Critique of Batchelor’s "Confession of a Buddhist Atheist"

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Critique of Batchelor’s "Confession of a Buddhist Atheist"

Postby gavesako » Tue Oct 05, 2010 5:23 pm

Distorted Visions of Buddhism: Agnostic and Atheist

By B. Alan Wallace

"As Buddhism has encountered modernity, it runs against widespread prejudices, both religious and anti-religious, and it is common for all those with such biases to misrepresent Buddhism, either intentionally or unintentionally. ... But if we are ever to encounter the Buddhist vision of reality, we must first set aside all our philosophical biases, whether they are theistic, agnostic, atheist, or otherwise. Then, through critical, disciplined study of the most reliable sources of the Buddha’s teachings, guided by qualified spiritual friends and teachers, followed by rigorous, sustained practice, we may encounter the Buddhist vision of reality. And with this encounter with our own true nature, we may realize freedom through our own experience. That is the end of agnosticism, for we come to know reality as it is, and the truth will set us free."


http://www.mandalamagazine.org/archives ... d-atheist/

__________


Well worth reading!

:reading:
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Re: Critique of Batchelor’s "Confession of a Buddhist Atheist"

Postby Kare » Tue Oct 05, 2010 7:41 pm

gavesako wrote:Distorted Visions of Buddhism: Agnostic and Atheist

By B. Alan Wallace

"As Buddhism has encountered modernity, it runs against widespread prejudices, both religious and anti-religious, and it is common for all those with such biases to misrepresent Buddhism, either intentionally or unintentionally. ... But if we are ever to encounter the Buddhist vision of reality, we must first set aside all our philosophical biases, whether they are theistic, agnostic, atheist, or otherwise. Then, through critical, disciplined study of the most reliable sources of the Buddha’s teachings, guided by qualified spiritual friends and teachers, followed by rigorous, sustained practice, we may encounter the Buddhist vision of reality. And with this encounter with our own true nature, we may realize freedom through our own experience. That is the end of agnosticism, for we come to know reality as it is, and the truth will set us free."


http://www.mandalamagazine.org/archives ... d-atheist/

__________


Well worth reading!

:reading:


When a person stars his argumentation by branding all opposing views as "prejudices", it has the effect of making me a bit sceptical to his own views. Is he able to see his own prejudices? Or is he telling us that he has none?
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Re: Critique of Batchelor’s "Confession of a Buddhist Atheist"

Postby mikenz66 » Tue Oct 05, 2010 8:30 pm

See also these threads:
http://www.dhammawheel.com/viewtopic.ph ... 4&start=40
http://www.dhammawheel.com/viewtopic.ph ... iew=unread

I'd encourage everyone to take Bachelor's little quiz about 20 minutes into his first recording here:
http://www.sati.org/audio.html
Scroll down to
    Deconstructing Buddhism
    Stephen Batchelor

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Re: Critique of Batchelor’s "Confession of a Buddhist Atheist"

Postby tiltbillings » Tue Oct 05, 2010 8:38 pm

Kare wrote:
When a person stars his argumentation by branding all opposing views as "prejudices", it has the effect of making me a bit sceptical to his own views. Is he able to see his own prejudices? Or is he telling us that he has none?
Wallace leaves a great deal to be desired as his dialogue with Ven Bodhi shows.

http://shamatha.org/sites/default/files ... ndence.pdf

http://www.dhammawheel.com/viewtopic.ph ... 250#p74190
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Re: Critique of Batchelor’s "Confession of a Buddhist Atheist"

Postby Ben » Tue Oct 05, 2010 8:44 pm

gavesako wrote:Distorted Visions of Buddhism: Agnostic and Atheist

By B. Alan Wallace

But if we are ever to encounter the Buddhist vision of reality, we must first set aside all our philosophical biases, whether they are theistic, agnostic, atheist, or otherwise.


Interesting, coming from Wallace. Not that I am a fan of Batchelor but in this instance I think its a case of 'the pot calling the kettle black'.
Anything by Wallace should be treated with caution.
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Re: Critique of Batchelor’s "Confession of a Buddhist Atheist"

Postby KalyanamittaWgtn » Tue Oct 05, 2010 9:09 pm

Many thanks to Ven Gavesako for posting the link to the comments by B Allan Wallace on Stephen Batchelor's book Confession of a Buddhist Atheist. It would be good to look closely at the way the ancient Pali texts are being translated by scholars such as Ven Analayo and Bhikkhu Bodhi and put them alongside those of Stephen Batchelor. That way we can approach the Buddha.
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Re: Critique of Batchelor’s "Confession of a Buddhist Atheist"

Postby mikenz66 » Tue Oct 05, 2010 9:25 pm

Speaking of Bhikkhu Bodhi, here is his review of Bachelors earlier book, Buddhism Without Beliefs.
http://www.buddhistethics.org/5/batch1.htm

Bhikkhu Bodhi wrote:I would also maintain that when the secular presuppositions of modernity clash with the basic principles of Right Understanding stressed by the Buddha, there is no question which of the two must be abandoned. Sa.msaara as the beginningless round of rebirths, kamma as its regulative law, Nibbaana as a transcendent goal—surely these ideas will not get a rousing welcome from sceptical minds. A sense of refuge, renunciation, compassion based on the perception of universal suffering, a striving to break all mental bonds and fetters—surely these values are difficult in an age of easy pleasure. But these are all so fundamental to the true Dhamma, so closely woven into its fabric, that to delete them is to risk nullifying its liberative power. If this means that Buddhism retains its character as a religion, so be it. In this I see nothing to fear; the greater danger is in diluting the teaching so much that its potency is lost. The secularization of life and the widespread decline in moral values have had grave consequences throughout the world, jeopardizing our collective sanity and survival. Today a vast cloud of moral and spiritual confusion hangs over humankind, and Batchelor's agnostic dharma practice seems to me a very weak antidote indeed. In my view, what we require is a clear articulation of the essential principles taught by the Buddha himself in all their breadth and profundity. The challenge—and it is a difficult one—is to express these principles in a living language that addresses the deep crises of our time.


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Re: Critique of Batchelor’s "Confession of a Buddhist Atheist"

Postby Ben » Tue Oct 05, 2010 10:19 pm

Thanks Mike, that is excellent!
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Re: Critique of Batchelor’s "Confession of a Buddhist Atheist"

Postby Kare » Tue Oct 05, 2010 11:14 pm

"The secularization of life and the widespread decline in moral values have had grave consequences throughout the world, jeopardizing our collective sanity and survival. "

If Bhikkhu Bodhi here really means that a less secularized society has higher moral standards, I suppose the victims of priestly abuses and the victims of religious terrorists and suicide bombers might beg to disagree.
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Re: Critique of Batchelor’s "Confession of a Buddhist Atheist"

Postby Individual » Tue Oct 05, 2010 11:41 pm

I loved this:
Kare wrote:When a person stars his argumentation by branding all opposing views as "prejudices", it has the effect of making me a bit sceptical to his own views. Is he able to see his own prejudices? Or is he telling us that he has none?

But about this:
Kare wrote:"The secularization of life and the widespread decline in moral values have had grave consequences throughout the world, jeopardizing our collective sanity and survival. "

If Bhikkhu Bodhi here really means that a less secularized society has higher moral standards, I suppose the victims of priestly abuses and the victims of religious terrorists and suicide bombers might beg to disagree.

He might agree with you. But he said the "secularization of life AND the widespread decline in moral values". The two have to go together. He said and, not or.

In other words, religion should dominate society, but it should be the RIGHT religion, a MORAL religion. More like Thailand, less like Tibet, Saudi Arabia, the Vatican, etc..
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Re: Critique of Batchelor’s "Confession of a Buddhist Atheist"

Postby Kare » Wed Oct 06, 2010 12:11 am

Individual wrote:In other words, religion should dominate society, but it should be the RIGHT religion, a MORAL religion. More like Thailand, less like Tibet, Saudi Arabia, the Vatican, etc..


I could easily agree with you. A minor problem might be, however, that the right religion for me might not be the right religion for my neighbor ... so who should then decide which religion should dominate our society? Me or my neighbor?
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Re: Critique of Batchelor’s "Confession of a Buddhist Atheist"

Postby plwk » Wed Oct 06, 2010 12:45 am

Gawd ... just can't get over Batchelor and on with life can we... :tongue:
Bhikkhus, if you develop and make much this one thing,
it invariably leads to weariness, cessation, appeasement, realization and extinction.
What is it? It is recollecting the Enlightened One.
If this single thing is recollected and made much,
it invariably leads to weariness, cessation, appeasement, realization and extinction.

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Re: Critique of Batchelor’s "Confession of a Buddhist Atheist"

Postby 5heaps » Fri Oct 08, 2010 8:23 am

Kare wrote:When a person stars his argumentation by branding all opposing views as "prejudices", it has the effect of making me a bit sceptical to his own views.

how bizarre. he did no such thing. he is merely positing the convention of prejudice and warning against it
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Re: Critique of Batchelor’s "Confession of a Buddhist Atheist"

Postby Laurens » Sun Oct 10, 2010 12:50 pm

I do not think it is correct to try to manipulate the teachings of the Buddha to suit one's own personal views, and it is for this reason that I personally abandoned Buddhism. I do not believe in kamma as a system that spans from life time to life time, I do not believe that we are reborn after we die, I do not believe that there are other realms of existence, I do not believe in ghosts. However, I would not seek to make out that the Buddha did not teach these things. I think the most humble thing one can do in that situation is to step away from Buddhism, rather than rewrite it. I felt the practice of Buddhism required me to make leaps and assumptions that I wasn't comfortable making, or to entertain these teachings as probably being true, when I did not feel this was so. Therefore I stopped being Buddhist.

Sure I learnt a lot from it, and I still meditate. But I am not a Buddhist, because I believe some of the fundamental tenants of Buddhism may well be false. I think Stephen Bachelor should take the same approach. Rather than perverting Buddhism into saying something that it does not, just abandon the label Buddhist, because it clearly doesn't fit with the way you view the world, if you are having to twist the core teachings.
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Re: Critique of Batchelor’s "Confession of a Buddhist Atheist"

Postby Dan74 » Sun Oct 10, 2010 1:00 pm

Laurens wrote:...if you are having to twist the core teachings.


Well perhaps this is the real question: are these the core teachings? My guess is that Batchelor doesn't think so. Ajahn Buddhadasa didn't think they were even Buddhist, but he is likely in a minority on this. Still I would call him Buddhist.

And while there is a lot of evidence in the Pali Canon that the Buddha taught rebirth, I haven't seen a reference where he taught that this belief is part of the Right View. On the other hand clinging to various views of self and its post-mortem fate definitely isn't.

So to my way of seeing, a genuinely agnostic (ie open) attitude to this question is in line with the Right View. No doubt with the right practice, in time this question will too be sorted.
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Re: Critique of Batchelor’s "Confession of a Buddhist Atheist"

Postby Laurens » Sun Oct 10, 2010 1:32 pm

My view was that the way I interpreted Buddhism - it would not function without the doctrine of rebirth. Kamma teaches that each of our actions bears a kammic fruit at some point. This is fundamental to Buddhism because it constitutes Right View - a factor of the Noble Eightfold Path. However if your view of kamma is restricted to being limited to only one lifetime, then it becomes evident that the teaching starts to fall apart. Would it hold true that in the span of one lifetime all volitional actions would bear fruit? The killing of living beings is said to bear negative kammic fruit, this may not be the case if restricted to one lifetime. Take a man who works in a slaughter house, or a pest controller etc. Their actions may not bear fruit in this life time - our society does not punish people who kill for a living, they may lead this whole lifetime killing animals every day and not receive any real retribution for their actions before they reach the grave. I'm sure there might be other examples of this.

Kamma is also used as an explanation for where we are at in the present. This sense of kamma also starts to make less sense if you restrict it to only one lifetime. Say for example a child who is kidnapped and horrendously abused for years in captivity, what could they have possibly done within this one lifetime for this to be deemed the ripening of kammic fruits? This is usually where the past life kamma comes in, that this person had done something in a previous life which is bearing fruit in this life (a notion that I strongly disapprove of, for reasons I shall not go into now). If there is only one life - what can an innocent child possibly have done to deserve abuse or murder? Kamma, at least from the way I was taught it, fails as any kind of 'actions bearing fruit' doctrine if it is viewed as being restrained to a single lifetime. So in my view denial of rebirth leads to the failure of the system of kamma - which is defined as a requisite for Right View - which is a part of the core teachings.

I do not believe in rebirth, this means that I cannot accept the kammic teachings in the way that the Buddha intended them to be understood, which means I fall into the category of Wrong View, which presumably means I cannot attain Nibbana, without fulfilling the Eightfold Path. Conclusion: I am not a Buddhist.
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Re: Critique of Batchelor’s "Confession of a Buddhist Atheist"

Postby Hanzze » Sun Oct 10, 2010 2:03 pm

Thanks for sharing.
Last edited by Hanzze on Sun Oct 31, 2010 6:26 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Just that! *smile*
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BUT! it is important to become a real Buddhist first. Like Punna did: Punna Sutta Nate sante baram sokham _()_
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Re: Critique of Batchelor’s "Confession of a Buddhist Atheist"

Postby Laurens » Sun Oct 10, 2010 6:03 pm

If as the article states and the book title is accurate then it would seem that Batchelor is less of an agnostic, and more of an atheist when it comes to rebirth. Assuming Batchelor's title is accurate then an atheist view on rebirth would be; not believing in rebirth is the default position because the burden of proof for the claim 'there is such a thing as rebirth' has not been met and/or there are no convincing arguments to suggest in favour of rebirth. If Batchelor holds any other view then his title is misleading.

Being an atheist about rebirth would not be; 'I don't know if it's true, but it might be, so I'll practice like it is anyway' (you don't see Christopher Hitchen's or Richard Dawkins taking Pascal's wager and going to church because there might be a God) - that view is more likely to be held by an agnostic, and it doesn't seem to be Batchelor's position. Either he is an atheist or he isn't. The article (it seems to have vanished now) paints a picture of someone actively denying rebirth, or at least playing down its importance in Buddhism - which to me suggests that he doesn't believe it at all.

And so it leads on to my previous post... Remove the doctrine of rebirth, kamma fails, you fall into wrong view meaning the eightfold path cannot be followed, which means you cannot realise the fourth noble truth. Batchelor isn't Buddhist, he might think he is, but he is not really following the path laid out by the Buddha.
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Re: Critique of Batchelor’s "Confession of a Buddhist Atheist"

Postby Goofaholix » Mon Oct 11, 2010 4:54 am

Laurens wrote:I do not think it is correct to try to manipulate the teachings of the Buddha to suit one's own personal views, and it is for this reason that I personally abandoned Buddhism. I do not believe in kamma as a system that spans from life time to life time, I do not believe that we are reborn after we die, I do not believe that there are other realms of existence, I do not believe in ghosts. However, I would not seek to make out that the Buddha did not teach these things. I think the most humble thing one can do in that situation is to step away from Buddhism, rather than rewrite it. I felt the practice of Buddhism required me to make leaps and assumptions that I wasn't comfortable making, or to entertain these teachings as probably being true, when I did not feel this was so. Therefore I stopped being Buddhist.


That strikes me as an unnecessarily black and white view. One more typical of theists where one must either accept their holy book in it’s entirety as the word or God or reject it. I don’t think Buddhists, or those who practice his teaching but don’t label themselves as Buddhist, need to buy into that kind of attitude.

I think we owe it to ourselves to read Buddhist scripture intelligently knowing that they were written over several centuries after his death by people who may or may not have fully understood his teaching in languages that have needed to be translated and cultures very different from our own.

One starting point in doing that that Stephen Batchelor recommends is to look for what is unique about the Buddhas teaching, for ideas that didn’t pre-exist him. He lists these four;
The principle of conditionality, conditioned arising
The process of the Four Noble Truths.
The practice of mindful awareness.
The power of self-reliance.

I’d have thought Not Self would be in there too, perhaps it’s part of Conditionality. I’m not sold on Stephens conclusions but I think this is a very good starting point looking at what is unique about the Buddhas teachings.

Laurens wrote:If as the article states and the book title is accurate then it would seem that Batchelor is less of an agnostic, and more of an atheist when it comes to rebirth. Assuming Batchelor's title is accurate then an atheist view on rebirth would be; not believing in rebirth is the default position because the burden of proof for the claim 'there is such a thing as rebirth' has not been met and/or there are no convincing arguments to suggest in favour of rebirth. If Batchelor holds any other view then his title is misleading.


My online dictionary defines Athiest as “a person who does not believe in God or gods”, where did you get the notion it had anything to do with rebirth?

If you listened to Stephens talks or read his books you would know that his position is that while rebirth in the way it’s normally presented makes no sense to him he’s happy to be agnostic about it.

Laurens wrote:My view was that the way I interpreted Buddhism - it would not function without the doctrine of rebirth. Kamma teaches that each of our actions bears a kammic fruit at some point.


If Buddhism did not function then you wouldn’t be able to say “Sure I learnt a lot from it, and I still meditate” now would you.

Laurens wrote:Rather than perverting Buddhism into saying something that it does not, just abandon the label Buddhist, because it clearly doesn't fit with the way you view the world, if you are having to twist the core teachings.


That would be ungrateful in my opinion, if one has learned a lot from Buddhist practice and it has improved your life then I think it a far better thing to teach what you have learned and what worked for you. Rather than declare to the world one has thrown out the baby with the bathwater.
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Re: Critique of Batchelor’s "Confession of a Buddhist Atheist"

Postby alan » Mon Oct 11, 2010 5:04 am

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