Although many Buddhists now regret that deplorable attempt to prove their own superiority [in reference to the "Imperial Way" of Nichren Buddhism], no Buddhist since then has been able to demonstrate that Buddhism was wrong in its own terms. A faith that despises the mind and the free individual, that preaches submission and resignation, and that regards life as a poor transient thing, is ill-equipped for self criticism. Those who become bored by conventional “Bible” religions, and seek “enlightenment” by way of the dissolution of their own critical faculties into nirvana in any form, had better take a warning. They may think that they are leaving the realm of despised materialism, but they are still being asked to put their reason to sleep, and discard their minds along with their sandals.
I feel that I am not well acquainted with Buddhist philosophy enough to know resolutely that Buddhism espouses the dissolution of critical faculties, however I did find the following in Ajahn Brahm's 'Mindfulness Bliss and Beyond':
Sometimes we assume it is through the inner commentary that we know the world. Actually, that inner speech does not know the world at all. It is the inner speech that spins the delusions that cause suffering. Inner speech causes us to be angry with our enemies and to form dangerous attachments to our loved ones. Inner speech causes all of life's problems. It constructs fear and guilt, anxiety and depression. It builds these illusions as deftly as the skilful actor manipulates the audience to create terror or tears. So if you seek truth, you should value silent awareness and, when meditating, consider it more important than any thought.
It seems that Brahm's argument is that our inner speech is a cause for suffering and delusion, and I would agree. However, I would not support the notion that all inner speech causes suffering. Although Brahm does not explicitly say that there can be no benefits from inner speech, the sentiment that it is the cause of all life's problems would seem to indicate that Brahm is promoting anti-thinking. My criticism is in the failure to acknowledge that, enamoured with critical thinking skills, our inner speech can be of great benefit to humanity.
I have no doubts that Albert Einstein fully harnessed his inner speech when thinking in great depths, and eventually revolutionizing cosmology, and the same can be applied to any great scientific idea. It is not through silent awareness that our advancements are derived, it is through thought and reasoning--dependent upon inner commentary.
Of course it is this very same inner commentary that can give rise to the most horrendous racist ideologies and hateful thinking, but I firmly believe that when one is equipped with critical thinking skills, and adept knowledge, the power of inner speech can be harnessed and used to great benefit.
I am sure that Ajahn Brahm would agree of the benefits of thinking in light of my argument, and I understand the context of the book being about meditation--which requires stillness of mind. However this sentiment that one should not rely on thinking is repeated in numerous Buddhist books on my shelf.
It raises the question of how society would progress if we all regarded thinking as the cause of all life's problems. The thing is, thinking quite often is the solution to all life's problems too. If there is a famine, you tend to think about the solution rather than meditate to escape the suffering.
I feel it would be more in line with the Buddha's Middle Way to posit that thinking has its benefits, and it's harm. Rather than positing that thinking is the cause of all problems, or that thinking should be relied upon as consistently valid, the middle way would be to use thinking and exercise the benefits of it, whilst being aware that thinking can lead to harm--employing mindfulness to do so.
To me, the outright dismissal of part of what makes us uniquely human is to our detriment. After all was it not through reasoning that the Buddha arrived at the truth? Reasoning that the way to the end of suffering was akin to a sitar string. It's hard to imagine such a revelation occurring during a moment free from all thought.
Would you guys agree that Buddhism is anti-thinking, and anti-intellectual? I feel that such a criticism can be drawn, in light of statements such as those made by Brahm. I don't necessarily think those criticisms are accurate, but I think if it is something drawing criticisms in books such as Hitchens' it's something that should be addressed, regardless of accuracy.
I see meditation as an aid to thinking, rather than a tool for removing it, and I do not idealise being free of thought. However, teachers often state that meditation continues beyond the cushion and into our day to day lives, does that mean that you aspire to be continually still minded and free from thought? Is that a misunderstanding? If that aspiration is true of Buddhism, then I would politely (at least more politely than Hitchens) disagree with your views.