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Sat Nov 10, 2012, 03:11 PM

Distorted Visions of Buddhism: Agnostic and Atheist


Distorted Visions of Buddhism: Agnostic and Atheist

By B. Alan Wallace

As Buddhism has encountered modernity, it runs against widespread prejudices, both religious and anti-religious, and it is common for all those with such biases to misrepresent Buddhism, either intentionally or unintentionally. Reputable scholars of Buddhism, both traditional and modern, all agree that the historical Buddha taught a view of karma and rebirth that was quite different from the previous takes on these ideas. Moreover, his teachings on the nature and origins of suffering as well as liberation are couched entirely within the framework of rebirth. Liberation is precisely freedom from the round of birth and death that is samsara. But for many contemporary people drawn to Buddhism, the teachings on karma and rebirth don’t sit well, so they are faced with a dilemma. A legitimate option is simply is adopt those theories and practices from various Buddhist traditions that one finds compelling and beneficial and set the others aside. An illegitimate option is to reinvent the Buddha and his teachings based on one’s own prejudices. This, unfortunately, is the route followed by Stephen Batchelor and other like-minded people who are intent on reshaping the Buddha in their own images.

The back cover of Batchelor’s most recent book, entitled Confession of a Buddhist Atheist, describes his work as “a stunning and groundbreaking recovery of the historical Buddha and his message.” One way for this to be true, would be that his book is based on a recent discovery of ancient Buddhist manuscripts, comparable to the Dead Sea Scrolls or the Nag Hammadi library for Christianity. But it is not. Another way is for his claims to be based on unprecedented historical research by a highly accomplished scholar of ancient Indian languages and history. But no such professional research or scholarship is in evidence in this book. Instead, his claims about the historical Buddha and his teachings are almost entirely speculative, as he takes another stab at recreating Buddhism to conform to his current views.


While there are countless references in the discourses of the Buddha referring to the realization of emptiness, Batchelor claims, “Emptiness…is not something we ‘realize’ in a moment of mystical insight that ‘breaks through’ to a transcendent reality concealed behind yet mysteriously underpinning the empirical world.” He adds, “we can no more step out of language and imagination than we can step out of our bodies.”12 Buddhist contemplatives throughout history have reportedly experienced states of consciousness that transcend language and concepts as a result of their practice of insight meditation. But Batchelor describes such practice as entailing instead a state of perplexity in which one is overcome by “awe, wonder, incomprehension, shock,” during which not “just the mind but the entire organism feels perplexed.”13

Batchelor’s account of meditation describes the experiences of those who have failed to calm the restlessness and lethargy of their own minds through the practice of samadhi, and failed to realize emptiness or transcend language and concepts through the practice of vipashyana. Instead of acknowledging these as failures, he heralds them as triumphs and, without a shred of supportive evidence, attributes them to a Buddhism that exists nowhere but in his imagination.


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Reply Distorted Visions of Buddhism: Agnostic and Atheist (Original post)
bananas Nov 2012 OP
libodem Nov 2012 #1

Response to bananas (Original post)

Wed Nov 14, 2012, 05:31 PM

1. Finally I clicked

And liked this article. I'll follow that link when I need a longer read.
In 1977 or so, I attended a (sp) Vaposhna, that is a phonetic facsimile, meditation course for ten days, in Pine Cliff, Utah.
Changed my life. Still fits me.

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