Why is Richard Gombrich not a Buddhist?

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binocular
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Why is Richard Gombrich not a Buddhist?

Post by binocular »

Hello.


Why is Richard Gombrich not a Buddhist?

As far as I know, he said that he is not a Buddhist. Does he explain why not? What is his reasoning?

Also, there are other non-Buddhist scholars of Buddhism. Do you know of any who explain why they are not Buddhists? What do they say is their reason for not being Buddhists, but still be interested in Buddhism?

To be clear: This is not so much personal about these people, I'm interested in knowing the rationale for such a decision or situation.


Thanks.

DarrenM
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Re: Why is Richard Gombrich not a Buddhist?

Post by DarrenM »

Seems he has some reservations, such as Kamma and rebirth.
Q. “You’re not a Buddhist. How do you feel about studying Buddhism, and what does it mean to you?”
A. “ I think that the Buddha’s ideas should form part of the education of every child the world over and that this would help to make the world a more civilized place, both gentler and more intelligent. But I do not agree with all of his ideas. The doctrine of karma is founded on the premise that the world is a just place, but I am afraid unjust suffering stares us in the face. The Buddhist answer that such suffering is explained by misdeeds in former lives cannot convince me, as I do not believe in rebirth. I think we should struggle against injustice, but we have to accept that it persists and that we shall never eliminate it.
Because of my reservations, I do not call myself a Buddhist”

See link.
https://tricycle.org/magazine/what-buddha-thought/

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cappuccino
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Re: Why is Richard Gombrich not a Buddhist?

Post by cappuccino »

DarrenM wrote: Seems he has some reservations, such as Kamma and rebirth.
this just goes to show the power of the wrong view
Last edited by cappuccino on Wed Mar 25, 2020 5:18 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Bhikkhu Pesala
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Re: Why is Richard Gombrich not a Buddhist?

Post by Bhikkhu Pesala »

Perhaps because he misunderstands the Buddhist doctrine of kamma as fatalism.

Which came first? The chicken or the egg? Does he not accept the doctrine of rebirth because he does not understand the doctrine of kamma? Or does he not understand the doctrine of kamma because he does not accept the doctrine of rebirth?
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binocular
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Re: Why is Richard Gombrich not a Buddhist?

Post by binocular »

Bhikkhu Pesala wrote:
Wed Mar 25, 2020 2:03 pm
Which came first? The chicken or the egg? Does he not accept the doctrine of rebirth because he does not understand the doctrine of kamma? Or does he not understand the doctrine of kamma because he does not accept the doctrine of rebirth?
Which is the prerequisite for what: acceptance for understanding; or understanding for acceptance?

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cappuccino
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Re: Why is Richard Gombrich not a Buddhist?

Post by cappuccino »

faith is necessary to accept


faith is the ability to accept

sentinel
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Re: Why is Richard Gombrich not a Buddhist?

Post by sentinel »

There were many jains and Taiosts whom believes in karma and rebirth yet they are not buddhist . Even the christians and muslims believes in rebirth or reincarnation and retributions but they certainly are not buddhist . There are many "buddhists" whom believes in rebirth and karma unfortunately they are not considered as buddhist .
Quality is not an act, it is a habit.

binocular
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Re: Why is Richard Gombrich not a Buddhist?

Post by binocular »

Richard Gombrich wrote:The doctrine of karma is founded on the premise that the world is a just place, but I am afraid unjust suffering stares us in the face. The Buddhist answer that such suffering is explained by misdeeds in former lives

https://tricycle.org/magazine/what-buddha-thought/
That's an awfully strange thing to say for a Buddhist scholar ...
The underlined statements sound like folk Buddhism.

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DNS
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Re: Why is Richard Gombrich not a Buddhist?

Post by DNS »

Many scholars and professors (not all though) feel that they need to be objective (which is good), but believe to do so must be neutral in not belonging to any religion. They don't want to give the appearance that they are biased or have a "dog in the fight." So many professors of philosophy are agnostic, atheist or hold certain philosophical positions of Western philosophy, but not any specific religion.

I heard a saying here or somewhere that "too much knowledge leads to too much skepticism and too much indifference" or words to that effect.

justindesilva
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Re: Why is Richard Gombrich not a Buddhist?

Post by justindesilva »

binocular wrote:
Wed Mar 25, 2020 2:22 pm
Richard Gombrich wrote:The doctrine of karma is founded on the premise that the world is a just place, but I am afraid unjust suffering stares us in the face. The Buddhist answer that such suffering is explained by misdeeds in former lives

https://tricycle.org/magazine/what-buddha-thought/
That's an awfully strange thing to say for a Buddhist scholar ...
The underlined statements sound like folk Buddhism.
If I may , I would not call him a Buddhist scholar, but a scholar in Pali and Sanskrit languages. His book on " Sinhalese Buddhism " questions on the cognitive belief of orthodox Buddhism and the belief of folks of Buddhism during his studies in early 1900s when folks mixed up Buddhism with Hindu practises that prevail unto now. His question believing that the world is just a place makes it clear that he has not come across the exact in-depth meanings of 31 realms and Rohitassa sutra and sutta like Looks sutta. Instead he probably had been translating Pali to English technically.
Further the meaning of rebirth had been misunderstood by him
as he feels ( from his remarks) that the so called soul is linked to meaning of rebirth. I wish to say that there is no real rebirth from one to the other, and it is travelling in samsara, from transferring citta from one realm to another ( or may be in the same but in a different status).
I also wish to point out that until a decade or so lived a Catholic rev. father ( father Perniola) who was also a scholar in Pali and Sanskrit. His research in such languages is being referred by many scholars researching in Buddhism along with ven. Buddhist priests. His library was established in the former
Catholic school , St. Aloysius college, Galle in Sri Lanka.
What I wish to highlight is that there are a few who have done great service to Buddhism , in spite of their faiths.

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Re: Why is Richard Gombrich not a Buddhist?

Post by dharmacorps »

It is not uncommon for individuals to study or discuss something but not take part in it, or practice what they have read or inquired about.

In Gombrich's case, he is an academic so its especially common in those circles. Dr. Robert Thurman is a Vajrayana practitioner and academic who has no problems blending the two, so there are exceptions in those circles.

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Re: Why is Richard Gombrich not a Buddhist?

Post by befriend »

I have a friend who knows someone who studies Tibetan Buddhism in college but doesn't practice Buddhism or consider themselves Buddhist I think they just find it an interesting thing to study perhaps it's not the case with gombrich but it is a phenomenon.
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cappuccino
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Re: Why is Richard Gombrich not a Buddhist?

Post by cappuccino »

DNS wrote: I heard a saying here or somewhere that "too much knowledge leads to too much skepticism and too much indifference" or words to that effect.
faith is from suffering

faith is strengthened by reading

of course, faith may be lost by reading

it depends what you read

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Bhikkhu Pesala
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Re: Why is Richard Gombrich not a Buddhist?

Post by Bhikkhu Pesala »

binocular wrote:
Wed Mar 25, 2020 2:16 pm
Which is the prerequisite for what: acceptance for understanding; or understanding for acceptance?
In my opinion, acceptance comes first, then understanding comes gradually after striving and developing the path.
Caṅkī Sutta wrote:“If a man who has faith, Bhāradvāja, says: ‘Thus is my faith,’ speaking in this way he protects the truth, but does not yet come to the conclusion, ‘Only this is true, anything else is false.’ If a man approves of something says: ‘I approve of this,’ speaking in this way he protects the truth … If a man has learned the oral tradition says, ‘Thus have I heard,’ … If a man who has reasoned says, ‘This is my reasoning,’ … If a man has accepted a view after reflection says: ‘This is what I accept after reflection,’ speaking in this way he protects the truth, but he does not yet come to the conclusion, ‘Only this is true, anything else is false.’ In this way, Bhāradvāja, one protects the truth; in this way one guards the truth; this is how we explain the protection of the truth, but one does not yet awaken to the truth.”
Then later in the same sutta:
“When he has investigated the monk and sees that he is free from states of delusion, he reposes faith in him, when faith is born he approaches him, approaching him he pays homage, paying homage he pays attention to him, paying attention to him he hears the Dhamma, having heard the Dhamma he bears it in mind, bearing it in mind he reflects on the meaning, having reflected on the meaning he approves of the Dhamma and finds delight in it,approving of the Dhamma and finding delight in it the will [to practice it] is born, when will is born he ventures, venturing he examines, having examined he strives, having striven he realises the ultimate truth, and sees it by penetrating it with wisdom. In this way, Bhāradvāja, there is awakening to the truth, in this way there is discovery of the truth, that is how we describe the awakening to the truth, but not yet is there the attainment of the truth.”

“In that way, good Gotama, there is awakening to the truth, in that way there is discovery of the truth, we accept that in that way there is awakening to the truth. How then, good Gotama, is there attainment of the truth; how is there the final attainment to the truth? We ask the Venerable Gotama how there is attainment to the truth.”

“The final attainment of the truth, Bhāradvāja, follows from the repetition, development, and making much of those same things. In that way, Bhāradvāja, there is the final attainment of the truth, that is how we describe the attainment of the truth.”
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Sam Vara
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Re: Why is Richard Gombrich not a Buddhist?

Post by Sam Vara »

DNS wrote:
Wed Mar 25, 2020 3:05 pm
Many scholars and professors (not all though) feel that they need to be objective (which is good), but believe to do so must be neutral in not belonging to any religion. They don't want to give the appearance that they are biased or have a "dog in the fight." So many professors of philosophy are agnostic, atheist or hold certain philosophical positions of Western philosophy, but not any specific religion.

I heard a saying here or somewhere that "too much knowledge leads to too much skepticism and too much indifference" or words to that effect.
Yes, I think that is probably the case. According to the standards of scholarship (and certainly the norms of Oxford Senior Common Rooms!) it simply would not have occurred to Gombrich to refer to his personal preferences in his articles and books. It is significant that he only talks about his lack of Buddhist practice in the much more informal setting of the Tricycle Q&A linked by DarrenM. He says there, and more fulsomely in What the Buddha Thought, that he is very sympathetic to Buddhism and considers the Buddha to be of world historical importance, second to none.

I am not sure I agree with the position that Gombrich does not call himself a Buddhist because he misunderstands kamma and/or rebirth. There are plenty of people who misunderstand kamma as fatalism, and still count themselves and are counted as Buddhists. Misunderstanding Buddhist texts is in itself no bar to calling oneself a Buddhist, not least because one does not acknowledge one's own misunderstanding.

The view he expresses in WTBT is odd, a bit convoluted, but not a simple acceptance of fatalism.

1) He starts from the position of theodicy: the upholding of God's or some other standard of righteousness in the face of evils such as undeserved suffering. (This is an odd position to start from, but he does provide some justification later, and it is perhaps a good way in for Christians familiar with the theological "Problem of Evil"...)

2) He is very familiar with SN 36.21, the Sivaka Sutta, and derives from it the message that ascribing good or bad or neutral experiences to kamma (as the eighth and last productive factor) should be done only when there are no other medical or common-sense explanations currently available.

3) One reason for this is that the teaching on kamma is moral and exhortative, so as far as possible the Buddha avoided talking about the results of kamma in the here-and-now because that would be conducive to fatalism. People are lazy. Better to think about doing good now, than speculating about what you have done to deserve your current experiences. The recommendation is to look at it from the "front end" rather than from the back end, as Gombrich puts it.

4) The other seven explanations are consistent with kamma in that kamma must work through or by means of causes in this world. Gombrich uses the example of a baby born with AIDS. Buddhists might claim that this is the result of previous-life kamma (the conditions in which one is born are fairly widely accepted as such) but we could also give a purely naturalistic explanation. (It's worth noting that Ajahn Thanissaro mentions a similar point in his translator's note to SN 36.21 https://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitak ... an.html4) )

5) Gombrich makes a brief reference to this being in accordance with the findings of his earlier fieldwork: Sinhalese Buddhists were found to attribute to kamma only what they could not attribute to everyday proximate causes.

Gombrich's argument from theodicy seems to appeal to him because it emphasises absolute responsibility at the level of the individual agent. He does, however, acknowledge that it is considered by some to be too harsh a doctrine to swallow. He sees it as emerging at a time when, in both East and West, social changes led to mercantilism, surpluses, money, and the sense of individual agency regarding both commodities and virtue. Making individual conscience the ultimate authority (as opposed to social position and/or ritual) was risky, as moral reasoning could go awry. Ethical individualism which the Buddha favoured required a sanction; this was the universalising of kamma.

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