Buddhism and Empiricism

A friend has just sent me a terrific article on Buddhism and empiricism – thanks, Don! It’s by Carlo Fonseka, and appears in the Sri Lanka Guardian. It gives a very nice summary of the history and role of empiricism in Western philosophy, and goes on to discuss the main contributions towards reconciling Buddhism and empiricism. Kudos for the point that, as empiricism itself is an inexact search for knowledge, any marriage of Buddhism and empiricism can only be partial and problematic – but necessary nonetheless.

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78 thoughts on “Buddhism and Empiricism

  1. Good article, abit hard to understand if you are not a philosopher though.

    I would think that to prove something through Empiricism “the doctrine that all knowledge derives from experience” as opposed to rationally “using reason and logic to solve a problem, sane of sound mind” one would have to be sane and rational to a certain degree to make the empirical experience credible.

    So personally using the lay definitions of Empiricims and Rationality (as possibly opposed to what they may mean in the lofty halls of philosophical academia) I would go for both.

    The only other thing I didn’t like or hope isn’t true is where he asserts that Buddhism is “an intellectual approach to the human predicament which is devoid of authority, ritual, specualation, tradition, concept of divine saving grace and mystery is virtually indistinguishabe from philoshopy”

    I hope by saying it is completely devoid of those things he is not saying it is a purely intellectual activity or maybe he is saying the path is not the result..isn’t nirvana free of concepts?

    “” Those who believe that the sublime doctrines of Buddhism transcend profane knowledge and that Buddhism is concerned, not with objective factual knowledge but with an inner spiritual transformation, could still rejoice in the fact that by its intrinsic epistemological nature, an empirical project cannot yield absolute certainty”

    I certainly hope that the “factual, empirical knowledge” that Buddhism asserts is the path to inner spiritual transformation”. :)

  2. “Those who believe that the sublime doctrines of Buddhism transcend profane knowledge and that Buddhism is concerned, not with objective factual knowledge but with an inner spiritual transformation, could still rejoice in the fact that by its intrinsic epistemological nature, an empirical project cannot yield absolute certainty.”

    What does this mean? Because science may never be able to provide us with absolute certainty about reality, we can still ‘rejoice’ by being able to slip into this ‘gap’ any fantasy we like, such as devas, pixies at the bottom of the garden, craving leads to rebirth, and that a human (Gotama) can recollect past lives dating back billions of years, as Bhante Sujato claims (see his post Secular Buddhism – some more bits)?

  3. Geoff,

    It is not Ajahn Sujatos’s claim it is stated in the Sutta’s and the teachings of the Buddha; as a Monk AS follows the teachings of the buddha – the Buddha makes claims about his previous rebirths and also as I just read in a book NOT written by AS that some of his followers also talked of past lives.

    In other alternate forms of Buddhism ALL the monks and nuns talk of rebirth. The culture and Buddhism of Tibet is built around rebirth even Christianity talks about rebirth or use to, Hindus also.
    It is not just AS – you may as well be attacking a christian for talking about God as a Buddhist Monk for believing in rebirth.

    Living in the present is as the Buddha says (I think) far more important than worrying about rebirth – anyway just do that; be virtuous in the present, be generous, respectful of the teachers of Buddhism, try to overcome angry and desire, and meditate and then you should have a good rebirth anyway..so what is the problem.

    Relax, don’t worry …be happy:)

  4. Bathroom Monitor Geoff writes:

    Because science may never be able to provide us with absolute certainty about reality…

    Science will never provide absolute certainty about reality.

    Bathroom Monitor Geoff writes:

    …we can still ‘rejoice’ by being able to slip into this ‘gap’ any fantasy we like, such as devas, pixies at the bottom of the garden, craving leads to rebirth, and that a human (Gotama) can recollect past lives dating back billions of years, as Bhante Sujato claims (see his post Secular Buddhism – some more bits)?

    Your typical disdain for Buddhism is coming through as usual, but the simple answer to your question is: yes. I prefer to follow the path laid out by the Buddha, which I believe will lead to many benefits between this moment and the moment of the very possible awakening, but please let us know how it goes if you choose to try out a belief in pixies at the bottom of the garden.

  5. Geoff,

    Good point Ratadhammo Geoff, if you continue with your present negativity and supporting aggressively your own views and opposing those of the Buddha (which doesn’t mean not questioning it means having ill-will rather than being “text critical” or questioning)

    …you may well be lucky to be reborn as a “bathroom monitor” ..

    Forgetting rebirth, pixies in the garden and urinating students (do I detect a slight an either so slight hint of racism in your comments there?) what about..

    Lovingkindness

    “Monks, whatever grounds there are for making merit productive of a future birth, all these do not equal a sixteenth part of the liberation of mind by loving-kindness. The liberation of mind by loving-kindness surpasses tem and shines forth, bright and brilliant etc etc”

    Loving kindness practise mean having equanimity for all sentient being, sending them lovingkindnes even the ones you have ill will towards…not easy… am I a hypocrite, yes, can I do it, no ..but at least I am trying.

    Do us a favour Geoff and give it a try — lighten up – chill out! Actually think it would do you some good to dance around the garden with pixies.

  6. Regarding Fonseka’s article, Bhante Sujato writes:

    Kudos for the point that, as empiricism itself is an inexact search for knowledge, any marriage of Buddhism and empiricism can only be partial and problematic – but necessary nonetheless.

    Such a marriage is necessary only to the extent that it is subordinate to – i.e. leads to – the goal to which the Buddha was always pointing. We can disagree on the degree to which empirical investigation of conditioned phenomena should be subordinate, but that it must be subordinate is clear in the Buddha’s teaching.

    In other words, Bhikkhu Bodhi is largely correct.

  7. For those interested this is the full response by Ted Meissner on the Secular Buddhist site to an email I sent him earlier this month regarding queries I had on this blog (titled Response to Faith and Belief in Secular Buddhism). (This also covers the subject of Buddhism & Empiricism):

    Response to Faith and Belief in Secular Buddhism
    by Ted Meissner, a.k.a. The Secular Buddhist

    What follows below is taken from an email I received today from Geoff, regarding one of the threads on Sujato’s Blog. I thought this audience might be interested in the full response, and I’ll also see if I can find the spot on Sujato’s site to respond there as well. Many of the topics here are very relevant and core to secular Buddhist practice. (Geoff’s questions in inverted commas, Ted’s response > )

    “As you probably recall you spoke with Glenn Wallis on the issue of beliefs and knowledge on one of your podcasts. I should listen to the podcast again but as I recall you mostly focused on the theistic (“blind faith”) aspects of beliefs. “

    >Yes, Glenn is a good friend who has been on the podcast a couple of times, and will be more in the future. The interview where we chatted about that topic is Episode 40.

    “As you would know the traditional Buddhist approach claims to be a little more nuanced. Bhikkhu Bodhi, for example, says we should start by testing the teachings in fairly straightforward ways to see in everyday life the existence of impermanence and hence inherent dissatisfaction etc. Once we have gained confidence that the Buddha was on to something, we are then encouraged to place faith in aspects of the teachings that are beyond immediate experience eg rebirth, realms of existence etc. This we are told will be revealed to us eventually through deep meditative states.”

    > Yes, and I certainly do understand that position. Let me also make perfectly clear that the secular approach is merely another way to engage with the dhamma, one that is a natural growth from Western contemporary culture, which does have a strong secular inclination. As we see from recent surveys, the American Religious Identification Survey in 2008 as an example, people identifying as having no religion whatsoever are showing the most growth.

    Secular Buddhism is a newly forming branch of Buddhism distinct from the other “big three” Mahayana, Theravada, and Vajrayana, in that the practice and teaching is not dependent on that which is not in evidence in the natural world. We are still Buddhists, we are still engaged in the Eightfold Path, and do not presume to tell other practitioners what should be more fulfilling to them. That is a matter of their own experience in what is most beneficial to them.

    Where secularists may diverge from Bikkhu Bodhi’s encouragement in how to practice the Buddha sasana is the part where we put our faith in things unseen. This is a transition from the meaning of the Pali saddha from “confidence” to “faith” in the Judeo-Christian sense (“While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:18, King James translation). Though our experiences in what we’ve been told in the natural world are bearing out in the practice, which is wonderful, that does not mean that the concepts about what is not seen, what is not demonstrable in the natural world, are factually correct. Secularists are not denying that may be a possible reality, just that we don’t have any reliable way to show it, and therefore to speak of it as factually correct is not something we can do in good conscience. It is disingenuous to call such claims True when we cannot demonstrate them.

    Why do we have this suspension of willingness to assert such claims? Because there is a history and planet full of such claims, many of which are in conflict, and cannot be logically factual. The televangelist speaks with the same faith in the historical veracity of Jesus walking on water, and the Biblical flood, that the Buddhist does about the existence of the Tusita heaven as the place Maitreya awaits his birth in the human realm, as the Hindu does about the literal existence of Ganesha, as Harold Camping did and still does predict the literal Rapture in 2011.

    Secularists ask for evidence for any such claim because it is the only way to tell fact from fiction. If we do not have a common framework for verification, all claims are equally suspect.

    “At the same time we find people like Ajahn Sujato, being a ‘progressive’ Western educated monk, acknowledging (having to acknowledge?) the importance of science in understanding reality and the need for empirical verification.”

    >We do, yes. And even more helpful in the dialogue, I think, is Ajahn Sujato’s friendliness in the discussions, however much he may disagree with our particular approach. That is the kind of open, non-judgemental communication I had hoped would be common from my fellow Buddhists, but the people who have been most open to positive, meaningful dialogue have been from the atheist and skeptic communities. This may be an indication that the problem is not between different flavors of Buddhist ideology, but between tradition and free inquiry. I see positive benefits to keeping the discussions friendly and sincere in a desire to understand, and if so, disagree with that same friendliness.

    “I am interested in your response to Sujato’s attempts to bridge this scientific evidence based approach with his claim to ‘knowledge’ (not just belief) in the existence of devas, various realms of existence & rebirth (as found in the Pali Canon). I have quoted some excerpts below from Sujato’s recent posts on his blog under the secular topics. Firstly part of his response to Glenn Wallis (after I had asked Sujato for his thoughts on Glenn’s Buddhist Manifesto article), followed by Sujato’s posting on his blog on my queries titled Secular Buddhism – some more bits:”

    >Happy to respond below, though Glenn is much more adept with words!

    “Much appreciated any feedback (if you can find the time!) Again I want to say what an excellent site TSB is. Cheers – Geoff”

    >Thank you. Tell all your friends
    ***********

    (To quote Sujato) “The argument that belief in devas, etc. contradicts the Buddha’s anti-metaphysical position is also wrong. This point has been analyzed at length by the Buddhist empiricist philosopher David Kalupahana (whose excellent work seems to be unaccountably ignored by the secularists). The basic point is that the Buddhist treatment of such things as devas rigorously removes any truly metaphysical aspects – for example, they are not eternal, all-powerful, creators of the world, and so on. Devas are, in fact, conditioned, impermanent, suffering creatures very much like you or I in all spiritually important aspects. And, crucially, knowledge of such things is an empirical knowledge, derivable from the meditative extension of ordinary sensory faculties, and confirmable, in some cases, by reference to socially verifiable external facts (as in Ian Stevenson’s research).“

    >I’m happy to read David Kalupahana’s work that addresses this, I’ve just not been given the reference in the past. It is not an intentional avoidance, simply a lack of introduction to his work. What would be best? History of Buddhist Philosophy: Continuities and Discontinuities?

    The basic point made, however, is not correct in that it “rigorously removes any truly metaphysical aspects”. If that were so, there would be evidence. THAT is rigorous removal. Saying that invisible pink unicorns are not immortal doesn’t leap the gap of them being real, either; this is a flawed argument. Saying that God is not all powerful doesn’t *poof* him into existence, and it doesn’t do that for devas, either. We can suppose *any* kind of invisible and perhaps imaginary being we cannot detect externally, and give it whatever qualities we can conceive, including dukkha, anicca, and anatta.

    Problem Number One, I would say, is that there is an expectation of a dichotomy between Buddhist metaphysics and naturalism. This is as false as Pascal’s Wager, which assumes a Christian God vs. atheism in its own false dichotomy, or Creationism vs. Evolution, which again assumes a Judeo-Christian ideology. The point of view is one’s own religious structure, and that means that every religious structure is equally correct, which they cannot be because they are in conflict.

    The problem is not between Buddhist faith assertions and secularism, the *real* problem is between Buddhist faith assertions vs. Christian faith assertions vs. Hindu faith assertions vs. Islamic faith assertions vs. an endless number of faith assertions! Once *that* has been narrowed down in some impossible way, *then* we can talk about what is left vs. secularism.

    Now, some will say they have seen devas. This is interesting, inspiring, a great story, but not evidence. People have seen lots of things that may not have been real, including angels and other beings from different (and again conflicting) pantheons. It does not mean that these people are lying or committing any kind of intentional misrepresentation. What we’re saying is that evidence is necessary to confirm such a belief, and in the absense of it, there are natural explanations for what people experience.

    Problem Number Two, then, is once we’ve removed the false dichotomy of assertions between a particular faith vs. free inquiry, what is acceptable as evidence? Certainly people have very personally beneficial, positively transformative, and deeply meaningful experiences during meditation and other kinds of inspired moments. That is not in question, nor is it the intent of secular Buddhists to say one can’t and shouldn’t value such experiences. If they are beneficial to you, wholesome in their content and impact,fabulous. Secular Buddhism recognizes that not everyone is willing to accept such revelations’ explanations as being factually accurate, however.

    This in itself opens secular Buddhism to others much more broadly than other traditions, which have a certain sense of necessary acceptance of “things unseen.” Those with other religious or non-religious traditions are welcome, and there is no expectation that they change their views. Secular Buddhism is about this world, and what is in evidence in human experience of the path that positively contributes to one’s engagement with this life. So it is not uncommon for atheists and skeptics to find this approach more suited to them, as would Hindus, Christians, etc.. One has exactly *zero* need to adopt any kind of culture, assertions, or religious tradition whatsoever with secular Buddhist practice.

    Ah, Ian Stevenson’s book! As I’ve said elsewhere, these are cases even he acknowledged in his introduction were not evidence. They are stories. They are interesting, inspiring, cool as all get out. So are a lot of stories that may not be factually accurate, like Muhammad’s winged horse, loaves to fishes, or swallowing the ocean. Even Stevenson himself titled the book with the words “Suggestive of Reincarnation” — he did not say “Proving Reincarnation”. He was also a long time believer who did not have any kind of controls on his “studies”, some of which were done as interviews years after such events were reported to have happened. The fact is, and yes there is documented evidence, that memory is fallible and changes over time. What one says years after an event may not be an accurate retelling — how big was that fish Uncle Joe caught years ago? Like that!

    Here’s an alternate and natural explanation: first, quite unintentional cold reading. Children making statements that adults put meaning into that may not be reflective of fact. The child says something interesting, the adult reads into it (as we see people do when John Edwards “speaks” to the dead). They may not even be aware this is what’s happening, as is the case with Facilitated Communication. Another aspect to this is the creation of false memories, as recounted in many scientifically controlled studies, that require a mere suggestion of the possibility, and a little bit of encouragement. How much more effective the creation of such memories under the conditions of meditative states!

    Again, we’re not saying these are not convincing thoughts that arise, or that they are intentionally false. They *are* very realistic, they are totally without artifice, having had such thoughts arise in a quite convincing fashion in my own meditation. That doesn’t make them real, and this is a perfectly natural explanation for past life “memories.” I have an upcoming interview with Elizabeth Loftus on this very topic.

    Also bear in mind that it is not very realistic to expect the brain to be a tape recorder. It isn’t. People who can’t remember their own childhood — or do, but incorrectly — are somehow remembering previous lives with much greater clarity? Using what as a storage medium after death? What is the evidence for the mechanism of that storage? In the natural world a damaged brain does not function normally, a truly dead one (not one that has an old wive’s tale about having been clinically dead for hours, but the person miraculously came back) does not function at all.

    Problem Number Three is that we can’t accept someone’s personal experience, or even many people’s experiences, as evidence because of the inherent unreliability of the brain. If you don’t think that’s a valid statement, let’s take a look at some optical illusions, or the fact that many people are still preparing for Harold Camping’s predictions to come true because of the experiences they “know” they had with angels.

    Note that the very language use is assertive: “… devas are, *in fact*…” No, they’re not. That’s an assertion not in evidence, and we can just as easily apply this thinking to any supposed being undetectable through any externally verifiable means. If it were fact, it would have evidence. Until then, this is an interesting idea and nothing more.
    *******

    (Sujato) “Remember, empiricism as I understand it, and as presented in the Suttas, does not mean ‘direct experience only’. (This is a fallacy commonly found among certain modern meditation teachers, but clearly against the Suttas and the entire Buddhist tradition, in India at least.) It means ‘direct experience’ (paccakkha) and ‘inference’ (anumāna). What inference is exactly is hard to pin down. Practically, it means that we stay relatively close to experience. If I have never drunk wine, I will have hardly any idea what it tastes like. But if I have drunk wine regularly for many years, I may never have had a Chateaux de Chateaux (which I hear is very passable), but I will have a pretty good idea what it will taste like.”

    >I don’t see any reason to expect there is such a thing as direct experience. Read Metzinger’s The Ego Tunnel for more about that, it’s just too big to handle here!

    (Sujato) “Similarly, if I have recollected, say 3 or 4 past lives, it is not such a big leap to 30 or 40, or 300 or 400 lives. The basic fact of the thing is more or less the same.”

    >I respectfully disagree here. Our memories in a single lifetime are not accurate and correct, why should we expect that even if they did somehow carry over that they would be viable?

    (Sujato) “This contrasts with what I have characterized as ‘metaphysical’ claims. The difference is precisely the difference between a very very big number and infinity. The Buddha claims to have exercised his memory over billions of years. The difference between that and our ordinary experience of time is very great, but not outside the capacities of inference. After all, geology and astrophysics claim to tell us what happened billions of years ago, relying on inference from fairly sketchy data.”

    >Yes, but it is also data that is *in evidence*. It is also not a single human brain recounting all the data from billions of years, it is a set of hypothesis and theories coming from a set of data points. And it’s tentative, even with evidence, yet scientists are accused of hubris while fundamentalists of every religion claim they are absolutely correct with *no* evidence!

    (Sujato) “Most religious doctrines, however, speak of eternity. God, the soul, the atman, heaven, or whatever lasts not for mere billions of years, but literally forever. It is not possible, and never will be possible, to infer from the data available in this temporal world to ‘eternity’. Any claim to ‘know’ this eternity is a claim to know something that is utterly and absolutely outside any experience of consciousness.”

    >I would agree with that!

    “PS fantastic podcasts @ TSB eg with Glenn Wallis, Stephen Batchelor & Winton Higgins etc!!”

    >I would agree with that, too

  8. @Geoff

    Ted Meissner’s view seems to be that we should discard the non-evidence based parts of Buddhism as assertions akin to any fable. This is a legitimate point of view. I do think he has a very narrow view on what constitutes “evidence” but so be it.

    When reading the suttas we all have to make a judgment as to what we consider the teachings of the Buddha and what we dont. For example I dont believe the 32 marks of a great man was taught by the Buddha. TM takes this to another level and discards wholesale anything that smacks of mysticism or an afterlife or worlds/dimensions beyond this one.

    My question would be does he believe that these mystical/other worldly concepts were not actually taught by the Buddha (that they were added by others to the suttas), or that the Buddha was just playing along with the beliefs of the time, or that the Buddha was teaching untruths? Or is there some other explanation?

  9. Dear Wtp

    Good questions – probably a bit of all & more but in the end aren’t we are just guessing in a more or less ‘educated’ way?

    For me this comes back to Glenn Wallis article (Buddhist Manifesto) which caused some ructions on this blog back in June (see original Secular Buddhism posting by Bhante).

    By the way, how do you think you might expand on TM’s view on what constitutes ‘evidence’?

    I’d be interested to hear Ted’s response. I have only heard him say “I don’t know, I wasn’t there”, which is a pretty fair answer but it would be interesting to hear him elaborate. I might drop him another email but I do like Glenn’s suggestions on his BM article. (Bhante among other things criticised Glenn for being dogmatic but as you can see below, he was merely making ‘educated’ conjectures.)

    If I could quote a section of it:

    ****************

    “Gotama was an ironist; his compilers, strategists.

    It is crucial that we begin to sort out Gotama from the Buddha. To show just how crucial it is, let’s look at a hard problem, namely, the presence in the Buddhist canon of both supernaturalism and radically phenomenological teachings. Is it the Buddha or Gotama who makes gestures toward supernaturalism and the incredible: the gods, Mara, seeing his past lives, knowing the fate of others, performance of miracles? Let’s be clear about this matter: the Buddhist canons are rich in supernatural hypotheses. The Samyuttanikaya, for instance, opens with an extended mixed prose verse section containing dialogues that the Buddha (Gotama?) and his followers engaged in with gods (devas) of various classes, as well as individual devas (Sakka, Brahmas — plural— Mara). In translation, this section alone is over 250 pages in length. Virtually every other division of the Pali canon contains numerous references to devas. Furthermore, Gotama is commonly referred to as “a teacher of gods and men.” A common gloss for “the world” in the canon is “this place with its gods, Mara, and Brahma.” Finally, Gotama (the Buddha?) did not overtly contest the cosmology of his day, in which there were held to be numerous deva realms, actual places where one might be reborn. Of course, he would often graft his system of meditative absorption (jhana) over this cosmological scheme, suggesting an appropriation more symbolic than literal; but he would generally retain the deva-designations (e.g., “realm of the devas of streaming radiance,” “realm of the devas of measureless aura”). Supernaturalism, it cannot be denied, permeates Buddhist literature like a rag in oil.”

    “Coming from the mouth of a literary figure, all of this makes good sense. As a literary conceit, the gods and all the rest always make intriguing — and to their Indian audience, recognizable — interlocutors; and intriguing, recognizable interlocutors make for provocative literature, oral or otherwise (just look at our own fairy tales); and provocative tales are attended to, responded to, remembered, and handed down.”

    “The supernaturalism in the Buddhist canon, furthermore, can be shown to be due to at least two other powerful literary forces: (i) genre restraint and requirement, and (ii) advertisement and propagation. That is, in order to win converts and coin, Gotama’s followers would have had to dress up his teachings and conversations to look like the “sacred” literature of the day, replete with its gods and miracles and wizardly teacher. By this reasoning, it would have been absurd for the canonical editors to alter the teachings of Gotama — for preservation of these teachings was the very purpose for their efforts.”

    “Coming from the mouth of Gotama, on the other hand, such supernaturalism doesn’t make sense — at least not as supernaturalism. Let’s imagine that Gotama did, in fact, speak in such terms. Then, how might we understand it? The most generous view is that Gotama really did see “with his divine eye … thousands of devas” (Dighanikaya 16.1.27), converse with them, debate with them, and so on. Why not hold out the possibility, as many believers do, that there really are such entities in the world? Well, one reason might be that no one has ever seen such entities outside of the literature itself, or outside of his or her beliefs about what is possible. Another rebuttal to the view of literalism is that such a reading of the supernatural material is wholly incompatible with the phenomenological, counter-speculative, counter-metaphysical reading of Gotama’s teachings that the other premises commit us to.”

    “A more non-literal reading of Gotama’s usage of supernatural language might be that he was simply employing cultural coin. Buddhist teachers in contemporary North America reflexively adopt certain axiomatic American cultural constructs (the notion of equality, the inevitability of materialism, the necessity of therapeutic healing, the need for scientific validation and philosophical sophistication, and so on). Similarly, the Buddha adopted some basic cultural axioms of his own time and place. Some, of course, he would reject; but some he would not. Why not? For the sake of communication perhaps; or perhaps he did so just as reflexively and unconsciously as modern-day teachers do. Certainly, we can’t take everything Gotama said at face value because he could be deviously playful with language. There is example after example in the texts of Gotama’s using irony to make a point. So, maybe that’s the explanation here, too. Who knows? We still have a long way to go to figure it out.

    One final possibility: maybe he was just dead wrong about some things. After all, Gotama was not
    the Buddha”.

    ********

    I also like Stephen Schettini – “Reflections from an old mutual friend” (one of links Bhante Sujato refers to at the beginning of the Bhante’s original Secular Buddhism post) :

    “I don’t know exactly what the Buddha taught. I wasn’t there. Even if I had been, I can’t say what I’d have made of his words, let alone his presence and body language. After all, there’s far more to communication (and miscommunication) than mere ideas. What do you think?”

  10. Wtp

    Re your previous query on Ted Meissner’s view on “what the Buddha said” – I found this earlier posting from the Guru – lol.

    Ted’s response to Brian, Bhante’s PR man (PS I wonder if he’s ever thought of going into Australian politics? Head kicking has become an art form there. The previous Premier of NSW was a Yank so it’s possible.) Lol again

    (I recommend reading Ted’s full response again – very good in putting forward the secular perspective – under Secular Buddhism discussion.)

    By the way Wtp, Ted emailed me to say he will give a response to your queries when he gets a chance.

    Cheers Geoff

    1. The Secular Buddhist / Aug 1 2011 1:30 am

    Response to Ratanadhammo

    > Regarding what is called secular Buddhism, in the article linked above, Dr. Higgins writes that Batchelor discerned a “deep agnosticism” in the Buddha’s own teaching. That’s not entirely correct. Batchelor offered assertions based on misinterpretations of a few passages from a couple of suttas. Batchelor didn’t discern a “deep agnosticism” in the Buddha’s teaching so much as he inaccurately asserted that there is a “deep agnosticism” in the Buddha’s teaching. There’s a difference. To my knowledge, the Buddha didn’t teach that he wasn’t sure about what he had discovered upon awakening.

    (Ted) “Nor mine, I agree, that is not found to my knowledge in the canon. This is Batchelor’s interpretation of what he is seeing there. Bear in mind, that is only one way in which people find an appeal of secular Buddhism — I do not, nor do many others. We find the entire discussion of “what Buddha said” to be a fun diversion, but ultimately, useless as evidence for what parts of that teaching bear out in the real world.”

  11. PPS Wtp & anyone else interested

    Re your earlier queries: “My question would be does he (Ted Meissner) believe that these mystical/other worldly concepts were not actually taught by the Buddha (that they were added by others to the suttas), or that the Buddha was just playing along with the beliefs of the time, or that the Buddha was teaching untruths? Or is there some other explanation?”

    I found this article by Glenn Wallis posted on his Speculative Non Buddhist site which covers these questions and I thought might interest you (Glenn expands a bit on his Buddhist Manifesto article). I think it presents a plausible explanation for Gotama (the Budda), if you are prepared to see him as a human and not as a man/god. I’ve copied the relevant section.

    (By the way, Glenn Wallis holds a Ph.D. in Buddhist studies from Harvard University’s Department of Sanskrit and Indian Studies. His scholarly work focuses on various aspects of Buddhism. He is chair of the Applied Meditation Studies program at Won Institute of Graduate Studies in Glenside, Pennsylvania and specialises in Indian Buddhism and is the author and translator of Basic Teachings of the Buddha and The Dhammapada: Verses on the Way. )

    ***************************

    Nostalgia for the Buddha

    Posted by Glenn Wallis on June 11, 2011

    “Richard Robinson, a leading scholar of Buddhism in the twentieth century, put it succinctly:
    The quest for the objective Gotama [the Buddha], like that of the historical Jesus, is foredoomed to a measure of failure. We cannot get behind the portrait that the early communities synthesized for their founders; their reports are all we have. (The Buddhist Religion)

    We may not be able to get behind these pious accounts, but we can read between their lines. Robinson is saying that, in effect, religious books—scriptures—are cooked. Like the Christ of the Bible (as opposed to the historical Jesus), or like Plato’s literary figure known as “Socrates,” a figure called “the Buddha” has been written into the primary source material. “The Buddha” is an idealization of a man named Siddhattha Gotama (Siddhartha Gautama in Sanskrit).
    That is not to say that there is no flesh and bone on this figure, or that his teachings as recorded are not authentic. But how can we distinguish between the literary figure and the historical person? How can we get closer to the real-life person on whom the community’s pious portrait is based?

    Considering why this distinction between person and idol exists in the first place will help us to see a way forward. The first task of any religious teacher’s followers, whether in Greece, Rome, Arabia, India, or the United States is twofold: to propagate and to preserve the teachings. The decisive importance of the former goal, however, drastically impacts the latter. That is, propagation is a Darwinian struggle of competition and adaptation; and the very engagement in this struggle shapes the form of the preservation. Spreading the teachings required that Gotama’s followers successfully contend with fierce competition from several quarters. The most crucial—and ruthless—struggle centered on patronage. Without the support of the leading figures in society, a community had no chance of survival. Patronage involved not only financial and material support, but social prestige. The latter was particularly important for a community such as Gotama’s, which challenged the orthodoxy of the day. There was also the struggle with rival teachers and hostile sects, who made claims—and held out promises—for their teachings that were different from, and more attractive than, Gotama’s. Buddhist literature is full of evidence of such struggles. The literature also reveals the extraordinary internal tensions that arose from the need to maintain unity and morale. Soon enough, moreover, Gotama’s community had to meet these enormous challenges bereft of its charismatic teacher.

    A common strategy, then as now, in this struggle for recognition is to cast the teacher’s sayings, discourses, dialogues, lectures, random utterances, and so on, as “sacred” or “religious” literature. I call a text “religious” if it or its proponents claim for the work’s origin and contents some special quality, possessed by the originator, that is fundamentally non-natural, and hence, categorically unavailable to the common person.

    As far as I know, there is no cult of Mozart. We see him as a musical genius, yes. But no one seriously claims that his music was divinely inspired, that is, that it derived from anything but human capacities. If we do speak of Mozart’s achievement in religious terms (it is transcendent, sacred, holy, revelatory, otherworldly, etc.), we do so figuratively, poetically, in an attempt to match language to a breathtaking natural achievement.

    I contend that Gotama’s followers (and perhaps Gotama himself) made a conscious decision to cast his teachings in overtly religious terms. Such an alteration—from secular, naturalistic, and commonsensical to sectarian, supernatural, and super-sensual—required that the teachings’ custodians combine the central teachings with particular adornments. These adornments—frames, conceits, rhetorical structures, supernatural interlocutors, awe-inspiring miracles, extra-sensory perception—tip off the reader or hearer to the uncanny, even daemonic, power of the teachings. At the very least, such adornments demand attention, inspire confidence, and make a compelling case. Only in this manner could Gotama’s community win the patronage necessary for prospering.”

  12. (I’m going on a bit, aren’t I? Lol)

    Re my earlier remarks on devas etc

    I may have sounded overly dismissive of the concept of devas (among other supernatural beliefs) but it is interesting to see that Bhante Sujato himself seems somewhat confused by how to approach this issue.

    If you look at his response to Glenn Wallis’ article (the Buddhist Manifesto), which I drew Bhante’s attention to back in June (see his orginal Secular Buddhism post), he appears to make contradictory remarks.
    Earlier in his response Bhante says:
    “Devas are, in fact, conditioned, impermanent, suffering creatures very much like you or I in all spiritually important aspects. And, crucially, knowledge of such things is an empirical knowledge, derivable from the meditative extension of ordinary sensory faculties, and confirmable, in some cases, by reference to socially verifiable external facts (as in Ian Stevenson’s research). “

    However later he then says:

    “Once we make this rather elementary distinction, it rapidly becomes apparent that in the narrative, verses, background stories, parables, and the like, the text is often playful and ironic (see, for example, the episode with Pancasikha in DN 21 Sakkapanha), and the notions of devas and so on owe much to popular Indian cosmology. In the contexts where the Buddha himself is speaking directly on a central doctrinal matter, such as the four noble truths, the three knowledges, the five spiritual faculties, and the like, there is no sign of irony or playfulness, and there is also much less influence of Indian cultural presuppositions.”

    So what is it? Are devas real for us today or are they a result of “popular Indian cosmology” at the time of the Buddha? ie if this cosmology at the time of the Buddha hadn’t mentioned devas, would we be discussing them now?

    (I put this to Bhante a couple of months ago but he did not respond.)

    And then Bhante refers to Wallis in this response as ‘silly’, comparing him to a child who still believes in Santa Claus and “cannot take it seriously”, (even though Wallis is a highly qualified academic specialising in early Buddhism)!

    To quote Bhante:
    “The notion that the Buddha merely talked about these things from unreflexive cultural conditioning is, to my mind, plain silly. Any 8 year old is quite capable of understanding that Santa Claus and the tooth fairy are not real.”
    and
    “This argument is made with so little genuine attention to the textual situation that I cannot take it seriously, and I have never heard of a serious scholar who has proposed such a thing.”

    PS Ted Meissner’s (aka The Secular Buddhist) responses are good in the way he breaks others’ comments into blocks and responds to each block in turn, thereby paying respect by covering each point made.

    Bhante on the other hand, when he does respond, ignores parts of the questions asked (the part he doesn’t want to / can’t answer?) and provides confusing answers.

    Also I have never heard Ted use terms like ‘silly’ and “cannot take it seriously” although there must have been many occasions when he has been tempted to!

    Furthermore Bhante started his response to Wallis with the comment: “I haven’t time to comment on everything in this article, so let me just pick out a few things.”

    To me I can’t help but feel that this indicates he is not particularly interested in the secular debate (and hoping it will go away?). What if the question was related to his new book? – lol

  13. (I’ll try to leave you alone after this…..)

    PS re previous comments by Bhante addressing Wallis on other aspects of Buddhist cosmology eg the three knowledges etc , Bhante says:

    “In the contexts where the Buddha himself is speaking directly on a central doctrinal matter, such as the four noble truths, the three knowledges, the five spiritual faculties, and the like, there is no sign of irony or playfulness, and there is also much less influence of Indian cultural presuppositions.”
    So Bhante acknowledges there still is some “influence of Indian cultural presuppositions” on “central doctrinal matters”?

    How much? Enough that if the Buddha was alive today in say the USA, he would be (somewhat) influenced by current Western presuppositions? In which case, might the three knowledges, for example, be different (or maybe not even mentioned)?

    Again I think it comes down to whether you see the Buddha as a human or a man/god

    PPS I take my hat off to Bhante for running that original secular post as its really helped clarify my views – apologies to inflict it on others!

    Cheers

    Geoff

  14. PPPS

    By the way I don’t have a “disdain for monastics” (again a gross distortion by secular critics)

    - I just think they are often a bit over rated, that’s all………

  15. Hey Rat!

    Cat got your tongue? Lol

    I’m just warming up….. lol again

    By the way I thought you might be interested in how others outside of this blog look on your behaviour.

    This is part of an email response from one of my old friends (a very generous, well liked family man) when I emailed him my comments re the bathroom in North Sydney and your response. This followed me also emailing him one of your previous rants against me…..

    I’ll provide a censored version:

    “See, he is a ****head.

    And bathroom monitor? Like, he thinks it is ok to urinate with the seat down? And to feel disgust at this is somehow being materialistic? What a whacko.”

    Bhante could be running another metta retreat later this year.

    You might think about booking yourself in?

  16. Hi, Wtp. My apologies for being off this discussion, perhaps I can clarify some of what was discussed.

    >> Ted Meissner’s view seems to be that we should discard the non-evidence based parts of Buddhism as assertions akin to any fable. This is a legitimate point of view. I do think he has a very narrow view on what constitutes “evidence” but so be it.

    The idea isn’t to discard that which is non-evident, but to understand it realistically and within the context in which it is found. Like many of us, I gain great inspiritation from reading the suttas, they expand my imagination and understanding where it would otherwise languish if left to my own limited devices. This includes the more mythic elements, absolutely. But it doesn’t mean they are necessarily factual representations of historical events, any more than the mythic stories found in any other religious tradition. We think stories of the Greek gods are fun, we learn about human behavior from them, but do you accept Leda’s impregnation by Zeuss in the form of a swan? Nor do I. The point being that we can set aside our dependence on such stories for our practice, but still learn from them and gain inspiration from them.

    If we say some of *our* set of stories is true, though, we have to be able to articulate our criteria for determining Buddha had all the marks, but Zeuss couldn’t transform into a swan. That rebirth is true, but there was no physical flight.

    What constitutes evidence? I must ask, what’s the situation? Are we measuring the rate of an object falling in a vacuum, or are we describing the experience of eating chocolate? Of course empirical experience is very personally compelling, but when someone’s experience includes a literal rebirth, that’s a claim that’s not personal, it’s externally verifiable in the natural world. It needs to be externally verifiable, too — the woman who told me last month that she had evidence for rebirth and that she was JFK had, not surprisingly, nothing but her own certainty. That doesn’t cut it.

    Again, and this is very important, we’re not saying these claims are not true, merely that as we can’t show them to be so, they *must* be treated with the same skepticism that we treat other claims, and set aside. Otherwise, we’re being as bigoted as the people many of us have experienced in other religious traditions.

    >> When reading the suttas we all have to make a judgment as to what we consider the teachings of the Buddha and what we don’t. For example I dont believe the 32 marks of a great man was taught by the Buddha. TM takes this to another level and discards wholesale anything that smacks of mysticism or an afterlife or worlds/dimensions beyond this one.

    Yes, I do. You don’t — that’s fine! I’m not saying you have to. But if you say I have to comply with your acceptance, I have a right to ask you to show me why, just like I ask the Mormon elders who show up on my doorstep. Don’t you question their assertions?

    I’d also suggest that what matters about Buddhism isn’t the Buddha, it’s the message, the teaching, the practice. I don’t care if it was Buddha or someone else who formulated the four truths or the eightfold path — it’s valid to me in moment by moment engagement with living in a more beneficial way. That means judgement about whether so and so said this or that isn’t the priority. It’s interesting, sure. But e=mc2 is valid whether or not Einstein formulated it, or Snoop Dog.

    >> My question would be does he believe that these mystical/other worldly concepts were not actually taught by the Buddha (that they were added by others to the suttas), or that the Buddha was just playing along with the beliefs of the time, or that the Buddha was teaching untruths? Or is there some other explanation?

    The question isn’t really relevant to my practice in any way, it simply changes nothing in how I meditate. There isn’t a different eightfold path for those who don’t believe in rebirth, there isn’t a different way for us to sit, there isn’t a different set of skandhas from which we’re composed.

    But, because it’s being asked, my answer is that I don’t know. If they were taught by the Buddha, it wouldn’t change my understanding of them at all — he was human, and also subject to the same laws of physics and brain functioning that we are. You think he would see optical illusions differently than you or I? Of course not! Would a general anasthetic put him under, as a human? Sure it would! If he got severely brain damaged, would that effect his behavior? Absolutely! Yes. I think the Buddha was a human, perhaps a fantastic teacher, brilliantly insightful. But also subject to human flaws, however unintentional, and if he did teach such things as out of body experiences, I’m going to do him a solid and give him the benefit of not knowing what we do today about how the *brain* can be fooled.

  17. re buddhadhamma / Aug 20 2011 7:42 am.

    Just been reading over your comments…..

    So not only am I accused of having a “disdain for Buddhism ” (the Rat’s version at least) but you are also suggesting I may be racist: “do I detect an ever so slight hint of racism in your comments there?”)

    I was trying to avoid actually naming the person in question (although I wouldn’t be surprised if they are total oblivious to my comments – deep in jhana?) – but in case you were wondering the person’s background is Caucasian – just like me.

    (Although I must say my workplace does have signs on the back of the toilet doors requesting people not to stand on the toilet seats……..lol)

    Bhante, when you make your full return (not just sporadic ones on pressing matters like Babylon), you may want to pull into line some of your loyal supporters.

    If you want some advice for free – these guys are not helping the monastic PR (that’s if you are trying to move beyond your devotional Sri Lankan & Thai support base).

    On the other hand maybe you can just relax and trust immigration numbers to keep Santi going (as I know you are concerned about their children’s support)…….

    cheers

    Geoff

  18. Thanks Ted aka The Secular Buddhist

    It’s always good to read something that’s clearly written (and makes sense)

    cheers

    Geoff

  19. For me the beginning of cultism is when the non rational becomes an imperative. Throw in a charismatic teacher for good measure.

    To keep a perspective on forms and beliefs is to allow them to remain beautiful and of value.

  20. OK Geoff

    ….sorry, hey look someone leaving a bit of urine on the toilet seat…no really forget the starving millions, kids with cancer, the thousands of women being abused daily….. urine on a toilet seat is serious stuff and I think your concern over this really shows that you care about such things.

    Therefore I was wondering have you ever seriously considered a career as a “bathroom monitor” honestly.. you have a natural sort of talent and concern for such things, whereas most people would not really think twice about a bit of urine left on a toilet seat, let alone post it on a website…in fact I doubt anyone in the history of the internet goes around checking toilet seats for urine…although thereit is very rare….and posting their findings on the net…so seriously Geoff do the world a favour and consider giving up the spritual quest and … become a bathroom monitor or toilet dormen, cleaner of public toilets..please. :) …maybe you could even start your own ‘Geoff Bathroom Monitor Website’…and keep the world uptodate on how many disgusting people leave urine on the toilet seat…fascinating stuff.

    ..a word of advice though stick to the male toilets because umm if you start check out toilets in the the female block… that might just arrest you or at least think you are a little bent or strange…funny ’bout that.

  21. For those interested this week’s podcast episode on the Secular Buddhist site covers the subject of false memory – referred to in an earlier piece I posted on this blog by Ted (aka The Secular Buddhist) in an email he sent me (in response to some points made on this blog by Bhante & others). I’ve provided Ted’s preamble:

    Episode 80 :: Dr. Elizabeth Loftus :: False Memory Creation

    Dr. Elizabeth Loftus

    Dr. Elizabeth Loftus speaks with us about false memory creation.

    Many of us have had very compelling experiences during meditation. We’ve cleared away the mental noise, calmed our brains, and — supposedly — we’re seeing things as they are, we’re penetrating into Truth with a capital T. The term “direct knowing” is often used to describe what’s going on, as if what’s happening is somehow no longer dependent on the functioning of our brains, our bodies. That it is something external to this “fathom long body”, despite Buddha’s statements to the contrary.

    We are, essentially, just process. That which we call our “selves” was handily disassembled into the interactions of heaps a long time ago. And yet, we continue to see a sometimes fearful, sometimes arrogant, sometimes angry adherence to the view that the thoughts which arise in our minds are reliable — even though this practice, and modern science, both show us that’s just not true.

    This becomes particularly relevant when, as secularists, we face the socialized idea of rebirth in our Buddhist communities. This is taken by many as simple, unquestioned fact, while other post-mortem theories are unquestioningly dismissed. And if a secular Buddhist has the audacity to question literal rebirth, we are called heretical, dangerous, or just plain ignorant and following a lesser path.

    Things that occur in meditation are very convincing, very moving, and potentially very transformative — but that doesn’t make them real. We have evidence, not stories but evidence, that memories can be created with only a few subtle suggestions. Why is it so disturbing that there is a perfectly natural explanation for memories of past lives, and that explanation is that they are not true memories at all? This is certainly possible, even likely.

    Elizabeth Loftus is Distinguished Professor of Social Ecology, and Professor of Law, and Cognitive Science at University of California Irvine. She studies human memory, and her experiments reveal how memories can be changed by things that we are told. Facts, ideas, suggestions and other post-event information can modify our memories. The legal field, so reliant on memories, has been a significant application of the memory research. Loftus is also interested in psychology and law.

  22. Geoff,

    You are at least honest about you doubts over rebirth and other essential facts of Buddhism .. and right in that the Buddha taught that people should investigate his teachings not just follow them blindly.

    But Geoff are you investigating the teachings of the Buddha or even Secular Buddhism? .. are you really debating and investigating secular Buddhism or non- secular Buddhism..or is your commitment to secular buddhism more to do with the fact that you have an irrational and almost dangerous jealousy of Bhante Sujato and that this is a way to get back at him. Would your psychologist above maybe suggest to you that because AS hasn’t put his retreat on hold to give you the undivided attention that your ego believes it deserves that you are resentful? Your actions seem just a bit nasty and like those similar to the head bully in the school yard; is this what secular Buddhists do … bully and harrass other Buddhists? I certainly do not want then to get involved with secular Buddhists.

    “Venerable Ajahn Mun said… the authenticity of any knowledge acquired merely from what other people say remains unsubstantiated, it is only a truth proven to someone else….the way to train is thus “opanayiko”. You direct your attention inwards, until your insight and understanding become paccatam “know and experience the truth for yourself” understanding gained from listening to and watching other people is superficial in comparison with the deep understanding that is Paccatam”….it is not your own insight it is other peoples insight. “This does not mean you should be heedless and dismissive of any teachings you receive from other sources, they should become the subject for study and investigation…it is fine to believe it on one level, but at the same time to recognize that you haven’t yet trained the mind and developed that knowledge through your own experience.. for that reason you still haven’t experienced the full benefit of the teaching..”(Ajahn Chah, Clarity of Insight, 1979)

    People have to experience the teachings for themselves, decide for themselves what works and what does not.

    The fact is it seems you do not have right view, you have not fully comprehended or understood the Dhamma and tested the teachings, you are just theorising, you have not tried to experience the teachings in any way … you are just theorising over everything. No one else can experience the Buddhas teachings for you , AS cannot help you with this, he can present the teachings, try to explain the teachings but the rest is up to you… you have to take what you have learnt meditate on it, test it, not on a website but in your life and then come to a conclusion and come to a conclusion for yourself not for everyone else. present to other people what you believe if you believe it is of value as of course it is but leave it at that, let it go and let other people decide and experience for themselves the Buddha’s teachings, secualr or otherwise.

    You can claim that the experiences people have had of past lives is imaginary etc but to be honest I doubt anyone cares what you think if they have experience the opposite so forcing and reinforcing your views is not going to change anything; because if they have experienced it and find that the Buddhas teachings work for them, that the idea of rebirth works for them, then your trying to bully and harrass people into believing it isn’t, this consistent attempt at trying to brainwash people though the use of academic theories is just that ….bullying and harrassment and presentation of academic theories.

    “know and experience the truth for yourself” ie study the dhamma and test it for yourself “understanding gained from listening to and watching other people is superficial in comparison with the deep understanding that is Paccatam”

    You are like the person that goes to for eg Broken Hill and trys to give advice on the best way to get there to the locals who have lived there all their lives; you can come up with all the best maps you want but the fact is they are already there. Best wishes

  23. Peter,

    Every school of Buddhism teaches that rebirth is a fact.

    From my experience though (and also from the limited study I have done of the teachings of the Buddha) it is the Dhamma that is important not rebirth, because hopefully if karma is purified in this life then there will be no rebirth anyway.

    The Tibetans seem to live and die by the karma and belief of rebirth.. I am sure it does some good but personally taking the aspect of rebirth to those lengths seems almost if not insane capable of creating insanity in the world; not to mention abuse like you see in India.. or social and culture divides whereby people are wrongly judged by how they are reborn ie in some countries being born fat could be seen as bad karma, in others good karma as it is a sign of wealth. It did not do me any good.

    It is seems unnatural living in the past all the time .. I find it weird and hopefully unnecessary, why waste to much time on it if it doesn’t help people become enlightened and the worst aspect of it is that it is really really boring.

    So while I am saying that rebirth is a definite fact and that the Buddha and Buddhism in all schools of Buddhism definitely does teach about rebirth.. how far you want to take that is also cultural and can be maybe dangerous and extremely boring …personally and from my experience and as i think I have said before I accept rebirth as right, it helps me to try to be virtuous ….but that the most important thing is focussing on not being reborn and on the Dhamma.

  24. “It is, definitely, absolutely and without doubt!”

    “it is the Dhamma that is important not rebirth,”

  25. yes but rebirth exists…and it is the eight-fold path.. all of it…. not just aspects of it or one part of it that is needed to get to enlightenment and that includes rebirth according to the Buddha

  26. No rebirth does not exist. rebirth is not the eight-fold path. A belief in rebirth is not essential. The eight-fold path is a path of practice not a dogma.

  27. The Noble Eightfold Path is not a path of random practice. The first factor is sammā-diṭṭhi (Right View, Right Understanding, Right Knowledge) and the second factor is sammā-sankappa (Right Intention, Right Aspiration). Without them, you’re probably just spinning your wheels. Moral practice and mindfulness and concentration have to be based on the effort to see the world in a way other than what appears valid to our senses and reason, no?

  28. Following the Noble Eightfold Path without the first two factors is more like navigating the seas without charts or a compass; most likely, you will just end up unknowingly going around in circles. Some think that going around in circles is part of an enlightening and beneficial, but ultimately fruitless process that ends with the apparent death of the material form. I wish them well.

  29. Peter,

    You state “No rebirth does not exist. rebirth is not the eight-fold path. A belief in rebirth is not essential. The eight-fold path is a path of practice not a dogma

    (1) “No rebirth does not exist”

    The Buddha stated in all schools of Buddism that rebirth does exist.

    If you do not wish to believe in rebirth that is up to you …but the buddha taught rebirth as an aspect of Buddhism, as such if it is what the Buddha taught it is therefore part of Buddhism.

    (2) “rebirth is not the eight-fold path”

    No one stated rebirth is the eight-fold path. If you thought I did then it is your comprehension that is a fault here…what was said is Rebirth is PART of the eight fold path not THE eight-fold path. I did not, nor did anyone else or the Buddha state rebirth was the whole eight-fold path, as far as I know …I stated it is part of the eight-fold path”.

    (4) The eight-fold path is a path of practice not a dogma”

    The eight-fold path is a path of practice AND a path of study…. not one or the other.

    ________________________________________________________

    Peter you argue that “No rebirth does not exist. A belief in rebirth is not essential. The eight-fold path is a path of practice not a dogma”

    I argue that in all forms of Buddhism the Buddha stated rebirth exists. I base this statement on the fact that it is stated in the Buddhas teachings in all schools of Buddhism. In addition, from putting into practise Buddhist theory myself my experience confims to me rebirth or past lives do exist.

    Therefore I assert and support that rebirth exists as taught by the Buddha as part of Buddhism and that it IS therefore an essential part of Buddhism.

    Also you claim that the eight -fold path is ONLY a path of practice.

    The Buddha specifically states that one must put the teachings into practise for oneself, therefore how can you incinuate that he or other Buddhists state it is just a path of dogma. How can you possibly practise something if you don’t no what to practice, practice what? you have to have theory or dogma to practice with.
    (I stated that the belief in rebirth is part of the eight-fold path NOT all of the eight-fold path and I do not believe anyone has stated it was ALL of the eight-fold path, I am not too sure where you got this from,Tibetan Buddhism possibly).

    Therefore I state and believe that the eight-fold parth is a path of practice and study not just practice as you state and this is impossible.

    (Note: The only way you can practise as far as I no without dogma or theory is if you decide to follow Vajrayana Buddhism whereby the student commits to a Guru/Teacher and follows that teacher and the teachers commands and orders without question. Whether this path works or not is debateable, I don’t know, even so most students are “specially chosen” secretly nurtured and taught by the Guru dependant on their past lives anyway so this path is even more dependent on past lives than that of the Theravarden path, and even still involves studying at least the basic concepts of Buddhism. So you might escape dogma but you wouldn’t escape having to believe in rebirth or past lives).

    Regards

  30. Also I think I read that someone said “most” people do not believe in rebirth.

    The Chinese Government one of the most “powerful” if you want to call it that Governments in the owrld actually has or does try to kidnap and imprison people they think were certain people in a past life. some of these are actually young children.

    They believe in rebirth to the point that they tried to pass off one of there own communist kids as a holy being reborn in China.

    This is NOT a religion NOR a group but one of the large (and a communist government) in the whole world!

    It is also a stupid, vile and despicable act …and we do business with this Government?

  31. …possibly I should add:

    Rebirth according to the teachings of the Buddha does end… BUT this is when one obtains awakening through following the Buddhas teachings, the eight-fold path etc; this is when there is no rebirth.

    ie There is no suffering rebirth ie human, animal rebirth etc after the defilements have been purified, through following the eight-fold path.

    Without following this path there IS rebirth into suffering states such as human, animal and hell.

  32. I think Peter Roebuck put it best when he said “the Sri Lankan attack probed away like a dentist searching for cavities” and “contained enough lefties to alarm a shock jock”……

  33. You would probably also like and agree with john guru smith the secular buddhist who said:

    the meaning of life is 38 and to find enlightement what you need to do is NOT follow the teachings of the Buddha but look for and jump on the back of pink flying elephants…then they will take you to enlightenment.

  34. My comment “rebirth does not exist” was in response to your comment “rebirth exists”, which I took to be your view. My view and your view go together – they are a set.

    When I said “rebirth is not the eight-fold path” this was in response to your comment “rebirth exists…and it is the eight-fold path”.

    I don’t think that the Buddha was teaching for the theory. I think he was teaching for the practice. The theory is only for the practice.

    Some say that we need to have conventional “right view” and that conventional right view includes a belief in literal rebirth. They may provide a sutta reference for their position. I don’t agree, maybe I have wrong view? maybe I’m not a Buddhist?

  35. A relevant excerpt to such discussions from the Sappurisa Sutta.

    “Furthermore, a person of no integrity is learned… a master of the Vinaya… a Dhamma-speaker. He notices, ‘I am a Dhamma-speaker, but these other monks are not Dhamma-speakers. He exalts himself for being a Dhamma-speaker and disparages others. This is the quality of a person of no integrity.

    “But a person of integrity notices, ‘It’s not through being a Dhamma-speaker that the quality of greed goes to its end; it’s not through being a Dhamma-speaker that the quality of aversion… the quality of delusion goes to its end. Even though one is not a Dhamma-speaker, if — practicing the Dhamma in line with the Dhamma, practicing masterfully — he is one who follows the Dhamma, he is to be honored for that, praised for that.’ So, giving priority just to the practice, he neither exalts himself for being a Dhamma-speaker nor disparages others. This is the quality of a person of integrity.

  36. My comment “rebirth does not exist” was in response to your comment “rebirth exists”, which I took to be your view. My view and your view go together – they are a set.

    That rebirth exists is just what I have read in the buddha’s teaching and what I agree with because it makes sense to me.

    I don’t know if you have to have conventional right view to “be” a Buddhist or even what “being a buddhist is” but to follow all of what the Buddha taught to reach enlightenment from what I have read and practised you have to follow all of it (the eight-fold path) not just bits.

    This doesn’t mean following some of the teachings, i.e 5-6 parts of the eight-fold path isn’t good, following any of the Buddha’s teachings is probably better than following john the guru smiths theory that flying pink elephants will get you to enlightement.

    I mean if just following morality and virtue makes life happier and better and provides a good rebirth then what is wrong with that and that is still Buddhism.

    What personally I disagree with to some regard is people that disparage good buddhist teachers or groups that do teach the whole path and do not acknowledge them as correct or authentic buddhists and when people who maybe just teach some of the path don’t clarify that they are only teaching some of what the Buddha taught – surely if they are not teaching the path to enlightenment they should qualify that they are only teaching some aspects of Buddhism not all, otherwise people can be mislead.

    Any way just my thoughts for what they are worth.

    Best wishes

  37. Practicing the Dhamma is clearly important, but the Buddha obviously didn’t intend to suggest that speaking the Dhamma is bad (only that speaking it while making no attempt to practice it is bad) or that discussing the teaching and debating its meaning is unwholesome. In the Pali Canon, there are plenty of examples of the Buddha, who practiced the Dhamma, speaking disparagingly of those who taught nonsense while claiming that it was what the Buddha taught.

    Teachings matter. It matters what is attributed to the Buddha. And we cannot learn about or transmit any understanding of the Buddha’s teaching if we don’t discuss it.

  38. “… is this what secular Buddhists do … bully and harrass other Buddhists? I certainly do not want then to get involved with secular Buddhists.”

    buddhadhamma, I absolutely agree that bullying is not what we as human beings should do, let alone Buddhists of any kind.  We differ in some ways in the teaching certainly, perhaps some ways in actual practice, and can be mutually respectful of one another.

  39. Thank you for that. As I have said in earlier posts I have followed and been involved in different forms of “spirituality” which could be considered Secular Buddhism and gained many benefits. My first two Buddhist teachers were lay teachers and without their teachings I probably would not have continued with Buddhism and have been put off .

    I think mutual agreement or common ground seems to be that that greed, hatred/ anger (negativity) and delusion are not Buddhist, even though as humans we all have elements or degrees of these.

    It is good if we can keep discussion within these boundaries…although I admit I am no shining example ..ha ha :)

  40. Ratanadhammo,

    ”only that speaking it while making no attempt to practice it is bad” – Exactly!

    The passage is relevant to self appointed Dhamma teachers – Not a blanket statement.

    Metta,

    Sam

  41. Perhaps self-appointed Dhamma teachers like Stephen Batchelor should read this passage rather than try to convince others to reject the Pali Canon before they make any effort to know what’s in it.

  42. Sam,

    Aren’t you and everyone on here discussing Buddhism then self-appointed Dhamma teachers…are you suggesting we should discuss something other than Dhamma or are you just making a point that to blog Dhamma without practise and study is wrong..not too sure what you point is here.

    Regards

  43. Dear Bhante Sujato (& anyone else who may be interested),

    I have a query regarding nimitas and devas that you referred to in a podcast talk on Anapanasati (Rains retreat talk 2006?)

    http://www.dhammanet.org/hosted/dhammanet/download.php?view.140).

    If I may paraphrase you:”…. Nimitas aren’t anything, it’s just the way you are seeing the breath, seeing the mind, the way this is interpreted to itself. Nimita is a metaphor (ie “the lights have gone on – a light bulb above your head”). Nimitas are represented, interpreted as light by the mind (there is no actual light there). So that light is very powerful, overwhelming and it will change your life. You would understand that if you were a Christian, you would say – I have seen the face of God – you wouldn’t have any doubt about that. This is how it’s described – like when Brahma appears – the Nimita appears, the light appears. So what you are seeing is the mind which has this power, which in fact is the power of God, it’s not like it’s just like that, it actually is (the power of God). This is the power that the great and mighty devas get their power from, the Brahma gods, from seeing these lights, from this experience…..”

    Bhante, to quote you earlier in the original Secular Buddhism post addressed to me:

    “…Devas are, in fact, conditioned, impermanent, suffering creatures very much like you or I in all spiritually important aspects. And, crucially, knowledge of such things is an empirical knowledge, derivable from the meditative extension of ordinary sensory faculties…… “

    My questions are: how are we to understand this “empirical knowledge, derivable from the meditative extension of ordinary sensory faculties”? Are the latter (presumably Buddhist) devas you refer to above the same as the Brahmanical ones earlier? (If so doesn’t this indicate the cultural influence of Brahmanism on Buddhism?)

    As a Buddhist have you ever seen the face of God in meditation, rather than devas? I imagine not but if so what would you make of it? That God is real? Have Christians who have no knowledge of Buddhism reported to have seen Buddhist devas, rather than an image of God or Jesus? I also imagine not, in which case wouldn’t this reflect our preconceived ideas when entering deep meditation?

    Although you seem to be saying this can happen in a previous reply (to Glenn Wallis’s article in June) when you use the biblical example of Saul to argue:

    “There are countless examples of people seeing ‘entities’ and often these have no relation to a person’s belief. For a historical example, Saul on the road to Tarsus. The notion that people only ever see what they previously believed in is a purely dogmatic assertion, and I have never seen any evidence in support of it. One might reject such accounts for any number of reasons, but it is simply wrong to say that no-one has seen such things.”(Incidentally, he was on the road to Damascus, not Tarsus.)

    If we leave aside those in psychiatric care who might see ‘entities’ that have no relation to their beliefs, how valid is the example of Saul? To quote Wikipedia:

    “While traveling from Jerusalem to Damascus on a mission to “bring them which were there bound unto Jerusalem”, the resurrected Jesus appeared to him in a great light. Saul was struck blind, but after three days his sight was restored by Ananias of Damascus, and Paul began to preach that Jesus of Nazareth is the Jewish Messiah and the Son of God.”

    Are you saying this really happened? If so I would have imagined you would have remained a Christian. If not, what is the point of the example? What reasons might it be legitimate to “reject such accounts”? Or are you simply trying to score a debating point by saying “it is simply wrong to say that non-one has seen such things”?

    Getting back to your Anapanasati talk mentioned above: presumably if you were an agnostic / atheist scientist might these ‘entities’ be legitimately explained in purely physiological and / or psychological terms?

    In fact you actually say this before overlaying a religious interpretation:

    “Nimitas aren’t anything, it’s just the way you are seeing the breath, seeing the mind, the way this is interpreted to itself. Nimita is a metaphor (ie “the lights have gone on – light bulb above you head”). Nimitas are represented, interpreted as light by the mind (there is no actual light there).”?

    Could you please clarify

    Much appreciated

    Geoff

  44. Dear All,

    As we know, Bhante Sujato likes to emphasis his “text critical” credentials in order to put forward his interpretation of the Buddha’s teachings while dismissing alternative, more secular ones.

    I have a problem with this…..

    Even if we accept Bhante’s “text critical” interpretations, how might we interpret the period of time from the moment the Buddha’s words left his lips to the time these ‘texts’ were created? Bhante is prepared to go into great detail with suggestions on what the original Satipattana Sutta might have looked like (see his recorded talks), but what about the 400 year period prior to the Sutta being recorded in print?

    What are Bhante’s “oral critical” credentials? What are anyone’s?

    I have heard Bhante himself say how he was often misreported by the press when he was a musician. Why might this not have happened to the Buddha (ie “taken out of context”)? There was no accurate sound or visual recordings of the Buddha which might have given us some insight into eg his vocal intonations or expressions (idiom or “turn of phrase”) or visual recordings which may have provided some insight into his body language etc.

    Of course to further complicate matters, the Buddha wasn’t speaking in modern day English and was living in a far different cultural environment (eg we don’t find ourselves in discussion with Brahmins or Jains, rather we find ourselves in discussions with sutta thumpers).

    Could anyone please clarify this for me?

    PS Also it would have been good to have had some in-depth interviews to clarify some points of contention. How good would it have been to have had Gotama on Ted Meissner’s podcast to answer some probing questions!

    Dream on……..

  45. Geoff,

    You have already asked this question and it has been answered.

    Bhante Sujato is away on Rains retreat, you know this.

  46. Haven’t you asked this question numerous time as well.

    Bhante Sujato is not the only person who can answer questions.

    Maybe you just need to put some effort into doing some study and research for yourself, we are not kindergarten kids who cannot read or research for themselves.

    If you can’t read the Suttas or books on the internet and find out things for yourself it is a waste of your time and everyone else just to come onto a blog and expect answer to be provided for you..you need to find the answer yourself possibly.

  47. buddha d

    I addressed these subjects to Bhante & anyone else who maybe interested, including you. They are also somewhat modified. I thought others mightn’t have seen them before & may be interested? Maybe not?

    Previously I don’t recall getting much in the way of a detailed response (except some head- kicking from the usual suspects)…….

    Bhante may still be on retreat but he seemed to find the time to answer several queries re 32 Marks & to post this topic on Buddhism & Empiricism…….

    Why was that? I have my ideas but I’ll keep them to myself (practising Right Speech?)……

    By the way Rat – I think you are in need of some SBAT (Stephen Batchelor Aversion Therapy). He really is weighing on your mind – you need to lighten up…….

  48. PS buddha d

    Are you able to repost your comments on my queries as I would be interested to reread them?

    Or perhaps you too might want to modify or add to them? The fact that you remember me posting them previously shows some interest?

    cheers

    Geoff

  49. PPS buddha d

    “Bhante Sujato is not the only person who can answer questions” ?

    Do you need to be given permission?

  50. Rattanadhammo, allthough time is certainly not a measure of wisdom I think it is worth remembering that Stephen Batchelor has been deeply involved with Buddhism for near on 40 years. If you don’t mind me asking, how long have you been involved in Buddhism?

  51. Peter, I don’t mind you asking, but the question is irrelevant. Batchelor’s credentials don’t mean much when he misinterprets the teaching as presented in the Pali Canon based on false premises, lazy assumptions, and shifting bases for his assertions that trick people into a practice that is obviously fruitless. In his most recent book, he admits that he spent nearly 15 years among Buddhists without having much knowledge of or exposure to the Pali Canon. Then, when he finally started investigating the Pali Canon, he presents as the basis for his investigation a lazy interpretation of what is presented in one sutta. There’s no reason to have a problem with an individual floundering about as he seeks to grow spiritually, but Batchelor decided to turn his lifetime of confusion into a claim that the Buddha taught nothing more than what Batchelor has been capable of understanding and to convince others that his limited view is what the Buddha really taught. He’s created more confusion than anything else. What he has to say would be helpful if it weren’t for his tendency to confuse people into believing that he has a more legitimate insight into the Buddha’s teaching.

  52. If it was that irrelevant I imagine you would have answered.

    If your views are different so be it (mine are) but this idea that you seem to have that Batchelor is condeming souls to confusion and tricking people into a practice that is fruitless seems odd. Is he turning people into indoctrinated secular buddhist automatons?

  53. Peter,

    I seriously get tied of people who claim they have been involved in Buddhism for 20 – 30 years as the only proof they understand the teachings. That this is some rationale for claiming they are experts when anyone can see they do not have the qualities of a Buddhist.

    In fact I anyone who has been involved in Buddhism for 40 years but STILL doesn’t understand it and hasn’t even read suttas of their school of Buddhism should seriously have a good look at themselves, this is just stupidity not something to be admired. It is like bashing you head against a wall to knock it down realising that using some sort of jackhammer or something might work better.

    It is both dangerous and immoral to claim the Buddha’s teachings for oneself, to plagerise them and pass them off as the real thing.

    If I live with someone can I steal the tires off their car and claim they are mine just because I lived with them for awhile. Can I then go and steal the rest of their car and claim it is mine because I have the tires; can I then go and rearrange the engine to suit myself keep the bits I like and that are profitable and then sell the car to make a profit… …. and claim I am not a thief nor negligent in giving a faulty car to someone who may well then injure themselves and their friends and family? No!

  54. Geoff,

    To be an authentic Buddhist teacher you are suppose to have permission from your teacher to teach Buddhism ie would you want a doctor who doesn’t have a medical degree to operate on you? Is your mind any less important than your body, do you want some quack playing around with you mind?

    I am not really qualified to teach but below I can give you my interpretation of what Bhante is saying which may or may not be correct, but it is just how I understand it

    I won’t go into the next section on Devas because i don’t really understand them myself, all I can grasp at the moment is that they either relate to projection of the mind or past life experiences, or spiritual beings that have evolved from the ‘prison of the body’ therefore are creatures who are a little more evolved than humans. If you aren’t open to believing in past lives, or a spiritual life (beyond the body) then anything I would say you would just I say is rubbish anyway, so there is not much point. So maybe Bhante or someone else can explain what he means by Devas.

    With regard to the following paragraph you quote from AS:

    If I may paraphrase you:”…. Nimitas aren’t anything, it’s just the way you are seeing the breath, seeing the mind, the way this is interpreted to itself. Nimita is a metaphor (ie “the lights have gone on – a light bulb above your head”). Nimitas are represented, interpreted as light by the mind (there is no actual light there). So that light is very powerfulrwhelming and it will change your life. You would understand that if you were a Christian, you would say – I have seen the face of God – you wouldn’t have any doubt about that. This is how it’s described – like when Brahma appears – the Nimita appears, the light appears. So what you are seeing is the mind which has this power, which in fact is the power of God, it’s not like it’s just like that, it actually is (the power of God). This is the power that the great and mighty devas get their power from, the Brahma gods, from seeing these lights, from this experience

    _____

    How I understand it is if you: (the following is abit of a convulated explanation but bear with me if you can)

    See the mind as a very pure pool of water that has been polluted .. each time you clean it out with a scoop there is more light in the pool (nimitas) when it is all cleaned (ie your mind is pure) you are then enlightened or have reach nibbana. So possibly the nimitas are the flashes of light coming through a human beings defiled unpurified mind, like the light that starts to eminant from the pool of muddy water as you clean out the muck from the pool.

    That is a very basic generalised overview:

    To make it more detailed I will relate the following concept or analogy: (bear with me)

    Imagine you are an important executive running a big company, you have worked for years and at times have had to lie, cheat abit, drunk and eaten too much, even at times been treated like a god, not though because you have done anything good, but, because you are the boss and people know that is the only way they can get better pay or a promotion out of you.

    Imagine you start to think you are so great of something that you want to do a corporate takeover of the world with whatever product your sell. Finally though you realise that maybe you are not that happy, people aren’t really sincere, you have made enough money to buy your dream house and then decide to “live a bit” “have a seachange”.

    You then find a nice place near the water and decide to buy it, even though you have to compute to work each day for an hour and a half, still put up with the same crap at work, lie abit, cheat abit go out to lunches were you have to eat alot, drink with the guys etc, even still you think is is a better life, so you buy your dream home.

    The real estate agent by chance says to you “oh by the way see that big pool of muddy water (1) that is on your land way out the back there, it use to be a beach but became blocked due to pollution”. “Look just ignore it, there is no possibe way of clearing the blockage, except if you swam down to the bottom and scooped all the crap out by hand and there are only a few people left around here who know where the blockages are to guide and instruct you anyway… you are a busy important executive and surely would never want to do that…..I mean why would you want to have to face up to all that crap everyday, day by day, when you can escape and go to your plush coroprate world every day”….but then the real estate agent said “…….but ….oh by the way if you did ever face all that crap and clean it out you would never have to work again, the clean clear ocean would return,(2) you would be rich and the town people who are all lieing, cheating and stealing to make a living would also never have to work again and could make a living just by ethical means (3) such as selling salad sandwiches at the beach or something …but look forget it, to clean out that clogged up water is impossible very few people and you have to do in by hand (4) could do it and also you would need to find the few locals (5) who know where the blockages are and let them instruct you a bit . and they are really really hard to find….. and why would you want to give up you life of corporate privileged life anyway and have to put up with those people telling you what to do.

    OK,
    (1) the pool of muddy water our the back of you house is your mind defiled by greed, hatred and delusion
    (2) this same pool of muddy water cleaned out is your mind free of greed, hatred and delusion (THE NIMITAS Bhante is referring to are POSSIBLY the clean water or light FLICKERING THROUGH THE DEFILEMENTS OF THE POLLUTED MIND or as in this analogy the polluted water which if cleaned out can let in an ocean of beautiful clear clean water.
    (3) your MOTIVATION for cleaning out the pool or purifying your mind is enlightenment or as in this story .. good intention that is aimed at being moral and ethical helping the environment and helping the poor local people, that is: NOT to hurt or reek revenge or for jealousy.. and not have to go to your job where you have to hurt others, lie cheat etc, with the motivation of getting rid of your competitors (hate) getting more and more money and possession (greed) and thinking that in doing this you are happy and that this is the only way to live (delusion)..but with a good motivation to instead be a good human being not just a rich one. (one could even say at this stage there might be a danger of the executive starting to see god or think they are god or seeing themselves as god..ha ha
    (4) scooping the muck out of the pool of muddy water by hand day by day is MEDITATION.
    (5) the locals who know the secret of how to scoop the crap out of the pool of water are the Dhamma teachers, monks and nuns ie Ajahn Brahm, Sujato etc

    Conclusion: So I guess what I am trying to say in this analogy is that:

    the mind of the human being is a good one but is still defiled by greed, hatred and delusion, to make it a pure one we don’t need so much as to ‘have a sea change’ but to meditate, we need to meditate with good intention and use the instruction of those who know how to make the mind pure again, when we start to do this the light will start to shine through (nimitas) and we start to to free ourselves from the worldly life of craving etc here some people may start to think they see god or believe themselves to be god.. but it is not that it is not outside ourselves simiply a purifiying of the mind.

    In this analogy the executive changes his motivation from one of achieving success for himself ie to get richer and more important, to facing the fact this doesn’t really make him happy and that as a human if he wants to be happy he needs to clean out his mind rid himself of greed, hatred delusion, true happyness, but to do this he has to face that crap in his own mind and with instruction from dhamma teachers through mediation scoop the crap out, in doing so he starts to see the clear clean water from the ocean come through (nimitas). Not to say though that he needs to ‘have a sea change he could still possibly do this by meditation, living the same life..that is just an analogy…Anyway sorry about the cheesy analogy, but this is how I sort of understand the more accurate explanation given by Bhante.. possibly I should also apologise to him for denegrate it into a cheesy story ha ha :) and I am not even sure it is right but that is how I see it.

    Best Wishes

  55. so this analogy of the muddy water being like the defiled mind and the pure water being like the mind of Nibbana is not mine I have “stolen” or “plagarised” that from the Suttas of one of the Buddhist schools.

  56. PS

    correction…Actually the cleaning out of the mind ie scooping out the mud from the dirty pool, may just be the reaching of the Jhanas …. enlightenment, awakening, nibbana what every you call it, may be the next step beyond that.

  57. The questions keep coming. I’ll be interested in anyone’s response……..

    Bhante Sujato has said on this blog in July:

    “My belief in rebirth is most emphatically provisional, as are all my beliefs.”

    He then says:

    “The Buddha claims to have exercised his memory over billions of years. The difference between that and our ordinary experience of time is very great, but not outside the capacities of inference.”

    Elsewhere he says (in response to me): “And you are quite right, establishing that rebirth happens does not prove that everything Buddhists say about rebirth is correct, including kamma. But it’s a start!”

    I’m curious. If Bhante believes a human (Gotama) was able to recollect past lives dating back billions of years and conceding that “establishing that rebirth happens does not prove that everything Buddhists say about rebirth is correct”, I wonder what would be required for his (provisional) beliefs to be challenged?”

    What do others think about this?

    *********

    Buddhadharma says above re previous queries I asked: “Geoff, you have already asked this question and it has been answered. Bhante Sujato is away on Rains retreat, you know this.”

    Firstly Budda d, this is not a yes/no question – I’m not simply asking someone for the time….
    Secondly, yes I take it Bhante is still on retreat, but what does that mean? That he is incommunicado for the duration? In which case why was there the following recently on the 32 Marks post:

    *******

    sujato / Sep 2 2011 12:08 pm

    Hi Jayarava,
    I just noticed your comment as I dropped by my blog to see if there’s any comments needing approving – it was too interesting to ignore!

    ******

    If I fail to get a response I suppose I can take that to mean a lack of interest in the secular discussion?

    That’s OK as my primary intention is for him to see that there is a strong and growing secular movement attempting to make Buddhism more relevant in the 21st Century West.

    I suspect Bhante’s modus operandi…..

    I reckon he’ll keep quiet on this issue until the end of the Rains & then announce his return with a new posting (probably on his new book?)

    This will bring his loyal supporters out of the wood work and drown out having to adequately respond to the secular debate.

    PS Maybe he’ll be provoked to respond by me saying all this? Bhante, if you do respond could you please do so in block form (a la The Secular Buddhist) so each point is covered, rather than cherry picking the parts you wish to answer?

    Must be quite nice down there @ Santi now that spring has come? Bit of a contrast to the Buddha’s day – having to contend with monsoonal weather……..

    Before you become aghast that I would address a monk like this – I see him firstly as a white, middle aged, middle class, university educated, Australian male – just like me.

    Cheers

    Geoff

  58. Geoff,

    Your response and constant attacks on Bhante would be considered by most to be abuse and harrassment. This is possibly why he doesn’t respond…Simple! No one has to respond to or put up with harrassment and slander.

    He has told you numerous times he will not be responding to queries regarding Dhamma, further more he did say he would drop in occasionally, which he did when he answered the other persons question.

    The reason why he would answer this persons questions would probably be because it was a sincere question asked out of good intention, not to badger or slander the Monk which is what you seem to be up to.

    You have made your point about secular Buddhism. Most of your questions have been answered numerous times; the rest is up to you to research. Look them up yourself of read the teachings of the Buddha… it is no one elses problem if you can’t or are not able to grasp or understand Buddhism or this website..

    Also have you read the moderation guidelines on this website

    My question is not why Ajahn Sujato hasn’t answered your questions it is why he hasn’t banned you from this website and his classes; because it obvious you have no interest in Buddhism, you pretend you are but here to cause trouble and to harrass try to maliciously slander the Monk.

    This Geoff is despicable!

  59. Geoff,

    Moderation Guidelines

    “I am very happy to host a diversity of viewpoints and vigorous debate here, but please keep your posts kind, reasoned, and – if possible – grammatical. I’ll ban posts that get too personal, off-topic, offensive, potentially defamatory, or just plain silly. If your post doesn’t appear, and is none of the above, then it may have been dismissed as spam by WordPress’s automated filters. Let me know if this happens. I’ll check the spam folder occasionally.

    ….I won’t be using this forum very much for meditation or in-depth Dhamma, for which see my talks or books at Santipada.

    ie “keep post kind, reasoned, not too personal, or defamatory he also states he won’t be using this blog for in-depth Dhamma , for which see my talks or books”

  60. buddhadhamma *I seriously get tied of people who claim they have been involved in Buddhism for 20 – 30 years as the only proof they understand the teachings.” Just aswell that no one made that claim!

    Have you read much by Stephen Batchelor? I haven’t.

  61. “Bhikkhus, there are these five courses of speech that others may use when they address you: their speech may be timely or untimely, true or untrue, gentle or harsh, connected with good or with harm, spoken with a mind of loving-kindness or with inner hate. When others address you, their speech may be timely or untimely; when others address you, their speech may be true or untrue; when others address you, their speech may be gentle or harsh; when others address you, their speech may be connected with good or with harm; when others address you, their speech may be spoken with a mind of loving-kindness or with inner hate.

    Herein, bhikkhus, you. should train thus: ‘Our minds will remain unaffected, and we shall utter no evil words; we shall abide compassionate for their welfare, with a mind of loving-kindness, without inner hate. We shall abide pervading that person with a mind imbued with lovingkindness, and starting with him, we shall abide pervading the all-encompassing world with a mind imbued with lovingkindness, abundant, exalted, immeasurable, without hostility and without ill will.’ That is how you should train, bhikkhus.”

    – MN 21

  62. Peter,

    No I haven’t.

    I am gettin’ older and seriously want to find a way out of suffering.

    I have no doubt that following the Buddha’s teachings are the way to do this, if I had doubt or a bad motivation that just wants to get back at someone or something in Buddhism I might look elsewhere but I (hope anyway) I don’t.

    I have already followed some lay forms of spiritually and I think I have said before while they were benefical ..I did not become enlightened …obviously!

    To become awakened find peace and happyness you have to uphold the precepts of not lieing, stealing, sexual misconduct, and harsh speech etc and the eight fold path, by doing this and listening to Ajahn Brahm and disciples and other ordained teachers I do feel I am seeing the light.

    If on the other hand I just came here with a mind full of doubt trying to find fault, I would not being seeing the light doubt is a strong force that can hold one back.. I feel I have no doubt, i am not held back by doubt in the buddha’s teachings… always having to look elsewhere.

    Doubt can also be good in that having a certain degree of sceptical doubt keeps the shalitans at bay …but not doubt with a motivation to prove others wrong or just to win..I think it must be a doubt with the motivation and intention to not want to get caught up in something that does not lead to awakening.

    For example why if you are becoming or are fit and healthy because you follow a regime of exercise and healthy eating would you then adopt a lifestyle of just exercise without healthy food, because someone puts a book out about it especially if it is not what say nutritionists claim is right, that would be stupid and lazy?

    To find peace and happyness you have to want and have the intention to find peace, happiness and awakening. I have the motivation to find this… to get out of suffering.
    If though like you and Geoff it seems you just want to be right and prove others wrong, if you just want to win or prove someone wrong then sure you will do that, there is always fault, no one is perfect; but have you found peace, happyness and awakening or just proved someone wrong in some aspect and so what if you do if the overall general teaching is right anyway.

    I haven’t read Stephen Batchelors book because I am not out to judge him or prove him wrong or right, or Bhante Sujato wrong or right, I am motivated by finding peace, and happyness and a way out of suffering..if I have no doubt I have found the way then I have no reason to look elsewhere.

    It is abit like maybe if you have or think you have found the best relationship with your husband or wife, you are really happy etc why look elsewhere, wouldn’t that just destroy the relationship.

    Because I am motivated by finding awakening, peace and happyness that is why I read dhamma books, listen to talks and blog on websites..not out of motivation to be right or prove others wrong.

    Maybe I will read his book if I ever become awakened, I might have the time then but then why would I need to?

    Tell me does SB book have a guarentee stating “guaranteed to get you to awakening faster than the teaching of the Buddha” if so let me know and I will read it ..if not no thanks!

  63. Peter,

    I should clarify, by lay teachers I mean teachers that don’t follow the precepts or eight-fold path, it seems SB doesn’t follow the eight-fold path.

    Also I am not saying they are not benefical in other aspect of life just that the Buddha seems to have taught the path to awakening and this is what I am interested in.

  64. I don’t see MN 21 as an excuse to abuse the ordained.

    Furthermore verbal harrasment or harrassment of any kind is against the law of this country therefore there is no excuse to harrass a monk if it is illegal.

    Further more such harrassment is in other schools of Buddhism consider the surest and quickest way to hell for the harrasser.

    So even if the abused can with stand the abuse the abuser will suffer the effects of the karma they create.

  65. Herein, bhikkhus, you. should train thus: ‘Our minds will remain unaffected, and we shall utter no evil words; we shall abide compassionate for their welfare, with a mind of loving-kindness, without inner hate. We shall abide pervading that person with a mind imbued with lovingkindness, and starting with him, we shall abide pervading the all-encompassing world with a mind imbued with lovingkindness, abundant, exalted, immeasurable, without hostility and without ill will.’ That is how you should train, bhikkhus.”

    – MN 21

    Well said Sam – all of us can learn from that

    How’s it going?

    cheers

    Geoff

  66. Sam,

    As you I think maybe affillitated with Santi Monestry, could you please explain how a this person Geoff is allowed to slander, harass and badger a Monk publicly when in any other circumstance such behaviour would have either been moderated or considered discrimination (religious discrimination) or harrassment.

    As far as I know all religions that do not break the laws of this country are accepted in this country, tolerance is part of the antidiscrimination policy. If the Monk here was a Muslim I think by now Geoff would have been in big trouble. Why then is he allowed and encouraged it seems by you to continue this harrassment and discrimination.

    The moderation guidelines do not allow for it, the laws of our country here in Australia do not allow for religious discrimination or harassment so why is condoned by you? It seems like you are supporting this person harassing a Monk and condoning his discrimination against Buddhism, not only that but you are encouraging it.

    Having sceptical doubt is one thing, discrimination, harrassment and defamation are another
    Regards

  67. Peter,

    As I said I have not read much of SB stuff, but if he doesn’t believe in rebirth I doubt he can be following the eight-fold path or the teachings of the Buddha..in full.

    Maybe Ratendhammo can answer that he seems to know in more detail what parts of Buddhism SB follows

  68. Peter,

    With regard to SB … again I will say that to claim you teach Buddhism it seems only fair to teach what the Buddha taught..all of it! not just some of it!..and that is the path to Nibbana

    Having said that alot of people go to Buddhism to obtain a better life, to get some peace some psychological understanding of themselves and others, not everyone wants to find enlightenment and that is their choice, possibly not everyone can, it is a lofty goal I doubt I will achieve either.

    So please don’t think I am disparaging teachers like SB… if they help people be a bit more peaceful, “get their heads together” of have a better life, which I believe they can do that is fantastic…all I am saying and I think most people might be suggesting is that it is not right and it is misleading to claim that you are teaching the path to enlightenment, the path the Buddha taugh if you are not..and it appears he is not.

    It is maybe abit like a nurse claiming they are a Doctor, nurses do such a fantastic job no one should disparage them, but if they are not trained as doctors they should not claim to be, be deluded that they are, and undertake operations that only doctors are trained to do.

  69. Hi All from the Southern tip of Africa

    This is the first time I have felt compelled to post a comment on this blog.
    Thank you Ajahn Sujato for this excellent forum. My comments here are aimed at the secular Buddhists who claim to act out of a deep respect for Gotama Buddha’s dhamma.

    If you are so dead set on practicing as close to the Buddha Gotama’s teachings as possible, why not renounce & enter monkhood (form a monastic order of your own if no one will ordain you, or you find the traditional set ups too culturally encrusted)

    Your extensive knowledge of the Pali Canon should by now have revealed to you the importance of renunciation in the Buddha’s teaching.
    The teachings on rebirth & or other supernatural phenomena may disputed, but not so with renunciation. (I’m sure you’ll dig up suttas that say otherwise)

    So for all of you secular buddhists, go back to the scriptures, learn the vinaya, seek ordination and practice!
    As far as I’m concerned you’re like a bunch of children looking into the window of candy shop, yet unable to taste all the goodies inside, so you sit outside waling and moaning at others who go through the door.
    In short, Geoff and the rest of you: put your money where you mouth is!

    Africa Dhamma

  70. More from Mazard … the guy who brought you the skeptical inquiry into the twelve links of dependent origination noted earlier by Sujato… http://sujato.wordpress.com/2011/05/25/an-interesting-article-about-dependent-origination/

    “The Buddha was Bald” …

    http://asiapacific.anu.edu.au/newmandala/2010/12/30/the-buddha-was-bald/

    …and “So-Called Breathing Meditation: A notice on the mistranslation of Ānāpānasati”…

    http://asiapacific.anu.edu.au/newmandala/2011/09/16/flatulence-and-breathing-meditation/

    I’d advise you to read both all the way to the end before leaping to conclusions about the author’s sources or intentions…

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