanti dhammaratiyā, hitvāna lokiyaṃ rati’’nti.

It's a very common expression. The above are just a couple randomly chosen.

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

Postby gad rgyangs » Tue Feb 14, 2012 5:44 am

Nietzsche said "There was only one Christian, and he died on the cross."
Maybe we can say "There was only one Buddhist, and he reached enlightenment under the Bo Tree."
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Re: Stephen Batchelor - A Critique of "Buddhism Without Beliefs"

Postby Nemo » Tue Feb 14, 2012 7:04 am

Except that Christ was not Christian nor the Buddha Buddhist.

The problem with Stephen Batchelor is not his beliefs. It's his shameless marketing. He has tried to ride on the coat tails of Buddhism. Associating his personal brand with an ancient and exotic tradition to give himself undeserved credibility. This makes him a bit of a douche bag IMO.
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Re: Stephen Batchelor - A Critique of "Buddhism Without Beliefs"

Postby catmoon » Tue Feb 14, 2012 7:29 am

Ok, so how many centuries would that be?

During the time of the Buddha himself.

eg.

Ud pg. 44:
‘‘Passathāyyā samaṇānaṃ sakyaputtiyānaṃ kammaṃ! Alajjino ime samaṇā sakyaputtiyā dussīlā pāpadhammā musāvādino abrahmacārino. ...


It's a very common expression. The above are just a couple randomly chosen.





Fair enough, but what what I was getting at was that since nothing was written down for centuries after the Buddha, the sutras are telling us more about the terminology used by writers two or three centuries after his time, than anything else. That's enough time time for the development of a complete religious vernacular, significant shifts in language use and so on. Of course I could be wrong, I seem to recall it happening once before... :broke: .

I also seem to recall vaguely something about the Buddha telling people not to call themselves Buddhists, but rather followers of the Dharma. Do you recall any such passage? Or am I just pulling scripture out of the air? :namaste:
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Re: Stephen Batchelor - A Critique of "Buddhism Without Beliefs"

Postby Distorted » Tue Feb 14, 2012 8:10 am

:coffee:

Buddhism Without Beliefs sounds like Kool-Aid with no sugar. To each their own for sure. Funny how important teachings from iconic people are always written way after the time it had been actually been brought to attention.
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Re: Stephen Batchelor - A Critique of "Buddhism Without Beliefs"

Postby Huifeng » Tue Feb 14, 2012 8:35 am

catmoon wrote:
Ok, so how many centuries would that be?

During the time of the Buddha himself.

eg.

Ud pg. 44:
‘‘Passathāyyā samaṇānaṃ sakyaputtiyānaṃ kammaṃ! Alajjino ime samaṇā sakyaputtiyā dussīlā pāpadhammā musāvādino abrahmacārino. ...


It's a very common expression. The above are just a couple randomly chosen.





Fair enough, but what what I was getting at was that since nothing was written down for centuries after the Buddha, the sutras are telling us more about the terminology used by writers two or three centuries after his time, than anything else. That's enough time time for the development of a complete religious vernacular, significant shifts in language use and so on. Of course I could be wrong, I seem to recall it happening once before... :broke: .

I also seem to recall vaguely something about the Buddha telling people not to call themselves Buddhists, but rather followers of the Dharma. Do you recall any such passage? Or am I just pulling scripture out of the air? :namaste:


The exact same terminology is also found in the the translations we have of the Agamas, from the Sarvastivada, the Dharmagupta, and the Mahasamghika. These traditions from the NW, in the light of the Mahavihara (ie. Theravada) tradition of the SE, split a little over 100 years after the parinirvana (not "two or three centuries"). Being written down or not may thus be somewhat irrelevant. It is a fairly safe call that the traditions from which they all came also thus shared the same terminology on a large scale. If this is on a large scale, it would take some time to be so imbued, the texts representing what was obviously extremely common place. Thus, it is a fair call that this terminology was used during the Buddha's own time. If separate religious terms appeared, they could only have appeared in individual (or perhaps a couple of) nikaya schools. But, this is not the case. Other methods of establishing original teachings, such as that used by Bronkhorst in his last few works in this area, would also support my position made here.

For your last point, please cite a text rather than vague unsupported claims, or throwing responsibility to find such "passages" on to others. Moreover, on the issue of being "buddhist", considering that this is an English term, one would first have to establish the supposed equivalent in middle Indic, or at least in Sanskrit. Keep in mind, also, that during the first early centuries after Sakyamuni, the term "buddha" was not confined to what in modern English is known as "buddhism". eg. the Jainas and other sramana movements used the same term. The adjective "bauddha" or "bauddhika", which is attested in the Atthakathas, for example, could really only apply to so-called "buddhists" after movements such as the Jainas were largely on the way out. See, for instance, the criticism that Gaudapada received about being a "crypto-buddhist" (pracchanna-bauddha). "Sakyaputriya" is thus a much more emic term, that has relevance to Buddhists themselves. And, as shown above, they really did often refer to themselves as "sakyaputra" and "sakyaduhitra", "sons / daughters of the sakya(ns)".

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

Postby catmoon » Tue Feb 14, 2012 10:26 am

Sorry about the vagueness, I was just hoping that perhaps you might say something like "Oh, you're thinking of sutra X". I'm not asking anyone to do my research for me, it's just that it my searches are not going well, and I thought you might be able to locate it from memory. Assuming the whole thing is not a figment of my imagination, that is.

What I have managed to check is that the oldest extant manuscripts are probably the Gandharan birch bark writings, which date from the first century AD. This means that there is a gap between the Buddha and the earliest physical scriptures known of some five centuries or so, depending on whose dates you use.

When I look at the speed with which newer religions develop (Mormonism and the Jehovah's Witnesses, Eckankar and even est) I observe that they have developed terminologies, central doctrines, titles, and even paradigms of thinking extremely rapidly, within a decade of their founding. The process seems to continue decade after decade.

Ideas in Buddhas' time would not have spread so rapidly as in the electronic age, but even so ideas could propagate at something like the speed of a trotting horse, crossing Asia in about a year. So the question is, did information spread vertically down through time, or laterally through space, or both, and to what degree of each?

Hmm. We're getting pretty far from Stephen Batchelor here...
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Re: Stephen Batchelor - A Critique of "Buddhism Without Beliefs"

Postby Huifeng » Tue Feb 14, 2012 11:24 am

The date of when things were first written down is not the key element here. Moreover, while we our present earliest manuscripts are the Gandharin, their dates are not when writing was first used.

The issue is back tracking agama stemmas; and of the traditions, we can fairly confidently do that to the point of the so-called second council, via parallel traditions.

The bhanaka traditions are in general fairly stable, and this is quite a different matter from mere passage of information. Moreover, such ancient bhanaka traditions are very, very different to modern day movements based on movement of written texts, be it Mormonism, or whoever.

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

Postby Malcolm » Tue Feb 14, 2012 2:37 pm

catmoon wrote: Fair enough, but what what I was getting at was that since nothing was written down for centuries after the Buddha, the sutras are telling us more about the terminology used by writers two or three centuries after his time, than anything else. That's enough time time for the development of a complete religious vernacular, significant shifts in language use and so on. Of course I could be wrong, I seem to recall it happening once before... :broke: .


Well, the best dates for the Buddha's parinirvana place it at 407-400 BCE. The Asokan Pillers were erected sometime around 260BCE. But that time the Buddhist canon was already being committed to writing. Therefore, we can imagine that the earliest the Buddhist canon was being committed to writing was within 50-75 years of the Buddha's parinirvana, and perhaps even earlier. The very latest would be 150 years afterwards.

People also forget that in the Ancient Buddhist Sangha, right from the first council there was a special class of monks trained to memorize word for word entire sections of the canon even after that canon was written down. The Buddhist sutras were not "written" by the Buddha -- but they were written by the Buddha's immediate, and awakened, disciples. Further, not only that, but many of these monks who were professional reciters were also awakened belonging to the four classes of aryas.

Our record of what the historical Buddha taught is therefore much better than what skeptics would have us believe. And as well, the content of the Pali canon is so homogenous, really, there is no doubt what the Buddha taught. And is was not what Batchelor is teachings as what the Buddha taught.
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Re: Stephen Batchelor - A Critique of "Buddhism Without Beliefs"

Postby Malcolm » Tue Feb 14, 2012 2:41 pm

Huifeng wrote:The date of when things were first written down is not the key element here. Moreover, while we our present earliest manuscripts are the Gandharin, their dates are not when writing was first used.

The issue is back tracking agama stemmas; and of the traditions, we can fairly confidently do that to the point of the so-called second council, via parallel traditions.

~~ Huifeng



Given the Gombrich-Cousins dates, then the second council would have been between 297 and 320 somewhere.
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