Distorted Visions of Buddhism: Agnostic and Atheist

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Distorted Visions of Buddhism: Agnostic and Atheist

Postby Kusala » Wed Apr 17, 2013 3:51 am

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Homage to the Buddha
Thus indeed, is that Blessed One: He is the Holy One, fully enlightened, endowed with clear vision and virtuous conduct, sublime, the Knower of the worlds, the incomparable leader of men to be tamed, the teacher of gods and men, enlightened and blessed.

Homage to the Teachings
The Dhamma of the Blessed One is perfectly expounded; to be seen here and now; not delayed in
time; inviting one to come and see; onward leading (to Nibbana); to be known by the wise, each for himself.
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Re: Distorted Visions of Buddhism: Agnostic and Atheist

Postby mikenz66 » Wed Apr 17, 2013 5:29 am

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Re: Distorted Visions of Buddhism: Agnostic and Atheist

Postby James the Giant » Wed Apr 17, 2013 7:00 am

Just another Stephen Batchelor-bashing article.
Nothing new.
Same old anti-secular-buddhism position.
Fair enough to criticise, and valid points, but it has all been said before.
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Re: Distorted Visions of Buddhism: Agnostic and Atheist

Postby Ben » Wed Apr 17, 2013 8:14 am

I think most, if not all visions of Buddhism are distortions. Some visions more distorted than others.
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saṇantā yanti kusobbhā,
tuṇhīyanti mahodadhī.

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Re: Distorted Visions of Buddhism: Agnostic and Atheist

Postby kirk5a » Wed Apr 17, 2013 2:12 pm

Ben wrote:I think most, if not all visions of Buddhism are distortions. Some visions more distorted than others.

That's an interesting statement. Care to expand on that? For example, we could read Bhikkhu Bodhi's various articles about Buddhism and get a vision of Buddhism. In what ways do you see that as distorted?
"When one thing is practiced & pursued, ignorance is abandoned, clear knowing arises, the conceit 'I am' is abandoned, latent tendencies are uprooted, fetters are abandoned. Which one thing? Mindfulness immersed in the body." -AN 1.230
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Re: Distorted Visions of Buddhism: Agnostic and Atheist

Postby marc108 » Wed Apr 17, 2013 3:02 pm

Ben wrote:I think most, if not all visions of Buddhism are distortions. Some visions more distorted than others.


:thumbsup: :goodpost:
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Re: Distorted Visions of Buddhism: Agnostic and Atheist

Postby Spiny Norman » Thu Apr 18, 2013 8:27 am

Ben wrote:I think most, if not all visions of Buddhism are distortions. Some visions more distorted than others.


So how do we assess the level of distortion in a particular approach?
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Re: Distorted Visions of Buddhism: Agnostic and Atheist

Postby Buckwheat » Thu Apr 18, 2013 3:12 pm

porpoise wrote:
Ben wrote:I think most, if not all visions of Buddhism are distortions. Some visions more distorted than others.


So how do we assess the level of distortion in a particular approach?

Investigation, the second "Factor of Awakening".
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Re: Distorted Visions of Buddhism: Agnostic and Atheist

Postby m0rl0ck » Thu Apr 18, 2013 4:24 pm

Good link. Imo it pretty much nails batchelor:

There would be nothing wrong if Batchelor simply rejected the authenticity of the Buddha’s enlightenment and the core of his teachings, but instead he rejects the most reliable accounts of the Buddha’s vision and replaces it with his own, while then projecting it on the Buddha that exists only in his imagination.


What he is teaching doesnt look like buddhism to me, he should call it something else.
"When you meditate, don't send your mind outside. Don't fasten onto any knowledge at all. Whatever knowledge you've gained from books or teachers, don't bring it in to complicate things. Cut away all preoccupations, and then as you meditate let all your knowledge come from what's going on in the mind. When the mind is quiet, you'll know it for yourself. But you have to keep meditating a lot. When the time comes for things to develop, they'll develop on their own. Whatever you know, have it come from your own mind.
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Re: Distorted Visions of Buddhism: Agnostic and Atheist

Postby Alex123 » Thu Apr 18, 2013 4:44 pm

porpoise wrote:
Ben wrote:I think most, if not all visions of Buddhism are distortions. Some visions more distorted than others.


So how do we assess the level of distortion in a particular approach?


Unfortunately we have no perfect way apart from practicing the best we know and reaping pragmatic results. What is left is living tradition and guidance of living, or recently deceased Ajahns (through writtings of their teaching). The Buddha didn't leave video or audio recordings. I don't even know that He existed, though I do believe despite the lack of hard evidence.

The best thing we can do is to get close to what the early Buddhists believed, hoping that they didn't unintentionally distort Buddha's message like Sati or Arittha did (even though these two lived under the Buddha).

Here are the problem areas:
1)a) As Buddha was teaching some monk, ven. Ananda heard the lecture ONE time.
b) Some other monk heard the lecture one time and had to tell it to ven. Ananda who then remembered it.

2) How accurately word-for-word did ven. Ananda remember?

3) What did Ananda recollect 20 years later at the First Council.

4) How accurate was the teaching that was verbally being spread from generation to generation of monks for few centuries.

5) Teaching was then written down centuries after the Buddha during Fourth Buddhist Council (1st century BCE).

6) Copying books for centuries until today.

The climate of Theravāda countries is not conducive to the survival of manuscripts. Apart from brief quotations in inscriptions and a two-page fragment from the eighth or ninth century found in Nepal, the oldest manuscripts known are from late in the fifteenth century,[41] and there is not very much from before the eighteenth.[42]link


The Ashoka's pillars (supposedly built centuries after the Buddha) contain very little, and very general Dhamma.

The Gandhāran Buddhist texts are the oldest Buddhist manuscripts yet discovered, dating from about the 1st century CE.[1] They are written in Gāndhārī, and are possibly the oldest extant Indic texts altogether. link


Gāndhārī is not pāli and neither is it Theravādin, it is Dharmaguptaka school. And it is still ~5 centuries after the Buddha's death.

We have very little (if any) hard evidence about the Theravāda and pāli teaching prior to 15th century. That is about 2000 after the Buddha!

Lots of places for typos, omissions, and mistakes!
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Re: Distorted Visions of Buddhism: Agnostic and Atheist

Postby David N. Snyder » Thu Apr 18, 2013 5:40 pm

Alex123 wrote:
The Gandhāran Buddhist texts are the oldest Buddhist manuscripts yet discovered, dating from about the 1st century CE.[1] They are written in Gāndhārī, and are possibly the oldest extant Indic texts altogether. link


Gāndhārī is not pali and neither is it Theravada. And it is still ~5 centuries after the Buddha's death.


We have Ashoka's edicts dated to about 250 BCE and the the British Museum Scrolls you quoted to about the 1st century CE. That is pretty hard evidence, although still a few hundred years after Buddha's paranibbana.

Alex123 wrote:We have very little (if any) hard evidence about the Theravada and pali teaching prior to 15th century, about 2000 after the Buddha!


See above, we do have some hard evidence much earlier than the 15th century.

Alex123 wrote:Lots of places for typos, omissions, and mistakes!


True, but (in my opinion) this does not give some modern scholars free license to re-write Buddhism completely to fit their views, for example to claim that the Buddha did not teach anatta, rebirth, etc.
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Re: Distorted Visions of Buddhism: Agnostic and Atheist

Postby Alex123 » Thu Apr 18, 2013 6:09 pm

David N. Snyder wrote:We have Ashoka's edicts dated to about 250 BCE and the the British Museum Scrolls you quoted to about the 1st century CE. That is pretty hard evidence, although still a few hundred years after Buddha's paranibbana.


I bolded the important part. And what do Ashoka's edicts teach? Do they teach Theravada or other scholastic doctrine?


David N. Snyder wrote:See above, we do have some hard evidence much earlier than the 15th century.


Still those fragments are centuries later than the Buddha. A century is a long time for doctrine and interpretations to evolve.

Considering that even when the Buddha was alive some monks misinterpreted him, nothing to say about what can happen centuries later and without the living Buddha to correct mistakes...


David N. Snyder wrote:True, but (in my opinion) this does not give some modern scholars free license to re-write Buddhism completely to fit their views, for example to claim that the Buddha did not teach anatta, rebirth, etc.


Right. Those need to call the new teaching to be their own rather than the Buddha's. But with all of that said, we don't know what Buddha (if He even existed) has actually vocally said, and in which dialect. We have fragments of Buddhist teaching that dates centuries after Buddha's death.
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Re: Distorted Visions of Buddhism: Agnostic and Atheist

Postby Kare » Thu Apr 18, 2013 8:49 pm

Ben wrote:I think most, if not all visions of Buddhism are distortions. Some visions more distorted than others.


Instead of 'distortions', I would rather say 'adaptions'. The Dhamma is adapted to the society, culture and person. This happened already at the time of the Buddha, when he debated with brahmans and ascetics, when he gave Vinaya rules motivated by a wish to keep up respect for the bhikkhus among the lay folk.

It has been an ongoing process since then. The Buddhadhamma was exported to other cultures in Asia, and it was adapted in different ways to those cultures. Today the Buddhadhamma is in the process of being adapted to Western society.

A totally unadapted form of Buddhism is (almost) unthinkable. It would mean an extremely fundamentalist literal belief in every word in every Sutta, and it would only work in a society that is an exact copy of northern India at the time of the Buddha. So we should not complain over adaptions. Adaptions may be good, and they may be bad. The important question is of course this: How well is the adaption done? Does it keep the essence of the Dhamma? And that can of course be discussed (what is the essence of the Dhamma?) ... and discussed (how well is this specific adaption preserve the essence of the Dhamma?) ... and discussed ...
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Re: Distorted Visions of Buddhism: Agnostic and Atheist

Postby imagemarie » Thu Apr 18, 2013 9:02 pm

:goodpost: (I like Stephen Bachelor)

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Re: Distorted Visions of Buddhism: Agnostic and Atheist

Postby Kim OHara » Thu Apr 18, 2013 9:44 pm

I'm going to say :goodpost: too, although I'm not madly enthusiastic about Batchelor.
As Kare said, the teachings were adapted to (and in) each new culture they were carried to. Over time they diverged further, which is why we have so many schools - each of which is still "Buddhism" by its own account and by any reasonable outside assessment. Now - in the last fifty years anyway - the different schools have come into regular contact with each other after their long isolation and have to resolve some of the differences.
At the same time, the dhamma is finding ways to co-exist with a scientific worldview and is having to downplay (or even throw out) elements which are totally inconsistent with that worldview. (And not just the dhamma - the Christians have had exactly the same problem, and the Moslems are going to have it even worse as and when their cultures become truly modern.)
Batchelor's is just one of the more radical adaption attempts. Not the worst, not the best ... but at least it's an attempt.

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Re: Distorted Visions of Buddhism: Agnostic and Atheist

Postby Alex123 » Thu Apr 18, 2013 9:53 pm

Hello Kare, :goodpost:

Kare wrote:A totally unadapted form of Buddhism is (almost) unthinkable. It would mean an extremely fundamentalist literal belief in every word in every Sutta, and it would only work in a society that is an exact copy of northern India at the time of the Buddha. So we should not complain over adaptions. Adaptions may be good, and they may be bad. The important question is of course this: How well is the adaption done? Does it keep the essence of the Dhamma? And that can of course be discussed (what is the essence of the Dhamma?) ... and discussed (how well is this specific adaption preserve the essence of the Dhamma?) ... and discussed ...


You are right. Buddhism should NOT become like fundamentalist Christianity. Unfortunately suttas and authoritative commentaries have their incredible statements.

For example in the suttas it talks about sun rotating around the Earth... Also eclipse is said to occur when demon tries to swallow the moon, rain being caused by rain-devas... Nothing to say about hell (which sounds like in Christianity) and being reborn as invisible peace of meat being pecked by crows.

In VsM it talks about size of the earth, and it is TOO big, while the size of the "world system" is closer to Earth + Moon size.

In some commentaries I've read about creatures thousands of miles tall... I almost completely lost my faith (and still trying to recover) except for "Secular Dhamma" sort of thing where you practice and contemplate things that you can accept.

With all the talk about "super powers" they seem to be no match for current Astronomy and biology...

With all the above, am I expected to take cosmological teachings in the suttas seriously?

I don't know who is "worse": Those who take every word in the suttas as gospel truth like fundamentalist Christians, or Secular Dhamma teaching.
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Re: Distorted Visions of Buddhism: Agnostic and Atheist

Postby David N. Snyder » Thu Apr 18, 2013 10:43 pm

Alex123 wrote:I don't know who is "worse": Those who take every word in the suttas as gospel truth like fundamentalist Christians, or Secular Dhamma teaching.


Good question. :D I'd say the literalist view is worse, since it is less tolerant, more dogmatic.

Middle Way is best. I know that is not the definition or what it meant by majjhima-magga, but the 'middle position' works best in this case.
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Re: Distorted Visions of Buddhism: Agnostic and Atheist

Postby Viscid » Thu Apr 18, 2013 11:56 pm

I am usually skeptical about criticism that judges the Buddhist views of others as being flawed or distorted.. Buddhism is not some well-defined entity against which we can validate the proper adherence of views. Though we may have a strong intuition as to what isn't dhamma, if it isn't obviously contrary to the goal of ending suffering, such intuition is usually just the product of personal dogmatism.
"What holds attention determines action." - William James
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Re: Distorted Visions of Buddhism: Agnostic and Atheist

Postby Lazy_eye » Fri Apr 19, 2013 12:30 am

Kim O'Hara wrote:I'm going to say :goodpost: too, although I'm not madly enthusiastic about Batchelor.
As Kare said, the teachings were adapted to (and in) each new culture they were carried to. Over time they diverged further, which is why we have so many schools - each of which is still "Buddhism" by its own account and by any reasonable outside assessment. Now - in the last fifty years anyway - the different schools have come into regular contact with each other after their long isolation and have to resolve some of the differences.
At the same time, the dhamma is finding ways to co-exist with a scientific worldview and is having to downplay (or even throw out) elements which are totally inconsistent with that worldview. (And not just the dhamma - the Christians have had exactly the same problem, and the Moslems are going to have it even worse as and when their cultures become truly modern.)
Batchelor's is just one of the more radical adaption attempts. Not the worst, not the best ... but at least it's an attempt.

:namaste:
Kim


Here's a question I've wondered about. Assuming there is such a need for adaptation, which tradition is better poised to adapt? Theravada or Mahayana?

Many people would say Theravada is quite analytical, rational and compatible with science -- to a degree. It is also more stubbornly orthodox and bound by the authority of millenia-old texts. So when problem areas arise, such as the ones Alex mentioned, it can be hard to work around them.

Mahayana, it seems to me, presents almost the opposite scenario. With its pantheon of Buddhas and bodhisattvas and its many devotional practices, it seems inherently less rational in its outlook. It is also more heterodox compared to Theravada and thus (theoretically) more flexible. Since the legitimacy of Mahayana sutras is questionable and the canon is so diverse, reinterpretation presents less of a problem. And indeed Mahayana has generated a wide variety of sects and schools. (For exactly this reason, I find it a bit odd and even amusing when folks like B. Allan Wallace start playing dharma cop -- as though their own tradition wasn't a significant departure).

So what's better, from the science-minded perspective -- the more rational but rigid Theravada, or the more adaptable but less rational Mahayana? I am oversimplifying of course, but hope you can see my point.
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Re: Distorted Visions of Buddhism: Agnostic and Atheist

Postby Alex123 » Fri Apr 19, 2013 12:40 am

Lazy_eye wrote:So what's better, from the science-minded perspective -- the more rational but rigid Theravada, or the more adaptable but less rational Mahayana? I am oversimplifying of course, but hope you can see my point.



One possible idea is to take practical and relevant things from one or both of the traditions and apply them as best as one can.


As for traditions, if taken as a whole, they both have religious aspects. Even though Theravada seems to have less miracles and strange things than Mahayana, it still has too much.
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