Secular view - The Future of Religion

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

Secular view - The Future of Religion

Postby JackV » Wed May 09, 2012 7:50 pm

Hi there.

London Insight have a discussion upcoming about the Future of Religion and one of the speakers will be the teacher Stephen Batchelor.
In advance of the discussion to take place Stephen Batchelor has prepared a statement of his view as a "Secular Buddhist" -

http://www.londoninsight.org/images/upl ... uddhist_(2).pdf
I have read this position with interest and I just wanted to see what others make of this.

To me, although the term Secular Buddhist kind of rings alarm bells of revisionism Stephens position doesn't seem to me to be that radical. In the writtings of Ven. Ajahn Sumedho for instance one often finds statements that give the impression that Rebirth, Kamma (the law of) etc. are actually almost metaphors for conditons to met here in this life, and that any talk of "beyond" so to speak is shyed away from or at least not given prominence.

Too be honest I am personally not in a position to be claiming or denying anything, what do I know? I have only been practicing for a fraction of the time as these two individuals (and many on this site) so I am just interested to see what others make of this, their thoughts and views.
Do you think this view point is similar to Buddhism in the west anyway? Do you think it has great value or little value? Why?
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Re: Secular view - The Future of Religion

Postby daverupa » Wed May 09, 2012 8:03 pm

Here is a working link: the .pdf
    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting oneself one protects others? By the pursuit, development, and cultivation of the four establishments of mindfulness. It is in such a way that by protecting oneself one protects others.

    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting others one protects oneself? By patience, harmlessness, goodwill, and sympathy. It is in such a way that by protecting others one protects oneself.
- Sedaka Sutta [SN 47.19]
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Re: Secular view - The Future of Religion

Postby Justsit » Wed May 09, 2012 8:10 pm

You might want to check out a related thread over at Dharma Wheel
here.

In the first post there is a link to an interesting critique by Punnadhammo Bhikkhu.
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Re: Secular view - The Future of Religion

Postby dhamma_newb » Wed May 09, 2012 8:29 pm

Justsit wrote:You might want to check out a related thread over at Dharma Wheel
here.

In the first post there is a link to an interesting critique by Punnadhammo Bhikkhu.


Thanks for the link Justsit. Good article!
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Re: Secular view - The Future of Religion

Postby polarbuddha101 » Wed May 09, 2012 8:36 pm

It makes sense to me, but I'm not gonna subscribe to it. I think it also kinda fits in with neuroscientist Sam Harris' suggestion that everyone should meditate and should even spend long periods of time on retreat. For alot of people, Stepehen's and Sam's position makes more sense because honestly most westerners that come to buddhism get there after rejecting what they considered untenable articles of faith from christianity or judaism. However, many see this viewpoint as the apocalypse for Buddhism and their are a few on this forum who think of Atheism as a parasitical fiend trying to suck the magic out of every religion. Like you, I'm not taking a position either way even though as of right now, materialism seems to have more going for it in terms of evidence that that is the true nature of reality. Many buddhist's seem to be like Sati the fisherman's son and they think their consciousness is going to wander on after they die, but it won't, and their wrong. If the Buddha really did know for a fact that people are reborn in some way he certainly didn't do a good job of explaining how that works. Leigh Brasington actually considers the gandhabba explanation found in one of the suttas on dependent origination to be a later addition put in around abhidhammic times. I'm still quite new to studying buddhism so I don't know if there is or is not a good explanation out there of how an emotion/attachment/craving supported by consciousness can actually keep consciousness from evaporating when it no longer has any support from the body and brain that seemingly allowed it to arise in the first place. But once again, I have no business making assertions about what happens after death. Here is something interesting about rebirth from Thich Nhat Hanh though:

The Right View of Reincarnation

Continuation is happening now, because every day you continue to produce thoughts, words, and actions that carry your signature. We don’t have to wait until this body decomposes to continue.

Most people think of reincarnation in terms of a permanent soul. This is popular Buddhism. But we have to rise to the level of right view. Continuation is a necessity, it is a truth. But this continuation must be seen in the light of non-self, of impermanence.

If, for example, you want to recognize my continuation, do not look in this direction. [Thay points to himself.] There is a part of my continuation in this direction, but when you look all around you, you will see other forms of the continuation. So don’t wait for the body to decompose. We’ve already begun our continuation. You know that you have the power to change. You can ensure a beautiful continuation. Let’s suppose that yesterday you produced a thought that was not worthy of you, and today you’re sorry. You think, “I don’t want to be continued in that way.” You can correct it, you can transform that continuation.

If you have touched right view, you will be able to produce a different thought, a thought that is worthy of you today, a thought that carries within it understanding, compassion, and non-discrimination. The moment you produce this wonderful thought, it will go out and catch the other thought that you produced yesterday. And in the space of half a second it will be able to transform that thought.

So you have the chance to correct the past; this is wonderful. We say that the past is already gone, but the past is always returning with its new manifestations, and with those manifestations we can correct it.

If you have said something that’s not worthy of you, say something else today, and that will transform everything. Do something different today based on right view and transform the whole situation. That is possible.

If you have a Sangha that supports you, if you are supported by the collective right view, then it’s very easy to produce such thoughts, such words, such actions, to transform everything right now, today, to ensure a good future, a good continuation.

The teaching of the Buddha is very deep, and at the same time very practical. This teaching has the capacity to heal us, to transform our pain, our fear. It’s good to have enough time to learn more about these teachings and put them into practice in our daily life.

http://www.mindfulnessbell.org/articles/karma4.php
Last edited by polarbuddha101 on Fri May 11, 2012 6:19 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Secular view - The Future of Religion

Postby reflection » Wed May 09, 2012 9:44 pm

If some people feel the need for a secular type of Buddhism, and (to quote) "perhaps reimagining the dharma from the ground up", that's fine with me. But for me personally, Buddhism without the idea of enlightenment isn't going to do it. The 4 noble truths only ever made sense to me with a view of rebirth and an escape from it. That doesn't mean that I embraced that view from the start and took it on as a belief (which Batchelor seems to see as the only reason to come to a view of rebirth..), but at least I always faintly understood how it fitted into the teachings and made Buddhism special. Others may have another experience, and again, that's fine. I don't think it has to influence the practice very much per se.

However, is this secular view going to be the the future of Buddhism? I don't think so, because it may provide an ethical framework, but doesn't really have a place for the end of suffering. And I think a lot of people will always remain to see this and keep 'traditional' Buddhism alive. Whether they are right or wrong doesn't even matter for this.
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Re: Secular view - The Future of Religion

Postby Kim OHara » Thu May 10, 2012 4:24 am

It's a difficult set of issues to balance.
On the one hand, any belief which flies in the face of scientific knowledge is doomed. The believer says, "I believe X but can't prove it," and the rationalist says, "but I KNOW that X is wrong and CAN prove it," and the argument is over ... unless the believer rejects all of science, as (e.g.) creationists in the US try to do.
On the other hand, science doesn't know everything but generally refuses to admit it. When pushed really hard, hard-line rationalists will admit that they cannot prove (e.g.) the non-existence of a soul or of rebirth, but their default position is that if they can't prove Y exists, Y doesn't exist.

Somewhere between these two extremes is the space in which religions may continue to operate. And we do need religion, because materialism without morals or ethics leads to a very unpleasant world. Secular humanism may seem more viable than religion in a scientific world but lacks any appeal to the imagination, any larger vision.

Let's keep working on it, because the alternatives are not very nice.

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Re: Secular view - The Future of Religion

Postby Mr Man » Thu May 10, 2012 6:56 am

Kim O'Hara wrote: And we do need religion, because materialism without morals or ethics leads to a very unpleasant world.


Kim, Is it not a fallacy that those who hold a religion have stronger morals or ethics?
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Re: Secular view - The Future of Religion

Postby Kim OHara » Thu May 10, 2012 11:10 am

Mr Man wrote:
Kim O'Hara wrote: And we do need religion, because materialism without morals or ethics leads to a very unpleasant world.


Kim, Is it not a fallacy that those who hold a religion have stronger morals or ethics?
:namaste:

My experience is that people with an active religious life (and I will include yoga and tai chi practitioners with the Catholics and Buddhists in saying that) are, on average, *nicer* people than those without and I think it is because they/we do think about whether their actions are 'good' or 'bad' in some moral/ethical sense and make (some) efforts to be 'good', however they/we understand that.
And, since the basic morality of all the major religions is 'treat others as you would like them to treat you', that tends to make the world a better place.
On the other side you have (mostly) a moral void which tends to default to selfish hedonism if not social Darwinism.

About 1.5 seconds after reading the above, someone is going to ask, 'But what about the evils of religion - fundamentalism, bigotry, etc, etc?' and 3.1 seconds later someone else will ask, 'But what about all the good people who have no religion?' and all I can say is, "I'm sure they exist - but *my* experience is ..."

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Re: Secular view - The Future of Religion

Postby daverupa » Thu May 10, 2012 11:17 am

Kim O'Hara wrote:My experience is that...


The plural of 'anecdote' is not 'data'. Have you any data?

---

I was taken by two things in the paper:

1. Nibbana set aside as a goal in favor of other goals.

- This is probably a misstep, as nibbana should properly be considered an attainable goal given that the proper causes and conditions are put in place. To make these causes and conditions ones goal is appropriate, but it remains to be seen if Batchelor intends this, or something else, with that comment.

2. Sutta text set aside if it could be uttered by a Jain or Brahmin.

- An interesting suggestion which implies a certain concession to the preferences of the populace in the transmission of the Suttas. The omniscience discussion of late hints at this possibility, and the presence of the 32 marks in the Digha and Majjhima also lends some credence to this, and the gradual training pericope seems to show a progression from popular ethical concern to the Dhamma. I am curious as to whether this heuristic has any challenges, such as a phrase which a brahmin could utter and which can be derived from Dhamma as well.
    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting oneself one protects others? By the pursuit, development, and cultivation of the four establishments of mindfulness. It is in such a way that by protecting oneself one protects others.

    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting others one protects oneself? By patience, harmlessness, goodwill, and sympathy. It is in such a way that by protecting others one protects oneself.
- Sedaka Sutta [SN 47.19]
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Re: Secular view - The Future of Religion

Postby Kim OHara » Thu May 10, 2012 11:53 am

daverupa wrote:
Kim O'Hara wrote:My experience is that...


The plural of 'anecdote' is not 'data'. Have you any data?

Yes:
Kim O'Hara wrote:My experience.

Does yours differ?
Do you have more?

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Re: Secular view - The Future of Religion

Postby daverupa » Thu May 10, 2012 12:02 pm

Kim O'Hara wrote:
daverupa wrote:
Kim O'Hara wrote:My experience is that...


The plural of 'anecdote' is not 'data'. Have you any data?

Yes:
Kim O'Hara wrote:My experience.

Does yours differ?
Do you have more?

:namaste:
Kim


My personal anecdotes are irrelevant to any valid conclusion about the relative "nicety" of religious v. secular individuals, as are yours. Variable control (i.e. awareness of as many inputting causes and conditions as one can be) is wholly absent here, and as such your conclusion is an unwarranted generalization. Replace the contrasting terms with race or gender or caste terms, and the argument's flawed structure becomes apparent.
    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting oneself one protects others? By the pursuit, development, and cultivation of the four establishments of mindfulness. It is in such a way that by protecting oneself one protects others.

    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting others one protects oneself? By patience, harmlessness, goodwill, and sympathy. It is in such a way that by protecting others one protects oneself.
- Sedaka Sutta [SN 47.19]
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Re: Secular view - The Future of Religion

Postby Mr Man » Thu May 10, 2012 1:10 pm

Kim O'Hara wrote:And, since the basic morality of all the major religions is 'treat others as you would like them to treat you', that tends to make the world a better place.

Kim, that basic morality is not an exclusive to the religious though (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golden_Rule).


About 1.5 seconds after reading the above, someone is going to ask, 'But what about the evils of religion - fundamentalism, bigotry, etc, etc?' and 3.1 seconds later someone else will ask, 'But what about all the good people who have no religion?' and all I can say is, "I'm sure they exist - but *my* experience is ..."

Covered your butt there :smile:

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Re: Secular view - The Future of Religion

Postby kirk5a » Thu May 10, 2012 1:30 pm

daverupa wrote:I am curious as to whether this heuristic has any challenges, such as a phrase which a brahmin could utter and which can be derived from Dhamma as well.

And the "bracketed" bits will have to extracted like a tooth from the very middle of context which he has to suppose a brahmin did NOT utter.
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Re: Secular view - The Future of Religion

Postby Alex123 » Thu May 10, 2012 3:04 pm

polarbuddha101 wrote:Many buddhist's seem to be like Sati the fisherman's son and they think their consciousness is going to wander on after they die,

I am not one of them and plenty of people do not have such error. The suttas are clear that even within this one life consciousness changes and is not the same. Nothing to say from life to life. This doesn't mean that results don't matter, they do matter.


polarbuddha101 wrote: so I don't know if there is or is not a good explanation out there of how an emotion/attachment/craving supported by consciousness can actually keep consciousness from evaporating when it no longer has any support from the body and brain that seemingly allowed it to arise in the first place.


There could be many mechanisms. A dying brain conditions the brain that is being born through instantaneous communication (that exists at quantum level). No object physically flies from one body to be reincarnated in another.

Also science itself has fatal flaws for things outside its scope. Example: How does seeing occur according to science? A electromagnetic wave with length of (390-750 nm) and with frequency of (400–790 THz) comes to the eye where it is converted into a signal that travels along the optic nerve into the brain. In the brain this electromagnetic wave is interpreted as color. Color (and visible shape) doesn't exist outside of brain's function. Same principle with other sense perception. Now how do we know about our own arms, legs, body, etc? We see it (which is known only through "perception in the brain"). Even when a person can see someone's brain, or images on the screen of one's own brain, this is just seeing which is perception in the brain. As for electromagnetic wave which is 390-750 nm and 400–790 THz, this is just an abstraction which is functioning of the brain called seeing color... So even within science we can speak only about what is perceived, and abstract theories is thinking...
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Re: Secular view - The Future of Religion

Postby Coyote » Thu May 10, 2012 3:28 pm

Alex123 wrote:
polarbuddha101 wrote:Many buddhist's seem to be like Sati the fisherman's son and they think their consciousness is going to wander on after they die,


Since this is about the future of religion, it is appropriate to consider that misunderstandings about rebirth occur because of inaccurate teaching and/or inaccurate learning, not because of some inherent flaw in the teaching. The teaching is quite clear as to what is rebirth is and what it is not, it is then up to us to understand this properly and pass it on to the next generation. Better teaching of concepts such as rebirth would mean that people don't have this misunderstanding, it is not down to the teachings irrationality or incompatibility with science or a modern materialistic world-view.
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Re: Secular view - The Future of Religion

Postby rowboat » Thu May 10, 2012 3:40 pm

Relevant:

Stanley Fish on Evidence in Science and Religion:

http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/20 ... right-one/
and
http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/20 ... -part-two/

But this Baconian model of scientific progress in which data sits waiting to be revealed by superior instruments is now, the Princeton philosopher Thomas Kelly tells us, “universally rejected by philosophers” (“Evidence,” in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy). “It is now appreciated,” Kelly continues, “that at any given time, which theories are accepted … typically plays a crucial role in guiding the subsequent search for evidence which bears on these theories.”

In the stronger versions of the shift Kelly reports, “evidence which bears on these theories” would be replaced by “evidence that becomes available in the light of those theories.” The strong thesis is that rather than being confirmed or disconfirmed by independent evidence, theories determine what will count as evidence. And therefore, as Kelly notes, if theory is prior to evidence, then the idea of an “appeal to evidence that could be appreciated by both sides” becomes problematical.


It was at this point that Dawkins said something amazing, although neither he nor anyone else picked up on it. He said: in the arena of science you can invoke Professor So-and-So’s study published in 2008, “you can actually cite chapter and verse.”

:jumping:

***
All of this raises the question: Isn't every Rational Buddhist somehow obligated to be working away very hard at inventing some sort of e-meter-like device that can detect jhana? And while they are at it, how about throwing together a TSA wand that can determine if someone is actually a deva? Who else will protect my irrational anecdotes, and all the other frightened anecdotes? Because right now all of these poor anecdotes are huddled together in a big dubious mass against the Doors of Reality, and I'm sure they can hear The Science Wolf breathing heavily on the other side.

;)
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Re: Secular view - The Future of Religion

Postby Kim OHara » Thu May 10, 2012 9:59 pm

daverupa wrote:
daverupa wrote:The plural of 'anecdote' is not 'data'. Have you any data?

Kim O'Hara wrote:Yes:
Kim O'Hara wrote:My experience.

Does yours differ?
Do you have more?

:namaste:
Kim


My personal anecdotes are irrelevant to any valid conclusion about the relative "nicety" of religious v. secular individuals, as are yours. Variable control (i.e. awareness of as many inputting causes and conditions as one can be) is wholly absent here, and as such your conclusion is an unwarranted generalization. Replace the contrasting terms with race or gender or caste terms, and the argument's flawed structure becomes apparent.

Hi, Daverupa,
Your comment, "The plural of 'anecdote' is not 'data'. Have you any data?" was a dismissive and unwarranted wisecrack. I don't want to pull this thread off-topic by spending too much time on it but I feel I must answer it seriously since you seem not to have taken the hint in my first response.
Coyote asked a question. I answered, very explicitly, on the basis of my experience. I didn't present any anecdotes.
I will maintain, however, that my experience is, in fact, data. Each personal interaction I participate in gives me a new data point, as do many that I observe. It happens that I am a teacher who has worked in state schools, Catholic schools, a Jewish school, Protestant schools and independent schools, meeting and working with teachers, students and parents whose affiliations generally reflect those locations.
My experience does add up to more data than most people's. On the other hand, I know that it is limited. On the other other hand, I did not claim it was universal.
I didn't present a 'conclusion', and the point of view I did present was not 'unwarranted' but fully supported by the evidence it was (explicitly) based upon.

:namaste:
Kim

Now ...
:focus:

[Edit: fixed up 'quote' tags :embarassed: ]
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Re: Secular view - The Future of Religion

Postby Kim OHara » Thu May 10, 2012 10:30 pm

rowboat wrote:All of this raises the question: Isn't every Rational Buddhist somehow obligated to be working away very hard at inventing some sort of e-meter-like device that can detect jhana? And while they are at it, how about throwing together a TSA wand that can determine if someone is actually a deva? Who else will protect my irrational anecdotes, and all the other frightened anecdotes? Because right now all of these poor anecdotes are huddled together in a big dubious mass against the Doors of Reality, and I'm sure they can hear The Science Wolf breathing heavily on the other side.

;)

Maybe my previous post, to daverupa, wasn't so far off-topic after all. :tongue:
One of the differences between science and not-science is that science typically demands 'objective' evidence and dismisses personal experience as 'merely anecdotal', with a heavy emphasis on the 'merely'. But there are whole swathes of subjects in which 'objective' evidence is simply unavailable, starting with what goes on in our minds.
Is denial of the only available evidence, i.e. anecdotal evidence or personal experience, sensible?
No, because it means that we can't talk about those subjects at all.
If science wants to extend its reach to these subjects, it will have to alter its definition of 'evidence', and/or develop the jhana-meter and TSA-wand.
Until then, science should, logically, admit its ignorance and its inability to investigate these areas - and keep out.
I think I said something like that before, actually.

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Re: Secular view - The Future of Religion

Postby danieLion » Thu May 10, 2012 10:52 pm

Kim O'Hara wrote:It's a difficult set of issues to balance.

How is "balance" called for?
Kim O'Hara wrote:...science doesn't know everything...

Science doesn't "know".
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