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Comments on ‘secular buddhism’

May 25th, 2011 · No Comments

http://darwiniana.com/2011/05/22/a-secular-buddhist/comment-page-1/#comment-357816

Here’s the raw comment series, or follow the link to the blog post itself.

Meissner said,

May 24, 2011 at 6:26 am · Edit

Richard, perhaps you’re not aware, but Batchelor says quite the opposite:

“The idea that there will be something spiritual or subtle, some sort of consciousness that can escape the collapse of the body and brain, is not very credible in the modern scientific worldview.” — Stephen Batchelor, article “Suspending Belief”, Inquiring Mind, vol. 27 no. 1.

Secular Buddhism is about a practice of getting a better handle on one’s mind, not unverifiable supernatural claims of rebirth.

Ad hominem attacks, for example, rarely helps any conversation. If you want to educate me, feel free — please provide reason and evidence.

Richard said,

May 24, 2011 at 6:46 am · Edit

“Secular Buddhism is about a practice of getting a better handle on one’s mind, not unverifiable supernatural claims of rebirth.”

The problem with contemporary “secularists” is that they think they’ve reached the pinnacle of sophistication in human thought when they’re really quite primitive in their thinking and represent decline (read Nemo’s post to read about the declines that occur after the eonic transitions). Nemo has pointed out the decline from Kant/Schopenhauer, but one could also point to J.G. Bennett. As Nemo has pointed out, you have to take most of what he wrote as science fiction, but at the same time you can see echoes of some type of future science that is currently lightyears beyond our understanding. The point is that current definitions of “supernatural/natural” are quite primitive and impoverished compared to the thinking that emerges from the thought of Kant, Schopenhauer, Samkhya, Bennett, etc.

What passes for “secularism” in the public arena is really just the mirror image of Christianity: a pre-packaged set of simplistic metanarratives for the masses. There is nothing wrong with that, but lets be honest: this is not a form of thought that is spawned by men with “higher consciousness.” If I were you, I wouldn’t get too comfortable…current “secularists” might represent a type that is an evolutionary dead end.

Bill said,

May 24, 2011 at 7:06 am · Edit

Not sure why some people are so resistant to the idea of religions and philosophies evolving (rather than remaining static).

Buddhism itself can be said to be a reformation of Hinduism, which then gave rise to several different schools. I think secular Buddhism — at least as explained by people like Stephen Batchelor — is just another permutation is a long line of permutations, each of which grew out of Buddhism’s encounter with a particular time and place.

If someone wants to tell me I’m not a Buddhist because I’m agnostic about rebirth and karma across lifetimes, it doesn’t bother me. Nor does it bother me if you think I’m a moron. Many a sage has been called worse.

In short: embrace the wisdom, reject the dogma.

Richard said,

May 24, 2011 at 7:23 am · Edit

“Buddhism itself can be said to be a reformation of Hinduism, which then gave rise to several different schools.”

Correction…there was no “Hinduism” when Buddhism developed. There was “Brahminism.”

“Not sure why some people are so resistant to the idea of religions and philosophies evolving (rather than remaining static).”

Sorry, but when you take away the sine qua non of Buddhism, then you’re not really a Buddhist. Nobody cares if you think you’re one (I doubt Buddhists are going to foment an Inquisition any time soon), but nobody is obligated to believe you either.

“If someone wants to tell me I’m not a Buddhist because I’m agnostic about rebirth and karma across lifetimes, it doesn’t bother me. Nor does it bother me if you think I’m a moron.”

Actually, it does. You wouldn’t have posted a response here if it didn’t bother you.

“In short: embrace the wisdom, reject the dogma.”

It depends on who is spewing this “wisdom.” If it’s a bunch of third rate thinkers (cough…cough… Stephen Batchelor), then I’ll pass.

Richard said,

May 24, 2011 at 7:37 am · Edit

“If someone wants to tell me I’m not a Buddhist because I’m agnostic about rebirth and karma across lifetimes, it doesn’t bother me.”

Correction. The issue here is not about being agnostic in regard to said issues. The problem is with people who think these doctrines aren’t essential to the practice.

star said,

May 24, 2011 at 1:05 pm · Edit

The practice of Buddhism, for me, is about paying attention to the difference between what I can see for myself (and that which people in general can see for themselves, if we take the time to slow down and look) versus drifting through life just doing “whatever”, allowing myself to be pulled along without any deep inspection of why I do what I do, or what my underlying assumptions are, or how accurate they are.

The Buddha repeatedly asked his followers to stick to what they have seen and experienced for themselves (for example: “Do you speak only of what you have known, seen, and understood for yourselves?” MN 38.24). Rebirth is not among the things I have known and seen for myself; I have known many thousands of people and have never met one I trust who has known and seen rebirth for themselves. When/if rebirth is something I have known and seen for myself, it will become part of my practice.

I haven’t read the texts of the later schools, but in the oldest texts, the Buddha never says that to follow his methods one has to believe in rebirth even if they have no evidence for its validity; quite the opposite, he says his teaching will halt all concern with speculations about one’s past lives or future lives. He does say that clinging to unsupported views is harmful — he even points out that clinging to views that are supported by too little evidence is just as problematic (see MN 136). What the Buddha teaches about how our actions have consequences (aka “karma”) is valid whether one associates it with rebirth or not.

Those who feel that a belief in rebirth is necessary for Buddhism to be a workable system simply haven’t understood what the Buddha taught. He didn’t teach an escape from rebirth, he taught the end of suffering — in this very life. The feeling that literal rebirth is necessary to Buddhism perhaps comes from the same understanding of why people are moral that many Christians who fear atheists have: the assumption that people cannot and will not be moral unless they have a selfish reason (i.e. potential for punishment) if they don’t behave. When a follower deeply understands the Buddha’s teaching on anatta (not self) and impermanance and suffering, compassion for others arises naturally as a result of the insight, and morality follows without the need for a carrot and stick approach.

A secular take on Buddhism simply focuses on working what the Buddha taught in a non-religious, non-speculative setting. The Buddha invited people to come and see; he didn’t require faith in the unseen prior to studying and putting his methods to use.

Earl Rectanus said,

May 24, 2011 at 1:47 pm · Edit

Richard, as the bulk of Zen does not rely on the doctrines of “rebirth and karma across lifetimes”, and as huge and growing numbers of secularists in the West currently don’t require these to carry on “the practice” (which is simply the daily seeking of awareness and clarity about reality), your last statement/assumption is obviously incorrect. Of course you may argue that your definition of “the practice” like “Buddhism” is more correct, but your statements above tend to suggest that your “practice” whatever it may be, could use some work.

David said,

May 24, 2011 at 5:06 pm · Edit

I don’t agree with “the whole point of the religion is to escape the round of rebirth.” The goal of Buddhist practice is to a) transcend suffering and b) to be of benefit to others. Buddhism works whether you accept the idea of the cycle of birth and death or not, and that is the “whole” point to me.

It might help for clarification if folks defined what they mean by rebirth. If you mean reincarnation, that is not a Buddhist concept. If you mean “rebirth”, as I hope you do, I don’t necessarily see that as a supernatural belief. You can read my blog post for my thoughts about that. http://theendlessfurther.com/?p=6010

I agree with both sides here to a certain extent. I am all in favor of demystifying certain aspect of Buddhist philosophy, but I am also wary of tossing out some of the core doctrines. Above all, I feel that it is important to keep an open mind. While some things on the surface may seem to belong to the realm of the supernatural, I believe there are other ways of looking at them that are acceptable to secular thinking.
But most important of all, we should not disparage each other as we discuss these issues.

Angus said,

May 24, 2011 at 5:13 pm · Edit

Richard, you make the assertion that rebirth doctrines are central to the practice of Buddhism without any supporting argument. Counter arguments abound. For instance, Zen, and its Chinese and Korean antecedants Chan and Seon, barely mention rebirth, and discourage putting much thought into it. They accept the doctrine, sure, but their teachings don’t emphasize it. Their teachings do emphasize immediate experience.

Are you a practitioner? If so what lineage? Just curious, since most of the Buddhist teachers I have looked into are not as emphatic as you are about rebirth. My own teacher, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, asks us only not to rule out rebirth, without insisting that we accept it.

Ted Meissner said,

May 24, 2011 at 9:30 pm · Edit

“The problem with contemporary “secularists” is that they think they’ve reached the pinnacle of sophistication in human thought…”

You don’t appear to be a secularist, and yet know what we think? Because that’s not it, not at all. There is a constant reassessment of approach, to ensure it is functional and supported by external verification.

“…. when they’re really quite primitive in their thinking and represent decline (read Nemo’s post to read about the declines that occur after the eonic transitions).”

Nemo referring to secular thought as a decline doesn’t make it so. Nor does a shift to an earlier mode of thought make it any less viable.

“The point is that current definitions of “supernatural/natural” are quite primitive and impoverished compared to the thinking that emerges from the thought of Kant, Schopenhauer, Samkhya, Bennett, etc.”

Supernatural explanation for natural events is primitive. That does not mean in any way that it’s not appealing, or that secularists don’t fully cognize the visceral power of those magical views — but it doesn’t mean they contain any merit in the real world.

“… this is not a form of thought that is spawned by men with “higher consciousness.” If I were you, I wouldn’t get too comfortable…current “secularists” might represent a type that is an evolutionary dead end.”

Or, perhaps, the next evolutionary success story. I’ll continue the practice, thanks.

Richard said,

May 25, 2011 at 1:31 am · Edit

“You don’t appear to be a secularist, and yet know what we think? Because that’s not it, not at all. There is a constant reassessment of approach, to ensure it is functional and supported by external verification.”

Thanks for unwittingly proving Nemo’s and my point.

“Nemo referring to secular thought as a decline doesn’t make it so. Nor does a shift to an earlier mode of thought make it any less viable.”

True, but he’s much smarter/more philosophically sophisticated than you and marshals a lot of evidence to support his thesis. I’ll take his word over yours 10 times out of 10.

“Supernatural explanation for natural events is primitive. That does not mean in any way that it’s not appealing, or that secularists don’t fully cognize the visceral power of those magical views — but it doesn’t mean they contain any merit in the real world.”

Not defining what you mean by “natural,” “supernatural,” “real world” is primitive. Take that sh*t back to the kiddie leagues (you will fit right in at Greta Christina’s blog), and please stop making yourself look like a fool with this sophomoric nonsense.

nemo said,

May 25, 2011 at 6:19 am · Edit

Thanks for all your good comments. Please continiue.
I find some of this commentary alarming: every phase of real buddhism has made the question of rebirth central. It is part of the essence of Buddhism, inherited from the Jainism that came before.
That the issue should now be under attack in the decade of the New Atheists is symptomatic of what is afoot with the propaganda of scientism. More than that there is an attempt to penetrate and revise Buddhism in this fashion to destroy it, so be wary.
The issue is one of great sadness, because real Buddhist schools are rare. As Rajneesh noted Tibet has been dead since Milarepa in not producing enlightened men. If the Tibetans can’t manage small wonder the pitiful last gasps of pseudo-buddhism in the west should amount to nothing.
Real Buddhas always have a sense of their previous births, the latest example being Rajneesh, who spoke clearly here only to be gainsaid by the deceitful Christopher Caldwell (cf discussions at The Gurdjieff Con) who tried to muddle the record. I am a little puzzled by statements attempting to state what the real early Buddhism was, or what
buddha really said. It is not clear at all what Buddha really said, since nothing was recorded til after he died. In general though Gautama seems to have thought, not in terms of ‘religion’, a later term, but of setting the great wheel of dharma in motion, a spectacular project only now phasing out. It was a complete cycle of the ‘dharma’ in action. Part of the confusion now is this ‘end of the cycle’ decay of the original vision or format of Buddhism as such. .
I certainly don’t think that belief in rebirth should be entailed on faith for anyone. That’s not the point. But to try and strip it out of the Buddhist canon is a baffling development. The behavior of the people in the cult of the New Atheism is suspicious here. In general we can see that Stephen Batchelor et al. are being supported and promoted behind the scenes, no doubt to coopt and destroy real buddhsim. People like Batchelor et al should be wary here. Once they have wrecked Buddhism, the job of being done with buddhism will be accomplished: it will be a joke.
In fact this has nearly happened already, and Rajneesh a generation ago tried to renew the field by starting over.
Anyway, the current state of creative confusion can lead to a real new beginning. The classic cycle of Gautama is falling apart right on schedule (check out my ‘eonic effect’ material). But the path forward is already coming into existence.
Lots more to say here, but I would say that current science has induced a kind of stupidity in people and they see the need to rewrite Buddhism to satisfy the fanatics of reductionism (who falsely call themselves ‘secularists’). My interest in science is second to none, but I never take scientists seriously on such questions, and when they start tampering with buddhism, the joke ceases to be funny.

Max Weber called it the ‘Iron Cage’.

nemo said,

May 25, 2011 at 6:22 am · Edit

I did not call ‘secular’ thought a decline, not at all. I merely tried to indicate the way that the term ‘secular’ has been taken over by a narrow scientism.
The real meaning of the term is much broader. Go back and read the post on this.
The issue of decline was a reference to the phenomena of the eonic effect, not secularism.

Paul said,

May 25, 2011 at 9:55 am · Edit

I seem to remember Rajneesh saying he was a ‘reincarnation’ of gurdjieff! He also said Krishnamurti spoke the truth about ‘teachers’ – but we weren’t ready for it….Rajneesh was a strange and charismatic fellow.

nemo said,

May 25, 2011 at 10:32 am · Edit

Rajneesh has some cogent stories about his prior incarnations, I will look them up/

nemo said,

May 25, 2011 at 10:36 am · Edit

This is unfair to those who know better. This notioin that rebirth is secondary to buddhism is grotesque and has taken me by surprise. The status of Zen here is irrelevant, and I am sure that if you look carefully you will find rebirth doctrines.
In any case, the no Zen buddhist would ever have denied the original buddhist doctrines of rebirth, no way, whatever their difference emphasis.

It is important to consider the effect off Mahayana here: boddhissatwas tend to lose contact with the real teaching, and in their wake comes this bullshit secular buddhism.

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