Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist

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Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist

Postby Nibbida » Mon Apr 12, 2010 4:08 am

I confess, I've been reading Stephen Batchelor's Confession of a Buddhist Atheist. I'm not interested in furthering the "literal rebirth exist" epic debate, arguing for or against it. The book contains a great deal of analysis of the Pali Canon, particularly the life of the Buddha and the historical aspect of events that took place (and their historical context). It's given me a greater understanding of this aspect of the Pali Canon. But naturally, what I'm wondering while I'm reading it is whether this aspect is an unorthodox perspective or whether it's a more conventional one. Maybe I don't know what on earth I'm really asking. Has anyone read this and what do you think (aside from the view that Batchelor will roast in hell realms).
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Re: Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist

Postby tiltbillings » Mon Apr 12, 2010 4:16 am

I was wondering how it be before this book hit this forum. Not having read the book I cannot comment on it; however, I have listened some of his talks about this his understanding of the Buddha as derived from the Pali texts much of which has found its way into his book. Whether I agree with Batchelor or not, he is an interesting and challenging author, who I think is worth reading.
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Re: Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist

Postby IanAnd » Mon Apr 12, 2010 6:22 am

The following is a short but rather insightful review of this book for those of us who haven't had the opportunity to read it. Confession of a Buddhist Atheist - Review While it may not provide much fodder for discussion, those with "life experience" may be able to glean some value from it nonetheless.

While I may not have read this most recent book of Batchelor's, I have read (a few of years ago) his book Buddhism Without Beliefs. While I do not have it at hand to quote from (I had checked it out from the library as I recall), my impression of it was favorable. Not a few of us have shared Stephen's experience with religious organizations, myself included, and have also arrived at similar, if not the same, conclusions. He makes many of the same arguments I make with regard to "Buddhism the religion," a few of which are artfully pointed out in the above review and the quotation from it below.

from the Review wrote:In the first part of Confession of Buddhist Atheist, Mr. Batchelor shares the fascinating story of how he came to his conclusions regarding karma and rebirth, and Buddhism in general. As a young man, he ordained as a Tibetan Buddhist monk - one of the first Westerners to do so - and studied with Geshe Rabten, as well as many other well-known Tibetan teachers, including the Dalai Lama. After several years of such study, he began to question some of the more ritualistic practices and occult beliefs of the tradition he was in. Teachings on rebirth were particularly problematic for him, because they were based on the acceptance of an 'immaterial mind', and as he says:

"...This unavoidably leads to a body-mind dualism...How can such an immaterial mind ever connect with a material body? Being immaterial, it cannot be seen, heard, smelled, tasted or touched. If it is untouchable, how can it 'touch' or have any contact with a brain?...As soon as you split the world in two parts - one physical and one spiritual - you will most likely privilege mind over matter."

He felt accepting rebirth required a 'belief' in something that could not be proven, even through his own meditative practice. He felt it had become a doctrine he was expected to accept on faith, going against the Buddha's teachings on self-reliance and personal validation as presented in the Kalama sutta...

The second part of Confessions covers his re-imagining of the Buddha's life and awakening, with a special emphasis on the cultural and political landscape the Buddha lived in. He attempts to "strip away layer upon layer of myth that has encrusted itself around the human person...to discard the idealized image of the serene and perfect teacher who is incapable of ever making a wrong move."

It was this "body-mind dualism" that I also inevitably observed which really shut the door for me on buying into any spiritual or religious aspect surrounding Buddhism, or any religion for that matter. But each person must come to their own conclusion after much study, observation, and contemplation.

As with Mr. Batchelor, I too stood aghast at the wholesale ignoring of the Kalama sutta that some sects of "Buddhism" seem to lay aside in favor of their "beliefs and rituals." Not only does it contradict what is taught in the discourses, such practices can actually reinforce the "body-mind dualism" which can literally tear a person in two, intellectually and rationally speaking, that is. What was the Roman dictum? "Divide and conquer." How about turning a person into a screaming schizophrenic (a bit of an extreme example, I admit, but not always far from the truth in some cases). Once you divide the person's identity...well you can imagine what can happen....Or maybe you can't. I guess it might depend upon your life experience.

I had the advantage of having also read Hans Schumann's The Historical Buddha, which delves into some of the more, perhaps overlooked, contextual data surrounding the historical personage of Gotama. Putting two and two together from my own vast experience of the world and how human beings work and are likely to react to various stimuli and mental conditioning, I arrived at my own conclusions about this "religion," as well as other religions which have been foisted upon mankind all in the name of control and eventual subjugation and submission to "higher powers." What a crock...

Anyone who takes the time to thoughtfully and carefully read and contemplate the suttas, especially the first book of the Samyutta Nikaya as well as some selected sections from the Digha Nikaya, may find reason to discount some of the idealized spiritual and religious iconography that has grown up around the "religion of Buddhism."

I won't spoil it for you though. You'll have to do your own investigations and arrive at your own conclusions. After all, isn't that what the Buddha taught?
"The gift of truth exceeds all other gifts" — Dhammapada, v. 354 Craving XXIV
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Re: Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist

Postby Kim OHara » Mon Apr 12, 2010 6:50 am

For related reading, try these threads:
Two Naked Buddhas http://www.dhammawheel.com/viewtopic.php?f=16&t=3058
and
The Broken Buddha http://www.dhammawheel.com/viewtopic.php?f=14&t=2698

Seems like quite a few people are travelling along parallel tracks ...
:reading:

:namaste:
Kim

Oops! Just noticed that the two URL's were identical. That had to be wrong!
All OK now.
-K
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Re: Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist

Postby Guy » Mon Apr 12, 2010 8:46 am

He felt accepting rebirth required a 'belief' in something that could not be proven, even through his own meditative practice. He felt it had become a doctrine he was expected to accept on faith, going against the Buddha's teachings on self-reliance and personal validation as presented in the Kalama sutta...


Does the Kalama Sutta teach us to draw conclusions based on mere feelings?
Four types of letting go:

1) Giving; expecting nothing back in return
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3) Contentment; wanting to be here, not wanting to be anywhere else
4) "Teflon Mind"; having a mind which doesn't accumulate things

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Re: Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist

Postby BubbaBuddhist » Mon Apr 12, 2010 1:07 pm

In re: Batchelor, the Kalama Sutta and this topic, here is a critique by Ven Bhikkhu Punnadhammo which I found rather agreeable:

http://www.budsas.org/ebud/ebdha107.htm

J
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Re: Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist

Postby appicchato » Mon Apr 12, 2010 1:16 pm

Does the Kalama Sutta teach us to draw conclusions based on mere feelings?


My read is no, but rather not just on mere feelings...
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Re: Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist

Postby Reductor » Mon Apr 12, 2010 4:14 pm

I have to ask what is meant by 'immaterial mind'. I don't see an immaterial anything as being necessary for rebirth and kamma. Even consciousness, assuming it is more than an emergent property, probably isn't 'immaterial' - just a so far unidentified feature of the universe.

Am I alone on that?

Oh, and Bubba, the link you provided doesn't seem to work.
Michael

The thoughts I've expressed in the above post are carefully considered and offered in good faith.

And friendliness towards the world is happiness for him who is forbearing with living beings. -- Ud. 2:1
To his own ruin the fool gains knowledge, for it cleaves his head and destroys his innate goodness. -- Dhp 72

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Re: Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist

Postby IanAnd » Mon Apr 12, 2010 4:20 pm

Guy wrote:
He felt accepting rebirth required a 'belief' in something that could not be proven, even through his own meditative practice.


Does the Kalama Sutta teach us to draw conclusions based on mere feelings?

If you are asking a generalized question, then, as Bht. Appicchato has correctly stated the answer is clearly no.

But please don't confuse a reviewer's figure of speech ("he felt") for an endorsement of a way of practice. The reviewer is merely attempting to summarize the author's thought on a subject, and used a figure of speech in order to convey that idea. In other words, it was not meant to be taken literally (i.e. in the way that you have construed it). Beware of reading too much into other people's descriptions of those they write about. Unless it comes from the horse's mouth (in this case, Stephen Batchelor), there's no reason to even go there.
"The gift of truth exceeds all other gifts" — Dhammapada, v. 354 Craving XXIV
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Re: Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist

Postby IanAnd » Mon Apr 12, 2010 4:43 pm

thereductor wrote:I have to ask what is meant by 'immaterial mind'. I don't see an immaterial anything as being necessary for rebirth and kamma. Even consciousness, assuming it is more than an emergent property, probably isn't 'immaterial' - just a so far unidentified feature of the universe.

Am I alone on that?

If you read this quote and understand it, then it should clarify what the reviewer (and hence Mr. Batchelor) meant by using the descriptor "immaterial" in reference to the mind.

Stephen Batchelor wrote:"...This unavoidably leads to a body-mind dualism...How can such an immaterial mind ever connect with a material body? Being immaterial, it cannot be seen, heard, smelled, tasted or touched. If it is untouchable, how can it 'touch' or have any contact with a brain?...As soon as you split the world in two parts - one physical and one spiritual - you will most likely privilege mind over matter."

Obviously, he is referencing the "immaterial" mind as being part and parcel of the "spiritual" world, which he views as being mind-made (in other words, fabricated). For more about this process, read and understand Ven. Nanananda's groundbreaking book Concept and Reality. If you understand the process of mental fabrication of reality, then you have gained some insight into how others hearts and minds can be controlled from outside their own sense of knowingness through the practice of instilling "beliefs" about reality, which "beliefs" have in actuality nothing to do with reality other than to confuse the "believer's" mind about what is "real."
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Re: Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist

Postby Reductor » Mon Apr 12, 2010 5:03 pm

IanAnd wrote:Obviously, he is referencing the "immaterial" mind as being part and parcel of the "spiritual" world, which he views as being mind-made (in other words, fabricated). For more about this process, read and understand Ven. Nanananda's groundbreaking book Concept and Reality. If you understand the process of mental fabrication of reality, then you have gained some insight into how others hearts and minds can be controlled from outside their own sense of knowingness through the practice of instilling "beliefs" about reality, which "beliefs" have in actuality nothing to do with reality other than to confuse the "believer's" mind about what is "real."


If what is meant is immaterial mentality, Nama, then I suppose I see why he would be put off. I don't recall reading anything in the sutta's about such a thing. But this line causes my trouble: Teachings on rebirth were particularly problematic for him, because they were based on the acceptance of an 'immaterial mind'...

I've never seen rebirth teachings as being based on an 'immaterial mind'. They're based on conditionality. It seems to me that he takes a particular slant in the Tibetan teachings on the nature of mind, then uses that to dismiss rebirth, the function of which doesn't really rest on such a premise. IMO.


Thanks for the response Ian.
Michael

The thoughts I've expressed in the above post are carefully considered and offered in good faith.

And friendliness towards the world is happiness for him who is forbearing with living beings. -- Ud. 2:1
To his own ruin the fool gains knowledge, for it cleaves his head and destroys his innate goodness. -- Dhp 72

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Re: Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist

Postby PeterB » Mon Apr 12, 2010 6:49 pm

tiltbillings wrote:I was wondering how it be before this book hit this forum. Not having read the book I cannot comment on it; however, I have listened some of his talks about this his understanding of the Buddha as derived from the Pali texts much of which has found its way into his book. Whether I agree with Batchelor or not, he is an interesting and challenging author, who I think is worth reading.

Agreed. I gather the title was the publishers idea. Pity.
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Re: Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist

Postby meindzai » Mon Apr 12, 2010 6:57 pm

thereductor wrote:I have to ask what is meant by 'immaterial mind'. I don't see an immaterial anything as being necessary for rebirth and kamma. Even consciousness, assuming it is more than an emergent property, probably isn't 'immaterial' - just a so far unidentified feature of the universe.

Am I alone on that?



When I see "material" with regards to the mind, I assume that means the scientific or physicalist model, which is that the conciousness is an emergent property of (brain) matter. For rebirth to work post-mortem, consiousness cannot be dependant on this physicality. If by "so far unidentified feature of the universe" you mean some kind of entergy/chi/quantum thingy I still classify all of that as materiality. And if you look at the five aggregates - form is only one of the five.

If that's not convincing, observe that the Buddha classifies three types of beings: "There are these three kinds of being: sense-sphere being, fine-material being and immaterial being." - Sammaditthi Sutta

So consiousness can not be dependent on matter, since there are beings without any matter whatsoever.

These are very fine points in the Suttas that point to the rebirth idea apart from metaphor and superstition. They are internally consistent within the Suttas and do not appear in any way to be some kind of latter add-in or cultural phenomenah. Bachelor has managed to miss these points altogether. His reading of the canon is probably very wide, but not very deep, and very selective.

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Re: Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist

Postby IanAnd » Tue Apr 13, 2010 12:27 am

meindzai wrote:If by "so far unidentified feature of the universe" you mean some kind of entergy/chi/quantum thingy I still classify all of that as materiality. And if you look at the five aggregates - form is only one of the five.

If that's not convincing, observe that the Buddha classifies three types of beings: "There are these three kinds of being: sense-sphere being, fine-material being and immaterial being." - Sammaditthi Sutta

So consiousness can not be dependent on matter, since there are beings without any matter whatsoever.

These are very fine points in the Suttas that point to the rebirth idea apart from metaphor and superstition. They are internally consistent within the Suttas and do not appear in any way to be some kind of latter add-in or cultural phenomena. Bachelor has managed to miss these points altogether. His reading of the canon is probably very wide, but not very deep, and very selective.

Yes. Now that you mention this, I seem to recall not always agreeing with Batchelor's premises in his other book.

You made some very good points here, meindzai.
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Re: Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist

Postby Guy » Tue Apr 13, 2010 12:43 am

Hi Ian,

IanAnd wrote:
Guy wrote:
He felt accepting rebirth required a 'belief' in something that could not be proven, even through his own meditative practice.


Does the Kalama Sutta teach us to draw conclusions based on mere feelings?

If you are asking a generalized question, then, as Bht. Appicchato has correctly stated the answer is clearly no.

But please don't confuse a reviewer's figure of speech ("he felt") for an endorsement of a way of practice. The reviewer is merely attempting to summarize the author's thought on a subject, and used a figure of speech in order to convey that idea. In other words, it was not meant to be taken literally (i.e. in the way that you have construed it). Beware of reading too much into other people's descriptions of those they write about. Unless it comes from the horse's mouth (in this case, Stephen Batchelor), there's no reason to even go there.


Good point. I have no interest in reading the book, but I would be interested to know, based on what specific Suttas (or other sources), what made him believe that rebirth can't be proven to himself? It is my understanding that the Buddha himself remembered his past lives and that other people are also capable of remembering their past lives.

With Metta,

Guy
Four types of letting go:

1) Giving; expecting nothing back in return
2) Throwing things away
3) Contentment; wanting to be here, not wanting to be anywhere else
4) "Teflon Mind"; having a mind which doesn't accumulate things

- Ajahn Brahm
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Re: Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist

Postby Reductor » Tue Apr 13, 2010 1:42 am

meindzai wrote:When I see "material" with regards to the mind, I assume that means the scientific or physicalist model,

...
So consiousness can not be dependent on matter, since there are beings without any matter whatsoever.

...
-M


It should be noted that I was using the terms material and immaterial in less than a technical sense.

Allow me to launch into a little flight of fancy. If the following is felt by the moderators to be inappropriate, then no hard feelings if its moved or removed.

In regard to this topic, I have to ask: Have you noticed a special version of DO geared toward the immaterial beings (remember link #4, nama-rupa)? So far I haven't, but I admit that my reading is incomplete, and I'm not a scholarly sort. But I have noticed that humans can experience the immaterial realm by the development of different modes of perception (see MN 121), so those experiences are not limited only to the beings existent in these realms. In terms of what humans are composed of, the Buddha described rupa in terms of the four great elements, which is a concise way to view experience (as solid, liquid, energy, motion), but is far incomplete in terms of modern physics. But still, the applications of that understanding is quite great. As is the list of 31 parts, which is far short of the total parts in the body understood in modern biology. Again, as has been pointed out on this forum time and time again, the Buddha was master of the similie and instruction, and may have been less concerned with imparting to us a flawless understanding of the mechanics involved.

My point is this: the distinction between the three realms may be more a matter of short hand rather than an absolute reflection of reality. Perphaps each realm is labeled more in terms of the primary mode of perception rather than the matter-energy that it is formed from. The actual manner that an immaterial being forms and is maintained, let alone functions, is not spelled out in the canon.

And neither is the full nature of consciousness. While it seems necessitated by rebirth that consciousness is not dependent on a specific beings existence, it is not necessitated by rebirth that consciousness is completely independent of all the universe and the laws therein.

I have to ask, though: if the immaterial realm is really immaterial, then what is it constituted by, if you rule out both matter and energy? And if neither matter nor energy are there, by what means does cause and effect operate?
Michael

The thoughts I've expressed in the above post are carefully considered and offered in good faith.

And friendliness towards the world is happiness for him who is forbearing with living beings. -- Ud. 2:1
To his own ruin the fool gains knowledge, for it cleaves his head and destroys his innate goodness. -- Dhp 72

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Re: Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist

Postby locusphor » Tue Apr 13, 2010 4:00 am

Dharma talk from Stephen Batchelor's book tour "Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist" Talk begins at 2:02 after introduction by Allan Badiner.

My response: Regardless of how, the mind and the body are hopelessly connected. How so? Via the constant 2-way dialogue between mind & body concerning the judgment of body's sensations. Some are "good" and others are "sub-good." How this happens is anyone's guess, but as an empiricist that these phenomena are attached and interrelated should be plain as day to Batchelor.

But I totally understand Batchelor's reiteration of what I first encountered as Gyges Ring. The paradox is concerning reasons to good if it weren't for fear of a post-mortem punishment or love of an eternal reward? I think Plato's response was Goodness is pursued for no other reason than itself.

@thereductor ... would you say that matter and energy are equivalent? ... e = mc^2?
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Re: Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist

Postby ground » Tue Apr 13, 2010 4:15 am

There is a slight difference between "not knowing" and "rejecting what you cannot know". Caused by frustration about not being able to prove for themselves some tend to take this as reason to reject what they cannot disprove either.

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Re: Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist

Postby Reductor » Tue Apr 13, 2010 5:01 am

locusphor wrote:@thereductor ... would you say that matter and energy are equivalent? ... e = mc^2?


I'm not a physicist, but I believe that's the premise there. In terms of science, it is important to study the smallest details - in terms of mind, it is important to study its habit. In this way you can overturn ignorance and be released from suffering.
Michael

The thoughts I've expressed in the above post are carefully considered and offered in good faith.

And friendliness towards the world is happiness for him who is forbearing with living beings. -- Ud. 2:1
To his own ruin the fool gains knowledge, for it cleaves his head and destroys his innate goodness. -- Dhp 72

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Re: Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist

Postby PeterB » Tue Apr 13, 2010 8:03 am

Define " mind".
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