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Echoes of Stephen Batchelor

KeromeKerome Love, love is mysteryThe Continent Veteran

I’m still reading Stephen Batchelor’s book Confession of a Buddhist Atheist and it’s really interesting, I’m finding a lot to sympathise with. It’s the whole story of his hippy young adulthood, early days as a Tibetan Buddhist monk, later time spent as a Korean Zen monk, his disrobing and beyond. In a way I feel that by writing this book he has saved me the time spent undertaking a similar journey.

One of the key questions that caused him to leave the Tibetan tradition was this: in various places the Buddha says you should test his teachings “as a goldsmith tests gold on the marketplace”. But he found he was being given books to study with the comment that the author was fully enlightened and thus incapable of making mistakes. What then happens to testing the truth against one’s own experience? Similarly he found it difficult to reconcile ideas around rebirth and karma. In those situations he kept coming up against recommendations to ‘trust his teachers’.

I also agree with him that the Pali Cannon sometimes seems as if several different people are speaking out of the mouth of the Buddha, it doesn’t always seem coherent and I’ve heard in places it contradicts itself. The two-speed system of Buddhism, of monastics who learn orthodoxy and laity who are encouraged to offer prayers and dana also seems strange.

These questions very much parallel my own thinking about Buddhism, and I feel a certain affinity with much of the rest of his thinking. I’ve bought one of his other books, After Buddhism: Rethinking the Dharma for a Secular Age, it seemed too intriguing to pass it up because in it he examines who the Buddha might have really been historically.

Shoshinadamcrossley

Comments

  • adamcrossleyadamcrossley Veteran
    edited August 6

    Sounds really interesting, @Kerome. It’s so good when you find an author you connect with like that. Buddhism without Beliefs is on my reading list, as is Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist.

    Stephen Batchelor is a guiding teacher at Gaia House where I went on retreat this year. Sadly I didn’t see him there, but I’m very interested in him as well. Let us know how you get on :)

    ShoshinKerome
  • BunksBunks Australia Veteran

    Stop thinking and start practicing would be my advice to both you and Stephen.

    Did the Buddha say this? Did the Buddha say that? Who knows??!! You never will and neither will Stephen.

    Life’s too short and there’s work to be done on our own minds. Find out for ourselves.

    Good luck!

    ShoshinKundoadamcrossley
  • ShoshinShoshin No one in particular Nowhere Special Veteran

    "Great Faith and Great Doubt are two ends of a spiritual walking stick. We grip one end with the grasp given to us by our Great Determination. We poke into the underbrush in the dark on our spiritual journey. This act is real spiritual practice—gripping the Faith end and poking ahead with the Doubt end of the stick. If we have no Faith, we have no Doubt. If we have no Determination, we never pick up the stick in the first place."
    ~Sensei Sevan Ross~

    We are all on the same spiritual journey :)

    adamcrossleyperson
  • KeromeKerome Love, love is mystery The Continent Veteran

    @Bunks said:
    Stop thinking and start practicing would be my advice to both you and Stephen.

    Did the Buddha say this? Did the Buddha say that? Who knows??!! You never will and neither will Stephen.

    There are certainly some interesting pointers to practice in Confession, Stephen meditated a lot during his years as a monk. He was taught in tantric techniques and had to spend a lot of time visualising, which did not do much for him.

    While he also on one occasion attended a retreat taught by S.N. Goenka, which gave him various short-lived experiences. He wondered during his monk years why not more attention was paid to his experiences, and the process of achieving them.

    So just wildly practicing away also doesn’t seem like it produces the right results, although some kind of practice does seem like it is the right way.

    person
  • pegembarapegembara Veteran
    edited August 7

    "Monks, eye-consciousness is inconstant, changeable, alterable. Ear-consciousness... Nose-consciousness... Tongue-consciousness... Body-consciousness... Intellect-consciousness is inconstant, changeable, alterable.

    "One who has conviction & belief that these phenomena are this way is called a faith-follower: one who has entered the orderliness of rightness, entered the plane of people of integrity, transcended the plane of the run-of-the-mill. He is incapable of doing any deed by which he might be reborn in hell, in the animal womb, or in the realm of hungry shades. He is incapable of passing away until he has realized the fruit of stream-entry.

    "One who, after pondering with a modicum of discernment, has accepted that these phenomena are this way is called a Dhamma-follower: one who has entered the orderliness of rightness, entered the plane of people of integrity, transcended the plane of the run-of-the-mill. He is incapable of doing any deed by which he might be reborn in hell, in the animal womb, or in the realm of hungry shades. He is incapable of passing away until he has realized the fruit of stream-entry.

    "One who knows and sees that these phenomena are this way is called a stream-enterer, steadfast, never again destined for states of woe, headed for self-awakening."

    https://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn25/sn25.003.than.html

    adamcrossley
  • BunksBunks Australia Veteran

    @Kerome said:

    @Bunks said:
    Stop thinking and start practicing would be my advice to both you and Stephen.

    Did the Buddha say this? Did the Buddha say that? Who knows??!! You never will and neither will Stephen.

    There are certainly some interesting pointers to practice in Confession, Stephen meditated a lot during his years as a monk. He was taught in tantric techniques and had to spend a lot of time visualising, which did not do much for him.

    While he also on one occasion attended a retreat taught by S.N. Goenka, which gave him various short-lived experiences. He wondered during his monk years why not more attention was paid to his experiences, and the process of achieving them.

    So just wildly practicing away also doesn’t seem like it produces the right results, although some kind of practice does seem like it is the right way.

    Yes I have read that book a few years ago. I enjoyed it at the time but I’ve now found that a belief in rebirth and karma has helped my practice progress.

    Maybe he just wasn’t cut out to be a monk?

    Only one in five monks who ordain in the Theravādan tradition last 5 years. And only one in ten ordain for life. It’s not easy.

    Shoshin
  • KeromeKerome Love, love is mystery The Continent Veteran

    @Bunks said:
    Yes I have read that book a few years ago. I enjoyed it at the time but I’ve now found that a belief in rebirth and karma has helped my practice progress.

    In a way the idea of rebirth allows you to let go of the immediacy of death... death becomes less important, not so frightening. Similarly karma is something that allows you to let go of ideas that you have been harmed, which often calls up anger. These beliefs do have their uses.

    Or perhaps that is not what you meant?

    Maybe he just wasn’t cut out to be a monk?

    Only one in five monks who ordain in the Theravādan tradition last 5 years. And only one in ten ordain for life. It’s not easy.

    No, apparently not. The idea of becoming a monk may seem attractive, but in fact you are taking on board some serious commitments, and you may find the routine becomes rather staid. Having read the book I’m not surprised so few monks last.

    Bunks
  • KeromeKerome Love, love is mystery The Continent Veteran

    You may be interested in reading the Sivaka Sutra, in which the Buddha seems to disavow the principle of karma.

    https://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn36/sn36.021.than.html

    Shoshin
  • BunksBunks Australia Veteran

    @Kerome said:
    You may be interested in reading the Sivaka Sutra, in which the Buddha seems to disavow the principle of karma.

    https://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn36/sn36.021.than.html

    Thanks @Kerome. I am familiar with this Sūtra.

    But I don’t interpret it as the Buddha denying kamma. I think he’s just stating that some feelings we have from sickness and disease aren’t a result of past actions.

    There are far too many sutras in which the Buddha talks about rebirth based on kamma for me to dismiss it based on the Sivaka Sūtra.

    The Buddha gave us many different roads to reach the same goal (Nibbana). We just need to find the one that best suits our inclinations I guess. If Secular Buddhism suits you then that’s cool. I hope you get where you want to go 👍🙏

    ShoshinKerome
  • KeromeKerome Love, love is mystery The Continent Veteran
    edited August 8

    Thanks @Bunks ... it’s certainly given me something to think about :)

    A further quote from Confession

    For a while I hoped that Buddhism Without Beliefs might stimulate more public debate and inquiry among Buddhists about these issues (karma and rebirth), but this did not happen. Instead, it revealed a fault line in the nascent Western Buddhist community between traditionalists, for whom such doctrines are non-negotiable truths, and liberals, like myself, who tend to see them more as contingent products of historical circumstance.

    And...

    When Gotama learned that Sati, one of his monks, had been saying that one’s consciousness survives death and goes on to another life, he asked Sati to come and see him. He said: “Misguided man, when have you ever heard me teach that? Have I not repeatedly said that consciousness is conditionally arisen?”

    Bunks
  • KeromeKerome Love, love is mystery The Continent Veteran

    Found this interesting...

    I once spent a couple of hours trying to persuade a learned and intelligent Tibetan lama that the world is spherical in shape—but with little success. I would have had even less success had I tried to convince him of other beliefs I held: those about the Big Bang, evolution by natural selection, or the neural foundations of consciousness. I believed these things on much the same grounds that he believed in disembodied gods and spirits. Just as I unquestioningly accepted the authority of eminent scientists, so he accepted the authority of eminent Buddhist teachers. Just as I trusted that what the scientist claims to be true can be backed up by observation and experiment, so he trusted that what his teachers claim to be true can be backed up by direct meditational insight. I had to recognize that many of my truth-claims were no more or less reasonable than his.

    ShoshinBunks
  • KeromeKerome Love, love is mystery The Continent Veteran

    Stephen goes into quite a lot of detail about the Dorje Shugden controversy, and how his teacher Geshe Rabten was a Dorje Shugden follower and connected to the Dalai Lama’s junior tutor. You can kind of see how the politics of these kinds of situation slowly reveal themselves to monks as they become more senior.

  • KeromeKerome Love, love is mystery The Continent Veteran

    I’ve finished the book, barring the appendices, and i’ve found it an interesting insight into the thinking of Buddhist monks. I’m surprised the Tibetans are still so caught up in their protector deities and supernatural entities, there is still a lot of very dubious thinking out there.

    Similarly, it seems clear to me that a lot of the behaviour of Buddhists is based in a religious structure, where laypeople are advised to offer prayers and Dana but not to truly follow the path towards enlightenment. This supports the monasteries but is ultimately against the ideal of enlightening as many as possible... there are some flaws between the ideology that is taught, and the pragmatic side of how the religion functions.

    All of this is dependent on the laypeople believing in merit and a better rebirth as a fate, and it reminds me strongly of Christian religion and it’s promises of heaven. There is a difference between being a seeker, an independent enquirer after enlightenment, and on the other hand a good Buddhist, a follower of the religion.

    I think Stephen still shows a lot of his background from going through a Western schooling system, with its deep grounding in maths and science. He has that kind of mindset, which I think a lot of us have inherited.

    Bunksadamcrossley
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