Thursday, January 26, 2017

Can We Have Buddhism Without The Buddha?


     I just finished reading Buddhism Without Beliefs by Stephen Batchelor.  I enjoyed the book immensely, and it's making me look at the dharma in a new way.  The secularized Buddha that Batchelor presents is completely lacking any religiosity.  In fact, he strikes me more as a scientist than a spiritual teacher.  I could easily picture him standing in an auditorium, presenting his data on the causes of suffering to college students, and then jetting off to give a Ted Talk on the eight-fold path.  As a result, I can't help but wonder what American Buddhism will look like 100 years from now.

     Will Buddhism even be called “Buddhism”?  Or will we give it a new, more modern sounding name?  Or maybe we'll keep the name, but strip the practice of all the trappings that are normally associated with Buddhist teachings.  Perhaps the robes will be replaced with button-down shirts, and the Buddha statues will be replaced with cool-looking rocks.  I don’t know.  But it’s interesting to think what will happen if the idea of Secular Buddhism, which Batchelor teaches, is taken to its natural conclusion; and meditation practice goes the way of Yoga.  Many people don’t realize that when Yoga came to the United States it was part of a spiritual practice that included ethics, mind-training, and even dietary restrictions.  However, it has now been secularized to the point that it's primarily a form of exercise that people squeeze in between brunch and their morning lattes.  Of course, this isn’t a bad thing, necessarily.  Healthy bodies often lead to healthy minds.

     But it's strange to think about a future where one can be certified as either a 200-hour, 300-hour, or 500-hour meditation teacher in much the same way that you find in Yoga.  The Mindfulness Based Stress Relief movement is certainly heading in this direction.  In fact, I once worked for a company that had a mindfulness coach come in to teach employees breathing exercises so that we could be more focused while working in our cubicles.  Will future practice require us to trade enlightenment for greater work productivity?  Will the Buddha still be welcome when American Buddhism comes into its own?  I don’t know.  But it’s interesting to think about.

13 comments:

  1. We already have "mindfulness" stripped of it's ethical paradigm, commodified and being taught to workers to make them more docile serfs, CEO's to make them more rapacious pirates, and US Marines to make them more sociopathic killers.
    If that's your idea of "secular Buddhism" without the Buddha, no thanks. I'll stick with my primitive religiosity, thank you very much.

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    1. Yep.
      But religiosity can do the same or worse.
      Ethics, and directed insight into union not things seems to escape lobotomizing people and furthering sociopathic and other delusional tendencies.

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    2. Batchelor is stripping away the mystical faith beliefs that were added over the centuries after the Buddha, as well as the outmoded worldview from the Buddha's time. This mostly refers to rebirth, but also relates to the belief that the Buddha somehow transformed into a disembodied spirit floating around the universe answering our prayers. Secular Buddhism is concerned with this life, this world, and not a better life that you will receive as a reward for behaving in a moral way. Batchelor is a die-hard follower of Gautama, he's become my favorite Dharma author. I'd highly recommend his latest After Buddhism, which is a deep, deep examination of the Buddha's life through his interaction with five different historical figures based on the Pali Canon.

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    3. Emmet, that's not at all what Stepehn Batchelor's secular Buddhism is about. He only rejects mysticism and religious concepts of rebirth and pie in the sky when you die nonsense. Corporate mindfulness is what I'd call what you're referring to.

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    4. His new book Beyond Buddhism is great, and further clarifies what he thinks secular Buddhism is about. By striping away the mysticism Batchelor wants to refocus Buddhism as an ethical project rather than a type of self help religion it has become.

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  2. Is it really the case that the secular Buddhism that Batchelor presents in his book, when taken to its natural conclusion will lead its practitioners away from Buddhist teaching? I guess I'm not seeing a reason to believe that secular Buddhism is heading in that direction. Mindfulness, maybe...

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  3. I like the idea of Tibetan Psychology. An integral Vajrayana/Dzogchen Buddhism from the perspective of Western psychology. Who knows what will happen when we get portable brainwave EEG headbands and Virtual reality for the visualizations!?

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  4. The thing that made Buddhism so special for me is that The Buddha never put himself at the position of creator or holder of truth. Nor does thr Buddha encourage blind faith and superstition. Instead, we are told to bring each concept to test and practice to discover the truth for ourselves. The Buddha discourave us from simply taking in words even those of His blindly. The formal 'Buddhism' only exists after the passing of the Buddha. Regardles there is a Buddha or not, the Truth remain unchanged. While I see Buddhism is able to exist without The Buddha, I don't see the point of it being so.

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  5. Stephen Batchelor presents something that he calls Buddhism that embodies several views that are considered classic wrong views in every lineage of traditional Buddhism. He is, of course, free to do as he pleases, but what he teaches is, by definition, not Buddhism. Buddhism, or more accurately, buddhadharma, will flourish through the study and practice of people who study and practice the traditional teachings with respect and reverence for the lineages, who embody the results of those tachings, and then express the dharma as the natural product of their successful experience. A few fully awakened Western Buddhists is what we need; not schemes to manufacture some form of Western Buddhism.

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  6. Stephen Batchelor's work seems like a deeply considered, reverent, and insightful examination of the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama before the sectarian ideologies splintered off over time and geography and became codified. The Buddha himself declined to make statements affirming or denying the supernatural aspects of the practice. Batchelor embraces the same wise agnosticism of unknowing.

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