Batchelor's "Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist"

Exploring Theravāda's connections to other paths - what can we learn from other traditions, religions and philosophies?
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Re: Batchelor's "Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist"

Post by BlackBird »

zavk wrote:Bhikkhu Thanissaro seem to also take the view that is better to think of Buddhism in the plural as the title of his book, Buddhist Religions, suggests.
On the surface that's not a bad idea. But when you dig a little deeper the lines can begin to blur:
Nanavira Thera wrote: I think I told you some time ago (in connexion with Huxley and chemical mysticism) that the Mahāyānist view can be summed up in two propositions, the first common to all mystics, and the second supposed to represent the Buddha's solution to the problem raised by the first.

(i) Behind the ordinary appearance of things there lies Reality, which it is the task of the Yogi to seek. Existentialist philosophers do not go as far as this: if they admit such a Reality—Jaspers, for example—they qualify it by saying that it is necessarily out of reach. See Preface (m).

(ii) Reality is the non-existence of things. In other words, things do not really exist, they only appear to do so on account of our ignorance (avijjā). (George Borrow[1] tells of a Spanish gypsy in the last century whose grandfather held this view, so it hardly needs a Buddha to declare it. It seems to be closely allied to the Hindu notion of māyā—that all is illusion.)

Now the Pali texts say that the Buddha taught anicca/dukkha/anattā, and the average Theravādin, monk or layman, seems to take for granted that aniccatā, or impermanence, means that things are perpetually changing, that they do not remain the same for two consecutive moments. Failing to make the necessary distinctions (see PATICCASAMUPPĀDA [c]), they understand this as implying perpetual flux of everything all the time. This, of course, destroys the principle of self-identity, 'A is A'; for unless something endures unchanged for at least a certain interval of time you cannot even make the assertion 'this is A' since the word 'is' has lost its meaning. Bypassing dukkha as something we all know about, they arrive at anattā as meaning 'without self-identity'. (This is Mr. Wettimuny's theme,[2] following Dahlke. I do not think he is aware that he is putting himself among the Mahāyānists.) Granted the premise that anicca means 'in continuous flux', this conclusion is impeccable. Unfortunately, in doing away with the principle of self-identity, you do away with things—including change, which is also a thing. This means that for the puthujjana, who does not see aniccatā, things exist, and for the arahat, who has seen aniccatā, things do not exist. Thus the Mahāyānist contention is proved.
Blatently off topic, but as it's my birthday I hope the mods will make an allowance. :popcorn:

"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: Batchelor's "Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist"

Post by tiltbillings »

Discussion of Jack's immediately above post can be had here: ... 52&start=0
>> Do you see a man wise [enlightened/ariya] in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him.<< -- Proverbs 26:12

This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond. -- SN I, 38.

“Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?” HPatDH p.723
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Re: Batchelor's "Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist"

Post by m0rl0ck »

I think its important not to confuse batchelors philosophy with buddhism.

From a post i made a" onclick=";return false;

The biggest problem with Batchelors "Buddhism" though is that it isnt buddhism at all. Batchelors idea of self is materialistic, that the self is the result of brain function and ceases at the death of that organ.

The idea of a fixed self is of course contrary to the buddhist doctrine of anatta, but it isnt just about doctrine, the idea of a fixed self is perhaps the biggest impediment to seeing past the self to a greater perspective. So if you are an adherent of Batchelor's views, keep in mind that what he espouses isnt buddhism and by adopting those views you may be putting a considerable obstacle in the way of your attaining the fruit of the path.

I wondered if you all might have some thoughts on this.
“The truth knocks on the door and you say, "Go away, I'm looking for the truth," and so it goes away. Puzzling.” ― Robert M. Pirsig
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Re: Batchelor's "Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist"

Post by Nyana »

Paññāsikhara wrote:
simplemind wrote: Another difficulty for me was his general hermeneutic. He works on an interpretive principle that says something like: "If the idea existed in religious thought before the Buddha, then it can be overlooked as anything specifically Buddhist" (my paraphrase). It's possible to parse the data this way, but it strikes me as a little arbitrary. What shouldn't a tradition build upon, or accept previous ideas? Is there a specific textual reason we have to think this principle is true?
Well said. As several scholars such as Gombrich and Bronkhorst point out, pre-buddhist notions of rebirth are really very different from that taught by the Buddha. The Vedas don't talk about it at all in the same way. A couple of Upanisads do, but we cannot be sure of their dates - they could as likely be post-Buddha, and thus Buddhist influenced, as they are the other way around. And, as you say, the idea that anything that precedes it is only accepted due to tradition is a fallacy. We would have to abandon even basic ethics in that case. It can just as easily be said that it is true, earlier people knew it to be true, and so did the Buddha. In fact, much of scientific knowledge is based on what goes before, it is accepted as true and works for the system, just that the new knowledge builds upon it, rather than replaces it. For Buddhism, part is a build up, part is replacement. Helps to know which is which. This requires some deep knowledge of Indian history, thought, religion, etc. and much language skills too.

Maybe Ven. Huifeng has some time these days to comment upon these differences further?....

(There are a number of other informative replies in this thread as well.)
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Re: Batchelor's "Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist"

Post by Spiny O'Norman »

I enjoyed the book and find Stephens ideas interesting, but I don't regard him as an authority on the Pali Canon - which to be fair he doesn't claim to be.

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Re: Batchelor's "Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist"

Post by LonesomeYogurt »

Batchelor is wrong, wrong, wrong about some things in that book - not doctrinal things, mind you, but clear and indisputable facts. When he claims that the Buddha never discussed rebirth or kamma, or when he states that the Buddhist view of rebirth was an unquestioned cultural assumption at the time instead of an actual doctrine, he is wrong. I don't mind secular Buddhism that says "This is what the Buddha taught, but we believe that a lot of it is untrue and should be discarded." I disagree, but it's intellectually honest. But claiming that the Buddha didn't teach things that are right there in every other sutta is just flat-out revisionism. Batchelor comes off as very arrogant and almost "Only I know the true way"-ish in his books and it irks me to no end. It's a shame too, because his emphasis on meditation and mindfulness is really strong and constructive. It's just found inside this condescending wrap of dogmatic materialism.
Gain and loss, status and disgrace,
censure and praise, pleasure and pain:
these conditions among human beings are inconstant,
impermanent, subject to change.

Knowing this, the wise person, mindful,
ponders these changing conditions.
Desirable things don’t charm the mind,
undesirable ones bring no resistance.

His welcoming and rebelling are scattered,
gone to their end,
do not exist.
- Lokavipatti Sutta

Stuff I write about things.
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Re: Batchelor's "Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist"

Post by Goofaholix »

LonesomeYogurt wrote:Batchelor comes off as very arrogant and almost "Only I know the true way"-ish in his books and it irks me to no end.
I've listened to many of MP3's, read some of his books, attended public meeting, the impression I've gotten is quite the opposite.

I find he's very open about the fact that his theories are theories and are based on his own analysis and he can't be certain that the traditional interpretations are not correct so he's presenting them and leaving it up to us to make up our own minds. I never noticed him being disrespectful of the sangha or of people who are disrespectdful of him.

People like to press him about rebirth but other than that I get the impression he'd prefer not to talk on that subject to any great degree, I find his theories of the how the 4NT, eightfold path and stream entry more radical and interesting.
“Peace is within oneself to be found in the same place as agitation and suffering. It is not found in a forest or on a hilltop, nor is it given by a teacher. Where you experience suffering, you can also find freedom from suffering. Trying to run away from suffering is actually to run toward it.” ― Ajahn Chah
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Re: Batchelor's "Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist"

Post by Spiny O'Norman »

LonesomeYogurt wrote: Batchelor comes off as very arrogant and almost "Only I know the true way"-ish in his books and it irks me to no end.
That isn't how he comes across to me. My impression is of an ex-monk with some interesting ideas who needs to earn a living by writing books.

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