Distorted Visions of Buddhism: Agnostic and Atheist

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Alex123
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Re: Distorted Visions of Buddhism: Agnostic and Atheist

Post by 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.
"Life is a struggle. Life will throw curveballs at you, it will humble you, it will attempt to break you down. And just when you think things are starting to look up, life will smack you back down with ruthless indifference..."

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Re: Distorted Visions of Buddhism: Agnostic and Atheist

Post by DNS » 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

Post by 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

Post by 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

Post by 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.
"Life is a struggle. Life will throw curveballs at you, it will humble you, it will attempt to break you down. And just when you think things are starting to look up, life will smack you back down with ruthless indifference..."

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Re: Distorted Visions of Buddhism: Agnostic and Atheist

Post by Kare » Fri Apr 19, 2013 12:53 am

Lazy_eye wrote:
Kim O'Hara wrote: 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.
From my point of view the different Mahayana schools have already seen a lot of different adaptions that may have been the right thing at the time and place where they were made. But they are not necessarily the kind of adaptions that we need. If we start with the Mahayana, we then have to work our way backwards through the adaptions, unraveling the detours and deadapt the Dhamma before we can start contemplating what flavor of the Dhamma that may be right for ourselves. Better then to start with the Theravada, which is closer to the historical point of departure. On the other hand we can learn a lot from seeing how the different Mahayana schools adapted the Dhamma and broke away from the rigid orthodoxy - and some of those adaptions might even work for us - as long as we remember that each of those adaptions are results of a specific time and culture.

I am a great fan of Batchelor. When I read his books, I found much that resonated with thoughts I already had. My own flavor of the Dhamma would be a mix of Theravada, Zen, humanism and science. I do not say that this is the only right flavor. Others have to make their own choices.
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Re: Distorted Visions of Buddhism: Agnostic and Atheist

Post by kirk5a » Fri Apr 19, 2013 1:26 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.
I don't really see how science comes into play, as a practical matter. If we're following the Buddha's instructions, it's really got zilch to do with whatever science says about neurons, planets, the universe, quantum physics, electromagnetic phenomena, DNA, evolution, global warming... whatever.

Abstain from all evil, to cultivate good, and to purify one's mind. Those are timeless, a-sectarian, culturally universal principles. It's the clinging to one's own personal, cultural, views, speculative hypotheses and other assorted "adaptations" that can get in the way of that. Not the other way around.
"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

Post by Kim OHara » Fri Apr 19, 2013 1:39 am

Kare wrote:
Lazy_eye wrote:
Kim O'Hara wrote: 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.
From my point of view the different Mahayana schools have already seen a lot of different adaptions that may have been the right thing at the time and place where they were made. But they are not necessarily the kind of adaptions that we need. If we start with the Mahayana, we then have to work our way backwards through the adaptions, unraveling the detours and deadapt the Dhamma before we can start contemplating what flavor of the Dhamma that may be right for ourselves. Better then to start with the Theravada, which is closer to the historical point of departure. On the other hand we can learn a lot from seeing how the different Mahayana schools adapted the Dhamma and broke away from the rigid orthodoxy - and some of those adaptions might even work for us - as long as we remember that each of those adaptions are results of a specific time and culture.

I am a great fan of Batchelor. When I read his books, I found much that resonated with thoughts I already had. My own flavor of the Dhamma would be a mix of Theravada, Zen, humanism and science. I do not say that this is the only right flavor. Others have to make their own choices.
Something went astray with the "quote" function here, Kare (I didn't say any of what you have quoted) but other than that I'm pretty much in agreement with you.
:namaste:
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Re: Distorted Visions of Buddhism: Agnostic and Atheist

Post by Kim OHara » Fri Apr 19, 2013 1:47 am

kirk5a wrote:
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.
I don't really see how science comes into play, as a practical matter. If we're following the Buddha's instructions, it's really got zilch to do with whatever science says about neurons, planets, the universe, quantum physics, electromagnetic phenomena, DNA, evolution, global warming... whatever.
Hi, Kirk,
Science comes into it when religious teachers demand that every word of their sacred text be accepted as literal, infallible and unalterable truth. If science tells us the round earth goes around the sun, and religion says it is a disc resting on the back of four giant elephants riding on the back of a turtle :tongue: , only one can be correct. HHDL has gone on record as saying that in such a case, the Buddhist scripture must be abandoned, and I agree completely.
It doesn't have much to do with the path to liberation but science does have to be acknowledged and fitted into the worldview of each religion.

:namaste:
Kim

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Re: Distorted Visions of Buddhism: Agnostic and Atheist

Post by Lazy_eye » Fri Apr 19, 2013 2:06 am

Also, Theravada has long been concerned with these questions. I don't have the reference handy but I read an essay awhile back (by Donald Lopez, maybe?) that showed that Theravadin teachers seem particularly anxious to demonstrate the compatibility of Dhamma and science. It seems to be part of the way the Theravada tradition defines itself. Possibly because of the modernization movements that occurred in Thailand, for instance, during the 19th and 20th centuries.

I find this is less the case in Mahayana and (especially) Vajrayana.

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Re: Distorted Visions of Buddhism: Agnostic and Atheist

Post by kirk5a » Fri Apr 19, 2013 3:48 am

Kim O'Hara wrote: Science comes into it when religious teachers demand that every word of their sacred text be accepted as literal, infallible and unalterable truth.
Well I have yet to see a Buddhist teacher make such a demand.
"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

Post by tiltbillings » Fri Apr 19, 2013 4:12 am

kirk5a wrote:
Kim O'Hara wrote: Science comes into it when religious teachers demand that every word of their sacred text be accepted as literal, infallible and unalterable truth.
Well I have yet to see a Buddhist teacher make such a demand.
I know of one teacher that would hold such a position, though it seems that some followers certainly do.
>> 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.

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Re: Distorted Visions of Buddhism: Agnostic and Atheist

Post by Nyana » Fri Apr 19, 2013 4:56 am

Lazy_eye wrote: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.
This seems to me to be a pretty inaccurate dichotomy that you're attempting to establish here. The traditional Theravāda worldview and cosmology has much in common with the traditional Mahāyāna worldview(s), and in TIbetan traditions at least, the Sarvāstivāda cosmology is widely taught in Tibetan monastic colleges, which is every bit as "orthodox" as Theravāda cosmology. I'd also question your characterization that one tradition is more rational and the others less rational. Mahāyāna traditions have well developed systems of logic and epistemology, etc. As for compatibility with science, HH the Dalai Lama and senior Tibetan and Western students have initiated and engaged in Mind & Life Conferences with cognitive scientists, psychologists, physicists, and philosophers for the past three decades.

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Re: Distorted Visions of Buddhism: Agnostic and Atheist

Post by Kim OHara » Fri Apr 19, 2013 5:32 am

tiltbillings wrote:
kirk5a wrote:
Kim O'Hara wrote: Science comes into it when religious teachers demand that every word of their sacred text be accepted as literal, infallible and unalterable truth.
Well I have yet to see a Buddhist teacher make such a demand.
I know of one teacher that would hold such a position, though it seems that some followers certainly do.
It's less common in Buddhism than in the monotheistic faiths - which is one reason I'm here instead of on the equivalent Xtian board :smile: - but it does happen. Check out http://www.dharmawheel.net/viewtopic.php?f=77&t=12472 over on our sister site for a classic example of rigidly orthodox ... I won't use the "f" word and I won't call it thinking :tongue:
However, if the great rebirth thread is anything to go by, many of us are continually renegotiating our attitude to rebirth, which is not supported by any evidence strong enough to satisfy science but is fairly central to the dhamma, so science wants to reject it but many of us want to hang on to it. :juggling:

:namaste:
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Re: Distorted Visions of Buddhism: Agnostic and Atheist

Post by Reductor » Fri Apr 19, 2013 5:52 am

Kim O'Hara wrote:However, if the great rebirth thread is anything to go by, many of us are continually renegotiating our attitude to rebirth, which is not supported by any evidence strong enough to satisfy science but is fairly central to the dhamma, so science wants to reject it but many of us want to hang on to it. :juggling:
If science wants to reject it, I'd say science should instead be agnostic about it - that and God/gods. As it is, there are many reasons to doubt these things, but no sure way to disprove them.

From my perspective, its fine to say "I don't believe in rebirth, but I cannot disprove it." It's not fine to say "There is no such thing as rebirth". The first allows you to be rational without trying to drive the world into your camp, the other makes a claim which is much too big for evidence to support.

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