Distorted Visions of Buddhism: Agnostic and Atheist

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Re: Distorted Visions of Buddhism: Agnostic and Atheist

Postby Nyana » Fri Apr 19, 2013 1:25 pm

Lazy_eye wrote:Nevertheless, in my study of Mahayana, I have encountered the following (which seem to me like a pronounced departure from Theravadin practice):

Define what you mean by "Theravadin practice."
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Re: Distorted Visions of Buddhism: Agnostic and Atheist

Postby Lazy_eye » Fri Apr 19, 2013 1:33 pm

Ñāṇa wrote:
Lazy_eye wrote:Nevertheless, in my study of Mahayana, I have encountered the following (which seem to me like a pronounced departure from Theravadin practice):

Define what you mean by "Theravadin practice."


What is presented here.
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Re: Distorted Visions of Buddhism: Agnostic and Atheist

Postby Spiny Norman » Fri Apr 19, 2013 1:43 pm

Kare wrote:Instead of 'distortions', I would rather say 'adaptions'. The Dhamma is adapted to the society, culture and person...


Fair point, but logically this does also mean that modern expressions of the Buddha's teaching are as much a product of time and place as in the past - so they're not necessarily any more "objective" or "true" than previous cultural expressions.
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Re: Distorted Visions of Buddhism: Agnostic and Atheist

Postby m0rl0ck » Fri Apr 19, 2013 1:53 pm

Lazy_eye wrote:
Many people would say Theravada is quite analytical, rational and compatible with science -- to a degree. It is also more stubbornly orthodox and bound by the authority of millenia-old texts. So when problem areas arise, such as the ones Alex mentioned, it can be hard to work around them.

Mahayana, it seems to me, presents almost the opposite scenario. With its pantheon of Buddhas and bodhisattvas and its many devotional practices, it seems inherently less rational in its outlook. It is also more heterodox compared to Theravada and thus (theoretically) more flexible. Since the legitimacy of Mahayana sutras is questionable and the canon is so diverse, reinterpretation presents less of a problem. And indeed Mahayana has generated a wide variety of sects and schools. (For exactly this reason, I find it a bit odd and even amusing when folks like B. Allan Wallace start playing dharma cop -- as though their own tradition wasn't a significant departure).

So what's better, from the science-minded perspective -- the more rational but rigid Theravada, or the more adaptable but less rational Mahayana? I am oversimplifying of course, but hope you can see my point.


I think you are just flattering your own preconceptions here. My experience with mahayana buddhism is that it can just as dogmatic and inflexible as any other human religion, even theravadin buddhism. As for theravadan buddhism or buddhism at all for that matter being compatible with science :jumping:
"Even if you've read the whole Canon and can remember lots of teachings; even if you can explain them in poignant ways, with lots of people to respect you; even if you build a lot of monastery buildings, or can explain inconstancy, stress, and not-self in the most detailed fashion ... The only thing that serves your own true purpose is release from suffering.

"And you'll be able to gain release from suffering only when you know the one mind."

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/thai ... eleft.html
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Re: Distorted Visions of Buddhism: Agnostic and Atheist

Postby Spiny Norman » Fri Apr 19, 2013 1:57 pm

m0rl0ck wrote:Good link. Imo it pretty much nails batchelor:

There would be nothing wrong if Batchelor simply rejected the authenticity of the Buddha’s enlightenment and the core of his teachings, but instead he rejects the most reliable accounts of the Buddha’s vision and replaces it with his own, while then projecting it on the Buddha that exists only in his imagination.


What he is teaching doesnt look like buddhism to me, he should call it something else.


I think he calls it "secular Buddhism". ;)
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Re: Distorted Visions of Buddhism: Agnostic and Atheist

Postby m0rl0ck » Fri Apr 19, 2013 2:01 pm

porpoise wrote:
m0rl0ck wrote:Good link. Imo it pretty much nails batchelor:

There would be nothing wrong if Batchelor simply rejected the authenticity of the Buddha’s enlightenment and the core of his teachings, but instead he rejects the most reliable accounts of the Buddha’s vision and replaces it with his own, while then projecting it on the Buddha that exists only in his imagination.


What he is teaching doesnt look like buddhism to me, he should call it something else.


I think he calls it "secular Buddhism". ;)

Yes, and a more accurate less misleading name for his philosophy would be "buddhist materialism", because from what i have read about it, including interviews with stephen batchelor and talks by him, it is not a form of buddhism, but is a kind of materialism.
"Even if you've read the whole Canon and can remember lots of teachings; even if you can explain them in poignant ways, with lots of people to respect you; even if you build a lot of monastery buildings, or can explain inconstancy, stress, and not-self in the most detailed fashion ... The only thing that serves your own true purpose is release from suffering.

"And you'll be able to gain release from suffering only when you know the one mind."

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/thai ... eleft.html
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Re: Distorted Visions of Buddhism: Agnostic and Atheist

Postby Lazy_eye » Fri Apr 19, 2013 2:11 pm

m0rl0ck wrote:Yes, and a more accurate less misleading name for his philosophy would be "buddhist materialism", because from what i have read about it, including interviews with stephen batchelor and talks by him, it is not a form of buddhism, but is a kind of materialism.


Not sure about that. I think the more accurate term might be "naturalism". At issue here is acceptance or rejection of the supernatural. Rejection doesn't necessarily imply a materialist stance.

David Chalmers, for instance, espouses naturalism but not materialism.
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Re: Distorted Visions of Buddhism: Agnostic and Atheist

Postby Nyana » Fri Apr 19, 2013 2:12 pm

Lazy_eye wrote:
Ñāṇa wrote:Define what you mean by "Theravadin practice."

What is presented here.

I think "Theravāda practice" covers a broader range of practices than what's covered in that book. Examples from ancient times would include chanting DN 20. From Ven. Ṭhānissaro's Introduction to this sutta:

    This discourse is an interesting example of the folklore of the Pali canon. It shows that the tendency of Asian popular Buddhism to regard the Buddha as a protective figure, and not just as a teacher, has its roots in the earliest part of the tradition....

    The Commentary reports the belief that the devas enjoy hearing this discourse chanted in Pali. Until recently it was part of many monks' standard memorized repertoire, to be chanted at weddings and the dedication of new buildings. Even today, as many of the traditions of memorization in Asia seem to be falling by the wayside, there are a few monks and laypeople who chant this discourse regularly.

Somewhat more modern examples would include The Victor's Cage and The Divine Mantra. There are numerous other examples. As as Lance Cousins states in his paper Aspects of Esoteric Southern Buddhism:

    There is a surprisingly widespread notion that Theravāda Buddhism is, at least doctrinally, a rather uniform, if not monolithic, type of Buddhism. This is certainly a mistaken impression.

And not only doctrinally, but in terms of practice as well. In The Treasures of the Theravāda: Recovering the Riches of Our Tradition, Gil Fronsdal adds:

    When it comes to meditation practices, Theravada Buddhism has a much more rich and varied repertoire than is obvious from what is offered at Western or even Southeast Asian vipassana centers. While not as elaborate as some Tibetan visualization practices, there are a wide variety of Theravada meditations involving mental imaging of buddhas; bodhisattvas, arhats, celestial realms, corpses, and the primary colors and elements....

    Recently, many diverse Theravada practices were brought to Spirit Rock through the visit of Achaan Jumnien, a sixty-year-old monk from the jungles of Southern Thailand. In the course of nine days he taught thirty different practices. These included chakra practices (opening of the wisdom-eye and the heart center), skeleton practices (on the nature of the body), and meditations with the elements of earth, air, fire, water and space. He trained people to understand emptiness by resting in what he called the “Original Mind” or the “Natural State” and he offered practices unifying participants’ consciousnesses with his own. He also performed many kinds of blessings, described exorcisms, taught chants, and offered protection rituals, visualizations and vows (including bodhisattva vows, practice vows and refuge vows).
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Re: Distorted Visions of Buddhism: Agnostic and Atheist

Postby m0rl0ck » Fri Apr 19, 2013 2:18 pm

Lazy_eye wrote:
m0rl0ck wrote:Yes, and a more accurate less misleading name for his philosophy would be "buddhist materialism", because from what i have read about it, including interviews with stephen batchelor and talks by him, it is not a form of buddhism, but is a kind of materialism.


Not sure about that. I think the more accurate term might be "naturalism". At issue here is acceptance or rejection of the supernatural. Rejection doesn't necessarily imply a materialist stance.

David Chalmers, for instance, espouses naturalism but not materialism.


I have read interviews and seen talks by him where he implied that the brain and its chemical / electrical reactions were responsible for consciousness. That is, that the self is the brain and its constituents. The very definition of materialism.
"Even if you've read the whole Canon and can remember lots of teachings; even if you can explain them in poignant ways, with lots of people to respect you; even if you build a lot of monastery buildings, or can explain inconstancy, stress, and not-self in the most detailed fashion ... The only thing that serves your own true purpose is release from suffering.

"And you'll be able to gain release from suffering only when you know the one mind."

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/thai ... eleft.html
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Re: Distorted Visions of Buddhism: Agnostic and Atheist

Postby Nyana » Fri Apr 19, 2013 2:21 pm

Lazy_eye wrote:
m0rl0ck wrote:Yes, and a more accurate less misleading name for his philosophy would be "buddhist materialism", because from what i have read about it, including interviews with stephen batchelor and talks by him, it is not a form of buddhism, but is a kind of materialism.


Not sure about that. I think the more accurate term might be "naturalism". At issue here is acceptance or rejection of the supernatural. Rejection doesn't necessarily imply a materialist stance.

Batchelor has rejected Buddhist epistemology in favor of what is in keeping with Cārvāka materialist epistemology. If he were to show up at a debate in ancient India he would find much more agreement with the proponents of Indian materialism than with the proponents of the Buddhadhamma.

Lazy_eye wrote:David Chalmers, for instance, espouses naturalism but not materialism.

He also accepts causal closure of the physical.
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Re: Distorted Visions of Buddhism: Agnostic and Atheist

Postby Alex123 » Fri Apr 19, 2013 2:27 pm

m0rl0ck wrote:I have read interviews and seen talks by him where he implied that the brain and its chemical / electrical reactions were responsible for consciousness. That is, that the self is the brain and its constituents. The very definition of materialism.


This is empiric and testable observation that brain affects the mind. No need to involve metaphysical materialism into it.

I don't think that everyone takes astronomical and biological teachings found in the suttas to be totally believable today with all the new knowledge that we have.


Ñāṇa wrote:He also accepts causal closure of the physical.


And there are good reasons for that. We are not living in ancient India. Our knowledge and instruments (to examine the brain and its function) has progressed. So the arguments against materialism in ancient India or medieval Tibet, would simply not stand today.
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Re: Distorted Visions of Buddhism: Agnostic and Atheist

Postby Lazy_eye » Fri Apr 19, 2013 2:54 pm

Ñāṇa wrote:I think "Theravāda practice" covers a broader range of practices than what's covered in that book...]


Very interesting! Thanks, Ñāṇa.

My impression is that during what might be called the "Theravada revival" in the 19th/20th centuries, there was a conscious attempt made to separate the dhamma from what were seen (by the reformers) as atavistic devotional practices. In other words, there was an attempt to "brand" the dhamma, if you will, as exemplary in its rationalism and compatibility with modern thought. Anti-colonialism and nationalism may have been an influence, as well as the wish to meet the challenge posed by the spread of Christianity. I am not very knowledgeable about this and am probably giving a very general and inaccurate idea of what went on, so hopefully someone more familiar with the history can fill in the details.

One small point I might make, though: while many devotional and mystical practices, including Mahayana ones, can be traced back to the Pali Canon (Sutta Nipata in particular) I have found it surprisingly hard to locate suttas in which the Buddha himself presents these as part of his teaching. I'm not saying such passages don't exist -- DN.20, for example. But in the main, devotional practices seem to have their basis in suttas where followers are talking about the Buddha, rather than the Buddha presenting his teachings. At least this is what I've seen. So yes, Rahula's book may provide a narrow view of "Theravada practice". But is it incorrect as a summary of what the Buddha taught?

In Mahayana scriptures, the Lotus for instance, I believe the Buddha himself is depicted as teaching these practices -- dharanis, invocations and so on. Am I wrong here?
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Re: Distorted Visions of Buddhism: Agnostic and Atheist

Postby Alex123 » Fri Apr 19, 2013 3:03 pm

Lazy_eye wrote:One small point I might make, though: while many devotional and mystical practices, including Mahayana ones, can be traced back to the Pali Canon (Sutta Nipata in particular) I have found it surprisingly hard to locate suttas in which the Buddha himself presents these as part of his teaching.


"Theravada" especially among the laity and monks has religious practices. Also the meditational practices as we know them, as I understand it, were revived in 19th century by great monks such as Ledi Sayadaw. We can only guess what Theravada was before 19th century.

And yes, Pali Canon has less mythology than from what I've read in some Mahayana sutras. I also like more strait forward teachings in Pali Canon. But still, Pali Canon has too many religious teachings - and unfortunately some of them are key points (kamma, rebirth, cosmology) which the Buddha is said to have taught. Unfortunately the issue is not just the amount of mythological teachings, but centrality and importance of those that are taught.

Despite having super powers, the cosmological teachings found in the suttas go against modern astronomy. Also I really doubt that there can be fish 5000 kilometers in length, or other creatures of that cosmic size. It goes against biology, physics, astronomy. Nothing to say about alive skeletons, levitating piece of meat being picked by crows, and other weird forms of existence.

With the above, I doubt the rest of cosmological teachings. As for kamma, it cannot be objectively verified. It is not scientific theory. At least some cases of rebirth (such as James 3) have this life interpretations...
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Re: Distorted Visions of Buddhism: Agnostic and Atheist

Postby kirk5a » Fri Apr 19, 2013 3:57 pm

Alex123 wrote:As for kamma, it cannot be objectively verified. It is not scientific theory.

So you are saying that someone else cannot verify whether you have intentions or not.
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Re: Distorted Visions of Buddhism: Agnostic and Atheist

Postby Nyana » Fri Apr 19, 2013 4:23 pm

Alex123 wrote:But still, Pali Canon has too many religious teachings - and unfortunately some of them are key points (kamma, rebirth, cosmology) which the Buddha is said to have taught.

Why do you think it's unfortunate that the Buddha's dhamma includes the key points of kamma and rebirth?

Alex123 wrote:And there are good reasons for that. We are not living in ancient India. Our knowledge and instruments (to examine the brain and its function) has progressed. So the arguments against materialism in ancient India or medieval Tibet, would simply not stand today.

Neurology and cognitive science haven't explained consciousness in any meaningful way. So there are no good reasons to assert causal closure of the physical.

Alex123 wrote:So the arguments against materialism in ancient India or medieval Tibet, would simply not stand today.

Your faith in materialism may be steadfast, nevertheless there are numerous modern philosophical arguments against materialism. There are also well educated physicists, cognitive scientists, psychologists, etc., who don't subscribe to materialism or physicalism.
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Re: Distorted Visions of Buddhism: Agnostic and Atheist

Postby Nyana » Fri Apr 19, 2013 4:29 pm

Lazy_eye wrote:My impression is that during what might be called the "Theravada revival" in the 19th/20th centuries, there was a conscious attempt made to separate the dhamma from what were seen (by the reformers) as atavistic devotional practices. In other words, there was an attempt to "brand" the dhamma, if you will, as exemplary in its rationalism and compatibility with modern thought. Anti-colonialism and nationalism may have been an influence, as well as the wish to meet the challenge posed by the spread of Christianity. I am not very knowledgeable about this and am probably giving a very general and inaccurate idea of what went on, so hopefully someone more familiar with the history can fill in the details.

I don't know if that's representative across all South and Southeast Asian Buddhist communities during that period, but it's probably pretty accurate in some circles at least.

Lazy_eye wrote:One small point I might make, though: while many devotional and mystical practices, including Mahayana ones, can be traced back to the Pali Canon (Sutta Nipata in particular) I have found it surprisingly hard to locate suttas in which the Buddha himself presents these as part of his teaching. I'm not saying such passages don't exist -- DN.20, for example. But in the main, devotional practices seem to have their basis in suttas where followers are talking about the Buddha, rather than the Buddha presenting his teachings. At least this is what I've seen.

The six recollections given in a number of suttas include devotional practices. And the first five of the six higher knowledges given in a number of suttas are about as extraordinary as the visionary narratives in Mahāyāna sūtras.

Lazy_eye wrote:So yes, Rahula's book may provide a narrow view of "Theravada practice". But is it incorrect as a summary of what the Buddha taught?

I don't think it's incorrect. But it isn't complete either.

Lazy_eye wrote:In Mahayana scriptures, the Lotus for instance, I believe the Buddha himself is depicted as teaching these practices -- dharanis, invocations and so on. Am I wrong here?

The Mahāyāna sūtras were composed over multiple centuries by different groups of people, sometimes with different preoccupations. Thus, they include all sorts of things. One point about the Lotus Sūtra: Although it attained widespread popularity and status in China, Korea, and Japan, there's no evidence that it enjoyed such popularity in India. Jan Nattier has described it as "a very atypical text" even among Mahāyāna sūtras. In this article she tells the story of a Tibetan geshe enrolled in one of her classes who was so shocked by some of the passages in the sūtra he had to go look up the Tibetan text to make sure the translation wasn't way off.
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Re: Distorted Visions of Buddhism: Agnostic and Atheist

Postby Alex123 » Fri Apr 19, 2013 4:44 pm

kirk5a wrote:
Alex123 wrote:As for kamma, it cannot be objectively verified. It is not scientific theory.

So you are saying that someone else cannot verify whether you have intentions or not.


If we limit it ONLY to intention, then it is one thing. What we cannot verify is kamma that leads to kammavipāka in other lives - and during this life it is extra.

For example: If a person is born in a poor family, how can we prove that it was due to previous kamma of stealing and not simply due to biological processes that we can study. Or if a person is born sick (due to bad genes of parents), etc etc. When we have biological, etc, explanations, why add additional layer of interpretation?

Even as for actions and results in this life (lets say robbing a bank and being caught), there is no need for kamma and kammavipāka. Just physical and psychological explanations.
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Re: Distorted Visions of Buddhism: Agnostic and Atheist

Postby kirk5a » Fri Apr 19, 2013 4:53 pm

Alex123 wrote:Even as for actions and results in this life (lets say robbing a bank and being caught), there is no need for kamma and kammavipāka. Just physical and psychological explanations.

"Intention, I tell you, is kamma. Intending, one does kamma by way of body, speech, & intellect.

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... tml#part-5

You acknowledge intentions, you acknowledge there are actions and results of those actions in this life, but somehow you have the idea there is no need for kamma and kammavipaka, which are just those very things which you just described.
"When one thing is practiced & pursued, ignorance is abandoned, clear knowing arises, the conceit 'I am' is abandoned, latent tendencies are uprooted, fetters are abandoned. Which one thing? Mindfulness immersed in the body." -AN 1.230
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Re: Distorted Visions of Buddhism: Agnostic and Atheist

Postby alan » Fri Apr 19, 2013 4:56 pm

Don't know what happened to the guy, but his books are a waste of time.
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Re: Distorted Visions of Buddhism: Agnostic and Atheist

Postby Alex123 » Fri Apr 19, 2013 5:00 pm

Ñāṇa wrote:Why do you think it's unfortunate that the Buddha's dhamma includes the key points of kamma and rebirth?


What is unfortunate is that despite Buddhism being the best, the best religion - it still have elements of faith in it. And while we can ignore irrelevant teachings such as fish 5,000 km in length and sun rotating around the earth, and demon rahu swallowing the moon- kamma and rebirth are important elements that we can only believe in.

Ñāṇa wrote:Your faith in materialism may be steadfast, nevertheless there are numerous modern philosophical arguments against materialism. There are also well educated physicists, cognitive scientists, psychologists, etc., who don't subscribe to materialism or physicalism.


I believe more in: What is given in experience, doesn't contradict known facts, and goes with objective evidence. I don't hold much faith in metaphysics (be it materialism or idealism).

Ñāṇa wrote:Neurology and cognitive science haven't explained consciousness in any meaningful way. So there are no good reasons to assert causal closure of the physical.


While we don't know everything, our knowledge grows and we shouldn't use "God-of-the-gaps" sort of argument.

Some reasons why I doubt dualism:

- If consciousness can exist independently of the brain, then why do all memories get damaged when brain is damaged?
- Why does affecting the brain affects the mind including decision making?
- If consciousness has qualities opposite of physical phenomena, then how can two phenomena with opposite qualities interact?
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