Speculative Non-Buddhism

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On the Faith of Secular Buddhists

Posted by Glenn Wallis on May 9, 2012

Secular Buddhism, “like all ‘isms’…is at best a parody, at worst a constriction.” (Nick Land*)

I am working on a detailed critique of the Secular Buddhist movement in the West. The critique employs speculative non-buddhist theory. What it shows is that Secular Buddhism is beholden to the identical transcendental norm as the most flagrantly religious and conservatively orthodox forms of Buddhism.

In the meantime, I read Stephen Batchelor’s “A Secular Buddhist.” This short piece is being distributed in advance of a public discussion between Batchelor and Don Cupitt, a self-described “secular Christian,” at London Insight Meditation. (Link below.)

Here, I would like to offer a raw reader-response account of my reading of Batchelor’s statement. I know that his piece itself is too brief to base a broad criticism on. But there are two good reasons to attend closely to it. The first is that, according to the website, it represents Batchelor’s “outlining” of his vision “for a contemporary spirituality.” The second, and more important reason, is that it contains axiomatic features that are endemic to all writing on Secular Buddhism—whether in Batchelor’s numerous books or on the newly sprouting Secular Buddhist websites, blogs, forums, and Facebook pages. These features form the very foundation on which Secular Buddhism is currently building its house. I say that they are axiomatic because these features go unchallenged, indeed unquestioned, by Secular Buddhists of all stripes, including the secular-scientistic community around Jon Kabat-Zinn. These features, in short, constitute the faith at the heart of Secular Buddhism. It is a faith, moreover, that renders Secular Buddhism indistinguishable from every other system of religious belief. The grounding of an “ism” in faith is neither new nor interesting. It is, however, a serious—perhaps debilitating—weakness in one that claims to reach for the values encapsulated in the term “secular.”

Radical?

James Blake’s comments introducing Batchelor’s and Cupitt’s statements alerted me to the first of several constrictions that render both arguments anemic. Blake announces that:

Both visions are radical…Radical is a paradoxical word, associated with the new and sometimes shocking, but literally meaning ‘of roots’. Stephen and Don are in this sense true radicals.

Blake says that Batchelor’s and Cupitt’s arguments are “rooted in deep study of the evidence for the lives and philosophies of the Buddha and Jesus respectively.” Batchelor confirms this claim of radicality when he writes that his vision is “not just another modernist reconfiguration of a traditional form of Asian Buddhism…It is more radical than that: it seeks to return to the roots of the Buddhist tradition and rethink Buddhism from the ground up” (pp. 3-4).

That sense of “radical” is, in Batchelor’s case, fraught with more pitfalls than the ostensible badge of honor is worth. First, as Batchelor himself notes, the Pali canon—Secular Buddhism’s go-to scripture—is a “complex tapestry” of data “shot through with conflicting ideas” (pp. 4-5). It is thus not the case that there is no ground to be staked out for a contemporary Buddhism on the basis of the Pali canon; rather, it is the case that there are numerous overlapping and intersecting grounds. Do you want your Buddhism to promise (actually, in the original context, threaten) rebirth? fiery hell? blissful heaven? It’s all in the canon. Would you like your Buddha to converse with horny spirits and cutesy gods til the wee hours of the morning? Grounds for that, too. How about a supernaturally powerful, miracle-performing Buddha? Yep. Oh, you prefer a Buddha who despises all of that mumbo-jumbo? Sure, no problem. How about banishing a member from your sangha for holding hands with a woman? You may do so! It’s canonical!

Batchelor is, of course, aware of the schizophrenic nature of the canon. So, he devises a methodology to get at the goods he wants. His method is to “bracket off anything attributed to the Buddha in the canon that could just as well have been said by a brahmin priest or Jain monk” (p. 5). Why this? Because if a Brahmin or Jain could have said it, that is evidence prima facie that it was “determined by the common metaphysical outlook of that time” and “derived from the worldview of 5th century India” (p. 5). And if only the Buddha said it? Well, then it is “an intrinsic component of the dharma.” And here we have Secular Buddhism’s first article of faith.

First Article of Faith: Transcendental Dharma

The dharma is unconditioned. It is not the product of any century, particularly not of that century in which its creator (discoverer?) lived. It is timeless. Being so, it somehow nonetheless clarifies for us here and now, “in this world, in this century (our saeculum)” (p. 1), the “great matter of birth and death” (p. 5). The dharma—that unity of unique and timeless truths uttered by the enlightened Buddha—addresses and resolves our “ultimate concern” as human beings. Interestingly, Batchelor, unlike the communities that his work has spawned, comes clean here: “my secular Buddhism still has a religious quality to it” (p. 5; emphasis in original). He reminds us, too, that “ultimate concern” is Paul Tillich’s gloss on “faith.” What did Tillich mean?

Paul Tillich believed that the essence of religious attitudes is “ultimate concern.” Ultimate concern is “total.” Its object is experienced as numinous or holy, distinct from all profane and ordinary realities. It is also experienced as overwhelmingly real and valuable—indeed, so real and so valuable that, in comparison, all other things appear empty and worthless. As such, it demands total surrender and promises total fulfillment (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy; s.v. “Concepts of God”).

Why does Batchelor use for support, of all people, a Christian theologian? He gives a hint in his opening remarks:

I am a secular Buddhist. It has taken me years to fully “come out,” and I still feel a nagging tug of insecurity, a faint aura of betrayal in declaring myself in these terms (p. 1).

Stephen Batchelor needn’t be concerned; for he now holds the beacon that illuminates the ultimate concern. That light is “the dharma.” The first article of faith of all Secular Buddhists is that “the dharma” contains teachings that are (i) crucial to human flourishing, and (ii) otherwise unavailable or available only in inferior form from elsewhere. (Batchelor names four specific teachings. I will come back to these in a moment.) In my extended critique, I show that “the Dharma” is the transcendental norm that functions in all varieties of Buddhism, whether secularist-scientistic or flamboyantly devotional, in ways that are indistinguishable from other universal absolutes, such as God, Logos, Dao, or intelligent design. Here, I will only mention the logical impossibility of a timeless saeculum, and the irony of a Secular Buddhism grounded in deep religious sentiment. The first is absurd. The latter borders on bathos.

Why does Batchelor even bother to attach “secular” to his “Buddhism”? Here we have another constriction. The history of secularism is rich and complex. Contemporary secularism draws its inspiration from thinkers of the ancient Greek and Latin worlds through the Arab middle ages; it continues into the European Enlightenment with figures such as Voltaire, Spinoza, Locke, and James Madison, and comes down to modern times through Max Weber and Bertrand Russell. As this diverse gallery of thinkers suggests, there is not one secularism, but many. The term cries out for nuance. So, what hints does Batchelor’s outline “for a contemporary spirituality” offer about his usage of the term? All we get is the prosaic and literal “in this world, in this century (our saeculum)” (p. 1). That’s it? What about—just for starters—secularism as a robust rejection of religious faith and, indeed, of anodyne “spirituality” itself?

Second Article of Faith: The Buddha

Secular Buddhism’s second article of faith concerns the human source of this timeless dharmic clarification of the great matter of life and death: the Buddha. To arrive at just the right Buddha—the one who shares Batchelor’s unspecified secular values—Batchelor must perform yet another act of constriction. He writes:

And when you bracket off the quasi-divine attributes that the figure of the Buddha is believed to possess…and focus on the episodes in the canon that recount his often fraught dealings with his contemporaries, then the humanity of Siddhattha Gotama begins to emerge with more clarity too. All this supports what the British scholar Trevor Ling surmised nearly fifty years ago: that what we now know as “Buddhism” started life as an embryonic civilisation or culture that then mutated into another organized Indian religion. Secular Buddhism, which seeks to articulate a way of practicing the dharma in this world and time, thus finds vindication through its critical return to canonical sources, and its attempts to recover a vision of Gotamas’s own saeculum (pp. 6-7).

Batchelor already admitted to the cacophony of the Pali canon. So, to what canonical sources is he returning to extricate this humane master for our saeculum? I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating here.

Why do x-buddhists continue to embrace their Sunday-school fable of the Buddha? It is particularly curious that the scientifically-allied, ostensibly de-mythologized modern variety of Secular Buddhists do, isn’t it? Why this recurring, and seemingly unacknowledged argument from (mythological) authority? And why this dishonesty about the lack of reliable data for the so-desired authority? Or is it ignorance rather than dishonesty? And if ignorance, is it the dark unknowing kind or the willful variety? I admit that, in past writings, I myself have done some damage in arguing for the reconstruction of a recoverable historical figure named “Gotama.”

Let me repent. My several years’ effort of searching for a reliable historical basis for a biography of Siddhattha Gotama can be summed up as this: Gotama is a ghost. He is a non-entity. Or, he is an entity like Ahab—a literary fiction. So, I now refer to him as “the Protagonist:”

Protagonist, The. The progenitor of the Buddhist dispensation. He is referred to by various names, such as “The Buddha,” “Gotama,” “The Blessed One,” etc. Speculative non-buddhism’s designation “The Protagonist” is intended to indicate the irrefutable fact that “the Buddha” is a historical figure entirely overwritten by a literary one. Not the slightest wisp of evidence has survived that sheds light on the historical progenitor. Any reliable historical evidence that once existed has been reduced to caricature by the machinations of internecine Buddhist institutional shenanigans and the stratagems of ideological dupery. The figure of the Buddha in the classical Pali texts is a concoction of the collective imaginations of the numerous communities that, over several centuries, had a hand in the formation of the canon. Add to this imaginative mélange the imaginings—cultural, political, fantastic, ignorant—of all the iterations of all forms of x-buddhism, and the result is Buddha as Cosmic Magic Mirror, reflecting all things to all people. A viable composite human figure “The Buddha” can be salvaged from this protean symbol of buddhistic vanity only with force of the darkest, most atavistic yearning of puerile nostalgia for The Great Father.

May Secular Buddhists, in our time, put away their childish obsession with the ghost of Gotama.

Third Article of Faith: Special Teachings

Now, what about those presumably unique teachings that Gotama bestowed on humanity? That they are both exigent and unique constitutes the Secular Buddhists’ third article of faith. Batchelor writes:

Tentatively, I would suggest that this “bracketing” of metaphysical views, leaves us with four distinctive key ideas that do not appear to have direct precedents in Indian tradition. I call them the four “P”s:

1. The principle of conditionality
2. The process of four noble tasks (truths)
3. The practice of mindful awareness
4. The power of self-reliance

Some time ago I realized that what I found most difficult to accept in Buddhism were those beliefs that it shared with its sister Indian religions Hinduism and Jainism. Yet when you bracket off those beliefs, you are left not with a fragmentary and emasculated teaching, but with an entirely adequate ethical, philosophical and practical framework for living your life in this world. Thus what is truly original in the Buddha’s teaching, I discovered, was his secular outlook (p.6).

This statement echoes the apparently universal acceptance among Secular Buddhists of the sufficiency of the four noble truths/eightfold path framework for our saeculum. Now, with loud thumping of the canon, traditionalists will, of course, argue that such a constricted version of the teachings does precisely leave us with “a fragmentary and emasculated teaching.” (Why emasculated, anyway? Does Buddhism have a penis?) But that point does not interest me in the least. Neither does it interest me that a careful reading of Buddhism’s “sister Indian religions” reveals precisely the opposite of what Batchelor claims: there is much shared ground, much borrowing and reworking of each others’ ideas and practices. I am assuming that Batchelor knows that to speak of “Hinduism” at the time of the Buddha is wildly anachronistic—by well over a millennium; and that by “Indian religions,” he means the teachings that would eventually be recorded in the Upanishads, the Jaina canon, and the ancient yogic material. If that’s the case, he needs to return to those sources and read with heightened care. He will discover, if not outright incestuousness, at least a very close kinship between Buddhism and its “sister religions.” (Why sister, anyway? Buddhism is male and all the others are female?) But none of that interests me in the least. Finally, I will mention, though with disinterest, that Batchelor further constricts his Buddhism by reducing our expectations suddenly to a merely “adequate ethical, philosophical and practical framework for living your life in this world” (p. 6; first emphasis added).

What does interest me is the fact that “the four Ps” render Buddhism wholly expendable. If the four Ps encapsulate crucial knowledge about how we should live as human beings at this time (saeculum), we can do drastically better than to look to Buddhism for that knowledge. For, all four have been articulated throughout history, and continue to be formulated and developed, in ways far more sophisticated, hence appropriate to a modern audience, than Buddhism’s ancient, ascetically-driven versions. Secular Buddhism’s fourth article of faith is thus the inviolability of the principle of sufficient Buddhism.

Fourth Article of Faith: The Principle of Sufficient Buddhism

It does not matter that Aristotle, Hume, and Parfit, for instance, provide us with vastly more nuanced and astute thinking on “the principle of conditionality.” No need for comparison to or dialogue with these thinkers: Secular Buddhism’s version is sufficient.

It does not matter that fields such as philosophy, psychology, biology, literature, neuroscience, medicine, and the arts have developed effective and often profound models and applications for fulfilling “the process of four noble tasks” (namely: fully knowing suffering; letting go of craving; experiencing cessation of craving; and cultivating the eightfold path). No need for comparison to or dialogue with these fields: Secular Buddhism’s version is sufficient.

It does not matter that the world’s treasure house of culture is teeming with suggestions for how to realize the “practice of mindful awareness.” Virtually every religious tradition includes a contemplative practice that has been lovingly transmitted through the centuries. Psychoanalysis, from Freud to Gendlin, has given careful thought to the nature of attention and the movements of the mind. So has philosophy, from the Stoics and Epicureans to Aristotle, and from Descartes and Kierkegaard to Wittgenstein-inspired thinkers such as Peter Winch, Norman Malcolm, and D.Z. Phillips. I could go on. Think of the creative practices of our poets and painters. But it wouldn’t matter. There is no need for comparison to or dialogue with these traditions: Secular Buddhism’s practice of mindful awareness is sufficient.

Finally, it does not matter that Emerson’s thinking on “the power of self-reliance” makes the Buddha’s look like a novice’s. Let’s bring others into this conversation about self-reliance. How about Thoreau? Montaigne? Pascal? Nietzsche? Hell, while we’re writing invitations, why not invite the great American self-helpers like Dale Carnegie and Napoleon Hill? None of these thinkers will never get his invitation to the dialogue on self-reliance because Secular Buddhism’s version is wholly sufficient for our saeculum.

Fifth Article of Faith: Ideological Rectitude

Why do Batchelor and the Secular Buddhists believe that they possess an “entirely adequate ethical, philosophical and practical framework for living your life in this world” and thus have no need of consulting the wider world of knowledge? The answer lies in their fifth article of faith. Batchelor is apparently convinced that what he is proposing as a Buddhism for our saeculum is—and these are universal Secular Buddhist buzzwords— natural, empirical, pragmatic, and in accord with science. The teachings, as the ancient trope has it, are simply how things are. They are phenomenologically obvious. Thus, they posit not matters to be believed but tasks to be done. Batchelor writes:

Above all, secular Buddhism is something to do, not something to believe in…Instead of trying to justify the belief that “life is suffering” (the first noble truth), one seeks to embrace and deal wisely with suffering when it occurs. Instead of trying to convince oneself that “craving is the origin of suffering” (the second noble truth), one seeks to let go of and not get tangled up in craving whenever it rises up in one’s body or mind. From this perspective it is irrelevant whether the statements “life is suffering” or “craving is the origin of suffering” are either true or false. Why? Because these four so-called “truths” are not propositions that one accepts as a believer or rejects as a non-believer. They are suggestions to do something that might make a difference in the world in which you coexist with others now (p. 7).

Students of ritual have a saying: power is not manipulative; disguising power is. The Secular Buddhist propositions are precisely there to be accepted as a believer or rejected as a non-believer. Whether you accept or reject the postulates makes a world of difference. Acceptance of those postulates conditions you for a particular way of seeing things, of interpreting experience, and so on. So, of course, you see things in those terms. You thereby share with others quite specific representations, language, and ideas about the world. Congratulations! You have an ideology (like the rest of us). The crucial question is whether the ideological nature of your worldview is overt or covert. Given its rhetoric of naturalness, pragmatism, and so on; given its fervent insistence on the obviousness of The Dharma; given its refusal to subject its beliefs to the rigors of humanistic discourse, Secular Buddhism cannot avoid the label of covert ideology.

I am not saying that Secular Buddhists intentionally disguise their ideological machinations, and thereby gain influence over their adherents. I am suggesting something deeper and darker than that. I am suggesting that Secular Buddhists themselves mistake the (ideological) lens for the data. They are blind to the fact that they even have an ideology.

Conclusion

Secular Buddhism and Stephen Batchelor are not, I suppose, necessarily synonymous. But you couldn’t blame someone for thinking that they are. Just read first some Batchelor and then visit the ever-proliferating array of Secular Buddhist sites. The two are intimately entwined. The pervasiveness of Batchelor’s influence throughout the Secular Buddhist universe is unmistakable. It often manifests in the form of his exact words. So, I think that it is legitimate to argue—at this juncture anyway—that Batchelor’s faith is Secular Buddhism’s faith as well.

A couple of final responses from my reading.

Contrary to James Blake’s enthusiastic proclamation, secular Buddhism, as it is manifesting in the works of Stephen Batchelor and on the budding Secular Buddhist community websites, blogs, forums, and Facilebook pages is not radical in any but the most trivial sense. It does not constitute a “reimagining [of] the dharma from the ground up.” It is the same old exercise that Buddhists have been engaged in since their revered teacher made—what my Buddha would consider—the colossal mistake of opening his big mouth: endlessly tinkering with the dharmic details. Batchelor is doing exactly what he asks us to believe he is not doing; namely, creating “just another modernist reconfiguration of a traditional form of Asian Buddhism” (pp. 3-4). I have seen nothing in the Secular Buddhist corpus that suggests otherwise.

I share the conviction that we need a radically new form of thought and practice for our time. So, I think it is unfortunate that Secular Buddhists have faith that they are salvaging eminently usable planks from the ancient, teetering, and dilapidated vehicle called Buddhism with which to build that new form. Slapping “secular” on a tradition born and nurtured in a world-renouncing asceticism inconceivable in today’s world, makes Secular Buddhism terribly close to a form of parody. Uttering “secular” before “Buddhism” certainly changes very, very little—and when Buddhism’s countless revisions throughout the centuries are taken into considerations, it changes nothing substantial whatsoever.

I have to wonder if Batchelor and the Secular Buddhists truly want such a radical reimagining of traditional Buddhism. In the end, they seem to swap radicality and innovation for the timeless certainties promised by traditional Dharma. The Secular Buddhist quest, then, becomes identical to that of the mythical Buddha: recovery of a lost truth. As Batchelor expresses it in his somewhat millenarian final words:

Perhaps we have reached a time when we need to recover and practice again a solar dharma, one concerned with shedding its light (wisdom) and heat (compassion) onto and into this world (p. 8).

Does Secular Buddhism represent a first attempt, however frail, at a genuinely radical re-imagining of  Buddhist postulates for the  twenty-first century? Or is it a phantasmagoric mythos sprinkled with pseudo-philosophical platitudes, bad science, and facile recommendations for living? Something else?

Until Secular Buddhists ask long, hard, and, of course, potentially destructive, questions about their need to bolster up and preserve Buddhism or “Gotama’s teachings” or “the Dharma,” they risk being agents peddling the very goods they claim to be disposing us of: subscriptions to an ancient religion.  Disguising that religion as “secular”—is that really what we need in our saeculum?

_________

* Original: Like all ‘isms’, libidinal materialism is at best a parody, at worst a constriction. Nick Land. The Thirst for Annihilation (London: Routledge, 1992), p. xxi.

Stephen Batchelor, “A Secular Buddhist.”

Image: “Burnt Paper Rorschach.”

A downloadable pdf file is available on the Articles page.

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382 Responses to “On the Faith of Secular Buddhists”

  1. Greg said

    Great article. I’m rather amazed at the religious faith placed by so many in Batchelor’s nonexistent scholarly authority and laughable pseudo-philology, by which he conveniently arrives at a Buddha who affirms everything that he wants to believe.

    The “Secular Buddhist,” however well-intentioned, is doing more harm that good, for exactly the reasons you outline. Consider the following article: “What Is Karma and Why Should it Matter to Us?”

    http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/turning-straw-gold/201205/what-is-karma-and-why-should-it-matter-us

    The author opens with the assertion “Karma has become a controversial subject.” It soon becomes apparent that the reason that karma has “become a controversial subject” is because the general public is getting a clearer idea of what the Nikayas actually have to say about karma, apart from the spin of people like the author and Batchelor. When I pointed this out to her in the comments, she assured me

    “Many modern Buddhist scholars believe that passages such as the one you quote are later insertions either because this is what the transcribers believed was the way things are or for other reasons. They have determined this partly because the styles in different suttas are inconsistent, but also because if you examine the core of the Buddha’s teaching, the content of the sutta you quote and similar suttas are inconsistent with that core: dukkha and the end of dukkha.”

    There is one point I think you have overlooked – Batchelor and has ilk cannot afford to abandon the mantle of authority they borrow from the “ancient Buddhist wisdom” they alone claim to have accurately distilled. Without it, who are they? A bunch of third-rate New Age, self-help gurus. “Buddhism” is the brand that sells.

  2. Glenn, despite your inflammatory rhetoric, you bring up very important questions about the status of Secular Buddhism. These are the questions that I and my colleagues address frequently at sites like the Secular Buddhist Association website: what ideas we can take from the Pali texts and how to legitimately take them; how to address the question of the historical nature of “the Buddha”, and whether it matters to us; what the nature of faith is in our project and how it is the same or different from religious faith, and so on. The difference, I think, is the intention behind why we address these questions. We are not, primarily, interested in defending our practice from ideological critique. Anyone with even a surface familiarity with postmodern philosophy would recognize the futility of such an enterprise. We are interested in having a dialogue about how ideas that arrive in the package of traditional Buddhism can be useful in our lives, given that the cosmology and mythology they come packaged in is unacceptable to us. If you want to define our acceptance of the scientific method as productive of knowlege as “faith in science”, you are welcome to do so, as far as I’m concerned. If you also want to label the notion that human nature is pretty much the same as it ever was and that certain elements of it may be assumed to have been there all along — i.e. the dharma — as being transcendentalism, you may so define it. In my opinion, you have repurposed concepts from religious discourse in a way that makes them disfunctional in the context from which you borrowed them, but regardless of that I think you will find those of us interested in secular dharma practice to find your critique uninteresting. Ideas that were derived from various Buddhist traditions have had a powerful transformative effect in my life and in the lives of many people I know; a growing if preliminary body of scientific evidence is documenting not only this effect but how it occurs. Those of us interested in Secular Buddhism want to work out how the ideas of Buddhist traditions can be helpful in supporting us in this practice. I know I am motivated to participate in this project because practice helps me face life with less fear and compulsion and therefore with more freedom. It provides a strategy that at least seems consistently effective for decreasing my reactivity and increasing my empathy and compassion for others. If you want to convince us that we’re wrong, you are going to have to convince us that freedom, compassion and empathy are wrong. Demonstrating that our rhetoric is unstable and inconsistent is not enough, nor is pointing out how we’re being interpellated into subject positions that define our desire. I will stipulate both points, while observing that the same applies to any ideological system, yours included. And trying to present us as some monolithic movement with dogmatic positions is just silly — where is the monolith? Who is our pope? Batchelor? I don’t know anybody involved in the conversation at SBA who doesn’t have reservations about some of his ideas, and he has done little in the way of building a movement or enforcing an orthodoxy. You write, “I share the conviction that we need a radically new form of thought and practice for our time.” Rather than aiming barbed words and ideological deconstruction at Buddhists, with an increasing focus on the nascent constellation of ideas circulating around the concept of Secular Buddhism, why don’t you present a radically new form of thought and practice for our time, and suggest how it will do a better job of helping us cope with sickness, aging, death, loss and grief, how it will break down the alienation of our existential condition and help us better respond to human suffering? That is a conversation worth having.

  3. Mark (#2). Thank you for your comment. I see it as having three parts. So, I’ll address each of these parts in turn.

    I. The first part seems trivial. I guess it is a stylistic flourish of yours–maybe a writing habit? I think that every single time you have commented here and on the Secular Buddhist Facebook page about something I’ve said, you first characterize the tone of my writing. You seem to invariably find the tone to be some version of the term you use here: “inflammatory.” A few requests.

    1. Can you consider giving some thought to the possibility that what comes across to you as “inflammatory” may come across to someone else as–I don’t know–vigorous or passionate or simply lively? I don’t know where you come from (Wisconsin maybe?). I’m from Philadelphia.
    2. Can you consider the possibility that I choose with great care the herbs and spices for my writing brew? That way, you won’t say it’s this or that as a mere aside–or, really, accusation; but instead might actually give thought to the rhetorical force (no pun intended–yes it was!) of the tone–real or perceived.
    3. Can you consider the possibility that Buddhist writing does tremendous harm to the reputation of Buddhism? Whether its canonical, traditional, or contemporary, Buddhist writing is at best faux-sophisticated and at worse embarrassingly trite. I mean from the Magnificent Sutras down to–well…So, can you try not to play the tone police? Thanks.

    II. Second part. You start by saying that I “bring up very important questions about the status of Secular Buddhism.” Then you go on to suggest that It okay, bro; me and my homies over at the SBA got it covered. So, yea, we’re not interested. Mark, that entire part down to “enforcing an orthodoxy” supports several of the points I was making. Maybe all of what you claim for Buddhism is the case–its “powerful transformative effect” in your life, etc. One of the points I made was that it is not anything in Buddhism that is the key to transformation; it is, rather, something in our human constitution. The many disciplines that I mentioned have labored for decades, centuries, millenia, in some cases, to develop supportive means of personal and social transformation. Is Buddhism the goal? Or is transformation the goal? If the former. that’s the deadly constriction I referred to. If the latter, you have thought yourself into exile.

    I don’t understand what you mean when you say I “have repurposed concepts from religious discourse in a way that makes them disfunctional in the context from which you borrowed them.” Can you clarify?

    To disavow Batchelor’s pervasive influence on Secular Buddhist thought and practice is simply disingenuous. Although, don’t you belong to the mindfulness faction of Secular Buddhism? In that case, it is not as disingenuous as it is indicative of an inevitable fissure to come in Secular Buddhism.

    You discuss how you and your colleagues at the Secular Buddhist Association are engaged in the hard work of interrogating the classical Buddhist literature. I see that that is the case–if viewed from short range. I am taking a long-range view. I mean that in several ways. First, it is true that Buddhism has not had an original thought in a thousand years. Buddhism’s wheel symbolism–the chariot, the wheel-turning juggernaut, the eight-spoked chakra, for instance–is extraordinarily apt. Buddhism just keeps going around and around in circles. It just circles in on itself perpetually. No new thinking is happening. It may appear to all of you that you are engaged in new thinking about Buddhism; but seen from a longer perspective, you are all just giving thought to how best to make the wheel–re-inventing the wheel, to stay with the cliche-metaphor. I am not interested in participating in that re-invention of an ancient wheel. I am interested in creating the conditions for genuinely innovative thinking with Buddhist material. And this brings me to the third part of your comment.

    III. You write, “Rather than aiming [tone police alert!] barbed words and ideological deconstruction at Buddhists…why don’t you present a radically new form of thought and practice for our time, and suggest how it will do a better job of helping us cope with sickness, aging, death, loss and grief, how it will break down the alienation of our existential condition and help us better respond to human suffering? That is a conversation worth having.”

    That’s what I’m doing on this blog and in the work that is swirling around it. One caveat though. I’d want to subtract your stuff about how to deal with sickness and death and alienation of our existential condition, etc. Samuel Beckett beat me to that. Have you read him lately?

    The work that a few of us are engaged in on this blog is a contribution to “a radically new form of thought and practice for our time.” For my own part of this work, I have to warn you that it will look very, very strange. Your protestations aside, every word I write in this strange style is well-considered. The fact that enough people get it tells me that although it is of necessity difficult to some readers, it makes perfect sense. I am not interested in communicating with x-buddhists on their terms. That is a losing proposition because, as I’ve said before, x-buddhists play with loaded dice.

    Finally, I agree with Nietzsche that there is nothing more ridiculous than a blogger who wants to be liked.

    Peace and beer!

  4. jonckher said

    Hi Glenn,

    Just discovered your blog / site through a secular buddhist post linking to you on Facebook. I’ve been reading through a number of the posts especially those on meditation and have really appreciated your take on things. Not sure if you’ve intended to be funny but I’ve certainly found myself laughing many a time: from recognition, from shock (as in a sudden splash of cold water), from the sheer cheek of it all.

    The only thing I have to add is that I have at best a noob’s grasp of philosophy/critical theory/post-modernism etc so there are times when your language and terms veers into the overly technical. The strength of Stephen Batchelor and the new-age / self-help distillations of x-buddhism (BTW i will buy an “x-buddhist” t-shirt so long as it is pink) is that they do tend to adhere to the KISS principle. Some of the FB comments on the post linking to this is pretty much in line with that.

    Maybe an Idiot’s Guide? Emphasizing the special words in all caps would be nice too.

  5. Great article! I admit to struggling at times with some of the content of your blog due to my lack of grounding in western philosophy, but must say that this piece was highly readable and accessible. There is often a bad smell in Buddhist circles that I personally have not always been able to identify clearly enough and define; at times I find your posts do just that and I agree that hidden, self-serving agendas often pollute free-thinking and critical thought and give rise to the adoption of a Buddhist identity at the cost of genuine inquiry and open-ended questioning.
    In addition to your critique above, Secular Buddhism as a label also seems apologetic to me, somehow seeking approval from contemporary society as if to say, ‘Look, it’s not religion!’ And, ‘Look, the latest religion of our time, science, approves of our methods, so they must be good.’
    The deeper issue seems to concern identity though and the need for groups to share a sufficiently coherent ideology to engender agreement and perhaps this is where the problem lies? I mean, Buddhism does function to propagate itself and to ‘spread the good word’ and of course it does bring benefit to many people’s lives. In a positive sense Secular Buddhism is attempting to produce a more user-friendly version of salable Buddhism, which in and of itself is no bad thing. There is the urge, shared by some of your readers and myself, to construct a form of practice that is less identified with the Buddhist persona and that is workable and I agree that we do need a ‘radically new form of thought and practice’ of our times, and it would seem that for many the best strategy for creating this is through existing means and forms i.e. a reworking of Buddhism.
    In order to produce this radical new approach a consensus of some level has to be reached and this evidently foresees the creation of an agreed ideology, right? A title, role, identity needs to be adopted, otherwise you would surely end up with highly individualized persons doing their own thing and communicating on occasion through blogs and websites and that would be that.
    What do you have to say about role of organization in the establishment of a new approach to genuine inquiry? Is it possible for an organisation, however informal, to function to serve the sort of inquiry that you champion, whilst presenting a cohesive enough approach to meeting and sharing experience and knowledge to attract active participating in the generation of something new? Perhaps your blog is sufficient answer to this question for you? This is a question I have and I have no clear answers.

  6. Jayarava said

    Hi Glenn.

    Nice work showing that (so called) Secular Buddhism is just another x-buddhism.

    Mr and Mrs Rhys Davids were the real pioneers of Bachelor’s views, around the turn of the 20th century – the bracketing out of parts of the Pāli canon in order to create a Buddhism more in keeping with European Enlightenment values – which is why some of us translate ‘bodhi’ as ‘Enlightenment’ with an upper-case E. And the retelling of the life of the Buddha to make him more like one of the great figures of the Enlightenment. It was they who first sought to create a secular, rational religion out of Buddhism as a replacement for bankrupt, decrepit and superstitious Christianity. I think they feared Nietzsche’s prediction that ‘everything would be permitted’ might be accurate. In a sense Bachelor is just a Rhys-Davidian Buddhist. I’ve started to think that history is far more devastating to religion than science is.

    It’s ironic that a synonym for radical is fundamental. Many of the ideas that remain inside the brackets are fundamentalist; based, despite everything, on a literalistic reading of texts. Does anyone at all argue from personal experience? I think it was David Chapman who pointed out that Eckhart Tolle is probably more popular than all Buddhist teachers put together; and yet his ideas are basically Buddhist, but put forward on the basis of personal experience rather than dogma.

    A genuine dialogue between Western culture and Buddhism is going to take a more searching approach than we currently see in public. I think this post in particular makes a valuable contribution to that dialogue because it exposes what we want from Buddhism. By studying the results of the edifices we construct we can begin to glimpse our hidden motivations for building in the first place.

    Look at the stories we are telling ourselves: “we are out of control” & “we are killing the planet” & “We are violent and destructive”. These ideas saturate the media, and stir up reptile emotions: fear, disgust, hate (and sometimes lust). We feel anxious about humanity (too many, too lascivious, too violent, too dirty), and the planet. We need some really fucking enormous broom for a clean sweep (or is is a giant enema?) and Buddhism, like all other religions, holds out the possibility of solving all problems and healing all hurts, and making us more like neuter, gentle, sweet angels. Others turn to truly secular solutions like economics or politics (though one could no doubt find religion influencing their assumptions too!). As James Hillman said “We’ve Had a Hundred Years of Psychotherapy–And the World’s Getting Worse”. And yet 100 years is nothing to 300 years of science, 2000 years of Christianity, and 2500 years of Buddhism; and more like 3000 years of the influence of Zoroaster, and 5000 of Egyptian religion!.

    I think this post is all the more devastating for being delivered relatively jargon free. It will be interesting to see if Secular Buddhists can respond to it. In a sense your critique has a much wider application. It’s a challenge to my own beliefs and no doubt!

    This framework would make a good book! I’d welcome a fleshed out version – with references to the Western ideas you cite – that could be the focus of an informed discussion about what Buddhism is and how we adapt it to the present. It would help (me) if it assumed that the reader was not familiar with those ideas.

    I also think a summary of the views at the end – the header and perhaps a sentence or two – would facilitate further discussion.

    Cheers
    Jayarava

  7. Tom Pepper said

    Interesting discussion. I find it encouraging that several people have mentioned how “jargon free” and “clearly written” this post is. I think a close examination will reveal it contains just as much jargon as most previous posts; perhaps the “clarity” results from the fact that what appears as “jargon” at first is sometimes simply a term for a concept that is as yet unfamiliar? (eg, principle of sufficient buddhism?) Perhaps over time, the concepts are becoming more familiar? I would hate to think this is “clearly written,” which is usually just a vague metaphorical way of saying “it says exactly what I already thought, so it took no mental effort.”

    I want to point out what I think is the core article of faith of Secular Buddhism: the unquestioning belief in the ideology of capitalism. (What did you think I was going to say?). Badiou defines this very succinctly: the belief that “there are bodies and there are languages.” That is, we are bodily, biological organisms, seeking pleasure for our bodies (including our brains), and we do this by adopting the most convenient language/culture at will. There are not constraints to the culture we can adopt, and not truth content to it: we need only adopt the one that maximizes our bodily pleasure—what Batchelor calls “moment-to-moment flourishing.” This is why in his first paragraph he can refer to “biological evolution,” “self-awareness and language,” the “brain” and our “fragile biosphere,” but it would never occur to him to mention our humanly constructed social formations as a source of suffering that we CAN ACTUALLY CHANGE!! This is why Secular Buddhist always seek to limit the discussion of suffering to sickness, death, loss, etc.—to those things that we certainly must learn to accept because they will doubtless always be with us. Passive acceptance of the inevitable, and maximization of bodily contentment, is the goal of Secular Buddhism AND of global capitalist ideology. This is why we accept the “scientific” research on mindfulness that operationally defines the successful achievement of “happiness” as the ability to remain undistracted by external stimuli; we achieve mindful bliss, it seems, is the ability to remain completely Unmindful of the world around us, and never let us disturb our brain/body comfort.

    Badiou explains: “the modern name for necessity is, as everyone knows, ‘economics’ . . which should be called by its name: the logic of Capital” The one unchangeable truth is the ineffable uncontrollability of the capitalist economy, and we must all simply adjust our languages and medicate our brains/bodies to maximize our bliss in the face of this inexorable truth. Secular Buddhism seeks to become the ideology of this power, which forces us to participate in the production of oppression, poverty, and suffering for the majority of the world population. We focus on being nice and accepting sickness and death, and believe if those poor folks in the southern hemisphere would only become secular Buddhists too, they’d be fine. Their suffering isn’t the result of economic and political oppression, it results only from their inability to become oblivious to the world around them! Be mindful, and enjoy your poverty!

    This is why it won’t do to simply say that we all have an ideology. Of course we all do, but some are better than others. We must always be willing to accept a thorough critique of our ideology, in order to choose one carefully. Secular Buddhism chooses an ideology that can produce transformation of individual lives in affluent capitalist societies and enable us to ignore the social production of human suffering that our own lifestyle requires.

    One final note: I wholeheartedly agree with Matthew O’Connell that we must find a way to engender “meeting and sharing experience and knowledge to attract active participating in the generation of something new.” We can’t transform social formations without active participation of large groups of people. But they will never participate in such activities until they have let go of their attachment to the powerful ideologies of capitalist ideologies. Secular Buddhism is just one more way to strengthen the hold of these ideologies, by presenting them as timeless truths from the mystical east.

  8. Mark and Tom (#2 and #7).

    Secular Buddhism is just one more way to strengthen the hold of these [capitalist] ideologies.

    With every comment on my language–its barbed words, inflammatory rhetoric, unpleasant tone, continental pretentiousness, etc.–I become more and more convinced that language itself is one of the most potent forms keeping us locked in our ideology. Given the fact that so many of the comments I receive mention (incomprehensible, etc.) language, we have a datum that requires analysis. I wonder if the vehemence associated with the language issue stems from the fact that the language rules a particular community is operating by is inextricable from that ideology. Ideology and the language that a group uses to express the ideology are bound up together as tightly as music and notation.

    I was trained in Sanskrit philology. So, both in Germany and in the U.S., I often had professors who had one foot in linguistics. I remember from my graduate school days that linguists were divided between prescriptivists and descriptivists. One of my dissertation advisers was a militant prescriptivist. I used to argue with her about that position. One and one time only I was able to get the upper hand on the topic. She was railing against the proliferation of “like” sprinkled throughout the undergrads’–mostly females’–speech. I pointed out to her that the Sanskrit particle iva (“like”) was used in precisely the same way by the princess Damayanti and other young upper class women in the Mahabharata. She–my professor–was genuinely stunned. I think the fact that Damayanti was from the upper class influenced my professor’s view that “like” was probably quite acceptable after all–in moderation, as was the case with Damayanti and her privileged girlfriends. My professor was also upper class–fancy boarding school in New England, Yale Ph.D., Harvard faculty.

    The reason that I mention this is because I saw an article in The New Yorker that reminded me of that old divide over what constitutes proper language, and hence the task of linguists and lexicon makers. Basically, the descriptivists accuse the prescriptivists of being uptight rule-followers who, in following the rules and prescribing others to do the same, perpetuate the capitalist status quo. As the article puts it:

    Purists are bullies, [Henry Hitchins] writes. Even the soft-spoken language manuals are agents of tyranny. He says of Strunk and White’s restraint, “As with so much that masquerades as simplicity, it is really a cover for imperiousness.

    Another passage contrasts Hitchins’s descriptiveness with Fowler’s prescriptiveness:

    [Fowler's] book’s fame derives from the articles he wrote in relation to those matters—“genteelism,” “mannerisms,” “irrelevant allusion,” “love of the long word,” to name a few. Fowler defines “genteelism” as “the substituting, for the ordinary natural word that first suggests itself to the mind, of a synonym that is thought to be less soiled by the lips of the common herd, less familiar, less plebian, less vulgar, less improper, less apt to come unhandsomely betwixt the wind & our nobility.” As is obvious here, Fowler was dealing not just with language but with its moral underpinnings, truth and falsehood. To many people, he seemed to offer an idealized view of what it meant to be English—decency, fair play, roast beef—and to recommend, even to prescribe, those things.

    Finally, there is this by Steven Pinker:

    People who insist on following supposed [language usage] rules are effectively “derogating those who don’t keep the faith, much like the crowds who denounced witches, class enemies, and communists out of fear that they would be denounced first.”

    Ted Meissner kindly posted a link to the blog. But, he implores his readers:

    Remember, *friendly* dialogue, everyone — I appreciate you all setting the standard for these challenging engagements.

    There are several such admonishments on the Secular Buddhist Facebook page. If followers of that page are being asked to conform their language to the norms deemed there to be morally virtuous (“right speech”), what other constrictions–to thought, for instance–are being enforced?

    I recently added this quote to the Before You Read page:

    Plain speech is essentially inaccurate. It is only by new metaphors that it can be made precise. —T.E. Hulme

    One reason that the work being produced by the Secular Buddhists and mindfulness people strikes this reader as so tired and predictable is because they use the same tired and predictable language, over and over and over. How many new thoughts can you express with the same language?

  9. Matthias said

    Reconstructing the word of the buddha? Impossible.

    Here are some arguments why.

    1) Orality. The word of the buddha has been uttered in an oral culture. The transmission from orality to literacy has great impact on content and meaning of the material. (cf. Walter Ong’s Work)

    2) Structural amnesia. Orally transmitted content is prone to loss of parts of the content without this being realized. (cf. the german historian Johannes Fried and his “Schleier der Erinnerung” who shows also how little we really can know about the past all the while we are constantly misinterpreting or even making up ‘historical’ events).

    3) The transmission from orality to literacy. It has been shown that it is quite probable that human consciousness itself could be changed dramatically when it co-adapts with a written symbolic system. (cf. Galen Amstutz, “World Macrohistory and Shinran’s Litarecy”; parts of the text have been posted here by Tom)

    4) The tree structure of evolution. We think, a posteriori, that there has been an original nucleus of the teachings of the buddha from where a tree of a multitude of variations unfolded. This probably is an idealization or an outright wrong picture projected backwards. (cf. Linda Heuman, “Who’s Buddha is Truest”; find it on the Tricycle site.)

    Heuman cites Collett Cox, professor of Sanskrit and Buddhist studies at the University of Washington:

    [R]rather than asking the question what single language did the Buddha use and what represents the earliest version of his teachings, we might have to accept that from the very beginning there were various accounts of his teachings, different sutras, and different versions of sutras transmitted in different areas. At the very beginning we might have a number of different sources, all of whom represent or claim to represent the teaching of the Buddha.

    It’s not a tree, it’s a tapestry.

    5) Language. The problems of translation of an old and long silent language are multiple. If there where not the first three points, this problem alone would be enough.

    One could go on, but I think if one considers these points it becomes clear that the word of the buddha is lost once and for all. What we hear are our own voices.

  10. jonckher said

    With regard to plain speech. I think it is worth examining some of the barriers to entry that can result from the usage of specialist language. By specialist language I include pretty much any term that requires a university degree of some sort or a concentrated effort of some months to completely assimilate so that it becomes part of one’s working vocabulary. I have a pet dislike of seeing Pali terms sprinkled here and there.

    1. it is sorta elitist don’t ya think? but i guess if your audience is well educated types only then no worries. but it seems to me that many x-buddhists aren’t well educated and don’t have english as their first language.
    2. it is sorta lazy. To my mind, it is actually much more difficult to speak the common tongue than to use one’s natural written methods and phrases. I blame trendy French theorists and a liberal arts education for destroying some of the finest minds of my generation. Well I cant really say if they’ve been destroyed but that’s my theory based on the gibberish they write. I mean what the hell is interpellate. Yeah I know I can google it but I don’t want to because then i get lost in a twisty maze of wiki links and blogs with even more big words. Funny how most of them come from some sort of left wing tradition when their language is effectively impenetrable.
    3. it is sorta impersonal. All this big brain words and thinking large complex thoughts is very impressive but it tends to leave my heart cold. I know it’s a tad common but I want my heart strings tugged. Sure a cynical titter is fun and all but where are touching personal stories of how the Buddha saved you from drugs, sex and too much thinking large complicated thoughts? I have certainly become dumber since I embraced x-buddhism but I like Hollywood movies a whole lot more these days. So I think I win.
    4. i cant come up with point four. so i’ll just devote the energy i have expended on this comment to all sentient beings in the entire *cosmos* being saved from big scary words.

    with metta,
    yours truly.

    ps: I bought the Ending the Pursuit for Happiness book from the guy you recommended before you stuck it to him with a collection of large words. Great book. Thanks for that.

  11. Tom Pepper said

    Re. #10. Ah, here, finally, someone tells the truth about why we should become x-buddhists! It makes you dumber, it doesn’t require any mental effort, it speaks the language of the conservative right, and, best of all, now the new Avengers movie will seem worth watching! I’ve been wasting my time with all that “lazy” thinking and studying and writing and teaching and social activism–x-buddhism could have made me a happy, inarticulate, movie-going idiot! I’ll start tomorrow. Where’s the nearest Tibetan-vipassana-mindfulness class?

  12. jonckher said

    Oh Padawan Tom,

    To your comment, I can only quote a true x-buddhist master: “Size matters not. Look at me. Judge me by size do you?” Although on the face of it, it would appear that Master Yoda was referring to his size, proper reflection should reveal that, he was also referring to his teachings.

    Reflect, Padawan, reflect.

    And may the Force be with you.

  13. andill said

    Hi Glenn,

    Long time reader, first time commenter here. I actually just have a quick request: In your reply to Mark Knickelbine above, you once again mention that Samuel Beckett is a source of inspiration in regards to your thinking about existential matters. I’ve seen you quote his remark about the usefulness of always seeking justification on the same plane, and also remember reading an interesting Harold Pinter quote about him that you posted. Could you point an intrigued reader to some of the writings by Beckett that you have in mind when you nod in his direction?

    Thanks!

  14. andill (#13).

    Thanks for letting us see you, andill. Before I forget, it seems that you are German, right. May I recommend to ass-kicking blogs that I am sure you will find edifying and enjoy. You may know them already; but just in case. Both are administered by Matthias Steingass, whom you may have read here, too.

    Kritikos und Bodhi
    Der Unbuddhist

    About your point. As you know, Mark (#2) asked me how I could “do a better job [than Secular Buddhism] of helping us cope with sickness, aging, death, loss and grief, how it will break down the alienation of our existential condition and help us better respond to human suffering?” I replied that Beckett has already done a masterful job at that. And I meant what I said. But what makes Beckett’s accomplishment so uncannily pertinent is nowhere close to what a Buddhist seeks. Consider this passage from The Unnameable:

    All this business of a labor to accomplish, before I can end, of words to say, a truth to recover, in order to say it, before I can end, of an imposed task, once known, long neglected, finally forgotten, to perform, before I can be done with speaking, done with listening, I invented it all, in the hope it would console me, help me to go on, allow me to think of myself as somewhere on a road, moving, between a beginning and an end, gaining ground, losing ground, getting lost, but somehow in the long run making headway. All lies. I have nothing to do, that is to say, nothing in particular. I have to speak, whatever that means. Having nothing to say, no words but the words of others, I have to speak. No one compels me to, there is no one, it’s an accident, a fact. Nothing can ever exempt me from it. There is nothing, nothing to discover, nothing to recover, nothing that can lessen what remains to say, I have the ocean to drink, so there is an ocean then.

    I can understand why a person would be curious about Buddhism. I myself spent many years in serious practice and study of Soto Zen and other forms of Buddhism. Having done so, I have come to an understanding that is much closer to Beckett’s–as he expresses it in his writings, of course–than to that of the Buddha–as expressed in the suttas. How did I come to such an understanding? One factor was certainly my engagement in Buddhist thought and practice. After all, I spent considerable amounts of time with it. But one of the things I learned in my “quest,” was that “Liberation becomes the ultimate limitation of most buddhists” (Matthias put it that way somewhere). One day it dawned on me:

    All lies. I have nothing to do, that is to say, nothing in particular. I have to speak, whatever that means. Having nothing to say, no words but the words of others, I have to speak. No one compels me to, there is no one, it’s an accident, a fact. Nothing can ever exempt me from it. There is nothing, nothing to discover, nothing to recover, nothing that can lessen what remains to say.

    So incredibly simple, it was, and is.

    I wonder what would happen if all x-buddhists took seriously, genuinely seriously, their own commands to kill the buddha, abandon the raft, let the collapsed house lie in shambles, and all the rest? My idea of taking something seriously means risking the destruction of everything that came before. I have never, never met an x-buddhist who has taken seriously the very tropes of liberation that they so proudly display to others as evidence of their wisdom.

    Imagine an x-buddhist saying about the Buddha or Suzuki or Batchelor or Magid what Pinter said about Beckett. You already referred to the Pinter quote; so I assume you know it. But just in case:

    The farther he goes the more good it does me. I don’t want philosophies, tracts, dogmas, creeds, ways out, truths, answers, nothing from the bargain basement. He is the most courageous, remorseless writer going and the more he grinds my nose in the shit the more I am grateful to him.He’s not fucking me about, he’s not leading me up any garden path, he’s not slipping me a wink, he’s not flogging me a remedy or a path or a revelation or a basinful of breadcrumbs, he’s not selling me anything I don’t want to buy — he doesn’t give a bollock whether I buy or not — he hasn’t got his hand over his heart. Well, I’ll buy his goods, hook, line and sinker, because he leaves no stone unturned and no maggot lonely. He brings forth a body of beauty. His work is beautiful.

    I don’t want to give the impression that I am a Beckett devotee. That would pathetic to the point of sadness. I read him for the reason Pinter gives: the shear beauty of the work.

    A friend of mine who reads tons of Beckett suggested that a good place to start is the trilogy: Malloy, Malone Dies, and The Unnameable. I started with the plays. I discovered the novels relatively late. I just finished Watt. I’ve been reading his poetry for as long as I can remember. Here’s one you may like.

    I am waiting for my copy to arrive of James Knowlson’s 1997 biography, Damned to Fame: The Life of Samuel Beckett. New York: Grove Press. I think it is valuable to read about the lives of people we admire. I can also recommend a book called Beckett Remembering/Remembering Beckett, edited by James and Elizabeth Knowlson. That books gives you a good sense of the man.

    Stay in touch! Thanksm again for commenting.

  15. Matthias (#10).

    the word of the buddha is lost once and for all. What we hear are our own voices.

    Great line! Beautiful!

  16. Mikael said

    I wrote the following as a comment to a thread on http://reddit.com/r/buddhism about this post, so it reads more like an external commentary than a blog comment, but… it may add to the discussion here, so let’s see:

    I suspect I would really enjoy a private conversation with Wallis, and I have some kind of deep respect and feeling of necessity with regards to his project. But I also get the feeling that he’s doing something like playing with fire. He’s explicitly Nietzschean — he’s no blogger, he’s dynamite.

    He’s mentioned somewhere that there is a specific intended audience for his blog, and that he doesn’t want it to be read by (something like) people who are beginning their Buddhist practice. I wonder if this aspect of his project is made explicit and clear somewhere. Is it alright to call Wallis’s blog an elitist endeavor? Not in the disparaging sense — but in the sense that it’s almost like a high-level esoteric tantric thing.

    Something he comes back to is the danger of becoming ensnared in wishy-washy Buddhist tripe and ignoring the whole history of Western ideas. And in expressing this he often claims that Buddhism is actually pretty shoddy compared to the feast of knowledge and learning that’s available through other philosophies of ethics, awareness, etc. This doesn’t ring entirely true to me, even if I really try to look out from my dharmic bubble.

    One of the best clusters of ideas I found in Western philosophy is related to Spinoza’s conception of the book as a material object that works by cause and effect — is written in human language and affects human beings in certain ways not directly determined by the author. Spinoza applies this to the Bible. Texts are objects and they affect people. William James in his Varieties of Religious Experience also has this “pragmatic” take on religious systems. It’s true of the Pali canon, the Zen discourse, the emerging secular Buddhism, and of Wallis’s blog series.

    Words are real. They do things; they affect people. Likewise with systems like “the dharma.” Theories, even if somewhat rough and approximate — like the lists and rules of traditional Buddhism — are catalysts, tools. This is why I love Buddhism and devote myself to it even though I am in some sense ironic about it.

    And writing that, I see that I am an adherent of “ironist Buddhism”, a way that combines the personal practice of traditional forms of Buddhism with the Rortian stance:

    “1. She has radical and continuing doubts about the final vocabulary she currently uses, because she has been impressed by other vocabularies, vocabularies taken as final by people or books she has encountered;

    “2. She realizes that argument phrased in her present vocabulary can neither underwrite nor dissolve these doubts;

    “3.Insofar as she philosophizes about her situation, she does not think that her vocabulary is closer to reality than others, that it is in touch with a power not herself.”

    (From “Contingency, irony, and solidarity” — a great read.)

    Thus, personally and somewhat secretly, I do believe that “the dharma” is some kind of ultimate truth. But I don’t talk to people out of that fundamental assumption, premise, “decision” to use Wallis’s word.

    Gate, gate, para gate, para sam gate, bodhi svaha!

  17. Glenn,

    I wonder how you come to the conclusion that Batchelor — or “Secular Buddhism generally — neglects other traditions or thinkers as you assert here:

    It does not matter that the world’s treasure house of culture is teeming with suggestions for how to realize the “practice of mindful awareness.” Virtually every religious tradition includes a contemplative practice that has been lovingly transmitted through the centuries. Psychoanalysis, from Freud to Gendlin, has given careful thought to the nature of attention and the movements of the mind. So has philosophy, from the Stoics and Epicureans to Aristotle, and from Descartes and Kierkegaard to Wittgenstein-inspired thinkers such as Peter Winch, Norman Malcolm, and D.Z. Phillips. I could go on. Think of the creative practices of our poets and painters. But it wouldn’t matter. There is no need for comparison to or dialogue with these traditions: Secular Buddhism’s practice of mindful awareness is sufficient.”

    or in this rhetorical question?

    “Why do Batchelor and the Secular Buddhists believe that they possess an “entirely adequate ethical, philosophical and practical framework for living your life in this world” and thus have no need of consulting the wider world of knowledge?”

    A cursory look through Batchelor’s books shows him quoting and integrating the work of the following philosophers, psychologists, scientists, religious thinkes AND even poets:

    Pascal, Milton, Dante, The Gospels of John, Mark, Luke and Matthew, Nietzsche, The Koran, St. Paul, Tillich, The Book of Revelation, Baudelaire, Kafka, Montaigne, Spinoza, Pagels, Eliade, Damasio, Maddox, Ehrlich, Diamond, Keats, Barthes, Heidegger, Eliot, Eckhart, Kundera, Blake, Baudrilland, Blanchot, Popper, Rorty, and your beloved Beckett, among others.

  18. jonckher said

    #16 Mikael

    I’ve been reading through this feast of ass-kickery and a couple of thoughts got sparked in my x-buddhist brain while reading your comment.

    1. x-buddhism claims a monopoly via the dharma on the one true way. That is to be expected from the works but is harder to accept from people (x-buddhists) who should know better and who then claim or take on some sort of superiority from owning this knowledge. A bunch of old greeks have been here and done many things as good. Some catholics can tell us a thing or two about dealing with desire. So, far eastern ancient dudes dont have a monopoly on anything. To my mind, the whole blah-blah transmission thing is part of the problem. I have as much respect for it as an ivy league certificate that can be popped up on a wall in a nice frame. How do I know what actually got transmitted wasnt just some STDs?

    Anyway, I digress. The converse is true of course – no one is free from putting on airs because they think or clam to know more than most other people. Quoting Lacun, Fukould etc gets my goat as much as someone popping in lines from the Heart Suttee.

    I have a problem with authority especially academic authority i admit it.

    So it is really my problem rather than anyone who likes quoting from anyone other than Yoda and Miyagi.

    2. Language is essential.

    How can you hope to shake things up if you non-buddhist types write as if you have a rod stuck up your arse and sound like a tenured lecturer? Seriously, I spent most of my time either rolling my eyes or trying not to fall asleep when trawling through some of these papers. A bunch of you out there probably are tax-payer funded tenured academic types. I am reminded as always of tibetan monks living on the labour of their serf-worshippers. Don’t get me too wrong, I like tibetan monks in person – lovely types – and some of my best friends teach lit-crap type stuff at uni. I still love them.

    But it is the principle of the matter dammit.

    3. I do have a point.

    x-buddhist writings collected into nice digestable parcels with small words are worthy of respect because most people don’t have the time or the brains or the inclination to read more than 50 pages of anything. Cross that out and make it 30 pages.

    To be able to quote French clit-rit is a privilege. To have access to the wealth of western thinkers and artists and playwrights is a privilege.

    To be ignorant of these things does not mean an x-buddhist type is wilfully ignorant. It means that they probably don’t have time or energy to do anything more than stick to the not-so-simple 4 truths, 8 way path and 5 ethical rules. Just because you big brain types are bored with that and have the time and privilege to draw larger and larger patterns of how every damn piece of wisdom can be traced up to a place where the sun don’t shine don’t mean that for many the hallmark card endless pap-like regurgitations of the dharma is not fresh and wonderful. The area for criticism (and this blog is great for that) is when the pap-like stuff takes people off and away with the faeries. going back to point 1 – it is especially irritating when x-buddhists using hallmark pap claim to have superior knowledge and try to *teach* the faerie versions of it. if that’s what gets transmitted I almost prefer an STD.

    Yes, i do try to tong-len it away when that happens. Unsuccessfully.

    4. Actually, I’m not entirely sure I have a point besides flailing my big foot around on the page a bit, If you can find it, please let me know.

    with metta as always.

  19. Mikael said

    #18 Jonkher —

    Thanks for that. I liked your reply and share your frustration with the repetitive, cloying nature of a lot of dharma talk. I don’t think real Buddhism should ever mould people in some monotonous pattern. But at the same time, this discourse does evidently help a lot of people, and when it was fresh for me I loved it — so maybe I just shouldn’t listen. Like Rinzai said: “There’s nothing I dislike.”

    Last night in the shower it struck me that this whole discussion, this whole project, resonates with me (in contradictory, strange ways) because it comes close to the heart of a complex I have that I’ll call the DFW complex — for David Foster Wallace, the late great American author. He was one of my Big Idols, a towering figure for me, and I found in his writings some sort of ultimate recognition. He was extremely intelligent, extremely perceptive in issues of day-to-day life, especially the inner life and most especially the sad or tragic aspects thereof, and of society at large. He was philosophical and well-read, but he was also a truly fiery spirit, he had the “Great Doubt,” he never settled for facile explanations. I picture him as almost maniacally devoted to Figuring It All Out, not in some abstract political way, but from a very personal perspective, including day-to-day morality, being able to be kind and supportive, and so on. But his philosophical intelligence — and, I’m pretty sure, his experience with psychedelic drugs — was conflicted about all this. He became afraid of alienating analysis, the philosophical thinking that leads to solipsism and nihilism but also just good old paralysis, paradox. It’s like thought, in the long run, when not balanced, is not compatible with life. Some quotes from his his 2005 commencement speech at Kenyon College [1]:

    “… the fact is that in the day to day trenches of adult existence, banal platitudes can have a life or death importance, or so I wish to suggest to you on this dry and lovely morning.”

    “Given the triumphant academic setting here, an obvious question is how much of this work of adjusting our default setting involves actual knowledge or intellect. This question gets very tricky. Probably the most dangerous thing about an academic education–least in my own case–is that it enables my tendency to over-intellectualise stuff, to get lost in abstract argument inside my head, instead of simply paying attention to what is going on right in front of me, paying attention to what is going on inside me.”

    “Think of the old cliché about ‘the mind being an excellent servant but a terrible master’. This, like many clichés, so lame and unexciting on the surface, actually expresses a great and terrible truth. It is not the least bit coincidental that adults who commit suicide with firearms almost always shoot themselves in: the head. They shoot the terrible master. And the truth is that most of these suicides are actually dead long before they pull the trigger.”

    “Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship—be it JC or Allah, be it YHWH or the Wiccan Mother Goddess, or the Four Noble Truths, or some inviolable set of ethical principles—is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive.”

    David Foster Wallace hung himself in September 2008, and when I read the news about this, it was a clarion call. He had dealt with clinical depression for 20 years and he killed himself after he stopped taking his antidepressants due to severe side effects. So then what. Because I know that I loved DFW because I recognize myself in him, modulo staggering genius and literary success. And so this is one of the framing issues of my life thus far. How do I keep my head from being a terrible master? How do I escape from endless meta-analysis, intellectual stalemates, alienating rumination, and find some way of living in the world that is grounded, ethical, reasonable, somewhat approximating normality?

    For me, one answer is Buddhism. Bluntly: Zen, zazen, bowing, wooden instruments, wafting incense, kinhin, teisho, tradition, ritual — these act as low-pass filters for my erratic mind. Amazingly — I couldn’t believe it before I got into it — this kind of filtering doesn’t result in dullness. There is a vivid and precise quality to it, like lilacs on the very verge of bursting, like the sharp crack of the han, like the ephemeral taste of oolong tea. I look people in the eyes now. I notice my own hunger and thirst.

    The reason this blog series affects me so strongly is that I know there’s a path laid out for me that involves bravely critical intellectual analysis of Buddhism itself. And in my somewhat ironical attitude towards dharma I tread along this path from time to time, but something holds me back. I don’t want to. This is my “decision.” And I suppose this is my apology.

  20. Mikael (#16).

    Thanks for joining us here. You make several valuable points and observations.

    But I also get the feeling that he’s doing something like playing with fire. He’s explicitly Nietzschean — he’s no blogger, he’s dynamite.

    I would be interested in hearing more about how you see me–us–as “playing with fire” at this blog. I sometimes think, and say, that, too. But I’d like to hear what you are perceiving.

    As you say, I am self-consciously invoking Nietzsche here. But I am doing so in a limited way. I am interested in Nietzsche in three regards. First, as a person devoted to his work, even at the cost of loss and ostracism. Second, as a stylist (he’s even better in German). And third, as a contrarian commenter on the “spiritual” tradition of the obedient capitalist middle class of his day–a tradition that he felt lulled people into a sort of slave mentality. I am not interested in Nietzsche as a kind of Platonist philosopher (I know: he would object to that characterization). And my main disappointment with him is his flinching before his nihilist realization (a.k.a Eternal Return). Beckett and Cioran do me more good in this regard. Anyway, you are right: this is not a blog; this is striving to be, at least, something like conceptual-emotional-affective dynamite. I also take inspiration from Nietzsche’s statement to the effect that there is nothing more ridiculous than a philosopher who wants to be liked. Imagine the truths that our Pollyanna “spiritual” guides would be capable of speaking if they weren’t so concerned with selling books and packing the hall–with, that is to say, being liked. Zuckerman is a genius.

    Because of your second paragraph, I just created a WARNING! page. I would say that the real targets of this blog are the ones who should know better. I mean the Buddhist teachers in the West. Particularly those who dress up like medieval Tibetan princelings–like Pema Chodren and Surya Das and a million others Tibeto-fetishists–as well as the ones who shave their heads, call themselves Hotai Jones, and dress up in the glorified garb of medieval Japanese peasants–the All-too-Zennies. I mean the others, too, the good ol’ Amerikkkans, like Sharon Salzberg and Jon Kabat-Zinn and Jack Kornfield, who are nothing, as far as I can see, but latter-day Dale Carnegies.

    This blog is for them. It is for the people who should know better, but who perpetuate the scam nonetheless. So, in that sense, the blog is the opposite of elitist. I see these teachers as props, in their own small way, of a profoundly conservative and rabidly capitalist power structure. Worse, I see contemporary western Buddhism as deceptively anti-humanist. The following comment from another post explains something of what I mean. I think it suggests that my project is a defense against the veiled conservative elitism of x-buddhism. Consider: isn’t a compassionate, wise, insightful, mindful, non-reactive, awakened, perfected, etc., etc. person better than one who isn’t? Isn’t that suggestion of superiority a not-too-sub text of x-budhhism? As far as I can tell, one way of characterizing x-buddhism is as a super-arsenal of models, concepts, tropes, etc. that put a stranglehold on creative individual development. Non-buddhism attempts to counter that stranglehold. Here’s what I mean.

    The “ultimate” aim of non-buddhism is the mirror-image of that of x-buddhism. Consider Laruelle’s “Theorem 000000: On the Suicide Disguised as Murder,” reworded to suit our needs.

    X-buddhism has but one goal: to make you believe that you must identify yourself with x-buddhism; to make you assume this suicide, a suicide disguised as murder charged against you.(7)

    This language of suicide and murder may sound unnecessarily menacing. But anyone who has spent time within the thaumaturgical refuges of x-buddhism, and observed the formation of ventriloquized subjects there, will, I think, appreciate the violence of those words. Acquiescence to the point of reflexivity—a product of decision—requires evasion of oneself. This self-killing/evasion is the reason for the person’s “infinite culpability.” Non-buddhism is a radical laying bare of the brutal refusal of x-buddhism to honor its most basic pledge: abetment of liberation. A liberated subject will not—indeed, by definition, cannot—subscribe to the x-buddhist program of person-formation. Paths of liberation necessarily bend toward disintegration (of prescribed forms, etc.) and discontinuity (of cohesive programs, etc.), and so are unbearable to x-buddhism. Hence, the interminable connectives that constitute the inventory of dharmic self-sufficiency— the binding of the person within the dharmic fortress, fastened down with “logical” connectives in the face of reality’s mayhem.

    I’ll get back to you on the rest of your comment and to you #19 later. In the meantime, maybe you can search the blog for the discussions on ideology, language, and even Rorty.

    Thanks, again.

  21. Hi Frank Jude Boccio (#17). Nice to see you again. It’s been a while. Thanks for your comment. And thanks for bringing p that particular point. It will allow me to clarify something.

    I don’t deny that Batchelor and most other x-buddhist teachers in the West refer to and quote other thinkers and traditions. What I am claiming is that they always do so in a way that belies their real interest in dialogue with those thinkers and traditions. One exception that comes to mind is Barry Magid’s conversation between Beckian Zen and Kohutian psychoanalysis. Even there, though, the conclusion (of Zen’s greatness) is too-foreordained to constitute genuine dialogue. Genuine dialogue is not transactional; it is transformational. It thus necessarily risks defeat and destruction of one’s entire world as that world appeared before the dialogue began. With a genuine, transformational dialogue, there is no guarantee that you will be the same person when its over.

    I don’t have my Batchelor books in front of me right now. But I have read enough of him and a billion other western x-buddhist teachers to know that their usage of other thinkers and traditions borders on bad faith. A true, rigorous, good-faith integration of those people you mention would alter x-buddhism to the point of non-recognition. X-buddhits’ use of these thinkers borders on the cynical. X-buddhism’s theory of and language for, say, emptiness, is so anemic and shallow and under-developed; so let’s co-opt the talents of Beckett and Eckhart and have them speak for us. And, of course, in the meantime, Beckett and Eckhart’s voices are lost, crushed by the x-buddhist juggernaut of world-conquering wisdom.

    Can you, for the sake of further discussion, produce an instance of an x-buddhist wirter’s robust engagement with another thinker, an engagement that has not decided before the engagement begins that x-buddhism’s rightness will be validated?

    I have to run to a seminar now. More later. You raise a great point. Thanks.

  22. Matthias said

    Hi Jonckher,

    I am pretty sure you are more intelligent then you pretend to be. You should disguise your thinking abilities better, otherwise you simply look like terribly lazy. What in itself wouldn’t be so bad if you wouldn’t be in here for an ongoing lamento. I can’t see a single argument in favor of x-buddhism except the very worst one that not every body is able to read 30 pages and so it might be better to retard to sutra instead to study.

    As you you have no argument going for Batchelor I might provide you with something not so indigestible against his undertaking to unearth the zombie which is called The Word of the Buddha. You will not need to wade through any fuckoultian or laru-whatever wilderness loosing your way after just a view steps because an intense vertigo is setting from this strange smell of some french cuisine in your nose. Just download it from this link. No disturbing google search with thousands of seductive procrastinations. Just read the plain text of Mrs. Heuman. It has no jargon in it. So it shouldn’t be to difficult to go through the few pages of “Who’s Buddha is Best?”

    Then you might undertake one thought experiment. What, if indeed, there is no word of the buddha. How does it feel to be assured that it is not. Again, remember, it’s only a thought experiment. You can return later. But consider it for some time. For example the next time you go to your local sangha, meditation center or retreat and if you sit with all this paraphernalia, all those pictures, holy texts, statues – consider: What when all this has no oh so original source. Dive into it, immerse yourself into this thought, just for an experiment, what if no one was there behind the curtain?

    ———

    @Mikael

    You mention the low-pass filter. I like the metaphor. But only if on considers the following: Could it be that there are different functions of ritual? The one, the ugly one I would say, is to persuade people that there is some true essence, a real something to which the ritual leads. For example: Enlightenment (the disturbing one, not Kant (forget this one Jonckher)) The other function, the real low-pass filter, would be to really be still and alert. No re-(en)acting of something. Whatever goes on, no reaction. Even to no reaction. Like a pause with no sleep. Consciousness is wide awake and just doodles on, with me not terribly interested. A lot of pop-ups and I do not care. Under-intellectualizing stuff. “Simply paying attention” to “the fact that in the day to day trenches of adult existence, banal platitudes can have a life or death importance” – like in ritual. But why not free the ritual, why not paying attention without the word of a fart from an old book?

    Matthias

  23. Mikael said

    Glenn — thanks for taking the time to reply so thoroughly. I will respond later.

    Matthias — that’s Soto Zen to a tee. So are you a puppet of Dogen’s? And: what’s wrong with enlightenment? Do you actively disbelieve in kensho, satori? I’m pretty convinced that stuff is real, but I can’t say for sure. You speak about it as if it’s a marketing trick, a deception. Maybe. That seems cynical to me.

    I like the Buddha even as a ghost. He’s dead anyway. I like the rituals, I like my teacher, I like my sangha friends. Sorry for becoming defensive about my personal religious life here; that’s not what it’s about. What’s my little life compared to these big questions about what’s right and wrong?

  24. Greg said

    Recently, in considering this discussion, the work of A.C Grayling came to mind – particularly his recent project The Good Book: A Humanist Bible. For those not familiar with it, it could perhaps be described as an effort to sacralize the long tradition of western secular wisdom. The project description from amazon is as follows:

    “Few, if any, thinkers and writers today would have the imagination, the breadth of knowledge, the literary skill, and-yes-the audacity to conceive of a powerful, secular alternative to the Bible. But that is exactly what A.C. Grayling has done by creating a non-religious Bible, drawn from the wealth of secular literature and philosophy in both Western and Eastern traditions, using the same techniques of editing, redaction, and adaptation that produced the holy books of the Judaeo-Christian and Islamic religions.

    “The Good Book consciously takes its design and presentation from the Bible, in its beauty of language and arrangement into short chapters and verses for ease of reading and quotability, offering to the non-religious seeker all the wisdom, insight, solace, inspiration, and perspective of secular humanist traditions that are older, far richer and more various than Christianity.

    “Organized in 12 main sections—-Genesis, Histories, Widsom, The Sages, Parables, Consolations, Lamentations, Proverbs, Songs, Epistles, Acts, and the Good—-The Good Book opens with meditations on the origin and progress of the world and human life in it, then devotes attention to the question of how life should be lived, how we relate to one another, and how vicissitudes are to be faced and joys appreciated.

    “Incorporating the writing of Herodotus and Lucretius, Confucius and Mencius, Seneca and Cicero, Montaigne, Bacon, and so many others, The Good Book will fulfill its audacious purpose in every way.”

    As one would expect, the project is flawed in many regards. For one man alone to execute such a project is hubris. And, the reference to Confucius notwithstanding, the project is entirely Eurocentric, which would have been unremarkable forty years ago but in 2012 is simply bizarre and not defensible.

    Nonetheless, I admire both the spirit and the audacity of his project. It is a tragedy that millions of people, in search of guidance in their lives, open the bible expecting some sort of practical advice. I feel more confident that when intelligent, thoughtful people are finally willing to dynamite the foundations of traditional religion, a very rich salvage operation becomes possible. But “Secular Buddhism” is in they way. They advertise to the public, “not so fast, the building is structurally sound, it just needs cosmetic changes, it had a bad renovation but we can recover the original floorplan.” Not so. Stand clear, and let the real work begin.

    I look forward to hearing more wise voices from the past speak, undistorted by the coercion of claims to religious authority.

  25. Tom Pepper said

    It’s interesting that this post brought such a voluminous response from the anti-intellectual camp. I seems to have roused that most terrifying beast in the World of western ideology: the sublime horror of a thought!!! And the anti-intellectuals hold up their Rorty and their Dasein and chant incantations about attending to everyday concrete practical matters at hand, like a Catholic priest in an old B-movie holding up a crucifix and saying a Hail Mary to ward of the vampire.

    Mikael: To filter out thought of the structural cause, to embrace David Foster Wallace’s anti-intellectualism, is the very goal of the reactionary ideologue: the intense beauty of the smell of a lilac, once we block our awareness of the manure it grows in. Deal only with concrete daily matters—you dare not change the world, because that is “solipsistic intellectualism”! Attending only to your bodily sensations, for the reactionary ideologue, is the only (paradoxically, mytically, ineffably) non-solipsistic approach. Interacting with other humans to change humanly created social systems? Over-intellecualizing! Solipsism! Trapped in the mind and neglecting the body, seat of the true abiding world-transcending self! Drop the Rorty crap, stop sniffing lilacs, and THINK. Read Bhaskar’s “Philosophy and the Idea of Freedom,” and see if you can still consider Rorty anything but the worst kind of reactionary sophist.

    Jonckher: Why the asinine sticking-your-fingers-in-your-ears-and-shouting? You’re proud to be stupid an lazy, everyone you know is stupid an lazy, so if someone tries to think you’ll throw a tantrum until they stop? Do you have a screaming fit whenever someone plays the piano better than you? Do you shout “how dare you be so rude and arrogant as to sing better than me! It is unacceptable, elitist, and you can only ever sing “Leroy Brown” off key, or I’ll yell insults until you stop!!” You don’t sound as stupid as you claim to be—so what is the ideological attachment that makes you so terrified of the very existence of thought, even when YOU aren’t being asked to do it yourself?

    Frank: Batchelor can certainly make random superficial references to just about anyone, all with about as much depth of engagement as someone reading out what they find in their fortune cookie at Dragon Palace Buffet. They become aphorisms purified of any challenging thought, until they simply, like Batchelor’s filtered sutras, reflect only what he already thinks. Now, I don’t want to bash Batchelor—I read his books, and enjoy watching him rile people up. But I would like to see him engage in some more serious thought—why is he so insistent on dropping the idea of karma, one place where the Buddhist thought can force us to recognize our responsibility to change the social system we humans have created? Why does he insist on reducing suffering to the biological and natural, and cutting out the social? There are bodies, and there are langauges . . .

  26. Jonah said

    Hi Glenn,

    In the fourth section, dealing with the POSB, you more explicitly express a theme that has been present in much of your posting here: why look to the ancient East for ‘wisdom’ when the Western traditions contain a whole lot, and a whole lot that is probably much more relevant to us poor confused affluent postmodern Westerners, directly tailored to us even. (Please feel free to correct my simplification/misconstrual of this idea.)

    In my experience, and here I speak almost entirely of myself (ok, scratch the almost), we turn to the East as a kind of philosophical teenage rebellion, having been in some way desensitized to Western knowledge traditions, sick of the ‘Old White Guys’ as someone put it (not claiming this is a _rational_ rejection, mind you). The attractiveness of buddhism and ‘ancient eastern wisdom’ lies exactly in its at least initial foreignness. This is maybe part of what, in the minds of the disenfranchised “spiritual seekers” of the West, lends buddhist literature its weight or authority, part of what allows them to accept ‘the dharma’ as truth–it comes from a source we don’t quite understand, or can pretend we don’t. (God is to the Bible as “Japanese people are kind of crazy” is to western buddhist literature?)

    With this in mind, I’m afraid that your exclusive prescription of Western philosophy and literature might be seen, perhaps, as the back-swing of this pendulum–a return home after years at sea, a re-rejection, a double negation of sorts. Like a midlife crisis in which Dad starts listening to The Ramones again.

    Please excuse my pop psychoanalyzing. My only point is that it might shore up your foundations to avoid an obvious cultural duality. For instance, have you read Mishima? (god save me if I ever utter that sentence out loud…) He certainly did not flinch from nihilism, and coming as he did from a Zen influenced samurai kind of background it seems to me he could be of direct relevance here. If I’m remembering right, his “Temple of the Golden Pavilion” takes place in buddhistaland, and ends up, fittingly, on fire.

    Thanks for listening,
    Jonah

    p.s.
    I was pointed to the Eckhart Tolle wikipedia page I think by a comment here…someone should write more about him, seems pretty fascinating.

  27. Mikael said

    Tom, I’m not saying nobody should ever think. I read philosophy and write and talk. I’m not anti-intellectual, nor was DFW. I don’t want to make my experience into a statement about what everybody ought to do. I interact with people every day and can’t help but change the world, in so far as I affect my friends, family, coworkers, and the people who use what I work in producing — like most people, my work involves manipulating the world. I don’t judge thinking in general as solipsistic or over-intellectual. That’s about ME. I couldn’t live with the way I used to think. Buddhism (as it works for me) is a relief. Maybe if I hadn’t been brainwashed by the dharma I would have really changed the world. I still feel like I SHOULD do that. But I don’t know how. I know socialist revolutionaries who are so intelligent and driven who still make a lot of people around them feel like shit because they dominate the dinner table with monologues, and experiences like that really make me feel like moving to a temple. If I can’t smell the lilacs it’s not my revolution. I’ll smell the manure too. I hate capitalism too but I do live in it and I don’t want to kill myself. Maybe I have given up. But the sangha is an institution that helps people — a spiritual soup kitchen. I come there for help and to somehow help others. You don’t want me to — I should read Bhaskar instead. Can’t I do both? I don’t attend only to bodily sensations, but I do that too. Sorry, I’m a bit upset. I feel like I’m doing the best I can but whatever I do is wrong.

  28. Peter K said

    Jonah #26 Good grief! I sincerely hope it wasn’t a reference to Eckhart Tolle. I’d assumed it was Eckhart von Hochheim – Meister Eckhart.

  29. Jonah said

    Sorry, I should have been more clear–was referring to Jayrava # 6,

    I think it was David Chapman who pointed out that Eckhart Tolle is probably more popular than all Buddhist teachers put together; and yet his ideas are basically Buddhist, but put forward on the basis of personal experience rather than dogma.

  30. Matthias said

    Mikael, #23

    It was about the function of ritual what I said. There are different functions and one is about keeping the acolytes blind. And yes, I think enlightenment is a marketing trick, a deception. Yes I am cynical about this. It is a multi-million dollar business and the winners are the ones who are impertinent enough to make something from nothing. My position is that this nothing is the most basic human stuff like plain and simple awareness. Every man and every woman gets it for free. If you ask me, it is all about remembering awareness or the lust for cooperation. It’s about sex if you like. Real basic stuff. Nothing special. But of course this “nothing special” is at once put into some fancy design and sold with a premium. If one has to go to a temple for it, and if this might help remembering it, fine. If somebody tells me I need to, I call him a fucking liar. If it helps you, if you do your ritual, you love your teacher, your buddha, fine with me. I have nothing against it. I mean it. Why not being with other people. Why not dance together. We are primed for cooperation. We are sensitive humans. If some buddha replicating mumbo-jumbo mumbling ritual specialist tells me this cooperation has to be like this and that to remember the most basic human stuff we are – well, why not just beat him until he shuts the fuck up? If this sounds like Soto to the tee, why not? Perhaps I should sell it too. I go like Kumaré and off it goes my new life as a guru.

  31. Glenn, thanks for the invitation on the Facebook thread to come out here and comment. As I mentioned there, the comments I made on the Secular Buddhist Fan Page weren’t really addressed to you (though bits of them made reference to you and this post); I don’t know which parts of my comment you’d like to bounce off of here so I’m just going to respond to some of what you wrote above.

    I should say at the outset that I am speaking as an individual, from just my experience, not as a Representative of All Secular Buddhists Everywhere, nor even as one who has spent any great amount of time studying the many faces of secular Buddhism (I haven’t). Unlike Stephen Batchelor, I don’t self-identify as a secular Buddhist; like Batchelor, I see my take on the Buddhism I do practice as, in some ways, “religious” (though our reasons may be different for doing so). Nonetheless, though within a group of secular Buddhists I will say I am a bit of an outsider, in a larger group of Buddhists and non-Buddhists, I often end up standing in for one of those secular types. The distinction depends on how the circles are drawn.

    While your article is interesting, its conclusions are grounded on some shaky assumptions, the largest being, as I see it, that Batchelor’s approach to Buddhism is a fair equivalent of Secular Buddhism, and that secular Buddhists don’t disagree with him or his foundational tenets. Though you say you are able to recognize that they are not one and the same (“Secular Buddhism and Stephen Batchelor are not, I suppose, necessarily synonymous. But you couldn’t blame someone for thinking that they are.”) even so, your entire article has held up his ideas as representative of the secular approach. I’d note that, by doing so you’re supporting and adding to the myth that there is no disagreement at all: we are the Borg and Stephen is the Queen.

    It may be a matter of those circles. Your stance here and in past posts seems to put you pretty firmly outside the circle of the sorts of people you’re identifying as members of the hive; to you it looks like we’re all drones. But inside what passes for the hive we aren’t all buzzing with the mantras Batchelor has given us; we actually have independent minds and do frequently disagree with him. Far from “unchallenged, unquestioned axioms” what you seem to be seeing is what you expect to see:

    1) That we perceive the dharma as unconditioned (it is not, and I’d be happy if you’d point out those who say it is — unless you’re redefining “unconditioned”)
    2) That SecB’s all believe the Buddha to have been a real guy (you clearly need to get out more if that’s your perception — I seem to be the staunchest holdout to that view, and I feel beleaguered most of the time)
    4) That SecBs ignore useful information from “philosophy, psychology, biology, literature, neuroscience, medicine, and the arts” in preference to the Buddha’s teaching (again, you need to pay more attention to what’s being said; even your visits to your “Facilebook” should show you these aren’t being ignored — but maybe it’s because you have your Facile-Glasses on when you read causing you to miss what’s being discussed)
    5) That we fail to recognize that, having accepted what we perceive that the Buddha taught, the change in our worldview affects how we see the world — you say we don’t notice we “have an ideology” but I have also seen it suggested that it’s “indoctrination”. The more one understands what the Buddha is pointing out the harder it is to fail to see that it is true that the worldview affects what we see, but it’s such a chicken-and-egg issue that I can’t deal with it in a bullet point.

    And yes, I skipped point #3 because it, too, is too big to deal with at the moment.

    Overall, though, it seems to me that what’s happening is that you are mostly getting a glimpse of the front door, and taking it for the whole building. We are, admittedly, spending a lot of time working on making that front door accessible to anyone interested in stepping through to learn more of what goes on within. Inside, we talk more about what our goals are, and how to achieve them, and debate about what they are and why and what Buddhism is all about. The conversation leaks out the door — I think on the whole we’re pretty transparent about having disagreements about who the Buddha was and what he taught and the approaches to take to learn more and help more — but your post may, in the end, make a valuable point: perhaps if we were more transparent still, what we’re saying would be clearer. (On the other hand, I also get told by the newcomers that all the detailed debates are not helpful.)

    But the suggestion that Secular Buddhism *refuses* “to subject its beliefs to the rigors of humanistic discourse” is just silly. Did we meet and agree on this, did we put out a position statement? Where do you get this from? Did we fail to invite you to the party, along with Thoreau, Nietzsche and Dale Carnegie? That’s not the way it works, Glenn. We don’t have boundaries. If you want to join in the conversation, join in! State your case! You’ve already been invited to the party, and so are all the friends you care to bring. Please, introduce them to us. But if you start off with in-your-face comments (Secular Buddhism a parody and a constriction), and continue on with accusations of dishonesty, and school-yard taunts that we hold onto “childish perceptions”, don’t be surprised if you get mistaken for the party bore who would rather be noticed than heard for his ideas — and find those you’re hoping to engage going off to talk to someone else.

    I made the point in the comment that got me invited here that there is nothing in your approach that draws me in, that you have less skill in showing me your dharma and its use to me than the Buddha had. “The critical approach apparently works very well for certain people,” I said, “but it is likely to appeal to a narrower set of people than the Buddha’s broad and inclusive approach.” I assume the tone you affect is intentional and has a point; I assume you know that it will tend to drive people away and close their minds before any of your ideas have gotten a fair hearing; I can’t help but wonder why you would choose to be off-putting and push away the people you seem to be inviting to your party — do you really want others to join in?

    I also said that the Buddha’s style of teaching, one that generally isn’t confrontational, is something I admire, along with “his sense of humor, the consistency of his approach, the elegant complexity of the structures he built to convey his message, his ability to draw people in through their belief system rather than to belittle their approaches to life.” I find what he did useful; I’m sorry you find it fictional.

    I’ve said to you before that you aren’t going to find what you aren’t seeking. I realize from this post that you spent a lot of time in the seeking — and I’m sorry you didn’t find. I can’t even begin to guess why you can’t see in the suttas either the man or the consistency I see.

    I recognize that what we have is a body of work that has been modified by other voices with their own agendas, but seeing that should make it easier to understand rather than more confusing (it’s only if we try to read it as an internally consistent, single-author document that it gets really confusing). Just because there are many voices doesn’t mean study can’t help us identify the one strong and consistent voice. And just because your efforts didn’t make that voice clear to you, doesn’t mean it’s not there; it’s not true that because you couldn’t do it, no one can.

    No matter how much mythical overlay there is, unless you believe in divine revelation, there has to have been a human who came up with the insights in the first place. Were the ideas developed by a committee? Could be. Would that matter to the usefulness of the ideas? I don’t see how. If the mythologizing makes the originator obscure, it can’t change the ideas being presented. So look at the core ideas.

    When I do this, I find an extremely consistent message that I have also found very useful when applied to my life. Is it an all-encompassing, absolute truth? I don’t know — why would that matter? What’s important is that it helps. In looking for the message, just incidentally, I find a sense of humor and a very focused, detail-oriented mind holding the teachings to the message. When I follow that humor and the extreme focus, I don’t just find the man, I find his point coming through with greater clarity. Keep that up — and with a little help from the outside, getting information on terms and worldviews from those who study the history of Vedic thinking — and it might just be possible to get an even better grip on what the man was telling us. I have a paper coming out in a few days that I think shows that this is, indeed, possible, but I will leave it up to others to judge whether it’s likely that the methods above have led to clarifying the structure of Dependent Arising or not. I’ll be interested to hear what you think.

  32. Hi Glenn (#21) and Tom (#25). I really don’t want to be put in the position of being an apologist for Batchelor! I don’t see why he seems to need his (“the”) buddha to have not really taught rebirth. It seems to be he did and I have no problem with thinking he was wrong to believe in rebirth! It’s like Batchelor rejects his Tibetan teachers belief in the buddha’s omniscience and then wants his buddha to always be correct! Also, Tom, I think Batchelor has a problem with karma because he assumes too easily the stance traditionalist buddhists assert: that rebirth and karma are too intertwined to separate. So, in his rejecting one, he has to reject both, but there are others who argue for a ‘re-valuation’ of karma that doesn’t require belief in rebirth or any transcendent nature for karma. David Loy is one of these writers, and I’m not even sure his work qualifies as “secular buddhism!” I also agree with you Tom that Batchelor’s silence on the social is a huge weakness.

    Yet, in response to your comments, the following thoughts:

    1. I agree that those whom you call ‘x-buddhist writers’ quote from other traditions and thinkers to simply bolster their own positions. But I don’t see how this is different from ‘speculative non-buddhist writers’ who quote from their favorite thinkers (like Lacan, Bhaskar, Beckett etc). You both bring in your favorite thinkers to bolster your arguments, and I don’t see this as a problem or “bad faith.” What am I missing here?
    2. Glenn, you ask: “Can you, for the sake of further discussion, produce an instance of an x-buddhist writer’s robust engagement with another thinker, an engagement that has not decided before the engagement begins that x-buddhism’s rightness will be validated?” Quite frankly, I agree with you that most of the time, when anyone with an investment in buddhism and ‘being buddhist’ turns to other thinkers and traditions, it is preordained that buddhism’s “rightness” as you put, will be validated. I do think that most buddhists engage with other thinkers (if and when they do) with bad faith.
    However, when looking over the body of work Batchelor has produced, I think we DO see a real engagement with other thinkers and traditions at work as he begins to question his Tibetan teachers and the indoctrination he was subjected to only when he ‘discovers’ several western philosophers. It was his engagement with these philosophers – including Heidegger, and the existentialists that initiated the inquiry that led him to leave his Tibetan teachers and practice, and to enter upon a trajectory that has led him from monkhood to ‘secular buddhist spokeperson.’

    I think when reading “Alone With Others” and “Faith To Doubt,” for instance, we see someone for whom an engagement was not at all “too-foredained to constitute genuine dialogue.” I think his struggle, doubt and uncertainty was real and the outcome was a toss-up. That he’s come to his conclusions through what sounds like (to my ears) a sincere and heartfelt struggle and inquiry seems clear enough, even if I don’t agree fully with where it’s led him.

    If we just look at where he seems to have settled in, it might seem like he too only superficially engages with other thinkers and traditions; it is only when we look over his entire oeuvre, do we see what I believe is a real transformational dialogue that you are asking about. And again, all I can say is this is how it looks to me when I read his books.

  33. Linda (#31). Thanks for joining the conversation over here. And thanks for taking the time and trouble to write the comment you did.

    My most general, overall response is that you and I have vastly didn’t ideas about the issues we’re dealing with. I’ll address what I see as the bulk of these ideas.

    I find useful as a general principle your statement that (put in the plural) “distinctions depend on how the circles are drawn.” One way that you and I differ is that I am drawing a much, much larger circle than you are. You say that my first faulty conclusion is based on the shaky assumption that the diversity that is Secular Buddhism cannot all be painted with the brush of Batchelor. That is the case if we are looking from within a narrow circle. The ramifications entailed by this distinction are behind my twin ideas of “fitting proximity” and “exile.” (Whenever I say “you” I mean, of course, the writer in your texts, the rhetorical you.) You are like a person inside a crowed bazaar. Picture one of those Moroccan bazaars–throngs of people going from table to table shopping for wares. And droves of merchants hawking their wares. From your perspective, going from table to table, examining each item, there are real differences. I don’t stand there. I stand far removed from the throng of shoppers and merchants. What I see is a breathing, undulating, interwoven pattern. Where I stand, the piercing vibrato of the merchants is silenced. It all appears as a sort of surreal dance to me. The differences you see do not appear as differences to me. Another example: If we zoom in on a printed image, we see the minute dots that make it up. One version shades some dots light grey, another black, another blue. When you look up close, those differences make a difference; when you step back, they don’t. On this blog, I am not interested in the close-up view. I am not interested in comparing wares or buying them, and least of all in hawking them. I am interested in the pattern of x-buddhism as discerned from a distance. So, I agree with the first two sentences of this statement, but not the last two:

    It may be a matter of those circles. Your stance here and in past posts seems to put you pretty firmly outside the circle of the sorts of people you’re identifying as members of the hive; to you it looks like we’re all drones. But inside what passes for the hive we aren’t all buzzing with the mantras Batchelor has given us; we actually have independent minds and do frequently disagree with him. Far from “unchallenged, unquestioned axioms” what you seem to be seeing is what you expect to see:

    The details of what you’re all buzzing with–like the details of what the different people are talking about in the bazaar–are inconsequential to the patter as a whole. I even go further than to say that all Secular Buddhists are alike (in their rhetorics of self display–that’s all I have access to). I say that all Buddhists, Buddhists of every variety–x-buddhists–are identical.

    To your point that I see what I expect to see; namely:

    1) That we perceive the dharma as unconditioned (it is not, and I’d be happy if you’d point out those who say it is — unless you’re redefining “unconditioned”)

    I don’t know what it could mean to “perceive the dharma.” So, I have to ask you in return what it is you are referring to as “the dharma.” I am referring to the very basic x-buddhist notion of a timeless, unconditional truth, one that was “discovered” or “recovered” by the Buddha. Please search Google for “the dharma + unfabricated” or “unconditioned.” You will find dozens and dozens of versions of Yeshe Rabgye’s comment that “The real beauty of all of the Buddha’s teachings is that they are based on natural laws and are not fabricated.”

    Now, it might be that your interpretation of “the dharma” does not permit it to be conditioned. But engaging in those sorts of debates is precisely the dance of the x-buddhists. One of the tell-tale signs of an x-buddhist is that s/he participates in endless exemplification of x-buddhism.

    2) That SecB’s all believe the Buddha to have been a real guy (you clearly need to get out more if that’s your perception — I seem to be the staunchest holdout to that view, and I feel beleaguered most of the time)

    First–and I’ll return to this point later–if you really believe that I “clearly need to get out more,” presumably into the world of Buddhism and Buddhist, you must be completely unaware of my life-long, intense involvement with x-buddhism. I have been out among x-buddhists, in some form or another, virtually every day for the last thirty-five years. I have been, and am, more involved with x-buddhism than virtually anyone you will ever meet. Anyway, about the point. I obviously don’t know what Secular Buddhists, as actual people, believe. I do, however, know what they say and what they write. They speak and write as if the historicity of the canonical Buddha were (1) taken for granted, and (2) a necessary condition for the authoritativeness of “the Dharma.” Even when they say it is otherwise, they inevitably invoke, if often implicitly, the authority of the Buddha. Secular Buddhists simply what to have their amrita and eat it, too–in so many regards.

    Why are you a holdout?

    4) That SecBs ignore useful information from “philosophy, psychology, biology, literature, neuroscience, medicine, and the arts” in preference to the Buddha’s teaching (again, you need to pay more attention to what’s being said; even your visits to your “Facilebook” should show you these aren’t being ignored — but maybe it’s because you have your Facile-Glasses on when you read causing you to miss what’s being discussed).

    I comment on this statement below.

    5) That we fail to recognize that, having accepted what we perceive that the Buddha taught, the change in our worldview affects how we see the world — you say we don’t notice we “have an ideology” but I have also seen it suggested that it’s “indoctrination”. The more one understands what the Buddha is pointing out the harder it is to fail to see that it is true that the worldview affects what we see, but it’s such a chicken-and-egg issue that I can’t deal with it in a bullet point.

    I don’t understand that statement.

    But the suggestion that Secular Buddhism *refuses* “to subject its beliefs to the rigors of humanistic discourse” is just silly. Did we meet and agree on this, did we put out a position statement? Where do you get this from? Did we fail to invite you to the party, along with Thoreau, Nietzsche and Dale Carnegie? That’s not the way it works, Glenn. We don’t have boundaries. If you want to join in the conversation, join in! State your case! You’ve already been invited to the party, and so are all the friends you care to bring. Please, introduce them to us. But if you start off with in-your-face comments (Secular Buddhism a parody and a constriction), and continue on with accusations of dishonesty, and school-yard taunts that we hold onto “childish perceptions”, don’t be surprised if you get mistaken for the party bore who would rather be noticed than heard for his ideas — and find those you’re hoping to engage going off to talk to someone else.

    This is another instance where you and I have vastly different notions. I am paying very close attention to what is being said on the SB Facebook page. If you think the SB FB/SBA forum use of and discussions about the disciplines that you mention is anything approaching the rigors of humanistic discourse, I just don’t know what to say. Deepak Chopra presents information from quantum physics, too. His followers don’t ignore it, either.

    On the rest: yet again the Secular Buddhist tone police! This is getting tedious. Please see my comment #8.

    Also, I am not hoping to engage any of you. Please read the WARNING! page. After this comment thread ends, I am through with direct engagement with Secular Buddhists. Secular Buddhism as a whole is not ready for this type of engagement.

    Overall, though, it seems to me that what’s happening is that you are mostly getting a glimpse of the front door,

    I can’t express to you how utterly ridiculous this characterization of my position in relation to x-buddhism–including Secular Buddhism–is.

    I also said that the Buddha’s style of teaching, one that generally isn’t confrontational, is something I admire, along with “his sense of humor, the consistency of his approach, the elegant complexity of the structures he built to convey his message, his ability to draw people in through their belief system rather than to belittle their approaches to life.” I find what he did useful; I’m sorry you find it fictional.

    There is no “Buddha’s style of teaching.” Those “elegant…structures” you see are a product of your imagination. It’s a form of cognitive-affective selectivity. When you say things like this, you are, in my view, displaying symptoms of ideological subscription. There is no “his message;” there is no historically determinate “he” who did “useful things.” That is, I think, a profoundly misguided way to approach the entire tedious tesselation we call Buddhism. It’s wishful thinking. The reason that I “find it fictional” is because, if you look, that’s what you find: fiction, specifically, mytho-religio-fiction. Worse even: mytho-religio-fiction that was written by committees. Also, the reason that the buddha’s teachings appear non-confrontational to you is that the committees of conservative monks who fashioned the texts created completely anemic interlocutors for the protagonist. Compare the protagonist’s dialogues with those of Socrates (also a figure rather than a person). The “consistency” that you “see” is just that. There is no end to the tedious tesselation that is x-buddhism, nor to the detailed exemplification of x-buddhists.

    By the way, the project here is one of critique. Thanks, again.

  34. @ Mikael #27. Maybe some of the folks here came to great insights about how to live all on their own; no one ever gave them good directions that they tried out and found useful (great that there are such brilliant folks out there — I’m not one of them; I rely on the brilliant to suggest directions to try). Or maybe they got good directions and have just forgotten than they did, and therefore assume everyone should be able to do as they did (as they think they did) and just practice plain and simple awareness — “get it for free” — the answer just comes; who needs teachers? Being skeptical of what our teachers are offering us is wise: keep an open mind; don’t listen only to your teachers. But cynicism is over-doing it. They’ve seen some really bad teachers? Fine, but there’s no need to judge all teachers by those particular ones, or to interpret the actions of others through the assumptions that they’re doing the same as others you’ve known. Seems to me, Mikael, that your practice and your desire to help is a good way to go (but then, it’s the direction I’m taking, so of course I would); if it’s working for you, keep at it, but keep listening to other ideas too, yes?

    @ Everyone

    For me, this is the essence of what the Buddha is teaching: recognizing the degree to which we judge the world by our past experiences and what we think we know about the world based on those experiences. We keep interpreting everything in ways that fit with what we have already concluded, shaping the world in the image we have provided. In modern discussions, this is confirmation bias at work; in the Buddha’s parlance, it was all about what is self: taking in what we are certain is self, rejecting or ignoring whatever isn’t. Either way of looking at it is pointing to the same behavior; both of them are valid ways of interpreting what’s happening. There are bound to be other ways of expressing the same thing, some giving more accurate insights and useful strategies than others.

    In this thread, I see this confirmation bias/self-referential interpretation happening, and I see the polarizing effects. Understanding isn’t being gained so much as increasing convictions in one’s own stances. Some of those who are dissing Secular Buddhism find it anti-intellectual, or take that to extremes of “fearing a thought” — do they not recognize the degree to which SecBs think and read and discuss and debate (or as Frank pointed out in the post just above, how reading Western thinkers might have had a genuine effect on getting a person to rethink Buddhism)? And are some here actually scoffing at grounding one’s understanding in what is evident to the individual? Should we rely only on intellectual ideas, and not ask for the evidence of our own experience to bear witness to the reliability of the ideas we work with?

    It’s problematic, this issue of separating out our biases and figuring out “what’s really going on” — is it even possible? The Buddha’s prescription is, yes, to start from what we can see for ourselves; he says it all traces back to the body which seems true enough — all that information comes in through the senses — and he shows how from there it evolves into ideas, and explains why it does. His way of seeing the world isn’t purely about physical experience or about intellectual theory, it’s about how the two are intertwined. And lest we delude ourselves too much by relying on how we perceive our own experience, he suggests we listen to the wise. Since he didn’t limit “the wise” in his day to just his own teachers, he likely would have included those “old white men” if he were alive today.

    I hope y’all will forgive me for my example being drawn from my own life at the moment, but this is most vivid to me: objectively, I can’t actually tell how accurate or how useful my new understanding of Dependent Arising (DA) is. I have been told for so long by the likes of Glenn (not directly, but in his rants against revisionist Buddhism and for our inability to get any good sense of the historical Buddha from the suttas) and (directly) by many traditional Buddhists that I am Making It All Up and revising Buddhism to fit my preconceptions, that having pretty much everyone around me tell me I’m nuts tends to make me wonder if perhaps I am. On the other hand, when I’m told what my preconceptions are and what I am seen to be trying to achieve by such folks, their suggestions are so far from my actual concerns that I begin to suspect they are the ones deluding themselves (about me and what drives me). When I had studied long enough to think I had come to understand the general shape of DA — and I found that others had independently arrived at more or less the same shape — and then research provided nuggets of history that indicated that this may well be the structure (not the traditional structure) it became hard to see how I could be making it all up. But then, maybe somehow I am still fitting facts to preconceptions I am not even aware I have. But I don’t think so. So how can I know which is the case? I try it out in my own life (and it helps by making things clearer to me) but maybe that’s still me deluding myself. I’ve gone as far as I can with this in my own thinking, time to put it to the test, and that test is to let it out to be handled by “the wise”. Let those who want to put it in the lab of intellectual theorizing work on it; let those who want to see if it applies to life test it there. I can’t really *know* all by myself — there’s too much opportunity for delusion. I can only do the best I can by myself, and ask for other opinions, and watch what happens.

    That’s, for me, what practice is. It’s not “fearing thought” but paying attention to thought. It’s not grounded in just one individual’s experience, it needs the balance of outside opinions. It doesn’t have to be just ancient wisdom or just modern thinkers and science. Dividing it up and picking sides doesn’t seem to me to be the best course — what do you, the wise guys, think?

  35. Linda (#34). I think you may be missing the point of this blog. We are interested in critique. We are exploring, perhaps creating, the components of an applied criticism. Only to a partisan could we appear to be creating a “polarizing effect” or “dividing it [=x-buddhsm?) up and picking sides.” If the various x-buddhist sanghas were restaurants, we’d be the food critics: we are offering an opinion about various facets of the eating experience–an opinion utterly disinterested, moreover, in the interests of the restaurant.

    Once again you make several references to language and tone (rant, cynical, etc.) I hope you all will give more careful thought to the restrictiveness of your subscription to “right speech.” Right speech is just the thing to call for if you’re the top dog and want to keep others in their place. Doesn’t the very term sound Orwellian? You won’t create anything new with right speech. You’ll just stay locked in the grooves of borrowed, bloodless, thought. There is no right speech on this blog. Why might that be?

    Finally, about you assertion in comment #31, that “the Buddha’s style of teaching [is] one that generally isn’t confrontational.” I don’t knwo how much latitude you want to grant that “generally.” You know, I am sure, that the protagonist was not shy about calling others “fool,” “idiot,” “stupid” and other quite confrontational names. And if the man who stands like a shadow behind the legend of the Buddha really came from the outskirts of Indian civilization–in present-day Nepal–then he would have been more the son of a tribal warlord than a “prince.”

    I will share here some text from a draft for a “biography” that I worked on for four years. I abandoned the project because the data just became flimsier and flamsier. Working on this biography help me to realize the scam that is the x-buddhist canon, and the gullibility that are x-buddhists.

    It would be terribly ironic to burden a disadvantaged child with a name forecasting worldly success. And indeed, Gotama’s family status gave him every opportunity to fulfill his name’s dual promise of wealth and achievement. He later mentions to a group of followers that his father was a raja named Suddhodana and his mother a devi named Maya. These terms are usually translated as king and queen respectively. Being the son of a raja makes Gotama a rajaputta. This Pali word is typically translated as prince. But these English terms are misleading.

    King, queen, prince—what images these words evoke! We see mighty, sovereign rulers, majestic castles, vast domains, and sprawling armies in the field of battle. Even contemporary royalty possess breathtaking wealth and unsurpassable high status. Several good reasons, therefore, recommend caution in concluding that Gotama stemmed from royalty as we conceive it. First, the terms that have caused biographers ancient and modern to view Gotama as a prince are much more humble in their scope than their regal translations suggest.

    Gotama was a member of the Sakya peoples. He is in fact still remembered by the epithet, Shakyamuni (the Pali version, Sakyamuni, is rare), the sage of the Sakyas. The Sakyas ruled a small area in the southeastern foothills of the Himalayas. Their homeland was well outside of the powerful—and mutually hostile—Brahmanical kingdoms centered in the Ganges Plain farther to the west. Like many hill peoples living beyond the heart of civilization, the Sakyas had a reputation for being “fierce, rough-spoken, touchy, and violent.” Perhaps it was a combination of their peripheral location and their toughness that made them prone “not to honor, respect, esteem, revere, or pay homage to Brahmins.”

    Like other peoples on the periphery of the kingdoms, the Sakyas were organized as a gana-sangha, a tribal assembly. An alternative term was gana-rajya, a tribal government. Romila Thapar describes gana-sanghas as:

    systems where the heads of families belonging to a clan, or clan chiefs in a confederacy of clans, governed the territory of the clan or the confederacy through an assembly, of which they alone were members.” The term has been translated in various ways. It was once thought that they were democracies but this is hardly appropriate given that power was vested in the small ruling families and they alone participated in governance. The larger numbers of people who lived in the territory had no rights and were denied access to resources.

    A persistent view of the Sakyas is that they formed a “republic.” It is true that the head of the Sakyan government was not a king, thus, meeting one of the conditions of a republic. But it is certainly not the case that the Sakyas fulfilled another necessary condition of a republic; namely, the placing of supreme political power in ordinary citizens via elected representatives. Thapar, in fact, is describing a system that comes closer to our idea of an oligarchy, “rule by a few.” Even more likely, as Thapar further suggests, the Sakyas were simply a “chiefdom.” This designation, she says, captures the fact they their homeland was a “pre-state” or “proto-state,” in drastic contrast to the nation-kingdoms to the west.

    Gotama’s father was a Sakyan raja named Suddhodana. West of the Sakyan territory, where great, unified realms were being forged, the term raja was beginning to acquire the sense of “king.” But among the tribal territories, the term still indicated nothing more than that Suddhodana was a member of the ruling assembly of the Sakyas. To put this position in perspective, the Vrijjis, a gana-sangha confederacy consisting of eight clans, had over seven thousand rajas in their general assembly. Far from being a king, Gotama’s father was thus one of many tribal chieftains of a small, insignificant outback of Indian civilization. So insignificant was the Sakya tribe, in fact, that it was wholly subjugated by the end of Gotama’s life.

    Gotama’s status as a prince of the fairy-tale variety has nonetheless been an unquestioned feature of his life story from the beginning. This feature, originating among his earliest boosters in India, has come down to us as virtually inseparable from his actual teachings. What he said, in other words, derives its veracity in large part from his identity as a prince. Today, we can hardly imagine him as anything less than royalty. The narrative structure is so neat and the rhetorical force so potent that it will be difficult to dislodge this hyperbolic feature from Gotama’s life story. But this is nothing new. Since ancient times a common rhetorical feature of religious writing has been to present one’s revered teacher as royalty. The unassuming carpenter named Jesus becomes the Prince of Man and the King of Kings; the failed royal advisor Confucius is the hidden heir to the reign of the histhical Zhou dynasty. Royalty signifies power and prestige. It suggests to us common people special linkages to great forces, both worldly and supernatural. Gotama, the Buddha, as prince-ascetic, furthermore, permits a storyline that parallels his more drastic teachings concerning the danger of indulging extremes. He knows this danger firsthand since, unlike the rest of us, his life experience swung between the bloated excesses of wealth and status and the emaciating privations of radical self-denial. The “middle course” that he will eventually chart between these extremes is thus a true middle, taking into account the entire range of human possibility. Like Saint Augustine’s Confessions, the logic of extremes at work in the story is meant to catalyze the hearer or reader into a response. For both men, the intended response is conversion to a reordered relationship to desire, one that stands in the true middle between extremes.

    Long cherished images and potent narrative strategies aside, however, we possess no evidence whatsoever—neither textual, epigraphical, nor archeological—to corroborate the legendary depictions of Gotama as a prince. The oldest and barest textual authorities, when taken at face value, point, rather, to Gotama’s being the son of a local tribal or clan chieftain.

  36. Frank Jude Boccio (#32).

    You’re offering a very good challenge here, I think, to my assertion that Batchelor and x-buddhists writers generally use other thinkers mainly as props to bloster their own, pre-ordained conclusions. It’s a good question, too, when you ask about the difference between Batchelor’s, etc. quoting others and our doing so on this blog.

    I will go back and have a closer look at the books you mention. I have read them, though, and remember my impressions. This issue of “propping” is one I always attend carefully to in reading x-buddhist literature. I was initially excited when I read Magid because I thought he was going to up the ante. But in the end, Zen, as always, wins.

    I do not doubt that Batchelor’s engagement with thinkers like Heidegger was genuine and formative for him. I can well imagine that reading the people you mentioned in #17 really fucked with Batchelor’s head as he played the charade of being the good Tibetan monk. My objections to his use of these thinkers has to do with the general pattern of “propping” that I see in all x-buddhist writing. To my mind, there is a world of difference between a historically and doctrinally responsible employment of a thinker’s ideas and propping. The latter just sprinkles someone else’s words on your cake; the former gets baked into the cake. I think that Adam Miller’s usage of Latour in the post “Practicing Myopia” is an instance of the former. The test is this: would Latour scholars generally agree that Adam employed Latour in a way that allows Latour’s ideas to hold their proper place, and not just serve as servants to Adam’s own views? To achieve this level of responsibility, Adam had to cook Latour into his thinking and writing.

    I see something similar with Tom Pepper’s usage of Althusser. Tom is not offering up his own theory of ideology, and then using Althusser to accentuate or legitimize that theory. Althusser is baked into Tom’s views, in this case. Tom is offering a–his, of course–meditation on ideology cum Althusser.

    Another difference, in my view, is that no one here is positing a doctrine of any sort. Batchelor is speaking in the terms of a sort of saving grace:

    Perhaps we have reached a time when we need to recover and practice again a solar dharma, one concerned with shedding its light (wisdom) and heat (compassion) onto and into this world (p. 8).

    Funny, when I look over the list of people you gave, I see that many of the people you mention would jump with glee at such an ecstatic statement. But those people are decidedly non-secular in spirit:

    Pascal, Milton, Dante, The Gospels of John, Mark, Luke and Matthew, The Koran, St. Paul, Tillich, The Book of Revelation, Pagels, Eliade, Damasio, Keats, Heidegger, Eliot, Meister Eckhart.

    Others would refuse to jump in the pool with those guys:

    Nietzsche, Baudelaire, Kafka, Popper, Spinoza, Montaigne, Blake (he would not want to participate in anyone’s ecstatic vision but his own)

    How can all of these thinkers be responsibly woven into a single vision? And what in the world is “secular” about a vision that receives inspiration from “St.” Paul and the Koran? Let’s all stop playing at paste, can we?

    Thanks again for your valuable participation.

  37. Glen, thanks for your clarification (re: “propping”). (#36) My guess is that when looked at over his total body of work, Batchelor does both: that is, I think (especially in his earlier work) that he really ‘employed’ other thinkers — mainly to help extricate himself from the tendrils of tibetan buddhism. Never being so devoted to any tradition or teacher that my very identity was wound up in as clearly the case it seems with Batchelor, at times it’s painful to see how much struggle he put himself through. I think now, as he creates his “doctrine,” he may be using other thinkers more for “propping.” Again, if you review his earlier work, you may not see it as I do, but in regards to your earlier post, I do think he had found himself where he would never have imagined before his engagement with the wider world of thought. Thus, it was a “transformational dialogue” for HIM.

    As for your question/comment: “How can all of these thinkers be responsibly woven into a single vision?” I’m not sure all of these thinkers have equal input into his “vision.” In fact, I think this list of pretty diverse thinkers simply shows just how much he dived into an internal debate. He spent some time ping-ponging, being inspired by something from the gospels, and then finding himself agreeing with a criticism against the gospels leveled by Nietzsche etc. I don’t think this so ‘odd.’ I’ve read some of your critique and find myself agreeing or being creatively challenged, then I’ll read something else and see holes in your argument, and so goes the internal process of the internal dialogues!

    And as for the questioning of what might be “‘secular’ about a vision that receives inspiration from ‘St’ Paul and the Koran?” I have two thoughts:
    1. I think there’s an argument to be made that Batchelor is not as secular as he sometimes claims. I mean, the guy says he feels some “guilt!” about his ‘secularism?’

    2. I’m no friend of christianity, but I’ve found myself being able to be ‘inspired’ or at least ‘moved’ by isolated statements from — of all people — “St.” Paul! I’ve been inspired by something Eisenhower said, but that doesn’t make me a republican! “Inspiration” has as much to do — perhaps all to do — with one’s perception and interpretation and re-interpretation.

    Perhaps related, in the so-called ‘yoga community,’ one often hears things like “yoga is not a religion” or even, “yoga is not religious,” and then it is added: “it’s spiritual.” Years ago, I caused a bit of a stir by claiming yoga WAS religious by bridging the original meaning of “religio” with the definition of “yoga” as “yoking.” It need not have anything to do with any particular doctrine or institution; what I was saying is that the simple act of yoking body, breath and mind as in some forms of meditation IS religion/religious practice. Maybe some re-definition and even re-claiming is going on with some secularists? Within the skeptical society, there are always arguments about what “religious humanism” might mean. There are those who define themselves as such, but others cannot even begin to see past what they see as an oxymoron.

    Thanks again!

  38. jonckher said

    Mikael (#22 and #27)

    Mikael, your open-hearted responses touched and humbled me. Striving to balance both my mind and my heart has been the sole goal of my practice for some time now. On occasion, I encounter a writer that communicates that beautifully. Barry Magid whose book I am tearing through is one such person. You are another. And I have found both in these pages. For which I am extremely grateful.

    sadhu! sadhu! sadhu!

    Tom Pepper (#25)

    “Proud to be stupid an lazy”

    Tom, you win the prize for finding my point!

    It is true. I have long striven to be stupid and now that I have achieved some measure of success in that, I can only say that I am much freer from suffering than before. Has my practice made me cast out the baby with the bathwater? I wonder that some times but for some reason, it doesnt really worry me. I watched a documentary on Demolition Derbies last night. I really enjoyed it. I doubt I would have if I was smarter. I also really liked the Avengers! Spolier alert! The Hulk said “Puny god” after thrashing Loki. If that is not the dharma, I don’t know what is.

    I only wish I was more lazy. The wise leader does nothing and from that, everything is accomplished. I think I read it in a fortune cookie once. I could look up Miyagi but I’m too lazy to google it. Anyway, I found out that personal hygiene is not one of those things that accomplishes itself. I suspect that the fortune cookie company has been infiltrated by capitalists.

    The only lesson I learnt from that was laziness should be applied strategically. But strategic thinking requires smarts so I generally just lather it on in vast quantities.

    Practice, practice, practice!

    ps: I am sorry that there isnt actually a prize – just some words.

    pps: Matthias in this thread directed me to a 30 page summary on big thoughts which I will look at. If I become smarter and less lazy as a result, it is his fault and would surely register in the red column of his karmic ledger.

    In general (#X)

    I am off topic on secular buddhism so to be polite, I will contribute to the discussion thus:

    Secular buddhists have no faith. So you can’t say they do.

    Also, that would be impolite as you might hurt their feelings. Or make them think big thoughts and use big words. Or both.

    I trust that will be the end of the matter.

    With metta as always.

  39. Glenn (re #35).

    Are you saying the point of the blog is critique to the exclusion of conversation? Because conversation was what I was talking about.

    I think you may be missing the point I was trying to make in my comment. Or maybe you are unconsciously pushing my comments in a direction that makes them conform to the norms you assume for me — that I’m all about trying to make you conform to the norms of Buddhism — which would make my comments much easier to deal with, keeping it in territory familiar to you, rather than you having to address what I was saying.

    The only thing my comment about your use of language had to do with “right speech” comes as a result of your perception that that’s what I would be talking about. It’s not actually in my comments. I was saying that your use of language tends to put people off rather than draw them into the discussion — I was talking about the end result in terms of the goals you may have set for the blog, not about morality — and I was crediting you with being smart enough to be aware of this, and I was wondering aloud if this is your intention. Are you really wanting wide engagement and consideration of your ideas? If you are, why do you choose extremely technical language in so many of your posts (I didn’t mention this because so many others already had). Why do you choose an abrasive style? I’m actually wanting answers to the question — I’m not trying to get you to give it up; I’m trying to understand. If you have good reason for doing it, please explain it to me. In non-technical language, if you would, please.

    It wouldn’t even occur to me to think of what I’m pointing out in your writing as being about “right speech” at all. First of all, my perception is that you’re trying your best to communicate, it’s just that you’re not doing it effectively (unless your aim is to drive off a big portion of potential readers, in which case it’s working quite well). Secondly, I am not in the least concerned with whether you are able to become liberated along some imaginary Buddhist path that involves never saying an offensive word, so I have no investment in getting you to conform to what you perceive as the norms you posit are being pushed.

    It’s not part of my understanding of the Buddha that he suggest that we never use language that might offend others; I was quite aware, before your lengthy excerpt, that he didn’t tolerate fools gladly. I never suggested he was a prince (in any meaning of the word) so I’m not sure what your piece on that was about. But I am aware that the number of times he told people they were being foolish is quite small compared to the number of times he spoke to people with great understanding and tolerance and even respect for their belief systems. I don’t consider aptly used technical or harsh language to always be outside of a Buddhist practice. I do hear you consistently doing what he rarely did — being abrasive and speaking right over your potential audience’s heads — and I’d like to know why you choose to do this.

    I’m questioning whether your use of such language is actually serving you well. My comments are not about right speech and conformity, they are about creating understanding and inviting people to participate. If your point in using language in a the way you do is that it’s necessary to do this to get new ideas to take hold, it just seems to me that it’s not accomplishing what you want it to do. But maybe reaching a limited audience is what you’re after?

  40. Luis Daniel said

    I think Frank´s contribution is solid and makes a better point than Glenn is willing to admit. Glenn moves from food critic to cooker at his own convenience – “Adam had to cook Latour bla bla bla” (for me that article was another imitation of Badiou´s ideas, before that it got even worse with Tom Pseudonymous piece, a very clumsy imitation of althusser´s concept of ideology as a refried Badiousan Platonic version of samsara and other armchair revision of some buddhist concepts). The distance Glenn pretends to have is just a useful fiction he needs. The more he wants something the farther he “stands away from it” to see its pattern but in “its service.” Imitations of other authors -sophisticated, flamboyant, dogmatic or well “cooked” as they may be- abound here in every “essay” and “informed” comment. Overall, it is just a different perspective with a direct challenge/invitation to dialogue but which at the end, is enriching.

    This is good; as good as it is for everyone. And we need to thank Glenn Wallis for that – his platonic philosophical and scientific contradictions aside.

    As we need to thank Stephen Batchelor for solidly generating the secular buddhist movement – his lack of direct engagement and religious affections aside.

    As with children, whom are never the result of a single parent, THIS practice IS the actual result of THIS larger dialogue, everyone included.

    It is in itself usually intelligent, informed, passionate, direct, democratic and creative. And slowly useful.

    We can, we must, celebrate this as I do so here now.

    The rest, only time will tell.

  41. David said

    I would like to hear what form of meditation those writing on this site do, and what does it do for you?

    Having only critiques of intellectual arguments doesn’t add up to much. It is easy to present more and more language of denouncement, it is more interesting to actually propose something one finds of importance and helpful to oneself.

  42. Matthias said

    “Dialog” has been mentioned in this thread and certainly the thread is about dialog – the one Batchelor will have with Cupitt, the one which is ongoing here.

    Matthew O’Connell asks in #5

    Is it possible for an organisation, however informal, to function to serve the sort of inquiry that you champion, whilst presenting a cohesive enough approach to meeting and sharing experience and knowledge to attract active participating in the generation of something new?

    I would say “yes”.

    One question is, what hinders “a cohesive enough approach to meeting and sharing experience?” Part of the answer is: The Word of the Buddha.

    Every time one argues with this “Word”, one is putting a magic spell on the conversation. What is conjured in this moment is the timeless truth beyond doubt nobody could deny. It is not only an empty signifier, “bla bla” in plain english, it is implicitly making small and feeble everything somebody else has to say from his own experience or knowledge. It is also an expression of the megalomania and hubris of the speaker who somehow accepts as granted that she ‘got it’. It simply is the death of every real conversation. One cannot argue with “The Dharma”. Everybody who conjures this zombie does not want any genuine dialog.

    The Five Articles of Faith of Secular Buddhists are five sins to avoid if one wants real conversation. Probably this will help a lot to develop a structure/organization to generate something new.

  43. Geoff said

    Where’s Ted Meissner? You’re keeping quiet.

    I’d be interested in your views Ted. Or is that putting you on the spot?

    Like eg Sujato – do you have to keep your troops happy?

    And Winton H (another from Ted’s podcast) – if you’re out there – what did you mean when you called Glenn a whippersnapper?

    Anyway, for what its worth Glenn…..

    Having had some involvement with both secular and traditional groups Down Under – I reckon you’re are spot on

    Rock on

    Geoff

  44. Tom Pepper said

    David, re #41: Like so many responses to this particular post, you seem to assume that thought is NOT in any way a useful practice. You ask us to stop thinking and focus on what is helpful to the self. Why would you assume that thinking is not a human activity every bit as much as drinking tea or looking at a flower or trying to achieve some endorphin buzz by strenuous activity? Linda says we are all just “theorizing” while she deals with the “real world,” and you want the same thing–don’t think, give me a thought-free contentment. My practice is intellectualizing, theorizing, thinking non-stop! The only way to help people (not myself, but everyone) is to break free of the attachment to this absolute division between thought and bodily contentment. The dominant ideology in America at least insists that all thought is bad, unable to deal with “reality,” and we should focus on the immediate problems of road rage and interpersonal antagonisms and friends and relatives dying–the structure of our society must NEVER be mentioned, that is the evil thing “thought.”

    My suggestion for practice is to stop the infantile pursuit of bodily contentment and THINK!!!

    Linda–what is the “technical language” you find so baffling? You don’t give any specific examples. You say you wan to understand the ideas, but without using the words for them? Unfortunately, ideas always come in words. If you limit the terms someone can use, you necessarily limit the ideas they can discuss. If you want to understand the ideas, why not ask for clarification on the specific “technical terms” you don’t get?

    I find it dismaying that so few people can tell the difference between quoting an “authority” as a warrant for what one already wants to say, and using a concept produced by someone else to investigate something. When someone uses a concept from Lacan or Deleuze, they are saying that this concept seems to be convincing and useful, so lets avoid starting from scratch and see how this can be put to use. This is different from merely pasting in an aphorism to say “look, Wittgentstein agrees with me!” I have read Batchelors “Alone With Others,” “Buddhism Without Beliefs” and “Confession of a Buddhist Atheist”. I find it kind of sad that it took him so long to see the problems with Tibetan Buddhism, but I don’t see how Heidegger really helped. He seems to have a very inaccurate and superficial understanding of Heidegger–at least, he presents a very superficial picture of Heidegger’s thought in his books. It seems as if he understood Heidegger to be saying exactly what he already thought, but needed some authority to be “permitted” to think. This is very different from a challenging engagement with serious thought.

  45. Linda (#39).

    Para 1. The point is critical conversation. No holds barred; i.e., not right, or wrong, speech.

    Para 2. Your comments do, whether you want to see it or not, echo your Buddha’s dispensation.

    Para 3. My end goal is not to “draw people into discussion.” It is, as I’ve said a million times on this blog, to develop an applied critique of x-buddhism’s universal syntax. I employ various styles of writing to accomplish that. Remember, Linda, when you label something “abrasive” or whatever, you are revealing more about yourself than you are about the object. Why don’t you echo x-buddhist ideas about the sankharas here? Like Matthias said, when we speak the Word of the Buddha, what we hear is our own voice. Similarly, what strikes you as abrasive strikes another as refreshing. So where does the abrasiveness exist? Even if I do sometimes aim for abrasiveness–so what? Apparently, I never got a copy of your rulebook on language and dialogue. And even if I had, I wouldn’t know what to do with it. I have spent my life in environments where vigorous, impassioned, say-what-you-mean-like-you-mean-it dialogue was not only valued but considered a virtue, and its opposite, a cowardly vice. The reason that I employ a technical style is that I am trying to create the conditions for genuinely fresh thinking with x-buddhist material. If you read around on this blog, you will find much discussion of this issue.

    Para 4. I am communicating effectively. The proof of that lies in the many, many comments and discussions that are helping to refine the critique. Believe it or not, Linda, many people find my language and ideas neither particularly difficult and overly-technical nor harsh. Again: sankhara.

    Para 5. Sorry, I have no interest in gossiping about your Buddha.

    Para 6. Again, yes. My language serves me very well, thank you. My original goal for this blog was to incite six other people to do critical work along similar lines. I am well on my way to reaching that goal. If you would take the time and trouble necessary to understand my article “Nascent Speculative Non-Buddhism,” you would find many answers to the questions you’re asking here. For instance, imagine the work that my axiom of disinterest does, or my postulate of the saliency of requisite disenchantment (yes, be sure to take a language-rule valium before you read).

    Linda, you say that my writing puts of many people. From my perspective, X-buddhist organizers of websites and forums, like x-buddhist writers of books and publishers of magazines, are profoundly patronizing. They go through ridiculous pains to protect their readers from what they perceive as harshness and even intellectual overkill. I said this when I was fifteen years old. It’s nothing new to me, this patronizing aspect of x-buddhism. I have experienced this patronizing tendency many, many times–as a writer for Buddhadharma and Shambhala Sun and Random House, and beyond. From the looks of their products, it is obvious to me that x-buddhist leaders have as little respect for the capacity of their consumers for hard, original thought as do our politicians. I, on the other hand, assume nothing but intelligence and the capacity for hard work on the side of my reader.

  46. Greg (#1). Thanks for commenting. Sorry it’s taken so long to reply.

    I’m rather amazed at the religious faith placed by so many in Batchelor’s nonexistent scholarly authority and laughable pseudo-philology, by which he conveniently arrives at a Buddha who affirms everything that he wants to believe.

    The proclivity of x-buddhist leaders and writers in the West (in the East, to, of course; but that’s not my interest) to do what you say here in the name of empiricism, reason, phenomenological obviousness and so on, is one reason that I started a blog focusing on criticism. X-buddhists do not critique one another; they just quibble about the details. And they, as you indicate, don’t care where they get the detail from, what basis it has, or the nature and viability of their sources. And I find it increasingly difficult to believe that the reasons for this bad faith (or is it ignorance? laziness?) is anything other than what you say in your last sentence. You have to keep the consumer happy, right?

    Matthew (#5).

    In order to produce this radical new approach a consensus of some level has to be reached and this evidently foresees the creation of an agreed ideology, right? A title, role, identity needs to be adopted, otherwise you would surely end up with highly individualized persons doing their own thing and communicating on occasion through blogs and websites and that would be that. What do you have to say about role of organization in the establishment of a new approach to genuine inquiry? Is it possible for an organisation, however informal, to function to serve the sort of inquiry that you champion, whilst presenting a cohesive enough approach to meeting and sharing experience and knowledge to attract active participating in the generation of something new? Perhaps your blog is sufficient answer to this question for you? This is a question I have and I have no clear answers.

    Good questions. And ones that we are giving a lot of thought here. The blog, though, is certainly not a “sufficient answer.” It’s just a sounding board for ideas. The critique that is unfolding here is intended to be applicable. I myself have applied some of the ideas to a sitting group. I wonder if you would mind looking at some of the previous discussion on this topic. We had some, for example at Samsara as the Realm of Ideology, No More Meditation, and Meditation and Control. In short, I see the possibility for a rigorous practice-dialogue. But such a practice-dialogue would have to be the result of the devastation wrought the non-buddhist heuristic. Otherwise, we’re just peddling more x-buddhism or spiritualityism. I am interested in a decimated practice. Unlike x-buddhism, I am interested in the liberation of the human being qua human being. What conditions serve liberation; which hinder it? That’s the concern of this blog.

    Jonah (#26).

    With this in mind, I’m afraid that your exclusive prescription of Western philosophy and literature might be seen, perhaps, as the back-swing of this pendulum–a return home after years at sea, a re-rejection, a double negation of sorts. Like a midlife crisis in which Dad starts listening to The Ramones again. Please excuse my pop psychoanalyzing. My only point is that it might shore up your foundations to avoid an obvious cultural duality. For instance, have you read Mishima? (god save me if I ever utter that sentence out loud…) He certainly did not flinch from nihilism, and coming as he did from a Zen influenced samurai kind of background it seems to me he could be of direct relevance here. If I’m remembering right, his “Temple of the Golden Pavilion” takes place in buddhistaland, and ends up, fittingly, on fire.

    Good points. Thanks. I refer only to westerners intentionally. Fetishism of the East is part of what I see as the problem. I also see a kind of reverse double standard where the Asian thinker is allowed to get away with lapses in reasoning and logic and sophistication that we don’t permit the westerner. Imagine subjugating the Buddha’s/the sangha’s dialogues–in the suttas and the sutras–to the same scrutiny the we subject Socrates’s/Plato’s. Maybe the fetishism and double standard are two parts of a whole. I don’t know. The Indian and other Asian material gets more sophisticated in the middle ages; but I also don’t want to get involved in all of the big vexing questions about comparative work. By the way, I never stopped listening to the Ramones. (Maybe that’s why I never had a mid-life crisis?) Thanks.

  47. losmalosaires said

    Glenn #46

    Thanks for the response. I agree, the comparative problems are good ones to avoid. Guess I’ll just keep ‘westerners only’ in my mind as an axiom when I read here.

    I do still think that expanding the domain of criticism might make the critique stronger, but maybe that is something that can wait until the project is out of its nascent stages.

  48. [...] —On Glenn Wallis and Speculative Non-Buddhism (provoked by Wallis’s May 2012 article, On the Faith of Secular Buddhists) [...]

  49. Greg said

    >>> Glenn Wallis said: I have experienced this patronizing tendency many, many times–as a writer for Buddhadharma and Shambhala Sun and Random House, and beyond. From the looks of their products, it is obvious to me that x-buddhist leaders have as little respect for the capacity of their consumers for hard, original thought as do our politicians.

    This is entirely right, but in my view what is truly indefensible on the part of the “mainstream dharma media” is the explicit policies that they follow in assiduously avoiding any acknowledgement of (let alone reportage on) the seemingly endless sexual, financial, and other abuses that “dharma teachers” have been perpetrating on their followers for so many years. The most recent one being only a couple of weeks ago, when Ian Thorson died in the desert in the company of the “lama” who had earlier stabbed him. Won’t be seeing that in the pages of Buddhadharma or Shambhala Sun! Once again, bad for business. Of course, this is probably a digression for another post – my apologies.

  50. David said

    Tom Pepper #44

    Tom I am not interested in “…the infantile pursuit of bodily contentment….”

    You don’t understand what my question was in my previous post #41, and you make many wrong presumptions about who I am.

    We can all learn from each other, but as individuals we come with differing interests to such practices as Buddhism. I came to this x-buddhist site looking for alternative views on Buddhism that said something that re-valued the ideas of Buddhism in a way that incorporated 20th century knowledge and questioned the religiousness of it. But the discourse on this site is only one of philosophical critique and not proposals of re-valuation. I do value intelligent discussion with critique when building some new view, but to constantly critique older views without positing anything new ends in little of substance.

    I’d like to know what aspects of Buddhism are valuable to others like you. But if you don’t find any of the core ideas of value then why all the arguing? Just denounce Buddhism and posit something that you do value.

    The basis of Buddhism rests upon a specific meditative reflection on the mind. Part of this reflection involves relating to the experiences of the body, not necessarily a pleasant sensation. Meditation is often reflecting on such experiences as part of normal experience. Your notion of “bodily contentment” is a gross misunderstanding and misrepresentation of the intention of this reflection. Don’t you know this? Another part of the reflection includes understanding how much of the mind’s processes lay outside the thinking process. This doesn’t make thinking “bad” but does raise questions about what drives thinking. Thought is a helpful and necessary process, but it doesn’t represent the thing in and of itself. It is an abstract analogy at best. Brain processes don’t reside upon thoughts. Language is a fascinating tool for communication, but in conceptions of the mind and consciousness it is only an extension of the thing.

    Are you interested in what consciousness is and how it is experienced? Are you interested in the relation of neurology to meditative states? How about how when Buddhist meditators have experiences of the jhannic qualities that their interpretations of those experiences are presupposed by their previous beliefs?

    Hopefully you see that my interests are well beyond “…trying to achieve some endorphin buzz….”
    And not against thinking!!!

  51. Tom Pepper said

    David,

    I think if you’ll read around more, you’ll find a great deal has been written here about what is useful in Buddhist thought. You might also begin to consider why you insist that there is a difference between meditation, “reflection,” and thought (which cannot represent the “thing itself”). I would not accept this kantian divide between lame reason and a noumenal essence. I also have no interest at all in neurology–for reasons that I and others have written about quite a bit. I have a pretty clear Idea what consciousness is and how it is experienced–my interest is in why most people are unable to let go of their ideological attachments and understand what has been said so clearly, by so many, for so long. Your interest in Buddhism as “relfection on the mind,” which reflection is somehow different from and superior to “thought,” is, from my perspective, just another statement of x-buddhist dogma. Why can you NOT see that what your are saying is EXACTLY the privileging of “bodily contentment”? That’s the question I’m interested in.

    And I don’t “presume” anything about YOU at all. I’m only responding to the content of your post. I doubt a post on a blog ever gives a very good picture of what anyone is really like.

  52. Tomek said

    I came to this x-buddhist site looking for alternative views on Buddhism that said something that re-valued the ideas of Buddhism in a way that incorporated 20th century knowledge and questioned the religiousness of it. But the discourse on this site is only one of philosophical critique and not proposals of re-valuation. I do value intelligent discussion with critique when building some new view, but to constantly critique older views without positing anything new ends in little of substance.

    David, did you have a chance to read this article? If you did, do you remember the following fragment?:

    Speculative non-buddhism is an approach to analyzing and interpreting Buddhist teachings. But, again, it results in buddhistically untenable, indeed, buddhistically uninterpretable, theorems. While this process results in a re-description of Buddhism, speculative non-buddhism is not an attempt to reformulate or reform (in any sense of the term) Buddhism. Neither is it concerned with ameliorating Buddhism’s relationship with contemporary western secular values. It is designed with three primary functions in mind: to uncover Buddhism‘s syntactical structure (unacknowledged even by—especially by—Buddhists themselves); to serve as a means of inquiry into the sense and viability of Buddhist propositions; and to operate as a check on the tendency of all contemporary formulations of Buddhism—whether of the traditional, religious, progressive or secular variety—toward ideological excess. (p. 1)

  53. David said

    So you’re just interested in language?

  54. Tom Pepper said

    Re #53: I’m interested in getting over the idea that there are only bodies and langauges–read my post #7, above. If you’re interested, read my essay under “Samsara as the Realm of Ideology.” That may make it clearer what my point is.

  55. @ Tomek, which is to say, as David succinctly put it, that the discourse on this site is only about philosophical critique and not proposals of re-evaluation. For what purpose would one want to uncover Buddhism’s syntactical structure? From what epistemological ground is one to judge the sense and viability of Buddhist propositions? Why would it be wrong, bad or even interesting for them to be nonsensical and unviable? Within what ethical structure is checking Buddhism’s tendency toward ideological excess a valuable thing to do? I suspect that the unexamined answer to all of these questions is that these projects are valuable because generating such discourse is how intellectuals establish their bona fides among themselves; but regardless, SNB gets to have its cake and eat it too. It can blast others for their unacknowledged ideological characteristics, but by eliminating from its “primary functions” the establishment of preferred alternatives, it can always be on the offensive, for it has nothing to defend. Ultimately, we need something besides critique, and we have it, or else Glenn wouldn’t be doing a blog. Unless we get a clear statement of what values SNB stands for and how they matter to human lives, we can only conclude that SNB is no different from all the other forms of self-aggrandizement one can find on the Internet, and that ultimately SNB stands for nothing and has nothing of value to say to anyone.

  56. I just wanted to bring this point by Tom Pepper down here, and to emphasize it’s importance to the discussion.

    I want to point out what I think is the core article of faith of Secular Buddhism: the unquestioning belief in the ideology of capitalism. (What did you think I was going to say?). Badiou defines this very succinctly: the belief that “there are bodies and there are languages.” That is, we are bodily, biological organisms, seeking pleasure for our bodies (including our brains), and we do this by adopting the most convenient language/culture at will. There are not constraints to the culture we can adopt, and not truth content to it: we need only adopt the one that maximizes our bodily pleasure—what Batchelor calls “moment-to-moment flourishing.” This is why in his first paragraph he can refer to “biological evolution,” “self-awareness and language,” the “brain” and our “fragile biosphere,” but it would never occur to him to mention our humanly constructed social formations as a source of suffering that we CAN ACTUALLY CHANGE!! This is why Secular Buddhist always seek to limit the discussion of suffering to sickness, death, loss, etc.—to those things that we certainly must learn to accept because they will doubtless always be with us. Passive acceptance of the inevitable, and maximization of bodily contentment, is the goal of Secular Buddhism AND of global capitalist ideology. This is why we accept the “scientific” research on mindfulness that operationally defines the successful achievement of “happiness” as the ability to remain undistracted by external stimuli; we achieve mindful bliss, it seems, is the ability to remain completely Unmindful of the world around us, and never let us disturb our brain/body comfort.

    Badiou explains: “the modern name for necessity is, as everyone knows, ‘economics’ . . which should be called by its name: the logic of Capital” The one unchangeable truth is the ineffable uncontrollability of the capitalist economy, and we must all simply adjust our languages and medicate our brains/bodies to maximize our bliss in the face of this inexorable truth. Secular Buddhism seeks to become the ideology of this power, which forces us to participate in the production of oppression, poverty, and suffering for the majority of the world population. We focus on being nice and accepting sickness and death, and believe if those poor folks in the southern hemisphere would only become secular Buddhists too, they’d be fine. Their suffering isn’t the result of economic and political oppression, it results only from their inability to become oblivious to the world around them! Be mindful, and enjoy your poverty!

    This is why it won’t do to simply say that we all have an ideology. Of course we all do, but some are better than others. We must always be willing to accept a thorough critique of our ideology, in order to choose one carefully. Secular Buddhism chooses an ideology that can produce transformation of individual lives in affluent capitalist societies and enable us to ignore the social production of human suffering that our own lifestyle requires.

  57. Mark (#55). Unlike you, apparently, no one here is interested in locking onto the tracks of borrowed thought. This blog represents an effort to think through those question you pose, and to do so unbeholden–as I’ve said a thousand times–to the norms and values of the thing we are interrogating, namely Buddhism. If you can’t see how what we are doing here might “matter to human lives,” I can’t help you.

    I will say one more thing. I find the anti-intellectualism, really the intelligence-bashing, at the Secular Buddhist Forum appalling. How much thinking do you permit one another before it turns into the kinds of diseases that Stephen Schettini warns your brethren about in his critique of this site? The SBA site treats thinking the same way it does language–something to be tightly controlled. Why is that? What do you fear. On this site–anything goes. What might that difference indicate about our respective projects, Mark?

  58. [...] Stephen Schettini reagiert mit dem Artikel auf den On the Faith of Secular Buddhists. Dort legt Glenn Wallis dar, dass auch säkularer Buddhismus nach Stephen Batchelor – [...]

  59. David said

    Tom (#52)

    “I think if you’ll read around more, you’ll find a great deal has been written here about what is useful in Buddhist thought.”

    Sorry Tom but I haven’t seen any statements about what is useful in Buddhism on this site.

    “You might also begin to consider why you insist that there is a difference between meditation, “reflection,” and thought (which cannot represent the “thing itself”). I would not accept this kantian divide between lame reason and a noumenal essence.”

    As far as a difference between meditative reflection and thought, it goes like this: I sense sensations without discursive thinking. Simple isn’t it? No noumenal essence. No thought. Yes, there is perception which continues as a process and that is what I refer to when using the word reflection.

    “Your interest in Buddhism as “relfection on the mind,” which reflection is somehow different from and superior to “thought,” is, from my perspective, just another statement of x-buddhist dogma.”

    My experience is that consciousness is not a singular experience, there are many processes operating consecutively. Perceptions from the body are not superior to thought, nor are they of thought. They are not the same.

    “I also have no interest at all in neurology–for reasons that I and others have written about quite a bit. I have a pretty clear Idea what consciousness is and how it is experienced–my interest is in why most people are unable to let go of their ideological attachments and understand what has been said so clearly, by so many, for so long.”

    So you don’t agree with a neurological understanding of consciousness. We disagree here. What has been said so clearly? (please be patient with me here)

    What do you experience in meditation? Are you thinking all the time?

    I would also like to know what your view of your body is in relation to consciousness? Do you experience a physical world? Do accept that it exists? Some people don’t.

    I hope to hear from you because I am trying to understand what you are presenting.

  60. David said

    Glenn Wallis #56 quoting Tom Pepper

    “I want to point out what I think is the core article of faith of Secular Buddhism: the unquestioning belief in the ideology of capitalism. (What did you think I was going to say?). Badiou defines this very succinctly: the belief that “there are bodies and there are languages.” That is, we are bodily, biological organisms, seeking pleasure for our bodies (including our brains), and we do this by adopting the most convenient language/culture at will. There are not constraints to the culture we can adopt, and not truth content to it: we need only adopt the one that maximizes our bodily pleasure—what Batchelor calls “moment-to-moment flourishing.” This is why in his first paragraph he can refer to “biological evolution,” “self-awareness and language,” the “brain” and our “fragile biosphere,” but it would never occur to him to mention our humanly constructed social formations as a source of suffering that we CAN ACTUALLY CHANGE!!”

    You seem to misrepresent a core principle of Buddhism that suffering exists. It is a selective reductionist misrepresentation to view any decision to understand how suffering can end as a sort of pleasure principle. And then to conflate secular Buddhism with capitalism as some equivocal underpinning is absurd.

    I can relate to wanting to undercut lines of thinking that Buddhism supports which encourage complacency. I agree that within the beliefs of Buddhism there are clear ideological social restrictions on thinking and acting to bring about change, especially within the monastic community. Quite obviously monastic Buddhism attaches itself to any food bearing power. But there are Buddhist groups formed towards social activism in their communities here in the U.S., so it is not black and white as to what the core principles of Buddhism can lead to.

  61. Robert said

    Glenn/Tom’s reminder (56) to not forget the extent to which we all are shaped by ideologies is especially pertinent in the context of the anti-thinking / anti-intellectualism arguments some of the commenters have made here. The Naked Monk on the SBA site is another good example of this type of argument.

    Ideologies after all manifest as real-world actions but originate in that shady realm where our gut feelings live and rule, where opinions are self-evident. The one way we can hope to bring these assumptions to the surface is through the kind of rigorous thinking and questioning that I believe makes Glenn’s blog such a unique and exciting place to visit.

    Things get rough here, and no prisoners are taken, but I have learned more here in the last year or so than I learned in the previous twenty in the various x-buddhist sanghas I called home. I remember these tired old arguments that are being made here today by the folks who self-identify as secular buddhists. I even remember making these arguments myself, and all I can say is that I am so very glad that those days are over. The sense of freedom once you allow yourself to think outside of the constraints of the consensus dharma is just really amazing.

    Now I realize that this comment will be met with incomprehension. But I feel i really must provide this bit of a counterbalance to the notion that all this blog is about is nagging and teasing nice buddhists who deserve so much better, or about smart-alecks who just have this irrepressible need to show the world that they are superior.

  62. Tom Pepper said

    David, all I can say is what I said before–you seem to be arguing against things I am not saying, and I can’t understand how to respond. If you really do want to know what my position is, you can read the essay posted under “Samsara as the Realm of Ideology.” To kid yourself that you sense sensations without thinking is just absurd, and you’re wasting your time; perceptions ARE thought, they are nothing but thought, by definition. Some thoughts may be less clearly defined than others (we usually call these emotions) but there is never any kind of thought-free experience. I wish I could take credit for this profound insight, but it is far from original. Let go of the attachment to incomprehensible gibberish about “multiple processes of consciousness” and do some serious thinking! I’ve explained my view of the body in relation to consciousness at great length–it’s a mouse click away anytime you want to read it. If it isn’t clear to you, feel free to ask questions.

  63. David said

    Tom Pepper #63

    Your thinking isn’t profound at all. It is unbelievably reductionistic to claim all perceptions are thought. I’m using the word thought to be discursive word based thinking. Perceptions as such can be as simple as sensations which are cognized. No, not all perception is word based. Foolishness.

  64. Tom Pepper said

    Sorry David, I didn’t realize you had redefined the word thought. Certainly, we don’t have clear words for all our thoughts. But calling them “cognized” doesn’t make them less thought, nor does simply redefining the word thought to include only those thoughts which we can clearly express in language. Your silly sophistry is getting boring, though. If you are ever interested in learning something, there are many people writing on these boards alone who clearly know much more than you do–stop being so dense and listen to some of them!

  65. David said

    Tom, can’t you even understand using language such as “thought” represents discursive thinking? And how a “perception” is a cognition? If not, well we can’t communicate together. If you truly can’t see the usefulness of the difference between using words to denote a “sensation”, “perception” and a “thought” then I understand your limitation. Are you even interested in communicating? If you want to conflate all experience to the word “thinking” it leads to all kinds of solipsistic understandings of ourselves and the world. “We are the center of the world. We are all there is. Consciousness is all there is. We cause the world.” The ego of man viewing itself in all its glory. Too bad.

  66. Tom Pepper said

    David, I’m sorry if I seem harsh and arrogant to you, but as I’ve said, I have explained all this in much greater detail elsewhere. If you’re interested, read it. If you really have a question, I’m willing to answer it. If you want to just call me stupid, limited, egotistical, whatever, I’m not interested. Like it or not, I am just much smarter and more knowledgeable about these matters than you are. If you want to learn, ask a question, I will try to answer it. If you want to stay stupid and call me names, I will stop responding.

  67. David (#65). What would an example be of perception without thinking? Do you mean that a phenomenon may pass before a particular sensory sphere without our having any naming or categorizing response? I assume you want a more robust notion of “perception without thinking” than that would constitute, correct? Can you offer an example? You don’t want to agree with Wittgenstein, either, I suppose (“there is no seeing, only seeing as,” or something to that effect)?

  68. David said

    Glenn

    When we were babies we didn’t have language, yet perceptions arose. I differentiate the word “perception” from the word “thinking” by reserving the word “thinking” to mean discursive thought.

  69. jonckher said

    #68 David

    On the whole subject of thought and whether everything is thought or not.

    In my opinion and experience, to describe a non-thought mind state using words is effectively impossible. There is a long tradition of x-buddhist attempts to do so but they only make sense to people who have experienced it.

    These non-thought mind states are achievable – usually after some days on a meditation retreat. I have experienced them myself.

    Whether or not these states are of any use is debatable. I personally see little value, after the first experience, in pursuing deeper and deeper states of concentration, kensho, jhana, whatever you want to call it. You can attach all sorts of mystical meanings to these states of course.

    Anyway, all I can say from my experience is that awareness and thought are NOT one and the same. This is not an understanding you can get to through talking and thinking about it. Sure, you start off thinking about it but eventually you just do it. It’s a bit like learning to juggle. Juggling is a good example of how thought gets in the way of the act.

    In the end, you have to do it to experience it. Sorry.

  70. Luis Daniel said

    Just to emphasize something central to this discussion:

    Apart from being very wrong about critizing Thich Nhat Hanh and his courage to consistently risk his own life in action to serve others, his very profound simplicity and philosophy of inter-being (witness his brave speech the day after september eleven), I think Tom and Glenn are completely right: Secular Buddhism can help sustain capitalism and democracy. It would be interesting if they could actually invent a practice that could sustain communism and marxism where so far wherever they have sustained themselves it has been under the use of brutal force and total repression. In the face of it, perhaps the Tibet can enlighten their thinking: it is the perfect environment to breed a new species of Marxist Buddhism and put a final end to so much suffering for Tibetans!!!! One of the problem with theorists, especially with academic communists, is their convenient historical detachment: any place where marxism has been applied it has been a history of horror and suffering. Up to this day. Please proof all of us wrong. Of course it is easier to attack Thich Nhat Hanh than defending Stalin (50 million killed by him) or Mao (70 million killed by him). But that is not elegant and fun for Glenn or important for Tom. The obscure and overworked term “ideology” here is used as is the concept of “ego” in mainstream buddhist practice: basically as a guilt-inducing instrument of manipulation: you are guilty of not seeing the Truth until you follow the communist marxist non-buddhist creed and awaken from the capitalist dream!

    Who is not questioning capitalism and mainstream buddhism here? It is the unquestionability -no answers- and sufficiency -no questions- about marxism here what is the real problem of this blog.

    Glenn says:

    What conditions serve liberation; which hinder it? That’s the concern of this blog.

    There can´t be liberation without freedom. And the evidence is clear: communism hinders freedom.
    Marx was a clever 19th century political economist. A historical curiosity, had not communisn ever existed.
    But It all starts of course with Tom Pepper saying freedom is a capitalist illusion. It is for him, no doubt.

    I say:

    “Take care of Freedom and Truth will take care of itself.”

    Simple, as brave Thich Nhat Hanh thinking.

  71. Matthias said

    David

    Please read a bit through the thread following the text Meditation and Control . Some topics you speak about have been discussed there. For example in regard what you mention in #59 “meditative reflection and thought”. You will find there also discussed the definition problems regarding “non-thought”, “meditation”, “thinking”, “discursive thought”. It is not ready and clearly available there. A bit of an effort you have to make but it will cut short the discussion here.

    Please look at the postings #10, #14, #25, #27 and also the second half of #64: “Sinking the Zombie”. These are my posts in discussion with Tom (who has a very different approach to ‘meditation’ than me), another David and other people discussing there. Please don’t get lost because there are discussed other topics as well.

    David #68: Babies have perceptions but they lack the symbolic system to express them. As they adapt to the symbolic system they live in their expressions are shaped i certain ways. The earliest remembrance of humans usually set in with the age of three to five. Nobody can have earlier remembrances because simply the recording and shaping system for experience isn’t fully enough developed.

    Jonckher #69: I find our observation about “non-thought” interesting. Please take a look also at the above mentioned discussion. In my view there are at the moment two possible explanations for this phenomenon. The one is a “primitive and pre-reflective phenomenal self-consciousness” which means it is a neurological genetically predisposed feature. The other position is that the ‘inner room” ‘in’ which thought appears is a culturally adopted via the development of literacy. In this regards you might find interesting my #10 in the above mentioned thread.

    I find refreshing you statement:

    Whether or not these states are of any use is debatable. I personally see little value, after the first experience, in pursuing deeper and deeper states of concentration, kensho, jhana, whatever you want to call it. You can attach all sorts of mystical meanings to these states of course<

    In this regards you might find interesting my #10 in the above mentioned thread. If these states are of any use is questioned there too.

    Perhaps, with a second look, you two find more valuable stuff around here than expected. Please put questions or remarks about thinking, non-thought, meditation etc. in the thread about Meditation and Control (if the have nothing to do directly with SNB). Don’t hesitate to ask or to write down your thoughts.

    Thanks

  72. [...] Glenn Wallis: On the Faith of Secular Buddhists [...]

  73. Tom Pepper said

    Everywhere capitalism has been applied, it has been a major tragedy, a history of horror and suffering for mankind. Hundreds of millions have died in the wars fought to bring about and preserve capitalism. Millions more die every year in the name of profit.

  74. Tom Pepper said

    I think I was too grouchy in my posts yesterday. I’m becoming the crabby old professor, and getting tired of people arguing from ignorance, insisting I’m wrong, that they know better, especially when they won’t take the time to consider any argument that takes more than 25 words. Sometimes, to understand something new, you have to put in the time. At the end of the semester, I get tired of explaining things to kids who are sure they are so much smarter than me, who can’t even imagine that over the last thirty years I have heard these same tired argument hundreds of times, and tried hundreds of times to explain their errors. They are absolutely confident that all the great thinkers of history are “limited” or “reductive” or “thinking too much,” and have no idea their own ridiculous ideas have been dismantled time and again for thousands of years.

    I’ll try just one more time here, to explain the illusion of non-thought.

    There may be some benefit in distinguishing symbolic thought from those thoughts that cannot be expressed clearly in language. However, we need to remember that this realm of inexpressible thought, what Lacan would call the register of the imaginary, is itself shaped by the symbolic (and, of course, the symbolic is shaped by the imaginary—we try to produce language to clearly express our perceptions). There will always be certain kinds of thought which exceed clear description in language—for Wittgenstein, in the Tractatus, this is what we must remain silent about. We must preserve this realm of the “mystical,” to keep the affective power of our ideological formation alive. This is Wittgensteins great insight: our ideological formations depend, for their power to motivate and give pleasure, on maintaining this realm of the ineffable, what we can think but never express in language. His response is to shore up the boundaries of this realm, to lock the existing ideology in place.

    For a thinker like Badiou, we can expand our language to incorporate more of this realm. There are things, in Badiou’s terms, which exist in a World but do not appear in it—which are part of the way the world works, but outside its system of knowledge, inexplicable in the present terms in which we make “sense” of our world. The goal of a truth procedure is to bring these things into the World, to expand the symbolic system to make these realities appear. The goal of non-thought, of pure-awareness, is to keep these perceptual experiences excluded from the world, to insure their affective, motivational power, to strengthen the grip of the existing World. This is the goal of the Western Buddhist obsession with meditation, and the deemphasizing of philosophical study (which, traditionally, had been an enormous part of Buddhism; Bhikkhu Bodhi said in an interview once that he spent his first three years as a monk studying, and did very little meditation—for most westerners, this would make him a very poor Buddhist).

    As infants, we do operate almost exclusively in the realm of the imaginary. The goal of meditation then become a ridiculous attempt to return to this infantile state of imaginary plenitude (which never really existed, was never really “pure” imaginary at all). The closest we can come is to use meditation to hold in place that realm of thoughts which we are unable to think clearly about—and so to strengthen the affective power of our ideology. As humans, the one advantage we have, the one reason it has always been considered fortunate to be born a human, is that we are capable of symbolic communication, and so can escape being purely determined by our natural history and the social structures into which we are born (by our karma, if you will). In these terms, to naturalize yet another x-buddhist term, our ability to think “discursively” IS our buddhanature.

    That’s the best I can do in a comment. I doubt it will clear anything up. To discursive, probably.

  75. Greg said

    For a thinker like Badiou, we can expand our language to incorporate more of this realm. There are things, in Badiou’s terms, which exist in a World but do not appear in it—which are part of the way the world works, but outside its system of knowledge, inexplicable in the present terms in which we make “sense” of our world. The goal of a truth procedure is to bring these things into the World, to expand the symbolic system to make these realities appear. The goal of non-thought, of pure-awareness, is to keep these perceptual experiences excluded from the world, to insure their affective, motivational power, to strengthen the grip of the existing World.

    I’m fairly confident that we can, as you report Badiou asserts, expand our language to incorporate more of this realm. Doing so is often fruitful. Nonetheless, how much more can we expand, and how much must always remain excluded? – these questions remain open I think. I don’t see how they could ever be conclusively settled. I also don’t see why in your view ineffable experience with affective, motivational power must necessarily reinforce existing ideologies unless a way to verbalize it is found.

  76. Luis Daniel (#70). Some further data for your consideration.

    Capitalism, too, was forged in blood and tears; it is just that it has survived long enough to forget about much of this horror, which is not the case with Stalinism and Maoism. If Marx was spared this amnesia, it was partly because he lived while the system was still in the making.

    Mike Davis writes in his Late Victorian Holocausts of the tens of millions of Indians, Africans, Chinese, Brazilians, Koreans, Russians and others who died as a result of entirely preventable famine, drought, and disease in the late nineteenth century. Many of these catastrophes were the result of free market dogma, as (for example) soaring grain prices thrust food beyond the reach of common people. Nor are such monstrosities as old as the Victorians. During the last two decades of the Twentieth century, the number of those in the world living on less than two dollars a day has increased by almost one hundred million.(Terry Eagleton, Why Marx was Right, p. 13)

    Tom Pepper and Matthias Steingass and I, too, to a lesser extent, have repeatedly emphasized the need for a “liberation practice” that extends beyond mere “bodies and languages,” and takes account of the many other social and cultural forces that constitute our lives and minds. That’s one way the work on this blog is different from the x-buddhisms that it critiques. So, to connect back to the discussion on this thread, I will repeat Tom’s contention yet once more:

    I want to point out what I think is the core article of faith of Secular Buddhism: the unquestioning belief in the ideology of capitalism. (What did you think I was going to say?). Badiou defines this very succinctly: the belief that “there are bodies and there are languages.” That is, we are bodily, biological organisms, seeking pleasure for our bodies (including our brains), and we do this by adopting the most convenient language/culture at will. There are not constraints to the culture we can adopt, and not truth content to it: we need only adopt the one that maximizes our bodily pleasure—what Batchelor calls “moment-to-moment flourishing.” This is why in his first paragraph he can refer to “biological evolution,” “self-awareness and language,” the “brain” and our “fragile biosphere,” but it would never occur to him to mention our humanly constructed social formations as a source of suffering that we CAN ACTUALLY CHANGE!! This is why Secular Buddhist always seek to limit the discussion of suffering to sickness, death, loss, etc.—to those things that we certainly must learn to accept because they will doubtless always be with us. Passive acceptance of the inevitable, and maximization of bodily contentment, is the goal of Secular Buddhism AND of global capitalist ideology. This is why we accept the “scientific” research on mindfulness that operationally defines the successful achievement of “happiness” as the ability to remain undistracted by external stimuli; we achieve mindful bliss, it seems, is the ability to remain completely Unmindful of the world around us, and never let us disturb our brain/body comfort.

  77. Glen, here (#76) I could not agree with you (and Tom) any more than I do! YES! And yes, (in line with this link), I do think the absence of THIS kind of engagement a major failing of Batchelor. So, I’m wondering what you think of David Loy’s work? He speaks about the necessity of addressing “the institutionalized social duhkha perpetuated and perpetuated by our globalizing, corporate-dominated economic system.”

    When addressing climate change, he says: “The fundamental issue isn’t our reliance on fossil fuels but our reliance on a mindset that takes the globalization of corporate capitalism (and its dominant role in supposedly democratic prosesses) as natural, necessary, and inevitable We need an alternative to “there is no alternative.””

    I’ve not read anything similar from any of the Secular Buddhists.

  78. Tom Pepper said

    I’m fairly confident that we can, as you report Badiou asserts, expand our language to incorporate more of this realm. Doing so is often fruitful. Nonetheless, how much more can we expand, and how much must always remain excluded? – these questions remain open I think. I don’t see how they could ever be conclusively settled. I also don’t see why in your view ineffable experience with affective, motivational power must necessarily reinforce existing ideologies unless a way to verbalize it is found.

    Greg: RE: #75: Now this is a good question. Again, I’m not sure how clear I can be in a comment format, but I’ll try to give a brief answer.

    Of course we cannot know how much more we can expand, or even if there is any limit—and that need not concern us. The concern is only with shifting our efforts away from keeping the ineffable ineffable, and trying to have some “pure awareness” of it, and toward bringing the presently existing but not representable into the register of the symbolic. We don’t need to even know how much there is to do—probably more than we’ll finish before the sun burns out—but we would be better served by this effort than by seeking infantile states of imaginary plenitude.

    And this bears on your second question: why would we bet better to do this? Why is the affective, motivational power of the imaginary realm always in the service of ideology? Well, the answer is quite simply because ideology is just the present construal and experience of the world and our assumptions about what actions we can take in it. When we cannot “verbalize” our thoughts, we can only feel them as naturally occurring, cannot explain their arising, and so they guide our behavior beyond our control. This obviously isn’t always bad, right? We can’t survive without ideologies which shape how we manage in the world. The problem is, if we want to know, in a conscious way, why we have these ideologies and whether continuing in them is in our best interest, we need to be able to reason about them, to bring them into the register of the symbolic, and to explain their causes and “effects. It isn’t that the imaginary is pure ideology and the symbolic is “truth”—ideology operates in both registers, and our non-verbal perception may be “true” (and may still be ideological). The point is simply that only because of our capacity for symbolic communication can we consciously control the ideology we participate in.

    In the example mentioned above, concerning the horrors of capitalism, for instance, as long as the “economy” remains “inexplicable” we tend to accept it as “natural,” as the only “necessity,” and cannot consider changing it. So, the starvation of millions is seen as an unavoidable natural occurrence, because we cannot allow the cause to enter into our system of knowledge: the laws of the market must be obeyed, even at the cause of millions of deaths! Our personal experience works very much the same way: whatever remains an extra-linguistic pure experience is natural, not part of that evil, cruel, “discursive” thought. We accept the magical jhana states as a world-transcendent compensation for suffering we cannot explain—or rather, that we COULD explain, but are unwilling to.

  79. Mikael said

    Glenn, you asked me to expand on how I see your blog as dynamite. I’ll try to answer from my perspective.

    I found your blog through the Buddhist subreddit, where several Speculative Non-buddhism posts have been shared, some by you, some by others. This subreddit is a kind of mid-level discussion board about Buddhism with people representing many different sanghas and viewpoints. It’s pretty heavy with beginners and people I lovingly call dabblers — people who’ve read some Alan Watts, maybe done some psychedelic drugs and become interested in religion, spirituality, meditation, and are kind of browsing around for some path to follow to find something, they’re not quite sure what, but something related to peace, happiness, virtue, helpfulness, compassion, understanding, acceptance, etc. Having spent quite a bit of time there, I think that a lot of the people there feel a sense of excitement and relief to have found a traditional, established “algorithm for living” that’s well-esteemed and beautiful. I think generally, people who are attracted to converting to “foreign religions” are likely to be more bogged down than most in (e.g.,) alienation, sadness, confusion, directionlessness, neurosis. I’m basically describing myself, but for a couple of years now I’ve been more seriously involved with a Zen sangha, am a student to a teacher, and so on.

    So I think of that forum as a place where many people are in some sense unestablished or unsettled. And so as a place where links and discussions are really effectual. Many people there do not fit the criteria for your new warning page, I think.

    Now I’ve started talking about other people, but the reality is that I have a creeping sense that your writing may turn out to be some kind of personal catastrophe for me myself. Very well: that seems to be your purpose. You’re only saving me from x-buddhism. From my ongoing and deepening dharmic delusion.

    To get even more personal, my overall feeling about this comment thread as I follow its conversation on my smartphone heading to and from work is the feeling that the structure and stability and refuge I’ve found in Buddhism is being very carefully attacked by a cadre of hyper-intelligent devils. My problem, of course — I’ll deal with it.

    But I get the feeling that there’s a discussion that needs to be had, an aspect that needs to be continually considered, that involves the real-world effect of this dynamite on the people to whom it’s advertised. The sense of coldness I feel here is also related to the lack of this perspective.

    I don’t think you’re in the wrong, and I’m sorry if this is too icky and personal. There’s something like what Tom Pepper talks about: I’m afraid to venture into the real world of serious thinking, I retreat to my bubble of immediate emotions. Hopefully that perspective can be of some use.

  80. David said

    Jonckher #69 I agree with everything you said. I too have had experiences of jhanna which revealed to me how the Buddhist interpretation of it is a story added onto the experience. So no need to feel sorry. However, I do think there are ways to talk of the separation of perception and discursive thinking with common experiences. These are not ineffable. Have someone touch an object on your back. What is felt? Now the words used to describe the sensation will only come after the sensations are experienced. This is all it means to talk of having a perception without discursive thought. Thoughts are added to the experience later. The body communicates the sensation in a physical manner, not in discursive thought. Thanks.

    Matthias #71 Thanks for the link to your article. I appreciate your effort to delineate an understanding of meditation which would be helpful. The comments on babies memory formation I understand as well. And I’m glad to see you’re able to use the word perception to discuss the matter. Thanks.

  81. Mikael (#79). Thank you. I appreciate your comment very much. A friend of mine and I are constantly debating an issue that is embedded in your comment. It has to do with gradual as opposed to sudden development. She believes that matters of personal development have to proceed step-wise, like learning to play an instrument. I believe that we don’t know at what level a person is developmentally–and of course I am talking about normal mature adults here–and we can’t be sure what s/he needs to develop further. Sometimes a simple word or gesture can awaken us from our mental slumbers. And we look back on how the world appeared before and can barely recognize it.

    As this issue relates to this particular post, I find the Secular Buddhist leaders to be patronizing for precisely this reason. I have been asked by Ted Meissner on at least two occasions to remember that I am much further ahead than the average Secular Buddhist Facebook reader, etc., etc. I don’t know what that means. Ahead in what regard? As a human being? I don’t believe that. I am continually amazed at the intelligence and imagination and creativity of people of all varieties. I can learn as much from a casual exchange with a bagger at Trader Joe’s as I can from dokusan with roshi. Unlike x-buddhists, with their typologies of people, their big ideas of “advancement of the path,” and “stages of awakening,” and all of that–unlike them, I am anti-elitist. I do not possess the narcissism to presume that I can show someone the way–either to the nirvanic end station or to the door to oblivion.

    What is their to fear? Doesn’t reality remain reality? Don’t you remain you? What does “liberation” even mean?

  82. Greg said

    @ Tom Re 78. I would agree that attempting to deliberately “keep the ineffable ineffable” is misguided. And certainly it is possible for one to be manipulated on the basis of poorly understood experiences (or manipulate oneself) where language would bring greater, liberating clarity. No doubt this happens constantly. But perhaps there are ineffable experiences which cannot ever be conceptualized and described, which nonetheless hold real value. I don’t think that can be precluded.

    I don’t see a reason to concede that “infantile state of imaginary plenitude” are all that could possibly be found beyond the ken of intellect. The jhana states are not a good example of further possibilities for the purposes of our discussion because even the most traditional Buddhist would not regard them as “world-transcendent compensation for suffering we cannot explain” – they are regarded as conditioned and therefore by definition not world-transcendent. But as far as other possibilities go – recognition of rigpa, for example – I remain agnostic. Perhaps I am less willing to concede that the fundamental issues of philosophy of mind are settled (in the face of the physicalist triumphalism which often seems to prevail now).

    On the other hand, I am in complete agreement with regard to the concern that the possibility of transcendent nonconceptual experience is all too easily used as an enticement functionally equivalent to Christian heaven. Particularly in light of the shell game that is played now in contemporary Buddhist circles, where on the one hand realization is held out as a real possibility for everyone, and on the other hand anyone with the audacity to actually claim realization of any kind is subjugated to castigation and ridicule. Quite a convenient way to have it both ways.

  83. Robert said

    Frank Jude Boccio, 77. I am not very familiar with David Loy’s thinking, but no doubt he is lightyears ahead of those buddhists who argue that we need to stay away from politics and social engagment until we reach a certain level of realization, because otherwise we will only add to the harm by getting angry, apparently a big no no. And what that level of realization would be is never made explicit, of course.

    However, I came across a paper David Loy wrote a while ago (so his thinking may have evolved) where he tried to draw many parallels between buddhist personal liberation theories and societal solutions. He talks about states and corporations having ‘collective selves’, and just like we suffer because of desire, so do states and corporations. Simlarly, he brings the tree poisons (delusion, ill will and greed) and even the five precepts into the analysis, if I remember correctly.

    I am not that fond of those approaches, partly because I see no need for them, but mostly because they frequently seem to make the true culprit disappear and be replaced by some vague notion of shared blame.

    But all this really to say, you know, this would make a perfect topic for another post. Let’s all gather at the feat of knowledge once again, and this time, let’s talk politics! That is bound to be a mild-mannered, balanced and civilized event, that’s my prediction.

  84. Tom Pepper said

    Greg: re #82

    I would agree that there are ineffable experiences which cannot >presently< be described, but which can be of use: the use they can be put to is that they can indicate a truth that exists in a particular World, but is foreclosed from appearing. They can only be of use if we try to conceptualize them. I am not saying that the imaginary plenitude is all that is outside the realm of the symbolic–I am simply saying that the attempt to exclude "discursive thought" is a pursuit of this (non-existent, fantasized) infantile state.

    I want to ask, though, about your comment about the jhana states. Because on my understanding, the jhana states are of course conditioned, because everything is, and there is in fact nothing at all that is world-transcendent. My point is, that for many popular teachers, the attainment of these states is presented as evidence of a world-transcendent "consciousness," and so they are used to guarantee the possibility of a world-transcendent state of pure bliss. The "atman that is not an atman," as I've mentioned on this blog before.

    Is your position that there IS in fact something that transcends the world, a kind of soul or atman or "substrate consciousness"? If so, then your idea of the function of the ineffable experiences would likely be very different than mine, and my concepts might not even make sense in your framework. My understanding begins with the premise that there is nothing at all that is outside of the completely conditioned world, that Buddhism really is completely nihilist, and it is only by accepting this that we can even begin to be liberated. If you are beginning from a different premise, I may not be making much sense to you.

  85. Tom Pepper said

    Oh, and about David Loy–I greatly admire his work, and in my opinion he is one of the very few western Buddhist writers willing to really take seriously concepts like anatman and dependent arising. He is also one of the few Buddhist writers I”ve come across who really gets the point of psychoanalysis–most of them mistake American ego-psychology for psychoanalysis, and can’t deal with the real implication of Freud’s thought (much less Lacan).

    That said, I never know what to make of his writing. He seems to be trying to use a very soft-sell approach to gently lead the western Buddhist into the full implications of Buddhist thought, but frankly many of the Buddhists I know still find him disturbing, shocking, and don’t like to talk about his writing. He speaks softly, but delivers a disturbing message, and doesn’t make for feel-good nightstand reading. Personally, I’d rather just be blunt and abrasive. As Robert mentions, he tries to persuade the Buddhist capitalist to consider the institutional sources of greed, but I’m not sure the gentle persuasion ever works. I mean, I really hope it does–and he must be selling some books–but I haven’t seen it work on anyone myself. Has anyone else? Sometimes, I just wish he’d drop the nice Buddhist teacher approach and act more like Rinzai–just tell his readers to stop being a bunch of lazy idiots.

    Also, he’s a little too postmodernist for me–despite what is said about me on some other sites, I remain a staunch opponent of postmodernism.

  86. Greg said

    I want to ask, though, about your comment about the jhana states. Because on my understanding, the jhana states are of course conditioned, because everything is, and there is in fact nothing at all that is world-transcendent. My point is, that for many popular teachers, the attainment of these states is presented as evidence of a world-transcendent “consciousness,” and so they are used to guarantee the possibility of a world-transcendent state of pure bliss. The “atman that is not an atman,” as I’ve mentioned on this blog before.

    Is your position that there IS in fact something that transcends the world, a kind of soul or atman or “substrate consciousness”? If so, then your idea of the function of the ineffable experiences would likely be very different than mine, and my concepts might not even make sense in your framework. My understanding begins with the premise that there is nothing at all that is outside of the completely conditioned world, that Buddhism really is completely nihilist, and it is only by accepting this that we can even begin to be liberated. If you are beginning from a different premise, I may not be making much sense to you.

    I’m not sure I’ve seen a lot of popular teachers teaching jhana that way. It certainly isn’t traditional. Of course, there has never been much agreement about what the jhana states actually are and how they relate to insight.

    I’m not sure that I have a position on whether there is in fact something that transcends the world. None that I would stake and defend at this point, at least. I simply meant to point out that traditionally the only “transcendent” thing or unconditioned dharma was nirvana itself. Well, for the Theravada, at least. Other sravaka schools throw in other things like “space” and “analytical cessation” and so forth. But of course now we are in the realm of abstruse abhidharma disputation, where it seldom pays to go. The takeaway being, however, that traditionally only nirvana would be considered “transcendent,” not jhana. Whatever nirvana is.

  87. David said

    I find it interesting to see how this site tries to dig into ideological analysis of various subjects while one of the main contributors talks as much like an dogmatic autocrat proclaiming authority over any dissension to his views.

    Tom Pepper #66 “Like it or not, I am just much smarter and more knowledgeable about these matters than you are. If you want to learn, ask a question, I will try to answer it.”

    Tom you are not smarter than me, and you are no teacher for me. You can’t even meditate at a basic level. Here’s Tom, “I have personally never been able to achieve a thought-free perception in meditation…” Meditation and Control #16. So now you think you can critique all of Buddhism based on your failure? No wonder you’re pissed off. I think your teacher wasn’t very skilled at helping you see what the difference between experiencing discursive thinking and a sensation is. Given how much you fought me on using such basic concepts of sensations, perceptions, and thinking (discursively) shows a lot about you. You understand very little.

    It is revealing how amongst the core group of this site no one critiques such blatant authoritarianism, in fact this site operates to suppress real communication. It is so caught up by simplistic readings of what Buddhism can be on differing levels to people other than yourselves. You set up the conversation with your own conclusions. It is so annoying because I see common ground between us, but your site doesn’t operate on an inclusive discussion format.

  88. Matthias said

    David, re 87

    There is a very simple reason for what you think is revealing about the core group of this site. A lot of people come here to this blog and begin to ‘discuss’ without the faintest thought about what is going on here. This ignorance can take unbelievable measures. I will never forget this Ph.D. from somewhere in eastern asia with whom I discussed last fall (don’t remember where it was on the blog). He was so obsessed with the superiority of his buddhist epistemology that he openly declared that it wouldn’t be necessary to read anything about the background of non-buddhism. Now, different people have different ways of coping with such infernal ignorance. I for my part are mostly the nice guy who tries to mediate (as I do now), although I have my occasional rant rant too, others sometimes simply explode in your face because… well, I shouldn’t speculate about me fellow beings motivations. Let’s stay with their expressions. In this regard I guarantee you, if you apply good reasoning instead of blatant accusation you will get real conversation.

  89. Tom Pepper said

    Re 86

    Thanks for your reply, Greg. I have very limited knowledge of the Theravada tradition–my own practice and study has been Mahayana. I am a bit surprised, though, that they see nirvana as unconditioned; on my understanding of Mahayana, this would be an enormously significant point of difference between the two traditions.

    I’m surprised you haven’t seen popular teachers who teach this idea of a transcendent self. Again, it is not that they teach that the meditative state is necessarily an unconditioned state, but the underlying assumption is that in order to achieve a “thought-free perception” or “pure awareness” we must HAVE an unconditioned, world-transcendent consciousness. Because clearly perception is, by definition, thought about a bodily sensation, and to have an unconditioned thought requires a “mind” untouched by the conditioned world. This is one of the points I tried to make in my review of Alan Wallace’s recent book.

    This is a bit off the topic, but I’m curious about this Theravada idea of an unconditioned nirvana. Are they suggesting we can become unconditioned? How would that be possible, unless we had some core atman that remains impervious to conditioning and is not dependently arisen? I’m seriously asking this–do you have some suggestions for something I could read to get a better sense of the Theravada concept of nirvana?

  90. Tom Pepper said

    Robert, re 83: I’m not so sure that a post on politics would get any response at all. Look how everyone assiduously ignores my post about the assumption of capitalism as natural–even despite Glenn repeating it twice. Walter Benjamin once said something about when an issue is really dangerous, no discussion of it is allowed; this seems to be the strategy of most secular Buddhists. When an issue is raised that is really troubling, they go into fits about the tone of the blog or about what an obnoxious jerk I am, or, like jonckher start playing class clown and repeatedly posting long, dull, asinine comments, thinking if he can act stupid enough we can’t carry on with the serious thought.

    Glenn mentioned something about being told that he should be more considerate of beginners. There is some merit to that, but the fact that there are beginners doesn’t mean that nobody should ever be allowed to say anything that a high school freshman couldn’t understand. Yet, that seems to be the concern of the secular Buddhists. When my college sophomores don’t know the meaning of terms like aesthetic or empiricism, I expect that and explain them; when the reviewer for an academic journal doesn’t know those terms, I am dismissive and insulting. On the other hand, when a college sophomore insists that I have no right to expect them to learn such terms, because all that “intellectualizing” is irrelevant, I will shut him up pretty quickly (yes, him–almost always male). If you don’t want to learn, get out of the classroom and stop interfering with those who do!

  91. Greg said

    Tom, I would recommend Nirvana and Other Buddhist Felicities by Steven Collins – it speaks directly to these issues, putting them in a very broad context. Certainly I would agree that Theravada discourse differs from the Mahayana sutras and tantras in so far as it is more averse to cataphatic language in general regarding unconditioned reality. X-Buddha was pretty cagey about nirvana. But even in Mahayana, complete Buddhahood (samyaksambodhi) is also said to be unconditioned. How could it be otherwise? The whole Buddhist project is predicated on an assessment of the problems and suffering inherent in conditioned states, so the salvation ideal must necessarily be something unconditioned. As to how it would be possible to get from conditioned to unconditioned, well – I don’t think that was ever satisfactorily worked out. Certainly not for lack of trying. That’s why you have these whack-a-mole problems in Buddhist philosophy over the centuries, with all of these suspiciously atman-like postulates popping back up. Or even the Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Fuck-it-there-is-an-atman-after-all Sutra.

  92. Tom (#89), you can begin to seek out the Theravada notion of nibbana here:

    http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/thanissaro/nibbana.html

    http://www.accesstoinsight.org/ptf/dhamma/sacca/sacca3/nibbana.html

    You’ll note it is explicitly described as “transcendent” and ineffable! Nibbana is often also referred to as asankhata (“unconstructed”) or asamskrta (“unconditioned”).

    The Theravada tradition states that all phenomena are “anicca, dukkha and anatta” except nibbana which is described as permanent, sukkha and still anatta, in that there is no-thing personal about it.

  93. For anyone who is interested, Stephen Schettini wrote a response to this post and our comments at the Secular Buddhist Forum blog. Here’s what I posted there.

    The argument that is developing here is typical of x-buddhism: We do not understand! Your language is foreign (read: not buddhemic). Your sentences are too long, the syntax weird. Your arguments are lengthy and complicated. We do not have time to do the hard work it will take to understand you.

    And yet: We know that what you write is rant, invective, diatribe. We know, too, that it is a bad argument. How do we know? From the tone of your language. From your language we can divine many, many things about you. We know, for instance, that you (singular and plural) are bitter, frustrated, jealous, disappointed, angry, hostile, venomous, conceited, scorned, and much, much more. Therefore, we conclude: you are wrong; you have nothing to offer us. As always, with Metta!

    In a particularly telling exchange, Stephen asks a commenter if she is “offended by”—well, here it is:

    [So and so is] just a bit baffled by the energy on Glenn’s website, as am I. You seem to be offended by bafflement, as if everyone is obligated to be intellectually clear on where they stand. You have to admit that the posts and comments on the SNB site demand quite an investment of time and effort. Are you offended by those who aren’t ready for or are unable to commit to that?”

    I don’t know about elizabethking, but I think every Secular Buddhist, every x-buddhist, should be offended—by Stephen’s admission of deceit. If you are doling out advice to me about how I should be living my life, you bet your ass I am offended that you admit to being incapable and unable to commit to the most robust exchanges with even the fiercest of interlocuters. Stephen, imagine if your physician would say to you: well, that theory for how to help you demands too much of my time and effort. Sorry, Stephen, I’m just gonna stick to what I already know. It’s easier.

    So, I repeat:

    “The system protects itself with indignation against a challenge to deceit in the service of power, and the very idea of subjecting the ideological system to rational inquiry elicits incomprehension or outrage, though it is often masked in other terms.” —Noam Chomsky

    Stephen, whether you pretend otherwise or not, you are an active participant in this Secular Buddhist system (and by the way Ted Meissner writes it that way–upper case S).

    I also find it telling that Stephen says to his imagined “non-buddhist” opponents (in the plural), “slow down, I can’t keep up.” Well, Stephen, you’re keeping up with those who agree with you quite well, aren’t you?

    Stephen, let me ask you directly, how do you respond to Jonah’s contention (elizabethking asked, too, but you ignored her request:

    “It seems to me that there is a lot less resistance to “admitting we don’t really know what’s going on”, really admitting it, over there than over here. That admission doesn’t mean giving up on thinking–it means trying to find everything you do “know”, the basic assumptions you take for granted, whatever ideologies you’ve acquired via moving through the culture web (the reasons that some myths might “ring a bell in your gut” for example) and getting them out in the open, maybe casting some real doubt on them.”

    How about Robert’s charge of your lack of curiosity?

    How about Stoky’s accusation of argumentum ad hominem?

    How about Matthias’s numerous thoughtful points, not least the accusation of employing the genetic fallacy? How can you ignore Matthias’s comment? Are you not really all that seriously engaged in what you pretend to be engaged in–explication of the secular dharma?

    How about the many other pointed questions and criticisms that do not support your view? Why do you not engage them robustly? One difference between this blog and the Speculative Non-Buddhism blog is that at the latter people tend to engage opposing views and let agreement go. What might that difference indicate about our respective projects?

    This is not over-intellectualization, Stephen and Dana and Mark, et al. This is called thinking, asking, probing, using are noggin’s for all they’re worth. You may offer reasons for not doing so, but your reasons stem from your ideological commitment to the dharma; so, your placing of limits on how much we may engage our intellects in the pursuit of wisdom is uninteresting for those of us who do not share that commitment. .

    Let’s together call out all writers and teachers of x-buddhism on their pretense to wisdom. Wisdom can withstand even the harshest criticism expressed in the harshest language, can’t it Mark? Stephen? Ted? Dana? And whether you pretend otherwise or not, that is what you are all offering with “Secular Buddhism” (or should it be “secular”?).

    And by the way, Ted: criticism is exploration. Imagine saying to a scientist: your critique of my thesis is not valuable. Come on, man. Out from the curtain of Oz. Walk the talk…

    So to answer your question “So What?” For the sake of integrity and human honor.

  94. Tom Pepper said

    Thanks Greg an Frank, for the suggestions. I don’t want to be disingenuous–I’m not completely ignorant of Theravada teaching: I have read a great deal on Access to Insight, and I’ve read Bikkhu Nanamoli’s translation of the Visuddhimagga. I don’t really know much more than that, though, and don’t know what the common Theravada interpretations of texts would be.

    I know in Mahayana Buddhism, there is a repeated return of the atman (son of the atman, the atman’s revenge . . ). My position is that nirvana is just as much dependently arisen as everything else–and I take this to be what Nagarjuna is arguing (I know this is far from an uncontroversial matter). We must be liberated from some particular world, and liberation itself is always conditioned. If nirvana weren’t conditioned, we could only achieve it if we had an atman . . you know the rest of the argument.

    Anyway, I found a copy of Collins’s book at a used book website fairly cheap. I’ll look forward to reading it. I read a book he wrote about selflessness years ago, and found it very helpful.

  95. Greg said

    Tom, you are correct insofar as Nagarjuna would not have agreed that nirvana was unconditioned – but for him it was neither conditioned nor unconditioned. Quoting Nagarjuna in Context by Joseph Walser (pg 257)

    Finally, in chapter 25 [of the Mulamadhyamakakarika], the “Investigation of Nirvana,” Nagarjuna argues in verses 5 and 6 that nirvana is neither conditioned (samskrta) nor unconditioned (asamskrta) and in verse 10 he states: “The teacher (Buddha) has taught the abandonment of the concepts of being and nonbeing.Therefore, nirvana is properly neither (in the realm of) existence nor nonexistence.”

    I’m not commenting on the validity of your argument in and of itself, but arguing for a conditioned nirvana was never considered viable by any traditional Buddhist, Nagarjuna being no exception – he explicitly rejected that. In Ch 25 v9 that he flatly says nirvana is not conditioned. And if the MMK can’t be attributed to him, then nothing can.

  96. Tom Pepper said

    Greg, I’m familiar with the chapter. If you read verse 9 alone, it would seem that is what he is saying–but the chapter as a whole is clearly not presenting nirvana as not-conditioned. It’s too long an argument to make in a comment–perhaps in some other format–but my contention is that Nagarjuna is best understood as a particular relationship to samsara, in my modern philosophical terms the closest I can come is to say an awareness of one’s own ideology, and so is not conditioned in the sense of being itself an ideology, but is not unconditioned because it must be an awareness of a particular ideology (ie, conventional “World”).

    I do, in fact, intend to develop this argument somewhat in something I’m writing this summer.

  97. Tom (#94), I too cannot accept an ‘unconditioned’ nirvana, but that certainly seems to be the Theravada position. In their abhidhamma, they enumerate all the categories of ‘dhammas’ and all but nibbana are conditioned. Between that understanding and their positing of a bhavanga that is what transitions from one life to another (arguably the early concept that influenced the mahayana concept of alaya-vijnana and tathagatagarbha) I think they sneak an an atman (or at least at atman-like substrate). It seems over and over within the buddhist traditions, buddhists could not follow through the truly radical implications of anatta.

  98. Greg said

    Well, I don’t think one could plausibly argue that Nagarjuna endorsed a conditioned nirvana, but for your purposes it sounds like it really doesn’t matter whether or not he would validate what have to say. Which is as it should be. Look forward to reading it.

  99. Jayarava said

    Are people really discussing whether nirvāna is conditioned or not… *here*? WTF?

    Anyway what I wanted to say was that sometimes it’s easier to get your message across in a fiction than non-fiction format. Take your favourite novel, presuming you have one. Is it any less interesting, informative and enjoyable for being a lie? Stephen’s point about myth was lost in his trying to score points against Glenn. Myth is valuable not because it accords with the laws of physics; but because it can evoke an experience, often a shared experience that embodies the values of a culture. And as we know experience does not always follow the same laws as matter. I think Stephen is right to some extent that the debate here is a bit humourless and aggressive; so just stay out of it Stephen. Participation is voluntary. One simply doesn’t get the warm glow of social interactions from writing, for the simple fact that most of us are bad at it. Most of the human race is autistic in writing because there are virtually no emotional cues to pick up.

    Another thing I wanted to say is that there seems to be an implication that not having studied whichever philosopher is currently informing the discussion is always due to being a Buddhist or being lazy. But philosophy is a vast subject. I used to be quite well read in the Sciences, and have lately tried to catch up on subjects like evolution (Lynn Margulis’s books) and neuroscience. It’s a major effort in my late 40’s to process that stuff and I can’t say I’ve caught up to the point of comfortably discussing it with someone who works in the field. Without ever having read philosophy as an youngster, let alone having been *taught* to think that way, the learning curve is so steep that I just slide down it. The same is true of many subjects. It’s not laziness, I’ve forgotten more chemistry than most people ever learn. If you can’t discuss the oxidation states of 4d elements, or the racemic mix of isomers present in your reaction product, or (topically) the details of neutron activation analysis; it doesn’t mean you’re a chauvinist or lazy, it means you’re normal. We are all in the situation of being ignorant about more things than we are knowledgeable about. I’m still learning, just not convinced that philosophy will answer the questions I’m asking. Such as ‘why do people continue to belief things in the presence of counter-examples which show their belief to be poorly founded?’. Or ‘why can philosopher never agree?’ My best insights into this question so far have come from neuroscience which is what excites me at the moment. It’s no less jargon laden and difficult to learn, but it seems worth it.

    That said I agree that ignorance is a good reason to stay out of the discussion or approach it with questions rather than statements.

    Perhaps the trouble is that, despite the current nirvāṇa discussion, people mistake this blog as a discussion *about* Buddhism, which is isn’t, yeah? It’s a challenging critique *of* Buddhism. Buddhists beware, your views will be severely challenged here. On purpose. I kind of like it, in small doses.

    Lastly thanks, Glenn, for the Chomsky quote. Do you have a source? I want to send it to some of the loving Buddhists who have been abusing me for suggesting that any afterlife (including rebirth) is highly implausible.

  100. jonckher said

    tom #90

    yes i have been acting up and refusing to take anything seriously. i blame it on past experiences with teachers who always seemed to think they knew more than i did.

    but seriously, i have been paying attention partly because you guys are so funny when you get worked up but mostly because you guys are the coolest like those goth kids i envied and was a bit scared of at school.

    before i get carried away; i think tom should post about how buddhism = capitalism or whatever. i am interested and will only snigger to myself.

    however it appears to be snap quiz time so here is what my xbuddhist brain has learnt so far about non buddhism:

    1. buddha was probably fictional or a collection of people over a period of time. it is worth examining why one is clinging to the notion of a one true buddha.

    2. none of the dharma should be considered revealed truth. Doctrine is usually dangerous. It is worth considering one’s adherence to the concept of there being a one true way.

    3. it is worth contextualising the practice and usages of buddhism within the wider world. limiting all thought to buddhism alone is narrowing, induces political complacency and risks intellectual stagnation.

    4. academic inquiry and critique is like the bestest thing ever and must be taken seriously.

    how did i do?

  101. Tom Pepper said

    Jonkher: “D-”

    Academic inquiry is about as far from what goes on here as I can imagine. I know this from experience, being an “academic” myself. Pretty much nothing on this blog would EVER appear in a “respectable” academic publication, or be said in a classroom.

    There is not “revealed” truth, because there is no “god” to reveal it.

    Now, for being class clown, you can stay after blogging and read three more essays.

  102. jonckher said

    Oops, where are my manners? I forgot to sign off in the x-buddhist mandated manner. I blame your rude non-buddhist influence.

    with metta, as always.

    ps: I forgot a point tapping it all in on the tram as I was.

    3.1 There is value in the dharma still but it has to be sifted out, rigorously considered, investigated and tested. What results after this process?

    3.2 Be brave and honest. Just because nothing is sacred doesnt mean that everything is profane.

    Ok, i snuck in 3.2 just because I can’t help liking stirring proclamations. I think I saw something similar like that in Braveheart.

    with metta, as always

  103. jonckher said

    #103 Tom

    And you get a :D back.

    geeze you guys are so harsh. must be all the black you wear.

    can you please correct my points and add a couple more if you like.

    from now on, i will now insert a hashtag at the end of a sentence to indicate when i am joking so they can be skipped by the serious types like yourself. #joke.

    with metta, as always

    plus an om shanti shanti shanti too.

  104. Robert said

    Well, Tom, re 90 and the difficulties of raising the topic of politics to a buddhist / non-buddhist audience, we just need to continue to look for a way to get that discussion underway. To tell you the truth, I say this for selfish reasons, I am mostly at a loss to speak sensibly about the why and how of political engagement, except that it definitely feels like the right thing to do, that not engaging is also a form of engagement, and that the reasons why we are told not to bother are seriously flawed. I think Matthias and Glenn have some good points to bring to the discussion, we all know you do, and I am sure we can get some others to join in, if only to remind us of the many millions of deaths caused by Stalin and the excesses of the cultural revolution. And it is not at all as if political engagement is entirely foreign to western Buddhism, so some of these folks may join in. Never underestimate the number of people who read these entries but generally abstain from commenting, some of those may well feel called upon to offer an opinion. I offered to put something together for Glenn’s consideration, but i have been procrastinating. Tomorrow, I swear.

  105. joncker (#100)

    D-

  106. jonckher said

    #105 Glenn

    At last I got some attention from Glenn! And it seems I got a pass grade.

    -swoons-

    But srsly, how would you correct the following so that it can be lifted to at least a C grade?

    Non-buddhism can be summarised as believing (or is it knowing?) the following:

    1. buddha was probably fictional or a collection of people over a period of time. it is worth examining why one is clinging to the notion of a one true buddha.

    2. none of the dharma should be considered revealed truth (there can be no such thing as revealed truth after all). Doctrine is usually dangerous. It is worth considering one’s adherence to the concept of there being a one true way.

    3. it is worth contextualising the practice and usages of buddhism within the wider world. limiting all thought to buddhism alone is narrowing, induces political complacency and risks intellectual stagnation.

    4. There is value in the dharma still but it has to be sifted out, rigorously considered, investigated and tested. What results after this process?

    BTW, I refuse to have t-shirts printed with the above until a B is given. #joke

    with metta, as always.

  107. ray said

    To Robert (104) and Tom (90)

    Re a discussion on xbuddhism/SNB – Politics would be interesting. The present discussions have touched on organisational politics (groups, leaders, power games, rules etc). I wonder if National politics and environmental issues follow the same principles and models but just on a slightly grander scale?

    Great discussion by the way….love the challenges.

  108. Geoff said

    It’s interesting….

    I’m having my usual rant on Sujato’s blog – while the Abbot (unsurprisingly) stays above the fray.

    Meanwhile the Abbot of the SBA stays above the fray in this discussion.

    Despite protestations from SBA troops to distance themselves, maybe this indicates something the traditionalist and secularist have in common?
    Often Ted’s the first one off the blocks when Glenn make a new post. What’s going on?

    Don’t know about anyone else but for me his silence is deafening.

    Ted, why don’t you do a dissection of Glenn’s piece like you did with Alan Wallace?

    Now that would be interesting

    Cheers

    Geoff

  109. jonckher (#106).

    Sure. Notes scrawled at the bottom of your exam:

    Mr. jonckher, while the four points you mention are not in themselves incorrect, they reveal a superficial, at best, understanding of the speculative non-buddhist project as a whole. (Also in part: I do not say that “buddha was probably fictional or a collection of people.” I say that the figure of the Buddha in the canon is an instance of a historical person’s being overwritten by a fictional one. There is a difference.) Those points are peripheral to the thrust of the project; indeed, they are minor. I suggest you start by reading the article “Nascent Speculative Non-Buddhism” (you’ll find it ont he “Articles” page), and sift through the discussions. I would also read Matthias Steingass’s and Tom Pepper’s articles. They are important advances on the original argument.

    One matter that gravely concerns me, Mr. jonckher, is your apparent perception that Prof. Mark Knickelbine is a “non-buddhist.” Over at the Secular Buddhist Association Forum you say to him: “You come from the non-buddhist camp do you not? May I quote you from now on?” JesusJospehandfuckingMary, man! Quod error! Why does that concern me? Because Prof. Knickelbine is an ardent Mindfulnista and a staunch defender of the Secularist faith. How could you error so? My worry is this: if you are so drastically mis-reading his “plain-language” texts, what confidence can I have in your ability to give my un-plain-language text a fair reading? See?

    whit temat, ass yaawl

  110. Geoff (#108)

    “Ted, why don’t you do a dissection of Glenn’s piece like you did with Alan Wallace?”

    That’s what I’ve been waiting to see as well, but my guess is that it won’t happen.

    I do like the idea of a secular Buddhism, but clearly this isn’t it.

    Secular Buddhism = “Bud Lite”.

    I wonder what a truly secular take on Buddhism would look like? Is it possible?

  111. Greg said

    Meissner’s response to Wallace was incoherent in all the same ways that “Secular Buddhism” as a whole is. I’m not at all surprised he has declined to respond to this.

    Batchelor: the Buddha “did not claim to have had experience that granted him privileged, esoteric knowledge of how the universe ticks.”

    Wallace: Actually, there are many times when he does exactly this, in whichever textual tradition you prefer.

    Meissner: Quoting religious texts is not evidence,

    I honestly can’t understand how anyone would fail to see the illogic of this response.

  112. andill said

    Hi Glenn

    Just wanted to say thanks for your elaborate reply regarding my Beckett inquiry. The passage from The Unnameable was very helpful, and so was your commentary. Btw, I am not from Germany, but from Denmark, and my german is a joke. I’ve had the pleasure of reading some of Mathias’ writings here though. I might chime in with my own thoughts here at some point. For now, I’m still trying to gain a more precise impression of speculative non-buddhism.

  113. Hi Jayarava (#99).

    Thank you for your comment. Before I forget, the Chomsky quote. It is from an article by a religious studies scholar named Russell McCutcheon. He is citing it in self-defense against accusations made by Paul Griffiths. You may have come across Griffiths in your reading. He was a Buddhist studies scholar–a very good one. Now, he runs a center for Catholic studies in North Carolina. Anyway, given what you say about the loving Buddhists who abuse you, you will surely find the entire exchange between the two riveting. I think it may have started with Griffiths’s review of McCutcheon’s book on the field of religious studies, called Critics, not Caretakers. Griffiths, as you might infer, wanted to be a caretaker and limit the critic. You can find one of the articles in this exchange here. If you would like a pdf file of it, let me know, and I’ll send it to your email. As you can see (bottom of p. 911, top of p. 912), McCutcheon, in a bad academic no-no, does not cite his source for the Chomsky.

    About myth: I am working on a piece about the famous debate between Cassier and Heiddeger in Davos in 1929. What I call the piece sums it up: “The Works of the Spirit vs. the Hardness of Fate.” It seems to me that many of the lines dividing x-buddhists can be drawn at that “vs.” More later.

    About reading a lot to keep up. My view is that if you hang up your shingle as a dispenser of life wisdom, you had better be prepared to get challenges from all sides. I just came from an oral exam for two candidates to the ministry of a certain Buddhist school. That was essentially my point to them: you offer lovely words; you offer certainty, and do so with a warm smile; you offer, in fact, knowledge that is ostensibly unlike any other. And it all rings beautifully true in here. But out there? No. My qualm with x-buddhist shingle-hangers is that they insist on making the terms to the limits of discussion. They don’t do so explicitly. They do so ritually. They ritually ensconce themselves in their safe ideological bubble. That is the move I refer to as “playing with loaded dice,” dharmic dice. I believe that a person who assumes the position of teacher of life wisdom is obligated, to use a very mild term, to do whatever it takes to “keep up.” That’s what I have always done. That is the reason that my views are changing all the time. I keep reading, thinking, listening, looking. Does everything in the universe change but the cognitions of x-buddhists? Again, genuine seekers of knowledge do what I am suggesting. Why don’t x-buddhist teachers? (See my Principle of Sufficient Buddhism.)

    “Perhaps the trouble is that…people mistake this blog as a discussion *about* Buddhism, which is isn’t, yeah?”

    You nailed it, bro.

  114. jonckher said

    #109

    glenn,

    i have read your nascent specnonbud article a number of times. non-euclidean geometry makes me think of lovecraftian monstrosities crawling through corners that just dont make sense. -shrieks- the best case outcome is someone gibbering to himself in an asylum.

    i’d quote lovecraft but his monstrous adverb sprouting gelatinous sentences put me off.

    anyway, #srsly, i do reckon that specnonbud is the near enemy of secbud or vice versa. its just that specbud’s self-proclaimed take no prisoners approach using occam’s razor sharp mind of the west kungfu has resulted in specbud. i take it your contention is that specbud is yet another rigid edifice (un)safe from the howling pre-chtonic cthulhoid ambiguities of ur-rationality.

    is it true that specbuddies merely take it on faith that someone has done the hard yakka and that the result is a rational product of rational inquiry and hence can be safely consumed? ie why do the work when you can outsource it?

    or is it that specbud is kungfu. that specbuddies learn funky moves and then go out to kick ass? i seem to recall sifu tom p saying that maybe xbud could be kungfu too.

    from my selfproclaimed pop/post/un-x/non-bud perspective you all remind me of rival kungfu schools actually. you killed my master, my kf better than your kf, you dishonor me / my teacher / school, steely stares across rice paddies, yadda yadda.

    which is cool. because maybe i learn kungfu too.

    anyway, i have a point but it is secret.

    with metta
    as always

  115. jonckher (#114).

    Speculative non-buddhism is too disinterested in x-buddhism for all of that.

    As a theory-fiction, it aims for dionysian destruction. Such destruction, as you probably already know, is the purest form of creation possible. Unlike x-buddhism, non-buddhism sets it sights on creativity and human freedom. X-buddhism can only set its sights on x-buddhism; hence, its narcissistic specularity. Why not take the non-buddhist heuristic out for a spin, just to see what you see. If you’re looking to make up for your poor exam grade (D-), you could, for instance, apply it to the Schettini piece and the comments. The heuristic yields quite revealing data. It’s a powerful tool. Dangerous, too, though, once the mirror of dharma transmutes into the water of reality. Hope you can swim. We provide no raft.

    KOTJMF!
    (Kick Out the Jams, Motherfucker!)

  116. Hi Ray (#107). I pushed up the most recent post after seeing your comment. It probably doesn’t quite fit the bill, but it’s a start. I wonder if you could flesh out what you have in mind a bit more? I really do want to amp up the political here. Thanks.

    Geoff (#108). Your “rants” at Sujato’s blog are deeply edifying and often hilarious. I think your irony and humor is often lost on the grave Venerables. You are a gadfly to rival the Athenian. But that Sujato is thick, isn’t he?

    Danny (#110), I wonder the same thing: what might a truly secular Buddhism look like? That might be pretty damn interesting. Like you, I used to be curious about the possibilities for a secular Buddhism in the West. That is the reason that I was initially involved at the Secular Buddhist Association. What they were presenting there quickly became a predictable rehash of the same old Buddhism. It is too late for that. We need something different. Given Buddhism’s narcissistic defensiveness, though, it is difficult to hold a thoughtful discussion with it. (It keeps turning away to admire itself in whatever reflection is nearby.)

    Greg (#111). Ironic, isn’t it, that if he did what you said, Ted would be arguing, relative to non-buddhism, from the same position as Wallace was? It baffles me that Schettini said, over at the Secular Buddhist Association blog, that he agrees with the five articles of Secular Buddhist faith. Ted Meissner, too, said that he largely agrees. I can’t help but wonder if they understand what it is they are agreeing to.

    Thanks!

  117. Jayarava said

    Glenn (#113) Thanks I’d like that pdf, it does sound interesting.

    My impression is that most of the people taking part in the discussion are not hanging a shingle. I understand that you may wish to tackle shingle hangers, but my impression is that they aren’t coming to the party (yet).

    I’ve been making a similar point by drawing attention to the form of the argument in the Tevijjā Sutta. There the protagonist argues that you can’t teach what you don’t know. Whenever I here someone talking about nirvāṇa as though they *know* I just think ‘I doubt it.’

  118. Sorry to be so very slow in answering; busy week. This comment addresses bits of your first comment to me (#33).

    I get your point about the bazaar, but what you are doing reminds me of the fellow standing high on a cliff looking down at the ocean, who is certain he understands the ocean from that vantage better than those who swim in it. The swimmers recognize the importance of tides and currents in a way someone gazing down from a lofty perch cannot. You seem to be saying that you understand what’s going on better from a distance, but I think your view is different, not better.

    If you find yourself defining spec-n-buddhism as different from an x-buddhism where Tibetan Buddhism = x-Buddhism = Secular Buddhism, then not only can you not talk about Secular Buddhism with any kind of accuracy, you might, for example, fail to notice if SecB is working towards something very like the direction you’re heading in — “criticize and see what happens”. The concepts you’re working with have gotten so broad as to be, themselves, a caricature, a construction you’ve made that has little to do with what’s actually there. You seem to have faith in the magic that would have the manipulation of such extreme abstracts actually have a useful effect — on some level you are practicing what you preach against (but at least you are just hopeful that it will have an effect, not certain of it).

    “The dharma” serves as a good example of the problem of caricatures. When the dharma is defined as “unconditioned” and “timeless” in the way you’re reacting against, it is defined that way to support the belief that the Buddha taught literal rebirth, and that there *is* literal rebirth — and that there is an order that we cannot see, an order that is unconditioned and timeless. That view has Buddhism being about seeing through to some metaphysical reality. This isn’t something SecBs believe in, so they don’t build definitions that support it.

    My comment that it’s a mistake to say that “we perceive the dharma as unconditioned” came as a reaction to the section where you were talking about the first article of faith for Secular Buddhists. When you said “The dharma is unconditioned” I took this to be you saying that SecBs define the dharma as unconditioned. When I said that we don’t perceive the dharma as unconditioned, I was saying that we don’t *define* the dharma as unconditioned (certainly speaking for myself, I don’t — and I don’t find most SecB’s seeing the dharma that way). The only thing I’ve ever found the Buddha of the suttas to define as unconditioned is nibbana, and nibbana isn’t the dharma.

    What the dharma is, in my understanding, is what the Buddha wanted us to see so that we can stop screwing our lives up. I would say that what he was pointing out was human nature as he saw it and as it still is visible to us now, and is likely to be for a long while yet. In that sense — and in the sense that, I think, most closely relates to what you were talking about as “timeless truths” — it might be “a truth about human nature.” A secondary definition can extend “dharma” to mean his techniques for getting us to see what underlies our problems, and methods for going about slowing it down and hopefully putting a stop to it — in that sense the dharma is “his teaching about human nature”. (This is what Yeshe Rabgye was talking about on the FB page — as you can see from the thread in which he says, “I could of also said cause and effect or dukkha. These are also not fabricated,” and then he agreed with my clarification that they are of course “fabricated” in the sense of “conditioned” — since cause and effect are what “conditioned” is all about — but he’s meaning they are “natural” not something more like “fabricated fictions”. You assumed he was speaking in pure and precise Buddhist language and Conforming To Norms that you have defined because it’s what you are expecting to see because it’s what you believe everyone is saying all the time. This resulted in you concluding that he was saying the opposite of what he was saying.)

    Human nature isn’t “unconditioned” because it arises from causes and conditions.

    Also, any truth we can try to describe about human nature is only going to be an approximation (as with all our theories, we are aiming for greater and greater accuracy — but will we ever reach some absolute truth? speculative at best that such absolute truths are even there to be reached). So the dharma as “the truth about human nature” is a construction.

    Dharma is “timeless” only in the sense that humans have behaved that way for as far back as we can study them, and will probably behave that way for a long while yet (it doesn’t seem to be a product of culture, for example) but it’s not timeless in the sense of “eternal” at least as far as we can tell — when our species dies, there goes human nature! It’s not some timeless truth outside of time and space, or outside of what we can see for ourselves.

    The Buddha’s system of pointing out “the dharma” isn’t unconditioned either — it was clearly a product of its time and place; there can be other systems used for pointing out the same things. “The dharma” as a system of understanding things is also conditioned.

    So when you say, “I am referring to the very basic x-buddhist notion of a timeless, unconditional truth, one that was ‘discovered’ or ‘recovered’ by the Buddha,” a statement that was prefaced with, “And here we have Secular Buddhism’s first article of faith,” you are meeting up with one of those significant differences between (x-SecB)-buddhism and Secular Buddhism. There may well be some Secular Buddhists who find the dharma to be “unconditional” in the sense of “not explained by cause and effect” and “timeless” in the sense of “outside of time” but they aren’t very visible nor representative. Those I have been talking to do see it as “timeless” in the sense of “it’s been around a long while and will be with us for the same” and as “not fabricated” in Yeshe Rabge’s sense of “not made up” but, instead, something visible to, for example, modern science. The traditional view is, as you suggest in your paper, part of a magical refuge; the secular view is much more mundane than that.

    “First–and I’ll return to this point later–if you really believe that I ‘clearly need to get out more,’ presumably into the world of Buddhism and Buddhist, you must be completely unaware of my life-long, intense involvement with x-buddhism. I have been out among x-buddhists…”

    But here again is the same problem. This is an article about “the Faith of Secular Buddhists” and when I say “Secular Buddhists don’t say what you say they are saying”, you say, “But x-buddhists do!” as if your vast generalization averaging the mass of Buddhist beliefs worldwide then forces a subset to see things exactly as the generalized Buddhists do. When I say that you need to get out more, it was a request for you to pay closer attention to this subset you’re not accurately representing. I have no quibble with your generalizations as a whole, but they don’t all apply to Secular Buddhists as well as you think they do.

    “They speak and write as if the historicity of the canonical Buddha were (1) taken for granted, and (2) a necessary condition for the authoritativeness of ‘the Dharma.'”

    You are definitely paying attention to a different group of Secular Buddhists than the ones I hang out with (in social media). We are a varied bunch, so it’s possible you are completely missing what I see as a huge factor, and I’m missing what you see as a huge factor. Most of the Secular Buddhists I hang out with maintain that *practice* is the ultimate authority on the dharma, and that the suttas are so muddled that they aren’t a consistently reliable source of information about what the dharma is that this (possibly fictional) character (construct of a committee) “the Buddha” taught about.

    I would agree that my SecB friends often talk about the dharma as if the Buddha had been proven to have lived and as if they drew their understanding from a wholly clear and reliable set of texts that contained the actual word of the Buddha, but that is part of the front door that I was talking about: it is how one talks to address an audience that may include many beginners. When trying to do a brief talk on some aspect of Buddhism we aren’t going to sprinkle a post with the sorts of hedging that newspapers do for legal reasons, “In my opinion” and “it is believed that the texts say” and “many Buddhists believe that the Buddha was saying that” and so on; we’re just going to get on with the lesson and assume that the readers know that books and blogs represent a person’s opinions, and that they’ll come to realize, if they don’t already, that different Buddhists have different opinions about what the Buddha said. I would have hoped that you were a reader who would recognize this, but perhaps you didn’t. If you don’t get it, then, wow, we probably need to put a disclaimer as a footer at the start of books, or a note as a footer on blog posts: “Warning: this is a blog, as such it is full of the opinions of individuals and contains no claims to absolute truths or even final authority on anything.”

    Overall, what I’m trying to say is that I am all for the examination of Buddhist assumptions, their validity, usefulness, and an experiment to see if something different emerges — go for it — but if you’re going to single out Secular Buddhists I’d like your assessment of their approach to be far more accurate than it is. If you’re going to be pummeling cartoon characters, I’m not really that interested.

  119. Linda (#118).

    Linda: Overall, what I’m trying to say is that I am all for the examination of Buddhist assumptions, their validity, usefulness, and an experiment to see if something different emerges — go for it —

    Glenn: From a speculative non-buddhist perspective, you are not interested enough in such an examination. You (= rhetorical, textual you) are merely swirling around in x-buddhism’s voltaic network of postulation. You are caught in decision.

    L.: but if you’re going to single out Secular Buddhists I’d like your assessment of their approach to be far more accurate than it is.

    G. Because I am not playing the game of dharmic exemplification my assessment must appear inaccurate to you and all x-buddhists. There is no other way. Your comments here and elsewhere are permeated by the piercing vibrato of x-buddhism. My language stills that vibrato in order to hear.

    L: If you’re going to be pummeling cartoon characters, I’m not really that interested.

    G: The Secular Buddhist subject has neither flesh nor blood. How can s/he? Secular Buddhism–indeed all of x-buddhism–is a one-dimensional hallucinatory representation of reality. So, it is far less than a cartoon. I don’t think you should be all that interested. Surely you have better things to do than engage in speculative non-buddhist balderdash. I don’t blame you.

    Have you read the article “Nascent Speculative Non-Buddhism.” Did you understand it?

  120. Bhikkhu Brahmali said

    Matthias (#9)

    The factors mentioned by Matthias have no doubt affected Buddhist oral tradition. But the interesting point is not the fact of the influence, but the degree.

    The problem with the sort general arguments offered by Matthias is that their applicability to individual textual traditions may be limited. This is perhaps particularly so for Buddhist oral literature, which is quite different from other forms of oral literature. For example, compared to the Vedas and Greek mythology, Buddhist texts are far more repetitive. This repetitiveness is seen in the frequent use of series of synonyms, in the extensive use of standardized pericopes, and in a general tendency for repetition across all the material. It seems that such repetition was purposely built into the literature to ensure the stability of the transmitted texts. Another aspect of Buddhist literature is the bhāṇaka (“reciter”) system, whereby monastics would specialize in memorizing certain texts and would meet for communal recitation. This system of communal recital, too, would help ensure a high degree of stability in the oral material. There are also other aspects of Buddhist literature that sets is apart, such as the nature of its content (psychological rather than mythological), that may have had an impact on the accuracy of the oral transmission.

    For these reasons it may not be sufficient to draw on general theories about oral literature; one may have to consider the Buddhist literature on its own merits. The recently published work “A Comparative Study of the Majjhima-nikāya”, by Anālayo, does just that. This very comprehensive and thorough study compares the suttas of the Majjhima Nikāya to all ancient parallels still extant (in Chinese, Sanskrit, the various Prakrits, Tibetan, and other languages), and the particular emphasis of the study is the influence of orality on the transmission process. Comparing the factors mentioned by Mathias to the results of Anālayo’s study, it seems reasonable to conclude that they – or at least some of them – have had some impact on the transmitted material. Nevertheless, Anālayo’s conclusion is clear that this impact – on the relatively rare occasions where there is one – largely affects structure and narrative details and not the core teachings of early Buddhism:

    At the same time, rather than giving us a completely new picture of early Buddhism, what my comparative study of the parallels to the Majjhima-nikaya discourses yields is a reconfirmation of the essentials, with occasional divergence in details. (p.891)

    On Matthias’ last point that “The problems of translation of an old and long silent language are multiple”, Anālayo’s study shows that texts in Indic languages can fruitfully be compared with texts in Chinese. Yet Chinese and Sanskrit/Prakrit are pretty much as far apart as languages get. That a detailed comparison is still possible shows that the problem of translation should not be exaggerated.

    In sum, on the best evidence available, it seems clear to me that, although it is generally impossible to reconstruct verbatim the word of the Buddha, we have a quite precise picture of his core teachings.

  121. Bhikkhu Brahmali (#120). Thank you very much for joining us here.

    In sum, on the best evidence available, it seems clear to me that, although it is generally impossible to reconstruct verbatim the word of the Buddha, we have a quite precise picture of his core teachings.

    I would have to add a couple of elements to that conclusion. Changed in this manner, all of the wind is let out of the statement, and it comes crashing to the earth.

    In sum, on the best evidence available, it seems clear to me that, although it is absolutely impossible to reconstruct verbatim the word of the Buddha, we have a quite precise picture of the teachings as they looked about 500 years after his death.

    I would like to ask you a question. I hope you will answer honestly: do you need your version of the statement to be true?

  122. Tom Pepper said

    Re 120:

    I think you’re missing the point of Matthias’s post. Or maybe I am. But it seems to me that point #1 and point #3 taken together are extremely important. If, as you say, the psychological nature of the content plays an important part in the accuracy of the transmission, then the possibility that the shift from an oral to a literate culture entails a change in the form of human psychology would seem to suggest that those who wrote it down were most likely to get it wrong: they would have a different psychological makeup from those who were transmitting sutras orally, and so might adjust the psychological content, in writing it, so that it would make sense to them.

    Of course, translations are always difficult, even between similar languages–I’ll read something in French, and have an incredibly hard time trying to put it into clear English. But if the texts contain truth, that shouldn’t matter too terribly much. Unlike the postmoderns, I still believe that truths can be spoken in any language–it is only our ideologies that sometimes remain completely untranslatable.

  123. Z buddhist said

    Very entertaining. Made my evening go by in a flash.

    Jonckher,, a man of my heart, let’s meet some time.

    Tom or Mat, it is hard to keep track. What are you doing to bring the downfall of capitalism? I am all for it, tell me what to do.

    Glen, you mention discussion that are in the SNB style? What do you do exactly that is different? It could sound like EST.

    All the best and punchy acrimonious discussion to all.
    The Z Buddhist, an anarchist in a younger life.

  124. Tomek said

    Tom, you wrote in comment # 7 “This is why in his first paragraph he can refer to “biological evolution,” “self-awareness and language,” the “brain” and our “fragile biosphere,” but it would never occur to him to mention our humanly constructed social formations as a source of suffering that we CAN ACTUALLY CHANGE!!”

    I can’t entirely agree with you that Batchelor doesn’t “mention our humanly constructed social formations as a source of suffering.” If you for example look up at page 162 of his Confession you will find the following fragment: “He [Buddha] thus recognized that the tasks entailed by the Four Truths are those required to build the kind of civilization he envisioned. Since this is not something a person can accomplish on his or her own, it implies that the practice of the Four Truths is a communal undertaking, which requires the support of “the king and his ministers,” i.e., those who have the resources and power to realize such a grand project.”

    I know it is very vague statement, nevertheless, I remember him talking about this point many times during his lectures. Creating so called “culture of awakening” is something that seems to have top priority in his overall message. To what degree this “grand project” would collude with capitalist ideology is another question…

  125. jayarava said

    Re #121.

    “In sum, on the best evidence available, it seems clear to me that, although it is absolutely impossible to reconstruct verbatim the word of the Buddha, we have a quite precise picture of the teachings as they looked about 500 years after his death.”

    This is a bit too generous. I would change the last phrase to

    “…we have a picture of the teachings as they looked about 500 years after our best guess for when he probably died.”

    I don’t think the picture is precise because the Canon, as you mentioned earlier, has internal contradictions: some due to ideas that developed; some due to multiple oral lineages coalescing after time apart; and some due to rather cack-handed editing etc. The Canon is fuzzy.

  126. jayarava said

    It’s fairly obvious that Bachelor is not radical, because he is only continuing a tradition which can probably be traced to that intriguing Victorian couple, Mr and Mrs Rhys Davids. They were interested in moulding Buddhism to be a rational replacement for Christianity. I think they feared that Nietzsche might be right when he predicted that with the death of god, that everything would be allowed. It was they who began the bracketing out of aspects of the Buddhist tradition which did not fit with their post-Enlightenment values. They consciously sought to align the Buddha with the great figures the Enlightenment, and this is most obvious in the choice of “Enlightenment” to translate bodhi (which means nothing of the the kind). So rather than secular Buddhist, it would be more accurate to refer to Bachelor as a Latter Day Rhys Davidian Buddhist.

  127. Matthias said

    Hello Bhikku Brahmali, re#120

    Thanks for joining the discussion.

    But sorry I am not convinced. If you simply would say let us “consider the Buddhist literature on its own merits” then that would be ok. We then have a corpus of texts which has to say something or not. The problem is the attribution of the text corpus to an original – and I take your “core teachings” as the original.

    1.Regarding repetitiveness. One question is, how has the original spoken. Did he speak like what the text reads? If not, the original is already lost. Did the original spoke in exactly this repetitive manner? Then we have a host of other problems.

    2. The original as such. In the hermeneutical process even the ‘originally’ spoken word is not the original. It is also part of a tradition, history, culture etc. It is always in one way or another a process to ‘get the meaning’, to understand and to express it again. In one word, dependently arisen.

    3. More about the original. Byung-Chul Han, philosopher in Karlsruhe, Germany, writes that in the chinese culture the notion of identity and with it the notion of an original as we know it, is not known (or has not been known). This opens up the possibility of a very different relationship vis-a-vis that what we call original. In fact, a bard back in Buddhas original times, singing his the songs, might very well regroup or exchange pieces of the canon. (Compare point 5, the tapestry, where he will find additional material.)

    4. Repetitiveness again. The Ilias or the Odyssey might in fact be less repetitive. What we don’t know is how they looked like before they where finally written down. So your comparison does not hold.

    5. The tapestry. You forget Point 4) in #9. The article “Who’s Buddha is Best?” which is about the outdated idea of a tree structure of evolution, which would lead back to an original: “At the very beginning we might have a number of different sources, all of whom represent or claim to represent the teaching of the Buddha.”

    6. Dependent arisen cultural self and (an)atman. Compare point 3.This is difficult to imagine. We know today that the structure of the self is to a vast extent conditioned by the socio-cultural milieu in which it lives. This goes down right to the synaptogenetic level, the building of neuronal pathways in children. What we call identity today is different from 500 years ago. This is apart from my point 3 in #9. Ad the fact that we have different definitions of the self tiday. So what do we talk about when we talk about an original anatman?

    That is all very compact. One could develop these arguments very well.

    If you just drop the notion of the original, then all these points are nullified. Why not say the core teachings are those which have to say somethings which is useful or which is a certain truth, a subject of truth, a truth process. Regardless when or how it appeared (this does not deny that history, philology etc is useful). This goes also to Stephen Batchelor and his “attempts to recover a vision of Gotamas’s own saeculum.

    Also this does not and has not the intention to deny the possible existence of a certain man Gautama 2500 years ago. It simply does not matter if he existed or not – at least in view of my question to you:

    The point is a variation of Glenn’s in #121: If one has recognized a truth, a helpful text, a certain liturgy, a rule book for a better living; if one has with all good reasoning decided upon this – that indeed it is good: Why insist that it must be inherited from an original?

  128. Tom Pepper said

    Re #124

    Tomek,

    Surely you’re not suggesting that the desire to get financial support from wealthy is in any way the same thing as trying to radically transform the current social formation? Batchelor is here suggesting that the sangha needs to accede to the wishes of the rich and powerful, in order to be supported by them. This, again, assumes that the economy is naturally occurring, and we can only adjust ourselves to it.

  129. Apologies for such tardiness coming to the lively discussion, everyone, and thank you for your patience. I’ll just reply to a few highlights.

    Here, I would like to offer a raw reader-response account of my reading of Batchelor’s statement. I know that his piece itself is too brief to base a broad criticism on. But there are two good reasons to attend closely to it. The first is that, according to the website, it represents Batchelor’s “outlining” of his vision “for a contemporary spirituality.” The second, and more important reason, is that it contains axiomatic features that are endemic to all writing on Secular Buddhism—whether in Batchelor’s numerous books or on the newly sprouting Secular Buddhist websites, blogs, forums, and Facebook pages. These features form the very foundation on which Secular Buddhism is currently building its house. I say that they are axiomatic because these features go unchallenged, indeed unquestioned, by Secular Buddhists of all stripes, including the secular-scientistic community around Jon Kabat-Zinn. These features, in short, constitute the faith at the heart of Secular Buddhism. It is a faith, moreover, that renders Secular Buddhism indistinguishable from every other system of religious belief. The grounding of an “ism” in faith is neither new nor interesting. It is, however, a serious—perhaps debilitating—weakness in one that claims to reach for the values encapsulated in the term “secular.”

    This seems to be the heart of the matter. It’s a reader-response to one person’s approach to a secular approach, it is not representative of everyone’s approach. Stephen’s interest is not mine, nor does it determine any kind of one true secular Buddhism.

    We get hung up on words and what is meant by them, as if there is a rock solid meaning for each. Glenn, you educated me quite well about that challenge with the work of translation, that there can be many subtle and sometimes gross differences in what words reflect. My own context for the S and the B are not Stephen’s, though of course there is some overlap. For me, “secular” has connotations not only around the root of pertaining to this lifetime, but also contains the nuance of not being religious. Not in an antagonistic way, though it is often taken as such, but in the meaning that my own practice is not limited to the constraint of being within a particular religious institution, does not depend on a particular hierarchy or lineage, and lacks the uncritical acceptance of assertions not in evidence — what I consider supernatural claims. For the B word, it is an accurate indication of the background which contributes to my study of what I find helpful to me in dealing with the problems I encounter in life. Contributes to, as do many other disciplines like science, critical thinking, and yes even some limited philosophy. Buddhism for me is a reference to the pragmatic practice, not the religion.

    That being said, I see secular Buddhism as a transitional branch on the evolutionary tree of the memeplex of “Buddhism”, as it encounters new selective pressures in our contemporary society. We are, for example, becoming a more secular culture and we’re seeing a migration from traditional religious institutions like Catholicism. Secular Humanism is growing, and studies of meditation on the brain are indicative of therapeutic applications (though I find the controls on the studies so far to be wholely inadequate to constitute anything close to rally great interest from an appropriately skeptical public). So we’re going to see not only a secular Buddhism as Stephen has outlined, but other ways that still honestly fall into that term, but have entirely different backgrounds and goals.

    First Article of Faith: Transcendental Dharma…. The first article of faith of all Secular Buddhists is that “the dharma” contains teachings that are (i) crucial to human flourishing, and (ii) otherwise unavailable or available only in inferior form from elsewhere….

    This is a good example of that different approach. Stephen is quite right, from my perspective and probably many others, his approach does have a religious quality to it! I would suggest there is a scale, and we may see people like the Dalai Lama on one end, a teacher at a Western zen center a bit more to the left, Stephen left of that, me further down, all the way to Christopher Hitchens.

    And on my section of that scale, I do not agree with the idea that “the dharma” (and I also would like to purge such discussions of dead language terms) is the be all and end all for human flourishing. That very notion would end investigation and exploration, and prevents us from new discoveries that may put this particular teaching to shame. Nor do I find anything particularly transcendental about it, the practice itself I have found to be very naturalistic.

    That is not to say I or other secular folks are blind to the bullshit, the contradictions, the ridiculousness of taking the whole of this or any canon at face value. I’m interested in checking it out, and there’s a lot of content to check out. That interests me more than, say, Christianity or the early Greek philosophers. That doesn’t make me lazy, and Jayarava put it much better in 99.:

    Another thing I wanted to say is that there seems to be an implication that not having studied whichever philosopher is currently informing the discussion is always due to being a Buddhist or being lazy. But philosophy is a vast subject. I used to be quite well read in the Sciences, and have lately tried to catch up on subjects like evolution (Lynn Margulis’s books) and neuroscience. It’s a major effort in my late 40′s to process that stuff and I can’t say I’ve caught up to the point of comfortably discussing it with someone who works in the field. Without ever having read philosophy as an youngster, let alone having been *taught* to think that way, the learning curve is so steep that I just slide down it. The same is true of many subjects. It’s not laziness, I’ve forgotten more chemistry than most people ever learn. If you can’t discuss the oxidation states of 4d elements, or the racemic mix of isomers present in your reaction product, or (topically) the details of neutron activation analysis; it doesn’t mean you’re a chauvinist or lazy, it means you’re normal. We are all in the situation of being ignorant about more things than we are knowledgeable about. I’m still learning, just not convinced that philosophy will answer the questions I’m asking. Such as ‘why do people continue to belief things in the presence of counter-examples which show their belief to be poorly founded?’. Or ‘why can philosopher never agree?’ My best insights into this question so far have come from neuroscience which is what excites me at the moment. It’s no less jargon laden and difficult to learn, but it seems worth it.

    I’m not a philosopher, nor is my podcast about philosophy. We’re talking about what some non-religious (for example) approaches to the practice of Buddhism might be, it’s early in this development, and our focus on that topic which interests us doesn’t make us lazy because we’re not focused on what someone else thinks is more important. It may be very contributive and critical to this evolutionary process, I’m simply not the least bit qualified to go there.

    Second Article of Faith: The Buddha…. May Secular Buddhists, in our time, put away their childish obsession with the ghost of Gotama.

    I couldn’t agree more. To say that a beneficial practice is utterly dependent on a particular figure is like saying e=mc2 will stop working if we find out Einstein didn’t formulate it.

    Now, again, that’s my own way of being a self-described secular Buddhist. I’d much rather we see the ongoing critical examination, testing, and improving of ways to have more positive experiences in life from whatever sources may contribute to that, vs. having to stick with any particular -ism. My hope is that we come to a place with whatever that may look like as we are with, say, algebra — do we rely on the historical context of the Rhind papyrus anymore? Why should we be so very adherent to the Pali canon?

    But here’s the difference, before the cries of “hypocrisy” start ringing: this evolution of Buddhism has not yet been taken out of the religious context. It’s early for that selective pressure on this memeplex, and it’s just a transitional state of affairs. Would I really like to be past it? Yes! Are we likely to traverse it, and see that it sticks around even when new branches develop out of it that drop the S and the B? Sure!

    Third Article of Faith: Special Teachings… What does interest me is the fact that “the four Ps” render Buddhism wholly expendable. If the four Ps encapsulate crucial knowledge about how we should live as human beings at this time (saeculum), we can do drastically better than to look to Buddhism for that knowledge.

    With you totally on the first part, as I find that any demonstrably valid practice for humanity will not require allegiance to the mystical assertions of a traditional context. I simply don’t know about the second, I am openly under educated and learning as time goes on. This interests me, I find value in it, and that’s what my area of focus is at this time. Things change, and I have no problem with parallel investigations of other teachings, philosophies, or practices.

    Fourth Article of Faith: The Principle of Sufficient Buddhism…. Secular Buddhism’s version is sufficient.

    No, it isn’t. It’s not a be all, end all. It’s one way to help some things, but it doesn’t teach us how to fly to Mars, it doesn’t prevent cancer, and it doesn’t fix all existential stress, either. If you have an ongoing problem with depression, get professional help. If you find a non-religious meditation practice helps with it, as many have, that’s great — but please don’t put it on a magic pedastal.

    Again, that being said, secular Buddhism is our topic, that’s what we’re going to talk about.

    Fifth Article of Faith: Ideological Rectitude…. Why do Batchelor and the Secular Buddhists believe that they possess an “entirely adequate ethical, philosophical and practical framework for living your life in this world” and thus have no need of consulting the wider world of knowledge?…. I am suggesting that Secular Buddhists themselves mistake the (ideological) lens for the data. They are blind to the fact that they even have an ideology.

    Again, we don’t all think the same way. I don’t think that at all, I simply find that my own practice which is not religious and has been informed by Buddhism to have been very helpful to me. Of course I have an ideological stance and interpretation of what I’m doing, that doesn’t mean it isn’t changeable, that doesn’t mean it’s going to stagnate, that doesn’t mean learning has stopped.

  130. Tomek said

    Tom, thanks for your replay (# 128). Probably Batchelor would never say that he is a radical in terms of social transformation and it’s easy to guess, that his “pragmatic” approach is surely unacceptable for radicals like you. But look, I still claim, that it’s not entirely fair to say, that “it would never occur to him to mention our humanly constructed social formations as a source of suffering that we CAN ACTUALLY CHANGE!!”. Somewhere in the earlier discussion (# 85) you you said, that you admire work of D. Loy, and although you are not sure that Loy’s “gentle persuasion ever works” to “persuade the Buddhist capitalist to consider the institutional sources of greed”, but you “really hope it does”. So I wonder how would you interpret another fragment from Batchelor – this time from his bestseller Buddhism without beliefs (p. 112) – which to my knowledge predates with it’s message, what Loy articulated in much more detailed version only in Lack and Transcendance and in his later books.

    The contemporary social engagement of dharma practice is rooted in awareness of how self-centered confusion and craving can no longer be adequately understood only as psychological drives that manifest themselves in subjective states of anguish. We find these drives embodied in the very economic, military, and political structures that influence the lives of the majority of people on earth. Harnessed to industrial technologies, the impact of these drives affects the quality of environment; the availability of natural resources and employment; the kinds of political, social, and financial institutions that govern peoples’ lives. Such a socially engaged vision of dharma practice recognizes that each practitioner is obliged by ethics of empathy to respond to the anguish of a globalized, interdependent world.

  131. Tom Pepper said

    Tomek: I went and reviewed that section of Batchelor’s book, just to be sure. It is quite clear that he is not suggesting anything like a transformation of the social formation. He seems to have only the most naïve and superficial idea of what the social formation is—as if it is a matter of voting tory or labour or something. He discusses “drives” which are “embodied in “ or “harnessed to” institutions (although he seems to see industry as somehow a different kind of thing from the “economic institution”), and the goal of Buddhism is, through “individuation,” the full development of the bourgeois humanist self, to produce kinder gentler members of the system, and thus reduce the pernicious effects of these drives.

    Loy, on the other hand, is suggesting something profoundly different. Rather than see some universal “drives” conveniently harnessed to social structures that exploit them, Loy seems to see that the social formation themselves produce those drives or desires.

    I would like it if Batchelor were on the side of social change, but there’s nothing in his writing that suggests anything but the adjustment of “bodies and languages” to suit the inexorable juggernaut of necessity/capitalism. Take this example, in the paragraph after one you cite: Whenever a culture of awakening has been realized in the past, it has arisen through the original, imaginative vision of an INDIVIDUAL and subsequently has been embodied in social structures compatible with the new situations. (my emphasis). The obsession with atomistic selves, adapting “structures” to a situation which somehow they do not control—this is not what I would call a willingness to engage the social system. For Batchelor, it seems to remain unthinkable that the individual is an effect of the structure, and that any liberation would require structural change, not “individuation.” In what sense is the “situation” he talks about anything OTHER than social structures? This is just muddled thinking, unless what he means by social structures is the organization of a particular sangha, and situation refers to the unavoidable necessity of economic reality—that’s about the only way this could be understood to make sense. Batchelor in this book still has the strong Heideggerian fear of technology, as if that, and not the economy, were the cause of our problems—but like Heidegger, he cannot imagine that the economy is a social activity that take place in humanly created institutions that we could change.

    I’m not sure why you are so keen to defend Batchelor. I’ve never met him, but from his writing I can’t imagine he would be bothered by the suggestion that his version of Secular Buddhism is an ideology of capitalism. At least that’s one step up from the Tibetan use of Buddhism as the ideology of a horrendously oppressive oligarchy.

  132. Bhikkhu Brahmali said

    Glenn (#121)

    do you need your version of the statement to be true?

    If I were arguing from need, I wouldn’t be posting on this blog!

    To me the point is not whether one is coming from need (who isn’t?), but whether one is willing to have those needs challenged, no matter how painful that may be. I believe I am.

    we have a quite precise picture of the teachings as they looked about 500 years after his death

    We can go much further back in time than that. The evidence – both archaeological/epigraphical and textual – points to a great dispersion of Buddhism under the reign of Ashoka. It is quite clear that monastic communities have existed in places as far apart as Gandhāra and Sri Lanka at least since then, possibly earlier. This is no more than 150 years after the death of the Buddha. (I am here using the recent scholarly consensus that the Buddha died around 400 BC; see Gombrich and Bechert, in particular.) Once the Buddhist monastic community was spread over such a vast geographical area (the distance between Gandhāra and Sri Lanka is about 3,000 km, as the crow flies), it was only natural that the different parts of the monastic order would start to move intellectually in different directions. And this, of course, is exactly what we see. The Sarvāstivādins of Gandhāra developed their own interpretation of the inherited textual material (including the idea of existence in the three times) and the Mahāvihāra community in Sri Lanka (the forebears of present day Theravāda) another. The new interpretations would normally be confined to independent treatises and commentaries, but occasionally would also affect the shared common heritage. But the main point for the present purposes is that the schools were distinct and transmitted their own separate traditions. The Sarvāstivādin parallel to the Pali Majjhima Nikāya was subsequently translated into Chinese, whereas the Sri Lankan version was preserved in Pali. These are the only two complete extant version of this collection of texts.

    What we have, then, are parallel collections from two separate textual lineages, of two different schools, preserved in two very different languages, that have existed apart since at least the time of Ashoka. Yet in spite of this, and despite a separation that has lasted over 2,300 years, the suttas that are common to both collections are still very close in content. This is rather astonishing, for it shows that despite all the forces that would have been exerting a distortional influence on these texts, they have still survived with the main doctrinal material virtually untouched. That this is actually what has happened is what Anālayo’s research shows. This shows us how conservative and careful the different schools must have been in preserving what they regarded as the word of the Buddha.

    But I would go even further. If the material we now have was preserved so faithfully for 2,300 years, which would have included an oral transmission period of at least 200 years (quite possibly much longer, considering that the period of oral and written transmission must have overlapped), why would it not have been faithfully preserved during the intervening space of 150 years that takes us back to the time of the Buddha? After all, this was a time when the Buddhist community was still confined to a relatively small area, and a time when the memory of the Buddha was still fresh and the efforts to preserve his legacy would have been particularly intense. It seems likely to me that the oral material was better preserved during this period than during later ones.

    The above is just meant as a rough sketch, but I contend that this outline is the one that best matches the available evidence. My conclusion is that the material that is common to the Pali Nikayas and the Chinese Agamas gives us a clear picture of the core teachings of the Buddha.

    Tom (#122)

    they would have a different … sense to them.

    Perhaps. But I feel there are so many unknowns here that it is difficult to have an opinion on this issue. I have read the article by Galen Amstutz and found at least one significant weakness. He states in relation to developments in Christianity in Europe that the transition from orality to literacy included “a shift away from the material to the inward and spiritual” (p. 247), and he then postulates that the same shift happened in Japanese Shin Buddhism (p.255). Part of his argument is that Shin did a “turn to the relatively nonvisual (in the sense of non-imagistic) in Buddhist communication” compared to “other traditions (at least Mahāyāna)” (p.255). The problem with this argument is that the use of such concrete imagery developed after the Buddhist texts had been committed to writing; the earlier Buddhism of the oral period did not generally use imagery in the way some later traditions did. This is the exact reverse of what one would expect from the theory developed by Walter Ong and here utilized by Galen Amstutz. Further, in Sri Lanka the writing down of the oral tradition was accompanied by a turning away from meditation. The committal of Buddhist literature to written form was in fact a conscious decision that preserving the heritage should take precedence over meditation. Again, this contradicts the theory of Ong, at least as presented by Amstutz. This leaves us little choice, in my opinion, but to await further research before we can ascertain the impact on the Buddhist traditions of moving from orality to literacy.

    What does seem clear, however, is that Chinese and Pali parallel texts – although they went through the change from oral to textual transmission quite separately – can be compared in this day and age and be found to be remarkably similar.

    But if the texts contain truth, that shouldn’t matter too terribly much.

    The Buddhist claim, of course, is that the texts do contain truth. In this context it is interesting that the passages that do not contain truth, that is, the narrative passages, are the least well preserved, at least according to Anālayo’s study.

  133. jonckher said

    #32, 77 etc

    On David Loy’s work.

    Ok, call me johnnie come lately but I now want a David Loy t-shirt too – but only if he gets a trendier hair-cut. I mean OMG, what has he got on his head?

    Also, if he shaves off his beard, I think he will look a little like Rutger Hauer.

    Which can only be a GOOD THING as it will sell more t-shirts.

  134. Tomek said

    Tom (# 131), you write,

    I’m not sure why you are so keen to defend Batchelor. I’ve never met him, but from his writing I can’t imagine he would be bothered by the suggestion that his version of Secular Buddhism is an ideology of capitalism.

    I was translating this provocative recent post Un-Mindful Collusion and I paused at this already twice repeated sentence, where you proclaim, that Batchelor do not bother “to mention our humanly constructed social formations as a source of suffering that we CAN ACTUALLY CHANGE!!” I need to know what are the fuller implication of this statement. So it prompted me to go back to Batchelor’s writings once again and check what he has actually written about social sources of suffering. Do I defend him? He has in fact not written much about it, but still – to quote something else from his works (Living with the Devil) – paragraph like the following, suggest that actually he seems to be “on the side of social change”, at least some form of it (you suggest that it is only “the adjustment of ‘bodies and languages’ to suit the inexorable juggernaut of necessity/capitalism” – that is very interesting and somehow new (challenging?) perspective for me; would you also classify this fragment as an example of naivete and superficiality? ). He wrote:

    “Now that the Buddhist traditions of postmodern Asia find themselves face to face with the liberal traditions of modernity, each challenges the other to look afresh at its understanding and practice of freedom. Just as Buddhism provides psychological insight and contemplative practices to free people from their inner demons, so the liberal philosophies of Europe and America provide social insights and political practices to free people from governments and religions that restrict their liberty to live as they choose. We thus come to appreciate the fuller extent of Mara’s reach: intense private hatreds share with complex societal structures of repression the same capacity to block paths and limit freedom.” (p. 159-160)

    You also write,

    He [Batchelor] discusses “drives” which are “embodied in “ or “harnessed to” institutions (although he seems to see industry as somehow a different kind of thing from the “economic institution”), and the goal of Buddhism is, through “individuation,” the full development of the bourgeois humanist self, to produce kinder gentler members of the system, and thus reduce the pernicious effects of these drives.

    Loy, on the other hand, is suggesting something profoundly different. Rather than see some universal “drives” conveniently harnessed to social structures that exploit them, Loy seems to see that the social formation themselves produce those drives or desires.

    You might be right that this kind of “individuation” can lead to “the full development of the bourgeois humanist self”. But how about Loys central idea of lack. Don’t you think that Batchelor’s “drives” (craving, hatred, confusion) are in fact close derivatives of this ontological lack (death-anxiety, dread of groundlessness, original sin) felt by every finite human being, that is then, in collective form, harnessed to modern financial/technological complex? Honestly I’m a bit skeptical about your suggestion that Loy’s positing an idea “that the social formation themselves produce those drives or desires.” They certainly manipulate these “drives”, stimulate them, as in the case of examples provided by Loy, that is, our current fame obsession, the love of love, the money complex and the idea of technological progress, but to say they are solely responsible for them?

  135. Tom Pepper said

    RE #132

    Bikkhu Brahmali,

    What you suggest is no argument against Amstutz’s argument. That the Buddhist teachings were written down centuries earlier has not bearing on the literacy of the Japanese, particularly not those to whom Shin would appeal, because they were only entering the literacy phase at this time. In fact, your argument that “such concrete imagery developed after the Buddhist texts had been committed to writing; the earlier Buddhism of the oral period did not generally use imagery in the way some later traditions did” would be strong evidence that literacy in fact DID change the structure of the subject, and so changed how they practiced Buddhism. No doubt Amstutz’s essay is mostly a suggestion for an area in which much further research would be useful–he has not settled all accounts on the matter. However, nothing you have said at all weakens his claims. I, for one, would love to read further work in this area. As we leave the age of literacy, it is increasingly worth considering how reading and writing impacted our subjectivity, in order to consider how the new aliteracy is changing subjectivity (and our hope for liberation) once again.

    You suggest that there are pretty clear “core teachings” of the Buddha that have remained “untouched” by loss of or changes to texts–are you able to point to what these are, exactly? Do you, like Stephen Batchelor suggest, have a hermeneutic strategy with which to excise the basic “core teachings”? I am asking this in all seriousness–do you have a list of particular passages or texts from the various canons that are, for your tradition, the “clear picture” of what Buddha really taught? Is it fairly uncontroversial in Theravada Buddhism? (I’m assuming you’re Theravadan, is this correct?).

    I appreciate your input. While I would agree that there are signs, in the Pali Canon, of an original actual teacher who had a relatively coherent body of thought and was apparently quite impressive, I cannot imagine how to sort out what exactly it was in the giant mass of texts that seem to be so very contradictory. I imagine there are ways to do it, though, and people who are knowledgeable about these things–what have they come up with?

  136. Tom Pepper said

    Tomek (RE 134):

    I haven’t read the work that passage comes from, but it sounds to me like very typical capitalist propaganda–everyone else has an “oppressive government” but we have a “liberating political process” that frees us to “live as we choose.” Passages like this sound less like naivety, and more like blatantly deceptive ideological manipulation. No mention of the economy running our lives, because when we are all completely in the control of the mechanisms of capital then we “feel” completely “free”–so long as we are capitalists, at least.

    I still think there is a fundamental difference between what Loy suggest and what Batchelor suggests. It may seem at first that we can simply collapse desires like the craving for money into the basic “craving,” and say it is a primal, natural thing. But it is clear that money is not natural, has not existed as long as there have been humans, and that it was a bit of a struggle to get it into common use. So no, desire for money is not a basic drive that is harnessed by a social system–it is produced by the system. Take a look at a fantastic book on how the invention of money changed the way humans thought about everything, Seaford’s “Money and the Early Greek Mind.” Today, we assume money, and so profit, and debt, are universal, and we assume that we can count promises and obligations as exactly the same kind of thing as monetary debt (there have been about three book recently about how money and particularly debt, are universal human things–all of them ridiculously reductive in this way). But the idea of exchange value as somehow separate from use value, the former controlling the later and coming to dominate it, is not a primal drive, but a socially constructed phenomenon. So is Romantic Love (there’s a host of literature on the history of love as we understand it today). How could the possibility of fame in the 18th-century, or medieval times, have been anything like what we understand fame to be today?

    That said, I’m not suggesting I’m in complete agreement with Loy. I think he does still accept an atomistic concept of mind, which I do not (although I seem to be alone in the world in this particular position), and he leans toward a strong-constructivist/postmodernist position which I do not accept.

  137. Matthias said

    Bhikkhu Brahmali

    In #120 you say

    the interesting point is not the fact of the influence, but the degree.

    My general argument is that it is possibly not a question of degree but of paradigm-shift or -difference. Thin of eurocentrism or ethnocentrism for example as forms of paradigm-difference (which have not been recognized for long times). You address problems of degree within a certain paradigm. Your implicit assumption seems to be that there has not been any paradigm-shift from the time of the core teaching to today. My assumption is that there could have been one. This is enough to be sceptic.

    If you ignore the possibility of a paradigm-shift then, only then, you can say that my “general arguments” do not hold. But then you choose, in my opinion, to believe rather than to know.

    Regarding the Anālayo-study. I read in the description here about several difficulties Anālayo identifies. There are quiet interesting things. One for example

    is the proposition that, whereas the Vedic style of memorization would have been conducive to accurate verbatim replication, the Buddhist style would have been conducive to inference-drawing and consequent restructuring of the memorized material. (my emphasis)

    But this is only a minor detail here (although it is a very interesting one). Much more problematic seems to me Anālayo’s conclusion (as presented in the description):

    [T]he study has revealed no evidence that any particular line of transmission has preserved the discourses more faithfully than the others.

    Very well. But now comes the problematic part:

    An implication of this is that the researcher should not rely exclusively on any one version of the Nikāyas/Āgamas. In particular, study of the Pali Nikāyas alone can yield only a partial and imperfect picture. For a maximally complete and clear picture, the Pali suttas must be compared with their available Chinese and other parallels.

    This means one has to ad up the two texts/transmissions. A necessity for to ad up the two is a logical third. A reference point. Anālayo’s ‘third’ seems to be “the traditional criterion of coherence and consistency”. The problem is, if his criteria for coherence and consistency are the right ones, the only thing he proofs is that there is one “core teaching” and not the “core teaching”.

    If he thinks in terms of the core teaching, then he thinks in terms of the tree structure of evolution – which is shown as outdated in the article from Linda Heuman I mentioned.

    Apart from this there are still other problems. You write in #132

    The Sarvāstivādins of Gandhāra developed their own interpretation of the inherited textual material […] and the Mahāvihāra community in Sri Lanka […] another. The new interpretations would normally be confined to independent treatises and commentaries, but occasionally would also affect the shared common heritage.

    Even if this would be about the “core teaching” we still have the problem of interpretation. “Independent treatises and commentaries” are not mere decoration, they reflect the process of understanding and integration in different cultures. If Anālayo ads up the coherent core teachings, he (re)constructs a signifier. What he does not reconstructs are the lived cultures. These can be different to varying degrees. Now, what is the core teaching, the lived cultures or the signifier?

    Generally all this seems still to be about the original. The chase for the core teaching is the chase for the original – which is not only not retrieveable but inexistent.

    The question remains: why do I need the original?

  138. Bhikkhu Brahmali said

    Maathias (#127)

    I will reply to your post point by point.

    1. I think the early suttas where probably spoken with oral transmission in mind from the very beginning. After all, India was an oral culture at the time. The imparting of information from teacher to student would always require memorization. Were they spoken “in exactly this repetitive manner?” There have been some changes due to editing, but they have been minor. The point is that there is no need for verbatim accuracy for the core teachings to have been preserved. To my mind, that this is the case has been established through comparative study.

    2. Yes. For example, it can sometimes be helpful to read Vedic literature to get perspective on Buddhist literature. But I don’t think it’s an absolute requirement for a good understanding of the early Buddhist teachings.

    3. Buddhist monks weren’t “bards”. You are mixing different categories of oral literature. One of the main aims of Buddhist oral transmission was to preserve the received material with maximum fidelity. Again, this was facilitated by group recital (the bhāṇaka system); there was no room for bardic improvisation in this system. This is really the only way one can explain the closeness of Chinese suttas to their Pali parallels – remember, they were handed down by different oral recital traditions over several centuries. We have powerful textual evidence that the changes that occurred as a consequence of orality were insufficient to materially contaminate the core message that was passed down.

    4. If the rules that apply to literature as it is transformed from oral to written form are the same across different literary traditions, then the fact that the Greeks mythology is less repetitive than Buddhist literature must mean that the oral material was similarly different. If the rules vary from tradition to tradition, we may not be able to draw inferences about Buddhist literature based on evidence from the Greek tradition.

    5. I didn’t forget point 4; I simply skipped it because I felt the Tricycle article was too populist. It seems to me that they are trying to establish a feel-good idea that all Buddhist traditions have equal claim to ancient authority. That’s what one would expect of a magazine called Tricycle: they are simply trying to please their audience.

    But the “tapestry” analogy is yours, Matthias, it does not occur in the article. The article, rather, quoting the academic Paul Harrison, uses the metaphor of “a braided river”. There is a great deal of difference between these metaphors. The tapestry idea conveys a message that there has been no evolution. The braided river idea, on the other hand, like the tree metaphor, is suggestive of evolution. And of course Buddhism has evolved enormously over the centuries: linguistically, philosophically, etc. This is just too obvious. And when we recognize the evolution, we can also legitimately ask what the source is of this great cultural/philosophical/psychological movement now called Buddhism.

    The problem with the Tricycle article is that it takes a snapshot of Buddhism at a particular time in history, the time when the Gandhāran birch scrolls were produced. At that particular time there were, of course, many different textual traditions, each tied to a particular Buddhist schools. Each of these recensions would naturally be slightly different from the other recensions, having been preserved for 200-300 years in oral form. The Tricycle article presents this as if it is a revolutionary discovery, but this is really the picture of Buddhism we have had for many decades. In any case, the point is that these differences are minor. The Tricycle article itself makes the point that one should not “expect big surprises in terms of new doctrine either – no fifth noble truth is likely to be found” among the birch scrolls. This is the sort of thing I was referring to when I said that the core teachings are the same. Further, the fact that there was some degree of “tapestry” at this point doesn’t mean there wasn’t greater unity further up the river of time. And once again, this unity in core teachings is attested to by a number of comparative studies across divergent traditions (see my post #132 above), in particular large comparative studies such as that of Anālayo.

    6. This is where our communication is likely to break down. The Buddhists claim is that the understanding of non-self (anātman) is something that can be directly experienced through a certain path of practice. Not only anātman, but a large number of meditational states are said to be directly experienceable. Just assume for a moment that this claim is true: wouldn’t that eliminate much of the difficulties in communication due to changes in psychological make-up? I say it would, and it would enable us to relate quite precisely to people who had the same experiences 2,400 years ago. In any case, when I read the suttas of early Buddhism in the Pali, I find them surprisingly easy to relate to, on almost all levels. The suttas are mostly psychological, and the sense one gets in reading them is that basic human psychology has not changed much in the intervening period. This sense of familiarity is not one I have when I read the Vedas, for example.

    Also this does not and has not the intention to deny the possible existence of a certain man Gautama 2500 years ago. It simply does not matter if he existed or not – at least in view of my question to you:

    It matters enormously whether the Buddha existed, or rather that there was one person who was the originator of Buddhism. The reason for this – and here I may well lose you again – is that Buddhism is predicated on a person’s profound insight into the nature of existence. It is this insight that Buddhists say is echoed in the core teachings of early Buddhism. Without this discovery, all we have is a cultural movement that may have included some minor insights on how to live life well, but nothing of truly profound existential interest. It is the confidence – the faith if you like – that one person made a profound existential discovery that defines one as Buddhist. Without this “source” for the Buddhist teachings, the whole edifice of Buddhism collapses.

  139. Tom Pepper said

    re #138

    I really am still curious about what the “clear picture of the core teachings” looks like.

    However, I must say, that now I’m much more troubled by the idea that there must have been a single person, a unique mind separate from and different than the “mind” of the rest of us, that had some profound and special insight, or the “whole edifice of Buddhism collapses.” Are you really suggesting that if it were somehow to be discovered that these ideas were actually arrived at by a group of scholars over, say, a century or so, in an ancient university somewhere (this is pure fiction, clearly), then they would become, instantly, completely worthless and there would be no more value to Buddhism? It must be one special “divine” being, or the teaching themselves are not true?

  140. Greg said

    Tom, I think that is the historical Buddha Catch-22 in a nutshell. The bodhi of the historical Buddha can be something accessible to and replicable by everyone, or it can be a singular and singularly exalted, singularly privileged occurrence, but it really can’t be both. Both traditional Buddhists and SBA seem to get stuck on this problem, wanting to have it both ways.

  141. Joop said

    Glenn, Tom. others
    I’m really proud of being a buddhist, a X-Buddhist !
    For centuries Christians have been attacked for their opinions, for the dangerous role of Christianity: “Religion is … the opium of the people”.
    Attacked by atheists, scientists and (neo-)marxists.
    And all that time buddhism was forgotten.
    And now, at last, we get the criticism we deserve
    Thanks for that

  142. #139

    “However, I must say, that now I’m much more troubled by the idea that there must have been a single person, a unique mind separate from and different than the “mind” of the rest of us, that had some profound and special insight, or the “whole edifice of Buddhism collapses.” Are you really suggesting that if it were somehow to be discovered that these ideas were actually arrived at by a group of scholars over, say, a century or so, in an ancient university somewhere (this is pure fiction, clearly), then they would become, instantly, completely worthless and there would be no more value to Buddhism? It must be one special “divine” being, or the teaching themselves are not true?”

    I am beside my “self” with elation! A topic that I think we can agree upon. What a great question at the end of your post. Does it diminish the value of the teachings if they were formulated by a group versus one singular person? I actually think that it does not. I also would have to say that, if I am understanding you correctly, I agree that it seems kind of strange to apply a uniqueness of mind to a human we have turned into deity, that is different from the mind we are all capable of. (a point I was attempting to make earlier believe it or not) Or maybe just a point that has been floating around some of what I have been writing and thinking lately.

    Although once you create the fiction (or maybe not fiction actually) that it was a group of people, over time, that created what we are now calling our belief system…well, then all of those “social forces” questions come in to play. Then the context becomes so much larger and there are so many more factors to consider surrounding the belief system. It kind of blows the belief system’s sacred power out of the water. But, in my opinion, does not necessarily make it less valuable.. Perhaps it just makes it less opaque.

  143. Bhikkhu Brahmali said

    Tom (#139) and Greg (#140)

    Let’s try an analogy. Einstein formulated the General Theory of Relativity. It is not the sort of thing the average person would do. Still, although the Einsteins of the world are rare, they are not unique. There have been other Einsteins in the past and there will be more in the future. But once the Theory of Relativity had been published, a relatively large number of people were able to grasp it, certainly more than just the originator. Einstein is not a god, although some might treat him as such!

    The historical Buddha can be understood in a similar way. He discovered something that people rarely discover unaided. But he is not unique. There have been other Buddhas in the past and there will be more in the future. But once one person has made the discovery, it is easier for his disciples to share in that discovery, just as it was for Einstein’s students. The Buddha is not a god, although some might treat him as such.

    Could a group of scholars arrive at the same discovery? In principle yes, but they would obviously have to follow a path that leads to such a discovery. If they did acquire the same insight, they would be on the same level as the Buddha.

    Tom (#135)

    Let’s drop Amstutz for now.

    Do you, like Stephen Batchelor suggest, have a hermeneutic strategy with which to excise the basic “core teachings”?

    Scholars of Buddhism have been using hermeneutic tools for a long time in their analysis of Buddhist texts, see e.g. A. K. Warder’s “Indian Buddhism” or the slightly dated “Histoire du bouddhisme indien” by Etienne Lamotte.

    To start with, one can draw a number of conclusions simply by an internal analysis of the variations in language across different texts belonging to the same corpus, say the Pali corpus (with which I am most familiar). For instance, literary style and vocabulary often differ significantly from one work to the next. The style and vocabulary of the four main Nikāyas are quite uniform, but they are very different from those of the Pali Abhidhamma. Anyone who reads these two collections with an unbiased mind would have to come to the conclusion that they originated quite separately and that it is inconceivable that they should have the same author. (And indeed, this is what scholarship has shown.) When a similar textual analysis is done across the entire Pali corpus (and other tools could also be used, such as metrical comparison of verse), it becomes quite clear that the four main Nikāyas (and parts of the Vinaya Piṭaka and possibly parts of the fifth Nikāya) stand out as different from the rest.

    Having established that there are significant differences in language, one needs to decide which texts are likely to be the most ancient. A relatively straightforward way of going about this is to consider the evolution of thought: commentaries must have evolved after the material they are commenting on; works that quote other works and then develop their ideas must be later than the quoted works; etc. These sorts of considerations lead most scholars to conclude with confidence that the four main Nikāyas are the oldest stratum of Pali literature. A parallel situation is found in the Chinese, Sanskrit, and Tibetan texts.

    How precisely can this stratum be dated? Some of the material in the Pali canon is referred to on Ashokan pillars. At the same time, although the four Nikāyas contain quite a bit of material about the kings of the day, Ashoka is never mentioned. Since Ashoka was a towering figure in Buddhism, this indicates that the four main Nikāyas are pre-Ashokan. We are getting very close to the time of the Buddha, probably within 150 years.

    Assuming that we have pinned down the earliest material of the Pali, how do we know it has been properly preserved in the course of transmission, both oral and textual? This is where the comparative study of independent textual lineages comes in. I have already described this in some detail in my post above (#132), but I can perhaps give a brief summary. Textual traditions that were transmitted independently of each other for about 2,300 years – including a period of separate oral transmission that lasted several centuries – are still very similar in content. I am referring here mostly to the Chinese Āgamas vs. the Pali Nikāyas. This truly is astonishing, and it shows the great fidelity with which these texts were handed down. The likeness is found across all types of material and on all levels, even down to individual words. Definitions of such thing as the jhānas are almost verbatim the same. All major categories of doctrine – gradual training, four noble truths, dependent origination, the 37 aids to awakening, etc. – are so close there is no need to differentiate between the two recensions. The only sorts of text one has to careful with are non-standard categories that occur rarely. This is what I mean by the core teachings having been preserved.

    The only way you will get a proper feel for the scale of the similarities is to read a good comparative study, such as Anālayo’s. Soon the first volume of the Chinese Madhyama Āgama will be published in English translation. When that happens, anyone will be able to make a direct comparison with the English translations of the Pali.

    So how do we know what is the common core? Two textual traditions that have been handed down separately are likely to have changed in different ways. So you take the material they have common. This core, then, is likely to be very close to the teachings as they were first proclaimed by the historical Buddha.

    Is it fairly uncontroversial in Theravada Buddhism?

    It is uncontroversial that the four main Nikāyas contain the word of the Buddha. What is controversial is to say that the Abhidhamma is not the word of the Buddha. What is also controversial is to say that the suttas need to be compared with recensions in other languages such as the Chinese – Theravadins tend to assume that the Pali canon is the word of the Buddha and that everything else is inferior. For the most part Theravadin monastics have no idea what’s happening in academic circles. To be perfectly honest, most of them hold on to ideas that are clearly untenable. But I think this will gradually change as the findings of modern scholarship slowly make their way into the most parochial corners of the Buddhist world.

    the great mass of texts seem so very contradictory

    This is one reason it is so useful to whittle it down to the four Nikāyas. What is contradictory – and what do you expect when you have “a great mass of texts” that have been composed over a period of 2,400 years – then becomes remarkably uniform.

    I’m assuming you’re a Theravadan, is this correct?

    I’m Theravadin by appearance, but philosophically I’m quite different from the typical Theravadin. The usual Theravadin will not distinguish properly between the different historical layers of texts and will use it all as if it had equal value. For me it is the earliest ideas of Buddhism that are truly interesting, since they are the only ones that have a good claim to have been spoken by the Buddha.

  144. Bhikkhu Brahmali said

    Matthias (#137)

    Your implicit assumption seems to be that there has not been any paradigm-shift from the time of the core teaching to today.

    This is not an assumption. I am arguing that this can be shown through textual evidence. If you have two distinct textual lineages that have been transmitted separately by oral means for several centuries, that have gone through separate transformations from oral to written transmission, and you still find that these distinct lineages are in all essential details the same, then you have a very good case for making the claim that there has been no such paradigm shift.

    But then you choose, in my opinion, to believe rather than to know.

    We are not going to have a constructive discussion if you dismiss me as one who “chooses to believe”.

    whereas the Vedic style of memorization would have been conducive to accurate verbatim replication, the Buddhist style would have been conducive to inference-drawing and consequent restructuring of the memorized material. (my emphasis)

    In his book Anālayo discusses the strengths and weaknesses of the Buddhist oral transmission process. You are right, the picture is not one-sided. But weighting up the evidence, his final conclusion is still that the material has not changed significantly.

    This means one has to ad up the two texts/transmissions.

    I would rather say one should extract the common material. Two independent textual lineages, that both have been transmitted orally, are likely to have changed in different ways. The right process for arriving at the text as it may have looked prior to the process of break-up into lineages is therefore to extract the common ground. This procedure removes the necessity for a subjective process of deciding what is coherent and consistent.

    “Independent treatises and commentaries” are not mere decoration, they reflect the process of understanding and integration in different cultures.

    But such “integration” is not necessarily an innocuous affair. While the intentions of the participants may be wholesome, the result of the integration may still be a distortion of the original material. The more generations of “integration” a particular corpus has gone through, the greater the chance of distortion. This is the main reason why the material we have now is so contradictory. If one is interested in the insights of the originator of the teachings, this is a serious problem.

  145. Bhikkhu Brahmali (#144).

    You really are not proving anything about “core teachings” of the Buddha or about the reliability of the bhanaka system of transmission. That there are close parallels between two distinct textual lineages that have been transmitted separately by oral means for several centuries” does not in itself prove anything–other than that fact itself. All that shows is that the Sarvastivadins and the Sthaviravadins had a shared “textual” ancestor at some earlier point in history. It also shows that both of these schools were extraordinarily conservative. Concerning the Chinese, etc. similarities, Ernst Waldschmidt has shown the connections between those and the Sarvastivadin and the Sthaviravadin recensions.

    You ask: “why would [the canon] not have been faithfully preserved during the intervening space of 150 years that takes us back to the time of the Buddha?” Probably for the same reason that the entire history of Buddhist textual-doctrinal creation-transmission is suffused with diversity, contention, and extreme incommensurability; namely, different communities had varying notions of what constituted “faithfully preserving” the teachings. We continue to have such textual-doctrinal variation in the Buddhist tradition. In fact, Bechert has shown to what extent the modern southeast Asian Theravadin traditions themselves vary–in doctrine, “ecclesiastical law” (his term), sutta and vinaya interpretation, and so on. Your text on this blog is run through with a rhetoric of intentional purity on the part of the canon-makers and preservers that a realist like me can not get past.

    I am currently reading a book that discusses the reception of Kant up to the German neo-Kantians in the 1920s. Here is an excerpt. Its significance for the discussion about the “core teachings” of the Buddha, and the position I am taking for the critical work derived from this blog, should be clear.

    It was by now obvious that he [Heidegger] considered a faithful exposition deeply naïve. After all, an effort at brut reconstruction would miss the fact that Kant himself was at war with his own intentions and that he had been led to the brink of a position from which he had to shrink back. To remain at the level of mere reconstruction was thus to ensure that the deeper historical significance of Kant’s philosophy remain hidden. It thus seems fair to say that the ultimate effect of Cassier’s challenge was to insist on the sharp distinction between reconstructive and deconstructive modes of interpretation…The question that consumed them …was…of what significance were Kantian themes for today? Which interpretive legacy possessed the greater authority within the terrain of contemporary European thought? Whose interpretation of the Kantian inheritance grasped with greater power and conviction the most vital insights of the philosophical past, insights that would also prove viable for philosophy’s future?

    The details of the Buddhist text–whether that’s the Theravadin canon, the Mahayana expansion, the Vajrayana revision, or all of it together–no longer carry conviction to any but the those prone, for whatever reasons, to believe. Believe what? In short, that, as you say, “He [the Buddha] discovered something that people rarely discover unaided;” something, moreover, that you rhetorically connect to Einstein’s discovery. Such a contention is no longer anything but an admission of faith, or at least of subscription to a program. I don’t only mean that Buddhist postulates such as dependent origination and the four noble truths are not discoveries (they are precisely postulates). I mean that on the whole, the Buddhist text pales besides countless others that have been produced in the East, West, and Mideast. That does not mean that there is no useful and valuable knowledge–no vital insights-in the text. It just means that the knowledge and the insights are absolutely ordinary, and thus subject to the exact same criteria of evaluation as Kant and Deepak Chopra. (It is a matter of faith, or at minimum a presumption, that the Buddha’s insights were extraordinary in the way even Einstein’s were. That has not been shown by anyone; it has only been asserted–and by believers.) Is it at all possible that Gotama, like Kant, was from time to time “at war with his own intentions and that he had been led to the brink of a position from which he had to shrink back”? At all possible? If you allow the Buddha and his hearers and the bhanakas and so on to be fully human, the countless historical contingencies and human foibles that your theory refuses to account for come roaring back into the picture. Then what?

    My question was a real one: do you need there to be a recoverable “core teaching of the Buddha”? Do you? I do not need it not to be the case. I am utterly indifferent.

  146. Tom Pepper said

    RE 143:
    The Einstein analogy, since you raised it, is my point exactly. There is nothing special in any one individual that make enormous leaps forward possible–it is a collective process, involving changes in discursive practices, generally accepted knowledge, and the social construction of objects of study and problems to be solved. This is why Newton and Leibniz discovered calculus at the same time, or why Darwin and Wallace came up with the theory of evolution at the same time. Einstein came up with general relativity first, but had he been hit by lightening or something it surely would have come up anyway. My question is, why the need for a “divine” special individual–why would it be so troubling if there were not one unique individual who came up with the whole thing that the entire Buddhist edifice would “collapse”?

    That aside, your assertion is that the “core teachings” are the entire four Nikayas, and that there are no contradictions in them? Is it possible to extract the core “concepts” from them, or is the reading of the texts themselves the point? My question here is sort of like the problem with “sparknotes” study–one cannot GET the point of a Dickens novel from a summary and list of “themes”, because the point is in the reading of the novel itself as it is written, in the use of language for instance. Is this what you are suggesting with the Nikayas–that no conceptual content could be successfully separated out from the form of its presentation, because the form is the point?

  147. Greg said

    RE: 143 – I too think the isolation of the “core teachings” based on the NIkayas and Agamas is much more problematic than you’ll allow. One important example – trying to draw meditation instructions just from the suttas is particularly fraught – there is not a lot of clarity about what jhana is, particularly, or how it relates to vipassana. Which is why we’ve had 2,500 years of widely divergent interpretations, right up to the present.

    I also find your Einstein analogy problematic. If one is interested in state of the art physics, Einstein is not the unimpeachable authority to which everyone must refer. He made his (admittedly considerable) contribution, he is lionized for it, but the field has moved on and his insights remain authoritative only to the extent that they haven’t been disproven by further research. Quite a different status than that of the Buddha.

  148. jayarava said

    Einstein came up with relativity by applying Lorentz transformations to Newton’s laws of motion. Given that the error in Newton’s predictions of the precession of the orbit of Mercury was widely known about, someone would have solved the problem at some point. It was a major problem of the day Einstein did it, but all the pieces of the puzzle were in place. He just focussed first. And we might not have heard of him at all, since he published in German at a time when the English speaking world were beginning to distrust the Germans, except that a bright English lad call Arthur Eddington took an interest and set out to experimentally confirm Einstein by observation. Before Eddington it’s doubtful whether any other European or American had even read Einstein. He is supposed to have quipped, on being asked if it was true whether he was one of only three people who understood Einstein, that he could not think who the third might be.

    Indeed if we go back to Newton then by the time he published and took credit for the inverse-square relationship it had been in general circulation in Europe for 2 or 3 decades. Furthermore when he published his friend and colleague Robert Hooke accused him of plagiarism! Had the Royal Society not been so openly prejudiced against Leibnitz (for being German) we might remember him as the discoverer of calculus.

    Recently I watched a nifty video of Richard Feynman explaining about the people who discovered that light travelled at a finite speed (through analysing their observations of Jupiter’s moons). Feynman explained that it was because they were so confident of Newton’s Law of Gravitation, that they went back to their observations when they found discrepancies between predicted and observed values. Trouble is that the fact of light travelling at a finite speed was published a decade before the Principia. They might have had faith, but it was not in Newton. Feynman is widely considered to have been a genius at Quantum Physics, but apparently wasn’t a genius at history.

    When we look at the preservation of the Pāli Canon, we can see already in the Canon a dispute arising between those people focussed on practice and those who preserved texts (e.g. AN 6.46). The people best suited to preserving texts were of a different temperament from those who could really test them out. This clearly lead to disputes (just the same disputes that we often have not in fact). Those who could really test the teachings out were temperamentally unsuited to preserving texts. With this division of labour the people preserving the texts gradually became more and more distant from the practicalities of the texts, and became the dominant force in Theravāda Buddhism. We get to the point of Sri Lanka until very recently (described here by a Theravadin) – where no one even reads the texts any more, no one practices the teachings, and the whole things stagnates (though the link refers to a revival of practical Buddhism there).

    The upshot is that the people preserving the texts, probably very early on, really had no idea what a lot of it meant. Yes they used repetition to help make it stick, but the also inserted little bits of garbage all over the place – and anyone who reads Pāli knows what I’m talking about.

  149. jayarava said

    Re Ted (#129)

    I think this whole argument of yours would be more believable if you dropped the term “Buddhist”. To the extent that you use that label you fit into Glenn’s critique even if you, like Linda, can’t see it. If you’re someone who is basically non-religious but does some meditation (amongst other things) then why the label? Wouldn’t it be more accurate to say that you aren’t really a Buddhist at all? After all, as you describe yourself, you have no commitment to anything resembling Buddhism. I don’t intend to be mean in saying this. I just wonder why you retain the name of a world religion in your self-identification when you are not religious. And I think the answer lies in Glenn’s critique…

    You say:

    …this evolution of Buddhism has not yet been taken out of the religious context.

    As I point out above somewhere this evolution of Buddhism out of the religious context is about as old as the Western engagement with Buddhism. Around 150 years or so. The Pali Text Society, was founded in 1881. The PTS might reasonably be called secular, but is wholly concerned with Buddhist texts.

  150. Jayarava (#149), isn’t it though, a bit anachronistic to speak of buddhism AS a religion? Whatever it is, 2500 years ago, in what is now Nepal, the concept as we now understand it (as in the phrase, “a world religion”) didn’t exist. In the culture within which it arose, buddhism was another form of yoga, and darshana. These terms are not equivalent to “religion.” And as such, ‘secular buddhism’ is as much a buddhism as any other that still bases its practices and doctrines upon what they see as the teachings of ‘the buddha.’

    There is much merit in many of the arguments made by you and others regarding ‘secular buddhism,’ but I think this one rather weak.

    By the way, I have enjoyed reading much of your blog and have recommended it to many of my students…. So, thanks for your work!

  151. Frank Jude Boccio (#150).

    You raise interesting points; and ones we should indeed give more thought to. I will add here that to speak of buddhism as a religion involves something like a category shift. But it may still be one that is useful to us. What I mean is that buddhism’s classical designation for itself as a “dharma” might, on inspection, possess the crucial features that we would want for a “religion,” such as claims of an exigent and uniquely received knowledge; necessity of a repetitive, cumulative practice (indeed perhaps the old Latin sense of religio); a thaumaturgic exemplar; beliefs in transcendent mental and physical spheres. I would imagine the term darśana is from the early middle ages. And although we like to translate that as “philosophy,” on inspection, the six classical ones are permeated by claims, premises, presuppositions, and axioms that are closer to religious belief than, say, rationalist philosophy.

    I think Jayarava makes a good point. Why do Ted Meissner, Stephan Batchelor, and other and Secular Buddhists employ such a strong, determinate term like “secular”? They are Buddhists, pure and simple. Buddhists at all times and in all places have had to do what they are doing; namely, reconstituting the vast, vast corpus of teachings for their own day and age. As Stephan Schettini outright confessed in his “So What” article, and to a lesser extent Ted did on the Facebook page for The Secular Buddhist and Linda Blanchard did in comments on this blog, they are in agreement with the articles of faith I tried to show Secular Buddhists are beholden to. Those articles of faith are “religious” by any sense of the term I know–including its strongest: subscription to a transcendent norm.

    Anyway, you raise a topic that needs much more discussion. Thanks.

  152. Hi Glenn (#151), I just went back and admittedly only skimmed through Ted’s comment above and at least one of Linda’s, and they both assert that they are NOT in agreement with the articles of faith you list. For instance, regarding ‘article one,” they both refute the idea of ‘dharma’ as unconditioned or transcendent. They argue against the other four as well.

    Perhaps you can share why you (apparently) believe that despite their assertions, they do in fact adhere to these “articles of faith?” Perhaps I’m missing something? And yes, I really am curious, not snarky here!

    As well, I agree the ‘crucial features’ that you suggest are found in “religion,” such as “uniquely received knowledge” and “beliefs in transcendent mental and physical spheres” are found in buddhism, generally, and thus would make buddhism deservedly called a “religion” as generally understood (world religion and all). But, if they are truly excised from buddhist teachings, as the secularists are attempting, does it not cease to be “religious” in that sense?

    Finally, I think I take issue with “necessity of a repetitive, cumulative practice (indeed perhaps the old Latin sense of religio)” if you mean by including it that such practice is inherently ‘religious.’ I don’t think you mean that, but want to be sure. I agree such practice would be part of anything that could be called a “religion,” but my weight-lifting is not religious in the sense you are using the term. And neither is my meditation in that same general sense. On the other hand — and I admit this may be a bit of a stretch, but in that old Latin sense of “religio,” I see a synonym for “yoga,” so I actually believe any such practice is “religious” in that limited praxis-oriented sense.

    The blog is down where I wrote a bit about this but here’s an excerpt that will hopefully explain more clearly what I’m trying to get at here:

    “If we look into the original meaning of the word “religion,” we find that its root is in the Latin word religio which means “to tie or bind back”. It was a word used in horticulture, used to refer to the binding and pruning of branches in order to create a stronger and more aesthetic tree or shrub.
    In this sense, we find a similarity with the original meaning of the word “yoga,” which comes from the root yuj, which means to “yoke or to harness.” The English word yoke is actually derived from the Sanskrit, and both connotations of that word apply to the word yoga. It can mean “union,” or “to join together,” and it can also mean “to harness” or “to restrain,” and so by extension it has come to signify the disciplining of the mind and the senses as in meditative practice. Free of its institutional forms and meanings, the similar meaning of these two words point to the essentially religious purpose of all yoga practice.”

    Kind of like homosexuals who revalued the word “queer,” I challenge those in the yoga community who are quick to say they are “spiritual but not religious’ by saying yoga is ‘religious,’ but not a ‘religion.’ And I then explain my ‘religion’ as lacking any of those “crucial features” you list (other than the ‘repetitive practice’ of meditation). It’s not a popular position with those who want those features, nor with those averse to the words “religion” and “religious.” But as an ex-girlfriend of mine used to say, “fuck ‘em if they can’t take a joke!”

  153. Bhikkhu Brahmali said

    Glenn (#145)

    You really are not proving anything about “core teachings” of the Buddha or about the reliability of the bhanaka system of transmission.

    I think I am. Perhaps you should read my posts again.

    That there are close parallels between two distinct textual lineages that have been transmitted separately by oral means for several centuries” does not in itself prove anything–other than that fact itself.

    You’re sticking your head in the sand.

    It also shows that both of these schools were extraordinarily conservative.

    And where do you think this conservatism originated?

    You ask: “why would [the canon] not have been faithfully preserved during the intervening space of 150 years that takes us back to the time of the Buddha?”

    My statement only makes sense in context. By removing it from its context, you are creating a straw man.

    Such a contention is no longer anything but an admission of faith

    Of course there’s an element of faith. But we all have elements of faith in our lives. It’s just matter of where that faith is placed. It is only when one is no longer open to have it challenged that faith becomes a problem.

    I don’t only mean that Buddhist postulates such as dependent origination and the four noble truths are not discoveries … It just means that the knowledge and the insights are absolutely ordinary.

    This is faith. You don’t know what understanding lies behind these insights.

    That has not been shown by anyone.”

    How do you know? There are two ways in which this could be shown: (1) by reaching the same insight oneself, or (2) by meeting someone whose character is such that one may reasonably ask whether they have achieved something extraordinary.

    At all possible?

    Anything is possible. There are two possible outcomes of faith: it is either well placed or badly placed.

    My question was a real one: do you need there to be a recoverable “core teaching of the Buddha”?

    To me this is the wrong question. Rather one should ask whether one is pursuing one’s needs in a way that contributes to a better world.

  154. jonckher said

    #149 #151

    I like Jayarava’s question: Why do secular buddhists bother calling themselves buddhists at all? What is the value in adding this in (besides the trendy exotic factor that is)?

    The answer, I reckon, is really very clear. Secular buddhists maintain the B word because they are acutely interested in the uses of Buddhist teachings, but in a way that remains unbeholden to—and hence, unbound by and unaccountable to—the norms that govern those teachings.

    This is the ideal of course but whether they achieve that or not is very debatable.

    Personally, I favour the drop of the B word entirely. Glenn’s term “mindfulnista” is perfect.

    With metta, as usual.

  155. Matthias said

    Bhikkhu Brahmali, re #138 & #144

    The tapestry metaphor is indeed my own. But it was not my intention to say that there was no evolution. Quite to the contrary. The question is, what kind of evolution? Also the “bard” was a bit of irony…

    Our problem is, we think in metaphors which seem to represent in some unambiguous way an original. I think finally all metaphors fail because the original is our invention. Representation of the original, reproducing the original, is the main problem I am asking to look at. The paradigm-shift I speak of is not what you mean in #144.

    The big problem is as follows. The paradigm of modernity might be a rather different one than the one in ancient india at the time of the origination of buddhism. The big problem is that it could be that we are simply unable to imagine being a human at that time in that socio-cultural environment. But this is it exactly what we do when we try to understand non-self in a way ‘they’ understood it. The paradigm of humanity we live, is one which developed since roughly the renaissance with deep roots in christianity and the roman, greek and hebrew cultures. The paradigm of modernity is one about a certain human being, a certain self, a certain form of being a human which is different from other cultures. My example about a different notion of “identity” in #127 was to make this point. To be a different being, to live a fundamentally different self is certainly possible. That I don’t have another word than “identity” to name the different “identity” of a self other cultures de facto have developed makes at once clear what the problem is: our language describes only our way of being a self and as we are this language, we in no way can think of another way to be. The philosopher I mentioned in #127 gives for our word “original” the classic chinese zhen-ji. The denotation is “real trace”. He says about it: “it does not condenses/solidifies into an explicit, straightforward presence as one discreet figure.” (his emphasis) The chinese original is not our original and if we thoughtlessly translate zhen-ji with original we certainly don’t get the original chinese meaning – all the while we think we get it. Do you get what kind of possible delusion I mean?

    Under this circumstances it does not matter how good a textual base, the signifier, is preserved.

    This does not say that ‘they’ could not have been thinking about something similar like we do. But it says that we probably think about it all by ourselves. Perhaps with the help of some “real traces”. If meaning changes it doesn’t mean that it becomes indecipherable, it only says that it does not condenses into something explicit, straightforward. But indeed, if it really would be the case that we think about it all be ourselves, in a “we” which is not composed of discreet minds, just like the Buddha who certainly had no discreet mind, then it very well might be that “whole edifice of Buddhism collapses” – as you say (in #138). But if we can think it, what is the problem if it collapses?

  156. Bhikkhu Brahmali (#153).

    I think I am. Perhaps you should read my posts again.

    I have read your posts; and I stand by my assertion.

    You’re sticking your head in the sand.

    I don’t know what you mean exactly. I know all of the literature–Bechert’s volumes on Schulgehörigkeit, von Hinueber on linguistic variation, Norman’s copious philology. Maybe, as you believe apparently, Analayo is going to make us rethink what past scholars have said. I doubt it very, very much. I was a student of Bechert’s in Goettingen. I translated and edited some of his work on modern southeast Asian Theravadin debates on Vinaya interpretation. I could go on. But it’s beside the point, partly for the reasons that Matthias is offering; but partly for more personal reasons that I will mention in a moment. For now I will just say that it is you who appears to have his head in the sand. You refuse to recognize that the Pali canon looks like anything but a melange of linguistic, doctrinal, historical, sociological, and literary data spanning, moreover, a wide swath of time and space. You theory requires bhanakas, buddhas, savakas, bhikkhus, upasakas and all other human agents involved in the story of transmission to operate with motives that, again, a realist like me finds literally incredible.

    And where do you think this conservatism originated?

    What are you implying? Some communities were conservative; and some, like those that comprised the so-called Mahasanghika, were innovative. It shouldn’t be surprising that we have the recensions of two very conservative schools. I don’t get your implication.

    My statement only makes sense in context. By removing it from its context, you are creating a straw man.

    My answer takes the entire context of your statement into consideration. I just quoted a fragment to indicate to what I was referring. I stand by it.

    Of course there’s an element of faith. But we all have elements of faith in our lives. It’s just matter of where that faith is placed. It is only when one is no longer open to have it challenged that faith becomes a problem.

    Why “of course”? Maybe we all employ faith in our lives. But having faith that the bridge won’t collapse while I’m driving over it is not the same “faith” in “I have faith that the bhanakas had only the purest of intentions, unbeholden to all political, economic, etc. considerations.” I don’t operate on the latter kind of faith.

    Me: I don’t only mean that Buddhist postulates such as dependent origination and the four noble truths are not discoveries … It just means that the knowledge and the insights are absolutely ordinary.

    You: This is faith. You don’t know what understanding lies behind these insights.

    No, it is not faith. It is observation. I observe, for instance, that many thinkers and artists throughout history have made similar assertions about causality and contingency and human suffering and desire, and so on. Yes, the protagonist of the canon is presented as making discoveries. So is Sherlock Holmes. There is neither “understanding” nor “insight” lying behind the texts. It is text all the way down. Any assertion beyond that requires faith of the deepest, religious variety. I lack that.

    How do you know? There are two ways in which this could be shown: (1) by reaching the same insight oneself, or (2) by meeting someone whose character is such that one may reasonably ask whether they have achieved something extraordinary.

    You see how circular your remark is, don’t you?

    Me: My question was a real one: do you need there to be a recoverable “core teaching of the Buddha”?

    You: To me this is the wrong question. Rather one should ask whether one is pursuing one’s needs in a way that contributes to a better world.

    Now we’re finally getting somewhere! I think that that is precisely the question. The project on this blog is to reveal the identity of what I call x-buddhism. That identity is to be found, I argue, in an invariable syntax that I call, borrowing from Francois Laruelle, “decision.” This syntax involves a couplet of immanence-transcendence. The couplet is circular in that each term is determined by the other. Worse: the couplet serves to split reality between the phenomenologically available (samsara, paticcasamuppada) and the normatively grounding (the Dharma). In your terms: the great dharmic insights and discoveries of the Buddha concerning the nature of human being are accurate descriptions of actual states of affair (i.e., they are insights and discoveries). How can we be sure? Because the Dharma says so. It’s how things are. Well, can that be verified? Yes, by observing things as they are. Etc., etc. X-buddhists do not realize the nature and extent of their self-manufactured horizon of thought. It is just natural and obvious to them. Anyway, I am simplifying things too much here. The point is threefold.

    (1) X-buddhist rhetoric confuses instantiation and definition. What you are arguing for the canon is not a case of instantiating an irrefutable state of affairs. It is a case of defining what “canon” must mean in order for a believer to establish grounds for particular forms of thought and action.

    (2) Details don’t matter. In fact, in my theory, “x-buddhism” is simply the designation for a specific game of exemplification. Minute exemplification of the sort you are doing here is wholly predictable. That is what x-buddhists do: endlessly quibble over the details of the dharma. Why?

    (3) Subscription to the x-buddhist view requires not only the kind of cognitive decision that I mentioned, but an affective variety as well. The heuristic I am creating for analysis has as its first three items the following:

    Ancoric loss. An affective condition. The irreversible termination of hope that “Buddhism” indexes the thaumaturgical refuge adduced in its rhetorics of self-display. Speculative non-buddhist investigation presupposes an attitude of having no hope. Interestingly, ancoric loss resembles x-buddhism’s own perquisite dispensation of “disenchantment” and echoes its trope of “leaving home.”

    Aporetic dissonance. An affective condition. The believer’s discovery within himself or herself of a dissonant ring of perplexity, puzzlement, confusion, and loss concerning the integrity of x-buddhism’s self-presentation. It involves an apprehension that x-buddhistic rhetorics of self-display are but instances of acataleptic impassability. This ring is the signal for aporetic inquiry.

    Aporetic inquiry. An cognitive, investigatory feature of speculative non-buddhism ensuing from an affective condition, namely aporetic dissonance. The act of vitiation augured by such dissonance effectively suspends x-buddhism’s network of postulation, thereby devitalizing x-buddhism’s charism. Such vitiation alerts the practitioner to (i) fissures, gaps, aporia, in the x-buddhist dispensation and (ii) the possibility that x-buddhist rhetorics constitute precisely an attempt to stock aporia with x-bbuddhistic phantasmagoria or evade the aporia altogether.

  157. Frank Jude Boccio (#151).

    I was referring to what Ted said on the SB FB page: “because I do agree with much of what you’ve [=me] said” in the post.” Linda’s rhetoric is run through with the kinds of belief that I call religious: belief in the Buddha as a special kind, belief in the teachings as a special kind; and now, she seems to have belief in dependent origination. That’s what I was referring to. I am always reading with one eye on rhetoric–forms of argumentation. That eye more often than not sees that people write at odds with themselves. Laruelle says that a philosopher is a person who does not do what he says and does not say what he does. I would make the same claim about x-buddhists. There is a gap between the proclamations of x-buddhists concerning reality and human possibility and real-life evidence that that is the case–that they, that is to say, actually live it. I have in front of me a new book called Everything is the Way, by Elihu Genmyo Smith (!I love that “Smith” at the end!). It is filled with the typical x-buddhist pretensions to knowledge of how to live, of having cornered the market on reality. Quite simply, no one lives the way he presents things in the book. And in presenting things the way he does, he hides how he actually does live. The book, like x-buddhism as a whole is, in other words, an elaborate depiction of a non-existent state of affairs–a fata morgana. It’s bullshit. Now, some of us at this blog think that x-buddhism may possess some material for bridging this gap. But the way x-buddhists handle the material, it only serves to widen it. So, back to ted and Linda, they may say they don’t subscribe to a transcendent dharma and so on, but their texts suggest otherwise. The term aporia is useful here. I like hanging out where the gaps gape and things start falling apart. That’s the job of a critic.

    I can understand how you would like to “rehabilitate” the term religion. Another possible definition from the Latin is “to re-read.” The ones you mention, like “tie” and “bind,” are of course well-attested, too. I think a parallel to the ancient usage of yoga is possible. I also agree that repetition as a feature broadens the “religion” too much. It explains, though, why we have the colloquial sense of it: going to the gym religiously. It is, though, don’t you think, a real feature of the more technical sense of the term as well? That’s what’s behind the criticism of christians who go to church only at Christmas and Easter–no continuity, no sustained repetition. Same for the devotional and contemplative practices that “bind.” They are not a one-and-done affair.

    You ask: “But, if they [transcendence, uniqueness] are truly excised from buddhist teachings, as the secularists are attempting, does it not cease to be “religious” in that sense?”

    That’s a really good question. My quick answer is that if you excise buddhism from buddhism you have no buddhism; so whay bother? Buddhism has, whether people like it or not, deep, deep roots in the ascetic dream of a final cure, a curative fantasy. Buddhism, both classically and in its developed forms, is permeated by supernaturalism, metaphysical assertion, thaumaturgy, and all the rest. Why excise it, of all things? I think of the old Irish man who, when asked by a passer-by how to get to the train station, answered, “well, I wouldn’t start from here!” Why do Batchelor and the others start from Buddhism? I think a great part of the answer lies in the kinds of things my critique has been teasing out: they begin from the assumption that it–the Dharma–is exigent, specular, and unique knowledge of a transcendent order, and so on.

    Believe it or not, I was initially involved with the Secular Buddhist Association (before it was called that) for precisely the reason you address: the possibility of a secular practice that, although derived from classical buddhist theories and practices, is not beholden to those theories and practices. What emerged, though, was a form of buddhism that, to my eyes, is indistinguishable from countless other forms that have been created through the ages. I saw–and still do see–the same kind of subscription to a pre-defined worldview or ideology. Sure, there is some argument and variation with the Secular Buddhist, but it all circles within the limits set by the dharma-samsara interface. No real advancement over countless other forms. In other words: just more of the same.

    Thanks!

  158. jonckher (#154).

    I do not see any evidence, from their text in any case, that “Secular buddhists maintain the B word because they are acutely interested in the uses of Buddhist teachings, but in a way that remains unbeholden to—and hence, unbound by and unaccountable to—the norms that govern those teachings.” I do see instance after instance of their do just the opposite, namelym “remaining beholden to—and hence, bound by and accountable to—the norms that govern those teachings.” They, like all x-buddhist, cannot not escape the force of decision. Only then could they drop the B.

    Buddhanista works, too.

    peace and beer . . .

  159. jayarava said

    Frank #150. “isn’t it though, a bit anachronistic to speak of buddhism AS a religion?” Nope. We’re not talking about buddhism as practised in the iron age, we’re talking about buddhism as practised in the present. So you are the one who is being anachronistic. If Glenn’s critique of so-called secular buddhism has not convinced you that buddhism itself is a faith, then let me just say, as an ordained member of a buddhist religious order: in my view, having thought about it quite a lot, and even having argued against the idea on my blog at one point, it is now my firm conviction that buddhism is a religion.

    You say that buddhism was seen as a yoga or a darśaṇa and I would have to ask “by whom?” Because although the former word does find some use as a description of buddhist practice, the latter does not. The culture that buddhism arose in doesn’t mention buddhism one way or the other for about 1000 years. Buddhists themselves seem to have preferred (perhaps after some initial reluctance) to call what they did dhammavinaya, sāsana, or sometimes brahmacariya. But the saṅgha was organised with rituals along the lines of the jain order. I the Pāli Canon which for better or worse is our only glimpse into the culture that buddhism arose in, they seemed to be constantly taking to and about gods (deva, asura, yakkha, naga etc). Dhamma and sāsana seem to be drawn from the domain for royal power, as does dhammacakkhu. Opinions are divided on how to translate brahmacariya but literally it means ‘walking with God’.

    What’s more buddhism is primarily concerned with eschatology and soteriology, and if you doubt that then you should hear the rude names I get called on the internet when I tell lovely buddhists that rebirth is no longer plausible given what we know about the ways our minds and bodies work.

    You really have to ask what do buddhists call buddhism now? And the majority of us call it a religion. It’s what I put on my census form. As a buddhist, if you asked me what my religion was I’d say “buddhist”.

    Then the next interesting question is “why are so many buddhists keen to distance themselves from religion?” If Glenn is right, and I think he is. then either secular buddhists aren’t buddhists at all, or they are religieux pretending to be something they’re not. Mind you they all seem quite keen to distance themselves from Bachelor as well, eh?

  160. jayarava said

    One more thought, more for the secular Buddhists if they’re still reading. We have this metaphor of the chariot. It should be familiar. We use it to illustrate the point that the chariot is simply the sum of it parts. Take away the parts and there’s no chariot. But it’s not an all or nothing deal. I I can venture a Lakoffian analysis… A car up on blocks with no wheels, or a car with no engine still fits into the category ‘car’. But a car with no engine and no wheels might still be nominally a member of the category, but it begins to more closely resemble a ‘wreck’ than a ‘car’. There’s an imaginary line, which might be different for different people when the object no longer resembles the proto-type enough to belong to the category. For some people the Reliant Robin was a souped up motor bike. For some people a pick-up is a kind of car.

    The difference comes about because we evaluate the facts differently (I say a lot more about this on my 25 May 2012 blog [link added by GW]). So I can easily see how you think it still appropriate to apply the label ‘Buddhist’ to what you do. I don’t think you’re Buddhists because from my perspective too many of the essential parts have been removed. It doesn’t look like Buddhism to me. But then I self identify as a Buddhist (Buddhist name, Buddhist community, member of a Buddhist Order, occasionally invited to teach at the local Buddhist Centre, doing Buddhist practices etc). But in fact for some Buddhists my views on the implausibility of rebirth (and only implausible mind you!) means that I’m not a Buddhist, pure and simple, and with no concern for my feelings on the matter either!

    Though the one thing we all seem to agree on is that no one wants to be associated with Stephen Bachelor. I’m sure it’s nothing personal…

    I’m sure we all have our own intuitive feel for what makes someone a Buddhist. Clearly the question is one that is hot these days. I think Glenn is doing us a favour in identifying some of the essential features of Buddhism qua religion. He seems to have put people on the defensive which is understandable, but if we disagree we need to think about why we disagree and that’s always useful.

  161. no more doublespeak, gobbledegook nonsen said

    I think Glen Wallis is suffering from some sort of word disease whereby he needs to use big word to decieve and impress people – maybe he has a very small penis or something – get over yourself! No one is impressed by your misuse of the English language – it belongs to all not to wankers like you!

  162. no more doublespeak (#161),

    Thank you for your painstaking analysis of the language on this blog. I was stunned when I first read it—so incredibly astute! Thank you! You may have crossed a line, though, by calling me a “wanker.” That means “genius” in Australian, right? That really means a lot to me coming from such a, well, wanker like you!

    About penises—or is it peni, you would know!—since the operation, I no longer have one. Just kidding! I never had one: I am woman, hear me roar!

    Well, I for one am tickled by your deliciously ironic misuse of English, such as: “he needs to use big word to decieve and impress people.” I before E–after C! Brilliant! Use big word—ha ha! love the faux (= fake) TV Injun-speak! Deceive and impress? Oh, goodness, I am having trouble keeping up with a wanker of your caliber.

    In honor of your deep concern for the English language, I offer you this humble poem.

    Proclamation Without Pretension

    Art is going to sleep for a new world to be born
    “ART”-parrot word-replaced by ADAD,
    PLESIOSAURUS, or handkerchief

    The talent THAT CAN BE LEARNED makes the
    poet a druggist TODAY the criticism
    of balances no longer challenges with resemblances

    {Are you still reading, no more doublespeak?} Hypertrophic painters hyperaes-
    theticized and hypnotized by the hyacinths
    of the hypocritical-looking muezzins

    CONSOLIDATE THE HARVEST OF EX-
    ACT CALCULATIONS

    Hypodrome of immortal guarantees: there is
    no such thing as importance there is no transparence
    or appearance

    etc., etc.
    (Tristan Tzara)

    Peace and Fosters!

  163. jonckher said

    #162 Glenn

    ah those were the days when artists were real artists and people could still be shocked. and i think god was not yet dead. now we have that dude who married the italian porn star minister. a genius indeed!

    anyway, in case you have not happened on them: stephen hayes, relational frame theory, acceptance and commitment therapy. easy at first glance to write them off as neo-mindfulnistas but there is an interesting addition / extension that you lot might be interested in.

    the ACTivists are a fiercely IMO non-buddhist bunch and avow hugely that they have NOTHING B about them. Alas you will often find secret x-buddhists amongst their ranks.

    with metta, as always.

  164. jonckher said

    #163

    PS: Also, my mistake, it is steven c hayes. not stephen k hayes the ninjitsu master. would have been a nice joke though.

  165. Bhikkhu Brahmali said

    Tom (#146)

    You may well be right that the discoveries made by Einstein would have happened with or without him. But although a scientific leap forward may not depend on one special individual, it probably depends on a certain type of person. Only a small number of people would have been able to formulate the General Theory of Relativity, even if all the other conditions were ripe for its discovery. My point is that external cultural forces are not enough; those forces must coincide with the presence of a person who possesses the right qualities for a discovery to happen.

    In the case of Einstein the discovery may have been inevitable since a fair number of people would have possessed the required qualities. But once you accept that inner qualities are a factor in the discovery of truth, then it is possible, at least theoretically, that certain discoveries are of such a nature that it takes a person of highly unusual qualities to make the breakthrough. This is what I, as a Buddhist, would claim is the case for a Buddha. A Buddha is human – fully human – but a human with a rare psychological make-up.

    It may also be that the external cultural conditions required for someone to achieve the insights that make one a Buddha are rare. What were the conditions in ancient India that made the Buddha’s discovery possible? I would suggest the following factors would have contributed: a society that valued and supported solitary contemplation and meditation; a culture in which such contemplation and meditation was common; certain essential practices that were required for the Buddha to make his breakthrough (e.g. samādhi) were already practiced by others and the Buddha could build on that foundation. These are just some possibilities and many other conditions may be required for such breakthroughs, but my point is that it is conceivable that the coming together of suitable external conditions is rare.

    Part of the reason for such rarity could be that the suitable social conditions for a Buddha’s breakthrough do not come into being through the same process as suitable conditions for scientific breakthroughs. If this is true, we need to be careful not to take the analogy between Einstein and the Buddha too far. In other words, whereas the inexorable tide of scientific discovery over the past few centuries may have made Einstein’s discovery inevitable, it seems unlikely to me that the social conditions I have listed above should arise as a result of a similar pattern of inevitability. Rather than an inevitable process, it may have been more like a window of opportunity.

    So a Buddha and an Einstein are essentially the same: they are both a product of cultural forces as well as inner qualities. Indeed, we are all a product of these two currents. The only difference, it seems to me, is that the conditions required to achieve the insights of a Buddha obtain much more rarely.

    My question is, why the need for a ‘divine’ special individual – why would it be so troubling if there were not one unique individual who came up with the whole thing that the entire Buddhist edifice would ‘collapse’?

    Let’s try to extend the Einstein analogy. Suppose someone, however unlikely it may be, discovered a fundamental flaw in Einstein’s reasoning. If that happened, all the theory that had been built on the foundations provided by Einstein would also be flawed. If this had been Einstein’s only discovery, all his ‘disciples’ would have to change their ‘allegiance’, and Einstein would lose his place in history.

    It’s the same with Buddhism. All later Buddhist philosophy rests on the tacit assumption that the Buddha made a radical discovery. Take that away and it all comes crashing down. If the Buddha got it wrong, there is no Buddhism. Faith in the teachings is no longer sustainable.

    your assertion is that the ‘core teachings’ are the entire four Nikayas, and that there is no contradiction in them?

    In reading the four Nikayas I believe one will rarely stray far from the core teachings, but it is possible to narrow things down even further. The first thing to do is to remove all the Pali suttas that do not have a parallel in other recensions. The second thing is to remove material that is not common to parallel suttas. Thirdly, one could remove the narrative material, for clearly it was added at some point after the suttas were spoken. If all this is done and there still are individual passages that seem to contradict the great mass of material, then these can be ignored: error in transmission is more likely to have occurred in individual stand-alone passages than in the material that is repeated over and over in all parts of the canon. This process is reasonably objective, and what you are left with is what I would call the core teachings.

    Are there any contradictions in the remaining material? In my opinion, there would be very few contradictions left.

    Is it possible to extract the core ‘concepts’ from them, or is the reading of the texts themselves the point?

    One could certainly extract core concepts, such as the four noble truths and the gradual training. At the same time it is useful to read more broadly, because the concepts interlink and a broad reading of the material is likely to improve one’s comprehension. In the end, one needs enough information to be able to practice the path properly. The amount and type of information required will vary from person to person.

    Greg (#147)

    The Einstein analogy is obviously not perfect. What the Buddha is said to have discovered is very different from what Einstein discovered. If you really have found the answer to the most profound existential questions, it is only natural that you will be granted a lot of authority and respect.

    I think the problems that arise in such areas as the relationship between samatha and vipassanā largely do so because people rely too much on other material, especially contemporary authorities. I think we would have less disagreement if everyone focussed more on the contents of the four Nikāyas.

    Jayarava (#148)

    The people best suited to preserving texts were of a different temperament from those who could really test them out.

    I think practice and preservation often went hand in hand. Anyone who is serious about practice will also be serious about understanding what he is supposed to do. There would be a natural curiosity about the suttas. Moreover, people who were obviously well-practiced would often have a special status in any community of monks and nuns. They would be the carriers of the living tradition and as such their interpretation of the suttas would often be sought after. I don’t think the distinction you are trying to make here is all that hard and fast.

    But you do have a point that people who by temperament find it hard to make much progress on the path might drift towards other pursuits, one of which might be textual preservation. But it could also be a whole lot of other things, such as philosophizing (how did the Abhidhamma come into being?), or anything else that might have nothing to do with Buddhism. This tendency is certainly found in the present day.

  166. Tom Pepper said

    RE 165

    Bhikkhu Brahmali,

    Your strategy for arriving at the “core teaching” seems to me to be enormously problematic. And it is odd that you are so much more focused on the source than the content–you only mention the concepts in passing, almost as if the content were less important than the origins and mode of transmission. Your posts suggest that the ideology, then, is much more important than the truth that it serves to reproduce–I am, of course, using ideology in the Althusserian sense, so from my perspective placing emphasis on the production and reproduction of ideology is NOT a bad thing. It is, in fact, absolutely unavoidable, and, provided that the content that is being reproduced in that ideology is, in fact, truth, then we should exactly focus on reproducing it in the best, most transparent, and hopefully most enjoyable way possible.

    There are many, many, problems, thought, with what you’ve said above, which suggests to me that what is being reproduced is not really a truth. I’ll point out two key problems, both of which relate to the ideology of Romanticism. First: you assume that there must be some unique “inner” qualities, which are somehow NOT produced by the “external cultural forces.” This would require some kind of world-transcendent self that has a special quality and is not completely dependently arisen. The point is that even Einstein, or whoever else would have come up with general relativity, is not a unique self but is completely produced by the external cultural forces.

    Second: you assume a Romantic aesthetic criteria of unity–once you have whittled down your texts, you then finally cut our anything that interferes with a unified meaning or intent. As hundreds of years of Romantic literary interpretation has shown, this unity depends on deciding in advance what the correct reading is; many times, what seems “contradictory” or extraneous to one reader is later shown to in fact completely agree with the bulk of the “material,” once we change our concept of what the overall correct understanding of the content/message/purpose is.

    How do you know, in advance, what this content really means, in order to know which passages to cut out as contradictory? How do you know that in fact being contradictory was not the whole point–as in a post-Romantic aesthetic, say, in which revealing the gaps and aporias of a system of thought is in fact the purpose of a work?

    If you CAN in fact say, in advance, what the core concepts are, in order to know which texts to disregard, why is the method of transmission significant at all? Why MUST it be transmitted in the very suspiciously Romantic ideology of the unique genius who transcends his World and the organically whole and unified text? Is the ideology more important than the concepts?

    My ideology would be different–to take the concepts and rewrite them, and insist on the absolute irrelevance of origins and transmission. This is still an ideology, but I think it is one that is more useful in attempting to transform the existing social structure.

    Anyway, this is probably too cursory and explanation to be either completely clear or terribly convincing. I am quite interested in this issue, though perhaps it is just beyond the capacity of a blog-comment discussion.

  167. Bhikkhu Brahmali said

    Matthias (#155)

    Do you get what kind of possible delusion I mean?

    Possibly. But the words “origins” and “real trace” are both concepts. I can see how concepts might change dramatically from era to era and from culture to culture and that they may not be readily translatable from one to the other. Much of Buddhist thought, however, concerns experience. Is it not likely that the same experience – say seeing the blue sky – is quite easy to translate from one culture to the next? I hold that the same is true of meditational experiences, only more so.

    But if we can think it, what is the problem if it collapses?

    The problem is that some things are difficult to see without proper guidance. Take away the guidance and you might never achieve something that could be very valuable.

    Glenn (#156)

    You are better at presenting your own views than at properly representing those of others. I don’t recognize much of what I have said in your reformulations. It’s also a bit concerning that some of your statements here are demonstrably false, for instance that the Mahāsaṅghikas were innovative in regard to the early discourses. But it seems you are not interested in that discussion (“Minute exemplification of the sort you are doing here is wholly predictable.”), so I will simply drop it.

    I don’t operate on the latter kind of faith.

    The issue of faith is interesting and, I think, pivotal. You mention the “faith that the bridge won’t collapse”. But say that I have faith that it is possible, based on watching the breath, to achieve a state of mind that is utterly blissful and absolutely still. Say that I base my faith on reports from someone I know very well and who claims he has attained such states. Say I have observed the integrity of that person for many years, even several decades. Say that by all appearances he possesses extraordinary independence, rock-solidity in the face of adversity, contentment with whatever comes his way in terms of the necessities of life, and a general cheerfulness that is off the scales. In other words, his character is such that it may not be unreasonable to think that he is privy to something most people are not. Again, this is based on long-term and close observation. Moreover, say that my own meditation is developing in the direction of blissfulness and stillness and by extrapolating it seems reasonable to think that a state of utter bliss and absolute stillness may exist. Is this faith qualitatively different (as opposed to quantitatively different) from the faith that the bridge won’t collapse?

    Say that I subsequently act on my faith, achieve what appears to be the same state as the one described to me, and then read a description in an ancient text of a mental state that seems to describe exactly what I have experienced. I might then have faith that the author of that text also had experienced that state, or that he was reporting someone else’s experience. Again, would that faith be materially different from the faith that the bridge won’t collapse?

    These are not rhetorical questions.

    You see how circular your remark is, don’t you?

    No. But let’s discuss faith first.

    How can we be sure? Because the Dharma says so. It’s how things are. Well, can that be verified? Yes, by observing things as they are. Etc., etc.

    This is misrepresentation as far as I am concerned. But let’s leave it aside for now.

    Minute exemplification of the sort you are doing here is wholly predictable.

    Please complain to Tom Pepper – most of what I have said is in response to his questions.

    The point is threefold.

    Perhaps we can get back to this later. I’d rather stick to discussing faith for now.

  168. Tom Pepper said

    RE 167:

    ” Is it not likely that the same experience – say seeing the blue sky – is quite easy to translate from one culture to the next? ”

    No, it is not likely that seeing the blue sky is experienced in the same way in all cultures. Some cultures do not even have a distinct word for blue, not distinguishing it from green (others have grouped it together with grey, and the root of the word in English once simply meant lacking color, pale or faded). Our every experience, just like our language and our concepts, is completely dependently arisen.

    This is not to say, of course, that there is no particular wavelength of light that we now call blue–just that it has not always been experienced in the same way we experience it. There is no “blueness” in a wavelength of light–it is a product of our mind.

    I do appreciate your taking the time to answer my questions. I’m still curious, though, whether you could explain, in a contemporary idiom, what you take the core concepts of Buddha’s teaching to be? I’m not asking you to DO this in this format–I’m just asking if it is your position that it could be done.

    I’m not sure I get the faith issue here, either. The way you are using the term faith, in regard to someone you’ve seen who achieved a certain level of happiness, does not seem to me to be what I would call faith–it is inference from experience (you have direct experience of this individual, know he did engage in this practice, and believe that there is causality there). This is, to me, the opposite of faith–I would assume if you discovered that this individual was, unknown to himself, being given psychoactive drugs ever since he began his Buddhist practice, then your inference might change. Faith, as I understand it, requires no evidence and is not susceptible to further investigation.

  169. Matthias said

    Dear Bhikkku Brahmali, re #167

    No, you don’t get it. But I am sure now you think you got it. You asked me in #144 if we are going to have a constructive discussion if I dismiss you as a believer? Let me ask you back now if you think that you ever will have a constructive discussion with somebody how does not share your opinion about buddhism? You are so stubbornly sure about everything that you don’t hesitate to present the most simple minded platitudes as ‘arguments’. Sorry for being so blunt now but I take such arrogance as an aggression. It is definitely not “with metta”. It is an aggression because it forecloses the increase of knowledge to the human. Foreclosure of knowledge is oppression, oppression is aggression. Plain and simple.

    There are a lot of weak points in your responds to me and if I have to time I just may list them for the record. But your last post makes overly visible your main weakness. It is your believe in a stable self and a universal form of experience. I won’t go into this all too good known buddhist ‘argument’ “words are concepts”. It’s meant dismissive, isn’t it? But what does it mean? Words are pixels on my screen. Words refer to things. Words refer to facts (is this the same as a thing?). Words convey meanings. They convey concepts. What you don’t get is that there could be a real thing which embodies this concept which is you – who cannot see like the fish the water the very structure he lives and that he is nothing but this fleeting ephemeral next-to-nothing. What you do not get is the possibility that the very “you” you are, is formed within a set of rules. Instead you present us here clearly with a standpoint which is apart from and unbeholden to any relative structure. This becomes clear indirectly in that you ignore my claim that “identity” could not be identical in different cultures. And it becomes clear directly in what you declare about the “same experience”. Here you conflate the thing with the meaning, the blue sky with the experience. If the blue sky would be the same everywhere for everybody at every time then it would really need only the wavelength to know what somebody experiences. Here you are in one boat with those neuroneurotics who declare, weaving with a few colorful brain scans, the conundrum of consciousness resolved. Also, if you speak of a “same experience” which translates from one culture to the next, then you speak of a universal feature of personality, self or subject. Isn’t this atman? I may admit that this all might be due to a dependence on a syntax which still thinks in terms of subjects which perceive objects. But then, do you think in a different way? You seem unaware of the fact that the subject is not – as a buddhist Isn’t that ironic? Instead you postulate experiences which are stable beyond time and space. You take your own phenomenal self as guideline what experience is. I think that is some kind of naturalistic fallacy. And because you are so damn sure about yourself this is dangerous.

    At least it is dangerous in regard of your last point: “guidance”. “Proper guidance” I would translate to “good education”. And this is to be an open minded, open ended undertaking. He who is sure about everything does not need any good education. What for? He already knoweth it all. Good education is for those who dare to be unsure. Your proper guidance, based on certainty instead on knowledge is dangerous because it makes one vulnerable to those who don’t hesitate to exploit their lesser brethren.

  170. Bhikkhu Brahmali (#167).

    Before I respond, I want to say I, too, appreciate your participation here. It is particularly admirable given how foreign some of our positions must appear to you.

    {1} You are better at presenting your own views than at properly representing those of others. I don’t recognize much of what I have said in your reformulations. {2} It’s also a bit concerning that some of your statements here are demonstrably false, for instance that the Mahāsaṅghikas were innovative in regard to the early discourses. But it seems you are not interested in that discussion (“Minute exemplification of the sort you are doing here is wholly predictable.”), so I will simply drop it.

    Why drop these important points? They represent crucial strains of my thought, if not yours. I’ll explain.

    {1} I am not interested in “properly” presenting your view. I am interested in improperly presenting it. That means: I am interested in teasing out features of your view that you appear not properly to see. That’s why, for instance, I keep insisting on your addressing “affective decision.” Your view is presented in the typical form of what we can call, just for the hell of it, exemplificative braggadocio. (Elsewhere, I have discussed it in terms of “the x-buddhistic detail fetish.”) Much of it, I know, was in relation to Analayo’s textual theories. I know from Analayo’s book on the Satipatthana Sutta that he has mastered that form. It’s a form of argumentation in which minute details are load-bearing structures. If I were going to critique that book, however, I would not refer to a single detail. I would critique it based on its seemingly unconscious repetition of a fundamental structural scheme, one that it shares, moreover, with every single instance of x-buddhism that has ever been formulated. I don’t want to go into my argument here (it’s spread around the blog). I will just say the following. X-buddhist exemplificative braggadocio is a primary manifestation of x-buddhist faith in the principle of sufficient buddhism. This principle is a violent form of anti-humanism. The dream of the upholder of the principle of sufficient buddhism is to establish an uncircumventable standard against which the ordinary person must judge himself. Your dream of the heroic Buddha is wholly in keeping with this anti-humanist principle of sufficient buddhism. In your variety of x-buddhism, the Buddha matters first and foremost–everything unfolds from his exemplary person. In non-buddhism, the ordinary person matters first and foremost. For the ordinary person, all knowledges–including x-buddhism–are regional and comparable. Because there are no heroes, there is no master knowledge. I also speak of x-buddhistic exemplificative braggadocio using Laruelle’s metaphor of “playing with loaded dice.” X-buddhism is a particular shell game. Only the x-buddhist can win at it. Why? Because there is literally no end to the tedious tesselation called The Dharma. And only the x-buddhist has the specular vision from on high to perceive the intricate interconnections of the dharmic-samsaric whole. But this fact has nothing to do with the Dharma’s truth, or relevance, or value. It has only to do with the fact that “The Dharma” names an sprawling, deeply entrenched vallation, a vallation, moreover, to which only the person who reflexively responds to x-buddhist decision has access.

    {2} What, exactly, is “demonstrably false” about what I said? I’d really like to hear that from you. I am sure you are aware of some of the theories about the (ostensible) schism that (ostensibly–so much darkness around enlightened x-buddhism) occurred at the so-called second council, right? My statement about the Mahasanghikas was in the context of your question: and why do you think the Sarvastivadins and the Sthaviravadins were conservative? My point was that your implication that this fact points to an unimpeachable bhanaka system of transmission is weakened by the existence of more innovative communities. I gave away all of my Buddhism books six years ago. That was nearly sixty boxes of books. Included in that collection was Die Bestimmung der Schulzugehörigkeit Buddhistischer Texte nach sprachlichen Kriterien: Zur Schulgehörigkeit von Werken der Hìnayána-Literatur from the Goettingen symposium. So, I can’t check it; but I recall that there were arguments claiming a relationship between the Mahasanghika and later developments that became Mahayana. If I recall correctly, the argument was that the schism involved differences between what can fairly be characterized as between conservative and innovative factions. Maybe it had more to do with the vinaya than with the sutta material. That’s all I was referring to. Maybe those arguments have since been disputed. I don’t know. Like I said, I no longer play that shell game. But, again, your concentration on minutiae at the cost of seeing the larger claim is consistent with exemplificative braggadocio. My point is this: the demonstrably consistent way of human beings negates your argument from human heroism and intentional purity.

    About faith. I think that there is a serious equivocation in your two instances of the question: “Is this faith qualitatively different (as opposed to quantitatively different) from the faith that the bridge won’t collapse?” In the first case, I would say, “no,” the examples are not different. They are both based on adequate reasoning and justifiable inference. Maybe, with these two examples (assuming that a sub-text to our discussion is the meaning of the term saddhā), I would want to say it’s a case of “confidence” rather than “faith.” The second case involves a classic “thicket of views”–a thicket, moreover, from which the person can disentangle himself only with the sharpest sword of faith. Neither one of us has to believe anything about extraordinary ancient texts and some heroic, exemplary master craftsman in order to walk over the bridge or make a reasonable inference about the relationship between meditation and someone’s demeanor and, from there, interiority. (Although, can I recommend Wittgenstein on the relationship between demeanor, expression, and “inner” states of mind and emotion?) We could each be wrong, but most people would agree that our confidence was nonetheless defensible. Your second case extends the matter into extremely nebulous biographical and historical territory. It puts you in the same position as Christians vis a vis Jesus and the bible or Muslims vis a vis Mohammad and the koran. When the facts are utterly shrouded in historical and biographical darkness, it is no longer a question of justifiable confidence and good-faith inference.

  171. Glenn, (#170); funny, I bought one of the books you gave away at the Jackson St. Bookstore in Athens, GA. I forget what it was, but remember trading it in at Bookman’s here in Tucson.

    Not that it necessarily affects your argument, but there are contradictory accounts of the so-called ‘second council,’ (most likely there were more than one ‘second’ council). What’s interesting regarding your argument (one I assumed ‘correct’ for years) is that the mahasanghika was the innovative group. But, a Mahasanghkika text (Sharipputraparipricchaa) explains the schism as the greater party refusing to accept the addition of rules to the vinaya by the smaller party (Sthaviras). This account is supported by the fact that the vinaya of the Sthavira does contain more rules than the Mahasanghika’s vinaya, and it is generally accepted by folks who study this stuff, that the Mahasanghkia vinaya is the oldest.

    In any event, I’m enjoying reading this thread and learning a lot!

  172. jayarava said

    Hi All

    There is a seldom discussed distinction in Pāli (I discuss it <a href="http://jayarava.blogspot.co.uk/2011/07/faith-in-what.html&quot; ” target=”_blank” rel=”nofollow” here). Saddhā in fact is usually tathāgate saddhaṃ or “faith in the Tathāgata“, and it usually arises on hearing the Buddha speak. It does not usually relate to experience. So saddhā is very different from our confidence in the bridge; it’s more like our confidence in the engineer himself after he has described the bridge to us.

    But really we should translate saddhā as ‘fallen in love’ since the etymology is “placing (dhā) the heart (sad)”. Only it’s cognate with ‘credo’ so we translate it as though we were Christians and call it “faith”. Another Victorian translation fuck-up we’re stuck with!

    When we hear a Buddhist talking about Buddhism, or see some picture, or some exotic monks in robes or whatever it is, we fall in love with it. Well, I did. It’s so beautiful, so inspiring, it’s everything we ever wanted. Yadda yadda. Sometimes we sustain that love affair over decades even though Buddhism is a fickle mistress. “Everyone else seems to be getting so much out of it” (we all say to ourselves).

    Seems like Glenn is suing for divorce; and the saeculari have decided that they just want to be friends, but keep their married name. A pity they’ve dropped out of the discussion. Not sure where I’m at. Still in a long-term relationship…

    The technical term for confidence that comes from experience is avecca-pasāda ‘definite clarity’. I’m not sure how to extend the metaphor.

    It’s interesting that this distinction seems to have been lost in Buddhist discourse. If we don’t distinguish between falling in love with someone talking about their experience, and having some kind of experience ourselves, it suggests a widespread failure to go beyond falling in love. Perhaps then it’s no wonder that Buddhists are so very jealous of their texts, their lineages and titles, their special words, and their beliefs.

  173. jonckher said

    #172 Jayarava

    As an x-buddhist (where x = secular (1)), I will have you know that I haven’t dropped out of the discussion!

    Whether I have contributed or not is another matter entirely and I’ll appreciate it if in the future, that you (and others) making any such claims of the “saeculari (2) dropping out of the discussion” should extend such a claim thus: “with the exception of Jonkher who persists and persists in oversimplifying everything and not having a point.”.

    As a member of the saeculari, I have to say that the last few posts have been disappointing having devolved into an exceedingly clever version of:

    A: “I believe in God”

    B: “That is silly.”

    A: “I still believe.”

    – YAWN –

    From my superior post-atheist position, this conversation happened like 2 million years ago and everyone agreed that B won and has since moved on.

    But I guess, from a non-buddhist perspective, the conversation prior to this wasn’t really any better having devolved into a rather less clever version of:

    A: “I refuse to believe that I believe in God”

    B: “You are silly.”

    A: “Bloody smart aleck.”

    – YAWN –

    From my superior post-non-buddhist position, this was like so last fortnight and everyone agreed that B is a collection of smart-alecks and that A should just don the saffron, shave their eyebrows and come out of the closet. And everyone has since moved on to politics and making Tom Lennon feel like he is the ONLY ONE.

    Which is far more fun.

    With metta, as usual.

    (1) actually, x = atheist for me but seeing as atheists are such frowny ranty people I havent found any willing to attach the B to their A and am reduced to going to a secular lay buddhist sangha (circle) every week instead.

    (2) nice term btw, not as good as mindfulnista but very good still. maybe the “mindfulnista saeculari clergy”? Just rolls off the tongue doesnt it. Anyone good at composing limericks?

  174. Bhikkhu Brahmali said

    Tom (#166)

    Your strategy for arriving at the “core teaching” seems to me to be enormously problematic. …
    First: you assume that there must be some unique “inner” qualities, which are somehow NOT produced by the “external cultural forces.”

    Actually I don’t. What I meant to say – and perhaps I wasn’t clear enough – is that two separate but interrelated “forces” (mind and culture), both very complex but at the same time entirely conditioned, interact to produce a discovery. So, yes, the mind that makes the discovery is itself in the end entirely a product of forces outside itself. (By this I am not espousing a materialism whereby consciousness is a mere epiphenomenon of material phenomena.) That’s why I used the expression “current” in #165 to describe it.

    The difference in our outlooks, I suspect, only has to do with the sort of forces that act upon the mind. For a materialist (am I correct to assume that you are one?) the mind will only be conditioned by the forces of the society of which it is a part during its single existence. However, based on the Buddhist idea of a beginningless succession of lives, the mind is in large part a product of the conditioning acquired in past lives. Under this scenario, too, the mind is entirely a product of external forces, but it is less bound up with the cultural conditioning of any specific life. In either case a Buddha is just a natural phenomenon – a rare one, but one nonetheless – that arises at irregular intervals when the right conditions come together.

    Second: you assume a Romantic aesthetic criteria of unity–once you have whittled down your texts, you then finally cut our anything that interferes with a unified meaning or intent.

    Not really. In fact, your argument in the following paragraph seems reasonable to me. As you imply, passages that at first sight may appear contradictory may on further reflection not be contradictory at all. Sometimes it is just a matter of reaching a certain maturity in the reading of the material. This is where I think a full reading of all the available material is useful. Since we are so far removed from the time and culture of the Buddha, it is all the easier to misinterpret the Nikāyas. A broader reading may thus be required today if we are to get a message that may have been relatively obvious in India 2,400 years ago. This was my point in saying that contradictory passages may be “ignored”; I did not say “removed” in this particular instance.

    The idea behind the ignoring, I would now add, is just to enable us to make initial sense of the material. But even so it is useful to have guidelines for what to ignore. That guideline, I say, is that if one perceives a contradiction, then material found in a large number of places should take precedence over material that is rare. Later on one may come back to the rare passages and reappraise them in the light of information one may have gathered in the meantime. Such information might include a broader reading of the Nikāyas, suggestions for interpretation received from others, and one’s own reflection and understanding based on meditation practice. However, as long as the material remains in the “ignore category”, it is effectively excluded from the core teachings, at least for the person ignoring it. Sometimes such material would be truly corrupted and it may in fact be impossible to make sense of. At other times it might be beyond our ability to interpret the material, perhaps in the way Matthias is suggesting. But most of the time the “contradictions” are likely to be due to a lack of “maturity” on our part. Regardless, the point remains that material should not be removed on the basis of contradiction, but just “put on hold”.

    If you CAN in fact say, in advance, what the core concepts are, in order to know which texts to disregard

    I think I have made the point that you can’t do this.

    Is the ideology more important than the concepts?

    I am not sure if I understand the question. Has it perhaps been answered by what I have said above?

    This is still an ideology, but I think it is one that is more useful in attempting to transform the existing social structure.

    I am all for improving the social structure. But I don’t think this is the final answer to the problems we are facing.

  175. jayarava said

    Re #173. My apologies Jonkher for not recognising you as a saeculari. It always puzzles me when people say they are atheist with respect to Buddhist which acknowledges no theos to begin with. It’s a bit like saying that one is the non-meat-eating type of vegetarian.

    I’ve been trying to avoid the ABA structure you find so tedious. I’m increasingly interested in the underlying mechanisms of belief, examining my own beliefs, and trying to develop an explanatory discourse which will facilitate discussion on my own blog. Especially this week! For me the idea of embodied cognition seems very useful.

    The meta-analysis approach seems very fruitful. I’m not as good as Glenn at it, but have been looking at what I think of as the topology of karma and rebirth recently. Topologically there is no difference between karma and the overseer god, or for that matter the group who monitors and moderates the behaviour of individuals. Indeed citizens with camera phones are operating in the same topology. All afterlife beliefs also share topological features which I’ve tried to point out in my writing, and topologically nothing distinguishes Vedic liberation from Buddhist. The differences are all in how we label such features. Part of the reason we call Buddhism a religion is that it shares it’s soteriological topology with other religions.

    It’s fascinating watching our friend Brahmali defending the details of his beliefs by referencing a more fundamental level of belief from within the same framework. A framework which only he, amongst us, accepts as being true, but which is no doubt accepted without question in his milieu. As Glenn has pointed out Buddhism is sufficient for x-Buddhists. Buddhism has such explanatory power that nothing in the universe is left out, and all other forms of knowledge are secondary at best. Buddhists see the Dharma as a Theory of Everything.

    My reading of the early Buddhist texts is that they were not initially concerned with explaining everything, only experience. Glenn calls this the visaya (domain, sensorium) in his book on the Buddha’s words. He’s drawing on the Sabba Sutta which is implicitly a response to the Creationism of the Brahmins of the day who called the universe ‘idaṃ sarvaṃ’ (Pāli idaṃ sabbaṃ). Everything for the Buddha, according to the texts, was just the sensorium. Before long Buddhists took sabbaṃ literally and now they think paṭicca-samuppāda can explain literally *everything* (sabbaṃ). X-Buddhists tend to lack a diachronic analysis of their own belief system, so they are doomed to be blind to this kind of change. We x-Buddhists take what we believe now to be the eternal truth, when history shows it to be nothing of the kind. I’m preparing diachronic analyses of both karma and rebirth for my blog.

    Brahmali only reinforces what Glenn says with every protestation. For religieux the mass of their dṛṣṭi is so great that when it comes to weighing facts for salience it always tips the balance towards itself. Counter facts and contradictions are *experienced* as not having much salience, since the *value* of ‘facts’ is stored as emotional responses, and are felt in the body (which is why our gut response is trustworthy–it reflects our values). So in a sense it doesn’t matter what you say to a confirmed x-Buddhist, because an intellectual argument from outside their dṛṣṭi will not “feel right”. This feeling will drive them to create explanations for why they choose not to believe arguments that they *feel* to be wrong. The rationale is built up as a consequence of the felt experience of weighing the facts, not the other way around.

    So though Glenn wrote sincerely and some of us recognised the accuracy of his analysis (it was quite visceral for me as an x-Buddhist); on the whole the Latter Day Rhys Davidian Buddhists and other x-Buddhists are very resistant to the idea because the associated feeling tells them that the argument is not salient. Or for those in love with Buddhism it doesn’t feel right to criticise their beloved.

    I not convinced that x-Buddhism is a blackhole however; and I don’t think that the gravitas of Buddhism is solely down to glamour (in the old fashioned sense) or gullibility. I’ve seen many people’s lives changed for the better by what we do. I hope to reform from within, but I imagine it will take longer than what remains of my lifetime.

  176. kali said

    “I not convinced that x-Buddhism is a blackhole however; and I don’t think that the gravitas of Buddhism is solely down to glamour (in the old fashioned sense) or gullibility. I’ve seen many people’s lives changed for the better by what we do. I hope to reform from within, but I imagine it will take longer than what remains of my lifetime.”

    You are a Buddhist, but you are not – you are an academic but make not sense, or an amateur academic?

    Why else would you follow Buddhism if not to try to change from within?

    It seems the stories of Friends of the Western Buddhist Order as being “corrupt” … are true!

    kali

  177. Bhikkhu Brahmali said

    Matthias (#169)

    Dear Matthias,

    I sincerely apologize if I have come across in the wrong way. I certainly do not mean to be “arrogant” or “damn sure about myself”. What I am striving for is clarity in what I write, since I believe clarity facilitates a constructive discussion. If I open up and present my views fully and clearly – and perhaps some will see this as being “stubbornly sure about everything” – I am also opening up to the possibility of having my views demolished. That takes a bit of guts.

    And you’re right: I haven’t tried to imbue my writing with mettā. But I believe I haven’t been overtly hostile either. In fact, I have deliberately cultivated a detached middle ground. In any case, it would be generous of you if you would give me some credit for even daring to post on this blog. I can assure you that I didn’t embark on this without a fair amount of trepidation.

    I think one of the problems here is that we are coming from very different backgrounds. It is very easy for either of us to think of the other as insensitive to one’s own views and therefore “sure of everything”. But perhaps this is just a sign of psychological distance. We need to give each other the benefit of the doubt and then, perhaps, we can learn a little bit from each other.

    I would like to address some of you other points as well. You seem to be saying that the very experience of the colour blue varies from culture to culture and era to era. If you are right, the crucial point would be to determine the degree of difference in the experience. If the difference between two specific cultures is very great then no meaningful communication would be possible between them. Yet, as I have mentioned before, when I read the four Nikāyas (in the Pali) it is very rare that I have any sense of incomprehension or even alienation. In fact, even on first reading, there are parts of the Nikāyas that are eminently understandable for the modern mind. This suggests to me that the difference between our experience of the world and that of people in India 2,400 years ago may not be that great. But, again, I may not have understood your point.

    You are also arguing that to think that blue is always perceived in the same way is to regard something as permanent and therefore to have a view of self. I am not sure if I get your point. The main purpose of the Buddhist idea of impermanence, as I understand it, is that phenomena come and go, not that they never recur in the same form. This doesn’t mean that you are not right that conscious experience of blue may vary from person to person and culture to culture, but just that this may not have any direct relationship to Buddhist ideas of impermanence and non-self. I’d be more than happy to be corrected on this too.

    When I read your posts I get the feeling – perhaps mistakenly – that you are basing your argument mostly on theory. But one factual observation is enough to disprove a theory, or at least to limit its applicability. That’s why arguments about, for instance, the accuracy of oral transmission – arguments that are based on a theory that was worked out without considering the Buddhist experience (e.g. Walter Ong’s theory) – can only be used after ensuring that they fit with the facts of Buddhist history. From the little I know, Ong’s theory and the facts of Buddhist history sometimes seem to clash.

    The idea of “proper guidance” is based on the Buddhist idea that there is a real discovery to be made. This is in essence the direct experience of non-self. Only a person who sees this, who understands what it’s all about, will be able to properly guide others. In other words, if you want to become a doctor, you don’t go to law school!

    My best wishes to you and everyone else on this blog.

    Glenn (#170)

    Your view is presented in the typical form of what we may call, just for the hell of it, exemplificative braggadocio

    But surely there is a difference between presenting details concerned with Buddhist doctrine and details that relate to historical facts. It is the latter I purport to do here. If we are going to discuss history, then facts – lots of facts – must surely form the foundation of the discussion.

    Because there are no heroes

    A Buddha is not a hero; he is a natural phenomenon.

    there is no master knowledge

    Are you saying that no useful knowledge can be gained through mental culture?

    What, exactly, is ‘demonstrably false’ about what I said?

    I agree that everything around “the so-called second council” is highly unclear, and there is little evidence even to show that there was a schism at this point. So I don’t think arguing on the basis of what happened there is going to get us anywhere.

    Rather, let’s turn to facts again. Unfortunately, the textual heritage of the Mahāsanghikas is almost completely lost. Of the earliest texts only a Chinese version of the Vinaya is still extant. Now the Vinaya, in whatever tradition, is a very composite work. Scholars, including Hinuber (whom you mentioned before), generally regard the prātimoksa as its earliest part. Now if you compare the Mahāsanghika prātimoksa with that of any other early school, you find that they are almost identical (with the exception of the penultimate section on minor rules of etiquette, the sekhiyas). This has been clearly established by the Indian scholar W. Pachow who compared the prātimoksas of at least 7 different early schools of Buddhism (see his Comparative Study of the Prātimoksa). What he found was that the Mahāsanghikas were the most conservative, followed by the Pali, and the Sarvāstivādins the least. (The degree of conservatism is here established on the basis of the number of sekhiya rules in each recension. All the other rules, which are more important, are virtually identical in all schools.)

    What this shows (or at least strongly suggests) is that, whatever the later innovativeness of each school (including any supposed link between the Mahāsanghikas and the rise of Mahāyana, which is much disputed), the Mahāsanghikas treated the early material with as much conservatism, if not more, as any other school. That they may have been more innovative in other areas is a different matter. In fact all the schools showed extensive innovation, even the Pali tradition (Abhidhamma, Visuddhimagga, etc.). But they all innovated outside of their shared textual heritage, not within it.

    This is what I meant when I asked “And where do you think this conservatism originated?” All the schools, as far as we know, were conservative in the treatment of their common heritage and, this being the case, it seems reasonable to conclude that this conservatism was rooted in the pre-sectarian period. That is, we are moving into pre-Ashokan times and getting very close to the time of the Buddha. To me this is simply a reasonable historical inference.

    My point is this: the demonstrably consistent way of human beings negates your argument from human heroism and intentional purity.

    It is indeed disingenuous to argue from either “human heroism” or “intentional purity.” But I can’t see I am actually doing this.

    I would want to say it’s a case of “confidence” rather than “faith.”

    Let’s call it confidence then. I would argue that saddhā is closer in meaning to confidence than it is to faith.

    The second case involves a classic “thicket of views”

    I don’t think it does. Let’s try a real example of what it might mean to interpret a word in an ancient text. You can read in Pali texts about something called a rukkha. A rukkha had heartwood, softwood, bark, branches and leaves; it could be hollowed out to make a canoe; it sometimes bore fruit; one could sit at its roots to meditate; etc. (All these, by the way, are examples directly from the Majjhima Nikāya.) Is it not then reasonable to think that the text is referring to a tree in much the same way we conceive of a tree now? There are loads of examples such as this to be found in oldest Pali texts. Often the contextual evidence is so powerful that the nature of the thing described cannot be reasonably doubted. In the same way, when the same Pali texts describe a state of meditation – describe its different characteristics; describe those characteristics from different angles; describe the path that leads to that state, both in terms of what you need to do and what you experience on the way; describe the effects afterwards; etc. – I would argue it is no longer faith to think that the experience described is the same as the one you’ve had yourself. And this is very different from having faith in biblical or Koranic stories.

    Jayarava (#172)

    Saddhā … does not usually relate to experience. So saddhā is very different from our confidence in the bridge; it’s more like our confidence in the engineer himself after he has described the bridge to us.

    But the question still remains of why one should place faith in the Buddha or in anyone else for that matter – what is it about the “engineer” that gives you confidence. The answer found in the suttas is that one draws inferences from his or her behaviour. Only when you observe exceptional character traits, in particular complete absence of anger and desire (with the concomitant positive qualities), should you place faith in anyone. And you keep observing. If your observations require it, you should withdraw your faith. Again, this is more akin to confidence than to faith.

    ———–

    Due to other commitments, I will have to take a few days break from this blog. I intend to return, but I am not sure exactly when it will be.

    With best wishes.

  178. jonckher said

    #175 Jayarava

    Egad!

    Drop the all important X modifier from X-Buddyism? If I did that, everyone (0) would think that I worshipped 888 Boddhisatva deities, feared the Hell of Piercing and Tearing (1) and seriously and sincerely thought monks had supernatural powers.

    Oh no, the modifier must stay.

    This way, I get to imply to all other X-Buddies that I consider them to be nothing more than superstitious fools grubbing around outside the vast atheist structures of the tripitakas while at the same time declaring proudly to mere atheists that I am the kind of guy who likes living on the edge playing with fire (2).

    Win-Win!!

    Geeze, drop the modifier indeed! It’s like asking the non-buddies / non-phillies to drop the “non”.

    With metta, as usual.

    (0) By everyone I mean random people on the internet who I’ve never met and most likely never will. My friends in real-life just roll their eyes and show me the hand (4).

    (1) And the Hell of Freezing and Sticking to Things, the Hell of Being Locked Up in a Burning Building, etc etc

    (2) if this summons the image of the Fonz (2), all the better.

    (3) I prefer Russell Brand myself but most atheists never moved pass the Happy Days. Same goes for their conversations and thought processes really.

    (4) As in “Talk to the hand”. And yes, I actually do have friends in real-life because it’s impossible to footnote talky-voice conversations.

  179. Tom Pepper said

    RE 174:

    Bhikku Brahmali:

    I’ll try one more time on to clarify my points, but as I said before it just might not be possible in this format.

    You claim that your do NOT affirm the existence of inner mental qualities which transcend the cultural environment, and then go on to do exactly that; you accept the existence of a sort of spirit-mind which is non-material, impervious to any laws of nature, and which carries its traits with it completely without any natural form of causality. So, there is the possibility of a mind which is absolutely unconditioned by the culture in which it appears, or at the very least is MORE conditioned by its own world-transcendent past going back to infinity, and so can escape the limitations of its cultural conditioning. Personally, I would love it if this were true, but it seems no more than a wishful fantasy to me. This permanently existing mind, which is without beginning, and so predates even the existence of earth, of the material universe, appears to me to be simply another version of the atman-that-is-not-one.

    The whole epiphenomenon idea espoused by certain reductive materialists is, of course, absurd. If the mind is an epiphenomenon, then there isn’t even any use in us knowing that, since we are mere machines and our knowing it could do nothing to change our actions; the performative contradiction in this position has been thoroughly rehearsed many times already. My own position, which I explain in more detail in the essay that appears under “Samsara as the Realm of Ideology,” is more realist, and would certainly insist that the mind IS completely naturally caused, but that this need not exclude actions from past “lives” as causes, and need not be understood as absolute determinism—that we have the capacity to escape determination by our social conditioning is, on my understanding, our buddhanature.

    You then claim that you are NOT cutting out anything that disagrees with your prior understanding of the core teachings, and them proceed to say that you would, in fact, “ignore” anything that contradicts those pre-decided core teachings UNTIL you can find a way to interpret it so that it does not actually contradict them.

    As for the question on ideology, the last point does, in fact, suggest that the ideology, the practice in which the core teachings are reproduced, is at least as important to your position as the teachings themselves. It presents a practice in which the core teachings must remain unquestioned, and any apparent contradiction simply held at arms length, until it begins to appear less contradictory. You say that you have “made the point” that you cannot decide in advance what the core teachings are, but you are still insisting that you know, in advance, which parts of the canon to “ignore” because they contradict these core teachings (which are, then, decided in advance, right?)

    And the final function of this ideological practice seems to be a kind of quietist resignation, in which the changing of the social system solves nothing, and only our individual selves, over many lives, can achieve salvation. This assumes that we are, then, discrete souls with very individual karma that escapes the limits of natural law. It also assumes, once again, that the soul that moves from life to life is relatively untouched by the social system in which it appears; otherwise, why would changing the social system NOT be, in fact, the only possible answer to “the problems we are facing”? What do you take these problems to be?

  180. Jayarava (#175):

    > It always puzzles me when people say they are atheist with respect to Buddhist which acknowledges no theos to begin with. It’s a bit like saying that one is the non-meat-eating type of vegetarian.

    I think that in these cases, by “atheist” they mean “strict materialist/physicalist”, i.e., Ucchedavadin, so it’s more like saying that one is the lamb-eating type of vegetarian.

  181. jayarava said

    #180. “I think that in these cases, by “atheist” they mean “strict materialist/physicalist”, i.e., Ucchedavadin, so it’s more like saying that one is the lamb-eating type of vegetarian.”

    I’m no less puzzled as a result of this apologetic for the misuse of the word.

  182. jayarava said

    Re #177 Brahmali: when you get back I’d be interested to see you try address any one of my points without a circular reference to one or other of the articles of faith in the article.

    You seem to still be discussing the stories from the Pali Canon as though they are historical fact. You know they’re just made up… right?

    The engineer simile breaks down because they are 10 a penny, Millions of the buggers all over the place. Also I know quite a bit about the physics and maths they used to build their bridges having studied it at school and university. I’ve actually made a few arches for fun and have no doubt that if I needed to I could build a bridge from first principles. Living Buddhas on the other hand seem to be charismatic lunatics on the whole; and even then quite rare. You keep talking about them, i.e. Buddhas, hypothetically (which is a rhetorical strategy even though you deny it) and it makes me wonder why you aren’t arguing about the present, and from experience instead of faith.

    I did see a man with no anger or desire once. But he was dead and we buried him the next day. RIP Dad. All the living people I meet seem to have emotions, including anger and desire – though perhaps they are mere simulacra. I admire some of their virtues, and try to emulate them. I’ve even fallen in love, but it always ends badly, sometimes catastrophically.

    You would benefit from reading up on colour perception. It’s a fascinating subject that I know about from a chapter in George Lakoff’s book Women, Fire and Dangerous Things.

    BTW I am writing up my thoughts on this thread in more detail for my blog.

  183. Matthias said

    Dear Bhikkhu Brahmali, re #177

    My response to you in #169 was inappropriate and mean. I apologize for that. And yes, it takes a some guts to post here your position. I appreciate that.

    First. You are right, my arguments are based on theory. I argument like somebody who has some general reservations and wants to know if his interlocutor, who is the specialist, can convince him.

    Second. Thereby my objective is not to deny any possibility that there is value in what you do, what your praxis is or if there has been any event at all which is the source of all this. My question is rather: how do you come to your knowledge, can I comply by my standards with this gathering of knowledge and is it fit for real life today?

    Third. An important question (I already stated and you already answered) is: does your knowledge needs a warrant or can it stand on its own?

    Theory in general. You said in #120: “The problem with the sort general arguments offered by Matthias is that their applicability to individual textual traditions may be limited.” My general argument regarding oral transmission is simply that its accuracy cannot, by definition, by proofed. As the oral transmission is at the base of the textual tradition you have a minimum of fuzziness is build into the transmission. Although there might have been special preconditions to preserve the material better than in other cultures. And on top, this regards only the signifier of the material. We did not even talk about the meaning of anything, not to think about any real life phenomena this all could relate to.

    How do you come about your knowledge. It is not that it doesn’t matter what quality knowledge has – about facts, about how things work together, how humans are etc. pp. This knowledge to some or to a great extent has implications on our ethics. Take as an example Karma, which, as Jayarava pointed out, functions like an overseer god (and I would ad, which solves for Buddhists the problem what the Christians call Theodizee). It is not irrelevant to ask what a knowledge which warrants itself as sufficient like buddhism has to say about problems of modern day world? An agrarian one like the Buddha’s certainly had not the least clue about of the economic problems we encounter today.

    Can it stand on its own? Hereby I mean can it survive without an original, a core or however you name it? It is not about denying the possibility of a person or a canon which might have originated from this person. It is about the impossibility to be sure to get the right meaning there was. This is not to say that one cannot identify certain meanings like for example the pali word for bark. My general argument is that human identity could have been another and that that would alter the basis for all hermeneutics which we could try. The possibility alone that this could be so is enough to ask the question.

    These are general points which seem important to me. I think the one about ethics is the most important one and the last one about meaning the most difficult one.

    I came back. Especially about the blue sky.

  184. Joe said

    Bhikkhu Brahmali

    I find Glenn (#170) generous in explanation, but I find you (#177) arrogant in replying.

    You extracted a few words from Glenn, only reading: “Because there are no heroes”, and then you reply only with: “A Buddha is not a hero; he is a natural phenomenon.”

    The implication, to my mind, is that you pretend Glenn has somehow claimed the Buddha is a hero, and that Glenn now is confirming the imagined Buddha is not a hero “[b]ecause there are no heroes” (Glenn). In a way to assert your own correctness, you then step in, after quoting Glenn out of context, and emphasize the “fact” that the “[a] Buddha is not a hero” but “he is a natural phenomenon.” But what are you correct about? Not about something Glenn wrote.

    The part of your reply I am referring to is completely isolated from other content in your particular reply, which support my interpretation that you write this, not to respond honestly, but instead to … ?

    Your response does not fit Glenn’s post. He has been talking about your particular way of relating to the idea of the Buddha alongside another possible way. By reason he reaches the point that your position assumes the Buddha in a heroic position. Let us read more of the context in from where you took the quote:

    “Your dream of the heroic Buddha is wholly in keeping with this anti-humanist principle of sufficient buddhism. In your variety of x-buddhism, the Buddha matters first and foremost–everything unfolds from his exemplary person. In non-buddhism, the ordinary person matters first and foremost. For the ordinary person, all knowledges–including x-buddhism–are regional and comparable. Because there are no heroes, there is no master knowledge.” (Glenn)

    You, Brahmali, in this case, speak your personal opinion, unsupported by any substantive reasoning paying respect to Glenn’s thoughts.

  185. Greg said

    The accusation of arrogance is misplaced. Glenn stated “there are no heroes” and Brahmali concurred – that’s all. Whether Brahmali is accurately characterizing his own view is another matter.

  186. Joe said

    Greg (#185)

    It is not evident Brahmali is concurring. Do he himself think he is concurring? I doubt he is capable of concurring as he does not present any explicit reasoning showing he is actually concurring. For example: How does the Buddha as a “natural phenomenon” relate to what Glenn wrote “there is no master knowledge”, or to anything else along the lines of what Glenn wrote.

    I do not accuse him of actually being arrogant, but I find him arrogant – meaning I perceive him to be arrogant. My perception may well be wrong and I am glad you point out possible errors on my side. But still I find him to be arrogant because Brahmali’s concurring is obscure as written.

  187. jayarava said

    #186 Joe. What you say lacks any subtlety. Brahmali is defending a position that, in this context is unpopular, but at least he’s engaged with and thinking about the topic. As a bhikkhu he’s obviously committed to a particular world view and naturally seeks to defend it. Remember, he’s made a huge effort to get to the point of ordination. It’s a major life commitment. For him there is a great deal riding on the answers to the questions being asked! If he didn’t feel strongly about it, he’d be very weird. I don’t think it contributes anything to start coming out with value judgements and accusations. Would I like Brahmali to change his mind? Maybe, but isn’t it better to have many voices representing many different points of view discussing the issue? I’m surprised that you still think that insulting someone is a way to get them to change your mind.

    1. I believe X.
    2. You’re arrogant!
    1. Goddamit you’re right! You convinced me to change my mind.

    Doesn’t ever happen in real life.

    Part of the discussion is establishing the level that the discussion is taking place at, and Brahmali is far from the only person that doesn’t accept Glenn’s assertion that he is capable of sustaining his god-like overview of the meta-narratives. That Brahmali is unconvinced by this, and sticking to a different level argumentation is a valid rhetorical strategy (one employed by several correspondents). You yourself are attempting to shift the level of discussion to one where we judge and express disapproval of the Venerable Brahmali. Scapegoating is one way us monkey’s operate to gain group approval, but it’s not very sophisticated, and it doesn’t further anyone’s understanding of the topic.

    So Joe. Why don’t you tell us what *you* think about the proposition that secular Buddhism is just another form of x-Buddhism which subscribes to the 5 articles of faith generously outlined above. It might be more edifying than you you trying to convince us that Brahmali is a dick.

  188. jonckher said

    #0

    Jeeze, things just got a little heated at the secularbuddhism post which is sorta, kinda responding to this one (1)

    http://secularbuddhism.org/2012/05/14/so-what/

    OMG, like people are like so serious. WAHT?

    aywys, whatevs: ltr.

    (1) if one considers running around with fingers in one’s ears going AAAH NOT LISTENING (2)

    (2) to be fair its not that easy to listen when Glenn writes stuff like:

    “The ultimate aim is a subject who resists x-buddhistic decisional representation, and thereby reinvigorates thought vis à vis empty reality (radical immanence: zero, axiomatic-quasi-fiction). Reinvigorated thought is thought that operates at para-zero. Such a subject has transformed the symptom that is dharmic self-sufficiency into speculative knowledge. ” (3)

    (3) Which you know, I totally get now but only after reading that article like a million times and having to look up the big words.

  189. Re Jayarava (#149)

    I think this whole argument of yours would be more believable if you dropped the term “Buddhist”. To the extent that you use that label you fit into Glenn’s critique even if you, like Linda, can’t see it. If you’re someone who is basically non-religious but does some meditation (amongst other things) then why the label? Wouldn’t it be more accurate to say that you aren’t really a Buddhist at all? After all, as you describe yourself, you have no commitment to anything resembling Buddhism. I don’t intend to be mean in saying this. I just wonder why you retain the name of a world religion in your self-identification when you are not religious. And I think the answer lies in Glenn’s critique…

    Hi, Jayarava. I’d be happy to drop the B label as it causes a great deal of confusion in discussions like this, but I’ve found that it does still provide some immediate if incomplete reference to what I do as a practice. “Integrated Contemplative Practice” doesn’t really do the trick. Based on your understanding, what would you call what folks like me do (which again is different from Stephen B)?

    Re Glenn (#151) responding to Frank Jude Boccio #150

    I think Jayarava makes a good point. Why do Ted Meissner, Stephan Batchelor, and other and Secular Buddhists employ such a strong, determinate term like “secular”? They are Buddhists, pure and simple. Buddhists at all times and in all places have had to do what they are doing; namely, reconstituting the vast, vast corpus of teachings for their own day and age. As Stephan Schettini outright confessed in his “So What” article, and to a lesser extent Ted did on the Facebook page for The Secular Buddhist and Linda Blanchard did in comments on this blog, they are in agreement with the articles of faith I tried to show Secular Buddhists are beholden to.

    For me as someone active in the atheist community, struggling against the presumption of Christian privilege in the U.S., it is correct in its meaning of not being religious. And sure, we can be considered Buddhists by some, and not by others. But it’s not an article of faith, at least for me.

    Now you say I don’t see it, and I’m perfectly willing to be convinced by that, of course I have blind spots and am aware that I operate in a particular context and do have my own blinders on. Let me know how I’m being full of faith. Maybe we’re tripping up on terms again?

    Re jonckher (#154) responding to #149 #151

    The answer, I reckon, is really very clear. Secular buddhists maintain the B word because they are acutely interested in the uses of Buddhist teachings, but in a way that remains unbeholden to—and hence, unbound by and unaccountable to—the norms that govern those teachings.

    That’s what I mean when using the phrase “it informs my practice”. But I would be happy to drop the B word, still.

    Re Glenn (#157) regarding Frank Jude Boccio #151

    I was referring to what Ted said on the SB FB page: “because I do agree with much of what you’ve [=me] said” in the post.”

    And I do, Glenn. In many ways you described quite accurately what Stephen means by secular Buddhism, and what he’s interested in doing. Where I diverge, however, is that the post does not accurately reflect what *my* approach is, and is not accurate for everyone who uses “secular Buddhist” as a reference. As I said in 129, what is showing itself to be helpful to me as a practice here and now is independent of the source of that practice.

    So, back to ted and Linda, they may say they don’t subscribe to a transcendent dharma and so on, but their texts suggest otherwise. The term aporia is useful here. I like hanging out where the gaps gape and things start falling apart. That’s the job of a critic.

    Perhaps we’re tripping up on meaning of terms, here. I don’t see evidence for a transcendent dharma at all, in the sense of a non-material, outside of the natural world kind of way. If presented with the body of a deva, however, I will be happy to change my mind. So, if we’re talking about the same meaning of the word “transcendent”, help me understand what you see in my practice — mine, not Linda’s, not Stephen’s — that is transcendent?

    Believe it or not, I was initially involved with the Secular Buddhist Association (before it was called that) for precisely the reason you address: the possibility of a secular practice that, although derived from classical buddhist theories and practices, is not beholden to those theories and practices. What emerged, though, was a form of buddhism that, to my eyes, is indistinguishable from countless other forms that have been created through the ages. I saw–and still do see–the same kind of subscription to a pre-defined worldview or ideology. Sure, there is some argument and variation with the Secular Buddhist, but it all circles within the limits set by the dharma-samsara interface. No real advancement over countless other forms. In other words: just more of the same.

    We’re early on in this exploration, and there are varying degrees of separation from tradition. I’m in agreement with that goal of “a secular practice that, although derived from classical buddhist theories and practices, is not beholden to those theories and practices,” so again help me understand — what does that look like? What is your suggestion about what is included in that, what exactly is derived? Again, I’m perfectly happy (and even interested in, as I mentioned in post 129) to drop both secular and Buddhist.

    So, what is derived *exactly*, and what do you call it *exactly*? If we’re missing it, help us fill in the blanks, I’d sincerely like to take that step.

    Re Jayarava (#160)

    I liked the car metaphor, well done!

    I’m sure we all have our own intuitive feel for what makes someone a Buddhist. Clearly the question is one that is hot these days. I think Glenn is doing us a favour in identifying some of the essential features of Buddhism qua religion. He seems to have put people on the defensive which is understandable, but if we disagree we need to think about why we disagree and that’s always useful.

    Agreed that this is valuable discussion, and yes you’ve hit it right on: why are we disagreeing is the heart of it, and then the next step, what to do about it.

  190. jonckher (#188).

    I saw those basic questions of yours over at the SBA blog. You have been doing your homework, bro! I am impressed. Really. I appreciate that you’ve taken the trouble to decipher some of the non-buddhist arguments. The shit make sense. You just have to work really hard to see that. I have discussed in many places why I think it’s important to make it hard. It has to do with reasons like invigorating flaccid x-buddhist discourse; introducing unpredictability into a tired, staid form; expanding the range of permissible emotions; exposing the fact that x-buddhists have fallen deeply into the ruts of borrowed thought. But mostly it has to do with figuring out the conditions for thinking new thoughts with the x-buddhist material. Along the way, of course, this difficult style also smokes out the hubris and hypocrisy of dharma teachers like “The Naked Monk” Stephan Schettini, just to take the latest example. By hypocrisy I mean that dharma teachers so casually claim things for themselves such as “The Naked Monk brings deep wisdom to everyday life,” yet, display a disturbing inability to engage considered critiques of their expressed “wisdom.” What does “wisdom” mean to contemporary western x-buddhists? The evidence of people like Schettini suggests that it means little more than the ability to mutter Oprah-like platitudes about the silent truths of the body and the joys of not thinking. Roland Barthes said that if, as Billy Graham claimed, God is speaking through him (Billy G.), we can form only one conclusion: God is stupid. Can we say the same for our exalted dharma transmitters? If their intelligence is so obviously dim, why should we not assume the same about their wisdom? (I prefer to believe that the real problem is not stupidity, but rather laziness, entrenched comfort, and an unwillingness to work hard in upsetting one’s precious ideology; but that’s just the Everyman in me.) So, another reason for the “difficulty” of non-buddhist rhetoric is to create an acid test.

    “Seeing that it makes sense,” of course, does not mean that you agree with it. One thing I really like about Tom Pepper’s and Matthias Steingass’s work on this blog is that they seem to have been stimulated by some of my ideas, yet are clearly not beholden to those ideas–they are beholden to their own stimulated ideas. I like that. In fact, I stated at the very beginning–exactly one year ago, come to think of it!–that I am seeking five or six people to take some non-buddhist seeds, plant them in their own environment, and see what turns up. I am not interested in controlling that outcome. I am certainly not looking to have people agree with me. I don’t even agree with myself from day to day! I am interested an honest dialogue about the force–ideological, doctrinal, social, cultural, psychological, and beyond–of x-buddhism here and now. That is mainly a cooly critical project. But it has also turned out to involve heated, aggressive exchanges with x-buddhists. If heat and blood are what it takes to expose the phony dispositions that flow from their font of wisdom–like equanimity, non-reactivity, compassion, mindfullofshitness–that’s fine with me. I have a lush garden of spices and a body brimming with blood.

    Kick out the jams, etc.

    Thanks again.

  191. Greg said

    “The Naked Monk brings deep wisdom to everyday life.”

    I’ll be damned – I hadn’t realized he was a Secular Holy Man! It seems to be alarmingly easy for people in the western Buddhist world to convince themselves that such things are true of themselves, assert as much publicly (in the third person, no less), and proceed to attempt to monetize that purported deep wisdom, or even launch careers based thereon. I know many who have, and I’m sure I’m not the only one. So glad someone is calling bullshit on this racket. Glenn, I’m pleased that your deep psychological wounding inspired you to have the audacity to be critical of this dynamic.

    Something worthwhile may yet come from “Secular Buddhism,” but not from people setting themselves up like this.

    I remember having hopes, perhaps misplaced, for Buddhist Geeks initially. I can’t believe it’s a coincidence that as the founder morphed into a Professional Dharma Teacher the moderation of comments on the podcast got heavy handed. Certainly any questioning of the authority of the Professional Dharma Teacher class and their blithe Deep Wisdom didn’t stay up for long.

  192. Joe said

    Jayarava (#187)

    Jayarava: “[I (Joe) am?] insulting someone [Brahmali]”

    … Whoa! I do not care about what background Brahmali has. What matter is the reasoning which – in the case I am talking about – is obscure. I must be totally blind or uninterested in the rhetorical strategies you are talking about. Are you suggesting his decontextualizing and one-liners are somehow masterfully interconnected with other parts in his line of thoughts? Show me what Brahmali is not clearly expressing.

    Jayarava: “You yourself are attempting to shift the level of discussion to one where we judge and express disapproval of the Venerable Brahmali.”

    No, I attempt to shift the “level of discussion” to one where we (no – I; I’m not in your club) disapprove this particular response. I do not attempt here to discuss other contributions of Brahmali or the person behind the name. Also; I do not believe there is only one level of discussion here, but discussions at many different levels simultaneously. That is the connotation I put in your suggestion “isn’t it better to have many voices representing many different points of view discussing the issue“ – my point is that he express no point (in the particular case). Are you someone trying to represent “the one level” everyone must conform to? You surely use your rhetoric in such a manner, lets see the following:

    Jayarava: “So Joe. Why don’t you tell us what *you* think about the proposition that secular Buddhism is just another form of x-Buddhism which subscribes to the 5 articles of faith generously outlined above. It might be more edifying than you you trying to convince us that Brahmali is a dick.”

    You are telling – while pounding your chest? – I need to shift my focus, or – or what? – I will be excluded from your kingdom (level) of discussion? As long as my position is correct – he is obscure in this case – I can stand for myself without needing to discuss other directly unrelated things.

    Maybe it is unfair to point at Brahmali because cases of obscurity can be found among us all, but this caught my mind as it was a total anticlimax, in the absense of his clarification. (And yes I may be wrong. Show it).

    I am still interested in how his reply relates to Glenn – if it does. Look at #186

  193. jonckher said

    #190 glenn

    Ta! It is very fun. I am really getting into the Stoics. Pity there is no non-stoic site out there. might have to actually check out this laroche guy y’all keep going on about.

    Still it seems to me.

    World One
    a: i feel
    b: i hear you feeling
    a: i hear you hearing me feeling

    World Two
    a: i think A
    b: i think B
    a: i think A modified slightly by B
    b: i think B modified slightly by A

    Can these worlds meet? World one is a bit yawny but people there are sensitive.

    A: i feel
    B: i think B
    A: you arent hearing me feel!
    B: I THINK B
    A: you unfeeling bastard
    B: OMG this person is an idiot.

    Actually world two can be a bit yawny too – but the argybargy when two worlds collide is fun to read. Peppermint is especially good value.

  194. jayarava said

    #193 In my blog last week I tried to show that the reason A thinks x is that it not only makes sense, but *feels* right. In discussions about belief for instance there are always multiple interpretations of the facts that seem to make sense. Choosing between them involves decisions about which interpretations is most salient. The value of a fact is stored as an emotional response – and the evidence is that when this emotional system is damaged but the intellect is intact, one cannot make decisions.

    So even when someone says that they *think* something, they are in fact making complex judgements about the salience of related facts using emotional responses to carry the value. The propositions which feel right–regardless of their actual truth value–are the ones we judge most salient. Which is why you can’t convinced religious people and other fanatics that they are wrong.

    Present a Buddhist with quite a lot of evidence that rebirth is implausible and, even if they grant that the evidence sounds plausible, they process it as not very salient (because it creates an emotional dissonance). So the evidence just doesn’t matter to the fundamentalist.

    Obviously this emotional response is generated unconsciously, and in most intellectuals and internet users it remains unconscious and inarticulate, even though it may cause us to generate rationalisations. Interestingly I think this salience evaluation may happen in parallel – considering all the possibilities at once, and the one that we feel best about just pops into our head and we *know* that it is the right answer. Then we build rationalisations and theories from that basis. And we *all* do this, all the time.

    To ‘think’ something is so and to ‘feel’ that it is so are equivalent–it’s just that the person articulates the result of the salience evaluation in different modalities. Intellectuals tend to be a bit out of touch with their emotions and to talk as though ideas are value free, and touchy-feely types are less good at rationalising their feelings. Having one tendency makes the other lot seem weird. A few people are ambi-modal.

    So even in a discussion about ideas, what we are mostly dealing with is people’s values.

    When I said right at the beginning that I thought Glenn’s analysis here was penetrating, it was because I though he had identified Buddhist values–I had a visceral response to the words because they are the same values that I am struggling with. The values of my teachers, peers and friends. My values also, though my questioning of them is producing interesting results: strengthening of faith in certain propositions and demolishing it in others.

    The five articles of faith are not simply intellectual propositions to which we assent; they operate at the level of generating emotional responses for deciding the salience of propositions; and provide the basis for rationalising our behaviour. Such is the nature of faith. And hence the articles are so resistant and persistent. One can even agree with the intellectual content, and then perfectly rationally just set them aside as *not salient*. There is a great deal of investment in these articles of faith. Which is more or less an investment in identity-view. Just having a view, matters more than the content of the view.

    The question I ask myself is: why do I believe the religious propositions that I do? I have a good rationale for my belief in science; but why the religious stuff? Most of it boils down to enjoying being a member of my community. Yes it’s a bit flaky, and no it’s not all intellectually rigorous, but it is warmly and vibrantly human most of the time. I’m just a social monkey who doesn’t feel right without a troop. It’s always been reasonably conscious for me, since I knowing set out to look for a community 20 something years ago, but it has caused me to go along with ideas I was doubtful about. Now I’m working away at the problem it creates internal tensions for me about my relationship to my community. I value this community, and its continued existence and my continued membership is important to me. I’ve been joking lately about being fired from the Order because of my views, which represents an anxiety that my intellectual convictions will cause my troop to reject me. This has rational aspects, but it’s mostly irrational because my intimate friends, and my preceptor largely agree with the views I’ve been articulating.

    BTW I’m sometimes puzzled that the de facto mode of internet reactions is tearing shit out of other people’s ideas and words, and not self analysis and soul searching. Understanding what other people think is easy (as we’ve all demonstrated). Understanding and articulating why *I* think the way I do is what interests me!

    Gone on too long again… but this stuff fascinates me.

  195. jonckher said

    #195 Mahatma Gandalf

    Most excellent!

    To strive for the right balance of heart and mind is a worthwhile enterprise.

    To think deeply with great consideration and diligence on worthy subjects is a worthwhile enterprise.

    To know one’s self and one’s true motives is a worthwhile enterprise (yes! even Comrade Tom’s unsexily termed ideology!)

    To express both one’s thoughts and heart modestly, honestly, courageously and with vulnerability is truly the endeavor of a sage!

    Diligence! Diligence!

    I leave you with Hexagram 46: SHeng : Pushing Upward.

    Within the earth, wood grows: The image of Pushing Upward. Thus the superior man of devoted character heaps up small things in order to achieve something high and great.

    PS: Knowing all this, nonetheless, I prefer to sit on the sidelines and throw peanuts! Less work, more laze!!.

  196. Matthias said

    The blue of the sky.

    I was thinking why I went into this angry response (#169) to the Bhikkus #167 – even before Jayarava’s last entry. But Jayarava reminds me of something. I make a difference between knowledge and certainty. Knowledge has to do with uncertainty and with the ability to be uncertain. Religious people are by definition certain about their case. They simply need not response to any good argument and they simply can go on with a simplistic approach regardless of what their interlocutor says. Especially when one doesn’t drop some big names to support one’s case, they “feel” no need to even begin to think a bit slower and deeper than it is the normal case. The fast and easy responses which are coupled with supportive emotional layers just go on. That is why the blue sky is the same everywhere and why a different identity somewhere else in time and space is just another “concept”. The fast and easy responses of “system 1″ (as Kahneman puts it in his “Thinking, Fast and Slow”) rule. No need to feel the doubt. At last the robes are such a big (emotional) investment one has to talk one’s position – that is the same with bad traders and religious people. My error again and again is engaging in discussion with such people in the first place – and then lamenting about them and their fucking certainty.

    Somebody saying the blue of the sky is the same any where in in any circumstances really must be frozen somehow – emotionally. The “values” attached to his/her position must be of a proportion I cannot grasp. They can override any real life experience. But with the blue sky it is not only about the qualia-problem (how about some big names to support my case, “Dennett” for example, with him we can eliminate it once and for all) or the identity-problem (how about “Charles Taylor”, and hey let’s throw in a bit “Foucault” too) or the phantasmagoria of the original (why not arguing here with “Kant”, with whom the real vanished from sight, with “Husserl”, who somehow managed to meditated until facts became intentional, or holy “Heidegger” for whom representational truth vanished like mist under the morning sun, or with “Derrida” whose decision was that difference is it all) – with the blue sky it is about real life, the real, me. Or about a farmer looking at the blue sky waiting urgently for water for his crop. Or a sailor who weathered a storm and now sees the blue sky for the first time in days, telling him that he did it. Or lovers after a night of bliss greeting the blue sky of the morning – die dämmernde Frühe mit Rosenfingern erwacht – “Voß” by the way, Johan Heinrich, translator of the Ulysses into german, illustrating the blue sky in the early morning, when the sun is still below the horizon, coloring the blue sky, painting it in rosy hues while in the west the blue still reminds one of darkness… well, that’s all the same. It’s all blue. It’s all 480 to 420 nanometers… Really?

    I am not religious. I don’t believe it.

  197. Bhikkhu Brahmali said

    Tom (#179)

    you accept the existence of a sort of spirit-mind which is non-material, impervious to any laws of nature, and which carries its traits with it completely without any natural form of causality

    The basic reality is that we experience both mental and material phenomena. Going beyond this basic observation, however, and developing a cogent theory of how the mind relates to the physical world is no easy task, especially given the primitive state of scientific knowledge in this area. Moreover, both the science and the philosophy of the mind/brain relationship are evolving so rapidly that it makes little sense to take a firm position on where they are heading.

    I also cannot see any inherent reason why rebirth must imply an atman. The idea of an entirely conditioned process moving between different “stations” of existence does not seem a priori impossible. Again, the science of this area is immature and there are gaping holes in our understanding of the relationship between the brain and the subjectively perceived mind. Combine this with the rapid evolution of the science, and one cannot exclude the possibility of an upcoming paradigm shift. And once you have a radical shake-up of the science, the philosophy of the mind may also have to be completely rethought. A new paradigm might even have room for ideas that so far have been foreign to Western science, such as rebirth.

    You then claim that you are NOT cutting out anything that disagrees with your prior understanding of the core teachings, and them proceed to say that you would, in fact, “ignore” anything that contradicts those pre-decided core teachings UNTIL you can find a way to interpret it so that it does not actually contradict them.

    To me the strategy I have suggested seems unavoidable: you can only absorb what you can make sense of.

    but you are still insisting that you know, in advance, which parts of the canon to “ignore” because they contradict these core teachings

    No. What I am suggesting is really a hermeneutical approach. We know that the oral transmission of Buddhist literature within each school involved reciter groups. Different groups specialized in different scriptural collections. (This is directly attested in the commentarial literature and was presumably necessary because the body of literature was so large.) It follows from this that passages that are found in identical form across the reciter groups (again, this concerns reciter groups within the same school) are more likely to have been transmitted correctly than passages that are peculiar to a single text. If there is a contradiction, it is simply a matter of probability that the rare passage is more likely to be corrupted or not part of the common heritage at all.

    This analysis may then be supplemented with comparative studies across the various schools. Such comparative study may strengthen the suspicion that the unique passage is the outcome of a transmission error or it may instead reveal that it is likely to be of pre-sectarian origin and therefore has a good claim to belong to the core corpus. In this case, one needs to take its contents seriously.

    But I feel we are making too much of the so-called contradictions. I don’t, in fact, find the early suttas either particularly contradictory or incomprehensible. Making decisions on what to ignore is not a major issue.

    why would changing the social system NOT be, in fact, the only possible answer to “the problems we are facing”? What do you take these problems to be?

    I suspect we agree that the problem we are facing is suffering. There are clearly numerous ways in which suffering can be alleviated. But I am sure you are aware that from the Buddhist perspective it is only the ending of existence that can end suffering once and for all. Of course, for a materialist this is not a problem, since existence will soon end regardless. If the materialist view turns out to be right, I might concur that “changing the social system” is a major part of the answer.

    I feel we have pretty much reached an impasse in this discussion. I am not sure if there is any point in going on.

    Jayarava (#182)

    Brahmali: when you get back I’d be interested to see you try address any one of my points without a circular reference to one or other of the articles of faith in the article.

    I presume you are referring to your post #175. I’ll address some of the issues you have raised there.

    Topologically there is no difference between karma and the overseer god, or for that matter the group who monitors and moderates the behaviour of individuals. Indeed citizens with camera phones are operating in the same topology.

    Yes, there is a reward to be had for being good. You could add the penal system to your list of examples.

    and topologically nothing distinguishes Vedic liberation from Buddhist

    Really? I am not entirely clear what you mean by “topological” difference, but it seems to me that aiming for a permanent state of being and aiming for the ending of all existence are not only different, but fundamentally opposed to each other.

    Buddhism has such explanatory power that nothing in the universe is left out, and all other forms of knowledge are secondary at best. Buddhists see the Dharma as a Theory of Everything.

    As I see it, the Dharma is about two things:
    (1) Existence is suffering;
    (2) There is a way to end existence.
    That’s all. Is this really a Theory of Everything?

    X-Buddhists tend to lack a diachronic analysis of their own belief system, so they are doomed to be blind to this kind of change.

    I have made it plain in my response to Tom (#143) that being aware of linguistic and philosophical evolution is fundamental to getting a proper grasp of Buddhism.

    So in a sense it doesn’t matter what you say to a confirmed x-Buddhist, because an intellectual argument from outside their dṛṣṭi will not “feel right”.

    So you’re saying that Buddhists have an emotional investment in their views. I fail to see how you could possibly be wrong. And yes it is useful to be aware of such an emotional vested interest. That awareness itself may make one more open to alternative views. But Buddhists are certainly in a good position to be aware of this, since this observation is closely aligned with Buddhist doctrine.

    At the same time, you cannot possibly be suggesting that a Buddhist should give up his or her views simply because of an emotional involvement. It seems utterly pointless to give up one view, just for the sake of it, and then vest your emotions in a different view instead. The investment of one’s emotions in one’s ideas and thoughts is a human thing, not a Buddhist one.

    Views and feelings always arise dependent on causes. Even for a Buddhist it is not given that one will always have a positive emotional response to Buddhist teachings. Part of the process of change involves argumentation and the consideration of facts. These feed into the process of the ever-changing mind and the result is highly unpredictable. Some people will become ex-Buddhists as a consequence of this process; other will remain x-Buddhists! But the idea that outside argument plays no role in the evolution in the views of a Buddhist (or anyone else for that matter) is to me plain silly.

    Matthias (#183)

    Dear Matthias,

    It is not irrelevant to ask what a knowledge which warrants itself as sufficient like Buddhism has to say about problems of modern day world? An agrarian one like the Buddha’s certainly had not the least clue about of the economic problems we encounter today.

    This is an important point. From my perspective, there are foundational Buddhist principles that are so broad that they can be used to guide one’s thinking on most contemporary issues of ethics. Sometimes this does require reflection; a blind application of Buddhist doctrine to modern ethical dilemmas is often going to fail.

    My general argument is that human identity could have been another and that that would alter the basis for all hermeneutics which we could try. The possibility alone that this could be so is enough to ask the question.

    I certainly accept that your argument may in principle be correct. I also accept that Buddhism – specifically the core teachings – is gradually getting corrupted and vanishing. One day it will be gone, but I don’t think that day has yet arrived.

    Can it stand on its own? Hereby I mean can it survive without an original, a core or however you name it?

    The problem is that Buddhism is predicated on an insight into the nature of existence. That insight includes an understanding of the path that leads to that insight. If you remove the insight, the path is also gone. So what matters is that someone – anyone – has the requisite insight and that that insight is communicated to others.

    Matthias (#196)

    Religious people are by definition certain about their case.

    Then I am not a religious person.

    That is why the blue sky is the same everywhere and why a different identity somewhere else in time and space is just another “concept”.

    I am quite happy to concede that the blue sky may not be the same across time and space. And I am also happy to concede that this makes reading an ancient text more difficult. Is the Buddhist heritage then lost? I have been arguing at some length why I don’t think so. But there can be no absolute certainty in these matters. So I concede that I could be wrong about this too. If I can be persuaded that the heritage is lost, I will give up Buddhism. It would be the only sensible thing to do.

    ————–

    My sense is that the debate on this thread is petering out in some areas and reaching an impasse in others. Moreover, I have too many commitments over the next 5-6 weeks to be able to take part in the discussion in a meaningful way. This, then, seems like the right time for me to withdraw from posting on this blog.

    I have enjoyed the discussion and learnt a number of things. Thank you for your intellectual company over the past couple of weeks. I am glad to say that my initial apprehension at posting on this blog turned out to be misconceived.

    I wish you all well.

  198. jayarava said

    Brahmali (#197)

    Really? I am not entirely clear what you mean by “topological” difference, but it seems to me that aiming for a permanent state of being and aiming for the ending of all existence are not only different, but fundamentally opposed to each other.

    Still subscribing to the Buddhist version of Hinduism I see. In any case I was thinking that we all see liberation from saṃsāra as the goal. Upaniṣadic Brahmins saw this as merger with the eternal absolute, Pali Brahmins took a more theistic line and sought union with a creator god, Brahmā, while Pali Buddhists saw it as attainment of eternal nibbāna (which is nicca, dhuva, sassata etc).

    “Is this a theory of everything?”

    Sure it is when you talk about a universal quality of existence. Behind your supposedly simple statement is a whole raft of ideological postulates about why “existence is suffering”. For instance you are just (badly) paraphrasing Dhp 278 sabbe saṅkhārā dukkhā. So don’t come the raw prawn, mate.

    But what I find (morbidly) fascinating in your response though is that you talk in terms of “existence” and “ending existence”. The Buddha says specifically not to even use these words. In the Kaccānagotta Sutta (S 12.15): atthi and natthi do not apply. Yes? There is no “existence” and there is no “non-existence”. You say that “Existence is suffering” which is plainly sassatavāda, and your solution to suffering is non-existence which is plainly ucchedavāda. Textbook micchādiṭṭḥi! What are they teaching at bhikkhu school these days?

    If you’re not seeing the implications of the argument of the salience of facts and how that affects arguments it doesn’t surprise me. You’re responding to three entirely different arguments at once for a start, which hardly gives you mental space for careful consideration. And you have showed a dogged resistance to all of my arguments (thereby indirectly supporting it!) It amounts to more than a simple emotional investment: it’s more like General Relativity. Values bend the space in which facts are situated; and reason travels in curves near values, and can become captured in orbits.

  199. Tom Pepper said

    Re 197 & 198:

    It is disappointing, but perhaps to be expected, that a Bikkhu would be unable to grasp this simple point: renaming the union with Brahma as the escape from existence does not change its meaning or function. To say that we should seek to “end existence” always carries the implication that the “existence” we are ending is the worldly one, and that there is a spirit of some kind which will continue to “not”-exist. The terminological sleight of hand seems like a cheap con artists trick to an “outsider”, but apparently from within the “faith” the trick is undetectable, even when pointed out.

    The insistence that Buddha is “not a hero,” but a unique being whose actions could never be repeated and who can save us all from “existence”, is another such puzzling claim–what else does “hero” mean? Surely, the near obsessive need to recover the exact words that can be attributed to the actual Buddha is an assumption that there is the equivalent of a divine revelation there, something that not other thought process could arrive at. Otherwise, why the need to assume that we know the “core teachings” already, but need to prove with textual research that this one individual actually taught them?

    It is disappointing evidence that faith makes us stupid.

  200. Rick carter said

    I think you are all missing the point. Why are you all trying to over analyse and over complicate the meaning of Gotama’s teachings? I think Stephen Batchelor gives simple understanding to the true intention of Gotama’s teachings less all the mythology of dogmatic buddhism. He certainly doesn’t care about all the over charged, over intelligent egos out there trying to find fault with his teachings. I think the Glenn Wallis critique is nothing more than him trying to show how intelligent he is compared to his fellow secular buddhists, or after reading his critique – rivals. I have listened and read with OPEN perception on Gotama’s teachings and the dhamma and drawn very simple conclusions without any need to sum it all up with some one’s over analitical critique. The way I interpret the meaning of the article is that now we all start turning on each other to see who knows more about secular Buddhism and what Master Gotama really meant with his teachings. Is secular buddism only for the intellectuals?

  201. Tom Pepper said

    Re #200,

    This is the kind of comment that tends to prompt the hostile responses folks over at Secular Buddhism are always crying about. We are always accused of arrogance for making reasoned philosophical arguments, but this is the absolute height of arrogance: “all you intellectuals are missing the point–you may be more intelligent, but I know better than you, because my lack of thought guarantees that I am always right.” Could you be more stupidly arrogant than this? The assumption that we “are ALL missing the point,” while we are saying things he clearly will not even attempt to understand!

    What could be more American than the absolute certainty that stupidity is always right?

  202. Mikael said

    Bickering with bhikkhus, arguing in comment threads past their due date — I don’t know, shouldn’t we keep things fresh & active? Here’s a quote from Emerson’s “Nature” that’s always been with me in my “Buddhist practice.” One of the problems with hostility and criticism through caricature is that it tends to hide the irony and questioning that’s already there in x-Buddhism. Reminds me of the early feminist film theory that itself assumed women watched Hollywood films as passive recipients. We’re all trying. Blech! Anyway:

    “Our age is retrospective. It builds the sepulchers of the fathers. It writes biographies, histories, and criticism. The foregoing generations beheld God and nature face to face; we, through their eyes. Why should not we also enjoy an original relation to the universe? Why should not we have a poetry and philosophy of insight and not of tradition, and a religion by revelation to us, and not the history of theirs?

    Embosomed for a season in nature, whose floods of life stream around and through us, and invite us, by the power they supply, to action proportioned to nature, why should we grope among the dry bones of the past, or put the living generation into masquerade out of its faded wardrobe? The sun shines today also. There is more wool and flax in the fields. There are new lands, new people, new thoughts. Let us demand our own works and laws and worship.”

  203. Tom Pepper said

    Ah, Emerson, the idiot ideologue of American capitalism. Let’s take his advice this once–and stop reading HIM.

  204. Rick (#200).

    How can you be sure how much analysis is enough until you’ve done it? To get a different perspective on the value of “over-analyzing and over-complicating the meaning” of things, consider telling your doctor that when he’s looking at those scary test results. “Yo, doc, no need to analyze them too much; you know, we don’t need to get too complicated here.”

    X-buddhism claims to hold the goods for how you should live your life. And you want to take the simple, easy approach? May I suggest the path of analytic ruin?

  205. salle said

    While I can understand the resentment of people especially in the west to certain forms of made up Buddhism which eminates from certain countries (thattrys to enforce obedience and hierachy and the misuse of desire etc) I find the obnoxiousness of Tom Pepper and his comments boring and trite

    Many people have proven the Buddha’s teachings through experience as the way to enlightenement, so no amount of intellectualing on the part of “the intelligensia, mind nazi’s, word and thought police, those who claim ownship to intellignece, the intelligence capitalists” that proudly grasp and haunt universities or bookshops will change that view!

    But for many men who have or believe they have some authority or place in the world with all there smug and superior male pride held like some trophy to show to the masses – it must be devastating that another being not only has all the answers, but is also kind, compassionate, ethical and didn’t need to study at Univeristy to know what he knows.

    This being is prepared to give without asking anything in return to those who are prepared to listen with an open heart and an open mind – yet you call this faith and try to dissade people from this path – or from following him/her so they can what exactly! follow — you!

    Come on guys! Sorry that you are not our hero’s but you just don’t cut it – the true Dharma does!

    For grown men to be jealous of the intelligence of a being who gave to the world a way out of suffering is understandable as putting down a worthy person like a Bhikkhu for trying to discuss these teachings; such tactics though might be expected of a 15 year old bully – but it is sad to see in a grown man.

    Possibly a bit of maturity might not go astray!

  206. salle (#205)

    Please keep this confidential, but the reason Tom Pepper cannot mature any further is that he is already 1100 years old. Let me explain.

    You see, Tom Pepper is none other than–don’t tell anyone!!–Linchi! Yes–that one: 临济义玄. Out of his bodhisattva compassion, he is with us still, here in Amerikkka.

    I cite from the Great Sutra of the Free Wikipedia:

    According to the Linji Tom Pepper yü lü qua zhuan gyüüü, the future Tom Pepper’s methods included shouting and striking, most often using the fly-whisk that was considered a symbol of a Chán master’s authority. Later, when computers are invented, he will shout and strike with 0s and 1s. From a previous life:

    Master Tom Pepper saw a monk coming and held his fly whisk straight up. The monk made a low bow, whereupon the Master struck him a blow. The Master saw another monk coming and again held his fly whisk straight up. The monk paid no attention, whereupon the Master called him an unthinking idiot, and, for good measure…struck him a blow as well.

    Followers of the Way [that means: Zen], if you want to get the kind of understanding that accords with the Unsurpassable Dharma-O’Pepper, never be afraid to call others “stupid” or swat them with other such fly-whisky words. Whether you’re facing inward or facing outward, whatever you meet up with, just kill it! If you meet a buddha, kill the buddha. If you meet a patriarch, kill the patriarch. If you meet a blog commentator, kill the blog commentator. If you meet your parents leaving a stupid post on a blog, kill your parents. If you meet your…oh, you get the idea future Bodhisattva salle. If you do so, then for the first time you will gain emancipation, will not be entangled with things, will pass freely anywhere you wish to go, like Bodhisattva jonckher the jedi.

    But beware: Those who have fulfilled the ten stages of bodhisattva practice are no better than hired field hands; those who have attained the enlightenment of the fifty-first and fifty-second stages are prisoners shackled and bound; arhats and pratyekabuddhas are so much stupid filth in the latrine; bodhi and nirvana are hitching posts for donkeys.

    A hundred bows . . .

  207. jonckher said

    #200, 202, 205 Fellow peanut-throwers

    As an x-buddhist capitalist, I applaud your comments.

    In the spirit of Mr GS Buddha, I only have this to add in the form of free advice to the non-buddhists here:

    Sit MORE!
    Think LESS!
    Speak RIGHT! (1)

    Yes, DJ TPep, I am looking right at you.

    with metta, as always,

    (1) Just so you know, I own the copyright for the t-shirt with these words. (Words in red, t-shirt in black, Font: Heavy Metal Gothic)

  208. salle said

    Glen

    Thanks for that – I promise not to tell… it is just what I suspected anyway because who would really be named after a condiment! that in itself is a dead give away.

    By the way oh Master Glen Wallace lord of the academia intelligensia – did you not read my first sentence – that is I excused myself from legitismising certain forms of Buddhism – which I must say did not work for me such as the bodhissatva ideal – I mean seriously no amount of matras and prays would convince my parents, friends or anyone that I am the saviour of the world – but it is worth a try I suppose especially if people give you money and cook for you etc etc etc- although I do at least have the maturity and humbleness to thank these teachers for what has been useful.

    The teachings of the Buddha (the early teachings) really did change my life for the good – I would like to say the same about men, Uni, marxism, communism, materialism, sex drugs and rock and roll, christianity, profanity, health and fitness fanaticism, isms in general without the Buddh in front etc but can’t! (I love exclamation marks more than full stops don’t you)

    No need to bow really …just throw money and do my cleaning and ..

  209. salle said

    And what’s more!

    I do not believe I have the requiste narcisstic psychotic need or mindset to consider myself a bodhissatva, or the talent it takes as a women to achieve such status
    “sucking up” to a Buddhist lama or men has never been a talent of mine

    and even more what is more!

    It seems the Buddhist lama – old as some are now, prefer young women to “suck” up to them to become the dominating forces to which all other women must be obedient to – this way they get to hang out with obedient compliant young girls who jump at there every whim and all other women are hidden away, out of the way, out of sight or subjugated as mere servants to their young whores they call bodhissattva’s – or at least the lamas do not have to lower themselves to actually be around women who aren’t bisotted, obedient, (should I add sexually attractive – not sure)

    sexual discrimation in the West possibly dissades overt abuse and use of women by men but appartently if the young virginal? syophants of buddhist lamas with hidden psychotic drives to dominant subjugated control and force into slavery other women enact it for them that is somehow OK and not mysogeny or abuse of women! Right whatever you say oh great caring Buddhist lama , always there in my time of need – errrr or at least you will send your young “student” to exploit my time of need!

    I can only wonder at amazement at these young girls that they don’t get half-way the Lam Rim without running home to mama – should they rather than continuing on their self love power trips ….seek help! Does not saying mantras that tell you you are so special you can dominate and control others minds and lives set the alaqrm bells off! does not having such a psychotic need to control others or thik that you alone can save the world mean possibly your ego is a little out of control!

    So no don’t call me a bodhissatva OK – I have a hard enough time holding down a job, only work if I have to and don’t like responsibility – saving the world is not on my to-do list!

    I was referring to the – as close to as possible – original teachings of the Buddha that apparently, hopefully sets people free – from even from himself The Buddha – not to the Buddhism that imprisons, humilates, punishes, divides, destroys and makes Buddhas out of the most trite and banal people imaginable – as far as I am aware enlightenment is not possible by being bored to death by the mundane and banal!

    so don’t call me a bodissattva – OK!!

  210. Rick Carter said

    I certainly get your point Glenn, however we overtry to understand the translations and don’t stop to think that the great man Gotama did not deliberately “hide” his meanings in riddle like parables for us to spend our lifetimes arguing about what his true meaning really was. Everything went haywire when the translators added their own perceived myths and misunderstandings to it all and we can waste a lot of time continuously re-establishing this fact. My point really was that if you let the intelligensia (as Salle so aptly puts it) loose on what is really quite a simple message, trying to uncover possible hidden meanings and riddles, before you know it we are nowhere near the middle path or understanding the Dhamma as the great man really intended.

  211. Matthias said

    Oh, the original word again. It is like the undead from those cheap films. You can hit them on the head as much as you like, they keep on stumbling unintelligible mumblings.

    Btw: Salle, I find your postings very interesting. Like other true believers your aggression and hate is barely hidden. I normally try not to analyse people via their ramblings on the net. But I come more and more to the conclusion that true Buddhists are a worthy object for being subjected to study their emotional structure. It is not about the stupidity with which you project backward your buddhist ‘illuminations’ onto something nobody ever has seen. It is your not being able to hold the water, your obvious compulsion to rant at once about sex, men, nazis, intelligentia. Please keep posting. I want to make this a project. Thanks a lot. Yours truly and forever.

    Jonckher. You have been more funny recently than in #207. What’s going on? Are you preparing for the next retreat?

  212. Rick Carter said

    Ahhh….the great intelligensia Buddhist has spoken! He who thinks only the intelligentiles can understand or follow Buddhism. Salle’s aggression and hate barely hidden? Unintelligble mumblings? You sure are a wound up spring my friend, You should start living the dhamma, not trying to convince everyone you are one of the select intelligent few that rights to it. Make this a project……..I thought you already had.

  213. Greg said

    #210 = pithy, note-perfect parody.

  214. Jayarava said

    There is nothing simple about the message. It’s the followers who are simple.

  215. Rick Carter said

    I rest my case. Secular Buddhism taken over by the pseudo psychologist interlectuals……who would have guessed.

  216. #215
    It’s always so obvious when someone comments here before they get a real grip on what this blog is about. It will take a little work–you should spend some time here and read around a bit before you condemn it all. You may be suprised to find there’s a lot here… once you calm down and don’t take it all so dang personal.

  217. salle said

    Rick

    I don’t think you need to read the bog you seem to understand it quite well

  218. jonckher said

    #216

    As a partially realized being I have come to understand this:

    Look! Cherry blossoms!
    Mouth opens when buttons pressed;
    Most words have meaning.

    ps: re: jokes. i have found a nest of stoics to stir. they remain … stoic.

  219. jonckher said

    #220 Rick

    From observation:

    a) this implication is FALSE: non-buddhists -> secular buddhists

    b) this implication is TRUE: non-buddhism !-> x-buddhism (1)

    c) this implication is CLAIMED: secular buddhism -> x-buddhism

    d) this function remains unsolved and may be unsolvable: non-buddhistm = f(buddhism)

    e) the following remains UNDECIDED:
    x-buddhist -> buddhist, x-buddhism -> buddhism, x-buddhism -> NOT(buddhism), non-buddhism -> NOT(buddhism)

    (1) However, this implication is FALSE: non-buddhist -> NOT(buddhist) OR NOT(x-buddhist)

  220. jonckher said

    #219:

    PS: Apologies to any logicians out there on my notation. Feel free to correct and elaborate.

  221. jonckher said

    Hello! Hello!! Hello?

    Yes yes i know this is a dead thread seeing as i was the last to post anything of worth in this thread (arguably the entire thread if one considers humour essential).

    But, one of the Secular Buddhists has bravely attempted a definition of what Secular Buddhism is about and I think some of you fellas here will enjoy reading it.

    As Ali G would say: check it: http://secularbuddhism.org/2012/07/09/what-is-a-secular-buddhist-and-what-do-they-believe.

  222. jonckher (#221).

    Thanks for that link. What can I say about Dana Nourie‘s attempt/refusal to say something meaningful or substantive about Secular Buddhism or secular Buddhists? I am not surprised at its vacuity, that’s for sure. What she says is wholly predictable. Her (non-)definition bears the symptoms of the thing it is meant to explicate: vacuous, pathologically nice, shallow, slippery, disingenuous. Really, she could have borrowed your blog title for her post: “Everyone Wins a Prize! All you have to do is enter!”

    From Nourie’s statement we can conclude that Secular Buddhism is everything and its opposite. For “many” it is Y, but for many others it is not-Y. It is indefinable as a whole because it is whatever you want it to be. And that’s just fine. The instant you proclaim yourself a “Secular Buddhist” your opinions about what that entails get entered into the data bank. Everyone wins a prize. Everyone gets a gold star. Incredibly, Nourie does not even attempt to conceal that fact.* Indeed, “to define a secular Buddhist is not easy, and anything we come up with that may fit one person is not going to apply to many others.” That’s for goddamn sure, brothers and sisters. The word “vacuous” fits perfectly here. Or, if Nourie prefers, we can invoke a buddheme: eel-wrigglin’. Her definition reads like a document created by a committee of lawyers or politicians. It’s as if the point is to win the votes of the oh-so-suffering white suburban (country?) middle class. If Secular Buddhism were a politician, for what would s/he stand? For whatever you say, voter! Flip-floppin’ eel-wrigglin’ nichts-sagend Pablum for the capitalist consumer of make-your-own-spirituality–Build-A-Buddhism.

    As Nourie defines/doesn’t-define it, Secular Buddhism is perfectly consonant with the contemporary western political-economic status quo: see-no-evil, hear-no-evil, speak-no-evil. Just be mindful, peaceful, and nice and everything will turn out fine. Imagine if Nourie would cast her beloved science and technology in the same terms as she does her beloved spirituality. How would that look?

    The final symptom I’ll mention, is that displayed in the comments to Nourie’s post. Yea, Dana! You go, girl! Excellent! Kudos! Gold star for you, sister! And look at you, jonckher: “well, golly-gee, I’m a bit confused now.” You’re a fierce fucking interlocutor, jonckher, and this is all you’ve got? Well, I shouldn’t be surprised. For a major, pervasive Secular Buddhist symptom is pathological nicety. Hiding behind their maniacal niceness permits Secular Buddhists to maintain the fuzzy comfort of illusory belonging. What counts as debate or disagreement in that community is the equivalent of an awkward spat between Mr. and Mrs. Cleaver from the 1950s TV show “Leave it to Beaver.” Why is that, jonckher? Really: why? Are Secular Buddhists so thin-skinned (see Stephen Schettini) that you have to walk on eggshells around them? And why is that? Why does this monster Niceness stand guard at the Secular Buddhist refuge? I remember a while ago when Ted Meissner made some nasty remarks about some spammers or something. The Secular Buddhist Facebook community chastised him for his “nastiness,” etc. Duly chastised, he returned to the fold, repentant for his display of raw, honest emotion (read: lack of mindfulness). Nourie’s non-definition is a glaring display of this pervasive Secular Buddhist symptom. What’s that about, jonckher? Exercise your sharp intellect and give it some thought, would you? I look forward to your report back.

    *I’d like to give warning by using a phrase from the suttas I really like: don’t get caught in a thicket of views. As soon as you say, secular Buddhists believe such and such, you’ll come across a person who doesn’t believe that. If you define secular Buddhists in one particular way, you’ll come across someone else who defines it another way. Better to refer to yourself regarding these labels by saying something like: For me and my practice secular Buddhism is . . . Or saying: I call myself a secular Buddhist because. . . . Define yourself if you wish, but be careful about defining others. And be mindful of what that definition means to you and how tightly you wear the label.

    The secular Buddhists (with all other Buddhist types) have countless differences among us.

    Of course, one of the many ironies of Nourie’s post is that it is a living, breathing example of “a thicket of views.” It is so run through with assumptions, unstated values, veiled beliefs, and so forth that it would take many hours of concentrated effort to sort it all it–to disentangle it.

  223. jonckher said

    #222 Glenn

    I thought you knew that I only reserve my jokes for the special people!

    Also I confess that I have a soft heart. Reading Dana’s attempts to be as inclusive as possible made me cry a little bit. So sweet, so well meaning! I am not ashamed to admit that I am easily overwhelmed. I blame it on years of compassion practice.

    Which is why I posted the link here. There are much harder bastards hanging out in these dark alleys who’d relish putting the boot in.

    Don’t hold back!

    With metta, as usual.

  224. stoky said

    Glenn,

    Of course, one of the many ironies of Nourie’s post is that it is a living, breathing example of “a thicket of views.” It is so run through with assumptions, unstated values, veiled beliefs, and so forth that it would take many hours of concentrated effort to sort it all it–to disentangle it.

    Now, that’s one good good joke!

    Even when I raised questions about some of the points, they refused to answer.

    I like to coin a word for this kind of conversation: MFTL mindfull but thoughteless.

  225. jonckher (#223). I can appreciate your softness of heart. But I don’t understand the double-standard that you are applying. Is it a case of the personal trumping the professional. You know, like when Wittgenstein would talk nonsense with the inmates at the mental hospital, and defend it to his friends by saying “you don’t play ping-pong with a tennis racket”? Is that it? Here, that is unfortunate. The Secular Buddhists benefit greatly from this double standard of thinking. They play the game of thought–you can see that from their blog posts. But as soon as someone plays it better than them, they apply the double standard. Sample: It’s from a recent comment by Mark Knickelbine. It comes after much (quasi, secularbuddhisty), philosophizing, during which Stoky raises some serious, intelligent issues. Knickelbine: “This is not a philosophical debating society, nor an opportunity for people to beat on each other with their intellectual bona fides.” That is the typical, knee-jerk response from the sort-of-sort-of-not-secular-buddhists. So, why do you let them get away with it, jonckher? That’s a real question. The answer should be revealing–to you, at least.

    Stoky (#224). Mindful but Thoughtless. That says it all. May that meme spread throughout the universe. Where can I get the bumber sticker? (In Amerikkka, where I live, if it’s not on a tee-shirt or bumper sticker, it’s not real thought.) Seriously, maybe you are in a position now to start producing critiques of the rhetoric you encounter in dialogue with the secular buddhists. That would be a real contribution. One of my starting premises for non-buddhism holds that x-buddhists are wholly incapable of a rigorous self-critique. This lack of ability, though, has nothing to do with intelligence or sophistication of thought. I have no real basis for that assumption; I just arbitrarily decided to begin there. So, you could say that it is a generous assumption. (And it is, of course, sometimes retracted by glaring evidence of lack of intellectual sophistication.) So, the questions is, why do–in this case, Secular–Buddhists exhibit such an incompetence of thinking? I have my own answers (having to do with affective decision); but maybe you’d like to do your own rhetorical analysis. I’d like to see that kind of work from you.

  226. Hi Stoky (#224). I saw your last reply on the Secular Buddhist site. I will not reply over there for the exact reasons I see happening to you. Here’s how I see it. The people who run the Secular Buddhist Association–Ted Meissner, Mark Knicklebine, Dana Nourie, Stephen Schettini, Martine Batchelor, Stephen Batchelor, Ken McLeod, and Jan Ford–are in the business of creating “good” x-buddhist subjects. A good subject is the model for a person who accepts the basic call of Secular Buddhism. Secular Buddhism hails the visitor with the tried and true tricks of ideological covertness: the naturalness and self-evidence of its views. (Cf. the x-buddhist Dharma as explicating things as they are). The good subject may question things from time to time, but he does not contest the secular-buddhist symbolic system (its words, expressions, theses, beliefs, propositions, prescriptions, axioms, mythos, narratives, etc.). The subject that, for instance, Dana Nourie’s current text attempts to produce, is one who is prepared to be convinced, to some degree, of the naturalness and inevitability of the secular-buddhist doctrines. Her text presupposes her unquestioned belief in the effectivity of (hegemonic) secular buddhist ideology; and it–again, unconsciously, I think–celebrates the “winning out” of the reproduction of secular buddhism over, say, your, actual transformation or illumination.

    The secular-buddhist community does not give space to the “bad” or “counter” subject–the trouble-maker who asks for non-ideological accounts of the community’s claims. The “trouble-making” subject does not recognize as “natural” or “obvious” or “self-evident” the meanings offered by the secular-buddhist propaganda and, necessarily, lived by the good secular-buddhist subjects. For this reason, he (you) refuses to adopt the identity of the good subject. Why does the Secular Buddhist Association exclude counter-subjects? For, it is not a given that an institution does so.

    My engagement with Schettini’s post recently left me with the opinion that they do so because they are convinced that they are ideology-free. (I am unsure what drives that conviction–ignorance, stupidity, and fear are top of my list of possibilities right now.) Another way of saying that is: they are convinced by their own claims of naturalness. They are blind to the fact that they are merely agents in the reproduction of a quite specific ideology. It is the task of a critique like we are trying to outline at this blog to delineate the features of that ideology. For, as you know as well as anyone, they will not do it themselves. Here is a decent definition that I cam across recently. Maybe you’ll join the ranks of this call. Counter subjects–no, bad subjects–make the best critics.

    Critical Theory is a form of self-reflective knowledge involving both understanding and theoretical explanation to reduce entrapment in systems of domination or dependence, obeying the emancipatory interest in expanding the scope of autonomy and reducing the scope of domination.

    By the way, claiming that there is no power source for their ideology–no ultimately responsible community or group of leaders–like EVERYONE-is- welcome-to-this-site-Dana-Nourie and There-is-nothing-to-join-Jan-Ford do on this current thread, is another typical ploy of coercive ideologues.

  227. jonckher said

    #225 Glenn

    I am persisting yes I am and without swear words too! Although I am enjoying stoky’s comments especially the final F bomb. Kudos!

    As to why am I being nicey nice?

    It is because I am being sneaky! (1) If I speak Dana’s language she may actually listen and make a tiny change in her position (2).

    Also stoky is saying everything that tough non-buddhists should be saying (or even just any old person with two thoughts to rub together).

    Way I see it Stoky is a manly bludgeon and I’m just a tiny harmless feather.

    Tickle tickle.

    (1) Nobody tell them ok?
    (2) So far not working.

  228. Power to ya, jonckher (#227). I actually believe you know just what you’re doing. I like it when people show a wide range of emotional life. That, to me, is a rich motherfuckin’ human. Like Louis C.K.–a real mensch.

  229. stoky said

    Jonckher,

    it’s a common tactic called “Good cop/bad cop”. But I really don’t like being the bad cop.

    The funny thing is that I still do believe in compassion. I do have faith and it gets stronger everyday! That’s one of the reasons I only ask questions. I could never criticise them for having made “decisions”.

    For some of them I even hope that they become aware of their own faith at some point and become even more faithful.

    Also in some way I find talking behind their backs childish. But then I like being childish and it’s public and therefore not really behind their backs, so I guess it’s ok.

    Anyhow, I’m out there. I just can’t take it anymore. And I guess they feel the same way.

  230. ray said

    Stoky can you explain what you mean by ‘faith’ and ‘faithful’?

  231. stoky said

    I criticised some of the people at the SBA for considering some things to be true without any evidence, that’s what I call faith. I share some of their believes, but it really pisses me off how they are not aware of the fact that these things are believes that they have and others might not.

    If you want to live a life full of compassion, please do so. But don’t request me to follow your path.

  232. Tom Pepper said

    I read Nourie’s essay, and the comments on it. It seems to me to be a exceptionally clear example of the postmodern ideology–it could almost have been written by Rorty. The one belief of the secular Buddhist is that all beliefs are equally relevant and equally true, and there is no point arguing over them–in fact, it is not even acceptable to argue for one’s belief, since that is evidence that one does not accept this one tenet, that anything anyone ever believes is equally valid. Everything is relative, except for “science”, understood in a naive, positivist fashion: naive positivist conceptions of science are true, and cannot be questioned. We are left with what Andrew Collier has called Rorty’s “out-of-gear freedom,” the freedom only to spin our wheels. As Rorty says (in “Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature,” I believe), the only thing we can change in the world is our minds, and once we accept this eternal impotence, we are free. We must leave everything exactly as it is, and redefine it in a way that makes us happy. So, everyone is free to reconstrue the world in whatever way makes them happiest, and there’s no point in arguing about it. Nothing seems to anger Secular Buddhists so much as suggesting we might want to change the social system–all we should change is our minds!

    The faith of secular Buddhists, in this essay, seems to be an uncritical faith in the prophet Rorty, the high priest of postmodernism.

  233. Greg said

    As I understand it, Rorty did not make any exceptions for science. In fact, he was criticized for that reason by Dennett.

  234. Geoff said

    Glenn & All,

    Enjoying the discussion as usual.

    It will be interesting to see if Ted now invites you back on his podcast, as he previously said he would.

    That should show his true bona fides.

    Cheers

    Geoff

  235. Geoff (#234). One hint that a community is blindly ideological as opposed to self-consciously ideological is that it has an us/them, friend/foe, insider/outsider mentality. The Secular Buddhist Association is such a community. Ted Meissner links to you as long as you are perceived as a meeting the requirements of “our friend.” That does not mean that all “friends” think and speak in lockstep. Some latitude is permitted. For example, Linda Blanchard has the fundamentalist’s faith in the inherent goodness and recoverability of both the great man and his sacred scriptures; while Ted Meissner claims to have little interest in such a project. But since both of them share deep faith in The Dharma, they are kin. They are, after all, really just traditional Buddhists in non-traditional garb; and this business of “Dharma family” seems to be part and parcel of x-buddhism–it certainly goes back to the earliest days of Buddhism in India. It’s just one more way of creating a particular branch of the x-buddhist tribe. Everyone engages in this sort of thing, from Brad Warner to the Buddhist Geeks to Thannisaro Bhikkhu.

    As a way of contrast, my original interest in starting this blog was to introduce analytical tools into the contemporary x-buddhist discourse. I mean, of course, tools for better viewing things like the workings of x-buddhist rhetoric, hidden assumptions, unstated values, coercive strategies, and so on. Must a community that espouses x-buddhist values and practices (among others) develop along such tribal lines? Is there, after all, something rotten at the core of x-buddhism? Can x-buddhist communities do no better than the parochial little groups that we see today? Or could communities like the Secular Buddhist Association be making different choices–choices that point to real innovation and advancement over the tired old x-buddhist status quo? I mean, look, people like Brad Warner and Noah Levine count as radicals in x-buddhism. Buddhist Geeks counts as something new and refreshing. Lodro Rinzler is put out there as the hip new face of Amerikkkan x-buddhism? Jesusfuckinchrist. What does that say about the prospects of real change from within?

    Those foolish old Buddhists in India conjured up a terrible, powerful omen when they made the wheel their symbol.

  236. Danny said

    Glenn, #235.

    Regarding that “deep faith in the Dharma”, Mark Knickerbine says that “if you fully embrace the 1st truth, the reality of the other three would unfold on their own”. Really?

    And (my personal fav) “all Dharma practice is secular because our seculum is the only place we can practice”.

    Sounds a lot like a fundamentalists faith to me.

  237. stoky said

    I think we got them thinking, now what? ;)

    (I will write a response, but maybe not finishing it today. So if anyone likes to contribute something explicitly constructive, feel free to join the conversation.)

  238. Craig said

    #235

    This post got me interested in the Secular Buddhist podcast. I listened to the episodes with Glenn. They are from a few years ago, so before the Non-Buddhist project. I could hear the seeds of this project there. I’m wondering what folks think about Toni Packer and Joko Beck in relation to the Non-Buddhist theory? Joko Beck still referred to Zen, Zazen, Retreats, where as Packer dropped it all to a practice of Aware-ing. It seems that Packer and Joko still have faith in the practice of zazen as the ultimate core of the dharma, but drop ritual, garb, etc. I need to think about this, or not. As I’ve been caught in the ‘must practice’ mindset over the last few years, i’ve struggled. That being said, I’ve had a hard time with any institutional sect and its dogmatism. Ironically, the most fundamentalist are the Zenists, especially ones who strip it all away. However, I’m intrigued by Glenn’s ‘meditation’ group and the focus on sitting still and openness to art, poetry as practice. Now, this doesn’t look like zazen, but is it? To make this more personal, I want to have some form of daily practice so I might just have to crawl back to x-buddhism ;-) I know the goal is to make something unrecognizable to x-buddhism, but aren’t we here reinventing the wheel every religion from day one has been an attempt, through symbolism, to deal with the human condition (suffering, fear of death..for starters). These have been misguided attempts for sure, but still there is something that religion addresses that psychology, art, science, etc. does not. I’m not sure. I just keep thinking of this scenario of losing a child and how a ‘real’ practice could ‘help’ one sit(?) with the tragedy. Glenn did say in the podcasts that this has to be about real life.
    Just some thoughts, definitely not facts or imperatives :) Blast away! Or Not :)

  239. Tom Pepper said

    RE#238: For me, the goal is to stop trying to “deal with the human condition” through “symbolism.” I was recently re-reading de Man’s essays on Hegel’s aesthetics, an what I have in mind is Hegel’s assertion that the “symbol” is a way to stop thought, to leave something ineffable, to guarantee our faith in the existing understanding of the world–the beautiful in art, de Man suggests, is a way to cling desperately to the illusion of the self in the face of the evidence of its radical contingency. Religion clearly does do this, and x-buddhism is at its worst when it tries to do the same thing.

    It may be evident that it is my position that art, psychology, etc, does, in fact, address exactly the same “something” that religion has, and all too often in exactly the same way. (At least, this is what I have been trying to argue in many of my essays and posts here). Science, I would hope, does NOT do this–or, it shouldn’t, but perhaps it often is used in this way (but this maes for very bad science–like the misuses of neuroscience in the “science and meditation” nonsense).

    I am very interested by the ubiquity of the “death of a child” scenario. I hear it at least once a week–really, either on internet boards or, more often, in person. “How would meditation help someone deal with the loss of a child.” This, in our culture, is the ultimate, intolerable tragedy, from which nobody could ever recover, and which absolutely requires the existence of an afterlife to make it bearable. Of course, the short answer is that if one has never meditated, this is not the time to start. The longer answer would involve considering why this is so unthinkable in our culture. I teach British Romantic literature; Wordsworth lost two of his children to illness when they were quite young–and yet, he hardly seems to have been bothered by it at all; he wasn’t nearly as distraught as he was over the loss of his brother, whose ship sank. My students, those who pays enough attention to notice this, see it as evidence that he was a hard-hearted and horrible person. They cannot imagine that there was a time when the loss of a child was common. So common, that almost no family had not experienced it–and, in fact, childbirth was quite often fatal for women, so it was quite common to be raised without a mother as well. This used to be a normal part of the human condition.

    My interest is in using Buddhist thought and practice to examine and consciously choose our ideology–not to use the aesthetic (in the form of art or of Buddhist practice) to close off the possibility of such examination (as Hegel, and de Man, saw that it could). One ideology we might need to consider is the enormous emotional investment we have in the ideal of childhood and the need for our children to escape the pains and vicissitudes of life. I just finished a graduate summer class in psychology, a major part of which was how to deal with “grief and bereavement.” The message was quite clear and often repeated: when you have lost someone close to you, you can never recover, and are “broken” forever–the best you can do is to go on with the pain. There is, I think, and underlying assumption of a transcendent soul, with permanent and unalterable attachments to other specific transcendent souls, that is the foundation for this kind of psychology. We were very strongly informed NOT to encourage people to move on to new activities and relationships, even years later; those who do, we are told, are not “feeling” their grief–and the endless feeling of the soul’s loss is essential to being “normal.” There is just no capacity to understand the “self” as construct, as nothing more than the combination of your cathexes, in Freudian terms, as a position in the symbolic/imaginary construct, in Lacanian terms.

    In short, I would want a non-buddhism to STOP doing what religion, art, psychology, etc. has always done. Don’t prevent the consideration of our ideological formations, but encourage it. The moment when someone has just suffered the death of their child is NOT, probably, the time to start doing this–they are too thoroughly interpellated into their ideology to even begin this kind of thought. But it shouldn’t be taboo in our ordinary practice. Why can we NOT give a dharma talk on WHY the death of a child is such a big deal, and why it shouldn’t be?

  240. Craig said

    #239:

    Tom-
    Thanks so much for your response. I want to take some time and reply more fully, but just wanted to say that your insight has really validated a few things for me. As far as x-buddhism goes, I was looking to practice to ultimately be able to be present always and completely non-reactive in the world. I finally saw that this was as much of a pipe-dream as meeting God in heaven. I have to say that the most insightful folks in my life have been the ones who are able to aware-ingly live in an ideology and remind me that things are as they are…kids die. As a psychologist, the fact that I somehow could help or let people feel their feelings never made sense to me. It makes even less sense to me as one who feels.

    Anyway, I think I’m confusing myself. More later. Thanks again.

  241. stoky said

    Alright. After asking some critical questions (I’m not good at this, so I prefer to use the shotgun-principle: attack randomly and hope you hit something) my conclusion is this:

    They simply don’t know (yet) what they’re trying to do.

    On the one hand they emphasize “the practice” (meditation/mindfulness) which then leads to quasi-definitions like this:

    Let’s [...] enjoy the benefits of this practice.

    (if you don’t enjoy the practice you’re not part of the group?) and more interestingly:

    This is not a philosophical debating society, nor an opportunity for people to beat on each other with their intellectual bona fides.

    So, although they don’t want to exclude anyone they, by acciddent, do it quite often.

    Then, of course, they want to be critical! (they even created a philosophy-forum after I complained about the philosophy-remark).

    It’s just that the practice works so well on a private level that there’s not much need for critical reflection. This leads to my favourite and final quote:

    but there is a point at which one has seen enough in one’s own life to be confident that what we’ve seen and understood is, for the most part, accurate (say, about how the Buddha’s teaching works and why) and working (as it plays out in our lives).

    The “private”-flag is also the best defense at all. From my impression they still struggle how to combine their private opinions and the wider range of opinions of others who claim to be secular Buddhists. How that will turn out to be resolved I don’t know, but I’m not sure whether I’m that interested in it anyways.

    So long (without metta, this time)
    Stoky

  242. Geoff said

    Glenn,

    Thanks for your response # 235. I certainly find your analytical tools into x-buddhist discourse refreshing and insightful (if I can use that x-buddhist term).
    I’m particularly interested in what you say about Ted’s deep faith in The Dharma and his response to the contrary re # 189 (sorry I might have missed your reply to Ted). To quote him:

    “For me as someone active in the atheist community, struggling against the presumption of Christian privilege in the U.S., it is correct in its meaning of not being religious. And sure, we can be considered Buddhists by some, and not by others. But it’s not an article of faith, at least for me.
    Now you say I don’t see it, and I’m perfectly willing to be convinced by that, of course I have blind spots and am aware that I operate in a particular context and do have my own blinders on. Let me know how I’m being full of faith. Maybe we’re tripping up on terms again?”

    Do you see any significant difference between eg Batchelor and Ted in their faith? Not that I have been following Ted much recently but in those interviews with you on his podcast a while back I found him pretty open minded and flexible, so I figure if you can detect his deep faith in The Dharma, you have ‘secular’ buddhism pretty much sorted.

    Cheers

    Geoff

  243. jonckher said

    #241 Stoky

    “From my impression they still struggle how to combine their private opinions and the wider range of opinions of others who claim to be secular Buddhists. How that will turn out to be resolved I don’t know, but I’m not sure whether I’m that interested in it anyways.”

    On the other hand, I am extremely interested.

    I was very impressed that the Secular Buddhist Association has established an Advisory Council*, a Board of Directors and Named Senior Contributors! Unfortunately, I couldn’t see any special hats and robes which IMO would add greatly to the whole thing. (but then I’m that sort of guy).

    However minor quibbles aside, I really liked that it is all so officially official! It comforts me to know that all those definitions and guidelines about what Secular Buddhism is and who Secular Buddhists are have been given the stamp of approval from On High*.

    Not like you blokes here who as far as I can tell just make shit up without so much as a by your leave. Plus the people you hang out with!

    I demand to know who let Doctor Pepper, a well known Marxist and Shin Buddhist into the inner cloister! And on what basis? Good looks are out I am sure because he has no photo.

    Glenn, where is your Advisory Council? I suggest you set one up pronto or everyone will laugh at you. I even have a name: The Gang of Four consisting of Glenn, Pepper, Matthias and the mysterious Madam X***.

    Until then, I remain yours truly rully disappointed.

    * the Advisory Council that is. They may even be Fully Realised Beings**!

    ** those Council Members that are Secular in the non-organised religious sense that is – the ones who are Secular in the no-mumbo-jumbo sense are just really really smart and clearly experts.

    *** i look pretty good in a dress and veil just so you know.

  244. Tom Pepper said

    RE 233: Greg, Dennet is right that Rorty undermines any possibility of useful realism, but he clearly DOES accept that the scientific truth of various discoveries remains unquestionable. Rorty accepts a naive positivist account of science, and then simply insists that science is of limited use, and has not impact at all on the rest of our discursive construction of meaning. It is hard to critique Rorty on this point, since Dennet can easily point to a Rorty who absolutely denies that science differs from other discourses, and others can point to a Rorty who makes exactly this distinction–sometimes, he even holds both positions at different points in the same work. Bhaskar makes a very good attempt to sort the issues out in his book “Philosophy and the Idea of Freedom,” in the chapter “A Tale of Two Rortys.”

  245. Greg said

    Interesting, I will have a look at that, thanks for the reference.

  246. Tom Pepper said

    I just want to share the proud news: I have been banned from the Secular Buddhist Association website. (I have been threatened with having my commenting privileges revoked at Tricycle, but they never actually did it.) In response to a post on the SBA site called “Staying in the Body and Out of the Mind,” I posted some challenging questions. Immediately after I posted this one:

    My other question is, if what we really want is not Buddhism but American-psychology-style stress reduction and therapy, why the interest in calling it Buddhism? Does the word just add some glamor, some smoke and mirrors, that make people more likely to believe in and try these very ordinary stress-reduction techniques?

    I got this response from Ted Meissner:

    Tom is a constant critic, providing nothing positive in his posts. Tom’s account has been closed because of it, and he is welcome to be a curmudgeon somewhere else.

    It is interesting to me that I have rarely commented on their site before, and then only when I was mentioned (critically) by someone else. So, where might Ted get the idea that I am a “constant” critic? Thanks for reading, Ted!

  247. Tom (#246). Congratulations! But, I have to ask. Don’t you understand: “there is a time and place for thinking and there is a time and place for being with the body.” Discussion with the Secular-Buddhists is a time for the latter. Can’t you get that straight? You’re supposed to feel the others’ words, not think about them. Don’t you have any compassion?

    The Secular Buddhist Association is a mutual admiration society. The texts and comments produced there suggest to me that it is a group comprised of fragile practitioners. Their brand of Buddhism is also fragile. The claims they make for it cannot stand up to too much scrutiny. Most of the people producing their texts are new to Buddhism, or at least appear to be. In terms of the Buddhist material, the site is dilettantish. It is not a place for the kind of robust consideration of arguments that you are bringing to them. Their vehicle cannot withstand that kind of resistance. It would come apart. The result is that they insist on keeping things simple and safe. This choice means that they attract simple and safe followers (contributors and commentators), who, in turn, require (demand, in their passive-aggressive manner) that admin keeps it simple and safe, and just tottering along with the pack (Buddhist Geeks, the Batchelors, mindfulness, faux-science-celebration, poop-psychology, etc., etc., etc.)

    I think that their approach would be acceptable if they presented themselves as they actually are–as, that is, a kind of beginner’s forum for Buddhism. But they don’t do that. They present themselves as some kind of radical, innovative, well-considered, timely, and particularly apt advance on traditional Buddhism. For reasons that are, I would wager a bet, more personally and psychologically motivated than ethical or principled, they choose to present their views in decidedly reactionary ways. Their project is at heart conservative, both buddhistically and socially speaking.

    Look at the latest version of Ted Meissner’s “Love It or Leave It to Beaver” statement: “Your tone from start to finish is not acceptable to continue to have dialogue on this site — go start your own, since you clearly don’t like what we’re doing here.” Again, we hear that it’s not your thinking that is the problem, it’s your tone. It is very telling that Meissner says “Tom is a constant critic, providing nothing positive in his posts.” He is constantly equating criticism with negativity. He fails to grasp that his entire project is an inherently critical one. His failure in this regard is partly responsible for the Dale-Carnegie mentality at the site. When you make the kinds of comments that you do, you are challenging him to unmask himself as critic. He writes texts that say: I don’t want to be a critic; I want to be pure niceness and understanding and acceptance. Behind that protective mask, I would wager yet again, is, as is so often the case, just the opposite.

    Look, too, at Dana Nourie’s response to what you wrote in this comment. I will add that anyone with a genuine concern for the issues at hand would consider your comment valuable. Nourie’s response:

    “Tom, good grief surely you can’t expect us to put all of Buddhism I one article. This is a a bit of practice I hope can help people. I am not tring to put the entire practice in one article.”

    As I am sure you know, Noam Chomsky had the Secular Buddhist Association in mind when he said:

    The system protects itself with indignation against a challenge to deceit in the service of power, and the very idea of subjecting the ideological system to rational inquiry elicits incomprehension or outrage, though it is often masked in other terms.

  248. Tom Pepper said

    Yes, I am just dense. I keep thinking people want to get things right, think clearly, and figure out the truth.

    I’m having a good day, though–I was also asked to stop commenting on the Tricycle retreat on Buddhism and addiction. That one actually bothers me a little. While the folks at SBA are always just talking about how Buddhism can help us cope with doing the dishes or finding a parking space or some such crap, addiction is a really dangerous issue, and insisting that there be no dissent in a discussion about recovery might actually be harmful. But, it’s all in the name of the self-aggrandizement of self-proclaimed Buddhist teachers, so I guess it’s for the best.

  249. Geoff said

    Tom,

    Well done.

    I’ve had comments ‘disallowed’ on Sujato’s site for apparently making the good monk feel uncomfortable – but I was hardly surprised.

    (Funny how they are so sensitive – what’s all that ‘letting go’ practice been for?)

    But you have gone one better than me.

    Congrats

    Geoff

  250. jonckher said

    #246 Tom I will never ban you from my site no matter how rude you are.

    #247 Glenn I’ve noted you’ve started questioning their authority. This is very bad behaviour especially seeing as you have not established your own advisory council yet. I can only commend Ted on his restraint for not pointing this rather obvious fact out to you.

    Anyway, I’m not entirely sure as to what else I was going to write as I got distracted by my body.

  251. stoky said

    The only thing that really bothers me is the huge difference between what they claim to do and what they actually do.

    I don’t mind people creating a peaceful, calm, “mutual-admiration” environment. My meditation group is like this and I think its helpful for most of the people there. Maybe that’s what they need: Simply some time off.

    But for Secular Buddhists? I know I react weird to criticism some times. I even run away from time to time (especially when I have more important things to do at this time). But when I started getting interested in Buddhism I actively looked for criticism to avoid developing too many blind spots.

    Sometimes it wasn’t even the criticism that made me think, but my own reaction to it. Criticism tends to create a kind of cognitive dissonance, which certainly is a sign that you need to figure out certain things. I wonder how long it takes the guys at the SBA to see their own cognitive dissonance…

  252. [This comment is from Darlene]

    I [want] to acknowledge my status as a newbie/know f..k all in the world of ‘Buddhism’ (I’m such a newbie I’m about to begin an undergraduate subject in Buddhism, with the first essay being about the Four Noble Truths). You know, having a place where neophytes can go isn’t a bad thing, and it’s probably somewhat important in terms of disseminating a message or theory.

    I would like to contest the idea that there’s a “they” and not a diverse group of people tooling around in SBA circles. Since my other degree was in politics, I love a bit of cut and thrust and would love to read more about ‘Buddhism’ and its social/political implications. For example, there are times when I wonder if my avowedly atheist/stay away from anything religious mum who delivers Meals on Wheels a couple of times a week and thus chats lots to socially isolated people is practicing more in the way of the loving and the kindness than a bunch of people sitting in a centre doing Metta Bhavana meditation. I picked up a copy of The Melbourne Anglican the other day and there was mentions of same-sex marriage, care of the elderly and whether that care is compromised in a post-belief world that (allegedly) doesn’t sanctify human life, the recent shooting in the cinema in America, women in the church, practical initiatives for helping people etc. Perhaps I’m looking in all the wrong places, but some ‘Buddhists’ seem rather depoliticised and disengaged from such matters. The most overtly political thing I’ve seen is a NKT leaflet which claimed that they weren’t being political in reference to that controversy over that god protector whatever but the other side was. LOL!

    I would also suggest that rather than being conservative in nature, secular Buddhism has a liberal/social democratic bent politically. Thus, not radical, but not conservative either. This is, of course, all just my opinion.

  253. jonckher said

    #252 Glenn

    I’ve been looking through your observations on the SB site and it strikes me as jolly unfair for a seasoned traveller like yourself to be taking these noobs to task for being all enthusiastic about how Buddhism has saved them and wanting to share the good news.

    Don’t you remember being young and an X-buddhist yourself? Is it that terrible to let them get to wherever they’re going to end up getting to in their own time?

    You’re making them cry!

    Really I think you should feel bad.

  254. Tom Pepper said

    You raise an interesting question, Jonckher. Is being wrong a necessary step in getting things right? Do some extent, it is, I think. When we try to learn something completely outside our present way of thinking, we do need to get it a bit wrong at first, to oversimplify and find a handle, and then gradually complicate our conceptions.

    The problem comes if you want to stop at that initial, simplistic (and somewhat incorrect) version, decide you have the answers, and begin teaching others. The issue isn’t that the SBA folks are presenting a simplified version of Buddhism for beginners to get a handle on the matter, it is that they, themselves, are determined not to get a more precise and complex understanding. As a result, they are simply presenting some new-age pop-psychology nonsense and pasting the label “Buddhism” on it.

    All I did was ask them to consider why they emphasize not thinking (which is thoroughly not Buddhist) and stress reduction (which Buddhist meditation was not really meant to do), and call it Buddhism. And they booted me out. So much for the “diverse” group. It reminds me of the American multiculturalism fad–you can be as culturally diverse as you want, as long as you are “deep down” exactly the same as us. And don’t ask hard questions.

    I’ve also been giving some thought to why I am so often accused of making “personal” attacks when I ask such questions. I didn’t say “Dana is a big fat jerk” or anything, I disagreed with her ideas, and this was seen as a mean-spirited personal attack, but when I am called rude, and Ted says that I am a critic and a curmudgeon who never offers any useful ideas, this is taken to be, somehow, a reasoned response to my arguments. I get the same response on Tricycle, and sometimes on this site. I disagree with someone’s claim, and this is taken as a mean personal attack. The more reasoned, calm “response” is to call me an ass, a jerk, or say I am not “human” or even (on one occasion on Tricycle) that I am emotionally abusive and should have my kids taken away from me.

    Perhaps the folks at SBA need to consider why a disagreement with their position or pointing out an error in their argument feels so much like a personal attack? Perhaps they are a bit too caught in the Platonic idea of all their ideas coming from their eternal souls–so any failure in their ideas is a personal failure? I do mean this quite seriously–my students tend to have the idea that their writing ability is somehow inborn, as well as their ability to do math, and all of their moral and political opinions. They believe they cannot be “taught” to write or do math, either they can just do it or they cannot, so when I tell them they are being unclear this is often taken as a deep, personal insult. They are also convinced that any attempt to persuade them out of a moral or political opinion is a personal attack, that their opinions are inviolate and attempting to change them is a violation of their true selves. I wonder how many Buddhists are harboring this unconscious assumption that their arguments and ideas are in their “soul” (or heart, or gut, or “deep self,” whatever they call it), and so disagreeing with them is taken as being personally hostile. Maybe, then, they are just being kind by refusing to refute my arguments and just calling me names!

    By the way, Glenn, I read some of your comments at SBA. Wow, you have some clout. I got kicked off for much less!

  255. “All I did was ask them to consider why they emphasize not thinking (which is thoroughly not Buddhist) and stress reduction (which Buddhist meditation was not really meant to do), and call it Buddhism. And they booted me out. ”

    As far as I can tell, you didn’t get booted for making substantive comments, Tom, you got booted for being unable to maintain friendly dialog. A comment like, “What are you, twelve?”* that sounds to me like it was, itself, an insult generated by a 12-year-old, isn’t conducive to conversation for a large segment of the population, though I recognize that for some, spitting and swearing and calling each other idiots (or whatever) is a huge and necessary part of communication; it seems to be considered an art form in some circles. My personal philosophy is to mostly ignore the childish repartee and carry on addressing the worthwhile bits — I’d have liked for you to have been allowed to stay so that I could talk to you about the topics you were addressing (I thought you had many good points) — but I understand the preference for fostering more civilized dialog since we’re trying to draw people with positive discussions, rather than increase readership with the usual “news cycle boosting” drama for those who love to hear name-calling and who keep glued to their sets looking for hints of upcoming bloodletting. A line, eventually, has to be drawn somewhere if we are to maintain the sort of discourse we think is most helpful to the majority of our readers. Yes, this is fostering a “status quo” and I have heard the complaints from SNBs that -“our attempts to enforce ‘right speech’ are a Bad Thing”- but that is a difference between us: SBA is supportive of generally-agreed-upon good conduct, both that endorsed by the Buddha, and that endorsed by society as a whole (as one possible guideline, speaking to people online just as we would were we carrying on a conversation with them while waiting in line for a movie, for example) — apparently y’all are not into that.

    Which is (as I have said from the very beginning of this thread here on the SNB site) just fine if you want to act out, and are aware that the aggressive, confrontational style will tend to drive away those you might be hoping to get through to — it’s your choice on your site. But even with my normal attitude of ignoring the crap people toss at me (since it’s their crap they are throwing, it reflects on them not me) and simply answering the worthwhile bits, I am not going to go seeking conversation in an environment where I have to sort through so much crap to get to the substance, not when I can do much more with less wasted effort elsewhere. So if this is a preferred style for you, Tom, and SNB is happy with your style, it’s great that you’ve found a home. The standards are different in the SBA home, though, and if you can’t recognize that, or respect it, or control yourself enough to, in Rome, do as the Romans do, it doesn’t seem to me you should be surprised that you got booted — and it is certainly disingenuous to credit the boot to your ideas, not your behavior.

    The larger issue (moving away from Tom and heading toward Glenn, here) is the recognition that the SBA site has a philosophy that Buddhist teachings are worthwhile and do have insights worth sharing — it is a positive statement and an effort to focus on locating what is most useful to a secular audience; whereas team SNB (especially through Glenn) tends to be suggesting that those who hold the above view are stupid or blind or immature, and are wasting everyone’s time (or worse), because the best idea is to, instead, totally deconstruct Buddhism and then kick through the dust and ashes and see if there’s anything, anything at all, worth saving (but the attitude seems to be “but probably there won’t be”). Okay, that parenthetical thought is hyperbole, but my point is that while I tend to see the underlying direction of both SBA and SNB as compatible, to Glenn’s point of view, I am apparently mistaken in that belief. Glenn clearly stated that the two are not compatible (“completely at odds” on how to go about democratizing what we’re sharing).

    Glenn didn’t get booted for “much less”, he got booted for much more, because this is part of a long-continuing pattern that didn’t just get started in the one thread, and it is quite clear that his approach is antagonistic to ours, and when I pointed this out to him, and invited him to recognize that our conversation was not productive, so we should just agree to disagree, he apparently didn’t agree to disagree — and kept on.

    It’s not that we are blind to what you are saying, and it’s not that we feel there is no value in what you are saying, even when your aim is deconstructive while ours is constructive; for me, at least, it is that Glenn keeps repeating his mantras about what he sees as our failures, and he can’t hear us pointing out that he is mistaken because he’s singing so loudly that he might as well have his fingers in his ears (and his eyes closed too). We would love to have a conversation, but what we end up with is a shouting match in our efforts to be heard above the noise. (Now if he would only follow the third monkey, we’d be okay.) Until he can recognize where his premises are wrong, there really can’t be any productive conversation. If he is certain that his premises are right, and we are, actually (for example) endorsing a “transcendent” Buddhism — and, having examined it, we disagree that this is what we are doing — then no amount of suggesting that our approach represents simplistic and immature attitudes is going to make it so that we have a basis for constructive conversation.

    * “I’ve also been giving some thought to why I am so often accused of making ‘personal’ attacks when I ask such questions.”

    Could it be that you are blind to the fact that you *are* making personal attacks? That the response is to the attack, not to the question? You may be seeing what you want to see, and missing the obvious. You want to think the response is to how keen is the thrust of your argument, when it is to how blunt is the thrust of your slights.

    You, here: “I didn’t say ‘Dana is a big fat jerk’ or anything…”

    You didn’t?

    You, there: “If you haven’t got sufficient mental resources to have something worthwhile to contemplate while you push a lawn mower in circles of an hour and a half…”

    You may just be tone-deaf to your own style, Tom.

    I understand that you feel that the recipient of your arguments should be able to separate the substance from your style. And you should know, from my comments above about being unconcerned, myself, about name-calling, that I agree with you. But speaking as someone who, herself, often goes right over the top past what’s considered polite and civil discourse (I tend to state whatever I am confident of as if I am confident of it, rather than softening it with lots of “it might be”s and “I suspect”s) into tones that offend people, I would like to suggest to you that you recognize human nature as it is, rather than as you want it to be. If you really want the substance of your argument to be what people react to, stop shading your comments in ways that belittle people and mock their approach. Put your points out there just naked — if they are any good at all, they don’t need the gut-punch delivery, and might actually stand a chance of being heard and addressed without them.

  256. Tom Pepper said

    Re #255: It is telling, Linda, that you still persist in the personal attack, and remain unable or unwilling to address my arguments at all. If the only comment that is so horrible that you call it spitting and name calling was the “what are you, twelve?” remark, well, what do you make of Ted’s comment to me, to which I was responding? I was simply trying to step out of his juvenile “your dumb” style of argument, and I immediately proceeded to return to questions about the essay. A remark that his comment to me was childish and insulting is really the reason I was booted? One little phrase? Really? It had nothing at all to do with asking questions that folks there don’t want raised?

    The pushing the lawn mower remark, by the way, is clearly meant to refer to my own experience, NOT to Dana’s weeding. I am suggesting that I don’t fully immerse myself in pushing the lawn mower because I have cultivated the mental resources to think about something more useful, and am simply offering that as an option to others who, like me, need to mow the lawn and find it dull: read a few books, and think about them. This is exactly my point, though. How on earth could you misunderstand this comment as saying that Dana (or you, or anyone) is an idiot? I am simply saying if you don’t have the mental resources, GET THEM! You seem to think that if you don’t have the mental resources it must be a permanent and unalterable failing in your soul, so pointing out this lack is a personal attack.

    Did Glenn get the boot, too? Nice job.

    It is, at least, refreshing that you are willing to admit that no argument could possibly ever cause you to change your position. That’s faith!

  257. Tomek said

    All I did was ask them to consider why they emphasize not thinking (which is thoroughly not Buddhist) and stress reduction (which Buddhist meditation was not really meant to do), and call it Buddhism.

    Tom (#254), for the sake of this discussion, would you try to clarify what kind of “Buddhism” do you exactly mean, when you say that emphasizing “not thinking” by people clustered around SBA “is thoroughly not Buddhist”? Pali suttas for example set as the penultimate goal of the Buddhist path achieving of nirvana, understood as transcendence of the phenomenal world. So don’t you think that ironically this whole cutting off thoughts method might not be a bad starting point for an aspiring Buddhist if s/he wants to achieve this remote goal of cessation of all phenomena?

  258. Tom Pepper said

    Tomek: True, this is a debatable position. I think that ultimately, understanding nirvana to mean transcendence of the phenomenal world is not a supportable interpretation. If the goal really was to stop thinking and debating and philosophizing, then we would have to admit that Buddha was a pretty bad Buddhist–as were Nagarjuna, Candrakirti, Vasubandhu . . . etc. If all previous Buddhists prior to the 1960s in the U.S. were not “real” Buddhists, then why the attachment to the old texts and rituals and terminology?

    What suttas do you specifically have in mind that define nirvana as the absence of all thought? I’ve just been reviewing some chapters of the book Moonshadows by the group calling themselves “the cowherds.” (Great book, by the way–well written and enormously insightful collection of essays. And for those who don’t know me, I don’t praise anything lightly). Mark Siderits writes in one of his contributions: “Buddhism encourages us to do philosophy as part of the path to overcoming suffering.” Rigorous thought is always a prerequisite to awakening, and is usually required before beginning Buddhist meditation. The problem arises when we think incorrectly, not when we think too much (to steal a phrase from the great Western thinker Temperance Brennan).

    Stopping all thought is just a pop-psychology stress-reduction technique. I still want to know what benefit is gained by calling this practice, which I have never encountered in Buddhist texts, a Buddhist practice? Does the added “mystique” make it more effective, like the effect of a stage hypnotists performance? Valium tends to reduce stress. Should they market that as ancient Buddhist medicine? Would it work better?

  259. jonckher (#253).

    My reaction to your comment was the same as Tom’s: it’s an interesting and a serious question. Believe it or not, at moments I do feel bad, for just the reasons you mention (having once been new to x-buddhism, excited about its promise, etc.) One crucial difference between myself as a beginner and the SBA faction is that I would never have dreamed at that stage of presenting myself as having answers to offer, however provisional. I am not dialoguing with newcomers to Buddhism. I agree with you that they need to put in time as apprentices. I am addressing myself to those who present themselves as leaders of the pack. It seems that some of those people, like Dana Nourie, don’t see themselves as leaders. But that ignorance of theirs is precisely part of the problem that a critique can address. By “ignorance” I mean their apparent obliviousness concerning the rhetorical force of their self-presentation.

    What the SBA faction seems incapable of understanding (and Linda Blanchard’s #255 above is the latest evidence) is that the project here is about criticism (not deconstruction or reconstruction, as Blanchard believes; and certainly not about being nice and making friends). We are clear about the critical nature of the project. The Secular Buddhist Association’s project is about caretaking an ancient religion rooted in world-renouncing asceticism. But go to their resources page and you get words like secularism, skepticism, science, and critical thinking. The contradiction is glaring, yet never addressed–it remains an unconscious force. Critique can help to reveal that contradiction.

    I think Tom’s response to you couldn’t be more to the point. The current writers at the SBA blog confuse critique with personal attack. They cover up their thin-skinned ego-driven reactivity with self-righteous sermons about “kindness” and “compassion” and “right speech.” Really, as Tom says, they often seem to be trying to protect their souls from corrupting violation.

  260. Linda (#255).

    Do you guys really want to join TM and Scientology in restricting discussion to prescribed voices? The discussions that you have are already very monotone. Maybe there is a confusion about just what it is you stand for over there, what it is you value. I am confused. Dana Nourie seems to think its a private club, and that people like Tom Pepper and I are crashing it. I thought it was a sort of forge–a place where an ostensibly new form of Buddhist thought and practice was being hammered out.

    I should ask Dana Nourie this question, but I suppose it applies to you as well. Why couldn’t Dana treat Tom like a weed? She showed so much wisdom and compassion in dealing with those weeds, and such venom and hostility in dealing with Tom Pepper. What happened to all that good stuff she learned while picking weeds that summer day? Same with you, what becomes of your understanding of the consequences of dependent origination when dealing with actual human beings?

    This is another difference between the SBA custodial project and our critical one. You are claiming for yourselves certain dispositions and qualities derived from Buddhist practice, qualities that necessarily lead to some form of heightened (mindful, awakened, compassionate, right-speakin’, enlightened) humanity. We are questioning that claim, and many others, too.

  261. Re #256

    “It is telling, Linda, that you still persist in the personal attack.”

    Sorry you’re feeling attacked. What did I say that you perceive as an attack? What have I said about you in the past that rates the word “still”?

    “…remain unable or unwilling to address my arguments at all.”

    You presume that when I open dialog here, addressing one point, that this means I am “unable or unwilling” to address anything else? Mind read much? Not very good at it, are you?

    I want to find out whether we can find common ground from which to carry on a conversation. I explicitly expressed interest in discussing your ideas further. Did you miss that? It wouldn’t have taken a mind-reader to see it.

    “If the only comment that is so horrible that you call it spitting and name calling was the ‘what are you, twelve?’ remark…”

    This is what makes me suspect we are not going to be able to communicate: When I said, “though I recognize that for some, spitting and swearing and calling each other idiots (or whatever) is a huge and necessary part of communication; it seems to be considered an art form in some circles” I was using hyperbole — I didn’t see you spit once. I also wasn’t confining myself to your one post, or even, really your posts, as should be evident from the way I next discussed me stepping aside when crap is flung my way — I don’t recall you and I ever having had any engagement of that sort.

    So when you say that you were: “simply trying to step out of his juvenile ‘your dumb’ style of argument” I find myself bemused by your way of stepping out of something by stepping right into it. Really, I’m not sure we get each other at all.

    “A remark that his comment to me was childish and insulting is really the reason I was booted?”

    I doubt that the one comment alone would have done it. I have the impression your tone is familiar to Ted from other conversations — on the site? elsewhere? — I don’t really know. You’re no doubt more familiar with the history than I am.

    And this: “The pushing the lawn mower remark, by the way, is clearly meant to refer to my own experience, NOT to Dana’s weeding.”

    Clear to you, not clear to me. You started off talking about yourself and lawn mowing, but then you switched from talking about yourself to saying, “If you haven’t got sufficient mental resources…” Maybe you’d have been better off sticking to the “I” pronoun there, because the link from one gardening task to another both usually perceived as mindless came across to me as you telling Dana that she needed to think more, not less, and ‘insufficient mental resources’ sure comes across as a euphemism for ‘stupid’ whether you want to recognize that or not.

    “This is exactly my point, though. How on earth could you misunderstand this comment as saying that Dana (or you, or anyone) is an idiot?”

    Yes, my exact point too — but flipped — how could you not see how it would be perceived? You don’t recognize that your overall tone comes across as aggressive, so everything gets read as aggressive.

    “It is, at least, refreshing that you are willing to admit that no argument could possibly ever cause you to change your position. That’s faith!”

    And where do you get that from?? Is it because I tire (easily, I admit) of trying to get Glenn to understand that his premise is wrong? I might be moved from holding to my premise if I could actually discuss it clearly with someone who wanted to move me from it, but that simply isn’t happening because I keep being told what I believe, and it isn’t what I believe. You aren’t going to be able to change my mind about what I believe if you are arguing about something else entirely from what I do believe. That’s not the same thing as refusing to change my position. That’s me being tired of trying to get the point across, that what I’m told I believe (and should change my mind about) isn’t what I believe.

  262. Re: “the end of thought”

    You can do a search on “vitakkavicārā niruddhā” and come up with several references to the cessation of thought in conjunction with meditation. But (as I was trying to say in some of my comments on the SBA thread) this is a useful practice, not the point of practice. I find it useful on several levels to be able to still discursive thought, but I agree with Tom that the point isn’t to stop thinking altogether.

  263. Tom: “I’ve just been reviewing some chapters of the book Moonshadows by the group calling themselves “the cowherds.” (Great book, by the way–well written and enormously insightful collection of essays. And for those who don’t know me, I don’t praise anything lightly)”

    I agree, it is an excellent book. And, to the point, one of the Cowherds (Jay Garfield) makes the point that if the goal of Buddhism were the cessation of thinking, a rock or two-by-four to the back of the head would be much more effective. (For all I know, he might be paraphrasing Candrakīrti on this point.)

  264. Linda (#261).

    I want to find out whether we can find common ground from which to carry on a conversation. I explicitly expressed interest in discussing your ideas further.

    That’s very generous of you, Linda. I would love to have you go back and address a least some of Tom’s recent questions and comments on the SBA site. Maybe you can begin with this one. I think Stokey made an incredibly astute observation to Ted about Tom. He said that Tom was an expert reader of texts. I say the same. Surely, looking at just the linked comment, you agree, to some extent at least? Even if you don’t, the questions put to Dana there are the questions that many careful readers, I imagine, have; and they thus remain to be answered. Tom took the time and trouble actually to articulate the questions and comments. Why not try to sift out what you see as the valuable parts and give a considered answer? Or maybe you can encourage Dana to do so.

  265. Tom Pepper said

    Linda, you’re still obsessing over the petty squabbling, and not addressing my arguments at all. Let it go, it’s Sunday afternoon, follow Dana’s advice and take deep breaths or something. Your fury over this and evident hostility toward me seems out of all proportion to the silly incident.

    And no, you won’t be banned from this site. If you ever want to discuss the arguments I made, I’m always willing to do so. I’m not really that eager to spend my afternoon picking through how it might be possible that someone could willfully misread a blog comment that I wrote in couple of minutes. If you want to be insulted, I guess you can find insults anywhere, but let’s drop it.

    If you have any response, though, to the arguments I made, I would be happy to discuss them.

  266. tidzik said

    What suttas do you specifically have in mind that define nirvana as the absence of all thought?

    Tom (#258), remember, I didn’t define nirvana as “the absence of all thought”, I wrote that in early Buddhism nirvana was understood as “transcendence of the phenomenal world”. “World” here is loka and it is conceived as a flow of phenomenal events that are dependent on contact between the senses and sense objects, consciousness and objects of consciousness. Pali suttas such as for example SN 12.44; DN 15; MN 22; AN 9.15; SN 1.11 are to help a monk to learn how to dis-identify with the phenomenal world, that is to transcend embodied life, beyond rebirth and temporality itself. And this is precisely a set of conditions that forms the remote ideal of nirvana as understood in Pali texts. This is exactly the kernel of x-buddhistic ascetic tradition. I realize that this interpretation of nirvana as transcendence of the phenomenal world is disputed by those for example who claim that nirvana is simply the overcoming of psychomoral afflictions (klesas) and attaining a state of peace and internal freedom within this world. But such interpretation as writes D. McMahan (2008), is a form of demythologization that, while a viable reinterpretation for modern practitioners, it is unacceptable as a historical account.

  267. Tom Pepper said

    Re 266: Have you changed your name?

    Ah, I see your point. I do appreciate the references–I’m trying to find out from people exactly what they take as their “source” for the “authenticity” of this world-transcendent interpretation, And this does help. I’m sure I’ve read some of these before (I don’t know about AN 9.15), but I don’t typically take them to be saying this. I think the argument made my McMahon (I’m guessing you mean in “the making of Buddhist Modernism), which is fairly common, is not really convincing. I don’t think it is supportable on the evidence that all Madhyamaka Buddhists, for instance, believed in the world-transcendent interpretation. It seems to me that McMahan has too narrow a view of thinkers from the past, assuming that they all must have believed in supernatural nonsense, since even we moderns believed in it until just recently. We still say that the sun rises in the morning, but we don’t believe in a geocentric universe. We have to understand the terms more thoroughly in context.

    My own reading of “loka” would be that it refers to what I would call ideology, and that the reification of ideology is what must be transcended. I don’t take all Buddhists to be ascetic, although there is clearly a strong tendency toward that in most traditions. I would say, thought, that the “kernel,” if you will, of Buddhism is exactly in its rejection the world-transcendent beliefs of Brahmanism, and the insistence that our “loka” is not ordained by the god and we do not have a world-transcendent essences or atman. This denial of any possibility of world-transcendence is so fundamental to Buddhist teaching, but so difficult for people to accept, that there is a tendency to look for any alternative interpretation of the “canon” which asserts that we do, in fact, escape this world alive.

    Not reifying our ideology may be difficult, and may help reduce suffering, but as Hank Williams used to sing, no matter how I struggle and strive, I’ll never get out of this world alive.

  268. To Glenn #259

    “What the SBA faction seems incapable of understanding (and Linda Blanchard’s #255 above is the latest evidence) is that the project here is about criticism (not deconstruction or reconstruction, as Blanchard believes; and certainly not about being nice and making friends). ”

    Oh, pardon me for not using the correct terms. Not “deconstruction” but “rupture” and “disruption” and not “reconstruction” but “re-description”. And yes, I get that the point is criticism and these are just possible but probable byproducts. Pardon me for putting it in rougher, less precise terms that I am sure better conveyed what I was saying to the folks on SBA than your terms would have.

    “The Secular Buddhist Association’s project is about caretaking an ancient religion rooted in world-renouncing asceticism.”

    Is it, now. The implication here is that we are caretaking the ancientness, the rootedness, the world-renouncingness, and the asceticism of this religion. If you had wanted to point out that we were caretaking something else, you could have said the Secular Buddhist Association’s project is about caretaking the aspects of an approach to life that emphasize full particpation in the world, with a project of taking a close look at, and trying to determine the usefulness of the rest. Of course, it could be that when you said the former you really meant the latter, and were just being imprecise, like I was with “deconstruction and reconstruction”.

    “But go to their resources page and you get words like secularism, skepticism, science, and critical thinking. The contradiction is glaring, yet never addressed–it remains an unconscious force. Critique can help to reveal that contradiction.”

    The contradiction you devised — how clever! You create the problem by saying we are doing something we aren’t, and point out that it is a contradiction for us to believe this (though we don’t) while saying we believe something else (which we do). And then you come to our rescue, with criticism that will point out the problem you created by imagining we are doing something we are not.

    “The current writers at the SBA blog confuse critique with personal attack.”

    I can almost agree with that, but the issue here is not that simple or one-sided. Yes, SBA participants feel attacked, and we then overlook valid criticism because we feel attacked, but it’s not because we are totally misunderstanding the completely innocent, straight-speaking of those they perceive as attacking, it’s because quite often the language comes across as aggressive and insulting and personally-attacking. This is my criticism of the SNB approach, and I find y’all as unwilling to take that criticism as you find us SBAers unable to get past the language and hear the valid criticisms.

  269. Tom #266. My what? “Your fury over this and evident hostility toward me seems out of all proportion to the silly incident.” Wow, Tom, you really, *really* don’t get me at all. I’m sorry you don’t. Do you know I actually agree with the bulk of your substantive points over on that SBA thread? You don’t get that this is why I am here talking to you? I am not hostile toward you at all. Funny how far off your reading of my tone of voice is, how you are taking it as some sort of attack when I’m just sayin’, you know, what I think. I shall have to work on straightening out my speech and, to the degree it’s possible, strip it of style when communicating with you, I guess. (And that last was a totally straight comment, no negative tone intended at all — I am taking responsibility for your misunderstanding me.)

    Because, really, I think a lot of what you say makes good sense. If I am “obsessing over” anything to do with the thread-gone-awry at SBA, it is because I actually want to be able to communicate with you, not to place blame. I am trying to get us on the same page, voice-wise, to help you see how your tone gets in the way of your points — “gets misread” if you want to see it that way. And seeing you misread my mood (fury? really?) just goes to show how easy it is to misunderstand the mind behind the printed words here. I clearly need to be much more careful, myself.

  270. Tom Pepper said

    “This is my criticism of the SNB approach, and I find y’all as unwilling to take that criticism as you find us SBAers unable to get past the language and hear the valid criticisms.”

    I accept your criticism. I am an obnoxious, rude, jerk, and my rhetoric is quite often overly aggressive, my tone often far too strident. Really, look around the discussion here–I have been called far worse things than anything the folks at SBA could come up with.

    I’m not asking you to like me. I’m just raising arguments. Which you are still not addressing. Seriously now, take Dana’s advice, and do some stress-reduction or something.

  271. So, Tom, if I am failing to address some point you’d like to address with me, please specify which one you want to talk about. I’m willing. And I will practice Right Speech as I see it, to the best of my ability, while doing so.

  272. Tom Pepper said

    Well, how about the main point I was trying to raise in my questions at SBA? As Mark Siderits says in the passage I quoted above, “Buddhist asks us to do philosophy as part of the path to enlightenment,” so why does SBA take such a predominantly anti-thought stance? Why are there so many posts about the body and stopping our “discursive thoughts” and no posts about epistemology or dialectics?

    Or, and this is the big question for me, if SBA wants to focus on empirical science and stress reduction, why call it Buddhist at all? Buddhism has never been about science, or reducing stress. What is gained by taking a collection of pop-psychology and superficial neuroscience and pasting a “Buddhist” label on it? What, if anything, is the core “Buddhist” truth that still informs SBAs project?

  273. Glen #264
    “I would love to have you go back and address a least some of Tom’s recent questions and comments on the SBA site.”

    My pleasure, but you may find my answers boring, because, well, for example:

    “Maybe you can begin with this one. ”

    Sure. I agree with Tom, completely. It was the point I was working my way toward with the first post in the thread — had anyone given any kind of substantive response to that post, I’d have said more about “thinking”. But they didn’t, so I didn’t. (Instead I tried another idea entirely that I found interesting, and put it in the next post.)

    “I think Stokey made an incredibly astute observation to Ted about Tom.”

    This one? “While Tom definitely is one of the most rude persons I’ve ever met in a Buddhist context he’s also one of the most positive and constructive at the same time. ”

    I agree that he is positive and constructive. He’s not the rudest Buddhist I’ve ever met though.

    Oh, or did you mean this: “He said that Tom was an expert reader of texts.”

    I can’t say, since I don’t know his background.

    “Why not try to sift out what you see as the valuable parts and give a considered answer?”

    I don’t think I have anything to add to what Tom said, as I agree with him.

    “Or maybe you can encourage Dana to do so.”

    I have already encouraged all the SBA writers to think about writing about thinking — “skillful thoughts”. My initial impression when I think about writing about it is that it’s a much more difficult topic to deal with than “unskillful thoughts” because the range of human experience is so broad. It’s much easier to spot examples of unskillful thoughts that can act as patterns — and in beginning Buddhist practice this is the first thing we’re doing: noticing dukkha, looking for its source — unskillful thoughts are part of it. Next up is training in skills to be able to get free of those unskillful thoughts, and then seeing the results. Skillful thinking tends to arise out of the process, later.

    I’d love to read an article by Tom on the subject, actually.

  274. Linda (#268).

    “Deconstruction” and “reconstruction” have many implications that I don’t intend.

    The purpose of a critique is to get at whether the contradictions I am seeing are of my own invention or inherent in the secular Buddhist project. I always refer to specific texts or other materials when offering my criticisms. Lots more of this to come.

    You ask why we don’t admit that “quite often the language comes across as aggressive and insulting and personally-attacking.” I admit it. I have said in numerous places that this is often intentional, on my part. I don’t subscribe to restrictive rules like the x-buddhist principle of right speech. I don’t have rules about expression like that. I choose, rather, to permit myself and others range of expression as wide as human experience. I can deal with whatever you choose to say to me, however you choose to say it. Again, unlike ideologically-committed Buddhists (and that’s really the issue here), I am interested in human beings as they are. I do not value pretense, especially the moralizing kind.

    Why not just get on with the edifying dialogue that I am sure you and Tom can have–see #264.

  275. Tom #272

    “Why are there so many posts about the body and stopping our ‘discursive thoughts’…”

    Probably because these posts are aimed at beginning practitioners, and it is a practice very useful for beginners.

    “… and no posts about epistemology or dialectics? “

    At a guess, I’d say the reason is because epistemology is part of the more advanced end of the practice, so it’s not really a focus of (what is, right now) an introductory sort of site. At this point there’s not as much emphasis on “the deep end” because our site is so new, and our audience is new and small. We get asked for more introductory material, and more ways those new to Buddhism can participate. I haven’t seen many calls for discussions of reality — though I suppose that’s what you’re asking for?

    I have to confess to having no interest, myself, in talking at length about ‘the nature of logical argumentation’ — talking about talking? Only as much as necessary to get on that same page we were just discussing.

    It seems to me that most of the writers on the site are primarily focused on what Buddhist practice is, describing it in mundane terms, and a little light entry into the deeper thought behind it (creeping towards epistemology), all described in secular terms, rather than the mystical.

    “Or, and this is the big question for me, if SBA wants to focus on empirical science and stress reduction, why call it Buddhist at all? Buddhism has never been about science, or reducing stress. What is gained by taking a collection of pop-psychology and superficial neuroscience and pasting a ‘Buddhist’ label on it? What, if anything, is the core ‘Buddhist’ truth that still informs SBAs project?”

    All really good questions. But I think that maybe you’re mistaking “the focus on beginners” and us trying to write lots of entry-level articles, for “the whole project”. The SBA site is currently spending a lot of time talking about naturalism, for example, because that is a subject those engaging with us are interested in talking about, and it’s something some of the writers have interest and experience with themselves — so a dialog is possible. If we don’t have writers who are interested in epistemology and dialectics, then there will be no one around to carry on the conversation with when you approach us with thoughts on the subject. Presumably, this will change with time as more people become aware there is a secular Buddhism, and become involved with it. Meanwhile, if you pop into the comments and say this is what you want to talk about, if none of us have qualifications or interest in talking about it, you’ll just need to bring along a few friends, I guess. (I know Dana opened up a forum for those clamoring for the chance to talk about philosophy, but I don’t think anyone took the opportunity to use it.) We are actively offering a place for such discussions to take place; I’d like to see good writers join in and talk in ways that engage beginners and the clueless (like me: why should I, as a Buddhist, care about dialectics? show me! put it in plain English!).

    Why so much emphasis on “stress reduction”? It is, likewise, an entry point to Buddhism — it’s what brings many people to a point where they want to find out more of what it is about. I know it’s what brought me to the front door — not “stress reduction” in the simplistic way it gets used but more of the “how does my life keep getting this screwed up and what can I do about it” variety of stress reduction. I was looking for something that gave me structure on many levels — and I found more than I bargained for in Buddhism.

    To my mind, Buddhism provides a package where all the pieces fit together in ways that satisfy the need I have for that structure. Then it goes on to answer questions I didn’t even know I had. It reduces stress, yes, but not by simply getting me to calm my breathing and take a break, but by giving me the tools to see the patterns of my behavior (and others’), and ways to interrupt mine and observe the outcome, and continue to learn; it helps me to grasp that epistemological line between “reality” and “delusion” (and to see just how fuzzy it is) in a way that proves really useful in my life. So it ends up relieving more than just stress. In the end I find it also leads to moral behavior though I don’t think the “rules” are the moral behavior it addresses, not really.

    I’m sure I’m not qualified to address what is “the core ‘Buddhist’ truth” for everyone in the SBA or the project as a whole. I can really only speak to my own experience and understanding of it, and I’m not sure I can even do that in a blogpost, and definitely not when I’m as tired as I am from posting here all day. (I was supposed to be writing a post for my own blog, on sankhara.)

  276. Gadzooks, I need to learn how to format comments here.

  277. tidzik said

    Tom (#267) – I’m having some problems with my account, but back to the discussion … I think that you unnecessary mix Buddhism as defined in Pali texts, with its otherworldly goal of nirvana and it’s later Mahayana forms as Madhyamaka with their specifically understood ideal of awakening that is an act of seeing emptiness which is precisely the highest truth.

    That is why I previously asked you to say what do exactly you mean by “Buddhism” in this discussion. Blending those two x-buddhistic traditions just produces unnecessary confusion. Dis-identification with the phenomenal world, as the above mentioned suttas prove, is the primary aspect of early Buddhist thought; it is not a “supernatural nonsense”, and that is what really forms the kernel of early ascetic ideal – trying to deny this fact is simply a nonsensical maneuver. And maybe that is a part of the answer to your question that you just asked Linda: “Why are there so many posts about the body and stopping our “discursive thoughts” and no posts about epistemology or dialectics?” Rememer the SBA slogan?: “A natural, pragmatic approach to early Buddhist teachings and practice”, they specifically mean the early Buddhist teachings, not Mahayanist stuff.

  278. Linda and everyone. You will find some formatting tips on the “Before You Comment” page. Remember to add the backslash [/] at the end tag.

  279. Thanks for the cleanup of my post, Glenn. I’ll read the tips before I next post.

  280. Tom #272

    Let me try starting from what I see in many religions: That one of the factors that makes them work is the way they get their adherents to surrender to God. What I think happens there is that, when it’s done right, this means the believer stops trying to guess at why things happen the way they do, and stops struggling so much to make the world come out they way they think it should, so they just give up all the stress around so many things that are beyond their control — they surrender — and as a consequence, they feel relief.

    The only problem with this approach is that it makes it quite difficult to tell what is God’s will (and out of our control) and what is within our control, and whether God is expecting us to do something about it. Or, said another way, it makes it really tough to tell the difference between what we can and can’t change. (It also doesn’t tell us a whole lot about how to go about changing things, or why we should, other than to please God.)

    Whereas, one way of looking at the point of Buddhism is as a different approach to surrender. Instead of surrendering to God, we surrender to reality, as best we can come to know what it is. Here we learn skills to better recognize reality when we see it — I like to say that Buddhism teaches us to recognize the difference between what we know, and what we only think we know — and because it teaches us to get a more accurate reading on what’s going on (with ourselves, with others) it gives us far better ability to be effective in the world. When we do recognize that there are things we can’t change (we can’t make the impermanent permanent, for example) we can learn to gracefully surrender to that reality — and even to appreciate it for what it is. It also gives us the tools to see how good our understanding of reality is — we’ve got cause and effect to look at — and it gives us a much better understanding of how our own minds work, and just how we fool ourselves into thinking we know how everything works, when we don’t, and the ability to follow how those mistaken beliefs turn out, and to see how changing our relationship to our beliefs works out.

    What I find wonderful about the clarity I’ve gotten from working with the structure, is the way that, understanding where I have been going wrong leads to seeing that pretty much everyone else has the same misunderstandings I have always had. These last two months I’ve been living with my 85-year-old mother, who is very tender (even grumpy) around issues of her increasing fragility, and I can now more easily recognize why she gets mad at me (for helping, for example) and this brings up compassion for her in her situation — I can sure see myself feeling just the same way in the future — and so instead of getting mad at her for getting mad at me for trying to help, I can recognize the complexity of the situation, and understand where she’s coming from, so I don’t grump back (unless I’m really tired, or ill, in which case I still may).

    The compassion leads to better behavior, and I see this as an overall pattern: the moral nature of the whole system that I mentioned before, though I’m not sure “morality” is really the right word to describe it, because morality implies some kind of code that is thought out and applied as rules of behavior, when it seems to me that at the farther end of Buddhist practice, what is really going on is that when we move the tangle of normal motivations out of the way, our behavior just becomes perceivable as “moral” — I guess I’d say that the issues we have about “self” (or “reality”) are the source of “immoral behavior” — and simply getting all that confusion out of the way allows us to just be better people.

    So the end product of Buddhist practice, in my way of looking at it, is a me who is better at living her life, and a me who has a better effect on everyone around her. I can see a potential for having that effect make a big difference in the world, if more people could understand what was being

    Now I can’t say that every secular Buddhist in the world agrees with my take, or even that the ones I work with on the SBA site do, but the ones I have encountered have never said anything to indicate to me that they believe there is more to it than that, or that it should be less than that.

  281. * what was being said.

  282. jonckher said

    #254 259 Glenn, Dr Pepper

    I have wondered by what method the SBA inner circle have decided they are qualified to teach and came to the conclusion that it is by direct dharmic transmission from their Advisory Council. It makes no sense otherwise.

    When they claim that they are in fact fellow seekers attempting to create a dialogue through mutual questioning and conversation and are in fact not teaching anyone, I can only conclude that they are highly realised beings behaving in the required modest fashion. As we all know, the more realised one is, the less one is inclined to talk or boast about it. I should know because I am a completely and fully realised being.

    Of course, I could be completely wrong.

    A simpler explanation could be that it is fun to teach! Haven’t we all sat at the feet of a teacher and been amazed by their calm, wisdom and pithy insights into the problems of living? Why bother waiting to be that person? By putting on the robes of a teacher, one can with one swell move become wise and calm without all this bothersome practice, study and thought. The outside reflects the reality inside!

    I have myself as a completely and fully realised being become also a teacher. My extremely wise thoughts which guarantees enlightenment can be found at my linky name avatar thing above. Just clicky click. No money required.

    And I don’t need any smartyalecky type bring up that old saw: “those who can do those who can’t teach.” I am even now composing a nirvana-inducing koan-post about this. You have been warned.

  283. Linda (#280).

    I think this comment is directed to Tom, but if I may, I think I can use it to clarify a point.

    Whereas, one way of looking at the point of Buddhism is as a different approach to surrender. Instead of surrendering to God, we surrender to reality, as best we can come to know what it is. Here we learn skills to better recognize reality when we see it — I like to say that Buddhism teaches us to recognize the difference between what we know, and what we only think we know — and because it teaches us to get a more accurate reading on what’s going on (with ourselves, with others) it gives us far better ability to be effective in the world.

    The curiosity that is driving my current work on Buddhism involves thinking about the force of “de-dharmacized” Buddhist concepts and practices for accomplishing what you are saying here and throughout your comment. I wholeheartedly agree with the qualities and values you are expressing. But I see on a daily basis (I work in a Buddhist graduate school) the manipulative power of Buddhist representations of reality to usurp reality, rather than to clarify it. What I mean is this. The Buddhist ministry students come in speaking a certain way about the world. That way is, of course, a reflection of their general ideology. It varies from student to student. As they acquire Buddhist conceptual language and categories, they begin uniformly to reflect those categories back into their descriptions of reality, of the world. From my perspective of relatively stable observer (my ideology changes less drastically), it looks like they have succumbed to a shared hallucination. They believe fervently in the self-evidence and naturalness and, of course, correctness, of the Buddhist account of reality. I see the exact same thing happening on websites and blogs. Many of the terms of the non-buddhist heuristic are derived directly from my engagement with living, breathing Buddhists. (Terms like buddheme, ventriloquism, thaumaturgical refuge, etc., are, in other words, descriptive.) So, my current critical work aims to assist the ripe practitioner in negotiating the division between decision-driven ideology and self-reflective critique of that ideology.

    So, my question is: how can we have the goods that you are describing without subjecting ourselves to a necessarily subjugating force? They are, after all, human goods in the last instance, not Buddhist. It is because of the non-necessity of adopting Buddhism in order to gain the human benefits that you mention that I see this adoption as a symptom, something to be taken account of and subjected to critique.

  284. frank jude said

    Tom!

    What fun while trying to catch up with all these comments to see your allusions to Tempe Brennan AND Hank Williams!

    Thanks

  285. Glen #280. Good question. I suppose there might well be more than one approach to take. My instinct says that inventing another entire complex set of words we’ll need to understand the points being made *is not* the way to go — though I can appreciate your desire for precision.

    Seems to me that the more we can explain what’s being said in really boring, mundane terms, the better. Take out the razzle-dazzle that dazzles newcomers half to death. The ideas may not spread quite as fast without the pretty memes that promise transcendental insights and supreme wisdom, or that feed on hopeful attachment to our becoming one with Mystic Concepts Larger Than Ourselves — I really think the memes are the problem; they feed so neatly and often subtly into our natures — but I hold out hope that something that actually works will spread because it does, not because of razzle dazzle. The razzle dazzle appears all by itself when we begin to appreciate the world we live in — but we don’t need to tell people about that (lest they find a new way to make it into Something Significant).

  286. Tomek said

    One more thing Tom, you are evidently more inclined towards Mahayanist conception of Buddhism, where, at least in the case of Nagarjuna corpus and the Madhaymaka, there was a distinct theoretical shift from understanding the highest goal of practice being the otherworldly nirvana to the awakening within this world which was supposed to happen, as I mentioned above, in the act of seeing the emptiness of all dharmas – itself constituting the highest truth and causing the liberation in this world.

    Don’t you think that this Mahayanist visionary doctrine of direct apprehension of the highest truth that you seem to prefer, contrary to the emphasis on cessation of the phenomenal world – and in this way permanently ending the suffering as in early Buddhism – blend very well for you with the notion of discerning the truth, as it was understood by Badiou, in the a passing moment or what he calls an event? The event is supposed to be a rupture in the current circumstances (what Badiou terms the state) caused by an awareness of what is missing from those circumstances. The event is a glimpse of the void inherent to any given state. Having experienced such an event, a subject is created who has a chance to affect the world by remaining faithful to the event of truth they have encountered.

    You probably recognize where I am heading to – I suspect that you downplay the axioms of early Buddhist doctrine pointing towards the cessation of the phenomenal world being the highest goal – calling it “supernatural nonsense” – because Mahayanist interpretation of what may constitute the truth in x-buddhism simply supplement your Western ideological sentiments that in fact have nothing to do with the roots of the dharmic ascetic traditions. I am not tracking down those maneuvers that you seem to be doing to prove that this x-buddhistic doctrine is “better” over the other – I totally don’t buy any of them – I am just curious to observe how you hybridize different sources both ancient and modern and by this fuel the dharmic juggernaut.

  287. Tom Pepper said

    Yes, Tomek, I do prefer the Madhyamaka school of thought exactly because it does supplement my Western philosophical thought! That’s my whole point, to treat all Buddhist thinkers no differently than Western philosophers, and to see what they can add to our understanding of how ideology works and how we can change it! I treat Nagarjuna as a collection of philosophical texts, not revealed truth. Similarly, for me, the suttras are not the “authoritative word” to be pulled out like a trump card to settle an argument, they contain concepts and insights to be put to use. There are some fundamental insights in Buddhist thought that I find a useful supplement. I find in Buddhism an emphasis on practice in combination with rigorous philosophical thought in order to transform our ideologies. To me, this is something missing from modern Western thought (although, on some readings, Aristotle advance this position as well, and those elements of his thought remain incomprehensible to most modern scholars because they cannot conceive of thought existing in practice). The concept of the dependent arising of the “self” is also developed in Buddhist thought in ways it never is in Western thought, were there is a powerful tendency to assume an atomistic self. I also do not agree with the doctrine of “direct apprehension of the truth,” and I take Nagarjuna to be insisting that this is exactly what is not possible (and Candrakirti, as well, who I take to be defending realism despite the impossibility of such direct apprehension.)

    Finally, the absence of the self, of an atman, demands that we reject attempts to transcend this world. On my understanding, this is one of the fundamental concepts of the Pali Canon, and is developed, not invented, by Nagarjuna and the Madhyamakas.

    My position is that ditching all Buddhist thought because it has been used for ideological obfuscation would be absurd. It is a powerful opportunity to expand our “state of the situation” by engaging concepts that remain outside our present system of knowledge. It would be as stupid as refusing to read Spinoza because he was considered evil for centuries, or ignoring Aristotle because he was used to support the Catholic church.

    I’m glad you’re enjoying observing my attempts to puzzle through these question. Even if you don’t agree, perhaps you’ll eventually get my point.

  288. Linda (#285).

    My instinct says that inventing another entire complex set of words we’ll need to understand the points being made *is not* the way to go — though I can appreciate your desire for precision.

    I assume you mean that this project is involves “inventing another entire complex set of words,” etc., right? Yes, I think that’s necessary. But the end result is decidedly not something that replaces Buddhism. The result is a critique that is able to get at the Buddhist materials in a way that Buddhists themselves seem to me stubbornly unwilling or even unable to do (because of decision, sufficiency, and so on).

    About the rest of your comment, am I correct also to assume that you are referring to this project’s language? I don’t agree that “the more we can explain what’s being said in really boring, mundane terms, the better.” Maybe that’s true in some cases, like giving a tourist directions to the Liberty Bell; but I don’t think even you take it as a general truth. The entire Pali canon is written in complex jargon. If its language has become boring and mundane-sounding to some of us, that’s only because we are so familiar with it. Our everyday speech is filled with “razzle-dazzle” terms that have become “simple” only because the “newcomers” eventually caught on. I am thinking of terminology from psychoanalysis, theology, aesthetics, as well as numerous French and German terms and Latin expressions. The word “evolution” used to be razzle-dazzle jargon. What growth and change can we expect if we just continue thinking and speaking in already understandable ways? I see you, in fact, as caught up in a similar struggle as I am here. Your philological and archeological work on the Pali canon can be seen as an attempt to introduce ways of thinking and speaking about the teachings that are not possible without that language (really: that jargon). The thinking can not be separated from the language. The language has a force of thought–and a forceful insistence–that would be lost if different language were used. Terry Eagleton says the “jargon often enough means ideas you happen not to agree with.” Maybe you’ll enjoy a large dose of Eagleton on jargon. I hope it gets you considering a different view of the language issue.

    If ‘hermeneutical phenomenology’ counts as jargon, so does the on-the-job language of dockers and motor mechanics. If pig farmers can find lawyers obscure, lawyers can find pig farmers mystifying. Sometimes it is jargon we need, and sometimes ordinary language. We do not mind if the doctor asks us how the old tummy is getting along, but if he were to write ‘Old tummy playing up a bit’ on his clinical notes, our confidence in his professional abilities might take a knock. If an art critic writes that there’s a very nice sort of funny little red thing in the centre of the canvas, w might begin to wonder whether the public resources lavished on her education were really justified.We do not want sailors to talk about that thing you crank the life-boats down with. There are many situations in life when we would feel unhappy if we understood what was being said. ‘A bitto the left, then sort of drift along for a while’ is not quite what we want to hear from air traffic control over our captain’s radio….

    Not many of the standard objections to cultural theory hold water. Some of it has been intolerably jargon-ridden; but the impulse behind it is attractively democratic. Anyway, some forms of specialised language are desirable rather than distasteful. No lay person opens a botany textbook and shuts it with an irascible bang if they do not understand it straight away. Yet a lot of people who are not surprised to find botany hard are mildly outraged not to be able to understand an account of a sculpture or a novel. If cultural theory can sometimes be an obstacle to real understanding, so can other forms of art criticism. It does not believe Jeffrey Archer is as good as Jane Austen; it simply inquires what we mean when we make such claims. (After Theory, p. 76)

    .

  289. jonckher (#282).

    No money required? You still have a ways to go to full realization, my friend. I will pay you a wad of stinky Amerikkkan $$ for that koan.

    What do you make of the new guidelines at the SBA site? Is Ted Meissner channeling Napoleon the Pig from Animal Farm?

  290. Tomek said

    My position is that ditching all Buddhist thought because it has been used for ideological obfuscation would be absurd.

    Tom (#287), this sentence in my view encapsulates the radical mismatch of your position (however hard to pinpoint in the midst of your “puzzling” rhetorical maneuvering) and the SNB position where “dispelling occlusion of empty reality – which occlusion ensues from excessive, e.g., buddhistic, representations – constitutes speculative non-buddhism’s very reason for being.” (Nascent Speculative Non-Buddhism, p. 16)

    The problem is that what you call “useful Buddhist concepts or thoughts” such as “dependent arising of the ‘self’”, SNB sees as excessive buddhistic representations occluding radical immanence of homo sapience. The deeper problem with your supplementing strategy lies in the fact that those x-buddhistic “useful concepts” actually posses no inherent meaning – despite you claim otherwise – they are only useful when placed in the network of x-buddhistic postulates, constituting the elements of the transcendent, “revealed” mirror of The Dharma. But you doggedly claim that you can put those x-buddhistic concepts and insights to use, and at the same time you refuse to admit that simultaneously with it you reintroduce through the backdoor the whole affective decisional structure, which is nothing else then the occlusion itself. I claim that what you call the “ideological obfuscation” is nothing else then the constant upholding of the idea of “usefulness” of those very concepts.

  291. Tom Pepper said

    I do see your point, Tomek. I am NOT refusing to admit that I am “reintroducing” an affective element–I am not even trying to do it “through the back door.” I am very much trying to produce an ideology, a decisional structure if you will, and I have tried to do it right through the front door in broad daylight to avoid this kind of misunderstanding. Yes, I want to produce ideology–and to call attention to the fact that this is exactly what I am doing, not uncovering some ancient mystical and transcendent truth, but producing an ideology.

    Of course, this suggestion remains open to exactly the criticism you raise, unless I move forward with actually putting the concepts to use, to show how they in fact are meaningful outside the x-buddhistic ideology. I need to demonstrate how such concepts and practices can function to distantiate our existing ideologies and consciously produce new ones which will have real causal powers without the need to misrepresent them as natural and timeless. That is what I am working on doing now, so I guess the proof of my pudding will be in the eating, or the reading.

  292. Tom Pepper said

    Re 289: When I read statements like those guidelines, I am always reminded of the trial scene in Bananas when Miss America is testifying against Fielding Mellish, with that stupid saccharine tone of voice and vacuous smile: “Its good to be different. Unless you’re too different. Then you’re a subversive mother-fucker.”

    I suppose Ted will be removing all my comments from the SBA site. They wouldn’t want any trace evidence of their absurd censorship. I’ll have to stop in and check–I can still read the site, I just can’t “log in.”

  293. Glenn #288 “About the rest of your comment, am I correct also to assume that you are referring to this project’s language?”

    No, I was not referring to the ongoing project of criticism. I was talking about this, from #283: “From my perspective of relatively stable observer (my ideology changes less drastically), it looks like they have succumbed to a shared hallucination.”

    I am talking about the language for conveying to the masses whatever you decide should be included in your “re-description”. But presumably that is a long way off. I’m just suggesting that “dazzle” is part of the process that invokes mass hallucinations.

  294. Linda (#293).

    Oh, I see. Thanks for the clarification. The “re-description” is not going to be some sort of definitive outcome of the critique. Re-description is an aspect of critique–they’re woven into one another.

    If you consider the mechanics of mass hallucinations, don’t you think it turns out that most of them come about because of “boring, mundane terms”? Think of the tornadoes of delusion that Fox news spins out. They do it with simple language. Think of a Baptist sermon, or a Buddhist dharma talk. Simple, boring, and mundane. Do you recall George W. Bush’s rhetoric that got us into two wars? Moronically simple–geared for the masses.

    So, I don’t see how a view can be defended that says “dazzling” language is the problem. Again, yesterday’s dazzling language is today’s boring and mundane. “Conflicted” was snooty, martini-sipping, dazzling language in 1966. So were “neurosis” and a bit earlier, “sociology.” My experience tells me that the problem is the refusal to think carefully and courageously about whatever language is in front of you (general “you”).

    It would be interesting to hear what you think of what I call “buddhemic ventriloquization” in secular Buddhist discourse. Do you see it happening? To what extent and effect? Is it encouraged–even subtly? Again, if so, to what ends?

  295. stoky said

    Linda,

    thanks for investing the time writing here. I really appreciate it.

    As I was one of the people complaining I think it’s only fair that I also invest sometime to clarify my concerns.

    My own motivation for critique may not be so fancy compared to Glenn/Tom/Matthias. I’m also relatively new to Buddhism, so I don’t have the same amount of experience deailing with Buddhists.

    However, in this case that might not be a bad thing, because I’m probably closer to the people the most content at the SBA-site is written for.

    The thing simply is that some things there really put me off. E.g. when I read sentences like “your manner does not come off as in the true spirit of dharma” it almost makes me vomit. If someone calls me stupid, well fine – I can deal with that. If I’m told I’m not “Buddhist” enough to explore the possibilities of a secular Buddhism, well, then I’m out. If this was the only incident I could go with it, but there are others and there are other people worried.

    In contrast to Glenn I’m not convinced (yet) that all of you “believe in the transcendence of the dharma”. Furthermore to that I’m willing to believe that all of you are nice, compassionate, intelligent and critical persons. Still:

    Sometimes you simply sound like religious nuts.

    That’s it. Nothing more, nothing less.

    There are two ways to deal with that and it’s O.K. with me to “agree to disagree” on that matter:

    Either you’re more carefull with your language (in that case the critique of SNB might be very helpful!) or you don’t (in that case I’ll simply look somewhere else).

    P.S.: I don’t think what you’re trying to do is easy. I had a blog once and I often failed to find the correct language. Not to speak about the difficulty of creating a “secular Buddhism” which is even more difficult (Glenn would argue it’s even impossible). But that’s the point. If it’s difficult you’ll need help. Help that is more difficult to get, if you exclude certain people from the dialog.

  296. I do get your point, Stoky, and generally agree with it. If *I* sound like a religious nut on the site, it’s probably because I am.

    I admit, though, to having a hard time reconciling the way I am told by the crew here that the SBA site should not be telling people how they can use language and what tone to take, while simultaneously being told what tone we should take, and how we should use language. Can you help me understand how that’s justifiable?

  297. Linda (#296).

    I admit, though, to having a hard time reconciling the way I am told by the crew here that the SBA site should not be telling people how they can use language and what tone to take, while simultaneously being told what tone we should take, and how we should use language. Can you help me understand how that’s justifiable?

    What are you referring to? Maybe there was a misunderstanding. You can use whatever language and take whatever tone you see fit. This is a right-speech-free zone.

  298. Craig said

    #287

    What would practicing philosophy look like? In terms of this project, it seems that meditation can be used in a framework of developing concentration and meta-cognition skills in order to think dialectically and be aware of one’s ideology.

    As a non-buddhist, I still think I need to practice some sort of stress-relief…kind of like a micro-practice while what is described above is macro-practice. Getting out of the car today to almost assault a guy over incessant ‘honking’ wouldn’t have solved anything. However, I’m still so pissed about it. Is there anything in Buddhism to help? :-) So, there’s the day to day of it, as far as I can see.

  299. stoky said

    Linda (296),

    as for my last post I think you’re totally right. My running away of religious-nutty-speak is the same as running away from angry-insulting-speak. I’ll have to think about this more.

    Most other points of critique seem to me like pointing out contradictions and making suggestions for improvements (which seems a bit different than excluding people from a conversation).

  300. jonckher said

    #289 Glenn

    The SBA guidelines are fantastic.

    As a rebel, I secretly crave leadership, boundaries and authority. The guidelines are so clear, so strong, so firm and upright that I may swoon. Actually, as I was beseeching Ted at the SBA site to exert his alpha-manliness and ownership of site and the content, I’d like to think that in my own small way, I inspired him.

    My pleas to him also included a clear pathway for motivated, inspired, wise, intelligent fully and completely realised beings* to join the Association and also contribute significantly to the SBA content (FAQ, Guidelines, posts, etc). The serfdom as described through the SBA Volunteers page does send shivers up my spine but I wanted a bit more clarity.

    What did one have to do? 200,000 prostrations? 1 million Om-mani-padme-hums? 10 years in a snow-cave? An entire gompa filled with young asian men?

    He did answer eventually because I can be annoying** and it went something like: “invite only based on compatibility and alignment to SB”. I suggested he post that up into one of the higher level pages because at least it offered hope!

    So far, he has not done so. Such a tease! He can be so cruel!

    – swoons –

    * yes i mean me
    ** it is true that realised beings can be annoying but actually it’s your fault and not theirs

  301. Tom Pepper said

    Re # 298: Craig: For me, this is one of the most important questions in trying to decide whether it is useful to still “do” Buddhism. My opinion is, in the situation you describe, there is nothing at all in Buddhism that could help. There are no stress-reduction techniques in Buddhism, the whole idea of “stress” is a very recent one, only from around the 1930s or 1940s, a term from physics that was adopted by American psychology as a way to avoid investigating the psychodynamic causes of unhappiness. It remains a term so vague it is nearly useless–anything can be “stressful,” good or bad, noticed or unnoticed, we are all “stressed” and we need to “reduce” that stress, usually with drugs or by not thinking too much. It would indeed be surprising if Buddhism had developed techniques to respond to an twentieth century ideological attempt to prevent people from seeing the real causes of their problems.

    I would suggest that Buddhist thought and practice could help to discover why such an event could possibly be invested with so much emotional energy, why it could motivate someone so powerfully. What is the ideological formation that creates the anger you feel? What beliefs about the world and expectations about human behavior cause this kind of useless anger? The situation you describe is a bit vague, so its hard to tell, but if you really got angry and stayed angry all day because of this trivial event (an annoying noise), then it must tell you something about your construal of the world. I would always insist that you need to examine the ideology that structures your participation in the world (this is very hard for most people to do), not simply go on with your ideology unexamined and learn to respond with some “meditation” or “mindfulness” technique when a problem comes up.

    The goal of Buddhism would be to consciously choose your ideology so that such useless misdirected anger doesn’t occur. Of course, useless misdirected anger and meaningless terms like “stress” to explain it are what keeps capitalist ideology working smoothly. If you real explanations for things and properly directed anger, global capitalism would be in big trouble.

  302. Craig said

    #302

    Tom-
    Thanks for the reply. I was having some difficulty understanding how awareness of ideology would ‘help’ in day to day life situations. i understand that better now. I’ve been looking for some ‘technique’ for years to deal with uncomfortable angry and anxious situations. Looking at ideology seems to be getting at the root of these emotions rather than attempting to ‘fix’ them. Seeing the road rage situation above you deconstructed it to an ‘annoying noise’. Genious! Takes all the power at the situation and looks at it in a mundane realistic way.

    You talk about the need to examine the ideology that structures our participation in the world. As you say, it is totally difficult. Am I right in seeing meditation as part of this?

    Finally, thanks for the info on the concept of stress. Lots of buzz words in psychology as there is in buddhism. What the hell do them mean?! Maybe we need a speculative non-psychology :-) It really is amazing how we are so caught up in our ‘selves’ and our ideologies. Thanks again for your reply.

    C

  303. Luis Daniel said

    Tom # 301

    Sorry to interrupt your trance with Craig.

    Buddhism is a private practice about overcoming personal suffering and death. Capitalism didn’t exist when buddhism started. Social democracy and liberal politics have been singularly more effective in dealing with economic inequalities than buddhism will ever be, even cristianism has been more successful than buddhism addressing inequalities and fueling ideals of brotherhood (as the ones you seem to promote).

    Ideology as something fixed and non-human is another version of the impossible project of getting out of time and what is human. In your case of course, given your knowledgeable academic formation, is of course more a form of contumacy.

    Being human is being contingent. That is where suffering comes from and that is where happines can come from.
    If anything, a new practice ought to help people see that and live with it. And in the face of it, exert solidarity.

  304. Luis Daniel said

    And more to the point: what makes your particularly well manifested form of anger in this blog more valid or ideologically correct than craig’s anger on traffic?

  305. Tom Pepper said

    As always, Luis, I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about. But Craig was concerned trying to get rid of anger he felt was unpleasant. I’m quite happy, myself. That’s an important difference. I’m not even angry at you, Luis; don’t worry, when we overthrow capitalism and stick all the bourgeois in gulags, you can use your Buddhist practice to overcome your personal suffering.

  306. jonckher said

    #303 Luis

    A fellow social-democratic-liberal-capitalist!

    I agree the System is good except where it is flawed but we will fix it I am sure in a non-revolutionary / gulag way.

    In the meantime, my mindfulness meditation practice reduces the stress of making money and helps me ignore unskilful thoughts*. Metta practice helps me like myself and feel sorry for poor suffering people who have not yet transitioned to the social-democratic-liberal-capitalist framework (or are currently suffering while we fix a few glitches).

    And I get to dismiss people like Tom for suffering from TOV syndrome**.

    It’s all good!***

    * any thought that makes me question why and how I am making money or in fact any thought that results in unhappy discontented feelings of any sort at all

    ** Thicket of Views. Actually I’ve got no idea what that means but it appears to be a remarkably useful way of dismissing people’s arguments so much so that it deserves an acronym.

    *** the only problem with being an atheist/naturalist is that I don’t also get to blame the poor for having accumulated bad karma in their previous lives (and obviously congratulate myself for being pretty much a non-returner)

  307. Luis Daniel said

    Nevermind. Your ignorance is my practice.

  308. Luis Daniel said

    Jonkher # 304

    Life is meaningless except for the meaning we assign to ours. We think, we are. In the middle of this midst, words hide. Like riddles we see no mirrors but reflections and projections of our precious ignorance.

    Come, come, your fuzzya happinesa hasa placed youa in the middle of this ungracefula partya.

    Thanks for inviting.

  309. Tom Pepper, your #272 is the last post of yours I find addressed to me. I did as you asked in that post, in my #275 and #280. In the wider world, not acknowledging when someone I’m debating with has made good points that I agree with (particularly if the agreement is grudging) is a tactic for keeping the other person in the “loser of the debate” category. I recognize that your silence may be different for any number of reasons, including (I saw a reference to somewhere, perhaps in Glenn’s comments on the SBA site?) the tendency, here, to not bother to note agreement, I assume because it’s far more interesting to carry on working on the points of disagreement.

    At any rate, I imagine you must have had some reaction somewhere in the range between total disagreement and full agreement. Would you be able to take the time to let me know where you landed on that line?

  310. Glenn #294 “If you consider the mechanics of mass hallucinations, don’t you think it turns out that most of them come about because of “boring, mundane terms”?”

    Not when I’m talking about Buddhism, no.

    “So, I don’t see how a view can be defended that says “dazzling” language is the problem. ”

    I am not saying all dazzling language is a problem in every situation. I’m saying that when an idea is being passed on that is couched in terms of the human comfort of religion, dazzling is a tool. I didn’t say, but I also believe that vagueness is a tool. I find the effort toward simple but clear language (as opposed to dazzling or vague language), and trying for accessibility to a broad audience (I’m not even afraid of saying “speaking to the lowest common denominator”) to be a good strategy to counteract the tendency to shared, unrealistic, unverifiable, speculative worldviews that get mistaken for “the real thing”.

    I can recognize that your use of language on this site isn’t about bringing religion to the masses, though, but is about criticism, so I understand your efforts towards developing a precise language — a tool to do the job. I will continue to maintain that it has the effect of driving off people who would have good things to contribute if you didn’t set the entry level effort bar quite so high. And I would be quite surprised if you weren’t aware of the effect it has.

    “It would be interesting to hear what you think of what I call “buddhemic ventriloquization” in secular Buddhist discourse. Do you see it happening? To what extent and effect? Is it encouraged–even subtly? Again, if so, to what ends? ”

    I imagine you would find it interesting, but I have no interest in dissecting the rhetoric of those I work with for you. On the other hand, I’d be only too glad to hear what you have to say on the subject, and I’m quite likely to take anything I find useful in your comments back to the SBA crew. Because I do, after all, find that you make many good points.

  311. Tomek said

    Buddhism is a private practice about overcoming personal suffering and death.

    Luis (#303), the idea that Buddhism is “a private practice” is most likely very recent invention and was inspired by the religious developments in the West. It is called Protestant Buddhism where “rhetoric of experience” gained unprecedented influence compared to any past period in the history of Buddhism and that could be traced to certain XX century Asian reform movements, especially those that popularized zazen and vipassana meditation among laity, both Western and Asian. Those reforms as writes R. Sharf in his famous 1995 article “had the effect of rationalizing meditation; meditation was now conceived not as the ritual instantiation of Buddhahood, nor as a means to accumulate merit, but rather as a “mental discipline” designed to engender a particular transformative experience.” (p. 258)

    The problem is that we get used to the idea that Buddhist technical terms associated with the “stages on the path” are understood as if they described specific “states of consciousness” experienced by individuals during their meditation practice. But Sharf claims that it is exaggerated notion and that historical and ethnographic evidence suggest that the whole elaborate Buddhist discourse pertaining to the “path” functions rather ideologically and performatively – “wielded more often than not in the interest of legitimation and institutional authority.” At the same time what is I guess important is to remember that he does not negate the likelihood of all kinds of experiences (even potentially “transformative”) being brought about by the meditation techniques practiced during the retreats. His main point is “that such private episodes do not constitute the reference points for the elaborate discourse on meditative states found in Buddhist scholastic sources. (…) terms such as samatha, vipassana, sotapatti, and satori are not rendered sensible by virtue of the fact that they refer to clearly delimited “experiences” shared by Buddhist practitioners. Rather, meaning of such terminology must be sought in the polemic and ideological context in which meditation is carried out.” (p. 260)

    So, my conclusion from the above is that if “overcoming of personal suffering” in Buddhism is at all possible, it, contrary to the popular notions of “privatized practice”, is primarily an effect of being immersed in the vortex of ideological participation and identity, and not so much an effect of a particular private “mental discipline”.

  312. Luis Daniel said

    Tomek # 311 and # 305

    Zazen or Chan/Zen is nothing but a rebranding of Mahayana buddhism, in itself one of the worst other-worldly sects I have known. Early buddhism stopped being almost unknown thanks to Ashoka, when he made it for the first time an official religion of his Government. Ashoka himself conveniently converted to buddhism after destroying and killing many of his enemies, and made it one of the first historic times where officially a religion began to be used as a form of social repression.

    The two main characteristics of religion are: belief in the afterlife and imposing moralistic rules on others, usually with violence and hatred. The ultimate expression of non-human out-of-time concepts is god, but dogma has many different forms including Reason, History and of course Truth. We have here an excellent example of this modern disease: Tom Peppers not only devotes himself to this new form of IDEOLOGICAL DOGMA but also exerts immediate punishment to whoever disagrees with his communist/buddhist rebranding, he has even copied from someone else a form of conceptual cultural afterlife.

    I don’t hate him either, nor want him in any gulag but right here, where he can be exposed, his theoretical back be publicly broken into pieces and be the best example of his cowardly expressions of personal pain avoidance and systematic self-defeating violence and dogma.

    When I refer to this as a personal private practice I define it not from the point of view of historical buddhism. I defined from our time, from the liberal concept that what we need and want is a form of social organization which enables social justice for all, but leaves the MOST room for private life. From that point of view we will certainly defend ourselves, not just with words, from the few Peppers still left around as to assure that under no circumstances will we accept his or anyone else´s disguised umbrella of rebranded communism in the form of yet another form of dogmatic buddhism that would otherwise allow him or anyone else tell us what to do with our private life. That simply is not his o anyone else´s business. At the same time we will as we live put forward and enact all sorts of public policy proposals in the direction of more social justice for all.

    I may not be able to see his funeral, but certainly his ideas are dead before him. I am glad for that.

  313. Linda (#310).

    Don’t you think there is a mix of language styles here? Some of it is probably difficult for readers, but not all. Are you referring to the article on speculative non-buddhism? If so, I do see your point, but I decided to write that without any concern for my readers. I just wanted to say what I felt I had to say in the way I felt I had to say it. You never know about your readers. Maybe an easier style would have gained some readers; but it might have lost some, too. You can’t tell.

    I regularly get criticism along similar lines as yours. Some of that criticism has been extremely detailed and lengthy. Some sounds cool-headed; but often it’s angry-sounding. Basically, it all seems to boil down to a “simple-language-is-better” criticism. If I can see the validity of certain features of that argument (what you say in your first para, for instance), in a very personal way I don’t share it. I want to work hard at gaining knowledge and insight. Even if I just get a vague inkling that there’s something to an argument, I am willing to work as hard as the author I’m reading makes me work. I like for thinking and learning to be very, very difficult, in fact. Come to think of it, I like it to be practically impossible. So many times I have made the experience that what initially struck me as vague, obscure, or incomprehensible turns out to be delightfully illuminating. Sometimes, of course, it turns out to be shite; but at least I saw that for myself, and learned something in the process. I really do dislike Strunk and White.

    I also have less personal reasons for my approach. I express some of these indirectly in Word Blood. Whether it’s academic or popular, I find Buddhist writing and thinking largely anemic. It is so predictable it makes my head dull, literally. So, some of my style is my way of injecting x-buddhist discourse with fresh bacteria.

    When I taught undergrads, I never “taught down.” I always taught up. I identified that brightest kid and taught to him/her. Every semester I was heartened at how many students rose to the occasion and discovered unknown ability that way. Speaking to adults, I always assume that my partner in conversation is as intelligent and capable as I am. I mentioned that to Dana recently, I think.

    I like what Richard Sennett said (in The Craftsman) about his teacher, Hannah Arendt:

    The good teacher imparts a satisfying explanation; the great teacher–-as Arendt was–unsettles, bequeaths disquiet, invites argument.

  314. Geoff said

    Glenn,

    I’m curious to know why you haven’t responsed to Ted Meissner #189?

    I refer to it in my #242

    Is there any reason, did you miss it or didn’t you think it was worth responding to?

    After all he is (was?) The Secular Buddhist

    cheers

    Geoff

  315. Geoff said

    PS Glenn

    Maybe I missed your response to Ted?

    Please excuse my poor spelling – that what you get for doing a rush job at work – lol

  316. Hi Geoff (#315).

    How in the world did I miss that one?! Sometimes comments accumulate so fast here that a few just whiz past in a blur. #189 was like that–I didn’t let it go intentionally. Thanks for pointing that out to me. Would you still like a response?

  317. Glenn #313

    Yes, the article but also in the comments, in your invitation for me to address conversations on the SBA site in terms of “buddhemic ventriloquization” etc — you love challenging your participants to go read your position paper, don’t you?

    “I want to work hard at gaining knowledge and insight. Even if I just get a vague inkling that there’s something to an argument, I am willing to work as hard as the author I’m reading makes me work. I like for thinking and learning to be very, very difficult, in fact. Come to think of it, I like it to be practically impossible. So many times I have made the experience that what initially struck me as vague, obscure, or incomprehensible turns out to be delightfully illuminating.”

    I agree with that, but there’s only so much time in the day. I have a huge list of challenging things to dig into, and I have to prioritize them — vague inklings don’t tend to float to the top, and vague inklings that what I’m being invited to study is being exemplified by someone with a snarky style who doesn’t really give a damn if he does damage with his comments or not, who has a better grasp of how to be so sarcastic that it will hurt than he has of the philosophies of the people he’s slinging barbs at, well, that tends to push “vague inklings” down to the bottom. I suppose that in the same way you see the writers on the SBA blog as “the voice of secular Buddhism” and you don’t like what you’re hearing, and would see us change to suit your preferences, I hear you and the folks who write here as the voice of SNB, and I don’t find the tone representative of who I want to be, so I am suggesting you’d need to change your tone to suit me. This is what I meant by the comment that you’re being so free with language, while telling us how we should present ourselves through language. I wasn’t suggesting that you are putting limits on our language/participation on your site — obviously you don’t — but that you are yet applying what forces you can muster to get us to change how we speak on our own site.

    “When I taught undergrads, I never ‘taught down.’ I always taught up.”

    Which is admirable, and suitable in the situation. I tend to see that as a variant on the way I raised my kids (which may be why they have a good grasp of how to use language, and a wider ranging vocabulary than most of their peers do). But we are being asked, on the SBA website, to put the Buddha’s teachings, as we understand them, into the simplest possible terms, and we are trying. Even aside from that, for all of my life (despite my love of words and tendency to build hugely complex sentences and enjoying reading the same from others) I have found that speaking in the plainest possible language to most folks is very effective in building a common understanding, and that understanding is very rewarding. I also think that if you can’t explain something in plain language that anyone can understand without much effort, that it means you don’t understand it very well yourself. Inventing a vocabulary is actually a sign of laziness when looked at that way.

    But, here, let me get to what I’d really like to ask you about. Over on the SBA site, you said, “Whether it’s intentional or not, the secular Buddhist sites are presenting themselves as possessing significant authority. The newcomer to Buddhism is receiving numerous signals of expertise when s/he comes to, for instance, the SBA site.” This may well be valid criticism and something we could fix, but your statement is just a generalization, and without examples I’m at a loss to see what you are seeing.

  318. Linda (#317). I am losing track of what we are discussing. So, we disagree about language parameters. I still think that if you look around the site you will find many different moods and modes of speech, from kind and gentle to impatient and harsh. I’ve said a hundred times around this site that the inclusion of heated language is intentional–partly as a way to extend what’s allowable in discourse about Buddhism, and partly to let people be people.

    you love challenging your participants to go read your position paper, don’t you?

    No, I don’t. I could not care less whether anyone reads what I write. But if the topic is non-buddhist theory, yes, I’d hope you’d read it.

    In the third paragraph, you generalize about “the tone.” Again, why this fixation on one tone among many? That’s a real question. Fixation on tone is becoming an interesting symptom of secular Buddhism. It’s a symptom of Buddhism in general (right speech and so on), so that is not surprising, I suppose. In that para, I assume you are referring mainly to me, right? Again, “snark” is in my repertoire. I consciously decide what tone to employ in my interactions. I prefer Beethoven’s range to Mozart’s. I wonder if there is a Mid-West-West/East Coast-Europe aspect at work in this language-tone issue? That would be interesting to explore, don’t you think?

    I’m unclear about your references to my views on the Secular Buddhist Association’s language. My criticism of the secular Buddhist sites I’ve seen has nothing to do with language per se.

    who doesn’t really give a damn if he does damage with his comments or not

    I assume that “who” means me, right? (Why not say who “who” is?) I wonder if this is really what your activity here is about, namely some personal hurt. Based on your views of us (me?), I can’t see what you’re interested in accomplishing here–unless it’s just to express your views about us/me. Have your feelings been hurt? What “damage”? Who knows what eventually comes out of hurt feelings and fractured egos? We all go through that.

    Or is there another reason you are here?

  319. Glenn #318

    No, no personal hurt.

    And no, the “who” is not you-and-you-alone but the people who are actively engaged over the course of time here on the SNB site, who also then bounce over to the SBA site. The conversation that has been about what tone of voice one uses applies, as far as I can see, to the next thread I am trying to bring up.

    So after the issues of the choice of styles your crew uses here and there, I’m trying to pick up the threads of the conversation that got stopped on the SBA site. In one of those threads you, Glenn, were talking about what I’d say is “our tone” — saying that there was some presentation of the site/authors as authorities. And I am trying to understand what you see as the way we are coming across as authorities.

    That is the reason I am here: to engage with those whose comments I found to be potentially valuable criticism on the SBA site. If this isn’t something you’re interested in me engaging with here, just say so, and I’ll get back to my studies.

  320. Danny said

    Glenn, I was just over on the SBA site reading the article, “Body Meditation” and noticed your comment there that raised several good questions that have yet to be responded to.

    Wonder what up with that?

  321. Danny said

    #320.
    Nevermind, I see now you’ve been booted…

  322. Linda (#319). Oh, the authority issue. The SBA blog (and FB page, too) is a classic example of hidden authority. Writers on the blog often employ a rhetoric or “beginner’s-mind,” “DIY” or “grassroots” but then produce texts that say how it is with X, what X means. (Of course, they often place the authority in “the Buddha” or “Gotama” and not in themselves.) The grammatical voice of the site is indicative rather than interrogative. I just went to the SBA blog to copy some examples. But virtually every sentence is an example: it’s the indicative voice all the way through. There is nothing wrong with that in itself. But the texts that the SBA produces give lie to its proclamations of being “shared authority” and “grassroots” and so on. The site is not an “exploration” of Buddhism, as it claims; it is an explication. When that or some other veiled feature of SBA is challenged, the whip of another kind of authority manifests (see the new guidelines. I wonder who wrote those?)

    The SBA is just part of a general trend in contemporary western Buddhism. The trend is to cloak a conservative, traditional form of Buddhist thought and practice in a rhetoric of innovation. The writing of youngish teachers like Lodro Rinzler, Brad Warner, Noah Levine, Ethen Nichtern, and Hokai Sobol are run through with this tradition-as-innovation rhetoric. Older teachers like Stephen Batchelor and Stephen Schettini participate in it, too. I don’t know if it’s delusion or ignorance that makes them think they are being innovative. I don’t think Vince Horn and Ryan Oelke of Buddhist Geeks are being ironic when they refer to their podcasts’ “fresh perspective on being a modern-day Buddhist practitioner,” are they? Hokai Sobol speaks of the possibility of “genuine innovation” in western Buddhism, and says things like “while Consensus Buddhism is crumbling, something else is taking shape, or at least trying to.” Consensus Buddhism is crumbling? Not on Hokai Sobol’s site, it’s not. Lama Surya Das answers a question about overcoming Asian cultural trappings and hierarchical structures with: “I have two words for you, Occupy Buddhism.” Occupy Buddhism? Surya Das and everyone I just mentioned are the x-buddhist 1%, not the real grassroots 99%. The irony or delusion or ignorance is nearly unfathomable to me. Maybe what’s happening is a deep forgetting of Buddhist history. I don’t know. These “post-traditional” “innovators” make me respect the traditional religious Buddhists more and more. At least the latter are not pretending to be something they’re not.

    That’s a crappy answer, I know. I’ll have more to say on the new site.

  323. Geoff said

    Thanks Glenn – I’d be interested in your response to Ted Meissner #189 (and my queries #242)

    I haven’t been following Ted lately but I thought he was perhaps more subtle & open to SNB than the other SBA respondents. Eg I thought he came across pretty well in those podcasts with you a while back….

    At least that was until hearing about Tom’s recent experience……

    Maybe you should have referred to Ted in On the Faith of Secular Buddhists rather than Batchelor, given the SBA’s attempts to distance themselves from Batchelor.

    They’d find it harder to distance themselves from Ted given he is the Secular Buddhist – at least until the recent name change anyway……

    I figure he’s the fish to fry…

    cheers

    Geoff

  324. Geoff #323 “…given the SBA’s attempts to distance themselves from Batchelor.”

    Are we, now? Where are you seeing this? I’m fascinated when folks talk about what the SBA is doing and I have no clue that it’s something we’re doing. I’m saying that seriously, not sarcastically. Maybe you’re seeing something that’s actually there; maybe I’m not part of it; maybe I’m the whole of it; maybe it’s something we’re doing unconsciously; maybe it’s a conspiracy and I’ve been left out. Until I know what it is you are seeing — show me examples — I remain blind to what you’re talking about.

    Show me, please?

  325. Glenn #322. “…everyone I just mentioned are the x-buddhist 1%, not the real grassroots 99%…”

    That real grassroots 99%, where are they? Is your crew here it? Is that sort of like “the Silent Majority”?

    “I just went to the SBA blog to copy some examples.”

    And came back with none, even though “virtually every sentence is an example.”

    So, yeah, “That’s a crappy answer, I know. I’ll have more to say on the new site.” I will wait for it.

    “The SBA is just part of a general trend in contemporary western Buddhism. The trend is to cloak a conservative, traditional form of Buddhist thought and practice in a rhetoric of innovation.”

    I hear you say that, and I saw the examples you gave in #1-5 above, but as far as I can tell, you are deforming what SBA is to push it in to a shape that will fit your x-buddhism. You seem to need it to be more conservative than it is to fit with your theories — thus the need to have SBA be, as x-buddhism is, about transcendence (when it is not) or that the Buddha’s teachings could not be expressed by anyone else and are totally sufficient (as if no secular Buddhist ever looks outside of Buddhism for new ideas, or other possible insights, or ever disagrees with what they understand the Buddha to be saying).

    You seem to want an exploration of Buddhism to be so radical it will likely emerge as something else other than Buddhism — and that’s fine, that’s innovative. You are right that SBA is, in its way, conservative — it is doing something 90 degrees out from what you are doing. It’s not pushing boundaries so far that what it discovers may be unrecognizable as Buddhism. That’s the sort of thing you’re doing; it’s not what we’re doing. We are being conservative in that we are actively looking for what is worth conserving, and if it uses the same old language (that bores you) that’s not a problem for us, though we are also looking for ways to express what’s being said in modern terms as well. If we often sound indicative — if we are “showing, signifying, or pointing out; expressive or suggestive” — it’s not some mistake we are making, it’s because we are making a conscious effort to show and point out what we think is significant — the parts we think should be kept. Being clear on what works for us, and wanting to share that, isn’t the same as claiming to be authorities.

    All this is, is different from what you are doing. I keep hearing you portray it as “wrong” (or at least “the wrong way to go/a waste of time and so you should stop”) and I suppose from within the realm of your efforts it would be wrong and a waste of time, but we aren’t doing what you are doing.

    Sometimes listening to you reminds me of those book reviews I read on Amazon.com where the disgruntled owner of a book says, “I wanted a cookbook that would show me 1,000 recipes I had never seen before, but this book called ‘1,000 classic recipes’ doesn’t have anything new in it. It sucks.” You’re giving the SBA a bad review because it isn’t doing what you want it to do, not because it is failing in its own goals.

  326. Geoff said

    Ted – if you’re out there…..

    I’d be interested in your explanation for kicking Tom off the SBA blog

    ….. & how about asking Glenn back on your podcast?

    Now that would be interesting…..

    Glenn re you comment on #322 – “These “post-traditional” “innovators” make me respect the traditional religious Buddhists more and more. At least the latter are not pretending to be something they’re not.”

    That reminds me – wasn’t Bramali impressive?

    Traditional Buddhist monk, rolling up his sleeves & not taking a backward step in his exchanges. From memory I don’t think he got a response from his last comment – I think that makes him the last man standing…..

    I tried to coax his mate Sujato in but I think he was too busy with his career crisis….

  327. Geoff, #326: This was indeed an interesting discussion: about The Question of the Original Buddha. There where arguments and he simply non-reacted (mostly) to so called ‘improper speech’ in favor of the discussed object.
    (# 120 to #197 in this thread)

    It is an example how a discussion between the non-buddhist ‘crew’ and a traditional Buddhist can unfold in a way that both sides contribute in a meaningful way – that meaning: there is material one can work with, contradictions become visible, a dialectical process unfolds or at least becomes possible.

    The discussion with Brahmali is also an example what has been said in “Changes“:

    A huge amount of material has amassed here. We do not want to let it decay unused. So, we invite everybody to rummage through it and see what might be of further use to you.

    Why no work out the pros and cons in this discussion putting them into a text of its own?

  328. Geoff said

    Linda re#324,

    Eg at a quick glance……

    Mark Knickelbine #2

    “And trying to present us as some monolithic movement with dogmatic positions is just silly — where is the monolith? Who is our pope? Batchelor? I don’t know anybody involved in the conversation at SBA who doesn’t have reservations about some of his ideas, and he has done little in the way of building a movement or enforcing an orthodoxy.”

    & someone by the name of Linda Blanchard #31

    “While your article is interesting, its conclusions are grounded on some shaky assumptions, the largest being, as I see it, that Batchelor’s approach to Buddhism is a fair equivalent of Secular Buddhism, and that secular Buddhists don’t disagree with him or his foundational tenets. Though you say you are able to recognize that they are not one and the same (“Secular Buddhism and Stephen Batchelor are not, I suppose, necessarily synonymous. But you couldn’t blame someone for thinking that they are.”) even so, your entire article has held up his ideas as representative of the secular approach. I’d note that, by doing so you’re supporting and adding to the myth that there is no disagreement at all: we are the Borg and Stephen is the Queen.”

    Ted Meissner #189

    “In many ways you described quite accurately what Stephen means by secular Buddhism, and what he’s interested in doing. Where I diverge, however, is that the post does not accurately reflect what *my* approach is, and is not accurate for everyone who uses “secular Buddhist” as a reference. As I said in 129, what is showing itself to be helpful to me as a practice here and now is independent of the source of that practice.”

    There are probably others….

    Cheers

    Geoff

  329. stoky said

    Linda (325),

    I really had to laugh when Glenn avoided to provide an example. That’s exactly the move people usually make when they have nothing to show.

    However in this case it seems like there are things to show: For example the whole article “Staying in the Body and out of the Mind”

    That scenario is not only common, but it occurs often everyday. It’s easy to fall into the habit of living in our heads, in the drama of our minds, in the details of thoughts. But this is a huge source of suffering, and absolutely unnecessary.

    The first part seems fine, but why is she so sure that it’s absolutely unnecessary? She simply knows.

    But we need to let all of that go when thinking is not only unnecessary, but could be problematic or unskillful, like while driving, or even walking. Whenever we perform a physical task, we need to focus on that, not thinking about what we’re going to buy for dinner later.

    When criticised Dana ignored that by saying this is just her “personal approach”. Well, that might be true, but it’s not what the text says. The text is not about her, it’s about us and what we should do . Telling other people what to do is almost the text-book definition of claiming an authority.

    She claims to write a little story of a personal experience but it turns out as a general description about the nature of thought. This is the point where I think one needs to be critical. Besides that the text is wrong on so many levels… What does it make of humanity if we focus on every single task that we perform? Well, again: She simply knows this is right.

    Another example are the little daily exercises Ted likes to give at the SB-Facebook page. Of course nobody is forced to exercise them. However, telling other people what to do again is exactly an authorative behaviour. Please note that this is independent of the question whether these exercises are actually useful or not.

  330. Tom Pepper said

    Re 326: Geoff, my impression is that there were really two reasons I got booted. First, it is imperative that nobody ever question the sweeping and unsupported claims made by the (non)authorities on SBA. This is crucial to postmodern ideology–anything anybody says is always right, and the only thing that is unacceptable is suggesting that something might be wrong. The second reason is that I too blatantly called attention to the fact that Ted’s own “speech” is often hostile, snarky, and childish–that it violates all his own rules of right speech. This was just too much for him to deal with apparently. As he says so often, he is just a beginner on the path, and hasn’t sufficient equanimity to handle facing his own flaws and errors; this is why he is qualified to teach Buddhism to beginners–those who haven’t the least idea how to apply it in their lives are best qualified, apparently, to teach it to others who don’t know anything about it.

  331. Linda (#325).

    Yes, the real grassroots is the non-Buddhist and non-buddhist majority. The 99% is humanity. It is the person unstrapped from the x-buddhist world-conquering juggernaut.

    I say my answer is crappy because it does not even remotely begin to suggest the first faint whisper of an answer. I could go to the site now and pull off five thousand sentences like—hold on a second—this one: “Additionally, body meditation helps keep us grounded, out of the drama and stories of our minds, and helps us to train us to only follow skillful thoughts while being mindful of where we are in our environment and how we interact with the world.” What makes the over-abundance—really, the virtual exclusivity—of sentences like this one an issue at all is, again, merely that the SBA claims to offer explorations for an innovative Buddhist practice for our time, yet really offers tired conservative reinventions of the wheel.

    So, while we’re on this point, note that I said makes it an “issue” and not makes it “wrong.” May I refer you to Tom Pepper’s #7 on “Changes”?

    you are deforming what SBA is to push it in to a shape that will fit your x-buddhism. You seem to need it to be more conservative than it is to fit with your theories — thus the need to have SBA be, as x-buddhism is, about transcendence (when it is not) or that the Buddha’s teachings could not be expressed by anyone else and are totally sufficient (as if no secular Buddhist ever looks outside of Buddhism for new ideas, or other possible insights, or ever disagrees with what they understand the Buddha to be saying).

    No, I’m not deforming anything. I am offering critical tools for examining x-buddhist phenomena. I pull out a tool, like buddhemic ventriloquism, go have a look at the SBA text, and then say so-and-so about the SBA rhetoric. The rest is up to others. I am not claiming that “no secular Buddhist ever looks outside of Buddhism for new ideas,” etc. I am claiming that (1) it is rare, and (2) it never happens robustly, and (3) a fair conclusion for x-buddhist writers’ weak engagement with non-Buddhist material is captured by the Principle of Sufficient Buddhism.

    We are being conservative in that we are actively looking for what is worth conserving

    No, the SBA texts are decidedly not doing what you say. That is what we are doing here. A working premise in the non-buddhist theory as I am using it is that x-buddhism is a form of maniacal narcissism. It sees its reflection in everyone and everything. That is what systems of thought do, generally speaking. The issue with x-buddhism as it is presented in the contemporary West, though, is that it claims to be something other than a mere abstract system of thought and practice. It claims to be a nexus of knowledge akin to science, not to religion. What it teaches is “verifiable,” “naturalistic,” “self-evident,” etc., etc. Again, I refer you to Tom’s #7. It takes tremendous force of thought to counter the violence of x-buddhist specularity.

    Sometimes listening to you reminds me of those book reviews I read on Amazon.com where the disgruntled owner of a book says, “I wanted a cookbook that would show me 1,000 recipes I had never seen before, but this book called ’1,000 classic recipes’ doesn’t have anything new in it. It sucks.” You’re giving the SBA a bad review because it isn’t doing what you want it to do, not because it is failing in its own goals.

    I am making suggestions about how you might read the book, and asking you to go do the work of reading it that way. One thing I am claiming you will see is that the SBA says in the preface to its recipe book “we explore what [these classic recipes] may become in our contemporary culture,” and then presents 1,000 classic recipes, pure and simple. There is no real exploration, no becoming. It’s a mere repackaging. Again, it’s part of a larger trend. I am interested in following the contradictions, hypocrisies, conceits, rhetorical gestures, claims, and so on, in x-buddhist materials as a way of getting at the moment of decision.

  332. Glenn #331. (Sorry for the long absence and long comment.)

    “Yes, the real grassroots is the non-Buddhist and non-buddhist majority. The 99% is humanity.”

    We are talking about two different things, then: grassroots in the whole of humanity is what you’re talking about, grassroots amongst those who practice Buddhism and are wanting to take a fresh look at what it has to offer, this is what we’re talking about. So when you said, “everyone I just mentioned are the x-buddhist 1%, not the real grassroots 99%” that sounded very impressive, but you stepped far outside what we were talking about, which is was what you perceive as SBA “claims” about our being a grassroots organization. We aren’t claiming to be a grassroots effort that is drawn from all of humanity. “Everyone you just mentioned” are part of a much smaller grassroots effort, and they are part of something larger than 1% of those interested in seeing what Buddhism may turn out to be as it encounters new cultures and rapidly changing societies.

    “What makes the over-abundance—really, the virtual exclusivity—of sentences like this one an issue at all is, again, merely that the SBA claims to offer explorations for an innovative Buddhist practice for our time, yet really offers tired conservative reinventions of the wheel. ”

    Except that we don’t — that’s happening in your imagination, Glenn. You perceive that we are “offering explorations for an innovative Buddhist practice” but your perception is off. Perhaps we aren’t being clear enough — though it’s not for lack of trying to be clear about it on our part. This is why I am here — when you show me something that can be misread, I’ll try to fix it so we don’t continue to confuse you, or anyone else.

    You asked me to, so I have now read Tom Pepper’s comments on the Changes page. He talks about how dangerous it can be to claim 7-day cures from addiction with Buddhist thinking alone, and he mentions how there’s not much discussion of sex. I guess you were trying to say the SBA is promising (the equivalent of) 7-day cures, that we’re dangerous in making promises we don’t keep — as saying we are authorities when we are not? at fooling people into trusting us so they’ll sign up for our for our cures when they should really go see a doctor?

    “No, I’m not deforming anything.”

    Yes, you are (see “in your imagination” above for another example).

    ” I am not claiming that “no secular Buddhist ever looks outside of Buddhism for new ideas,” etc. I am claiming that (1) it is rare, and (2) it never happens robustly, and (3) a fair conclusion for x-buddhist writers’ weak engagement with non-Buddhist material is captured by the Principle of Sufficient Buddhism.”

    You are mistaking a focused goal of talking about Buddhism for a refusal to think about anything else. If Buddhism is sufficient for anything, it is sufficient for what we see Buddhism doing for us, and when we need something that Buddhism doesn’t provide something we need, we go look outside Buddhism for it, but that “outside” is not what we are talking about on site about Buddhism.

    This is what we are talking about on the SBA site: what Buddhism does for us. Our interest, there, is not in talking about what other philosophies may do for us. Apparently you are unable to recognize the distinction, though I don’t see why you can’t see it. It sure looks to me like you hear us saying what you want us to be saying so you can point out the error of our ways, rather than being put in the position of actually understanding what we are doing and saying, and maybe then recognizing that what we’re doing is not totally incompatible with what you are doing.

    Me: “We are being conservative in that we are actively looking for what is worth conserving”
    You: “No, the SBA texts are decidedly not doing what you say”
    Could it be that we are both aiming to look at what is worth conserving, but we have entirely different methods? Are you objecting to our methods? Because what we talk about on the site is what we find useful in the existing practices, and it seems pretty obvious to me that these are the things we find worth conserving. I believe you are confusing the “direction of the effort” with “effort”. You have a certain direction you are taking in your efforts to conserve; we are going in a different direction, but both of our efforts are conservative; our methods are different, and perhaps our expected outcome is different (I expect you’ll say you have no expected outcome — and that would be different from our approach). You say we aren’t making an effort to conserve, but what we actually aren’t doing is heading in exactly the same direction you are.

    “…we explore what [these classic recipes] may become in our contemporary culture…”

    This is where I say you are deforming what I see that those participating on the SBA site are saying — you deny you are doing it but really you just aren’t seeing that you are.

    We are interested in exploring — we say so. We are doing it as part of a conversation that we’re inviting people to join in. We are only just in the process of creating a place for people to gather if they accept our invitation to join the conversation. “This is a young effort,” we say, because it really is very very young — we haven’t even really begun anything like exploration. All we’ve been working on so far is trying to develop a site (“a place for people to gather”) with some content that will be useful and interesting enough to hopefully engage people who have a similar interest. We are looking for the people who want to do the exploring — we are talking about exploring *together* as a community. We are not saying “We are the explorers, sit back and listen while we tell you what we see.” But this is the way you are taking it, and then you call us out for failing to deliver what you think we have promised to do.

    You’re interpreting that “exploring” as being an active push at the envelope, and as saying that the push is coming just from the small group of writers. But the sentence you are referring to (since updated on the site, thanks to your good criticism) was talking about a grass-roots gathering that isn’t limited to just the few who write for the blog, and the exploring is therefore expressing a much more inclusive group effort. So you’ve misinterpreted on two levels (1) who is doing the exploring and (2) the definition of exploration. You seem to think it is that we are saying we are doing something along the lines of what you are doing, when that’s not what’s meant. I can understand that, if you thought we were saying “We are explorers — here is what we are finding” you would be disappointed by what we are actually writing about. But the failure isn’t in us not matching our goals to our actions, it has been a failure to communicate our goals well enough for you to recognize that we are doing what we are saying we are setting out to do: provide a venue which will become a home for grassroots explorers.

    We are not in a hurry because we are trying not to push any particular agenda for where the exploration should go or how fast we need to get where we are going. In the informal talks we’ve had, there have been frequent mentions of some of us not living long enough to see where all this will go, which tells me that for us, the point isn’t for us to be writing articles that are trying to hurry things along; we don’t see ourselves as having the authority to fulfill the promises you seem to perceive us to be making and and want us to therefore keep. You feel you are in a position to do the critical work — good for you! But that’s not part of our agenda — it’s yours.

    Our parameters are that we are talking about what is recognizable as Buddhism (so you can find an agenda in there if you wish to call it that) and that we are working within that framework. We may push boundaries some, but boundary-pushing isn’t the point. We’re happy enough to be working within the Buddhist fold — the common ground we have with traditional Buddhism may well be greater than our differences.

    You say, “… x-buddhism is a form of maniacal narcissism. It sees its reflection in everyone and everything…” and yet you fail to notice that you are seeing us saying that what we are doing is what you are doing. We are neither *saying* that we are, nor are we attempting to *do* what you are doing. Just because you read a line that says, “…we explore what Buddhism may become in our contemporary culture”* as us making a promise to do what you are doing, doesn’t mean you’ve read it correctly — it might just mean that you are seeing your own reflection in your interpretation, rather than actually hearing what we are saying — and noticing that what we are saying is reflected in how we behave (what we talk about). Why is it than when there is this discrepancy between what you perceive us to be saying and what you perceive us to be doing, you assume the error is ours (we are saying one thing and doing another) rather than being willing to look at the possibility that the error is yours (you are misperceiving one or the other and actually the two are in alignment)?

    We aren’t aiming at a radical rewriting of the recipes, we are interested in seeing where it may go by simply inviting people to join in the process of taking part in a secular form of Buddhism. When we say “exploring” we don’t mean the SBA is “pushing for change”, we mean seeing what’s there, and watching what shape it takes over time, as many people take part in it. Our individual voices are included in the “taking part”, and each of us may have slightly different approaches, but we all tend to agree on there being value in what Buddhism has to offer and even in the traditional approaches. Our voices are consistent with our aims — if you hear our aims as being one thing and our voices being different, you need to double-check your understanding; the discrepancy is in your perception, not between what we want to do and what we are saying when doing it.

    It could be that what secular Buddhism will become in the future is not hugely different than what traditional Buddhism has been in the past. I, personally, don’t think it needs to be radically different. I think the traditions have been passing on something that, for the most part, works. We need to lose the razzle-dazzle that feeds into those hallucinations we were talking about earlier, but the original ideas still work — though they might be better expressed in different language, and there could well be better approaches to take that will become clearer over time through the help of innovative thinkers in science or philosophy, for example.

    But I’m thinking you just can’t recognize that you’re building a secular-x-buddhist straw man — your perception seems to be that we’re making promises we don’t keep and that we are too deluded to see it; mine is that your perception of our promises is skewed by your expectations. You can recognize that what we are *doing* is different from what you are doing, but you are assuming we are *saying* we are doing something else, something more like what you are doing, and we are not saying what you think we are saying. I doubt that we’re going to reconcile this by continuing to talk about it, but I have appreciated the conversation.

    * full context was originally:

    “The Secular Buddhist Association (SBA) is a grass roots gathering of fellow practitioners and interested parties, providing mutual support, feedback, and conversation as we explore what Buddhism may become in our contemporary culture.”

  333. (sorry for the many typos in the above)

    *in exactly the same direction you are as far as simple conservation is concerned.

  334. Craig said

    Linda-

    It’s a no-win situation here. You can ‘explain’ yourself all you want, but the Non-Buddhists are there to critique. If you are unable to respond to the critique or entertain some non-buddhist notions, the conversation will be fruitless and eventually run out of steam. There is no winning a debate here. It’s all about questions and flashes of insight…then more questions.

  335. Tomek said

    It could be that what secular Buddhism will become in the future is not hugely different than what traditional Buddhism has been in the past. I, personally, don’t think it needs to be radically different. I think the traditions have been passing on something that, for the most part, works.

    Linda (#332), could you be more specific and say what do you exactly mean by “something” that “works”?

  336. Craig #334. Agreed. As long as Glenn and I can’t even agree on the premise, there is no moving forward. I believe that’s what I said with the last line.

    Tomek #335. I think I covered that in my #280 reply to Tom Pepper. If that doesn’t answer your question, let me know.

  337. Craig said

    Linda-

    Yes, my comment to you was also a comment to myself. I’m fine with just questions these days…and the occasional fleeting insight. Glenn and crew have definitely got me thinking.

  338. stoky said

    Linda,

    I agree with you and the others here that we reached a critical point, if not “the” critical point.

    What I don’t understand, is why the SBA artificially limits itself to ancient Buddhist teachings.

    If you believe that what causes suffering (dukkha) is how we relate to our sense-of-self (that’s what I get from your series of articles on dependent arising), then the question of Matthias in one of his posts about the influence of Facebooks single-idendity to our sense-of-self should be of interest to you. If you’re concerned with suffering then Buddhism is obviously not sufficient but we need to open the discourse e.g. to politics and so on.

    The last time your response to this was basically: well, that’s not what Buddhism is about (or more precisely: if it’s not solvable by Buddhist practice it’s not dukkha). Which is correct in the sense that the Pali-Canon doesn’t offer any insights about Facebook.
    But then there are Buddhists like Basho:

    “Don’t follow
    the footsteps of the masters,
    seek
    what they sought.”

    To me that’s the main difference between the SBA and the SNB. The SBA seems to look for answers, the SNB for questions. I even started a little essay on that matter, but maybe you can answer to this from my comment here.

    Thanks in advance.

  339. Craig #337. Yes, they’ve got me thinking too, and we’ve made some small changes at SBA as a result of this conversation, which is why I am appreciative. But I woke up this morning thinking about what it takes to make criticism most effective, and I think it is understanding what you are criticizing that is most important. For example, for someone to help me grow as a person, they need to understand who I am and what my aims are. If someone criticizes me without really knowing what I want out of life, or why I behave the way I do, they aren’t going to be too likely to give me advice that will be really helpful; they are more likely to be giving me what I think of as “selfish advice” — advice that addresses *their* aims rather than mine.

    So when Glenn points out that we say our website is about exploring new possibilities in Buddhism and he wants us to see all the ways in which we are instead perpetuating Buddhism’s past, he may be right that we are perpetuating Buddhism’s past, but he is mistaken in thinking that isn’t part of what we have set out to do, and that’s why his criticism isn’t effective in causing us to change. He and his peers perceive that we are being dense and “just not getting” what they are saying or refusing to listen, but that’s not what’s happening, either. It is simply that his premise — that our site is all about the writers exploring new possibilities — is wrong. He is criticizing what he thinks is going on, not what is actually going on, and as long as that’s the case, his criticism isn’t going to do much.

    But when he points out where we are giving a wrong impression about what we’re doing (as in the About/Basics section quoted above) and I can see how it might be misread, that’s helpful — we can try to clarify what we’re doing in that text, so others won’t be confused by it. That’s helpful in achieving our goals — but I expect it isn’t the result Glenn was wanting.

    I find it a little ironic, since what’s been going wrong in this conversation is, as I understand it, at the heart of what the Buddha was pointing out, which is this: As long as we operate on what we think we know (rather than recognizing the difference between what we think we know, and what we do know) we aren’t going to be as effective at achieving our goals in the world. The closer we can get to actual understanding (and I find this is often “of how differently people operate from the way we assume they do”) the more effective we can be. If Glenn continues to offer criticism of what he thinks we are doing, without recognizing what we are actually doing, his criticism is going to be wide of the mark and mostly wasted effort. I keep talking because I know that Glenn could offer really terrific and useful comments if he actually understood what he was dissecting and examining, and I hold out hope that eventually he’ll recognize the difference between what he thinks is going on with the SBA, and what is.

  340. Stoky #338. I’d need links to the conversation “last time” to be able to respond in the context of that conversation about Facebook and single identities. What I vaguely recall is being quite interested in the idea. I’m not sure your recap of my response is accurate to what I was trying to convey (so, as I say, I’d need a fresh look at the thread).

    I, personally, am quite interested in how that sense-of-self is a problem not just on the level of one individual as described in the Buddha’s original teachings, but (for example) the way it affects entities like corporations and nations and religions. I’ve written about that on my Facebook wall, because it does interest me. I see meme theory as addressing some of the same issues and having new and fresh insights to offer to us.

    Why am I not writing articles on those subjects on the SBA site? Because that’s not what the majority of our audience is asking for. They are asking for the very most basic, and most pragmatic understanding of what the heck the Buddha was talking about — seen from a secular perspective that they aren’t getting from the traditional teachers they encounter — and how it applies to their everyday life. And that, too, interests me, largely because it is what I was missing when I first encountered Buddhism. I struggled a *long* time to understand what was being said because no one was writing about it in plain language; I recognize that others are struggling with the same now; I would like to get to be better and better at giving them what they are asking for/what I once needed myself. They are also asking how we can justify seeing the Buddha’s teaching as secular without eviscerating it. These are the things we are talking about, because these are the things we’re being asked to talk about.

    I understand that you folks here are *way* past all that. You understand the basics: you don’t need to hear them explained yet again and you’re bored by it. You don’t want to read one more discussion of taking what we see and do “on the cushion” out into daily life: got that! don’t need to hear that! do something new please! You already grant that the Buddha’s teaching can be used in a secular context — you probably don’t give a damn whether he was actually wanting us to keep it secular or become believers in rebirth: move on! (I hear you say) get to the good stuff!

    But we aren’t, on the SBA site, writing for you folks who are so far beyond all this. We are, specifically, writing about the basics, about the pragmatic, and about why a secular approach is fair. We are writing about the stuff you already know, and I’m sorry if that bores you, if it doesn’t add to what you’re doing here, but what you’re doing here is different from what we are doing there. Will y’all please, simply, recognize that?

  341. Tom Pepper said

    Re 339: Linda,

    “for someone to help me grow as a person, they need to understand who I am and what my aims are. If someone criticizes me without really knowing what I want out of life, or why I behave the way I do, they aren’t going to be too likely to give me advice that will be really helpful”

    This may be the source of confusion here. I think a major premise here is that criticism is not necessarily meant to help others get what they want out of life, but to question whether what they want is the best thing to want. Or even to question whether their aims really are what they take them to be.

    I don’t think there are many here who don’t understand what they are criticizing–that is, I don’t think it is simply a matter of misreading what is written on the SBA site, but a questioning of the assumptions and the real goals there. We can very well be effective in the world without really knowing exactly what we are being effective at–SBA is fairly good at reifying capitalist ideology by sprinkling it with Buddha-Dust, but I don’t think they are (completely) aware they are doing this.

  342. Tom Pepper said

    Re 340: This post came up while I was replying to the previous one. I don’t think it is a matter of boredom, of being “way past all that” beginners stuff. If SBA were presented as a site for beginners to learn the basics, that would be fine. The problem isn’t in level, but in accuracy.

    Let me give you an analogy. I used to have a colleague who taught the literary theory class for English majors; among other atrocities, he taught that deconstruction teaches that all language means whatever you think it means, and there is no correct reading of a poem. Now, of course there is nothing Derrida ever said that could be construed in this way, but he claimed he was teaching a simplified version to introduce beginners to theory that is too complex to be taught all at once. The problem is, this absurd version of deconstruction made it very difficult to teach a more correct version later on. It is true that we need to begin with a kind of stick-figure version of difficult concepts, and refine our ideas afterwards, but if the stick-figure version is too far off, we can’t fill it in correctly. This incorrect version of deconstruction made it difficult to teach a correct version, because there was the underlying assumption among students that they have to learn all these difficult concepts and read all these hard texts and what their going to get out of all that effort is something idiotic and useless.

    The problem I see at SBA is not one of beginner vs advanced, but one of just plain being wrong about what they say and unaware of the ideology they are producing. Buddhism is not about privileging body over mind, and it is not and never could be compatible with western positivist science. If you want to produce capitalist ideology, why is it you can’t do it “straight-up,” without the mystification of “ancient Chinese secrets”? Any ideology that requires this kind of mystification is sure to be an oppressive one.

  343. stoky said

    Linda (#340),

    thanks for your response and sorry if I missed your interest in the FB-thing.

    Personally, I’m far away from being beyond Buddhism. I started meditating and learning about Buddhism one year ago and I will be doing my first retreat next month. So everything is still new and exiting.

    But still, I would have loved to read about your thoughts about Buddhism and meme-theory on the SBA-page! The majority of your audience is lazy and doesn’t want to read challenging things? Fuck them! ;)

    Seriously, most western Buddhists are better educated than the average citizen and Ted often links to research in neuro-science — incredibly-fucking-complicated-neuro-science. Don’t tell me your audience is stupid, it’s not.

    Here’s my final point before I promise to stop trolling you and your mates: The reason why I’m interested in expanding the range of topics Secular Buddhism covers is, because I naively believe that SB can be more than it is today. It can be better, you just have to try! :)

    P.S.: If you find any arrogance in the text above, keep it. I have more than enough of it, so I don’t need it back ;)

  344. #343 Stoky. “Don’t tell me your audience is stupid, it’s not.”

    I didn’t say they were stupid, that’s apparently your perception, it’s your words. I said they were interested in the basics. Being a beginner at Buddhism doesn’t equate to being stupid.

    And in your words I don’t find arrogance, I find poses. Smile for the camera.

    “I naively believe that SB can be more than it is today. ”

    You know, it’s funny, I do too. But I’m in less of a hurry than you are to see what it becomes. Right now we are just working on being a landing place, giving people what they ask for. Think of it as a house party, and all we’ve done so far is open the doors, greet people, and get them refreshments. The good part — where the conversation really gets going — hasn’t started yet, because we haven’t reached critical mass.

    Come in, sit down, *relax* will you?

  345. Tom Pepper #341 “I don’t think it is simply a matter of misreading what is written on the SBA site, but a questioning of the assumptions and the real goals there.”

    I have seen nothing anyone here has said (here or on our site) that convinces me that we have the goals we are told we have, versus the goals we discuss when we get together, try to put into words in the Abouts and FAQs on the site, and try to put into action with our posts. I have seen evidence, however, that Glenn misreads what we say to fit what he thinks we are/ought to be saying, as in “we explore what Buddhism may become” shorn of its context being read as -“We are active explorers, that’s what our articles here are about”- and then pointing out that we fail in this promise (that we never made).

    We get accused of presenting ourselves as authorities when we perhaps lack qualifications because we are just “beginners (Linda), boiled down to a simple formula for the masses (Rick), and offered in vignette on weed-picking (Dana)” or “people who think compulsively 90% of their thinking time [who] should not be presenting their ideas about practice to others” (Mark). We are all quite realistic about being beginners and weed-pickers. But you folks are assigning us the roles of authorities. You are pushing us to *be* authorities and do even more — push the bounds of Buddhism, shape what it becomes and adapt it to the new age, bring in philosophy, or whatever… You seem to think the better role for us is to be active shapers of the future, even though you are at the same time telling us we are probably not qualified to boil anything down to simple formulae. There’s this contradiction, here, where we are simultaneously being told we aren’t good enough to do what we’re doing and that we’re good enough to do even more than we’re doing.

    I’m glad to accept the criticism that we may be coming off as authorities, to some, but not that we are presenting ourselves as such. I’m asking for more information on how that perception of us-as-authorities comes about so that we can do a better job of accurately presenting who we are and what our role is. I’m glad to accept the criticism that we aren’t doing as good a job as we could be in presenting the material we do. Do you suggest that we don’t question what we think we know but are actually fuzzy on anywhere near enough? I agree with that. When you folks point out our fuzzy areas, I’m thrilled to address those so that we can again find ways to improve what we’re doing. But when you want us to become the sorts of people who are leading a charge to make changes to Buddhism, what I find is that most of us aren’t interested in being that sort of leader. We’re working on becoming good at what we’re doing — the daily, pragmatic stuff we’re being asked for.

    I may be the one exception to the rule of not wanting to push for any particular change, within the group we have now. But the change I push for is conservative in a way that Glenn disagrees with because I find that we can rely on the Buddha’s words in the suttas to be secular without having to do radical surgery on them. I want to go back into them and take a fresh look at what’s there, rather than just move on, pull in threads from everywhere, and be midwife to non-Buddhism coming into the world. I’m pushing for change but maybe it’s backwards instead of forwards, and sorry if some of you feel that’s the wrong goal. I’ve examined it, and I have good reason for doing what I am doing.

    “This may be the source of confusion here. I think a major premise here is that criticism is not necessarily meant to help others get what they want out of life, but to question whether what they want is the best thing to want. ”

    And we have heard this. We have heard this criticism suggesting that what we’re doing isn’t the best thing. We’ve looked at it, and we disagree with the criticism. We recognize that you’re doing what you perceive as “the best thing to want” and we are glad to have y’all doing that, and to see where it goes. But it’s not what we feel is the best thing for us to be doing. We’ve said this many, many times, and I think, as I’ve said before, we just need to agree to disagree. Let go of asking us to be what you want us to be, and go be that yourselves.

  346. Greg said

    “I find that we can rely on the Buddha’s words in the suttas to be secular without having to do radical surgery on them. I want to go back into them and take a fresh look at what’s there, rather than just move on”

    Here is the crux of the issue: the impulse you describe can only come from religiosity. It is religious, and there is nothing secular about it. Of all the great thinkers in all of the worlds cultures from ancient times until now, for reasons that go unexplained you have singled out the Buddha as the one person singularly worthy of building a “Secular Nonreligion” around. That is itself religious, plain and simple.

  347. Tom Pepper said

    Linda,

    I kind of backed off the discussion, because I could tell I am just not able to make this point clear to you. I’ll give it one more try, briefly, but I’ve pretty much lost hope of success.

    There is a difference between having goals in a conscious sense (what one intends to do or thinks she is doing) and the effects or intentions of what one does of which she might be completely unaware. The capitalist invests his money to make a profit; it is not (always) his conscious intention to extract surplus value from the workers and so perpetuate social and economic oppression. He consciously thinks he is “stimulating the economy,” but he is, in fact, oppressing the majority of the human race. If SBA is producing ideology which deludes its readers, so that they are in fact reifying capitalist postmodern ideology and contributing to oppression while they think they are reducing suffering, then it is alway an obligation for anyone who sees this to point it out. The postmodern “tyranny of opinion” which insists that anything anybody wants to do has to be accepted and can never be criticized just won’t wash–you can’t get away with saying “we choose to delude people into accepting their own oppression and to use Buddhism like the magician’s pretty assistant so they won’t see through the trick–and you have no right to keep pointing out how the trick is done! If we wan’t to contribute to the suffering of the world, that’s our right!” We just don’t buy that crap.

    I have no doubt that you, or Ted, or anyone else as SBA, remains unconvinced that your project inherently does these things. That is the nature of ideological mystification–if you could see it, I doubt you would be doing it. The hope is that we can point out these things to prevent a few people from getting stuck in delusion. I personally am just not a skillful enough writer and rhetorician to get through to everyone, or even most people, but that doesn’t excuse me from trying.

    Try not being so attached to your “pragmatic goals” (whatever they are) and considering whether you might actually be blind to some of the assumptions and implications of your project.

  348. Greg #346. “Here is the crux of the issue: the impulse you describe can only come from religiosity. It is religious, and there is nothing secular about it.”

    I am not sure I’d agree that “that impulse can only come from religiosity”. But aside from that, I thought I was pretty clear about that being *me* speaking for *me*, not me speaking for “Secular Buddhists”. I am not a secular Buddhist, but the group, being inclusive of even non-secular Buddhists, lets me speak, because they feel I have things to say which are useful to their readers, and my approach aligns in many ways with theirs. I’m sure that they don’t exclude ‘religiosity’ — my understanding is that their “secular” is about paying attention to what we can see in this life, rather than being about the other popular definition of secular as “anti-religious”.

  349. Tom #347 “I’ll give it one more try, briefly, but I’ve pretty much lost hope of success. ”

    I don’t recall you and I having had this particular discussion. Are you pre-exhausted or am I forgetting some debate we’ve had on this issue in the past?

    “There is a difference between having goals in a conscious sense (what one intends to do or thinks she is doing) and the effects or intentions of what one does of which she might be completely unaware.”

    Another way of expressing this is through meme theory. You’re saying that the meme of capitalism is using us. I get that that is what you are saying. You saying that you are “pointing it out” is all well and good, and I’ve been clear on the fact that you are saying this is what’s going on. What I am asking for clarification on is specifically what you see being said that is the meme of capitalism using us.

  350. Tom Pepper said

    Meme theory is a bunch of idiotic nonsense. What I am saying, and have said, is that SBA is producing the postmodern ideology of capitalism, specifically: the idea that the body is real, and all ideas are relative and cannot be disagreed with, anybody’s ideas is always valid. In Badiou’s phrase, there are only bodies and languages, and we choose whatever language we want to maximize the pleasure of our body; alongside this, of course, is the naive positivist version of science, with all its ridiculous cognitive science and eliminative materialist nonsense about reducing the mind to the brain. These are deluded and naive beliefs which serve to support the horrors of global capitalism: there is no truth, only opinion; don’t think too much, just feel nice emotions; don’t change the world, just learn to stop noticing what you can’t learn to tolerate. And don’t worry about anything, because your atman-that-is-not-one will go on to a permanent bliss when you die (or, if you’re lucky, sooner).

  351. Greg said

    Re: 348. You were expressing what is essentially the founding principle of SBA, so the caveat about only speaking for yourself is irrelevant in this case.

    Secularism is not anti-religious, per se. It is simply that which is not characterized by religious perspectives. A phone book is secular, not anti-religious. Even if one makes a Jefferson Bible out of the Pali suttas, at the end of the day there can be no reasonable secular basis to privilege the authority of that creation to the extent that one identifies as a “Buddhist” in any sense.

  352. Tom #350. Well okay. Meme theory is just one way of looking at things, just like your statement above represents one way of looking at things (or are you saying you have a corner on absolute truths there).

    I hear your mini-manifesto. I disagree that we’re even close to saying — even inadvertently saying — much of what you portray us as saying there. You have to ignore most of what we say to assume that the above is what we, as a whole, are talking about. There may be occasions when some contributors do support one or two of those ideas (though I can’t think of an example, I haven’t read the entire site) — maybe they believe it, too; we have many different voices.

    But on the SBA site we are not, as a group, talking about: any thing or not-thing that goes to permanent bliss when you die (that’s so far from what’s secular on the site I can’t figure where you are pulling it from); or actually counseling a philosophy of always ignoring what you can’t tolerate (are you mistaking a description of one practice for the whole of practice?); or telling people that thinking is bad and emotions are good (ditto; and do we not say emotions can be a problem?); or saying either that there is some absolute reality (which I am substituting for your ‘truth’) or that there is nothing we can label as truth — though I don’t (myself) see that we can talk about anything as *simple truths* (if I say that I believe we start from the premise that “Human suffering is a bad thing” I’ll get quibbling about how suffering can be good and necessary and motivating and… it’s not a simple truth). You may perceive that any of these are what we are saying and doing, but it may just be that you’re seeing what you want to see, and not what’s there.

    We’re going to be right back down to the point at which you tell me I’m deluding myself that we aren’t, and I’m going to tell you you’re deluding yourself if you think we are. We can keep doing generalities, and play ping-pong like this endlessly. Or we can talk specifics and get into who is practicing justification and who is ignoring context and I rather suspect that won’t get us much further than the ping-pong match, but if you want to provide examples, we can give it a go if you like.

  353. Linda. I think Craig (#334) really sums it up. I will just add three points at the end of this conversation.

    First, I think that most of what I have said in our exchange about the SBA and contemp