But what is Buddhism?

1 Jun

But WHAT IS Buddhism:  A Look into a discussion about “Secular Buddhists”

I wasn’t going to comment on the “secular buddhist” discussion at Darwiniana and The Gurdjieff Con, but in light of the recent direction/tone of the conversation, here goes.

Let’s start with a comment from the thread-metathread.  Richard writes:

June 1, 2011 at 10:29 am

“I think the same problem surfaces in my discussion with the “Secular Buddhists.” One almost has to have a pre-verbal intuitive grasp before one can genuinely understand something. If you don’t have that ability, then the words will just confuse you.”

More to be found at
http://darwiniana.com/2011/05/31/the-eonic-model-is-too-elegant-to-be-wrong/comment-page-1/#comment-357980.

This statement may be more of a “personal-take” on the issue, and if it is, I can understand it; but it almost reads like this ‘intuition’ is some sort of endowment that certain people have, while the rest of poor be-knighted humanity doesn’t! … (Enlightenment it seems is Naturally Selected!) … This isn’t the gist I’m sure, but it raises an issue for me … why I’m skeptical about critiquing the Secular Buddhists.

I’ve no real part in this fight – I’m not Buddhist, and don’t have any background with it save an occasional cultural interest in the subject.  But, why insist on the doctrine of Buddhist reincarnation, spirituality, etc.?  Is this not again more metaphysics that we’re supposed to be cautious about to begin with? … If it is, why is it being put on a pedestal, when other religious metaphysics gets the sharp criticism?  Why not let Batchelor & Co. have their “secular Buddhism” without the fuss? …

If the critique of metaphysics holds, then they’re perfectly justified in having their cake and eating it too.  It beats the gurus, after all.  Doesn’t it? However, more to the point, I’ll say my piece again on these Eastern systems … (Philosophies?  Religions?) … What are they, aside from all the spiritual mythology, practices, and mental disciplines that come up in them?  … I’d be more inclined to call Buddhism, Daoism, and Confucianism Life’s-Ways” rather than religions, but I know others would see and argue it differently.

If Buddhism is a Life’s-Way, then why can’t Secular Buddhism be an acceptable form of that activity?  After all, metaphysics would have nothing to do with it.  Would it?

So why?  That’s what I’d pose for the SB critics.

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6 Responses to “But what is Buddhism?”

  1. Richard June 2, 2011 at 4:04 pm #

    “Why not let Batchelor & Co. have their “secular Buddhism” without the fuss? …”

    No problems with it. I just have a problem when they claim that their beliefs are what the Buddha actually taught.

    “But, why insist on the doctrine of Buddhist reincarnation, spirituality, etc.? Is this not again more metaphysics that we’re supposed to be cautious about to begin with? … If it is, why is it being put on a pedestal, when other religious metaphysics gets the sharp criticism?”

    Because Buddhism claims to have a practice (i.e. meditative techniques) that can discover these doctrines. Since the practices have developed a level of sophistication that don’t exist in other religions, I can’t dismiss Buddhist claims that current thinking about the epistemological constraints of the human mind is too limited. Judeo-Christianity simply doesn’t have anything comparable (although I like Nemo’s interpretation of the OT to turn it into something more sophisticated).

    “This statement may be more of a “personal-take” on the issue, and if it is, I can understand it; but it almost reads like this ‘intuition’ is some sort of endowment that certain people have, while the rest of poor be-knighted humanity doesn’t!”

    I think it’s true, even if it is not politically correct to say so. Some people just have a greater understanding of certain things, while other people can only read the words and end up confused.

  2. Luke Rondinaro June 3, 2011 at 4:00 pm #

    Comment from Richard:

    “Why insist on the doctrine of Buddhist reincarnation, spirituality, etc.? Is this not again more metaphysics? …” Because Buddhism claims to have a practice (i.e. meditative techniques) that can discover these doctrines. Since the practices have developed a level of sophistication that don’t exist in other religions, I can’t dismiss Buddhist claims that current thinking about the epistemological constraints of the human mind is too limited. Judeo-Christianity simply doesn’t have anything comparable (although I like Nemo’s interpretation of the OT to turn it into something more sophisticated).
    ______________________________

    I think this issue is worth exploring some more. … Here’s where the matter gets tricky. Buddhist practice leads you to X,Y, & Z experiences, ergo the doctrines of Buddhist spirituality, reincarnation, and the birth cycle. However, these are metaphysical conclusions!

    Does that mean Buddhism has demonstrated or really “proved” metaphysics? Not necessarily from my end … All it means is that it has touched on ‘noumenal‘ principles of nature, to a greater or lesser extent. It still has not shown these to be anything other than projections of the human psyche onto the world, and/or the mind’s way of handling some aspect or other of natural universe.

    Why say this? Because if not said, then any ‘secular’ observation on metaphysics, religion, spirituality, or the supernatural is completely unraveled. You’ve no choice but to proceed onward from Kant to Hegel and Nietzsche.

    Supernaturalism is assured! (by insisting on these doctrinal principles in Buddhism) …

    But if “logos” holds sway in the world, then the products of Buddhism aren’t truly ‘metaphysical‘ but solely ‘noumenal’ or higher-order dimensions of the still natural order, ergo susceptible to natural laws via science and rational epistemology.

    The Secular Buddhists have a point! Not “the truth”, but a “point” to what they’re saying. Perhaps it is high time to re-define the terms of Buddhist experience. Otherwise, “metaphysics” takes over and you’re left with the slippery slope into the world of the gurus and New Age.

    No wonder why the ideas of Osho, Adi Da Samraj, and others are so pernicious. If it’s a choice between them and Batchelor (ala Secular Buddhism), I’ll choose Batchelor any day!

    That’s my view.

  3. Luke Rondinaro October 26, 2012 at 11:54 pm #

    Buddhism is no win situation. Perhaps it’s time we all just admitted defeat on it and went home. Secular Buddhists back to an agnostic form of the discipline, secular atheists back to the drawing board of classical humanism, and mysticists back to the metaphysical fog from whence they came. I see no way round this conversation. Deepak Chopra will have his magical nonsense, too many secularists are neck deep in commercialized modernism and the culture of commodification to see reality as it is, and buddhism as a means of understanding the world can’t seem to navigate the extremes without unwarranted assumptions on both sides.

    So, if anything is to come of discussions between atheists and buddhists, it’s going to have to be done personally on a case-by-case, point-by-point basis. Nothing else will do now at this point. GURUS and secular luminaries BOTH have “destroyed” buddhism. Let’s hope somebody can salvage something of whatever’s left; though I doubt it. I’m becoming more and more cranky about this subject, especially after hearing so much of Chopra’s quantum mysticism foolishness, and inept attempts at circumventing the problem by both modern secular thinkers and many of these ‘third way’ buddhism types nitpicked to death by the rebirthers. If this keeps up, I’m going to have to adopt a new name for myself: that of being a “cranky nontheist.”

    Metaphysicians and secularists, be done with it. Your war on one another is defunct. You both have egg on your faces! This is my last word on this business with Buddhism. I’m done. Wonderful conversation to be sure, but fruitless and useless. In the words of the dolphins from Hitchikers Guide right before the world gets destroyed “thanks for all the fish.”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Darwiniana » Luke on metaphysics - June 3, 2011

    […] http://dianoeidos.wordpress.com/2011/06/01/but-what-is-buddhism/ […]

  2. Darwiniana » Commentary at Dianoilogos - October 26, 2012

    […] https://dianoilogos.wordpress.com/2011/06/01/but-what-is-buddhism/ […]

  3. Darwiniana » Confusion created by secular buddhism - October 26, 2012

    […] https://dianoilogos.wordpress.com/2011/06/01/but-what-is-buddhism/ Luke is someone I have known on the web for some time, so I welcome his comments. But this post on buddhism stands unwittingly as a rebuke of the idiocy of secular buddhists trying to rerig buddhism in a way that is unnecessary. The result is hopeless confusion for those who don’t grasp what has happened to the subject. […]

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