Episode 98 :: John Peacock :: Buddha the Radical to Creeping Brahmanism

| January 6, 2012 | 14 Comments

John Peacock

John Peacock

Scholar and Associate Director of The Oxford Mindfulness Centre John Peacock joins us to speak about secular views of early Buddhism.

It’s strange, thinking from our current vantage point, that the religious edifice we call Buddhism might not have been intended by the Buddha to become such an edifice. But, unless we take a closer look, unless we allow ourselves to think outside what the traditions are telling us, we might miss that potential fact of this pragmatic and beneficial practice.

Today’s episode is something of an experiment that went quite well, in that we took questions posted by you, our listeners, subscribers, and friends. We will likely be doing so again, and will let you know by posting on the FaceBook page for the podcast with a link to allow you to ask your questions ahead of time.

John Peacock has been both an academic scholar as well as a Buddhist practitioner/teacher for more than thirty years. Initially trained in the Tibetan Gelugpa tradition in monasteries in South India, he subsequently spent time in Sri Lanka studying Theravada and has taught at Peradiniya University on the outskirts of Kandy. He currently teaches Buddhist studies and Indian religions at the University of Bristol in the UK, is the Guiding Teacher of Sharpham Centre for Contemporary Buddhist Inquiry in England and is an Associate Director of The Oxford Mindfulness Centre, recognized by Oxford University.

So, sit back, relax, and have a nice Hibiscus tea.

:: Discuss this episode ::

Quotes

“Good jokes are generally not made by committees.” — Richard Gombrich, conveyed by John Peacock

“Buddhism does not arise out of a vacuum.” — John Peacock

Books

Web Links

Music for This Episode

Hon Shirabe

Rodrigo Rodriguez

The music heard in the middle of the podcast is from Rodrigo Rodriguez. The tracks used in this episode are:

  • Hon Shirabe

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Category: The Secular Buddhist Podcast

Ted Meissner

About the Author ()

Ted Meissner is the Executive Director of the Secular Buddhist Association, host of the SBA's official podcast The Secular Buddhist, and is on the Advisory Board for the Spiritual Naturalist Society. His background is in the Zen and Theravada traditions, he is a regular speaker on interfaith panel discussions, and is interested in examining the evolution of contemplative practice in contemporary culture.

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  1. Dana Nourie Dana Nourie says:

    Wonderful interview! I’m excited to hear John is coming out with a book on early Buddhism, and even more excited he’s writing a new translation, not seen through the eyes of a monastic. For the next interview with him, please ask what his own practice is, does he meditate regularly, mindfulness, concentration, jhanas?

    • John Peacock says:

      I do meditate regularly Dana. I divide my year up into periods where I will do mindfulness, metta and concentration practice – usually about four months devoted to each. As you will gather from the interview, I didn’t start out as an academic but as a practitioner – in many ways I am an accidental academic! Having my own practice is vital and is the core around which my other activities revolve. It is particularly important as I run retreats in the UK and Europe.

  2. Tom Alan says:

    I can’t pass up an opportunity to comment about Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy. I once checked the Barnes & Noble sales ranking for The Mindful Way Through Depression, the self help book by the MBCT researchers, and found that there was only one book discussing mindfulness that was comparable in popularity – one by the Dalai Lama. I’ve found that among traditional Buddhists, it’s not uncommon to find support for MBCT. If you go to their website, you can read about MBCT studies, including the one in which it prevented relapse after recovery from depression as well as treatment as usual with antidepressant.

    In my experience with traditional Buddhists, I’ve found that what is most difficult for them to accept is that the Dharma is not like Army basic training, where everybody has to come out exactly the same. In therapy, it’s assumed that there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to psychological problems. If you asks Christians, Jews, and non-believers how they feel about the idea of afterlife, you’ll get a range of answers. Some desperately want to believe, and others hope fervently that it doesn’t exist. We should keep that in mind when talking about supernatural beliefs and what benefits they may or may not have.

    • Ted Meissner Ted Meissner says:

      Good point, Tom. Therapy is an expression of contemporary practice, though not necessarily the whole of it. It seems that traditional approaches suffering from such a base level, that of greed, hatred, and delusion, that it sometimes loses sight of the further down, therapeutically quantified permutations of that suffering. That mindfulness has found a very useful application doesn’t take away from the core tradition — it opens up new avenues to it.

      • Tom Alan says:

        Dialectical Behavior Therapy has been shown to be the best treatment for borderline personality disorder, a serious mental illness. It’s used to treat other problems, among them self-injury. Like Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy, DBT uses mindfulness and acceptance in cognitive-behavioral therapy, but it also uses methods from the more traditional analytic therapies used in psychiatry.

        Marsha Linehan of the University of Washington, who developed DBT, said, “The behavior therapists on their deathbeds don’t read the analysts’ literature.” I’m interested in other ways that the three traditions, mindfulness-acceptance, cognitive-behavioral, and analytic, might come together. For example, consider the developmental theories of Abraham Maslow and Erik Erikson. Our progress through the stages of Maslow and Erikson often calls for what is sometimes called gumption. There’s a natural resistance we all have to change, and some of us absolutely hate it. This brings to mind acceptance – not learning to live with unpleasant things but learning to live with constant change,one of Buddhism’s basic principles.

  3. Linda Linda says:

    Wonderful discussion, thanks to John and Ted for letting us sit in on the conversation.

    Just one small observation. At 24:50 or so, Ted brings up Dependent Origination and asks about the various versions. John’s answer involves the 9-step DO in the Digha Nikaya, and Joanna Jurewicz’ paper on possible links to Brahminical cosmology. John then posits that this is perhaps a later addition meant to bring the DO into line with Brahminical thinking, but I notice he used the word “parody” in his answer.

    Since (John — changing the direction of my gaze here) you quoted Prof. Gombrich’s point that good jokes are rarely made by committees, and you seem to agree with it, I wonder if the possibility that the DO may be a humorous take on Vedic cosmologies might not indicate it is the Buddha’s own, rather than a later addition?

    I would suggest that the Buddha taught his lessons many times, over many years, to many different people, putting emphasis on different things. Some concepts may have started from a seed and developed as his insight into how to teach them to those different audiences evolved. It may be that he taught the 9-step DO early, and hadn’t yet found a useful way to extend it further back, but does later (this is what I perceive in my readings). Or it may be that the emphasis of that talk didn’t need the earlier steps.

    I suspect that without realizing it, we tend to inadvertently cling to the idea that the Buddha got total insight in those first moments, that the teaching came through in complete perfection, and so the whole thing should represent a consistent teaching, and every change is freighted with meaning. I think that (with a small percentage of exceptions) the whole thing *is* internally consistent, but that the differences between one lesson and the next have more to do with the course of a lifetime of teaching, and the huge variety of audiences addressed, and the skill of the teacher in using very different styles for each, than it does about later additions, or subtle differences in what’s being said. But then that’s just my take on it.

  4. Dana Nourie Dana Nourie says:

    John, thank you for sharing your practice. That is really interesting to divide the year into the practices like that. I can see value in that. Four month periods are a nice chunk of time to devote to each. I’ll consider trying that.

  5. Mark Knickelbine says:

    John, thanks for doing the interview! As you’ve no doubt gathered, you have a great many fans on this site. The news that you are doing a translation of the Sutta Nipata is very exciting!

    In several of your talks you’ve alluded to the idea (shared by Gombrich, Batchelor, Wynne, and others) that Brahmanical ideas crept into Buddhism in its early years, in a process that perhaps began while Gotama was still alive. I’d be very much interested in hearing more about scholarship that supports this concept, and your thoughts about how this may have occured. As I understand the scholarship, there is a roughly two hundred year window between Gotama’s death and the Ashokan missions during which the cannon could have continued to evolve before it was evenutally closed. Although I don’t read Pali myself, even in translation it is striking the amount of stylistic change between the earliest texts and the later ones, and it seems that as they become more formulaic in composition, they also begin to express concepts (the formless jhanas, 12-link DO) that seem to be symptomatic of “creeping Brahminism.” I’d love to hear you discuss this stuff in greater detail!

  6. Jeff says:

    Thanks to John for taking the time speak at length. His remarks were quite interesting. Two suggestions for Ted, the first technical. Not sure how you mic’ed the interview, but the transmission from John’s end was weak. To hear him, I had to set volume near peak, which then meant your voice was loud. Second suggestion has to do with content. This was the first of your podcasts I listened to. I did so because I am interested in Dr Peacock’s work, but I found you spent what seemed to me far too much time informing listeners about your opinions, approaches, and projects. At one point you even derailed one of Dr Peacock’s replies. Maybe that’s what your listeners are used to and interested in hearing. And maybe I just don’t know enough about you to know that I should be interested in what you have to say. I hope you don’t take this personally. My intention is not to insult.

    • Ted Meissner Ted Meissner says:

      Hi, Jeff, welcome to the podcast and discussion!

      Your comments are helpful and appreciated, no worries. The sound is something I do try to address during editing, and may not always get it just right. This is an ongoing challenge, and your feedback helps guide me to being more diligent in that process.

      Yes, I do speak as part of the podcasts, for a variety of reasons. It is not due to any interest in giving a discourse, however, that’s why I chose to use a discussion format rather than being weekly talks. Many guests do well on their own, speaking quite eloquently, others may sometimes be more challenged. So, generally, the practice is to do these as discussions rather than interviews (though we do call them that!), tying the conversation together with the consistent element in each, which is my own thoughts. Some may not find that appealing, and of course can simply listen to other podcasts that more closely resonate with their listening preferences.

      Again, I am grateful to you for sharing *your* thoughts here. Thank you, and I hope you find some of the episodes and content here to be beneficial.

  7. Ellen says:

    Thanks for the interview, Ted. I recently discovered John Peacock and am listening to everything by him that I can get my ears on – really looking forward to his book.

    I was particularly interested in the response to your question regarding challenges with integrating Buddhism into a secular western culture. I, too, have heard the criticism that a secular approach could reduce Buddhism to psychotherapy, and like you, I wonder what would be lacking other than the religious trappings. If the worry is that it would be a vapid “feel good” watered down version of Buddhism, I really don’t see that as a consequence of taking a secular approach.

    I’m thinking perhaps other than the religious aspect, maybe dharma could be classified under psychology and ethics. Is that such that a bad thing? Could it be that people underestimate the vastness and profundity of the human mind and the importance of our actions and their consequences?

    You said in the podcast that you’d be exploring this idea further in other podcasts. Have you done this, and if so, can you direct me to them?

    Thanks again!
    Ellen.

  8. Ted Meissner Ted Meissner says:

    Hi, Ellen. There are a few interviews and audio recordings here on the site, you can just Search for Peacock and they’ll display.

    I agree with you in finding a secular approach to be not the least bit watered down. It may be different, certainly, than the traditional religious context in which we’re accustomed to finding it, but that doesn’t in any way mean secular practice wouldn’t be rich, meaningful, and positively transformative. As our friend Mark Knickelbine has made clear to me, his own experience with MBSR for example is completely without religious overtones, and represents the totality of “the eightfold path”, however much that may be framed for contemporary Westerners.

    The podcasts you may find interesting are the recent interviews with DT Strain, and another with Rick Heller. Those are episodes 107 and 104. And there will be other interviews with John at some point as well, in fact we’re connecting him with Vince Horn of Buddhist Geeks.

  9. Ellen says:

    Thanks Ted! I’ll check out episodes 107 and 104. I really appreciate this site and the podcasts.

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