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Batchelor's "Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist" - Page 3 - Dhamma Wheel

Batchelor's "Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist"

Exploring Theravāda's connections to other paths. What can we learn from other traditions, religions and philosophies?
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BlackBird
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Re: Batchelor's "Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist"

Postby BlackBird » Wed Oct 20, 2010 9:51 am

I don't think Batchelor's enlightened. Maybe he has some interesting things to say Tilt, but really I have no great desire for spending time figuring him out. Scholastic works, are by and large (exceptions of course) superfluous on the path to enlightenment, and I have found in my own experience that less is best when it comes to listening to the views of those who have not gained a foothold in the Buddha's Dhamma.

My view is that the existence of a 'me' an 'I am' is an existential problem, that requires an existential solution. I've been down enough detours to know they won't get me where I want to go, and I have read enough about Batchelor and his ideas to know that they're at odds with my reading of the Suttas.

You don't have to watch a Uwe Boll film to know he's a rubbish director.

(Please don't take my book burning comment so seriously Sanghamitta :))

metta
Jack
"For a disciple who has conviction in the Teacher's message & lives to penetrate it, what accords with the Dhamma is this:
'The Blessed One is the Teacher, I am a disciple. He is the one who knows, not I." -

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Re: Batchelor's "Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist"

Postby tiltbillings » Wed Oct 20, 2010 9:59 am


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Ben
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Re: Batchelor's "Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist"

Postby Ben » Wed Oct 20, 2010 10:13 am

Jack,
Respectfully,I would caution you against disregarding that which you find disagreeable or disagreeable to your present understanding of the suttas. For as long as we remain unenlightened, our view is obscured by our own predelictions, our preferences and our conceit. We shouldnt invest any value to our own view. The value of another person's point of view, whether it is Batchelor, Goldstein, Ven Bodhi, Ven Analayo, particularly if it is something that we may find disagreeable, is that it offers an alternative perspective from where we can reconsider our own.

with metta

Ben
“No lists of things to be done. The day providential to itself. The hour. There is no later. This is later. All things of grace and beauty such that one holds them to one's heart have a common provenance in pain. Their birth in grief and ashes.”
- Cormac McCarthy, The Road

Learn this from the waters:
in mountain clefts and chasms,
loud gush the streamlets,
but great rivers flow silently.
- Sutta Nipata 3.725

(Buddhist aid in Myanmar) • •

e: [email protected]..

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BlackBird
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Re: Batchelor's "Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist"

Postby BlackBird » Wed Oct 20, 2010 10:22 am

Alright Ben, Tilt, Sanghamitta. I respect what you have to say, if and when I find a Batchelor book I won't shy away, I will give him his due. Sometimes I need to be dragged kicking and screaming into these things, seeing as I am now a hardened cynic. I appreciate the effort on your behalf.
"For a disciple who has conviction in the Teacher's message & lives to penetrate it, what accords with the Dhamma is this:
'The Blessed One is the Teacher, I am a disciple. He is the one who knows, not I." -

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Aloka
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Re: Batchelor's "Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist"

Postby Aloka » Wed Oct 20, 2010 11:24 am

.

I started to read the book as far as the end of Chapter 7 , and so far I've found it quite boring to be honest- he's really not saying anything that's new or interesting to me. Certainly nothing to make a fuss about.

Perhaps it might improve later if I can be bothered to pick it up again !

.

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Re: Batchelor's "Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist"

Postby clw_uk » Wed Oct 20, 2010 11:59 am

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Re: Batchelor's "Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist"

Postby clw_uk » Wed Oct 20, 2010 12:02 pm

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Re: Batchelor's "Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist"

Postby zavk » Wed Oct 20, 2010 12:57 pm

I too have found some aspects of Batchelor's works useful, even if I'm not quite sure what to make of the extent to which he characterises Buddhism as agnostic or atheistic. In any case, Batchelor's interpretation is not new. His interpretation of Buddhism as agnostic-atheistic can be located on genealogy of scholarship that traces back to T.W. Rhys-Davids. In Buddhism: A Sketch of the Life and Teachings of Gautama, the Buddha, Rhys-Davids wrote, 'Agnostic atheism was the characteristic of the [Buddha’s] system of philosophy' (p. 207).

Rhys-Davids is of course a key figure in the study of early Buddhism. Given how Rhys-Davids founded the Pali Text Society, his influence on how we now interpret Theravada is not insignificant. Richard Gombrich has suggested that Rhys-Davids 'did more than anyone else to introduce [Buddhism] to the English-speaking public, influencing even English-speaking Sinhalese Buddhists', and thus 'serious students of Buddhism will never allow [his] name to die' (quoted in Charles Hallisey 'Roads Taken and Not Taken in the Study of Theravada Buddhism', in Donald Lopez (ed.) Curators of the Buddha: The Study of Buddhism Under Colonialism)

I point this out not to suggest that Buddhism is indeed agnostic or atheistic, but to point out how Rhys-Davids' interpretation of Buddhism (like Batchelor's) was a decidedly modern one, a particular interpretation that was shaped by the conditions of his time. Rhys-David's interpretation of Buddhism must be viewed in the context of the late 19th century, where the tensions between western monotheism and the emergent scientific worldview framed his reading of Buddhism in humanist, non-religious terms. While I do not doubt his dedication to scholarship, it should nevertheless be noted that Rhys-Davids was selective in the materials he examined. Several studies (like Hallisey) have pointed how he ignored some texts (especially those that would associate Buddhism with ritual or religiosity) regarded by Asian Buddhists to be central for understanding Buddhism.

Rhys-Davids sought to uncover the biography of Gautama and portrayed the Buddha as a mere mortal, even though many accounts of the Buddha depicted him supernatural terms. Such a reading of the Buddhism effectively imbued the Buddha with Victorian values and portrayed him as the perfect Victorian gentleman. There was an ideological impetus behind this interpretation of the Buddhism. While this interpretation of Buddhism reflects Victorian values more than it does what Buddhism was 'originally', it allowed western interpretators to denigrate Asian Buddhism (with all its rituals and religiosity) as degenerate and adulterated. This disparaging attitude towards Asian Buddhism is tied with colonial politics: the claim that Asian Buddhism had forsaken the Buddha's 'original' agnostic-atheistic teachings served to justify the paternalism of colonial rule. It is worth recalling here that Rhys-Davids first encountered Buddhism while he was serving in the Ceylon Civil Service (1864-72).

What I am suggesting, then, is that there is no way to unambiguously position Buddhism as agnostic or atheistic. Any attempt to argue that Buddhism is agnostic-atheistic says more about the speaker and conditions from which s/he speaks than it does what Buddhism 'really is'. Keeping this in mind has been helpful for me. It has helped me to better appreciate the depth and complexities of Buddhism, reminding me to be on guard against reifying the sublime Dhamma as this or that. It has also helped me gain some perspective on such recurring debates as whether Buddhism is a religion or philosophy, whether rebirth is literal or not, whether Buddhism is agnostic or atheistic, whether the so-called supernatural elements in Theravada or Mahayana are superflous to the Buddha's 'original' teaching or not, and so forth. Being historically reflexive has helped me not to get so hung up about these never-ending, circuitous arguments, and thereby freeing up more energy to pursue the Dhamma in more productive and skilful ways.

To pick up on the key question underlying this discussion which clw_uk has posed: What is wrong with interpreting Buddhism as agnostic or atheistic? I would say that there is nothing inherently wrong with it. The issue, rather, is whether one is critically reflexive about one's position and whether one pursues that interpretation towards skilfull or unskfill ends.

----------------------------

FYI: For critical analyses of Rhys-Davids and the early western scholarship of Buddhism, Lopez's book mentioned above is helpful. Judith Snodgrass' (an Australian Buddhist historian, btw, whom I had the pleasure of meeting) 'Defining Modern Buddhism: Mr and Mrs Rhys-Davids and the Pali Text Society' is another useful source, as it David McMahan's The Making of Buddhist Modernism.

Hope this is of some use...... :anjali:
With metta,
zavk

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Re: Batchelor's "Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist"

Postby Ben » Wed Oct 20, 2010 1:08 pm

Thank you Ed for your excellent and very well-considered response.
Context, as they say, is everything.
“No lists of things to be done. The day providential to itself. The hour. There is no later. This is later. All things of grace and beauty such that one holds them to one's heart have a common provenance in pain. Their birth in grief and ashes.”
- Cormac McCarthy, The Road

Learn this from the waters:
in mountain clefts and chasms,
loud gush the streamlets,
but great rivers flow silently.
- Sutta Nipata 3.725

(Buddhist aid in Myanmar) • •

e: ben.dhammawhe[email protected]..

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beeblebrox
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Re: Batchelor's "Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist"

Postby beeblebrox » Wed Oct 20, 2010 3:38 pm


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clw_uk
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Re: Batchelor's "Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist"

Postby clw_uk » Wed Oct 20, 2010 4:13 pm

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alan
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Re: Batchelor's "Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist"

Postby alan » Thu Oct 21, 2010 2:17 am

zavk:
I think you were the one who recommended "The making of Buddhist modernism" to me a while back. If so, I want to thank you. It is extremely interesting, and very helpful!

alan
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Re: Batchelor's "Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist"

Postby alan » Thu Oct 21, 2010 2:24 am

clw,
Just a hint--most people are going to glaze over when they see 20 column inches of text. It also appears somewhat indulgent.
Making your point in fewer words might be more effective.

alan
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Re: Batchelor's "Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist"

Postby alan » Thu Oct 21, 2010 4:20 am

You are correct, Ben--it is always good to keep an open mind.
No one is considering burning books here--although I did suggest throwing one of them out the window.
Oh, wait--Blackbird makes a joking aside, and everyone freaks out! That is nonsense, of course.
I'll come to his defense.

I've read Batchelor and have set him aside. He seems to be trying to construe a new version of Buddhism that conforms to his beliefs. Thats all well and fine, but not worth my time. As I've said before, he seems to be apologizing to himself--not very enlightening. My reading stack is high; my time is limited. I'll choose those that impress me. Not because I agree with them all the time, but because they challenge me with their ideas.
Batchelor doesn't qualify. He's out, for me at least.

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Re: Batchelor's "Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist"

Postby clw_uk » Thu Oct 21, 2010 6:03 am

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zavk
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Re: Batchelor's "Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist"

Postby zavk » Thu Oct 21, 2010 11:13 am

With metta,
zavk

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Kim OHara
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Re: Batchelor's "Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist"

Postby Kim OHara » Thu Oct 21, 2010 12:12 pm


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zavk
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Re: Batchelor's "Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist"

Postby zavk » Fri Oct 22, 2010 1:45 am

'Un-Buddhist' according to which version of Buddhism? Hahaha... ok, sorry, just being facetious. :tongue: Bhikkhu Thanissaro seem to also take the view that is better to think of Buddhism in the plural as the title of his book, Buddhist Religions, suggests.

Anyway, :focus:
With metta,
zavk

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Re: Batchelor's "Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist"

Postby alan » Fri Oct 22, 2010 3:07 am

Hmm, what's this, a new Thanissaro book? When did this come out?

On McMahon: He passes on taking a stand at the end of chapter 6. Understand why, but still see it as a flaw.
That goes back to your earlier post, as quoted by Kim:
"Change and conditionality is embodied in the very thing we call "Buddhism". I don't share Kim's objection of no self, but would like to ask what you were referring to there.
My objection with McMahon is that he squirmed out of the pressing question. Understandable, as he is an academic, and needs positive reviews in order to stay on the job. But a student might feel somewhat slighted, and want to ask another question. That student is concerned with getting to a useable truth.
The question would be: who are we to challenge the Buddha's statements?
They are right, or they are not right, right?
Where is there room for change and conditionality here?

Thanks zavk.

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Re: Batchelor's "Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist"

Postby Sanghamitta » Fri Oct 22, 2010 11:13 am

" challenge " or "interpret" ? After all just for starters most of us are not sufficiently au fait with the Pali to make a judgement on the translation...
The going for refuge is the door of entrance to the teachings of the Buddha.

Bhikku Bodhi.


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