Batchelor's "Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist"

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Batchelor's "Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist"

Postby Dhammakid » Sat Oct 02, 2010 2:12 am

Haven't read it yet, but I'm wondering if anyone here has read it, and if so, your thoughts on it.

I'm curious because I just read this review ripping it to shreds - http://www.mandalamagazine.org/archives ... d-atheist/

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(NOTE TO ADMINS: I just had the thought that maybe this post doesn't belong in the "General Theravada" section, so I apologize if this is the case. Sorry about that.)
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Re: Batchelor's "Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist"

Postby mikenz66 » Sat Oct 02, 2010 2:23 am

I haven't read the book, but there are a day-long series of talks here: http://www.sati.org/audio.html
I don't agree with some of his conclusions, but he does raise some interesting points and it's worth listening to the first recording, from 20 minutes in, to take his little quiz...

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

Postby Dhammakid » Sat Oct 02, 2010 2:28 am

mikenz66 wrote:I haven't read the book, but there are a day-long series of talks here: http://www.sati.org/audio.html
I don't agree with some of his conclusions, but he does raise some interesting points and it's worth listening to the first recording to take his little quiz...

Mike


Thanks, Mike. Will do when I get my audio earphones back from my brother. I'd listen now, but I would have to use the speakers on my desktop and the rest of the family would hear and they're aren't too friendly to all this buddhist stuff...

In the meantime, I'm curious to hear with which of his conclusions you don't agree.

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

Postby mikenz66 » Sat Oct 02, 2010 2:36 am

Well, as Wallace says, Batchelor plays fast and loose with what's in the Pali Canon, basically dismissing the bits he doesn't like as just reflections of the culture of the time, which is a familiar theme among modern Buddhists... The idea is interesting - to figure out what is important by looking at what is novel about the Buddha's message relative to his time - but I think he takes it too far, and I'm not all that convinced about the depth of his scholarship.

On the other hand, I hear that he is an excellent meditation teacher, forcing his students to abandon their preconceptions...

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

Postby pilgrim » Sat Oct 02, 2010 2:48 am

Batchelor has lots of beliefs. (for e,g he believes that karma and rebirth is not true.) And when his beliefs disagree with the Dhamma, he says its the Dhamma that is in error. As Thubten Chodron said "I'll be very concerned if Buddhism agrees with all my beliefs. Then there is nothing left for me in it."
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Re: Batchelor's "Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist"

Postby ground » Sat Oct 02, 2010 3:19 am

pilgrim wrote:As Thubten Chodron said "I'll be very concerned if Buddhism agrees with all my beliefs. Then there is nothing left for me in it."

Great :D

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

Postby Individual » Sat Oct 02, 2010 3:42 am

Dhammakid wrote:Haven't read it yet, but I'm wondering if anyone here has read it, and if so, your thoughts on it.

I'm curious because I just read this review ripping it to shreds - http://www.mandalamagazine.org/archives ... d-atheist/

:anjali:
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(NOTE TO ADMINS: I just had the thought that maybe this post doesn't belong in the "General Theravada" section, so I apologize if this is the case. Sorry about that.)

Seems like a great thread for the Dhammic Free-for-all.

I like Stephen Batchelor and I guess I mostly agree with him, though I think it was unnecessary for him to use specific labels for Buddhism like atheism and agnosticism. And his antagonism towards other views brings out others' antagonism for his views.
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Re: Batchelor's "Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist"

Postby Dan74 » Sat Oct 02, 2010 4:08 am

There's a long thread on it on ZFI, in case you are interested:

http://zenforuminternational.org/viewtopic.php?f=8&t=4543&start=0
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Re: Batchelor's "Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist"

Postby Dhammakid » Sat Oct 02, 2010 2:45 pm

Great quote, pilgrim.

Dan: Thanks for the link. I'll check it out and let you know what I think.

I too am not too thrilled with Batchelor's insistence that Buddhism is specifically atheist/agnostic, especially when he identifies himself as a member of a particular philosopher's "Church Scientific" and then attempts to align Buddhist teachings with that of this philosopher. Completely uncalled for in my opinion.

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

Postby texastheravadin » Sat Oct 02, 2010 3:52 pm

I read Batchelor's Buddhism Without Beliefs a while back...at the time, it seemed to be just the kind of book I was looking for. I was struggling with one the one hand, my admiration for much of the Buddha's teachings, and on the other my skepticism about doctrines like kamma and rebirth.

However, as my focus shifted from Zen to Theravada, and I began to study more about doctrines like kamma and why they are so important to the Buddha's teachings, I began to have serious misgivings about Buddhists like Batchelor who seem intent on remolding the Dhamma into something more palatable to a modern Western secular audience. It's not that I am completely convinced about the teachings of kamma and rebirth, but I am willing to explore them with an open mind as far as I can. I can even sympathize with Batchelor - I started studying Buddhism after years of being a firm atheist/materialist who believed that science - and science alone - could explain our purpose as humans and the nature of reality. So it's not Batchelor's skepticism that bothers me, it's his dishonesty in portraying the Buddha as being completely agnostic on issues like rebirth or the law of kamma or the existence of higher orders of life (devas, etc). It's sloppy scholarship to reject portions of the Pali Canon on the grounds that they don't fit in with what you already believe.

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

Postby simplemind » Sat Oct 02, 2010 7:58 pm

I finished reading Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist a week or so ago and found it quite interesting. It's much more biographical than I expected and his life story is an interesting one (besides any particular qualms one might have with his religious views). Batchelor does try to give a reasoned defense of his approach to Buddhism (it's certainly more than just assertion), but his basic methodology stuck me as a bit difficult.

He suggests that since Buddhism (in general) tends to take a piecemeal approach to the Pali Canon, he is simply working with that perspective when he goes about presenting his own case for the distinctly Buddhist teachings in the Canon. He says more about this, but even an offhand comment like this makes me a little wary. I'm fine with someone saying: 'The Pali Canon contains stuff I don't like and I'm not going to accept that stuff.' Rather than: 'The Pali Canon contains stuff I don't like, therefore it's probably not what Buddha actually thought (or taught)".

Another difficulty for me was his general hermeneutic. He works on an interpretive principle that says something like: "If the idea existed in religious thought before the Buddha, then it can be overlooked as anything specifically Buddhist" (my paraphrase). It's possible to parse the data this way, but it strikes me as a little arbitrary. What shouldn't a tradition build upon, or accept previous ideas? Is there a specific textual reason we have to think this principle is true?

The bottom line is that while I sympathetic to Batchelor's general views, I worry that his justification of that view (which is in many ways a modern one) is going to run into difficulties when interpreting the Pali Canon. That being said, I think his therapeutic approach to Buddhism (and meditation) may bring a lot of interest to the subject that would not have otherwise existed and then people can decide for themselves what they think about the Pali Canon.
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Re: Batchelor's "Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist"

Postby Dhammakid » Sat Oct 16, 2010 1:21 am

Hey everyone,
Thanks so much for your comments. Please keep them coming.

Buddhist Geeks also seems to have a problem with Batchelor's approach on the issue: http://www.buddhistgeeks.com/2010/10/a- ... d-buddhism’s-new-rationalists/

A couple years ago I found myself identifying with Batchelor, Hitchens, Dawkins and the like. But these days I find so many issues with their approach to religious and spiritual practice. Look, I'm the first person to dish on the ills of organized religion, particularly monotheistic religions. But this all-out war on religion reeks of arrogance and ivory tower elitism. And it doesn't even seem to be focused in the right direction. Sure, they do a lot to discuss all of the horrors done in the name of religion. But to suggest that the Western, materialist science is the only answer and that peoples are unable to arrive at their own solutions based on their specific culture and time is elitist and racist. When are we going to stop thinking that we "educated" Westerners have all the answers? What if other cultures don't give a rats ass about what we think? And why should they? The West doesn't exactly have a good track record when it comes to relating to the brown people of the world...

I just wish Batchelor would be more honest and take a look at himself and his stance. There is a decent debate going on concerning rebirth in the Buddhist community, and that's a good thing. But to parade around as the national spokesperson for one side of it, identifying with the "Church Scientific" as if you're looking for government funding, is just plain ridiculous. Whatever happened to non-attachment to views?

Just my thoughts.

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

Postby Paññāsikhara » Sat Oct 16, 2010 6:17 am

simplemind wrote:Another difficulty for me was his general hermeneutic. He works on an interpretive principle that says something like: "If the idea existed in religious thought before the Buddha, then it can be overlooked as anything specifically Buddhist" (my paraphrase). It's possible to parse the data this way, but it strikes me as a little arbitrary. What shouldn't a tradition build upon, or accept previous ideas? Is there a specific textual reason we have to think this principle is true?


Well said. As several scholars such as Gombrich and Bronkhorst point out, pre-buddhist notions of rebirth are really very different from that taught by the Buddha. The Vedas don't talk about it at all in the same way. A couple of Upanisads do, but we cannot be sure of their dates - they could as likely be post-Buddha, and thus Buddhist influenced, as they are the other way around. And, as you say, the idea that anything that precedes it is only accepted due to tradition is a fallacy. We would have to abandon even basic ethics in that case. It can just as easily be said that it is true, earlier people knew it to be true, and so did the Buddha. In fact, much of scientific knowledge is based on what goes before, it is accepted as true and works for the system, just that the new knowledge builds upon it, rather than replaces it. For Buddhism, part is a build up, part is replacement. Helps to know which is which. This requires some deep knowledge of Indian history, thought, religion, etc. and much language skills too.
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Re: Batchelor's "Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist"

Postby Popo » Sat Oct 16, 2010 7:53 pm

I disagree with Bachelor because I think he's a bit dishonest... Maybe a bit to himself.

It's one thing to deny rebirth and kamma. It's another to take your denial (right or wrong) and apply it to a historical thinker without strong evidence.
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Re: Batchelor's "Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist"

Postby alan » Tue Oct 19, 2010 4:15 am

Best thing to do with this book is to throw it out the window.
Don't worry, it is not littering.
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Re: Batchelor's "Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist"

Postby Sanghamitta » Tue Oct 19, 2010 8:54 am

alan wrote:Best thing to do with this book is to throw it out the window.
Don't worry, it is not littering.

Right...such an aversive response has really got my interest. I must read it as soon as possible to see what could cause that.
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Re: Batchelor's "Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist"

Postby Shonin » Tue Oct 19, 2010 10:06 am

I intend to read it. I welcome open critique. I believe there is an important place for modern, progressive investigation and interpretation.

On the other hand, I agree with those who object to his tendency to reinterpret the Buddha to conform with his views.
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Re: Batchelor's "Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist"

Postby clw_uk » Tue Oct 19, 2010 10:08 am

A couple years ago I found myself identifying with Batchelor, Hitchens, Dawkins and the like. But these days I find so many issues with their approach to religious and spiritual practice. Look, I'm the first person to dish on the ills of organized religion, particularly monotheistic religions. But this all-out war on religion reeks of arrogance and ivory tower elitism. And it doesn't even seem to be focused in the right direction. Sure, they do a lot to discuss all of the horrors done in the name of religion. But to suggest that the Western, materialist science is the only answer and that peoples are unable to arrive at their own solutions based on their specific culture and time is elitist and racist. When are we going to stop thinking that we "educated" Westerners have all the answers? What if other cultures don't give a rats ass about what we think? And why should they? The West doesn't exactly have a good track record when it comes to relating to the brown people of the world



They are arguing against faith so this would apply to organised religion as awell as private beliefs. Its not elitist to say that the emperor has no clothes is it, your just showing a fact. I also have never heard them say that only "educated westerners have all the answers". Actually they claim not to have all the answers, its the religious who claim to. Furthermore they are not racist in any way. I would like to see you provided a racist comment that any of them has ever said. You also seem to be forgetting that their attacks are aimed at white americans just as much as arab muslims etc


Also on a side note, there is no such thing as "western science" there is only science


And it doesn't even seem to be focused in the right direction.


Of course it is. We need to stop thinking its a taboo to question religious belief otherwise it fosters a wall of silence and this lets irrationality become more entrenched. An example would be the "Intelligent Design" movement. Now of course not all religious people adhere to such nonsense, however this is because they use reason and do not just rely on blind faith, which is the whole point
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Re: Batchelor's "Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist"

Postby clw_uk » Tue Oct 19, 2010 10:12 am

Dhammakid wrote:I too am not too thrilled with Batchelor's insistence that Buddhism is specifically atheist/agnostic



Whats wrong with Buddha being Atheist/Agnostic.
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Re: Batchelor's "Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist"

Postby Dan74 » Tue Oct 19, 2010 11:57 am

I haven't read Batchelor's latest offerings, but back in the day his position used to be agnostic, ie not against rebirth. He simply neither accepted these tenets nor rejected them and argued that they are not necessary in order to practice effectively. My impression was of a humble philosopher with some fairly solid practice background. And though in the end I had little sympathy for most of his arguments, I found it valuable to actually address them. Here I don't see much of that, plenty of dissing and dismissing but what happened to the substance?
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