Is Buddhism anti-thinking?

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Is Buddhism anti-thinking?

Postby Laurens » Sun Nov 07, 2010 12:57 am

In his book 'God is Not Great' Christopher Hitchens delivers the following critique of Buddhism:

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.
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Re: Is Buddhism anti-thinking?

Postby Guy » Sun Nov 07, 2010 1:38 am

Hi Laurens,

Good question. Here's my thoughts on the issue:

1) Generally speaking: No, I would not agree that Buddhism is anti-thinking. Is Buddhism against attachment to thinking? I would say yes. But Buddhism is about going beyond attachment to everything, not just thinking.

Right View (or at least, "Right Conceptualization"...if there is such a thing) requires us to hear the Dhamma, to remember it, to consider it for ourselves, to apply what we have learnt and to reflect on our experience. Concepts such as "Four Noble Truths", "Noble Eightfold Path", "Three Characteristics", etc. are to be seen directly...but before we can see these things directly it is probably going to be very helpful to think about them at least a little bit. Even if we are a so-called "Faith-Follower" we still have to know what exactly we have faith in. How can we practice the Noble Eightfold Path if we have no conceptual framework to know what it is we are trying to do?

2) Regarding Ajahn Brahm's advice: I cannot speak for Ajahn Brahm and I don't intend to put words in his mouth but I am reasonably familiar with the way he teaches meditation and have been on some of his retreats so I will speak about the way I understand his meditation method. Ajahn Brahm talks a lot about inner-silence because of it is conducive to stillness. The Jhanas, according to Ajahn Brahm, are deep states of stillness which cannot be reached by thought and no thinking can take place within Jhana. So, if this definition of Jhana is accurate, it makes sense that the way leading to such states is (partly) a result of stilling the mind. Ajahn Brahm does teach people to use some thoughts (e.g. counting the breath, mantras) in the early stages of meditation if they are useful in pointing the mind in the direction of stillness. But he teaches that such thoughts are limited in their usefulness and eventually when the mind becomes peaceful enough you can let them go.

3) Regarding my own experience: I am a habitual thinker and, as a result, this can be a hindrance when I meditate. I have only been meditating for about 2 years and I realize that calming the mind and re-training the mind is a gradual process. People who habitually think too much are going to have to learn how to let go if they want to meditate. Thinking too much is just one obstacle, there are many others as well.

Metta,

Guy
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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

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Re: Is Buddhism anti-thinking?

Postby Kenshou » Sun Nov 07, 2010 1:43 am

I agree with your last paragraph for the most part, Laurens. I do not think it is freedom from thought that matters, but having the discipline to control thought and use it well. To know what kind of thoughts and beneficial, how to improve these, and what aren't beneficial, and how to curb those. And additionally, to keep the mind even and "tuned" so that we can be mindful, undistracted, and make progress with our contemplation or meditation. I think that training for a silent unthinking mind is only beneficial insofar as it is helpful in learning to get a handle on the mind.

And then, "thought" is somewhat vague. It seems to me that there is a tendency to equate "thought" with what we might more specifically call verbalized thought, the internal monologue. But logic and intellect can still operate without the "speaking mind", and that too might be called thought. "Discernment" might be a good word, which certainly isn't void of intellect, and I think it would be hard to argue that Buddhist realization doesn't involve some discernment, of the 4 noble truths at the very least. I imagine that controlled thought isn't incompatible with that.

Criticisms like the one you've quoted I think are partially motivated by the author's own aversion to giving up aspects of their identity, in addition to being based on a shallow understanding of what Buddhist practice is about. That is, not self-lobotomy or becoming a Borg but training to understand our own minds and use them to root out the causes of dukkha, which mental calm and control are a part of doing. But blankness itself ain't liberational.

But I do also think that mental silence is somewhat fetishized sometimes, in addition to "being in the present" and other such little nuggets.

To sum it up, I think that it can only be said that Buddhism is anti-intellectual or anti-thought if you're talking about thought and intellectualization that isn't conductive to the path towards the end of dukkha.
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Re: Is Buddhism anti-thinking?

Postby Alex123 » Sun Nov 07, 2010 1:46 am

Laurens wrote:I
I feel that I am not well acquainted with Buddhist philosophy enough to know resolutely that Buddhism espouses the dissolution of critical faculties,


Absolutely not. There is right thinking and there is wrong thinking. If no-thinking would equal Awakening, then worms would be fully accomplished beings - they don't even think at all!

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.



Hopefully the Venerable has forgot to add the other half because otherwise it would be a very unfortunate and incorrect teaching.

If *any* kind of thinking was the cause of dukkha, then worms would not suffer at all. They don't think!

If the mark of wisdom is to never think, then worms would be awakened.


If the thought comes conditioned by greed/anger or delusion - then it leads to harm. But if it comes based on wisdom, then it is for the better.


Please read
http://metta.lk/tipitaka/2Sutta-Pitaka/ ... ta-e1.html
and
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html
and

I have heard that on one occasion the Blessed One was staying among the Kajjangalas in the Bamboo Grove. Then the young brahman Uttara, a student of Parasiri[1] went to the Blessed One and, on arrival, exchanged friendly greetings & courtesies. After this exchange of courteous greetings he sat to one side.

As he was sitting there, the Blessed One said to him: "Uttara, does the brahman Parasiri teach his followers the development of the faculties?"

"Yes, master Gotama, he does."

"And how does he teach his followers the development of the faculties?"

"There is the case where one does not see forms with the eye, or hear sounds with the ear [in a trance of non-perception]. That's how the brahman Parasiri teaches his followers the development of the faculties."

"That being the case, Uttara, then a blind person will have developed faculties, and a deaf person will have developed faculties, according to the words of the brahman Parasiri. For a blind person does not see forms with the eye, and a deaf person does not hear sounds with the ear."
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html
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Re: Is Buddhism anti-thinking?

Postby Prasadachitta » Sun Nov 07, 2010 1:50 am

Hi Laurens,

Ive just been reading a chapter devoted to this topic from a book called "Living With Awareness" by Sangharakshita. Here is a quote which I found helpful.

Thinking should be under ones control, and when it isn't objectively necessary one just shouldn't engage in it. The Buddha used to exhort his disciples to maintain noble silence rather than indulge in unprofitable talk, and one could say the same should go for thought processes. The alternative to clear and mindful thinking should not be idle mental chatter; one should be able to maintain inner silence. Again, it is obviously a lot easier to say this than to do it-but it is possible.
One way to improve ones ability to think in a directed way is to plan time for thinking. One can learn to take up and put down ones thinking according to one's own needs, not just circumstances. Why not plan thinking time just as you schedule other activities? This is in effect "Sampajanna", mindfulness of purpose. We all have plenty to think about but out trains of thought seldom reach a conclusion. We are forever dropping one thing and picking up another, then when we sit down to meditate, unfinished business resurfaces and hinders our meditation. Such muddled mental activity is an obstacle to action of any kind and means that we often end up making decisions on the spur of the moment rather than thinking them through. If it is necessary to make a decision it is best to sit down, apply oneself to the matter in hand, and come to a well considered conclusion. But if we sit down to reflect at all, we often turn the matter over in our mind in such a half hearted way that quite soon our thoughts have wandered away to irrelevant topics. Unable to come to any clear conclusion, we just make the decision on the basis of how we happen to be feeling at the time, or in response to some quite incidental external pressure. We cannot afford to do this if our decisions are to account for anything.


Take care

Gabe
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Re: Is Buddhism anti-thinking?

Postby bodom » Sun Nov 07, 2010 3:16 am

Papanaca, the directionless wandering, daydreaming and proliferation of thoughts and ideas connected with greed, hatred and delusion are what need to be abandoned. Thoughts of generosity, compassion and harmlessness are to be cultivated and developed.

:anjali:
The heart of the path is SO simple. No need for long explanations. Give up clinging to love and hate, just rest with things as they are. That is all I do in my own practice. Do not try to become anything. Do not make yourself into anything. Do not be a meditator. Do not become enlightened. When you sit, let it be. When you walk, let it be. Grasp at nothing. Resist nothing. Of course, there are dozens of meditation techniques to develop samadhi and many kinds of vipassana. But it all comes back to this - just let it all be. Step over here where it is cool, out of the battle. - Ajahn Chah
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Re: Is Buddhism anti-thinking?

Postby alan » Sun Nov 07, 2010 3:48 am

Hitchens is a halfway smart guy, by the standards we have now for public intellectuals. But he obviously is no authority on Buddhism. I see no reason to consider his arguments.
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Re: Is Buddhism anti-thinking?

Postby BlackBird » Sun Nov 07, 2010 3:52 am

alan wrote:Hitchens is a halfway smart guy, by the standards we have now for public intellectuals. But he obviously is no authority on Buddhism. I see no reason to consider his arguments.


Incisive, as usual.
"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." - MN. 70 Kitagiri Sutta
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Re: Is Buddhism anti-thinking?

Postby Prasadachitta » Sun Nov 07, 2010 3:54 am

bodom wrote:Papanaca, the directionless wandering, daydreaming and proliferation of thoughts and ideas connected with greed, hatred and delusion are what need to be abandoned. Thoughts of generosity, compassion and harmlessness are to be cultivated and developed.

:anjali:



:bow:
"Beautifully taught is the Lord's Dhamma, immediately apparent, timeless, of the nature of a personal invitation, progressive, to be attained by the wise, each for himself." Anguttara Nikaya V.332
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Re: Is Buddhism anti-thinking?

Postby Dan74 » Sun Nov 07, 2010 4:06 am

Zen sometimes gets the bad rap for being anti-thinking but what some Zen teachers have actually taught was to put aside discursive reasoning on the cushion and experience what is prior to naming and conceptualization.

This is not because naming and conceptualisation are bad, but because by recognizing the moment before they happen we are not caught up in their usual dynamics anymore. In other words we recognize the moment in which the happening is just what it is before it is recognized as such-and-such, categorised as "good" or "bad', "pleasant" or "unpleasant" etc.

So thinking is not bad but like the others have said, getting caught up in certain patterns of thinking (and action) can be very unfortunate.
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Re: Is Buddhism anti-thinking?

Postby Prasadachitta » Sun Nov 07, 2010 4:15 am

Thank you for bringing up this topic Laurens. I think it is a very good subject for us to think about. ;)
"Beautifully taught is the Lord's Dhamma, immediately apparent, timeless, of the nature of a personal invitation, progressive, to be attained by the wise, each for himself." Anguttara Nikaya V.332
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Re: Is Buddhism anti-thinking?

Postby Laurens » Sun Nov 07, 2010 8:21 am

alan wrote:Hitchens is a halfway smart guy, by the standards we have now for public intellectuals. But he obviously is no authority on Buddhism. I see no reason to consider his arguments.


Because a lot of people read his book, and might be inclined to judge Buddhism based upon it?

I think a lot of Hitchens' arguments are based upon his knowledge of Zen, which as someone posted earlier often appears to be anti-thought:

"Not thinking about anything is Zen"

With quotes like that it might be easy to assume that Zen is anti-intellectual. Perhaps it is, I don't know Zen too well.

I always thought meditation was about enamouring the mind with the abilities to think deeply and properly once off the cushion. I think the answer is somewhere between Hitchens' diatribe and Brahm's apparent contempt for thinking.
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Re: Is Buddhism anti-thinking?

Postby Goofaholix » Sun Nov 07, 2010 8:50 am

Firstly it's obvious from your quote that Christopher Hitchens doesn't know much about Buddhism, he appears to be responding to a very cliche view of it.

As for Ajahn Brahms quote if you re-read it you'll note he is only talking about one aspect of thinking, the inner commentary, wheras your discussion seems to assume he is talking about all thinking.

The inner commentary is just the constant barrage of commentary going through the mind on what we are experiencing, or have experienced in the past or hope to experience in the future. It has nothing to do with the kind of thinking by which we solve problems, make plans, come to an understanding of our world. The former causes suffering because it's a constant distraction and a waste of energy, the latter is useful and not a waste of energy because it betters our lives.

Buddhism doesn't teach us to avoid suffering but rather to fully experience it, to learn to not create further suffering by our reactions to it, to fully embrace it and thereby gain freedom from it. So to say that one aspect of thinking is a cause of suffering is not anti thinking at all but rather to look into how that works and how that suffering arises out of that one aspect of thinking.
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Re: Is Buddhism anti-thinking?

Postby Guy » Sun Nov 07, 2010 8:59 am

Laurens wrote:I always thought meditation was about enamouring the mind with the abilities to think deeply and properly once off the cushion. I think the answer is somewhere between Hitchens' diatribe and Brahm's apparent contempt for thinking.


Since Ajahn Brahm has been a monk for over 30 years and a dilligent meditator for even longer (as well as having studied the Suttas) and Christopher Hitchens presumably is not a regular meditator (if at all)...I would put much more weight on Ajahn Brahm's views than Christopher Hitchens' views when it comes to the subject of meditation.

In my opinion, I think Ajahn Brahm teaches the way he does not because he has contempt for thinking but as a response to the common obstacle many of us have which is excessive/habitual/pointless thinking. Thoughts have their purpose, but when it comes to meditation (at least the way Ajahn Brahm teaches it) their purpose is minimal and limited.
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: Is Buddhism anti-thinking?

Postby Sanghamitta » Sun Nov 07, 2010 9:26 am

I think there are recent signs of a kind of anti-intellectual reaction within Buddhism over the last decade or so.
I think the reasons are partly social. As higher education to degree level has become more common in the west that undoubtedly good thing has engendered scepticism about the benefit of education ...because it can be readily seen that education may have all sorts pf benefits, but that in itself it does not reduce Dukkha,
It has therefore in some quarters become a baby to throw out with the bath water..in some quarters we see an embracing of the anti intellectual and ant rational. We see it in the arts, in the turning to "alternative" medicine, in anti science, in political stances which align with levelling by associating with the irrational.
It is not surprising that we see the anti rational appearing in the ranks of Buddhism too. It attracts sometimes for the wrong reason which leads to disillusionment later on. a proportion of people who see Buddhism as the "religious" wing of the anti rational revolt.
This is in fact as distorted a view as the previous generations espousal of Buddhism as the religious wing of scientism.
Another variant is the western educated person who has been shaped by a literal kind of Christianity or totalitarian political system , and who brings that mindset to Buddhism...rigid and literalist. They have swapped a literal view of the book of Deuteronomy or Das Kapital for a literalist belief in the Suttas.
In actuality the Buddhadhamma has always advocated a balanced view of what constitutes human functioning, and has always seen that eventual enlightenment is aided by a programme of development which values each factor of that functioning...the intellect and the intuitive..the cerebral and the sensory. That in fact Enlightenment is the Enlightenment of the whole person.
In short, I think Hitchens is reacting accurately to an untypical, but very real phenomenon, within western Buddhism.
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Re: Is Buddhism anti-thinking?

Postby Laurens » Sun Nov 07, 2010 10:35 am

Guy wrote:
Laurens wrote:I always thought meditation was about enamouring the mind with the abilities to think deeply and properly once off the cushion. I think the answer is somewhere between Hitchens' diatribe and Brahm's apparent contempt for thinking.


Since Ajahn Brahm has been a monk for over 30 years and a dilligent meditator for even longer (as well as having studied the Suttas) and Christopher Hitchens presumably is not a regular meditator (if at all)...I would put much more weight on Ajahn Brahm's views than Christopher Hitchens' views when it comes to the subject of meditation.

In my opinion, I think Ajahn Brahm teaches the way he does not because he has contempt for thinking but as a response to the common obstacle many of us have which is excessive/habitual/pointless thinking. Thoughts have their purpose, but when it comes to meditation (at least the way Ajahn Brahm teaches it) their purpose is minimal and limited.


I agree, and perhaps I took Brahms words out of context, but that's often what people do, either deliberately or through misunderstanding. Reading the words that "inner speech is the cause of all life's suffering" can be interpreted as anti-thinking. I feel that Brahm should have balanced this sentiment, or addressed it in the following paragraph, because things like that can, as we see with Hitchens, be misinterpreted.

I don't put more weight on what Hitchens was saying. I guess this topic is aimed more at misinterpretations that can arise around Buddhism, and when misinterpretations are made, for whatever reason, they require rebuttal.
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Re: Is Buddhism anti-thinking?

Postby Spiny O'Norman » Sun Nov 07, 2010 2:40 pm

Goofaholix wrote:Buddhism doesn't teach us to avoid suffering but rather to fully experience it, to learn to not create further suffering by our reactions to it, to fully embrace it and thereby gain freedom from it. So to say that one aspect of thinking is a cause of suffering is not anti thinking at all but rather to look into how that works and how that suffering arises out of that one aspect of thinking.


Good comment. This underlines the important of mindfulness, being aware of what our mind is doing and how these thought-processes play out.

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Re: Is Buddhism anti-thinking?

Postby Individual » Sun Nov 07, 2010 4:04 pm

Laurens wrote:In his book 'God is Not Great' Christopher Hitchens delivers the following critique of Buddhism:

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.

He's probably right -- in many cases. :)

But it's merely a common misunderstanding rather than something we need to perceive as a direct attack.

The fact that we're hearing about Christopher Hitchens and thinking about how to rationally respond is itself a good enough proof that his generalization is not universally applicable. But I wouldn't doubt that there's a lot of "cultural Buddhism" out there in Asia (which we imitate in the west) which is perverse in the manner Hitchens describes because people cling to the Buddha's teaching, just as they cling to any other view. If not, then where does Hitchens get this stuff from? You can't just make this stuff up. Not something so elaborately prepared. :)
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Re: Is Buddhism anti-thinking?

Postby clw_uk » Sun Nov 07, 2010 9:04 pm

Wouldn't "Anti-thinking" be aversion?



I do read a lot of Hitchens work and watch a few of his debates. However his section on Buddhism in that book was a bit disappointing. At one stage he addresses the Mahayana concept of Buddha-nature, claims its an unverified concept (similar to a soul I suppose he means).

My problem was really that he didn't look at the Four Noble Truths or Theravada, just Zen, as if all Buddhism was Zen Buddhism


Ive noticed that with Hitchens and Dawkins they can only really criticize the Abarahamic religions and their understanding of the eastern traditions, particularly Buddhism seems to be very limited.
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Re: Is Buddhism anti-thinking?

Postby Laurens » Sun Nov 07, 2010 9:10 pm

Individual wrote:
Laurens wrote:In his book 'God is Not Great' Christopher Hitchens delivers the following critique of Buddhism:

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.

He's probably right -- in many cases. :)

But it's merely a common misunderstanding rather than something we need to perceive as a direct attack.

The fact that we're hearing about Christopher Hitchens and thinking about how to rationally respond is itself a good enough proof that his generalization is not universally applicable. But I wouldn't doubt that there's a lot of "cultural Buddhism" out there in Asia (which we imitate in the west) which is perverse in the manner Hitchens describes because people cling to the Buddha's teaching, just as they cling to any other view. If not, then where does Hitchens get this stuff from? You can't just make this stuff up. Not something so elaborately prepared. :)


You get more of a sense of his argument from reading the entire chapter titled 'There Is No "Eastern" Solution'. It's fair to say that his criticism is not based upon complete fabrications. His argument is that historically Buddhists have been complicit to Buddhist Imperialism and lacking in critical faculties when it comes to following blindly and bowing to dictators. He quote's the following from the united Buddhist leadership during the second world war:

In order to establish eternal peace in East Asia, arousing the great benevolence and compassion of Buddhism, we are sometimes accepting and sometimes forceful. We now have no choice but to exercise the benevolent forcefulness of "killing one in order that many may live" This is something that Mahayana Buddhism approves of only with the greatest of seriousness.


Hitchens responds to this with the following:

No "holy war" or "Crusade" advocate could have put it better. The "eternal peace" bit is particularly excellent. By the end of the dreadful conflict that Japan had started, it was Buddhist and Shinto priests who were recruiting and training the suicide bombers, or Kamikaze ("Divine Wind"), fanatics, assuring them that the emperor was a "Golden Wheel-Turning Sacred King," one indeed of the four manifestations of the ideal Buddhist monarch and a Tathagata, or "fully enlightened being," of the material world. And since "Zen treats life and death indifferently," why not abandon the cares of this world and adopt a policy of prostration at the feet of a homicidal dictator.


His argument seems to be against those Buddhists who uncritically accept authority to the point where they give up their lives for it.
"For me, it is far better to grasp the Universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring."

Carl Sagan
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