The Secular Buddhist

Theravāda in the 21st century - modern applications of ancient wisdom

Re: The Secular Buddhist

Postby ancientbuddhism » Tue Feb 28, 2012 2:06 pm

Katamo ca bhikkhave asaṅkhatagāmī maggo: samatho ca vipassanā ca. Ayaṃ vuccati bhikkhave asaṅkhatagāmī maggo.

“And what, bhikkhus, is the path leading to the unconditioned? Calm and insight. This, bhikkhus, is called the path leading to the unconditioned.” SN. 43.2 – Samathavipassanāsuttaṃ

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Re: The Secular Buddhist

Postby Nyana » Tue Feb 28, 2012 3:05 pm

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Re: The Secular Buddhist

Postby nowheat » Tue Feb 28, 2012 7:14 pm

Meaty article. The thing that always fascinates me is the way scientific materialists are accused of brushing off spiritual claims and refusing to give them the really good, open-minded investigation they deserve -- and at the same time, when Buddhists with a new view of what the Buddha taught try to show that the common understanding of what that was might just be different from what the suttas seem to show -- and invite open-minded investigation into this -- their ideas are brushed off. While calling for "more open-minded investigation" (of the speaker's ideas) we hear explanations of why open-minded investigation (of someone else's ideas) is ased on bogus assumptions? "Because those asking for it have preconceived ideas about what's being said"? Please, sir, hold up that mirror and give it another polish, and then look into it yourself, if you will.

"Batchelor's Buddha seems too modern"? Let me call attention to the word 'seems' in that sentence, it's a word about the speaker's perceptions and preconceptions.

And what if the Buddha's understanding of the world -- while couched in ancient terms -- was so clear and accurate that it is not inconsistent with modern science? What if what he was saying turns out to be 'modern'? What if it's not about 'modern' but about 'valid'? Why couldn't the Buddha have had an insight into human nature, all those years ago, that is still valid now (and will be until human nature changes -- don't hold your breath) and is, therefore, well-supported by current science? Is the reason Batchelor's Buddha "seems too modern" because he had such a crisp and accurate insight that it holds up over time -- rather than that Batchelor is bending what he taught to match modern thinking?

In discussing the relationship between karma, rebirth, and one's next life, the author says, "Not even the Buddha ever suggested that one could find such a simplistic, tit-for-tat relationship between karmic causes and effects. " Did he not? What about:

"He sees ... beings passing away and re-appearing, and he discerns how they are inferior and superior, beautiful and ugly, fortunate and unfortunate in accordance with their kamma" (DN 11).


What's amusing is that in his next sentence, he says: "However, because the Western, analytic mind thinks in linear terms, it wants to concretize karma and rebirth as a series of events each of which is conditioned by the one adjacent to it..." I find that funny because when I read the Buddha's quote above, I don't apply anything like "linear" thinking or logic to parsing what is being said (I find it to be part of a large and complex conversation the Buddha has with us, not simple or linear in the least) and yet I have heard those who are certain the Buddha saw and experienced literal rebirth use that quote in defense of that understanding, taking it in a very simple and linear way, and interpreting it as a description of the the visibly linear effects of karma.

"But there is also good reason to feel ill-at-ease about the agenda behind this movement. It’s hard to escape the feeling that the whole movement is founded upon the prevailing materialist assumptions of Western scientism ..." Note that word 'feel' -- it's an alarm the Buddha teaches us to look at, because it is often a marker of a process of liking and disliking what we are hearing on the basis of whether it matches what we are certain of or goes against it. One can accuse Batchelor of being disengenuous when he called himself an agnostic and then came out as an atheist, or one could, perhaps, recognize that the two are separated in time, and are part of an evolution -- and that the subject of the earlier book was really the Buddha's agnosticism, and he was exploring what it would mean to follow that agnosticism himself. That he then moved on to atheism and tells us about it is not dishonest, not "putting lipstick on a pig" -- it's being honest about his life and changes. But being so busily looking for "the agenda behind this movement" might obscure the pattern.

“One of the problems we human beings have is that when we have certain beliefs, we usually won’t bother to look at any evidence that might contradict them, and that keeps our beliefs very strong, but keeps our knowledge less than it should be,” the author says (by quoting Charles Tart) meanwhile, himself blinded to the way his own beliefs about agendas may cause him to attribute motives to Batchelor's behavior that aren't a good match for the evidence of Batchelor's words and actions.

I had forgotten to talk about my "hierarchical distinctions" -- the draft I wrote was too long (when I say that, you know it's *really* long) and autobiographical. Suffice it to say I thought I was an agnostic most of my life but only discovered, after understanding what the Buddha was saying about being clear on the difference between what we can and do know, and what we only think we know, that while I had thought I was an agnostic, unsure about life-after-death, it was not until I understood that I really needed to look closely at what I, personally, can know, that I realized that I don't have any way of knowing that I get another life -- I do know that I have this one, and I know very little beyond just that. It was not until I suddenly realized that this could be my only opportunity to live, that I realized, simultaneously, the treasure that this life is, and how upsetting it was to be confronted by the possibility that when I die I might not get another chance. So it was not until I accepted the Buddha's teaching on knowledge and clarity that I had enough clarity to recognize that I had not, actually, been an agnostic all along, though I had thought I was -- I had still been clinging to an underlying conviction that rebirth would "save me" from death, that there was a logic to letting us carry forward so we could evolve (among many complex assumptions I was making).

This tells me I was a believer-in-rebirth first, a Buddhist next, and that Buddhism brought me to agnosticism. I am letting what I find the Buddha teaching in the suttas lead me, because I have faith/confidence in the accuracy of his insights, and his understanding of how to apply them, and his skill as a teacher.

:namaste:
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Re: The Secular Buddhist

Postby Philo » Tue Feb 28, 2012 7:28 pm


The article seems to make similar mistakes concerning epistemology and the philosophy of science that I see most Christian apologists make: it somehow takes for granted that a scientific worldview is necessarily materialistic, that all claims need to be examined anew without appealing to background evidence, and thinking that science is defined by its content instead of its process, all while not understanding that high subjective confidence does not equal dogma if it's well-reasoned (as long as the person's still open to evidence, of course).
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Re: The Secular Buddhist

Postby Nyana » Tue Feb 28, 2012 8:13 pm

nowheat wrote:The thing that always fascinates me is the way scientific materialists are accused of brushing off spiritual claims and refusing to give them the really good, open-minded investigation they deserve -- and at the same time, when Buddhists with a new view of what the Buddha taught try to show that the common understanding of what that was might just be different from what the suttas seem to show -- and invite open-minded investigation into this -- their ideas are brushed off.

Some of us have been contemplating these ideas for as long as Batchelor, et al.

Skepticism cuts both ways.
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Re: The Secular Buddhist

Postby Buckwheat » Tue Feb 28, 2012 8:47 pm

Nowheat,
I misunderstood several of your earlier comments assigning uncertainty to rebirth. I thought you were talking about kamma. As long as your cool with kamma being central and real, then I can respect your position. I don't really care about rebith that much from a doctrinal perspective. It is very important for me personally, but I see suttas that say if you believe rebirth or not, the middle way is still applicable.

The only significant critique I would still have about your earlier posts is well beyond my knowledge: your analysis of the distortions caused by history (which I think you overemphasize IMHO) and your method of seeing through those distortions. I worry that you emphasize distortions so that you can insert your own philosophy. However, this is all well beyond my capabilities to argue one way or the other.

OK - another question: do Secular Buddhists (collectively or individually) tend to believe in powers such as the ability to read minds?
Sotthī hontu nirantaraṃ - May you forever be well.
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Re: The Secular Buddhist

Postby Philo » Tue Feb 28, 2012 8:49 pm

Buckwheat wrote:OK - another question: do Secular Buddhists (collectively or individually) tend to believe in powers such as the ability to read minds?

I don't, as the evidence for it is fairly poor so far.
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Re: The Secular Buddhist

Postby Buckwheat » Tue Feb 28, 2012 8:55 pm

Philo wrote:
Buckwheat wrote:OK - another question: do Secular Buddhists (collectively or individually) tend to believe in powers such as the ability to read minds?

I don't, as the evidence for it is fairly poor so far.


I can agree with that, but my recent understanding is that it is a subtle but powerful effect. I am almost certain that a particular monk could sense my thinking. He was able to answer things that I hadn't even asked yet, and to frame things so personally... I don't know. It was almost like an intense understanding of body language that went beyond body language. Is this objective evidence? No. But it was enough for a 28 year laugh-at-you-if-you-tell-me-you-can-read-minds kind of skeptic to think it's not such a wild idea.
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Re: The Secular Buddhist

Postby Buckwheat » Tue Feb 28, 2012 8:56 pm

Philo wrote:
Buckwheat wrote:OK - another question: do Secular Buddhists (collectively or individually) tend to believe in powers such as the ability to read minds?

I don't, as the evidence for it is fairly poor so far.


I can agree with that, but my recent understanding is that it is a subtle but powerful effect. I am almost certain that a particular monk could sense my thinking. He was able to answer things that I hadn't even asked yet, and to frame things so personally... I don't know. It was almost like an intense understanding of body language that went beyond body language. Is this objective evidence? No. But it was enough for a 28 year laugh-at-you-if-you-tell-me-you-can-read-minds kind of skeptic to think it's not such a wild idea.
Sotthī hontu nirantaraṃ - May you forever be well.
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Re: The Secular Buddhist

Postby Philo » Tue Feb 28, 2012 9:03 pm

Buckwheat wrote:
Philo wrote:
Buckwheat wrote:OK - another question: do Secular Buddhists (collectively or individually) tend to believe in powers such as the ability to read minds?

I don't, as the evidence for it is fairly poor so far.


I can agree with that, but my recent understanding is that it is a subtle but powerful effect.

Yeah - there was a meta-analysis done by a psi proponent recently that concluded an effect of 35% or so above an expected 25% if the results were only due to chance. Thus, even taking this meta-analysis at face value, this kind of psi isn't really worth me worrying that much about.

I'm not sure if this is what you mean by "subtle but powerful", though.
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Re: The Secular Buddhist

Postby Goofaholix » Tue Feb 28, 2012 9:11 pm

Buckwheat wrote:OK - another question: do Secular Buddhists (collectively or individually) tend to believe in powers such as the ability to read minds?


I think this question demosonstrates missing the point.

I think secular Buddhists question the usefulness of belief for the sake of belief. What point would there be in believing in "the ability to read minds"?, what point would there be in not believing in "the ability to read minds"?

If you consider the purpose of the path as being the end of craving, aversion, and delusion then "the ability to read minds" is entirely beside the point and not relevant, therefore there is no need to have a position for or against.

It's only relvant if one is scrambling for something to believe in as if that would somehow validate that there is something spiritual going on here.

In a lot of peoples minds rebirth falls into this category also, but at least in the case of rebirth one can put up reasons rightly or wrongly why it shouldn't be.
"Proper effort is not the effort to make something particular happen. It is the effort to be aware and awake each moment." - Ajahn Chah
"When we see beyond self, we no longer cling to happiness. When we stop clinging, we can begin to be happy." - Ajahn Chah
"Know and watch your heart. It’s pure but emotions come to colour it." — Ajahn Chah
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Re: The Secular Buddhist

Postby Sanghamitta » Tue Feb 28, 2012 10:06 pm

Believing is pointless when that which is believed is untrue. Even more when it is true.
That is not an attempt to sound " Zenny"...its just a fact.
Buddhadhamma and belief systems are incompatible.
The going for refuge is the door of entrance to the teachings of the Buddha.

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Re: The Secular Buddhist

Postby Philo » Tue Feb 28, 2012 10:56 pm

Sanghamitta wrote:Believing is pointless when that which is believed is untrue. Even more when it is true.
That is not an attempt to sound " Zenny"...its just a fact.
Buddhadhamma and belief systems are incompatible.

I'm sorry, but I'm not sure what you mean by "believe" here.

I suspect you mean it to mean "hold as true with insufficient evidence" (as it's sometimes used in religious circles), but I can't be sure.

I tend to use it as it's used in Western philosophy - as taking an attitude toward a proposition as if it were true (regardless of how it was formed and the evidence associated with it).
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Re: The Secular Buddhist

Postby retrofuturist » Tue Feb 28, 2012 10:59 pm

Greetings Sanghamitta,
Sanghamitta wrote:Believing is pointless when that which is believed is untrue. Even more when it is true.
That is not an attempt to sound " Zenny"...its just a fact.

Can what you say here be resolved with MN 60, or do you believe MN 60 is in error?

Metta,
Retro. :)
If you have asked me of the origination of unease, then I shall explain it to you in accordance with my understanding:
Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


Exalted in mind, just open and clearly aware, the recluse trained in the ways of the sages:
One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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Re: The Secular Buddhist

Postby Goofaholix » Tue Feb 28, 2012 11:28 pm

retrofuturist wrote:Can what you say here be resolved with MN 60, or do you believe MN 60 is in error?


I can't speak for Sanghamitta but looking at MN 60 it seems to me the following is the point at which there is a departure from Dhamma;

shunning these three skillful activities — good bodily conduct, good verbal conduct, good mental conduct — they will adopt & practice these three unskillful activities: bad bodily conduct, bad verbal conduct, bad mental conduct


I don't think not holding to fixed beliefs is necessarily a pre-requisite to the above happening.

The sutta is contrasting belief with disbelief rather than belief with nonbelief (aka agnostic).

If anything I'd think an agnostic view is in the spirit of the safe bet view explained in this sutta.
"Proper effort is not the effort to make something particular happen. It is the effort to be aware and awake each moment." - Ajahn Chah
"When we see beyond self, we no longer cling to happiness. When we stop clinging, we can begin to be happy." - Ajahn Chah
"Know and watch your heart. It’s pure but emotions come to colour it." — Ajahn Chah
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Re: The Secular Buddhist

Postby Dan74 » Tue Feb 28, 2012 11:51 pm

Sorry to step in late with my 2c worth, folks.

To me the value of Batchelor & Co is that they refocus the attention on the nitty-gritty of practice.

The trouble with them (IMO) is that what they strip away can be very valuable for practice too. Faith, beliefs in rebirth, veneration of the Buddha have and continue to inspire and motivate many practitioners around the world.

And to me, this is a good thing.

As an aside. Anecdote: Batchelor was with my teacher at the temple in Korea (well not in the same living quarters obviously but not completely segregated). FWIW she says that while she disagrees with him on many points, he is a very decent and kind man.
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Re: The Secular Buddhist

Postby thaijeppe » Wed Feb 29, 2012 1:44 am

Dan74 wrote:Sorry to step in late with my 2c worth, folks.

To me the value of Batchelor & Co is that they refocus the attention on the nitty-gritty of practice.

The trouble with them (IMO) is that what they strip away can be very valuable for practice too. Faith, beliefs in rebirth, veneration of the Buddha have and continue to inspire and motivate many practitioners around the world.



I totally agree with Dan74
Faith is an integrated part of the practice, and as I have stated before, when you start your pracice you need to have a lot of faith, because you don't know.
During your practise you will then realize that what you started to have faith in, is actually the truth, and by that your faith will be even strengthen, and
your practice will accelerate.
Faith is the cause, insight knowledge the effect.
Without Faith there would have been no Buddhisme. If no one had had fate in The Buddha, this discussion will not take place.

:anjali: Jeppe
If you let go a little, you will have a little peace. If you
let go a lot, you will have a lot of peace. If you let go completely,
you will know complete peace and freedom.
Ajahn Chah
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Re: The Secular Buddhist

Postby Goofaholix » Wed Feb 29, 2012 2:06 am

thaijeppe wrote:I totally agree with Dan74
Faith is an integrated part of the practice, and as I have stated before, when you start your pracice you need to have a lot of faith, because you don't know.
During your practise you will then realize that what you started to have faith in, is actually the truth, and by that your faith will be even strengthen, and
your practice will accelerate.
Faith is the cause, insight knowledge the effect.
Without Faith there would have been no Buddhisme. If no one had had fate in The Buddha, this discussion will not take place.


The faith that you are talking about here though is faith in the practise is it not? it's the confidence (saddha) that if you put forth the prescribed actions you'll obtain the prescribed results.

I would have thought that believing that somebody can/could develop the ability to read minds, or that the Buddha spent aeons in Tusita heavens etc would require a different kind of belief, and such a belief would have no usefulness in terms of practise, clinging to such a belief could prove to be a hindrance even.
"Proper effort is not the effort to make something particular happen. It is the effort to be aware and awake each moment." - Ajahn Chah
"When we see beyond self, we no longer cling to happiness. When we stop clinging, we can begin to be happy." - Ajahn Chah
"Know and watch your heart. It’s pure but emotions come to colour it." — Ajahn Chah
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Re: The Secular Buddhist

Postby thaijeppe » Wed Feb 29, 2012 2:32 am

The faith that you are talking about here though is faith in the practise is it not? it's the confidence (saddha) that if you put forth the prescribed actions you'll obtain the prescribed results.

Yes it is faith/confidence in what The Buddha taught, because without that you don't get anywhere.
Concerning the ability to read minds and similar things, I don't think it is so important for your practice.
When we talk about practice, we need to look at what is important for your practice to develop.
Then there are all the minor important thinks, like mind reading etc, just let them go, they are not important for your development.

:anjali: Jeppe
If you let go a little, you will have a little peace. If you
let go a lot, you will have a lot of peace. If you let go completely,
you will know complete peace and freedom.
Ajahn Chah
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Re: The Secular Buddhist

Postby twelph » Wed Feb 29, 2012 3:25 am

Snp 4.5 , PTS: Sn 796-803
One who isn't inclined toward either side — becoming or not-, here or beyond — who has no entrenchment when considering what's grasped among doctrines, hasn't the least preconceived perception with regard to what's seen, heard, or sensed. By whom, with what, should he be pigeonholed here in the world? — this brahman who hasn't adopted views.


My belief is that there exists nothing after this, but I don't pretend that I know for sure. Eventually I hope to not care at all, and have neutral feelings on the matter. For now though, I don't think it's affecting my practice too much. Most of the Buddha's teachings can be experienced directly, and that's always been important to me.
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