So What?

| May 14, 2012 | 133 Comments

Miles Davis

—On Glenn Wallis and Speculative Non-Buddhism
(provoked by
Wallis’s article, On the Faith of Secular Buddhists)

The hardest thing I ever did was walk away from Buddhism. It had saved my sanity and my life. After decades of self-destructive behavior, I’d found myself at home in the arms of the Tibetan Diaspora. After years of isolation, I’d felt I belonged.

Like many converts however, I came in time to see that the lineage-holders were just human, that Buddhism was just another religion. Perhaps the biggest lesson I’d learned from my adventure was that no matter which labels I adopted or rejected, in the end I’d have to depend on my wits.

Easier said than done. That tidy explanation didn’t end my emotional dependency. Even as I left my Buddhist teachers and friends, I still felt driven to rationalize my move in the eyes of the Buddha. It was childish, but there you are. I make no apologies for it.

I turned to the Pali Canon, the least disputed of all Buddhist scriptures, and found my justification. The Buddha, I convinced myself, would approve of my position. I even found citations about “no two monks taking the same path,” and so on.

Such is myth and the way we use it. It helps us through our baby steps. I was deeply attached to the story of the ‘historical’ Buddha. I still think it’s a great story.

There was a time when I thought I’d explored it to the point of destruction. I realized that separating the myth of the man from his history was beyond me — probably beyond anyone. I’d never disentangle my projections from the accumulated weight of two and a half millennia of religious scholarship. I thought that mattered.

What makes scholarship religious is the deliberate agenda of making reality fit the theory. It’s the very opposite of the scientific agenda, which is to abandon any beliefs that don’t fit reality. The Dalai Lama himself pays lip service to this notion, though he’s really in no position to enact it.

As time passed, I identified myself as an ‘ex-Buddhist.’ At first I felt rather brave, as if I was stepping into a formless dimension without structure or refuge. When I started teaching and needed a label, ‘ex-Buddhist’ conveniently described me as having being molded by Buddhism but no longer beholden to it. It caught the eye of people in similar situations, as well as those who were curious about Buddhism but didn’t want to join up. So it did what needed to be done. That’s what labels are for.

Imagine my consternation then when my friend Glenn Wallis inadvertently removed the first letter from my nice term to formulate his own: ‘x-Buddhism.’ This was his way of describing every Buddhist experiment — ‘x’ stands in for Tibetan, Zen, Western, Secular and whatever other form you can think up. He called his own project, ‘Speculative Non-Buddhism.’

Wallis is a brain. Since setting up his new blog he has methodically dismantled one x-Buddhism after another in a series of highly intellectual posts. His points of logic are well thought out. They’re energetic, seemingly powered by the momentum of his punk rock past. He skewers anyone who claims the authority to speak on behalf of the Buddha. He is tireless, unstinting, rational, ruthless and rude about it. He delights those who have been disillusioned or embittered by one form or another of x-Buddhism. He recently dismissed criticism of his tone as irrelevant.

As far as I can make out, Wallis intends Speculative non-Buddhism to be x-Buddhism’s alter-ego, perhaps even its conscience. This sleight of hand is precarious, however, for how could it not be yet another x-Buddhism? No matter how vociferously Speculative Non-Buddhists attack x-Buddhists, they too are a strip off the old block. They define their field of interest using the noun Buddhism and attaching their own adjectives. Speculative Non-Buddhism is informed by various ways of adhering to or rejecting the historical Buddhist tradition of ideas and practices. It speaks to an audience of Buddhists and ex-Buddhists. Who else is interested?

Wallis’s recent criticism of Secular Buddhism as being just another faith has provoked some people to defend Stephen Batchelor, who is perfectly able to defend himself – should he so choose. Perhaps though, he won’t.

In a conversation I had with Batchelor the day before Wallis’s post appeared, we considered the question Why Buddhism, and mutually lamented our dependency on Buddhist terminology. In that conversation Batchelor implicitly endorsed many of Wallis’s points. Just last year I confronted Batchelor when he described himself, without any adjectives at all, as a Buddhist. “But of course,” he said. “I have no trouble with that.”

As someone who’s been an ex-Buddhist for thirty years and counting, I know my position is troublesome. But let’s not get bogged down in labels.

It all comes down, of course, to practice. Unless I’m missing something, we all — Buddhists, x-Buddhists and Speculative non-Buddhists — have at one time or another sought in Buddhism something non-intellectual. We wondered, “Here we are; now what?” The fact that we might have answered this from Western sources is beside the point. We went to Buddhism, which answers the dilemma at great length, engagingly, provocatively and practically.

There lies our common ground: we all turned once upon a time to Buddhism.

The question raised by Wallis’s latest blog post about Batchelor and ‘his’ Secular Buddhism is this: is there something unique in Buddhism that substantially distinguishes it, say, from the philosophy of Socrates, Thoreau or even Eckhart Tolle.

Wallis’s answer is no and he’s right. To identify Gotama and his thoughts as ‘special,’ is religious, anti-scientific and wishful thinking, plain and simple.

Wallis therefore identifies Secular Buddhism as just another x-Buddhism, one more victory for myth and faith. Batchelor may be trying to establish a Buddhism divorced from wishful thinking, but in fact is creating another religion based on transcendence, personality, intellectual uniqueness, self-sufficiency and righteousness. Secular Buddhists are sticking their heads in the sand when they should be exploring further afield. How could they not study and debate Aristotle, Hume, and Parfit; the Stoics and Epicureans, Descartes, Kierkegaard and Wittgenstein? Why would they ignore Emerson, Thoreau, Montaigne, Pascal and Nietzsche?

All this assumes that everyone else is engaged in the same intellectual exercise as the Speculative Non-Buddhists. I was attacked on their website for being ‘lazy,’ when I used the Buddhist metaphor of an end to views. I was called an idiot and, to my utter horror, accused of being an actual Buddhist. When I had the temerity to respond to my attacker I was told off for ‘hating’ him.

Such is the fate of non-Speculative Non-Buddhists. And such are the dangers of criticism for criticism’s sake. When divorced from exploration and creativity, criticism becomes self-righteous and humorless. It also becomes strangely visceral.

It’s not exactly Wallis’s fault that a commenter on his blog described Batchelor and Secular Buddhists as ‘third-rate New Age, self-help gurus,’ but it’s curious that he let this sort of hyperbole pass. He is the moderator, after all. He asks for comments from friends and foes alike, but does nothing to stop dissenters being shooed or even scared away. Serves them right perhaps, for being sissies.

Wallis’s attacks on x-Buddhism are stridently intellectual. There’s no trace of the old young Wallis who became ‘Buddhist’ in the first place. Am I wrong in assuming that, like most of us, he did so to explore the illogicality of existence?

In his May 2012 article he demonstrates that Secular Buddhism is a faith ‘indistinguishable from every other system of religious belief,’ and comments, ‘The grounding of an “ism” in faith is neither new nor interesting.’ Wallis’s faith lies apparently in The New, aka the old Enlightenment project of Progress.

We’ve all been steeped at one time or another in Buddhist philosophy, all bumped up against the bleak limits of rationalization. We’ve all hoped there’s more to life than logic, ideas and points of view. Have the Speculative Non-Buddhists abandoned that hope?

They attack every x-Buddhism as ‘mythical.’ Nowhere do they explain what’s wrong with myth. Presumably it’s bad because it’s illogical.

Oh really. They’re no fun.

I understand bitterness. When I left the Tibetans, I was furious. How dare they not live up to my expectations? How childish it sounds to phrase it like that, and yet that’s how I felt for years. Perhaps the Speculative Non-Buddhists are in the same boat. They certainly seem to avoid the psycho-social dimension of life, seeking certainty in intellect, as if cyclic existence is just for idiots.

Wallis’s intellect is capacious and dazzling. He seems to believe it will lead somewhere new; therein lies his faith, perhaps. However, my bet is that his intellect is just as circular as yours and mine. Where will thoughts ever lead but back on themselves? They have their uses, but to reformulate them as New and Improved is just one more mind game, in fact a very old one. Ideas are tools of communication, not tickets to freedom. Sooner or later every decent idea is hijacked by yet another Quixotic search for meaning in a meaningless universe.

So what’s the alternative? Wallis attacks those who, recognizing the limits of logic, turn to myth. To treat myths as logical may be foolish, but to reject them as ‘untrue’ is philistine. To know them for what they are is to invest in the possibility of non-literal meaning — plain experience for some, transcendence for others, but in either case the meat and potatoes of life.

Myth is mankind’s basic currency of communication, shared by our ancestors around the campfire. It’s a vehicle of practical wisdom, not abstract theory. Wallis has fallen into the trap of thinking that logic trumps myth. We need both.

We don’t have to study every thinker any more than we have to think every thought. The task at hand is to live — and why not live enjoyably? No one has ever come up with a better raison d’être than love, and yet so many are distracted by the pursuit of truth. Being right is overrated.

Secular Buddhists are just trying to gather their lives together without dogma and, in most cases, without spending their days and nights immersed in heavy tomes of polysyllabic run-on sentences. To say there’s no difference between them and religious Buddhists is to abuse plain language in the name of intellectual perfection. It’s silly.

The Speculative Non-Buddhists are right. How dreary. More to the point, so what?

Category: Articles

About the Author ()

Stephen Schettini is The Naked Monk — writer, blogger and teacher of Mindful Reflection. After eight years as a monk in the Tibetan tradition he decided that ritual, tradition and belief were an unnecessary burden, and returned to secular life. He remains an admirer and student of the historical Buddha without any Buddhist affiliations.

Comments (133)

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  1. stoky says:

    Thank you very much for your comment on that. It’s one of the more thoughtful and honest replies to Wallis’ criticism.

    I have some sympathy for you choosing love in favor of truth. But you have to admit one thing: Secular Buddhists are rarely honest about this.

    Under “Guiding principles” it says

    “Secular Buddhism understands the four noble truths as an accurate, empirical description of the experience of living, and as a methodology of understanding, social behavior, and mental development.”

    Imagine this one:

    “Secular Buddhism understands the four noble assumptions not as an accurate, empirical description, but still as good enough for our purpose […]”

    That’s what you’d do in a science paper. There, it might be Ok to assume your car is driving in a vacuum. But when you’re not being clear about the fact that this is an assumption, then the lie begins.

  2. Stoky: yes, that definition could definitely use some work. I actually like Batchelor’s formulation of the Four not as universal truths but as a way to change mental patterns. It’s not a science experiment, it’s a personal one.

    Wallis’s translation in The Basic Teachings of the Buddha is ‘preeminent reality,’ which he’d presumably recant today.

    In the meantime, I don’t think it wise to assume all ‘secular’ Buddhists think alike. They share a distrust of religious forms, but where do they draw the line? At the definitions on this or any other website? I doubt it.

  3. Jonah says:

    Hi Stephen,

    Good, fair, response. I think I lost you towards the end. though, and have a few questions:

    Firstly, I’m a bit confused by your usage of “myth”. When I have seen it appear on Wallis’ site, I think it has mostly been in reference to some historical tenet of buddhism, e.g. the life of the buddha. Am I right in saying, though, that this is not the sense in which you are using the word? You seem to use it both to refer to knowledge beyond the limits of logic and also in its most literal sense, as practical knowledge encoded in story. The first sense, if it is a real thing, would be clearly incompatible with logic. But I don’t see how second sense, which is the one you run with at the end of the piece, is inherently illogical. Myths might be metaphors, but that doesn’t mean they are paradoxes, does it? (Incidentally, I’m not certain that Wallis is so wed to Logic as you make him out to be. As he succinctly puts it in his introduction to the site: “Am I full of paradox and contradiction? Of course I am!”)

    Hopefully a clarification of what exactly you mean by myth will help me parse out your conclusion a bit better. Here’s how I’m reading it now: “At some point, thinking about things too much won’t get you anywhere, so you might as well grab one of the established algorithms for living a satisfying life (namely, buddhism) and follow it.”

    If I’ve got it right-ish, then you raise an interesting question–if you want to be ‘happy’, in some sense, do you have to give up thinking too much about things?

    I also have one strict disagreement. You say at one point “They’re no fun”; I think they are, more than a barrel of monks. The articles and comments on the site are frequently and uniquely hilarious, far more so than anything else I’ve read ’bout buddhism (even that koan where the guy cuts the cat in half).

    These points aside, though, your first and final is probably spot on: so what?

  4. Jonah: Myth is mostly a-logical, isn’t it? Paradox is allowed, as is illogic, but neither are mandatory. The point is merely to ring a bell in our brain, hopefully our gut. As for Glenn’s disclaimer, it’s cute, but his five-point refutation of Secular Buddhism (with a very unfair capital S) is a logical analysis that ends with a conclusion. Anyway, it’s not my main point.

    What I’m getting at towards the end is that you can only rely so much on thought, just as you can only go so far with logic, or love for that matter. Perhaps Glenn would agree that life is a muddle ending in death. I think we’ve all come to (or departed from) Buddhism in hopes of putting some meaning to that. It seems we have to try. It’s built into our genetic code. Also built in is a deep resistance to admitting that we don’t really know what’s going on. The key, perhaps, is that we don’t need to.

    • Jonah says:

      Hm. I don’t think I’d agree that “myth is mostly a-logical”. Fantastical, maybe, i.e. containing non-real things like minotaurs, but not generally “a-logical” as you seem to mean it, expressing something that couldn’t be expressed otherwise. Maybe I’ve only read lame myths, though; point me to yours?

      It seems to me that there is a lot less resistance to “admitting we don’t really know what’s going on”, really admitting it, over there than over here. That admission doesn’t mean giving up on thinking–it means trying to find everything you do “know”, the basic assumptions you take for granted, whatever ideologies you’ve acquired via moving through the culture web (the reasons that some myths might “ring a bell in your gut” for example) and getting them out in the open, maybe casting some real doubt on them.

      So in that sense your resistance to “too much” real inquiry or analysis isn’t “admitting you don’t really know what’s going on”; in fact, its just the opposite. It is an acceptance that the way in which you do “already know what’s going on” is good enough and doesn’t need to be put under scrutiny, doesn’t need to be examined.

      Thoughts?

      Jonah

      • Hi Jonah: sorry if I’ve been unclear. Let’s try again.

        Myths are independent of reality. Stories of Jesus and Buddha have come down to us in several forms. They are mythical, and will remains so as long as people derive meaning from them. You may prove that the figures actually existed or that they never existed, but that has no bearing on their mythical value. That value is subjective. It just makes no sense to hold myths to logical standards.

        If you can darken the room and spellbind me with stories of minotaurs, we might share common emotions and a commiseration of the mortal lot. That’s a poetic conversation of unspeakable value. However, once we start discussing the scientific possibilities of their existence, we’re holding an entirely different conversation. Most people find that a lot less interesting, simply because facts are cold. Still, they have their uses.

        This is not a call to think more or to think less, but to recognize that thinking has its time and place. No matter how much I meditate in order to silence my thoughts, I don’t find total inner silence. It just doesn’t happen. Why then don’t I give up? Because things do get a bit quieter and I do see a bit more clearly. Trying does me good. I don’t have to prove that to anyone, even myself. We all have the right, the freedom and the privilege to experience that.

  5. Darlene Darlene says:

    Another good article from Stephen.

    “We don’t have to study every thinker any more than we have to think every thought. The task at hand is to live — and why not live enjoyably? No one has ever come up with a better raison d’être than love, and yet so many are distracted by the pursuit of truth. Being right is overrated.”

    Hear hear! Being right is often also subjective and is known to make people around you roll their eyes and go “here she goes again”.

    Suspected Glenn was a ex-punk rocker. He’s the Dead Kennedys while Secular Buddhists are Green Day (or that band with the Madden brothers).

    Of course, it all becomes mainstream to varying degree in the end and something more radical always comes along.

    Mind you, punk was open to people who could play only three chords, while Glenn’s group seems as exclusive as an invite for tea and cucumber sandwiches at Buckingham Palace.

    Nevertheless, It is awesome that there are great minds out there who can contest things many of us do not (or cannot – I cannot engage with Wallis’s ideas, for example, because they go straight over my noggin’).

    Ultimately, if people want to embrace Speculative Non-Buddhism, Buddhism (whatever school), Secular Buddhism, Buddhist Secularism with a Side Order of Fries it is aok. Whatever floats your raft.

  6. jonckher says:

    hi Stephen,

    Great post.

    I’ve been keeping up with the comments on Glenn’s post about Secular Buddhism and a couple of things strike me.

    1. They assert that tone is not important. Maybe so, but it is revealing. And the thing I get about their tone is a certain lack of emotional courage and a fear of vulnerability. Maybe it is just part and parcel of the intellectual debate / academic approach they have taken. But I’m seeing a deeper issue. There is certainly anger and a degree of derision and superiority but I’ve no real issue with that. Shouting, personal insults, etc are just another type of gift. I keep looking for posts on their blog like the one you’ve just shared above – one that provides a very personal emotional context, one that is not afraid of vulnerability but I have yet to find it. For that reason, I conclude that they do not really know they have a problem.

    2. I do not believe that their stated intention for their blog is real. Again, I have no real issues with their goal – to criticize x-buddhism – but I’m more interested in the underlying intent. As an x-buddhist, I do try to set my intent in all of my actions to be for the benefit of all sentient beings. Whether the outcome actually does benefit anyone besides myself is questionable of course.

    I keep asking myself as I read their posts – why are you guys doing this? What is driving all of this effort and thought? They are not trying for a wider audience, they don’t particularly like having their views challenged, they only respond to a very narrow way of engagement that they have defined. So what is it really?

    Reading their posts, I am reminded often of some ex-Christian atheists I know. Beneath the fearsome rigour of their intellect, I see a child’s lament for the loving god they have lost. But unlike many of us, they have not accepted that. And like any blindly suffering person, they are lashing out at everything and anything that could possibly be connected to the source of their hurt.

    Worse, they see any possible type of cure for that suffering to be completely suspect as well. Maybe when they articulate what non-buddhism is actually for as opposed to what it is against, they may begin the journey. I suspect that the journey will not be that different from that which is laid out in the dharma (an easy guess as the dharma covers a lot of ground – often contradictory)

    Until then, I’d say that their true intent and one which they are blind to, is to console themselves and to hurt others.

    And is all of my own thoughts just a combination of two penny psychology mixed in with x-buddhist platitudes? Very likely.

    3. I have not posted this to the non-buddhist pages. I doubt that they will see my sincere concerns for their emotional well-being as anything but insufferably patronising and wilfully ignorant. Also, I only have their words to form my opinions and who knows how accurate all of this is? So far, I have no other emotional context to work from.

    May all sentient beings progress in peace on the path of liberation from suffering.
    om mani padme hum.
    om shanti shanti shanti.

    ps: if push comes to shove, I’ll say I’m an atheist but I love the richness and the contradictions of x-buddhism and will cheerfully chant mantras and light incense with the best of them. after all, we’re all going to buddhist heaven when we die, like it or not, so why not enjoy the ride and help others to do the same?

    • Hi Jonckher: Sometimes we forget that we’re all on a path, whether or not we see it that way. If we pursue it honestly, it will take us into some dark places. Some people are so averse to going there that they dedicate their whole being to avoiding it. They can’t succeed, but they can pretend. An easy way is through engineering, academism, non-creative criticism and other ‘sure’ disciplines that are also convenient distractions. Spend your mental life there and you can, with a bit of luck, maintain the illusions of certainty and control. You can bypass much disappointment, and avoid much of the messiness of personal growth.

      The Buddha described our default perceptions as illusory,. I think of his path as disillusory. I tried but couldn’t hold on to my firm belief in the truth of Tibetan Buddhism. After all the kicking and screaming died down, I made peace with that disillusion. Perhaps the Speculative Non-Buddhists, some of them anyway, are just in one of those kicking and screaming phases.

      Ted Meissner summed it up nicely the other day: “SNB is about criticism, not exploration.”

    • Candol says:

      I agree entirely with you, though i can see enough about glenn already to know what to expect over there. Having been a little like that myself at times, i understand it quite well and where it comes from. Buddhism helps me let that way of being go. Perhaps those guys need to try it.

  7. Dana Nourie Dana Nourie says:

    Stephen, thanks for another great article!

    I’m bothered everytime someone says, Secular Buddhists think, assume, etc this or that. Secular Buddhists are a diverse group of people, coming in from many directions, with varying backgrounds. I wouldn’t presume to think anything for them! Additionally Secular Buddhism is so new, it would be difficult to criticize as it’s not net formed. For many of us “secular” has a variety of definitions.

    What I do note this group has in common is a need for practical application, a need for a way to verify that practice is not going to be a waste of time, and a realistic fear of deluding oneself with more religious bullshit. And under all that, a sincere desire to lessen one’s suffering.

    I still prefer to look at Buddha as a myth. I sincerely don’t care what the truth is, whether or not Buddha was a historical person. The reason I look to it all is as myth is so that I don’t get attached to the teachings, so I have the freedom to reject whatever seems like religious or mystical BS, and so I don’t turn myself into another “ist”.

    The label atheist I wear because I am confident that nothing will happen to bring about a god belief, and because I really don’t believe in gods. That “ist” I’m fine with. But I’m more comfortable saying I practice secular Buddhism because to me it’s the practice that I want to focus on, not what Buddha may have said, not Buddha as a myth or a man, and because eventually I can see how Buddha will no longer be a necessary part of my life as my life becomes the practice itself. I’m also resistant to religion period, and have some attachment to religious aversion. That is something I’m also working on.

    Because Theravdan and Tibetan Buddhism have been around for so long and follow certain rules and rituals so religiously it’s easier to define and critique them, but I don’t think secular Buddhism is in a place yet where it’s either easily defined or easily critiqued. I honestly don’t understand where Wallis is coming from, and I don’t have the patience to wade through his diatribes.

    Frankly, I’m confused by Wallis. I don’t get what he is trying to say about secular Buddhism, and I don’t understand the hostility towards us. And I certainly don’t have the interest in comparing Buddhism of any kind to the multitude of philosophies out there. I’ll leave that to those of you interested in philosophy.

    My interest is in the sciences, and I like to approach my practice with a similar mindset. Wallis can say all he wants about that, but I feel I am benefiting in my actual practice.

    • Hey Dana: You raise all sorts of interesting points.

      I see the Speculative Non-Buddhists as close cousins to the New Atheists. Disbelief in God (or the historical Buddha) is an imperative. He can’t exist, so you must not believe. I hate this religious attitude.

      Back in the real world, humans need to deal with the awfulness of their plight. You’re not going to talk them out of their intuitive consolations if that’s all they have to hang on to. And why would you? It’s not just cruel and unhelpful; it’s also just not going to happen.

      A good friend of mine is a devout Christian. He believes in God and the afterlife. We don’t hide our beliefs from one another, and yet we see eye to eye on most things. We certainly hold similar opinions on preachy church people and overaged religious institutions. He’s been known on occasion to raise his fist to the sky and shout, “Fuck you!”

      I would love to be a Christian like that. I don’t choose to be an atheist. I don’t think I should be. I just am. I don’t care that it’s the rational position to take, I just can’t believe. When I’m with my friend and see the meaning and purpose he derives from his faith, I wish I could be like him; I feel sad that I can’t. That faith was my mother’s deepest wish for me. I respect it in him and in my mother because it’s personal and deeply felt, not blind obedience or a knee-jerk response to fear. My friend is a man of integrity whom I respect deeply and from whom I learn something in every conversation. He doesn’t care whether God is a myth, a metaphor or a thundering reality. It’s a way of thinking that triggers meaning.

      Now that’s the sort of mind I choose to be around. I don’t care for people quoting stuff at me, whether it’s from mythical religious figures or dead philosophers.

  8. Darlene Darlene says:

    “Wallis can say all he wants about that, but I feel I am benefiting in my actual practice.”

    Love the second part of this sentence because in the end that’s what really counts.

  9. Mark Knickelbine says:

    Stephen, thanks so much for your post! As I’ve read the invective on the SNB page, I’ve wondered where all the anger is coming from, and why it’s directed at us. I hadn’t thought to connect it to the anger people experience when they feel they have been betrayed by a religion. As a lifelong atheist, I’ve been spared that experience, though I have known friends who couldn’t let go of their anger at the Catholic church, and it seems many ex-evangelicals seem to go through the same thing. It hadn’t occurred to me that ex-Buddhists might feel the same way, but of course there’s no reason why they shouldn’t.

    I’m not sure that what we’re doing here, or what you’re doing in your 4 Steps book, quite amounts to “turning to myth.” That we can draw useful ideas from literature like the Pali texts is not the same as believing that literature has to be an accurate account of reality. However, all our knowledge is provisional, and anything we can think arises from an incomplete mental model of the world that we know can be unreliable. At some point we have to believe in something, if only in the reality of our own suffering, to formulate answers to questions like “How should I live?” or “Is there any meaning to life?” Any answers we propose to those questions will be susceptible to the same deconstructive analysis Glenn applies to Buddhism. This is why I doubt Glenn will ever answer the question “So what?”, however often we pose it to him. As soon as he does, he will be vulnerable to the same intellectual weapons he likes to deploy against others. While this kind of thing goes on in philosophy departments everywhere, it holds no answers to the existential questions that bring most of us to dharma practice.

    I would like to think Glenn would like to be our conscience. We are here because we are very aware of how easily this practice can be turned to magical thinking, escapism and deception, and our desire to avoid that is what motivates our insistence on a secular approach to practice. Intellectual prowess is needed to help keep us on that path, but it has to be motivated by compasssion and a shared set of values that includes helping each other flourish. I don’t think the two are incompatible.

  10. I just went back over to Glen’s post to print it out for a friend who has no access to a computer. My God, with all 75 comments, it came to sixty-nine marginless pages. This one barely scraped up a dozen. Perhaps I should be more provocative. Thoughts, anyone?

  11. Matthias says:

    This is as bad as it can get.

    With all this criticism of the non-buddhist criticism nobody seems to think that it could be necessary to read something about the background of the thought of Wallis. Also nobody seems to think that it could be a good idea to argument against the “five articles of faith” which are laid down in the article. It all boils down to one big genetic fallacy. To give an example. Stephen you answer Jonckher with the following: “Sometimes we forget that we’re all on a path, whether or not we see it that way. If we pursue it honestly, it will take us into some dark places. Some people are so averse to going there that they dedicate their whole being to avoiding it.” I though you are one of the brighter guys piercing the so called dharma. I even defended you on Glenn’s blog, when there was a discussion about meditation. But this now really puts me off. These kind of argument I have heard over and over again as an ad hominem against every form of skepticism. “Betrayed by a religion” as Mark puts it. Is this all you have to say? You as good ex-, x- or what ever buddhists? I have heard this kind of ‘argument’ in the worst kind in german ‘buddhist’ discussion forums where everybody tells one at once what enlightenment really has to be like and where one is with every sentence one writes watched by those true, really awfully true superbuddhists you believe literally in nirwahna, afterlife and on and on and on.

    Is this here all you have to say. No argument. Only “There is no venom like that of believers betrayed.” Is this all???

    • Matthias: The reason I’m not arguing against Glenn’s ‘five articles of faith’ is simple: I agree. I already said that. Did you think I was being sarcastic? I think it’s important to think clearly.

      However, I also think there’s a danger of obsessive thinking, especially among academic types. Someone as ingenious as Glenn can prove anything he likes, but logic is ethically neutral, amoral. The point is, how do his arguments relate to experience, to relations with other people, to life itself. Take them out of that context and my response is, ‘So what?’

      I don’t know what you mean by a ‘genetic fallacy,’ but my ‘argument’ is that we’re all susceptible to denial, and that nothing is sacred when it comes to maintaining that denial. Just as Wallis attacks orthodox and secular Buddhists for indulging their mythical fantasies, he’s indulging in his intellectual prowess and use of abstract thought. It is exclusive. It empowers him to be condescending. He tells other people what they think. He characterizes anyone who mentions the limits of intellectual thought as lazy. And the icing on the cake is that because he’s right, he has a right to talk that way. Tone is irrelevant. if I object to his rudeness and inability to bridge gaps, it’s my problem.

      Really?

      Where are his stories? What are his myths? It’s all very well to refute the possibility of Real Reality, but what about small-r reality the rest of us live with every day, that actually matters to people? There’s a lot more to skepticism than clever argument.

      • Matthias says:

        Stephen, of course a read that. I mean the people who are congratulating you. I wrote that. I think it is important to think clearly. It would be better if you took the time to read the Nascent Non-Buddhism text, then you would have a handle what this is about. It is about myths, and if you or anybody else here would have a real interest in myths you would pay attention. You mention transcendence in the last part of you text. There you are right on the spot. The question is, do you live a myth knowingly or not? Do you know the transcendent parameters framing your psycho-social worldview or not? Apropos, you say

        they certainly seem to avoid the psycho-social dimension of life, seeking certainty in intellect, as if cyclic existence is just for idiots.

        You, or anybody else here interested, may take a look at the text “Meditation and Control” or the text by Tom Pepper “Samsara as the Realm of Ideology” regarding the psycho-social dimension of life and cyclic existence. Obviously you don’t know what you criticize. Otherwise you would not say that.

        You obviously have no clue what is behind the whole project. Your text attests to this in nearly every sentence.

        Speculative Non-Buddhism is informed by various ways of adhering to or rejecting the historical Buddhist tradition of ideas and practices.

        Again, if you would know the background, if you took the time, you would understand why it is so. Look it up or stay out. What nerves me as any body else who knows something somebody else doesn’t, is when this somebody else is emphatic about something which is obviously wrong or misunderstood. You know what Deepak Chopra is to a quantum physicist? You just want the guy out of the house.

        Nowhere do they explain what’s wrong with myth.

        The whole project is about myth. “Ideology”, “decision”, “societies of control” are the terms which are used. But perhaps its too difficult… or maybe it is too dangerous too, to get involved in what these terms describe very precisely. May be too precisely. The emperor could be naked.

        Btw. This “they”, what is this? Who are “they”? The bad bad non-buddhists? Ugly punks with unmindful rotten mindsets? Kind of Sippenhaft? You use a lot of these generalizations. “They attack”. “They avoid”. “They’re no fun”. “They do not explain”. Each and every time you characterize so called non-buddhists you label them as bad. Is this a kind of warning for good old secular buddhis: Take care! Don’t play with the kids from the wrong neighborhood?

        Indeed some bad bad non-buddhist called you an idiot. But this goes now for all “non-Speculative Non-Buddhists”, they all are idiots you insinuate.

        Such is the fate of non-Speculative Non-Buddhists.

        ‘We’, the bad boys, call everybody an “idiot” who dares to come to ‘our’ place. Take care you good men. Out there are bandits and gangster, they rape your women, smoke dope, drink alcohol and adhere to the ugliest of all religions – Non-Buddhism. Heretics, blasphemers, sorcerers, that’s what they are: Bad!

        And then you go on to speculate yourself a bit about ‘our’ motivation.

        I understand bitterness. When I left the Tibetans, I was furious. […] Perhaps the Speculative Non-Buddhists are in the same boat.

        Well, if it would be so, how does this change a good argument? (That’s by the way the genetic fallacy or one of its variations. You attack the wrong point. If the Dalai Lama would be a homosexual, would you accept somebody saying the guy isn’t a pacifist because he sleeps with men? Of course not. The Dalai Lama hand in hand with another man wouldn’t change anything. Never!) Of course you don’t know the argument, so you don’t know how good it is, or you guess how good it is and therefore choose to not know it, however, bitterness, real or imagined, does not change anything of the argument.

        It is all so wrong what you say, if I turn it around it is wrong again. And that’s the mean thing about your argumentation. You create a hodgepodge of ungrounded accusations and intermingle them with emotional charged generalizations which put a certain label on people who are in the wrong party. That is simply “they are bad we are good”.

        • Jeez! Okay Matthias, I’ll read all this background stuff but give me time. I have a family to feed.

          Thanks for your time.

          • stoky says:

            Take your time, feed your family. I share with you that I got insulted at Glenns blog and that I don’t know anything about Non-Buddhism yet. So I’m totally with you here.

            But seriously, all this “I sense a lot of anger”-thing by you and others has nothing to do with Non-Buddhism.

            When did Buddhism become this “we judge other people by their intention and before we know much about them”-thing? Isn’t this the opposite of Buddhism? (Besides that: argumentum ad hominem is bad style everywhere, not only in Buddhism)

        • Matthas: Can you be more precise about “myth, ideology, decision and societies of control.” I can’t find any clear definition of these terms on the SNB site.

  12. Abimael Rodriguez Ortiz says:

    Great response and article Stephen ! 🙂

  13. Candol says:

    Oh gosh, i’m way behind. I just read stoky’s first comment and my response is : but isn’t “understanding” pretty much the same as “assumption” I take it to be the same the way that Stephen Batchelor uses it so i think there is no lack of honesty in the statement that stoky says it not honest.

    Anyway, i enjoyed your article Stephen S but wondered for the most part where secular buddhists were gonna fit in. But you were being tricky with us weren’t you. Luckily at the end you wrote your punch line and So i breathed a sigh of relief . I’d been sharpening my knives ready to pitch them at this and that; to say the hell with the lot of you ex x extras terrerestialisit people who used to once be buddhists. i am not one of you so go away! lol!

    But you are not like but i am still not like you. I was never an ex of any kind of buddhist. I haven’t been a buddhist for very long and almost from the very beginning i was a secular buddhist that is to say within the first month and in fact had i not read Stephen Batchelor’s book, Confession of a Buddhist Atheist, i would not have become any sort of buddhist.

    The thing is as time goes on a lot of people will arrive at buddhism without first landing in a Tibetan Monastery or any other for that matter. We arrive through books by and large. And because of that we may never have to deal with the disillusionment that you had to live through. Instead we head off to a monastery quite prepared to come up against things that we can’t accept or people behaving less than beautifully all the time. Well that may be the way for some of us who are older at least. I am not sure about the young.

    About Glenn, i don’t know but i think its conceit that has led him to where he is, not just faith in himself. His ideas hold little of interest to me. I’ve had my go at reading philosophy. I have to admit, i didn’t learn a lot that i could apply to my life. I think Peter Singer is the only i’ve been able to use to any effect. I should have read more no doubt. The problem with western philosophy is that its hard to digest so its only for the very studious when all is said and done. Buddhism on the other hand is not only more digestible but its a complete system of behaviour that strikes one as very original when you meet it for the first time. And also the other philosophers don’t have meditation or mindfulness in their kitbags. They just have a lot of very intellectual stuff to come to terms with. Not easy to apply to everyday life.

    Of course i have always been interested in existentialism but i couldn’t read past the first few pages of Being and Nothingness. But i do have a little book i bought recently which goes through all the philosophers and summarises their main ideas and i was happy to read The History of Western Philosophy by Bertrand Russel and almost anything else he wrote. But basically proper philosophy is too hard and you need to study it properly at university to really get to grips with it i feel unless you consider yourself terribly smart. In that case, be my guest…

    • At the risk of experiencing the extreme ire of Glenn’s followers, I encourage you to not read philosophy Candol, unless you really want to. You have a human brain, and it deals in more than ideas. Sometimes, other stuff takes priority. Don’t underestimate your own potential. You don’t need quotes or second-hand thoughts. Just beware of believers — and fervent anti-believers.

    • stoky says:

      Ok, you got me here. I didn’t know that “to understand” has this meaning. I should stop criticizing language in this way.

      Concerning the philosophy-thing. For myself I plan to read more philosophy in the future, but right now I have more important things to do 😉

  14. elizabethking says:

    Wow! Nearly everyone here proves Glenn’s point from another post on his blog:

    “As long as you live under the compulsion of x-buddhist decision or the principle of sufficient buddhism, you live also within an impotence of thought and within an infinite culpability.”

    Stephen’s post and the secular buddhist comments show nothing but their impotence of thought. It shows their culpability too because they reveal the exact opposite values claimed by secular buddhists for themselves and for their movement, like critical thinking, fair dialog, appreciation for scientific method. I get an image of you guys circling your pretty white wagons and yelling whoopie and patting one another on the back. What a shameful display of superficial engagement. Worse of all you make no attempt to intelligently dissect Glenn’s claims. It’s all personal for you. You should send him a bill for the pop therapy you’ve given him.

    Stephen–can you reply to Jonah’s statement that “So in that sense your resistance to “too much” real inquiry or analysis isn’t “admitting you don’t really know what’s going on”; in fact, its just the opposite. It is an acceptance that the way in which you do “already know what’s going on” is good enough and doesn’t need to be put under scrutiny, doesn’t need to be examined.”? Thanks. How about jonker’s–“cheerfully chant mantras and light incense with the best of them. after all, we’re all going to buddhist heaven when we die, like it or not,” What do you see as the connection between high-falutin’ religious views like that and the views expressed in the rest of his comment?

    The biggest flaw of the claims made here in the post and comments is that it is based on a so much ignorance. I plan to take a course with Glenn in the fall on the Anapanasati sutta. A friend of mine did and she was changed for life. I have sat in his monday meditation group. Its unbelievable what happens in there. Sometimes buddhists show up from other groups and they never fail to say what a liberating experience it is. But really, none of that matters. His ideas matter. But you ignore those. When you and the others here boil his criticism down to disappointment and frustration and all of that, you are exposing yourselves as being extraordinarily trite, ignorant, and foolish. Stephen–you are no different from any other religious defender of the faith. I guess you can take the monk out of the monastery, but…………

    • Elizabeth: You’re very fortunate to be instructed by Glenn. He has real depth of knowledge and an enlightened interpretation of the suttas. Before you jump on me for being a devout Buddhist, I mean enlightened with a small e and entirely in the Western sense. There is no more grotesque translation of bodhi than ‘Enlightenment.’ However, I’m not sure you’ll believe me, as you seem to have already made your mind up about ‘my’ Buddhism, about what I think and how I feel.

      As for Jonckher, it’s obvious that he’s coming from a far more traditional point of view and will have to make his own interpretations. He’s adopted the terminology and the practices he’s been offered and is trying them out. Not good enough for you? Pity. I’m sure his point of view and expression will evolve. I dare say yours will too. In his favor, he seems sincere and refreshingly unpretentious, just a bit baffled by the energy on Glenn’s website, as am I. You seem to be offended by bafflement, as if everyone is obligated to be intellectually clear on where they stand. You have to admit that the posts and comments on the SNB site demand quite an investment of time and effort. Are you offended by those who aren’t ready for or are unable to commit to that?

      I keep asking because you’re clearly offended by something. How does calling Jonckher ‘high-falutin’ advance this conversation, or suggest that you’re interested in nothing but Truth? And, “circling your pretty white wagons and yelling whoopie?” Is this your segue to “critical thinking, fair dialog, appreciation for scientific method?”

      Sorry, you’ve lost me. I suppose I’m not your intellectual equal. I’m certainly not Glenn’s. However, I was his friend and hope to be again. Just doesn’t seem like it today. Guess I didn’t criticize him the way I was supposed to.

  15. A NOTE TO SPECULATIVE NON-BUDDHISTS
    Feel free to criticize, attack and even hate me, but please be succinct about it. I’d like to answer you all at length, but I’m having trouble keeping up.

  16. Glenn Noam Chomsky Wallis Glenn Noam Chomsky Wallis says:

    The system protects itself with indignation against a challenge to deceit in the service of power, and the very idea of subjecting the ideological system to rational inquiry elicits incomprehension or outrage, though it is often masked in other terms.

    Noam Chomsky

    via

    Glenn Wallis

    • This is not my system Glenn. You know me. I don’t judge you by the stridency of your followers. Actually, perhaps I have done that, in which case, sorry. Anyway, please don’t judge me by those who are not me — or them by me, for that matter.

  17. robert says:

    Hello Stephen,

    Not criticisn, nor attack, and certainly not hate. Dissapointment certainly, because curiosity is considered bad here, because it is argued that a new thought is not cause for joy and excitement but cause for attack, not a reason to figure it out but just a wish that it all goes away. Was there really absolutely nothing good, useful, interesting at all to be found in Glenn’s argument? Not even a sliver of a tiny thought worth exploring? Gut feelings, myths, 99 out of a 100 times they just confirm your habitual patterns, to use this excellent buddhist term. Too bad.

  18. jonckher says:

    woo!

    great posts everyone.

    i just have to respond to Elizabeth however. my reference to “buddhist heaven” is an in-joke. as an atheist i believe there is nothing after death. hence death frees all of us from the cycle of rebirth. hence we all go to buddhist heaven.

    on reflection it is a poor joke and no one ever gets it. maybe i should say atheist heaven from now on.

    much funnier, no?

    • Jonckher: you may be the only person on this blog post with a sense of humor. YOU get a mention for the comment of the week.

      • jonckher says:

        thanks Stephen.

        I have noticed that Glenn’s forums also lack humour. Or perhaps I just don’t get their jokes.

        I tried making some but no one laughed. Or least if they did, no one admitted to laughing. To be fair, they were terrible jokes making ignorant fun of French literary theorists. Given that Tom and Glenn are (I think) professorial lecturer types they probably get this every other week from engineering under-grads who wandered into the wrong lecture-hall.

        If there was such a thing as buddhist hells, I am sure one of them would be the Hell of Teaching Philosophy to Under-Graduates. The only Hell that would be worse would be the Hell of Being a Marxist and Teaching Marxism to MBA Post-graduates.

        Anyway, if I keep going on, I will be no doubt accused of being passive aggressive or just plain aggressive. To which I will say it’s ok because I have dedicated all my energies in writing this comment to the salvation of all sentient beings.

        with metta, as always.

  19. wtompepper says:

    Hi Naked Monk,

    I don’t think I ever actually suggested that you “hate” me–just that you were so irrationally angry with me that you weren’t making sense.

    I still think you’re kind of an idiot; but it’s nothing personal, some of my best friends are stupid. I only have a problem with them when they insist everyone must be as stupid as they are.

    Really, it took you eight years as a monk to see the stupidity of Tibetan Buddhism? Yikes.

    • Pepper: Actually you did say I hated you. You explained quite definitiely how I felt and what I thought. You were omniscient.

      Yes it took me eight years. I was messed up. Perhaps you’re immune to human psychology?

  20. Where’s the surprise that people are looking for something to believe in? Like orthodox Buddhists, Secular Buddhists are trying to extract from Buddhism something they can work with. That’s where they’re at. Some will get stuck; others will move on. I get the feeling from Glenn, Pepper, et al that that’s not okay.

    At the end of the post on Secular Buddhism is a section entitled Conclusions. It describes what Batchelor has not done, how secular Buddhism is a failure, how nothing’s new. Okay, what’s new with Glenn? He puts lots (and lots and lots) of words on the table, but how many people can disentangle them?

    Wallis’s project is “somewhat akin to non-Euclidean geometry.” Okay. Most people come to Buddhism, however, looking for something more tangible. They’re messed up and looking for balance. Might Buddhism make things worse? Absolutely. It often does. The thing is, there’s no such instrumental entity as Buddhism. The problem is people indulging in their wishful thinking. It’s as old as the hills. Thinking you can figure this out with intellect alone is just one more, particularly tricky, form of wishful thinking. I spent years enough with the Gelugpas to grow wary of that.

    Glenn is engaging; he’s also, let’s say, excitable. I’ll never forget the time he launched into a lengthy diatribe against Aśvaghoṣa and his awful Gotama hagiography. It was sort of a conversation killer, especially as two of the four people there had no interest whatsoever in Buddhism. Feels like that on his blog, too. Some people seem to think it humorous, but it all feels pretty bleak to me. It’s so … academic.

    Good manners are apparently an irritant on the SNB site, not a lubricant as in ordinary forums. Abstract thought counts for more than social warmth. I’m not supposed to find this alienating, but I do. For many people this is relevant, it’s how they choose where to hang out.

    Several commenters have asked me here, is that it? Yes, that’s it. I’ve put my heart into it. Emotional weight counts. Am I uninteresting because I’m not bombastic and circumlocutory, not palaverous, talky and windy? I take time and spend considerable energy to work long, convoluted thoughts into simple words. It’s hard work. Some people are impressed by verbosity, but if it can’t be translated into plain language, how are we supposed to know it’s not just intellectual pretense?

    Really, this conversation is exhausting. Someone please tell me: what’s the point? Is it just to warn people away from Buddhist bogey-men like Stephen Batchelor? Can someone articulate Wallis’s point in plain English or do we all have to learn the language of the in-crowd before we get to glimpse the Speculative Non-Buddhist Nirvana?

    • Glenn Noam Chomsky Wallis Glenn Noam Chomsky Wallis says:

      The point is that you and Ted Meissner and the others here are publicly engaged in the business of telling people how it is with “the dharma.” You’ve admitted that you agree with my five points. One of them is that the dharma is a form of transcendence, like God. Another is that you are blind to your ideological commitments. You said you agreed to that assertion. So, this is about being honest, and taking the time and trouble to critique and explore what is supposedly–another point you agree with–special knowledge.

      Any chance that your exhaustion comes from putting up the resistance that Jonah refers to above? Or is it from, as Tom Pepper suggests, laziness? Any chance, Stephen, that you see much to much merit in some of the arguments you’ve encountered at the Speculative Non-Buddhism blog? Since you seem to not mind offering me psychological insights, how about I return the favor: might the exhaustion stem from a reopening of your trauma of disillusion? According to the dharma, that’s a good thing, right?

      When you and Mark Knickelbine preach your plain-language sermons, don’t you realize it only makes you sound defensive, even a tad insecure? Hard thought is not “academic.” I am not an academic, anyway.

      And finally–my last words on this blog–you should be ashamed from gossiping about a conversation we had at dinner. I was talking about the work I was engaged in at the time. Of course I was excited. Mentioning that was low and shameful. Metta my ass.

      • I don’t think I’ve ever used the word ‘metta’ (this is the very first time), and I’m always ranting against notions of transcendance. I do not stand in that crowd Glenn, even though you project me there.

        Good luck with your project.

  21. Mark Knickelbine says:

    I notice that, for folks who claim to be dedicated to intellectual inquiry, Wallisites sure flip out when one has the temerity to disagree with them.

    I would also urge folks to heed Mathias’s suggestion to read Tom Pepper’s “Samsara as the Realm of Ideology.” It is an example of how one writes when one is trying to be understood. When you’ve read it, you will know what Pepper is proposing as a positive outcome of practice as he’s interpreting it. He does so without having to resort to straw man arguments, pejorative language and excessive use of neologisms. So it is possible.

  22. Glenn Noam Chomsky Wallis Glenn Noam Chomsky Wallis says:

    The argument that is developing here is typical of x-buddhism: We do not understand! Your language is foreign (read: not buddhemic). Your sentences are too long, the syntax weird. Your arguments are lengthy and complicated. We do not have time to do the hard work it will take to understand you.

    And yet: We know that what you write is rant, invective, diatribe. We know, too, that it is a bad argument. How do we know? From the tone of your language. From your language we can divine many, many things about you. We know, for instance, that you (singular and plural) are bitter, frustrated, jealous, disappointed, angry, hostile, venomous, conceited, scorned, and much, much more. Therefore, we conclude: you are wrong; you have nothing to offer us. As always, with Metta!

    In a particularly telling exchange, Stephen asks a commenter if she is “offended by”—well, here it is:

    “[So and so is] just a bit baffled by the energy on Glenn’s website, as am I. You seem to be offended by bafflement, as if everyone is obligated to be intellectually clear on where they stand. You have to admit that the posts and comments on the SNB site demand quite an investment of time and effort. Are you offended by those who aren’t ready for or are unable to commit to that?””

    I don’t know about elizabethking, but I think every Secular Buddhist, every x-buddhist, should be offended—by Stephen’s admission of deceit. If you are doling out advice to me about how I should be living my life, you bet your ass I am offended that you admit to being incapable and unable to commit to the most robust exchanges with even the fiercest of interlocuters. Stephen, imagine if your physician would say to you: well, that theory for how to help you demands too much of my time and effort. Sorry, Stephen, I’m just gonna stick to what I already know. It’s easier. Constantly bemoaning “pejorative,” etc., etc. language as Mark Knickelbine is prone to do is just a way of avoiding the real issues.

    So, I repeat:
    “The system protects itself with indignation against a challenge to deceit in the service of power, and the very idea of subjecting the ideological system to rational inquiry elicits incomprehension or outrage, though it is often masked in other terms.” —Noam Chomsky

    Stephen, whether you pretend otherwise or not, you are an active participant in this Secular Buddhist system (and by the way Ted Meissner writes it that way–upper case S).

    I also find it telling that Stephen says to his imagined “non-buddhist” opponents (in the plural), “slow down, I can’t keep up.” Well, Stephen, you’re keeping up with those who agree with you quite well, aren’t you?

    Stephen, let me ask you directly, how do you respond to Jonah’s contention (elizabethking asked, too, but you ignored her request:

    “It seems to me that there is a lot less resistance to “admitting we don’t really know what’s going on”, really admitting it, over there than over here. That admission doesn’t mean giving up on thinking–it means trying to find everything you do “know”, the basic assumptions you take for granted, whatever ideologies you’ve acquired via moving through the culture web (the reasons that some myths might “ring a bell in your gut” for example) and getting them out in the open, maybe casting some real doubt on them.”

    How about Robert’s charge of your lack of curiosity?

    How about Stoky’s accusation of argumentum ad hominem?

    How about Matthias’s numerous thoughtful points, not least the accusation of employing the genetic fallacy? How can you ignore Matthias’s comment? Are you not really all that seriously engaged in what you pretend to be engaged in–explication of the secular dharma?

    How about the many other pointed questions and criticisms that do not support your view? Why do you not engage them robustly? One difference between this blog and the Speculative Non-Buddhism blog is that people tend to engage opposing views and let agreement go. What might that difference indicate about our respective projects?

    This is not over-intellectualization, Stephen and Dana and Mark, et al. This is called thinking, asking, probing, using are noggins for all they’re worth. You may offer reasons for not doing so, but your reasons stem from your ideological commitment to the dharma; so, your placing of limits on how much we may engage our intellects in the pursuit of wisdom is uninteresting for those of us who do not share that commitment. .

    It’s also calling out all writers and teachers of x-buddhism on their pretense to wisdom. Wisdom can withstand even the harshest criticism expressed in the harshest language, can’t it Mark? Stephen? Ted? Dana? And whether you pretend otherwise or not, that is what you are all offering with “Secular Buddhism” (or should it be “secular”?).

    And by the way, Ted: criticism is exploration. Imagine saying to a scientist: your critique of my thesis is not valuable. It is not exploring anything. Come on, man. Out from the curtain of Oz. Walk the talk…

    So to answer your question, Stephen, “So What?” For the sake of integrity, honesty, and human honor.

  23. Mark Knickelbine says:

    Again, from what set of values do you presume to cast aspersions on our integrity, honesty and honor? We know you’re against us; you and your fans have made that abundantly clear. The question remains, what are you for? Critique for its own sake is an absurdity. I’m willing to do hard work, but I’m not willing to waste my time. If you can’t give us even a hint in a language you’re not inventing yourself about why we should bother slogging through stuff that makes Lacan seem like light reading, you reinforce the perception that there’s no there there. You leave us then to deduce your intentions from what we read in posts like the one above, and with its anger and intolerance there appears to be nothing consistent with compassion or a genuine desire to engage in dialog. If that’s how you get your kicks, Glenn, that’s fine. But don’t pretend you have anything to offer to someone who is looking for a way to get through this life. I’d really like you to read Darline Christina’s post on the Secular Buddhist FB page. Then let us know how full of shit she is.

  24. Ted Meissner Ted Meissner says:

    Hi, Glenn and everyone. Just a short note here, and then I will do my best to make time for formulate a response on the SNB site to the post. I’ve no wish to respond in any more ignorance than is my recommended daily allowance 🙂

    Agreed, Glenn, that exploring can take many forms. Scientists don’t limit themselves to disproving the work of others, they also write their own hypothesis. And when their are only finding the errors in a particular body of work or specific study, really, what counts is the findings — unless we’re social creatures, and we are. Then it is sometimes helpful for us to also what being social means. Not dishonesty. Not accommodationalism. The findings, yeah, key! But the message may be getting lost, at least, that’s what I’m hearing.

    But, of course it’s only sensible to check for myself, which I will do after tonight’s wedding plans for some old friends. Thanks everyone for your comments on this thread.

  25. Dana Nourie Dana Nourie says:

    Ohmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm. Deep breath, in, out, just breathing.

  26. jonckher says:

    I have posted this on the other spec-non-buddhist forum in an attempt to engage.

    Just in case I get ignored there seeing as I have been refusing to take anything seriously. I’m reposting here.

    From what I’ve gathered, non-buddhism states:

    1. buddha was probably fictional or a collection of people over a period of time. it is worth examining why one is clinging to the notion of a one true buddha.

    2. none of the dharma should be considered revealed truth. (there is no such thing as revealed truth after all) Doctrine is usually dangerous. It is worth considering one’s adherence to the concept of there being a one true way.

    3. it is worth contextualising the practice and usages of buddhism within the wider world. limiting all thought to buddhism alone is narrowing, induces political complacency and risks intellectual stagnation.

    4. There is value in the dharma still but it has to be sifted out, rigorously considered, investigated and tested. What results after this process?

    I got a D- from Tom which I consider a true victory. I’ve since printed it out and framed it.

    with metta, as always.

  27. Mark Knickelbine says:

    @johcker:

    Thanks for your willingness to engage in discussion. Re. these 4 points:

    1. There is no more evidence to demonstrate this statement than there is that there was an historical Gotama. This is an open question, and secular dharma practitioners continue to debate not only this question but why the answer to it matters.

    2. Agreed.

    3. Absolutely.

    4. I agree with this statement . Tom P.’s writing has something promising in this regard. But investigation and testing has to proceed from some sense of what we’re testing and what would count as a meaningful and useful result. Any statement whatever can be demonstrated to be self-referential and meaningless outside of the ideology that spawned it. This game can be played endlessely without ever giving us a clue as to what we ought to do. At some point we either say, there is no answer and no reason to do or not do anything, or we find some basis upon which we can say, this is the good and that is not. The persistent reality of the human animal, without which no discourse, even the SNB website, is possible, seems to me to be a worthwhile, if provisional, basis for addressing these questions.

    be happy

    mjk

  28. jonckher says:

    @Mark,

    In retrospect, I should have put on my srsly hat on earlier and not my lol#whatevs hat.

    Never mind.

    Just in case it’s not obvious, I should reveal myself as an x-buddhist and a capitalist though not quite so free-market as I used to be. My attempts to summarise the non-buddhist position is just that – I cannot speak for them. D- is barely a pass grade. I doubt I will do better.

    Anyway, with that out of the way.

    1. Fair enough – I popped in “possibly” to weaken the statement. I took most of this from Glenn’s concept of seeing the Buddha as “the Protaganist” which I very much liked. After all, I see Master Yoda as fully realised and empowered x-Buddhist master.

    2. 3. Agreement! You come from the non-buddhist camp do you not? May I quote you from now on?

    4. As a capitalist x-buddhist, I am rather results oriented and that is what I mean by value. What value can x-buddhism offer? What does it claim to give? Is it possible for x-buddhism to provide more value? If not, can we leverage of its existing infrastructure? Has anyone done a cost-benefit analysis of its business case? I suspect it will result in a large red figure. Everything dumbed down to USD$ figures would be great actually although we know where the dolour is heading.

    BTW, I actually quite liked Tom P’s piece on ideology and samsara, This is a secret that must not be revealed as my x-buddhist free-market-mason order will eject me for consorting with a Marxist.

    with metta as always

    • You see all of this as play, Jonckher. I SO respect that.

      • jonckher says:

        At the risk of quoting someone real (although I think people contend that he isnt really anyway), we all know the famous shaker of spear’s sutra about the world being but a stage with us all being mere players.

        But do we remember the closing lines?

        “.. Last scene of all
        That ends this strange eventful history,
        Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
        Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.”

        gate gate pāragate pārasaṃgate bodhi svāhā.

        om mani padme hum.

  29. Matthias says:

    Stephen,

    you write “Myth is mankind’s basic currency of communication […]”. That is why I pointed to the terms I mentioned. I take it that what you mean is something of a “basic” structure of communication. This basic structure can be described as a “decision”.

    [Decision] involves a cutting off, a scission, of reality in the positing of particular terms of representation. The purpose of scission is to come to an understanding of the actual, immanent world. In the very process of understanding, though, decision divides the world between ostensibly evident immanence and ideally grounding transcendence. (Nascent Speculative Non-Buddhism, p. 6)

    I take your “myth” as the “ideally grounding transcendence”. The point is that x-buddhism by definition is not aware of its own myth=transcendence when saying “just see it as it is”. X-buddhism takes the immanent part (see it as it is) as the real thing without realizing that the immanent part (the real thing) is formed in a certain way by transcendence. It becomes a representation. The point is not to declare transcendence=myth to be bullshit (as it seems to be thought here in this thread) but to become aware of this forming, representational structure.

    Tom Pepper, as I understand him, is also making the point that the representational (and in his case a reproductional) structure is not bad as such. Indeed we are always ideological creatures, creatures which live a certain myth.

    Now,

    non-buddhism is acutely interested in the potentialities of Buddhist teaching, but in a way that remains unbeholden to – and hence, unbound by and unaccountable to – the norms that govern those teachings. (Nascent Speculative Non-Buddhism, p. 11)

    Tom Pepper in his “Naturalizing Buddhism without being Reductive” is acutely interested in the potentialities of Buddhist teachings but from beyond the norms that govern those teachings. Thus he can come to the conclusion that

    Bodhi (enlightenment, awakening) then need not be a supernatural state we must humbly deny having reached; instead, it can be a quite real state of being the Buddhist/Spinozist/Marxist subject which is aware of its ideology and better able to change it. (p. 13, my italics)

    My interest is to point to an effect our present ideology has: Marketing in consumer capitalism is a force which exploits awareness (cf. “Meditation and Control”). One example is Tricycle. Certain kinds of praxis are a weapon against this exploitation. But only if one becomes aware how the “basic currency of communication” works. Otherwise every “meditation is the ideological form that best fits today’s global capitalism.” (Slavo Žižek)

    My personal view is that this is about waking up. Trying to make visible at least partly the invisible structure of our myths. It is about enlightenment in every and the best sense of the word (kantian, buddhist). If this is not a genuine buddhist undertaking I don’t know what buddhism is. The problem is, it deflates consumer buddhism. You don’t need no Tricycle. If one is honest, nothing remains.

  30. “My personal view is that this is about waking up. Trying to make visible at least partly the invisible structure of our myths. It is about enlightenment in every and the best sense of the word (kantian, buddhist). If this is not a genuine buddhist undertaking I don’t know what buddhism is. The problem is, it deflates consumer buddhism. You don’t need no Tricycle. If one is honest, nothing remains.”

    I like this Matthias, even though you use that awful word enlightenment.. It’s intelligent and poetic; it makes the sublime tangible. I’m not clear why you would take ‘my’ myth to be “ideally grounding transcendence;” I don’t know what that means, though for all I know you may be right. I think of myth as a story that doesn’t have to be true to convey meaning. That may sound unspecific, but I distrust language that pretends to be precise. One of the bare essentials that remains with me from Buddhism is Nagarjuna’s notion that things are ‘mere notations.’ It helps me more than anything to remain awake to the shifting nature of experience.

    What interests me most these days is why awakening is necessary. How and why do we keep freezing reality into something solid? This is more of a psychological investigation than a philosophical one, and the only place I can fully observe that is in myself. It’s hard, and at times I wonder whether it’s even worth the effort, but these crises of faith tend to be short-lived. When I read Glenn’s long articles and ask ‘where’s the beef,’ I’m looking for that psychological depth. I’m pretty sure it must be in there, but I don’t see it. He’s entitled to celebrate his irascibility, but it doesn’t resonate with me. That seems to infuriate him, and that in turn baffles me. Well, minds don’t always meet.

    Nevertheless, I’m afraid I’m a bit dogmatic about communication: it’s the speaker’s responsibility to bridge the gap, not the listener’s. On this, clearly, our minds may never meet. Also, the occasional quote can be fun, but shouldn’t philosophical statements be able to stand on their own two feet? The academic habit of expecting readers to understand premises will necessarily limit the audience. To characterize those who don’t get it as ‘lazy’ is another way of saying that only that field counts.

    I did my time at the factory gates selling Socialist Worker but eventually found myself in the same gap between Marx and the Marxists as between Buddha and the Buddhists, Christ and the Christians. I’m not a Buddhist. I’m certainly not a non-Buddhist. I don’t know what I am, and hope to remain that way.

    Sorry if this doesn’t answer all your questions. It’s just not my way. I respect that it’s yours, and hope for the same in return.

    P.S. I presume you’re making a point by spelling Buddhism with a small b, but exempting it from the standard rules of English grammar (capitalizing proper nouns), makes it stand out more. Or are you just being lazy? (joking…!)

    • Matthias says:

      Stephen

      I used the word enlightenment in the sense of Kant: “Enlightenment is man’s release from his self-incurred tutelage” etc. Although this is partly outdated I still think it should ring a bell in every modern day buddhist.

      Also I meant it in the sense Tom Pepper reevaluates the term.

      The quotations weren’t meant to impress but give some hints.

      Sorry if I got you wrong with your meaning of “myth”, I still think there is a correspondence.

      Normally, personally, I would use “learning” instead of the big words “enlightenment”, awakening” etc. I think learning is necessary. Its human. It keeps me from freezing reality.

      I allow myself one last quotation – in view of the outcry here – there has been a storm warning:

      Speculation […] serves the critical project in that the question-asking of the sort I have in mind is a precursor to rupture; and from rupture ensues disruption. Speculation breaks open the closed system, the One, the Whole, of Buddhism. […] What ensues from such an interruption? Perhaps discontinuity or even disassembly. Perhaps radical transmutation or even destruction. (Nascent Non-Buddhism, p. 3)

      Hold Fast.

      • Break open the whole of Buddhism? Wouldn’t the Buddhists have to master SNB terminology for this to happen, or have I again I got it all wrong again?

      • Hi again Matthias: Sorry to place more demands on your time, but I wonder if you could help me find something on the SNB site. I’m still looking for a clear description of ‘Myth.’ A search for the term, unfortunatly, delivers so many results that I don’t know where to start. I’d greatly appreciate your help with this.

        As for the ‘end to views,’ I’ve just read Tom Pepper’s Samsara as the Realm of Ideology, and understand at last why everyone jumped down my throat when I used that loaded term. There are some serious weaknesses in his position, which I’ll address shortly.

        • Matthias says:

          Hi Stephen

          Regarding learning SNB-terminology. It is necessary to get an understanding of what one is criticizing. This holds for both ‘parties’ involved here.

          The problem I see is that most people here have not the least clue what non-buddhism is about.

          Neither the arguments in “On the Faith of Secular Buddhists” have been attacked (you said why on o your part) nor the core argumentation about “decision” in the Nascent-SNB text has been even mentioned. (Except in one post pro SNB)

          Regarding the myth. I cannot say more than that what I have written above. I tried to hint to a certain theory about our more basic structuring of reality.

          I am a bit at a loss what to say any more here. It feels so much like in any other buddhist discussion group. Theory is bad. Well, if one doesn’t know that theory is informing praxis, what else one could say to this?

          Sorry if I cannot be of more help here.

          Matthias

        • wtompepper says:

          I still look forward to finding out what the “serious weaknesses in [my] position are.

          • I don’t expect you to acknowledge my rebuttal as a rebuttal, because I refuse your language. That’s why I have hesitated. What happened here was not a discussion but two people talking at cross-purposes. We are not communicating. However, I promised, so here my words.

            You represent yourself as philosophically justified in using a sarcastic, condescending, verbose and exclusivist tone. But when I use adjectives like these, I merely ‘hate’ you. I am capable not of valid criticism, but only of spleen-venting. My error is that I do not use language your way.

            You point to the truth that there’s an anti-intellectual trend in Buddhism, and label nay-sayers as anti-intellectual. You don’t consider that others may be redefining the jargon in their own ways. You set up straw dogs. You are free to redefine Buddhist terminology, but if I do, for example when I refer to ‘an end to views,’ I am considered a defender of the faith, an anti-intellectual, ‘lazy,’ an ‘idiot’ and a source of ‘blind fury.’ You jump to that conclusion because it serves your rhetorical end. In a rare revelation of your personality you claim that your best friends are idiots, though I’m sure I don’t know why.

            By using language like this rather than reaching out with warmth you reduce debate to the two-dimensional ‘with us or against us’ mentality. There is no mention of empathy or commiseration. True, those words should be used sparingly. They are conveyed most effectively in tone, not by direct reference. However, you’ve made it clear that tone is irrelevant. Perhaps you consider kindness a bourgeois affectation.

            What matters to you most is apparently to describe things in rationally defensible terms. Buddhist rhetoric makes me queasy. So does rhetoric divorced from tone and feeling. Your rhetoric is not empty. It’s rather interesting. However, it’s also verbose. It lacks emotional rawness. You say I’m not thinking. I say you are hiding in intellectual abstraction. I don’t mean that intellect is useless, but that it’s not enough.

            Anti-intellectualism is only one current in Buddhism. At the other extreme lies over-intellectualism. Ideas can prove anything. I use them because I must, but I distrust them. You insist that I must understand you before I challenge you, that I must disprove you on your own ground. I distrust that even more, but it hasn’t stopped me reading your essays and finding them helpful. Yes, really.

            What you haven’t grasped, what seems to confuse you mightily, is that I don’t find you wrong. I find you often right, but also righteous. You keep challenging me to refute you. I can’t say I find you uninteresting; much of your argument is pithy. However, by not taking the time to compress your prose, by exposing yourself to intellectual doubt but not to self-doubt, you maintain an illusion of control. You take refuge in ideas. You remind me of the medieval theologians, of the Marxist theorists of the 1970s and of the circular debates of the Gelugpas, all trying to hold their existential panic together with theory. All have points to make; all are excited by their acumen. All are distracted from the great project of life.

            What remains is to find ways to translate that to our behavior. I’m not suggesting that I’ve succeeded where you haven’t, but that that’s where I choose to put my effort, along with most people. Some of us seek to understand ourselves without fanfare. It’s not very exclusive.

            Let’s end with your words:

            “We cannot, for instance, simply ‘live and let live.’ The current obsession with ‘tolerance’ and ‘multiculturalism’ would need to be rejected, because we cannot gain our own freedom from samsara without forcing a change in the world. Our mind is a social construction, and so I cannot change ‘my’ mind without changing ‘yours.’ We must not accept the quietist notion of learning to accept the world as it is, because the world as it is constructs our mind; we must demand the right to change the world, to insist that others see truths they don’t like, because we are not atomistic individuals.”
            — Tom Pepper
            http://speculativenonbuddhism.com/2012/03/27/samsara-as-the-realm-of-ideology/

          • wtompepper says:

            Stephen,
            I wasn’t so much expecting a rebuttal. You said you were going to point out the “serious weaknesses” in my argument—I was curious what you thought those errors were.

            Instead, you offer once again the trite anti-intellectual argument that I am “hiding” from my feelings in that bad scary thought. Real life is thought-free, “raw” emotions, the felt experience, and only those with a pathological incapacity for human “warmth” and “empathy” would bother doing it. This bizarre ideology is promulgated in American mass culture to the point of being nauseating.

            So, you prefer not to respond to my argument—that’s fine with me, you were the one who said you were going to expose my errors of thought.

            Let me just leave you with a few suggestions, though. It is ridiculous to say that “ideas can prove anything.” Perhaps really poor thinking can appear to a naïve person to “prove anything,” but that is not the same as actually proving it. One cannot think too much, but one can think incorrectly. The solution to incorrect thinking is not to give up thought altogether, but to learn to think more clearly.

            To say that one is thinking too much is just as idiotic as saying that one is feeling too much. Spinoza, rightly I think, argues that it is not possible for an emotion to be out of proportion with its cause; we can, however, be mistaken about what its cause is, and so be unable to relieve our unpleasant emotions. The solution to this problem is not to feel more deeply, but to think more clearly. Once we can think clearly about the source of our unpleasant emotions, we can learn to relieve them.

            You seem focused on negative feeling as the only true feeling—on “rawness” as preferable to contentment, for instance. I will admit, that most of the time my emotional state is one of joy, in Spinoza’s sense of the term; as a result, I am told often that I am “hiding” from my feelings–because I must have sadness and fear and hatred and resentment, so I must be denying it. I find this silly, and a waste of time. Understanding ourselves requires thought; wallowing in negative emotions to “really deeply feel them” is not understanding. It is needless suffering, or perhaps a kind of pleasurable masochism, I don’t know.

            My approach to Buddhism would help get out of those negative feelings, and allow one to feel contentment and even joy despite fully accepting our “existential” plight—there need not be any panic over the reality that we have not immortal soul, or substrate consciousness, or whatever—that we are an accidental occurrence in an indifferent universe and will be gone fairly soon. My final suggestion is simply that holding to those “raw” and negative feelings as somehow more solid and real is just perpetuating the existential panic you are projecting onto others.

            That said, there’s little help to be found in some Rogerian warmth and empathy which just reassures you of the permanence and ultimate reality of your negative emotions. Sometimes, most times, what is needed is an unpleasant truth, thought instead of more weeping, and some harsh words to serve as a wake-up call. Your emotions as you experience them are the product of you socially constructed world—they are not the “raw” primal truth that will prove you have a solid and permanent self. Let go of them, and begin to see how and why they are constructed. It might take a little thought, but thought is also a very real and useful human capacity, not a pathology.

          • Wow Pepper. You project like an Imax theatre.

          • Glenn Noam Chomsky Wallis Glenn Noam Chomsky Wallis says:

            SS. That’s it? That’s your considered and long-awaited argument pointing out of the weaknesses of Tom’s position? Don’t you know the difference between argument and admonishment?

            I think that a valuable way to get at the difference between what you have done on this post and in your replies to comments is to, once and for all, respond to Jonah’s comment:

            “It seems to me that there is a lot less resistance to ‘admitting we don’t really know what’s going on,’ really admitting it, over there [at the Speculative Non-Buddhism blog] than over here. That admission doesn’t mean giving up on thinking–it means trying to find everything you do ‘know,’ the basic assumptions you take for granted, whatever ideologies you’ve acquired via moving through the culture web (the reasons that some myths might ‘ring a bell in your gut’ for example) and getting them out in the open, maybe casting some real doubt on them.”

            One way that your resist admitting that you don’t know what’s going on is to refuse to engage the substance of arguments that challenge you. What you do in place of robust engagement is to admonish your interlocutor. His language is harsh. He uses too many words. He’s projecting. And so on and on and on …. Another move you consistently make is to pop-psychologize your interlocutor. Somehow, you are able to divine motives and moods and emotions—everyone’s but your own, it seems.

            Your reply to Tom Pepper reminds me of one of those undergraduate exams where the student struggles to give the impression that he has read and understood the assignment. In other words: good, old-fashioned Bullshit’n. You have yet to write a single sentence that shows that you even understood Tom’s argument, much less are capable of revealing its weaknesses. All you have convinced me of is that the most superficial elements of his argument have grated against your precious values and morals. No, you’ve also convinced me that you simply do not understand what it is you are so adamantly railing against.

            In fact, I think this entire thread flows from your lack of understanding. To give one example that raises such suspicions. In one instance you say, “The reason I’m not arguing against Glenn’s ‘five articles of faith’ is simple: I agree. I already said that. Did you think I was being sarcastic? I think it’s important to think clearly.”

            Then, a moment later, you say, “I’m always ranting against notions of transcendance” (sic).

            Do you not understand that you agreed to believing in the dharma as a form of transcendence?! Did you not even understand my argument? If so, how can you so blatantly contradict yourself? If not, what is the basis for this entire charade of a discussion?

            You may not be aware of it, but every one of your sentences is undergirded by theory. We need people like Tom Pepper and Matthias Steingass and other “verbose” “over-intellectuals” to warn the public that the Naked Monk (and many others like him writing in the name of the transcendent Dharma) indeed–as he admits!–has no clothes.

          • wtompepper says:

            Stephen,

            This is the kind of response you habitually give. Whenever anyone tries to engage in discussion, you make some snarky personal insult–and then you whine because they tell you to stop acting like a jerk. Nobody responds to your ill-spirited petty crap with warmth and empathy–poor you. And you can’t even be honest enough to admit you are responding with hostility, that you are bothered by something.

            Dishonest small-minded petty hostility is, to my mind, far more annoying than openly harsh or critical words.

  31. david says:

    Stephen, you write: ‘What interests me most these days is why awakening is necessary

    Yes, this is interesting, though I would phrase it slightly differently and ask why do we believe awakening is necessary? I don’t mean to argue that there isn’t usually ‘room for improvement’ – there always will be, for as long as we can imagine something ‘better’ – but simply, why are we never content to be as we are?

    It’s interesting to observe that Buddhists, even when they have grasped this point and let the pendulum swing all the way back from the heady fantasy of unexcelled complete awakening to the more mundane ‘this is it’ interpretation of realization, they cannot – ever, as far as I can see – quite bring themselves to hang up their boots. There’s always some version of ‘this is it, Jim, but not as we know it.’ Or to put it another way, this is never quite this – there is always another this, a more enlightened one, concealed beneath the one we’re experiencing right now. This is never enough, it seems, even when this is all there is. Goal seeking is hard wired into us, and while for some this can feel exhilarating (for a while, perhaps), conferring a sense of purpose and meaning to our lives, for others it is simply a drag. I think Buddhism soaks this malcontent into our bones. I call it Practice-Induced Stress and Suffering (PISS for short).

    Maybe awakening is simply the realization that awakening is just another irritating twitch of our restless minds, perhaps the most sinister of them all, ever seeking to get life right. It is tied to the belief that there must be some way to get life right, even if we have no idea what getting life right might entail. Whatever it is, it’s different from whatever we have now.

    The belief that there is something deeply wrong with us and that we have to do something about it only gets more ingrained with familiarity. It pathologises our humanity and leads to an unceasing struggle to stop struggling. Whether it’s dukkha we have to struggle with or ideology, the effect is much the same – unremitting struggle to eradicate from ourselves the ineradicable, and an implicit rejection of our own nature. We have always to be more awake or smarter or whatever. Probably it doesn’t much matter what we have to have more of, just so long as we have to be different. After years of Buddhist practice I found I had a lot of PISS to let out. Maybe there’s a business opportunity in marketing spiritual catheters.

    • David: Is that a rephrasing, or is it a different question (though just as interesting)?

      Yes, there’s always another rainbow with its own imaginary pot at its imaginary end. Why can’t we let it go? How come we fool ourselves again and again? It’s intelligence: we’re so amazingly brilliant that we actually dupe ourselves.

      What’s the most basic human drive? Survival? Perhaps hope. I once or twice suffered from depression, and discovered that it’s possible to wake up in the morning and want to not be conscious. It taught me to not take hope for granted; to see what it has to do with happiness, or at least contentment; how it gets me from morning to night.

      Awakening is one version of The Big Hope. Is it possible that those matured Buddhists (ex or x or non) who have transitioned from the hope for perfect sublime permanent Enlightenment to your (well-put) ‘this is it’ awakening have inadvertently followed the Buddha’s advice?

      According to the Four Noble Dogmas, we’re supposed to see though our idiocy and recognize that life is suffering. It looks like fun to eat ice cream and ride a merry-go-round, but it’s really not. You can only swallow that for so long. Every kid knows that suffering is suffering, but that there’s happiness too.

      A reading of the suttas as Batchelor pursues it (not that he’s alone) goes this way: when 1) we suffer, we tend to respond to it with 2) craving. (Suffering causes craving, not the other way round). Recognize it as such, let it go and 3) we’re free (for a moment at least). The trick is 4) to cultivate a positive feedback loop and experience more of those moments. Four steps to increasing freedom.

      We were all taught that the Buddhism rested on a core of four nouns. We were duped. They’re verbs! At least, that’s what I’m thinking right now.

      Is it Buddhism which soaks the malcontent into our bones, or is it just us turning Buddhism into another facet of samsara? No wonder the Buddha hesitated to teach. Yeah, maybe he existed and maybe he didn’t. Perhaps the suttas are a twenty-six hundred year project in motion. The point is that we find coherence, not that we explain it.

      • david says:

        Stephen, thanks for your thoughtful reply. I forgot to say how much i enjoyed your article. I’m sorry you have come in for so much invective as a result, though no doubt you were expecting it.

        You mention hope as a basic human drive. I’ve always been puzzled by how often I’ve heard Buddhists scorning hope, as though it’s just for sissies and Christians. I suppose there is a sense in which it does take us away from the ‘now’ but to belittle it is both ironic (since the Buddhist path seems to be entirely paved with it) and redolent of that rejection of human nature I mentioned earlier. Like you I have suffered from depression (mine was brought on by my experiment with Tibetan Buddhism) and learnt what it is to crave annihilation. No fun.

        I remember a talk by one teacher and who emphasised the need to think big. If you’re going to steal then rob a bank, he said. Mahayana Buddhism is full of big ideals and big hopes. Bodhisattvas are horizon gazers, but I guess I’ve always been a bit alienated by transcendent thinking. I keep my hopes fairly small and realistic. No doubt this is deplorable but on the plus side the fall is less likely to be fatal and I actually quite like what’s growing in my own garden, modest as it is. How samsaric is that?

        Over at the other place I note that they too believe in the ‘possibility of human liberation’ – hope springs eternal.

    • Peter K says:

      This is interesting David. I wonder if the following thoughts add anything? We are, I imagine, all familiar with the image of the “dharma” as a “raft to cross the ocean of suffering”. I have raised elsewhere the question of how we would know that we had arrived and could leave the raft behind. (After all – it will be in this life won’t it? We don’t believe in any others…)

      But what if the dharma is a needle which we use to get a splinter out? What if we keep on probing with the needle after the splinter is out? That painful, sore, irritating feeling – is it the splinter? Or is the needle now causing all the problems?

      • david says:

        Hi Peter, rafts and needles eh? I don’t know. Sounds like something from the Gospels. Maybe I’m just a camel up the creek without a paddle but these kinds of parables do seem to come back to haunt us, don’t they?

        If – as the 4NTs tell us – the ‘other shore’ is free from suffering then we simply aren’t going to get there, are we? Not until we die, anyway. So we’ll spend our lives carrying a raft around on our backs, not to mention tearing up our flesh with the sewing kit.

        Of course, we do our best to make a ‘better world’ and ease our troubled minds as best we can, as people have always done. But that’s never really been what Buddhism’s about, is it? Buddhism promises the impossible and I suppose it appeals to (some of) us because our reach ever exceeds our grasp and that’s what heaven (or nirvana) is for. We come up with all sorts of Utopias – political, social and spiritual. They inspire us and torment us, maybe in equal measure.

        Stephen writes “Is it Buddhism which soaks the malcontent into our bones, or is it just us turning Buddhism into another facet of samsara?” Perhaps Buddhism was always just another facet of samsara. The more I go on the more I think of the ‘path’ as a koan of sorts – although I don’t think it was ever meant as such. It bundles up all our absurd and unrealistic wants into a grand fantasy of ultimate liberation and then shatters it with the light of experience. What’s left then? Maybe a kind of peace.

        But then I’m just a lazy so and so. The idea of saving myself from myself by my own efforts hasn’t appealed for a long time now. I prefer to sit idly under a tree and take curds from passing maidens.

        • So David, what happens to Buddhists who can no longer go for the ‘grand fantasy of ultimate liberation?’ Are they still Buddhists? And you? You’re spending time on this conversation. How come? Where does your hope lie?

          Sorry, just noticed your earlier comment, which I read after this. I see where your hope is: in what you can reach. I’ve said before that I didn;t get from Buddhism any othe fireworks I was expecting. What I did got, once I was over my disappointment, was far more mundane … and much more worthwhile.

          • david says:

            Stephen, you ask me what happens to Buddhists who can no longer go for the ‘grand fantasy of ultimate liberation?’ As a former Tibetan Buddhist you’ll know the answer to this. They go to hell. At least, that’s where I was told I’d be going.

            Are they still Buddhists? Well, I’ll leave that up to them. As a ex-X Buddhist it’s not really my place to judge. Personally, I was only too glad to dump the title.

            Why am I spending time on this conversation? Because my detox from X Buddhism has been long and difficult and I’m not there yet. As part of this process I do read Buddhist blogs and websites from time to time. I am fascinated by how people react differently to the same teachings. It helps me to put my own experiences into some perspective. That’s how I came to be here and why I’ve taken an interest in SNB. Also, as I’ve said, I did like your article and have followed the responses to it. Does that adequately answer your query?

            My hope, such as it is, lies in muddling through as best I can, just like most ordinary folk. There was once a time I entertained fanciful notions about spiritual advancement but thankfully I no longer suffer from that particular malady. I guess to a Buddhist this must sound pretty lame, sad even. Funny old world.

        • David: you end on a sad note, but your opening paragraph cracked me up. You sound like you’re in a sane place.

          Sorry if my questions seemed like a grilling, but like you I’m interested in humans and our motivations, in particular the inner effects of rejecting The Big Hope. Like you, I delved back into things after my apostasy and came to a surprising peace. The Buddha rejected religious form; I rejected it. He suggested that the habit of self-identifying with things was painful, and that rings truer than ever, though also as hard as ever to kick. He (or the myth of him) is still my hero. What a story, to have survived twenty-six hundred years of spin. And look at all these comments; we all of us — Buddhists, non-Buddhists and even ex-Buddhists — are still spinning it.

  32. Archaeon Archaeon says:

    Thank you, Stephen, for your efforts and presence in this blog entry!
    I genuinely respect and appreciate the wealth of opportunities offered — it’s all deeply thought provoking, meaningful, and helpfully challenging. I sense a kind of alchemy in my internalizing of the material and following commentary, and the education that presents itself by virtue of evaluating what follows. There’s a homeorhesis between your work and my journey…

    The exploration and elucidation of Myth was refreshing and of particular interest. I wonder if some of us would benefit from deepening and expanding our capacity to regard the value of Mythological reflections — and I’m curious, in the context of the differing regard of myth, does the term “mythopoetic” mean anything to anyone here? Incidentally, there seems a perceptible bent amongst evangelical anti-theists and anti-secular Buddhists to showcase straw-man rhetoric around most things myth usually using the word in the popular pejorative. This leaves me reflecting on the aesthetic valuation and poetic sensibilities of those who tend toward this.

    I confess a kind of morbid fascination with the climate of celebrated guile and vitriol I perceive from certain comments here as well as [and particularly at] the SNB site. I’d hazard to say there’s a fecundity of growth, decay, death and evolution of perspectives available from such charged dialectic.

    The high voltage electrostatic charge that’s zapping many seems to be built up around the dielectrics of social/existential trust and vulnerability — so foundational to how we behave:

    “Am I safe?”
    “Are ‘they’ safe for me/my tribe?”
    “Can I trust [whatever]?”

    thoughts?

    • Hi Archeon: The most interesting thing about myth is the amount of effort put into proving or disproving it as fact. Its real power lies in the narrative itself. I stopped identifying as a Christian, and then as a Buddhist, decades ago, and yet my mental images of the Christ and the Buddha are still heroic. I still want to live up to them. Figuring out how to do that is so hard that most people rely on others to do it for them, and so we get institutions that see themselves as keepers of truth.

      Did you invent the term ‘mythopoetic?’ You weren’t the first. It’s in the OED under ‘mythopoem,’ but you’re probably hinting at something different. The great divide between me and the SNBs is over their imperative that words be ‘right.’ I’m more concerned that they touch people. The human intellect has great power for good, but it also messes us up, especially when we forget its contingency.
      Poetry certainly touches people in ways that abstractions cannot. It demands a light and imprecise touch, and yet it must be perfect.

      You’re right: there’s, “a fecundity of growth, decay, death and evolution of perspectives available from such charged dialectic.” Despite everyone’s irritation here, we all keep coming back for more. I’d like to believe it’s not just ego.

      But the sense of belonging … O the urge to take refuge in consensus: “If others agree, I must be right!” Is there a more primitive source of intellect? My shame at having given into that was what propelled me out of the fold; was why I ultimately forsook the comfort of my teachers and fellow monks.

  33. wtompepper says:

    At the risk of inciting more blind fury, I offer a brief comment on the question of myth.

    Myth, or any kind of fiction, has enormous potential to reveal the truth. The great advantage of fiction is that our existing system of knowledge cannot express, in terms we recognize as “factual truth” certain things that are really existing. Fiction has the potential to push the limits of our language and our thought–to force truth to appear, to produce new terms for the erstwhile ineffable.

    On the other hand, myth can also serve to foreclose truth, by smoothing over the contradictions and aporia of a system of knowledge with beautiful illusions.

    I am a Shin Buddhist (no, seriously!) and the pure land can serve as a myth to remind us of the potential we have to work for a better world, or as an illusory promise that helps resign ourselves to the world as it is.

    It’s not the myth that’s the problem, it’s how you read it.

    That said, I shall humbly await correction of the “serious weaknesses in my position” from the vastly superior wisdom of the Naked Monk.

  34. Dana Nourie Dana Nourie says:

    wtompepper, I agree with you completely about myth, and I like the way your worded the above.

    “I am a Shin Buddhist (no, seriously!) and the pure land can serve as a myth to remind us of the potential we have to work for a better world, or as an illusory promise that helps resign ourselves to the world as it is.”

    I find the above fascinating! I haven’t known any Shin Buddhist. Is your viewing the pure land as a myth typical of Shin Buddhists? I know very little about that tradition. Where did the pure land myth originate? I like the practicality you’ve put into seeing the pure land as a way to align yourself with the world as it is. Really interesting!

    Thanks!

  35. wtompepper says:

    Dana,

    I’m not quite sure whether my comment was clear. I am suggesting that the pure land is best understood as a myth that motivates us, that helps us see that our nature is not one of greed and hostility, that those are the result of our cultural conditioning–when we contemplate the pure land, we never thing of power, money, hierarchies, etc. Schiller once suggested that the aesthetic can serve to motivate us to work toward a better world, and this is how I see the myth of the pure land. Unfortunately, it is often used like the christian heaven, as a promise of future reward for present misery, to convince the poor to put up with their oppression.

    This is a very contentious issue in Shin Buddhism. There are many others who see the pure land as a myth, but there is also a strong contingent who insist that it must be understood literally–a kind of Shin fundamentalism.

    Most Shin Buddhist would agree, however, that we can’t begin until we accept the world as it is–but accept it in the sense of not living in denial, or wasting time wishing it were better, or lamenting our bad luck. We need to see reality just as it is, with brutal honesty, in order to change it. Jodo Shinshu was once a powerfully radical force in the period of transition from the Heian to the Kamakara period in Japan, and was banned because of its potential to lead to peasant uprisings. Today, in Japan, it is often referred to as “funeral Buddhism,” because it has been so thoroughly institutionalized that the only time Shin Buddhists go to the temple is for funerals; I think this is terribly unfortunate, because the radical, liberating potential of Shinran’s teaching could be very useful in our world.

    • Beautiful, sensible and well-said!

    • Dana Nourie Dana Nourie says:

      Thank you so much for the explanation! Unfortunately, what we often hear of other Buddhist traditions is the fundamentalists’ side, the squeaky wheel, so to speak. It seems to me when we get to the heart of any tradition, that Buddhism really focuses on the same things: seeing the world as it really is, seeing how connections to it, and getting to our compassionate nature,

      Thank you for sharing your views. Appreciate it! Sometimes people get the impression that because we practice secular Buddhism that we are against the traditions, or have rejected them entirely, and it’s simply not true. Most of us come from other traditions, some of which we reject, but some of which we still embrace (the common nuggets across all traditions it seems), and most of us have inquiring minds that enjoy hearing the perspectives of other Buddhist traditions. I’m ignorant to Shin and really enjoyed reading your post.

  36. Peter K says:

    Dana, the following is an interesting site (and I’d be interested in your view of it Tom):

    http://echoesofthename.net/

  37. Archaeon Archaeon says:

    I’m going to take hold of the privilege afforded by being a member of this community [although not a secular, x-, non-, or Buddhist of any stripe] and suggest a re-visioning of perception of Glenn & Tom’s and other irritated SNB’s 2-dimensional comportment.

    To me, it comes down to this:
    These men are hurt—really hurt— as we all have our “core wounding”. And they’re trying to outsmart existence with only their heads — like most of us do. Most significantly, they distrust nature — deeply.
    We might see that this is what accounts for their intellectually petulant vitriol.
    The heroic and Apollonic project for being in control of who’s right and who’s wrong will —for a foreseeable time— not yield any kind of a down-in-the-mud of shared human condition conversation that offers basic warmth and camaraderie and an intention of guileless yet challenging dialectic .

    I’d hazard to say that one would need a low yield nuclear device to blast though the distrust, cynicism, and vitriol. It’s painfully apparent that well-intended gestures of trust, compassion, and empathy are apparently not enough. Meeting and shaking hands with good-will is out of the question. They want a revolution. And that’s okay; their grimacing white-knuckeld insistence on a revolution towards being right will in all likelihood not impact our own human projects.

    Interestingly, it’s as clear as day that these men and some of their followers have a form of fascination and fixation toward Schettini and Batchelor and a few of the SBA’s articulate participants. I sense they feel a there’s a valuable edge offered by continuing to argue with them. It gives a sharpening stone that isn’t readily and conveniently available to provide the instant gratification that comes from refuting anything that’s offered in what is otherwise hoped to be a heart-centered conversation. I have genuinely wondered if there’s any kind of positive regard on the part of SNB’s for friendliness and equanimity.

    It’s also clear that there’s charge and frisson of delight that’s sought after and deeply enjoyed when they get to express righteous indigence at anything touching on their raw exposed nerves. I genuinely suspect there’s a psychological archetype model of the clever adolescent polymath savant who [amongst other things] is prone to having intellectually petulant shit-fits — a kind of behavior that makes them prone to “shoulding” over everyone. Those of us who with experience of such types may wish to hold a chair for them in the recovering meetings of “Trying to outsmart Ourselves” anonymous. My inclination is to simply hold space for them in the guileless and non-co-dependent manner that is about detaching with evolving compassion.

    Perhaps a maintenance-only engagement of SNB’s presence is what is called for — some appear to be effectively opting to interact at a minimum. We might do a kind of social yoga in an effort to cultivate a more natural reflex of acceptance towards them.

    I will now watch, listen, and wait to see what, if anything, unfolds — and whatever does unfold, I will use as ‘grist for the mill’ in my education…

    • Thanks for weighing in Archaeon, and especially for the humor; I’m totally knackered. You’ve got to give these guys one thing: they have energy.

      • Archaeon Archaeon says:

        Sure thing, Stephen.
        I hear ya on being ‘totally knackered’!

        They certainly do exert a remarkable level of LASER-like energy — a feature of behavior we might find helpful in modeling that which we may wish to spend or conserve for use in our own unique ways…

        We can choose to detach with a kind of love and self-care that de-potentiates the zap-factor we face from the guile, vitriol, petulance, contempt and cynicism they seem to wish to comport themselves with.

        For me, it’s an ongoing ‘inside job’ of evolving measures of trust, friendliness, education and equanimity that does not hold out expectations for wholesale reciprocity in others. I believe those measures —along with the troublesome striving for the securities of certainty— are what our innermost woundedness and vulnerability most long for…

    • Archaeon Archaeon says:

      apologies, Stephen, in misspelling your last name above 🙂

  38. wtompepper says:

    Archaeon: One question: can you in all sincerity claim that in your above post, in which you so nobly take the high road of acceptance, there was no passive-aggressive hostility? No “bad-faith” hostility in the form of back-handed insults masquerading as tolerance? Are you willing to be dishonest enough, or perhaps just sufficiently lacking in self-awareness, to claim that your post was not completely motivated by cowardly hostility? Your response seems to be the very definition of what Sartre means by “bad faith.” You have once again posted the same tired, sophomoric arguments, with a few scattered personal insults made obliquely, and simply call it detaching with love.

    For my part, I will openly admit to thoroughly enjoying provoking to petty hostility those who claim to be more experienced Buddhists promoting kindness and sympathy. I get great pleasure out of the thought that a new comer to Buddhism might read Stephen’s angry tantrums and steer clear of his blog. Or read the petty personal insults and passive aggressive hostility in your posts and be warned that they will find no real wisdom here. Please keep in mind that, while you seem to think we at snb are “obsessed” with you, I never posted a thing here until Stephen posted a personal remark about me. And I wouldn’t have posted again, except I was really curious what he might perceive as the errors in my essay–which HE said he could and would point out.

    And I couldn’t help laughing at the suggestion that I am cynical. Most of my leftist acquaintances think I’m ridiculously optimistic to continue to believe that people have the capacity for self-insight and the potential to change the world for the better.

    • Archaeon Archaeon says:

      Hiya Tom! Two answers to your one [loaded] question:

      1) Yes

      and

      2) You have choices

      I expect we’re each capable of choosing to loosen restrictive bonds of our indignant irritability — and yet we’re just as entitled to have a party with them!
      Indignant irritability may be the motor-force that drives one to a sought-after revolution — and if that’s the case, more power to ya!
      With respect and in all likelihood, your efforts will not significantly impact existential projects of the thinking organisms who find themselves reading these words. Neither will my contribution have such an impact.
      Perhaps, as Emerson avers, “People seem not to see that their opinion of the world is also a confession of character.”
      And, as Anis Nin aptly observes, “We do not see things as they are, we see them as we are.”
      So perhaps to some extent my character is a reflection of those observations I’ve made while, at the same time, your leading question[s] and other telling remarks reveal aspects of your character preferably unbeknownst to you.

      My working hypothesis is that we each have an ‘immortality project” that inexorably compels us to strive to transcend our fragile condition though whatever means available. When we go to sleep each night, our consciousness experiences a sort of death — or at least a sufficiently terrifying loss of control — such that at some level, we are reminded of the oblivion of death we face each moment.
      By exerting our most strenuous efforts through the leverage of our intellect, we knowingly or unwittingly participate in this immortality project — and at some cost to a quality and condition of living that we could otherwise be content with or regret at our death bed (so to speak). A quality and condition of living, say, filled with love of our children — or moments of friendliness and joyful gratitude — or coping with bigger-than-life challenges that make all this intellectual bantering insignificant and a waste of this one precious and all too brief time we’ve been afforded to live. Such struggle is simultaneously our beautiful and lamentable pathos.

  39. Glenn Noam Chomsky Wallis Glenn Noam Chomsky Wallis says:

    Is that really all you guys can offer: indignation fueled by presumption?

    You presume to divine our mental states, our “core-woundedness” (is that from Dr. Phil?), our emotions, our motivations. From your descriptions someone might think we hire Rush Limbaugh to ghost-author our texts. How telling is it that no one could get the slightest inkling of what kinds of arguments are being put forward at the Speculative Non-Buddhism blog from your responses? What does that say about the nature of your responses? SS’s entire post had to do with a quite elaborate argument I made. You could never guess that from his post. Why not? He said he was going to “point out the weaknesses” of Tom Pepper’s argument; and we got was pop-psychology and indignation. Why?

    We are crafting careful arguments concerning the conceptual rhetoric and ideological force of Buddhism in contemporary western society. The discussions at the blog are, by any measure, thoughtful and pointed. Yes, those arguments and discussions are sometimes laced with word-pepper. I know that that is the case because I take great pains to do so. But I don’t do so for the reasons you and SS and others here divine (core-woundedness, anger, disappointment, etc., etc.). I do so to smoke out the pretension, deceit, and indignation of people who, in the name of “naturalism” and faux-science and dharmic self-sufficiency, presume to offer unassailable teachings to alleviate the suffering of our ailing middle class.

    Let’s try again. Hit it Noam:

    The system protects itself with indignation against a challenge to deceit in the service of power, and the very idea of subjecting the ideological system to rational inquiry elicits incomprehension or outrage, though it is often masked in other terms. —The Noam of Chomsky

    I am outta here for reals, hommies! Peace! And good luck!

  40. Archaeon Archaeon says:

    An office mate returned to work today after being absent for the last month while he was seeing his beloved father transition to death. Sitting near him this afternoon, I imagined what he must be dealing with. And I incidentally pondered the likelihood that the last thing he’d want to do would be to engage in any of this charged and stratospherically lofty cerebral back & forth. We’ve talked over aspects about it at some length it in the recent past — before he took leave…
    I imagined that if I were naïve and insensitive enough to think that he’d want to talk about any of this SBA post or commentary at this point in time — well, it’s a fair guess my old friend would dismiss it all as pointless in face of his grief:
    ‘Are you serious? My dad’s parting just left a gaping hole in my heart! I tell you what, go off and wrestle with what I’m going through for a while in a way I can resonate with — and then we’ll talk.’

    It prompted my brooding over the quality of egoic defensiveness and positioning going on here.

    In the end, I asked if I could just hang out with him for a moment and sit near the depth of what he’s going through.

    Memento Mori.

    Thank you, Enrique, for gifts you unwittingly offer in your pain

  41. Matthias says:

    This thread is a problem – for the Secular Buddhist Association.

    This thread shows nowhere, at no place, in no kind, any discussion of the arguments presented in “On the Faith of Secular Buddhism in particular or in regards of the case of non-buddhism is general.

    Instead it shows nothing but an ongoing defamation of the people involved in the non-buddhism project by those here who do not agree with this project.

    The culmination (so far) of this defamation is presented by Archaeon in this statement.

    It is an demagogic attempt to sully every person which is involved in or feels sympathy for the non-buddhism project. It is an aggression which hides behind a facade of understanding.

    Archaeon says about people interested in non-buddhism:

    These men are hurt—really hurt— as we all have our “core wounding”. And they’re trying to outsmart existence with only their heads — like most of us do. Most significantly, they distrust nature — deeply.

    ‘They’ are “really hurt”, ‘they’ try to “outsmart”. In other words ‘they’ are sick and befallen by hubris, ill-minded in one word – but oh, ‘we’ understand. ‘We’ all know this, the sickness, the wounding that is, not the hubris of course. Nonetheless, what distinguishes ‘them’ is, “they distrust nature – deeply!” What is this? If it is “most significantly” then this “distrust” must be something really bad, like a mortal sin. Who does not love nature? It is her ‘we’ all come from, it is the great mother, mother earth who gives birth to ‘us’, the god given jewel in a dark and cold universe. How can somebody not love this jewel and even distrust it?

    So, this sequence already reveals the real thought of Archaeon: ‘These people’ are not only ill, ‘they’ are turning against the most holy being itself – being. ‘They’ are against that what supports ‘us’ and gives ‘us’ life. It is not possible to be more evil.

    But what is the implication, what has to be done with such devils?

    The picture Archaeon paints here already says all what he has in mind. The “distrust” against “nature” and its implication is the core of his argument. And this deadly, devilish sin is the motive

    for their intellectually petulant vitriol.

    With this it becomes also clear where the propellant for ‘their’ behavior comes from. And it is clear what quality ‘their’ intellectuality really has. It is simply malicious.

    But to what avail? What do they want? It is

    for being in control of who’s right and who’s wrong.

    Being in control! Is this clear enough? ‘They’ want to control!

    ‘They’ are so sick that ‘they’ attack nature/being/mother earth itself, from this sick depravity comes ‘their’ petulant vitriolic malicious intellectuality and in the end ‘their’ goal is control.

    Now, what has to be done with ‘them’. What is the implication from this? What has to be done with such creatures? Obviously

    well-intended gestures of trust, compassion, and empathy are apparently not enough.

    They are so bad, nothing helps. Now what?

    The answer is clear: Extermination!

    One would need a low yield nuclear device to blast though [sic] the distrust, cynicism, and vitriol.

    Just through in the bomb.

    ——————-

    Archaeon’s infantile fantasies are clearly laid out in his statement.

    The structure is: ‘they’ distrust and put into question the highest – that is the quality and motivation of ‘their’ being – ‘they’ want to control – therefore ‘they’ are a threat to ‘us’ => ‘they’ have die.

    The polarity them=bad/us=good is clearly visible. The instinctive reaction is to kill the perceived aggressor. Its xenophobia. Cognitively anyway and hopefully not so much with real people.

    Everyone with a bit of experience how to decipher different layers of a text can see this. In this case it is all too easy. One can see this everywhere on the internet – especially with people hiding behind anonymity like the author in question. But people who equate signs with meanings clearly will have difficulties to see this.

    I make one prognosis: With such a person in the right position in an authoritarian or totalitarian structure free speech is impossible.

    Beyond this I have no further interest in this (especially not in any discussion with the mentioned author). My main intention with this is the following.

    Is this statement to be left here in this discussion as the last word?

    Are you Stephen Schettini really “totally knackered” by this?

    Ted Meissner, Mark Knickelbine, Linda Blanchard, Ron Stillman, Dana Nourie and last but not least

    Stephen Batchelor!

    and whoever contributes also here on this site:

    Do you think this should be the last word in the discussion? The nuclear bomb for the critic? Not only that nearly all of you have no opinion, if you remain silent then this defamation is also written in your name – a speech which has the typical rhetorical structure of any other demagogue whose job it is to indoctrinate, to think for the morons and to gather them into the fold by stirring up aggression against strangers.

    ———————————- Is this your mindfulness? ————————-

  42. jonckher says:

    hi all
    i have been hanging out and reading through the posts and comments on the spec non buddies blog for some weeks now and i am beginning to understand a little what their angle is. even if i did get a d minus the last time i tried to summarise their position.

    anyway, imo they are best understood as posing the following questions:

    do you believe or need to believe that the buddhist teachings contain an exclusive set of discoveries or truths or principles?

    are you finding yourself increasingly referring to the dharma in thought and discussions to the exclusion of other bodies of knowledge?

    do you believe secretly or otherwise that the practice of buddhism will cure, save or otherwise make you a better person? if so why only buddhism?

    are you finding that buddhism is taking the place of other potentially more socially and politically engaged activities and approaches?

    anyway, thats my take on things. i found myself asking those questions of myself as i read through their admittedly difficult presentation. many of my answers were yes. which have in turn prompted a great period of growth.

    with metta

  43. Ted Meissner Ted Meissner says:

    Hi, Matthias. My apologies for the delay in publishing your Comment, normally these go through without but WordPress seems to have tagged it for moderation — no offense was intended.

    Certainly that one comment is not the last word, yours is now here, and other responses will be as well. I think we’re seeing a collective action of backing away from what has been a difficult and at times aggressive dialogue, as we’re not seeing any progress towards any kind of resolution. Indeed, one may not be possible.

    My question, and please do understand I mean this quite sincerely, is what would you like to have happen? I’m simply not clear about what the non-Buddhism interest is — is the goal to close down exploration of a non-religious option for Buddhist practice? Shut down the podcast and this site?

    Thank you for any light you can shed on this.

    • Ted: I think they’re trying to convert us.

      • Ted Meissner Ted Meissner says:

        *chuckle* Picturing someone knocking on the door on Saturday morning with the Majjhima Nikaya in hand!

        On a more realistic note, it sounds like we may have some common ground from the posts that came after this. More to come, responding to those soon.

    • stoky says:

      I don’t know about Matthias, but as someone who’s more familiar with Secular Buddhism than with SNB I’d like to respond anyways.

      “as we’re not seeing any progress towards any kind of resolution.”

      Well, the reason for that is quite simple. Nobody tried it.

      What I would like to see is quite simple: A serious engagement with Glenns criticism.

      Just a couple of examples.

      “First Article of Faith”

      Under “Guiding Principles” it says “Secular Buddhism understands the four noble truths as an accurate, empirical description of the experience of living, and as a methodology of understanding, social behavior, and mental development.”

      If this is true, how does it fit in with being a skeptic? Can’t we question the four noble truths? If we accept the four noble truths as “working hypothesis” then what’s different from “traditional Buddhism”? They also have working hypothesis (e.g. that the Buddha could recollect former lives).

      “Second Article of Faith: The Buddha”

      Why do you still refer to “The Buddha”? Why do people say things like “I think the Buddha wanted..” instead of “I want”. Why does it say at the forum “Please exercise Right Speech in the discussions.”?

      If the responses of secular Buddhists in this thread in line with Right Speech I’d rather go back to the SNB-site being called stupid again.

      If you have faith in the Buddha, can you be Secular? If you’re Secular can you be Buddhist? Glenn Wallis suggests that you can’t be both. If you all agree with him, then why is this project called Secular Buddhism?

      Someone asked about the answers SNB is able to give. I have no clue about that. But guess what: They have interesting questions! Let’s get started asking these questions! (I saw you asking about your own faith at the SNB-site that’s a start e.g.)

    • Matthias says:

      Hi Ted,

      what I wanted to happen by my post? That a Buddhist recognizes the aggression, and especially the kind of aggression in the post I mentioned. That obviously that does not happen. Buddhists seem oblivious to any kind of aggression from their ranks.

      It is not about loosing ones temper or being polemic, it is about this certain kind of rhetoric which has nothing in mind but to debase. Ok, I have said enough, I am out.

      For your questions …”is the goal to close down exploration of a non-religious option for Buddhist practice? Shut down the podcast and this site?” …perhaps I am too tiered, it’s 0:55 in the morning here, I don’t get what they have to do with what I said.

      Sorry, no more light, Matthias

      • Ted Meissner Ted Meissner says:

        I do recognize the aggression, Matthias, on both sides. And post with some regularity of the aggression we see right now against Islam by monastics attacking their mosque, as one example. My preference is that we all try to do better — me included.

  44. wtompepper says:

    Ted,

    I would suggest that the goal is more to give secular buddhists something to think about. What I read on this site suggests a substantial diversity in approaches. Some members seem to have no trouble at all with thinking critically about their own assumptions, others react quite violently to the very mention of thought. Somewhere on this site, in the last day or two, I read a post from someone who mentioned that it was not meditation, but thinking about Buddhist teachings, that gradually transformed their attitudes and actions–the writer seemed to be a bit guarded about suggesting this, as if thinking about ideas were NOT a kind of meditation and so might be a less important activity. This, for me, highlights the core problem with some (not all) folks in the secular Buddhist camp: there is an assumption that thought is always forbidden by The Buddha, as a source of delusion, and that real Buddhism sticks with emotion, particularly the intense experience of emotion, and that the highest form of Buddhism is the intense experience of negative emotions like grief and sadness. That is often described as dealing with “reality” and life “on the ground” while thought is delusion and escapism and avoidance.

    So, my interest would be mostly to encourage thought. Because my understanding of Buddhism is that the goal is to STOP feeling all those negative emotions, and that in order to do that we need to recognize that they are caused by socially produced structures of experiencing the world; this recognition, this understanding, which can lead to eliminating those negative emotions, really does require thought. This is why there is such an enormous history of philosophical thought in Buddhism. The concern, for me, is that some secular Buddhists are presenting “secular” as equivalent with and anti-intellectual cult of emotional masochism. I find this quite troublesome, and quite contrary to anything I could understand to be Buddhism.

    I can’t speak for others, but what I would like to have happen is more of what I saw on that post I referred to, where there is some suggestion of how to practice (meditation does NOT mean wallowing in miserable FEELING, it really CAN include thought), and how it can actually help us stop being miserable, not just learn to tolerate grief and sadness and anxiety etc. If secular buddhism becomes a mere fascination with pride in how much suffering one can experience, then I would suspect most people would have more interest in the non-secular varieties with their blissful states and substrate-consciousness.

  45. Ted Meissner Ted Meissner says:

    Hi, Stoky. Thanks for your insight, it does help paint the picture.

    “as we’re not seeing any progress towards any kind of resolution.” …. Well, the reason for that is quite simple. Nobody tried it.

    Seems that way.

    What I would like to see is quite simple: A serious engagement with Glenns criticism.

    I would be interested in that as well. The problem I think we’ve had on the SB side is that we all got bundled into one example in the initial post, and I find it to be inaccurate a description of (for example) my own interests.

    Perfectly willing to be shown what I may be missing, but am not very interested in any participants telling others they’re wrong when inevitable differences occur.

    Under “Guiding Principles” it says “Secular Buddhism understands the four noble truths as an accurate, empirical description of the experience of living, and as a methodology of understanding, social behavior, and mental development.” If this is true, how does it fit in with being a skeptic? Can’t we question the four noble truths? If we accept the four noble truths as “working hypothesis” then what’s different from “traditional Buddhism”? They also have working hypothesis (e.g. that the Buddha could recollect former lives).

    Excellent questions! It is provisionally true (being a good skeptic!), like any “true” thing, for our initial stake in the sand about what a secular Buddhism might look like. It was a matter of being concise to not include what I just said, which is more comprehensive and accurate, in that first draft. These are guiding principles, not permanent laws that will never change. As for how it fits with being a skeptic, it does in the same way as anything — we’re not taking the four “truths” as accurate because of an assertion, we understand (provisionally accept) them as accurate descriptions, not laws, and we go only that far based on our experience, not based on scripture. We can certainly change our minds and this text based on new information. We use four noble truths as a term of reference for the Buddhism savvy audience, but honestly I am personally a bit uncomfortable with the classic language and would rather use something, well, more secular 🙂

    Absolutely, we can and should question the 4NT’s. I do! The concept of life being suffering, inherently, seems to disregard that it is also joy. It takes the stance of an aversion to the experiences of living, rather than an appropriate perspective on our engagement with them. To *me* (but not necessarily all secular Buddhists), this is where the experience of observing impermanance, and how that helps me not get too bent out of shape about the shit hitting the fan, is evidence that meets my skeptical requirements for having something demonstrable, repeatable, and predictive to point to as provisional validation of the concept.

    It’s a working hypothesis, yes, based on that experience, not based on scripture, so we are welcome to question it and we may find other, more accurate, concepts that help us.

    Why do you still refer to “The Buddha”? Why do people say things like “I think the Buddha wanted..” instead of “I want”. Why does it say at the forum “Please exercise Right Speech in the discussions.”?

    Actually, I tend to use Gotama instead of The Buddha for exactly that reason. Buddha is an honorific that puts a person (if there was an historical figure, and I really don’t care one way or the other) on a pedastal that I find to be unhelpful in supporting practice. People say they think the Buddha wanted, I suspect, because of either a relatively religious approach (as Stephen Batchelor does say his practice is) to Buddhism, or out of a habit. Many folks may simply not have questioned the link between teacher and teaching. To me, the veracity of our practice is independent of who formulated it. I use the example of e=mc2 being valid regardless of whether Einstein wrote it all the time, and just recently used the example of algebra being taught outside of the context of Egyptian roots — so why do we need to teach this practice in the context of an ancient Indian tradition and world view?

    I think we don’t!

    Right speech is, again, just shorthand for don’t be a jerk. Again, my personal preference is that we not use that kind of language, but this is no longer just my podcast site where I make all the decisions. It’s a group effort, it’s wonderful to be able to share the load, and I can be flexible on minor phrasing like that.

    If you have faith in the Buddha, can you be Secular? If you’re Secular can you be Buddhist? Glenn Wallis suggests that you can’t be both. If you all agree with him, then why is this project called Secular Buddhism?

    I don’t have faith in The Buddha, that’s wrong in two ways. First, my use of the word faith is informed by a Judeo-Christian upbringing in “things unseen”. To me, that’s the Mark Twain quote, “Faith is believing something you know ain’t true.” Or, at least, have no valid evidence to even provisionally accept, to be more accurate. I’m atheist, I’m materialist, that’s my idealogical stance. I’m happy to be shown that’s wrong, but not asserted that’s wrong. Second, it’s incorrect for me because of the whole The Buddha pedastal, which also accepts Gotama’s historical veracity. I’m not an historian, and again, don’t care, because my practice is not dependent on it. So the question of having faith in the Buddha and being secular is a no-start.

    I think, and others disagree, that one can be secular (in both the “this world” and the “non-religious” sense) and still be Buddhist, if we view Buddhist (as I do) as someone who has a practice that is primarily informed by that teaching, rather than someone who accepts all the assertions not in evidence. Hey, it’s a scale. One Theravadin practitioner recently called all Mahayana practice as not being Buddhist.

    So, in agreeing with Glenn, note that I only agree with parts of the limited slice he used — Stephen B as the example for all secular Buddhists is, I think, too limited a data set to accurately reflect the diversity of those self referenced as secular Buddhists.

    Tom, will reply to you soon, have to run!

    • stoky says:

      Thanks for your reply, Ted. Although I appreciate your thoughts I think we should pose these questions (not mine but the underlying questions) to the community as a whole and not to individuals.

      As to your argument that the current version of the guiding principles is more comprehensible but less accurate:

      You’re actively attempting to create a community here, which – as a process – is difficult to control no matter what. Additional to that Secular Buddhism is (by definition) right on the edge of two diverging streams of thought (Secularism and Buddhism). That makes it very likely that things are going into the wrong direction. I’d argue that we *need* more precision. If the path you’re walking is very small (following Glenn it doesn’t even exist) you need a more precise map.

      When Thanissaro Bhikkhu argued that secular Buddhism is no Buddhism (due to the lack of the concept of rebirth) people took the time to consider the argument and to respond.

      When Glenn Wallis argues that Secular Buddhism is not Secular all we get is “we don’t care” and “but they’re so angry/mean!”. Maybe they don’t practice right speech, but Thanissaro Bhikkhu doesn’t practice Secularism and we still listened. Now SNB practices “question everything” and the response is “we don’t care”? Really? That’s it? Someone is actively showing us where the boundaries for this project are and the response is “not caring”?

      Honestly Ted and others, I appreciate your work here. But every time I think about this discussion here, the “what the fuck?” in my head gets bigger. To repeat the question of Tom, Glenn and others: Doesn’t this whole thing make you think? If it doesn’t I’m out here too.

      Anyhow, I gotta go repair my rice steamer and do some math. Fixing things and thinking. Seems like a good thing to do…

      Have a nice day and thanks for all the fish 🙂

      • Ted Meissner Ted Meissner says:

        And thanks for yours!

        I agree, let’s post these to the community as a whole. We’ve tried to provide a means to do that by starting an entirely new site to foster Commenting and a Discussion, what do you see as the next step for us to encourage that community participation? This is pretty public, but I agree that it would be better on the Discussion pages, rather than on an individual article.

        You have a very good point about how having more precision being something we may need, and I will consider that more as we look at revisions to things like the Guiding Principles. Before we had nothing, this was a starting point for discussion, not the final word. So of course it’s not perfect, we need to walk before we can run, and crawl before we can walk. This seems to be an experience not limited here, but everywhere — you put up a starting point, and people are critical that it’s not everything they’re looking for. Granted, that’s not something I’m going to be able to do with absolute efficiency. I do this to provide some way for people who think in a similar way to engage with it, that’s all.

        My hesitation about *precision* is that we inadvertently foster *exclusion*. That is my primary divergence of opinion from Glenn’s original article, that it may have had elements that are correct about an individual’s approach, but not all approaches.

        Yes, Glenn’s article got a lot of negative responses, agreed. It also got some thoughtful ones, it was not all “we don’t care”. They are good questions to have been asked, and I did my best to respond to them, and continue to do so, because I think we need to investigate them. But they are not our only questions, they are not our only areas of effort, and they are not going to get our undivided attention. We’ll do our best.

        • stoky says:

          Well, I understand your worry about exclusion, so maybe two remarks about that:

          * Sometimes more precision leads to less exclusion. For example right now the Guiding Principles suggest that you have to value the Four Noble Truths in order to be part of “Secular Buddhism”, if you’re more precise about that you’ll also include people who don’t “believe” in them. (btw, I don’t really care about the Guiding Principles, they’re just a nice example)

          * Not everything has to be included. I always got the impression from your (Teds) statements that skeptical thinking is an essential part of Secular Buddhism. If you try to include things that are in contradiction of skeptical thinking you actually remove skeptical thinking.

          Wallis’s intellect is capacious and dazzling. He seems to believe it will lead somewhere new; therein lies his faith, perhaps. However, my bet is that his intellect is just as circular as yours and mine. Where will thoughts ever lead but back on themselves? They have their uses, but to reformulate them as New and Improved is just one more mind game, in fact a very old one. Ideas are tools of communication, not tickets to freedom. Sooner or later every decent idea is hijacked by yet another Quixotic search for meaning in a meaningless universe.

          Thoughts will not lead to anything new? Questioning does not lead us anywhere? Then, why do we question here the concept of rebirth? Why do you, Ted, feature scientists at the podcast who use their intellect to investigate the processes of mindfulness?

          Maybe I’m just missing something. Maybe – again – my English is not good enough. Maybe.

          Well, maybe not. Maybe Stephen Schettini does not “believe” in question-everything. Then what? Is skeptical thinking no essential part of the project this site is about? Is it just a fun little hobby like painting and listening to music? Some of us do it others don’t?

          • jonckher says:

            Hi Stoky,

            I’ve just been looking through all the comments you’ve left on this blog and have to say that I agree pretty much with where you’re coming from. I also see that these are the kind of discussions that are forming and informing what Secular Buddhism means for us.

            Personally, I do find the guiding principles a bit restrictive even though I can see that a lot of thought has been put into them and that many people would get a lot of value and assurance from them. But no one is forcing me to sign anything and I don’t see any excommunication style panels around so I’m not too fussed (1).

            For me, and this is my 2cents worth of contribution as to what Secular Buddhism is to me, it’s pretty simple:

            “Secular Buddhism supports atheist based approaches and inquiries into the myriad schools, traditions and practices of Buddhism.”

            A goal could be added for those more metta minded: “with the goal of facilitating the improvement of individual and societal well-being.”

            Anyway, that is kinda what I see in all of these secular blogs and comments anyway. And the goal appears to be a common Buddhist goal too.

            (1) Mind, I would cringe a bit if real-life friends looked at the guiding principles and assumed I was that kinda person

        • stoky says:

          Maybe I should add that I still appreciate the work of the SBA (including Stephen S. and Teds work here).

          I also (in contrast to some others here) value Stephens opinion, really.

          I’m just a bit confused right now. So I’m not so much asking for change, but for clarification. That’s all.

  46. Ted Meissner Ted Meissner says:

    Thanks for the thoughtful response, Tom. I do appreciate your taking the time to write it, and will do my best to respond as attentively.

    I would suggest that the goal is more to give secular buddhists something to think about.

    I’m good with that, and would rather we not be complacent. It’s why I was interested in having Glenn as part of the Advisory Council — to help keep us honest.

    What I read on this site suggests a substantial diversity in approaches. Some members seem to have no trouble at all with thinking critically about their own assumptions, others react quite violently to the very mention of thought.

    Exactly. We’re not all interested in recreating what an original teaching may have been, though certainly some are. We have very different ideas about Gotama’s role, too, and we’re certainly not all from a naturalistic or even atheist background. And participation here on the Discussion forum is open to the public, so it’s not just the core contributors, expanding that diversity even more.

    Somewhere on this site, in the last day or two, I read a post from someone who mentioned that it was not meditation, but thinking about Buddhist teachings, that gradually transformed their attitudes and actions–the writer seemed to be a bit guarded about suggesting this, as if thinking about ideas were NOT a kind of meditation and so might be a less important activity. This, for me, highlights the core problem with some (not all) folks in the secular Buddhist camp: there is an assumption that thought is always forbidden by The Buddha, as a source of delusion, and that real Buddhism sticks with emotion, particularly the intense experience of emotion, and that the highest form of Buddhism is the intense experience of negative emotions like grief and sadness. That is often described as dealing with “reality” and life “on the ground” while thought is delusion and escapism and avoidance.

    Ah. Yeah, I hear you. Yes, more diversity, and again, not my particular way of responding to experiences. Thought is not a bad thing at all, and there does tend to be a traditional view of meditation in our habitual ways of viewing it. That needs to be questioned. I’ve not heard here that a ‘real’ Buddhism sticks with emotion; I’ve always seen emotion in traditional contexts as being a combination of physical and mind states. But I could be wrong.

    So, my interest would be mostly to encourage thought. Because my understanding of Buddhism is that the goal is to STOP feeling all those negative emotions, and that in order to do that we need to recognize that they are caused by socially produced structures of experiencing the world; this recognition, this understanding, which can lead to eliminating those negative emotions, really does require thought. This is why there is such an enormous history of philosophical thought in Buddhism. The concern, for me, is that some secular Buddhists are presenting “secular” as equivalent with and anti-intellectual cult of emotional masochism. I find this quite troublesome, and quite contrary to anything I could understand to be Buddhism.

    Yeah, we might need to spend some time addressing that, as I don’t think a goal *is* necessarily to eliminate emotions, positive or negative. They do come up, it’s how we deal with them that counts. Do we let them call the shots and guide our actions, or do we simply observe them and note that they are going to pass? Better yet (I think), what do they tell us about the situation, and how can we respond in an even better way than otherwise we would?

    I can’t speak for others, but what I would like to have happen is more of what I saw on that post I referred to, where there is some suggestion of how to practice (meditation does NOT mean wallowing in miserable FEELING, it really CAN include thought), and how it can actually help us stop being miserable, not just learn to tolerate grief and sadness and anxiety etc. If secular buddhism becomes a mere fascination with pride in how much suffering one can experience, then I would suspect most people would have more interest in the non-secular varieties with their blissful states and substrate-consciousness.

    Agreed and agreed! Again, thank you for this post. I suspect we are not as far away from shared goals and interests.

    • wtompepper says:

      Ted,

      Here is a good example of the kind of disagreement we can, and I think should, argue about: your position is that we cannot (perhaps should not?) eliminate negative emotions, that the goal is managing them; my position is that we can reduce their occurrence, and so we should. This, to my mind, would be a meaningful and useful discussion, and it bears on how we would practice Buddhism. It would require serious argument, disagrement, including making arguments you believe are correct against what you believe to be my errors. One problem of the “right speech” approach is that in our postmodern culture it has come to mean that everyone’s opinion is equally right, and nobody can every disagree–we can at most state differing opinions, but never give reasons for why they are good opinions to hold. I would prefer real argument. I would prefer to actually, as you suggest, spend more time addressing such questions, rather than accept the simple assertion of opinion form that passes for “right speech.”

      This, I think, is one source of Matthias’s (and my own, and others’) frustration and frequent “wrong” speech. When we present real arguments as to why someone else’s opinion is erroneous or not beneficial, we are met with angry personal insults (you’re arrogant is most common, but you’re deeply wounded and hiding from “real” emotion in “bad” thought comes close behind). We tend to respond with caustic impatience to such non-arguments, and to be less impatient with actual arguments.

      Another problem is, I think, what Matthias clearly indicates, the “bad faith” of some commenters, in the Sartrean sense. They respond with insults and hostility, and then when someone says to them “you aren’t presenting and argument, merely offering personal attacks” they claim we are “projecting” and deny the quite evident personal insult they have just themselves written. This gets us nowhere, and only draws hostile responses in return.

      One last difficulty is the frustration inherent in such arguments–there is a need, if argument is to get us anywhere, to occasionally (perhaps often) draw out the implications of someone else’s assertions. For instance, asserting that someone’s position depends on the implicit assumption that there is in fact a world-transcending soul, or that emotion is better and more “natural” than thought. This often gets the furious response “I didn’t say that, you’re twisting my words,” instead of the reasoned response of explaining why this assumption is not required for one’s position, or the acceptance that in fact it is. This is a difficult kind of argument to learn to participate in, and unfortunately in our pomo world such reasoned argument is often considered rude (wrong speech).

      Pardon the long post–I’m just trying to suggest some reasons for the difficulties of being “nice” in argument. They are avoidable, if we keep them in mind–but we also have to keep in mind that telling someone they are mistaken is NOT a wrong thing to do, it just depends on the setting. It is pointless and annoying to correct someone’s grammar at a party, but proper to do so when grading a term paper. When engaging in argument about ideologies and practices, it is proper and necessary to point out someone’s unexamined assumptions and errors; the same rules of conversation that apply at a cocktail party must not be observed in philosophical discussion.

      I am, though, curious about why you would see the elimination of negative emotions as a problem–do you see it as impossible, or possible but not desirable? Perhaps that’s a discussion for a different venue?

      • Ted Meissner Ted Meissner says:

        Hey, Tom.

        Here is a good example of the kind of disagreement we can, and I think should, argue about: your position is that we cannot (perhaps should not?) eliminate negative emotions, that the goal is managing them; my position is that we can reduce their occurrence, and so we should. This, to my mind, would be a meaningful and useful discussion, and it bears on how we would practice Buddhism.

        Here’s a good example of subtle word changes that have big meaning impacts. What I said was, “… I don’t think a goal *is* necessarily to eliminate emotions, positive or negative….” ‘Necessarily’ is the key word, it might be, and certainly that is an avenue of discussion. I agree with the idea that we can reduce their occurrence, we see this in action. However, total elimination of emotion is not something I’ve seen, and strikes me as indicative of either a reference to enlightenment, or being a Vulcan 🙂 I’m skeptical about the value of having unreachable goals we expect people to actually reach; if there are a bunch of folks walking around that are fully enlightened beings, if the practice inevitably leads to that in this lifetime, we should see a host of perfectly behaving and thinking people, especially from the monastic community that dedicates themselves to that practice. But we don’t. Or, if we do, how can we validate that?

        So, my experience is that we can attenuate emotions, and do a better job of having control over what we do with them. I am skeptical of their total elimination, and good topic for further discussion. Another: is that even limited to “Buddhism”, and what do we mean by that word. Make sense?

        …. One problem of the “right speech” approach is that in our postmodern culture it has come to mean that everyone’s opinion is equally right, and nobody can every disagree…

        I’m with you on that, and am of the opinion that we can discuss, agree, disagree, and examine each other’s ideas in a friendly fashion. That’s why I brought up my own disagreements with many of the people who identify as secular Buddhists, as they have nonetheless been very fruitful and thought provoking discussions, even if they do not lead to concensus. We will never get everyone to agree on everything. Traditional Right Speech does not include the receiver positively reacting to the message; sometimes you do need to point our problems, and that’s not always going to go well. But when we make our cases, we don’t have to be acrimonious. And, hey, I’d rather drop the whole ‘right speech’ wording itself, but that’s just me!

        …. When we present real arguments as to why someone else’s opinion is erroneous or not beneficial, we are met with angry personal insults (you’re arrogant is most common, but you’re deeply wounded and hiding from “real” emotion in “bad” thought comes close behind)….

        And in my case, I’ve been accused (including on Glenn’s thread) of trying to “cash in”, and have in other discussions been called stupid, ignorant, and lazy. Happens to all of us, and I’d suggest that even when we get static, we not reply with it. If we can’t be respectful, if not friendly, I’m all in favor of backing away and shutting up, because the possibility of positive gain is just about nil.

        Another problem is, I think, what Matthias clearly indicates, the “bad faith” of some commenters, in the Sartrean sense. They respond with insults and hostility, and then when someone says to them “you aren’t presenting and argument, merely offering personal attacks” they claim we are “projecting” and deny the quite evident personal insult they have just themselves written. This gets us nowhere, and only draws hostile responses in return.

        The initial blog of Glenn’s was perceived as being hostile from the get go. However much that may not have been the intent, lines about us having a “childish obsession with the ghost of Gotama”, that we have a “need to bolster up and preserve Buddhism”, or that we are working on a “phantasmagoric mythos sprinkled with pseudo-philosophical platitudes, bad science, and facile recommendations for living” is what set that tone. It’s not factual, it’s not friendly, it’s not an attempt at engagement — it’s insulting, and that’s exactly how it was taken. As you also have found that “draws hostile responses” in return, every person does. Let’s not start that way, and let’s not propagate it when it comes up.

        …. there is a need, if argument is to get us anywhere, to occasionally (perhaps often) draw out the implications of someone else’s assertions…

        Yes, totally agree. However, people have been told they’re wrong, rather than having a discussion about the implications of their point of view. On any side, that is not the best approach, and we should all move away from it.

        Pardon the long post–I’m just trying to suggest some reasons for the difficulties of being “nice” in argument. They are avoidable, if we keep them in mind–but we also have to keep in mind that telling someone they are mistaken is NOT a wrong thing to do, it just depends on the setting. It is pointless and annoying to correct someone’s grammar at a party, but proper to do so when grading a term paper. When engaging in argument about ideologies and practices, it is proper and necessary to point out someone’s unexamined assumptions and errors; the same rules of conversation that apply at a cocktail party must not be observed in philosophical discussion.

        Why do we have to argue instead of discuss? And we have a fundamental difference in approach, as I don’t think it’s helpful to tell someone they’re wrong. I find it more beneficial to ask about their point of view (rather than the person) in case I’m not understanding something, clarify that understanding, and then investigate the view’s inherent issues rather than telling the *person* they are wrong. That may certainly be something not everyone wants to bother doing, of course. And we all — myself included — make mistakes, and we don’t exercise that much thoughtfulness in our communications. If we can do better, great. If not, okay, and maybe exiting the dialogue is the more fruitful choice for the individual.

        I am, though, curious about why you would see the elimination of negative emotions as a problem–do you see it as impossible, or possible but not desirable? Perhaps that’s a discussion for a different venue?

        It’s a good question, maybe another thread, yes 🙂 But, as stated earlier, I’m skeptical of eliminating that normal biological response to our environmental situation as being possible. I am happy to be convinced, and could certainly be wrong!

  47. Stoky: First, Glenn’s right: any discussion of truths, noble or otherwise, roots the dialog squarely in the realm of religion. As I’ve said above, the SB Guiding Principles definition of the 4NTs doesn’t work for me. I see The Four as a summary of Gotama’s method, not as philosophical premises. I’ve described that above.

    Secondly, I have no idea whether Gotama existed, whether he achieved awakening or indeed whether any such thing is possible. I’m so profoundly doubtful that I feel obliged to call myself an ex-Buddhist. However, I do see those things as components of a myth that addresses my existential wishes. Tom Pepper wants, “to STOP feeling all those negative emotions.” That’s an eye-opening wish. Mine are less ambitious, but still keep me pondering the teachings that comprise the myth. My thinking is full of other threads, including science and Christianity, literature, poetry and art, psychology and communications. Buddhism is just one, but it’s one which took shape during my twenties. I can’t change the fact that it was formative. However, time has taught me that some of this stuff I can swallow and some I just can’t.

    What’s important to me is that we recognize these as wishes. If these personal, subjective concerns can’t be part of this discussion how is it to lead in new directions? I’m actually fascinated by Pepper’s faith, but he and I haven’t established any common ground, which is unfortunate.

    As for people calling for “Right Speech,” this is an open forum and they can say whatever they want. That’s certainly not in my vocabulary, but so what? People are in different places. What’s important isn’t their position but their trajectory.

  48. Ted Meissner Ted Meissner says:

    This is a good example of us having a variety of perspectives. Stephen has an appreciation and understanding of various areas of which I’m not even a novice — Christianity, literature, poetry and art, etc. — and his practice factors that in much more than my more narrow framework of being an atheist who’s active in both the atheist and skeptic communities. And we have some different ideas about Gotama, too.

    That being said, when we disagree we have done so with not just tolerance, not just acceptance of the differences, but open friendliness. We may or may not call it right speech, but it’s the kind of tone of discussion that I’m hoping we can get back to.

    Getting back to it is a decision we can make. I’m committing to that, however poorly I may have Commented in the past, and hope you can be patient and understanding with my misses.

  49. wtompepper says:

    Ted,
    I know this is off the topic of Stephen’s original post, but your way of putting the problem has sort of inspired me to look at it differently. It may be just the association raised by the reference to Vulcans (I am a bit of a sci-fi geek) but I think it is more the way you seem to consider emotions, which is dramatically different to my understanding of what an emotion is.

    Typically, the response that we should come to accept our emotions, we can learn to not be controlled by them, has struck me as a kind of sneaking in of the old atman, the deep true self that can detach from and remain unaffected by the world. However, the way you put it seems much more like a kind of stoicism, in the true sense (the stoics, of course, are the models for Vulcans, but only the popular misconception of stoicism). The stoic concept was that emotions are inevitable, and even good, but that we can cultivate the capacity to detach from them so that they have less motivational power—so that our reason can guide us more readily.

    Now, on my understanding of emotions, they are by definition motivational—if an emotion does not motivate an action, it is not really an emotion at all, but, in Spinoza’s sense, it is merely a vague or unclear thought. So, the kind of emotions you suggest we can have but not be controlled by, would from my perspective be unclear understandings of the world; for this reason, the very last thing we would want to do would be to simply accept them, because that is to suggest that an incorrect or unclear understanding of the world is fine and the best we can do. It is a kind of sad resignation.

    Oddly, then, I find myself in the position of arguing for the position that emotions are much more important than you suggest they are. It is not my position that we should be without emotion, but that we should cultivate a culture in which we have only positive emotions. I am, again, a bit of a Spinozist here, in suggesting that there are only “naturally” two basic emotions (often translated as sadness and joy): joy is when our ability to interact with the world increases, sadness is when it decreases. All other “emotions” like romantic love, sexual jealousy, envy, chagrin, guilt, anxiety, are cultural constructs, and there origins and functions can be examined and they can be eliminated from a culture, ultimately, if they are a result of sadness, and retained if they are a manifestation of joy.

    From my perspective, then, what it looks like you’re suggesting is not so much a fantasy atman that transcends the world, but a fairly depressing stoic resignation to the world as it is. I’m optimist enough to call for much more emotion, but only positive ones. This isn’t, of course, to suggest that we should all feel gleeful all the time: frustration can be a very useful emotion to motivate increased interaction with and understanding of the world, and so positive, while the pleasures of sexual possession would be a negative emotion.

    Incidentally, do you realize that in saying that we should argue without telling others they are wrong, you told me I was wrong more than once? Can you see how useful and necessary this is to any productive discussion? I was, clearly, wrong about what you were claiming (I emphasized the “is” because it was in quotes, you meant to emphasize the “necessary,” so my construal of your statement was, in fact, wrong, not just a difference of opinion that should be left as it is). If the term “argument” has strayed too far from its older meaning of giving reasons for a belief, and now means just “bickering,” then by all means the term discussion will do. But arguing or discussing, I would always prefer someone to just tell me when they think I’m wrong AND tell me WHY they think so—just offering up a profusion of un-argued opinions doesn’t help us come to and understanding

    As for the “host of perfectly behaving and thinking people,” I would say there are quite a few. I think we might differ on what that perfect behavior is, though. It isn’t always being kind in the “kissing babies and petting puppies” way; it is a matter of working to improve our collective understanding of and interaction with the world—which may, in fact should, require sometimes using harsh words or hard actions. I wouldn’t expect to find that at a monastery at all—for reasons I’ve addressed often enough over at the SNB site. The reactionary subject of Buddhism is not likely to practice in a way that increases the general wellbeing of the world.

    Thanks for all of your detailed responses to my comments here. They really have given me some new insight into this question of emotion that I’ll have to think through some more.

    • Ted Meissner Ted Meissner says:

      Hi, Tom.  Sorry about the delay, took yesterday off to visit friends and launch model rockets with their wonderful kids.  At least, that’s my cover story, the launching was actually for me  🙂

      … It may be just the association raised by the reference to Vulcans (I am a bit of a sci-fi geek) but I think it is more the way you seem to consider emotions, which is dramatically different to my understanding of what an emotion is.

      See, THIS is a common ground we can share!  There are a lot of us swimming in this pool who are sci-fi geeks!

      … However, the way you put it seems much more like a kind of stoicism, in the true sense (the stoics, of course, are the models for Vulcans, but only the popular misconception of stoicism). The stoic concept was that emotions are inevitable, and even good, but that we can cultivate the capacity to detach from them so that they have less motivational power—so that our reason can guide us more readily.

      That’s a little more in alignment with my own thinking about them.  And of course the usual caveat here that I don’t speak for all secular Buddhists!

      Now, on my understanding of emotions, they are by definition motivational—if an emotion does not motivate an action, it is not really an emotion at all, but, in Spinoza’s sense, it is merely a vague or unclear thought. So, the kind of emotions you suggest we can have but not be controlled by, would from my perspective be unclear understandings of the world; for this reason, the very last thing we would want to do would be to simply accept them, because that is to suggest that an incorrect or unclear understanding of the world is fine and the best we can do. It is a kind of sad resignation.

      Okay, got it, thanks for the explanation.  It sounds like there are simply different views of what emotion is, though the idea of “unclear thought” does certainly fit for both.  More in the next paragraph about that.

      Oddly, then, I find myself in the position of arguing for the position that emotions are much more important than you suggest they are. It is not my position that we should be without emotion, but that we should cultivate a culture in which we have only positive emotions. I am, again, a bit of a Spinozist here, in suggesting that there are only “naturally” two basic emotions (often translated as sadness and joy): joy is when our ability to interact with the world increases, sadness is when it decreases. All other “emotions” like romantic love, sexual jealousy, envy, chagrin, guilt, anxiety, are cultural constructs, and there origins and functions can be examined and they can be eliminated from a culture, ultimately, if they are a result of sadness, and retained if they are a manifestation of joy.

      So, a couple of things on this (in a good way!) poetry-dense paragraph.  I do think emotions are extremely important, sorry if I gave the impression that they are not.  They are helpful indicators of our sense of a given situation or environmental condition; if we’re scared, for example, we may need to pay attention to what’s causing that, as there might be a very good reason to be scared!  However, it doesn’t mean we should let fear run our decision making — we might not be correctly perceiving, or we may be practicing fear itself, escalating it to the point of giving it a Self, leading to “we have nothing to fear but fear itself”, which has its own damaging effects (affects?!).

      On cultivating a culture of only positive emotions, though it does seem like a good thing, I would suggest that what we consider negative emotions can nonetheless be beneficial — like in the fear example, if there really is something to fear.

      The way you describe Spinoza’s view, that there’s really just joy and sadness, and the rest are permutations, synchs up nicely with my own thoughts around the Buddhist concept of vedana — it’s either positive, negative, or neutral.  That’s not emotion, it’s very important to point out, but a response to stimulus.  We have a physical reaction of some kind, say the heart rate increasing, a feeling of tension in our gut, etc., and we also have a mental state of positive or negative excitation, or relaxation, etc.  In meditation on emotion (both on the cushion in more focused mind states, and off the cushion in full cognitive mode), it seems that like the self, they are complex *processes* that are perceived as monolithic states, but the don’t seem to actually be that when you look closely.  They seem to be a wonderfully complex and changing process of physical and mental states that we typically deal with on a conventional level as “happy”, “sad”, “content”, “in love”, “irritable”, etc.  

      If that’s the case, then emotions are more readily handled by that kind of understanding — that Sadness is not Us, that it is a combination of physical sensations and mental states, and as such do not have the power to rule our decision making.  That perception, and acting on it, takes practice that (for me!) is best done with regular meditation to increase one’s skill.

      From my perspective, then, what it looks like you’re suggesting is not so much a fantasy atman that transcends the world, but a fairly depressing stoic resignation to the world as it is. I’m optimist enough to call for much more emotion, but only positive ones. This isn’t, of course, to suggest that we should all feel gleeful all the time: frustration can be a very useful emotion to motivate increased interaction with and understanding of the world, and so positive, while the pleasures of sexual possession would be a negative emotion.

      Ah, sorry if I gave that impression!  Agree, not a fantasy atman at all, that’s just another misperception of the collective we conventionally think of as the given emotion of the moment.  I don’t think that this idea is depressing, however — I find it liberating!  Emotions happen, we can attenuate the occurrence strength and frequency, and they don’t call the shots?!  That’s frakkin’ fabulous!  Rather than resign to the world as it is, we can take in what our emotions are telling us about the world, and act in a more beneficial way to change it for the better!

      Incidentally, do you realize that in saying that we should argue without telling others they are wrong, you told me I was wrong more than once? Can you see how useful and necessary this is to any productive discussion? …

      I’m sorry, Tom, I may have missed it, but where did I say you were wrong?  Again, I’m not perfect, and not always fully aware, so my apologies if that’s what was written, but I thought the text was more along the lines of disagreeing with the *content*, not the *person*, no?  Can a person be wrong at all, or only the things that are stated?  It seems when we do say things like “you’re wrong”, we actually mean the thing that was said was wrong.  And yes, there is a person saying it, but is the inherent “wrongness” with them?  I would suggest it’s not, but rather the point about the real world that may be “wrong”.

      If the term “argument” has strayed too far from its older meaning of giving reasons for a belief, and now means just “bickering,” then by all means the term discussion will do. But arguing or discussing, I would always prefer someone to just tell me when they think I’m wrong AND tell me WHY they think so—just offering up a profusion of un-argued opinions doesn’t help us come to and understanding.

      That’s a good point, and you’re right, my sense of argument is more along the lines of bickering.  I prefer the more value neutral (to me!) term “discussion” or “dialogue”.  And I would rather not be told I’m wrong, I would rather have my discussion partner ask me why I have the view I do, and share their own different opinion.  Again, not to say I do this all the time myself, we’re human, and exercising patience with one another may help.

      But, this can also be hair splitting.  I’m painting a picture of where I would like things to go based on my own preference, others will have different ideas, and that’s the value of diversity as I might be wrong!

      As for the “host of perfectly behaving and thinking people,” I would say there are quite a few. I think we might differ on what that perfect behavior is, though….

      Okay, granted.  Who might some examples be?  There are certainly “good” people in the world, I don’t mean to imply there aren’t, but I would question who might be presented as being *perfectly* enlightened.  I’ve seen very respected teachers be irritated over trivial matters, and think that’s perfectly natural, even when one is very accomplished.

      Again, thanks for your thoughts, Tom.  This is an interesting conversation!

  50. Archaeon Archaeon says:

    The following may take us further away from the topic than desired — as when Ted expressed that perhaps it would be a fruitful thread of its own.
    Be that as it may, I’m deeply fascinated with this dialectic around the meaning and prescription of feelings / emotions: Stoic, Vulcan, positive and negative.

    I’m a single parent and participant in a community of grief workers — so when I hear definitions and prescriptions around emotions; my thoughts go toward certain pragmatic and challenging questions:
    While philosophical exploration and psychological prescription for mental/emotional hygiene is certainly helpful, insightful, and necessary — I’m left wondering: How does a person who advocates a stolid manner or hygienic approach of “dealing” with negative emotions actually bring their prescriptions [with empathetic gentleness] to, say, their own preteen children at time when they are most vulnerable and in need of love and assurance — while at the same time come at them at a level they can assimilate an feel cared for?

    How exactly would one tend to children or other dearly loved ones with a generalized prescription for dealing with negative emotion in a real-time emotional crisis? It’s situation dependant, right? I mean, what happens to the intellectual tidiness of carefully crafted and argued prescriptions when faced with real-world, down-in-the-muck crisis situations? How would one propose to comport themselves rationally for their children when taxed or overwhelmed with one’s own emotional stuff — as would be the challenge being a parent and, say, commiserating with the child over the death of their mother or sibling?

    In such actual crisis, do we give the same abstracted counsel of idealized emotional hygiene we’re talking about outside the situation?

    From a heart-centered perspective, theory about emotion fades into the background and we hopefully show up as a full-featured, trustable, and empathetic human to the one we love in their time of need.

    In writing all this, I certainly don’t want to imply that I have wisdom or mastery with this stuff — I’m just musing, brooding, and wondering aloud how others might comport themselves beyond the scope of idealized circumstance in this admittedly intimate affair of being emotionally available in relationship.

    This, I hazard, is one place where the rubber hits the road with respect to how we frame our favorite theories and definitions about emotion.

  51. wtompepper says:

    Archaeon,

    Maybe when a preteen child has just faced a tragic loss is not the best time to start teaching her Buddhist practices. It would be sort of like an overweight out-of-shape guy having a heart attack, and deciding to have him jog to the hospital.

    Maybe being a crisis worker you are more focused on such traumatic occurrences, but it is a mistake to say they are somehow more “actual” and less “abstract” than our ordinary everyday lives. Most of us spend very little of our lives in crisis, and most of our negative emotions arise over ordinary everyday things, like work and relationships. Where the “rubber hits the road” is not in the dramatic crisis moment, but in ordinary daily life. If we can learn to understand and transform our emotions at those times, the crisis won’t be so overwhelmingly difficult, and the sadness of loss will be a natural part of life. But someone who is deeply immersed in the kinds of emotion and denial of mortality that are so much a part of our culture will likely be in serious trouble when a crisis comes up–and trying to get her to adopt a Buddhist attitude while she is in a state of despair would be foolish and cruel.

  52. NaturalEntrust says:

    To Stephen Schettini

    I hope you still check in here now and then?

    You wrote: ”
    I see the Speculative Non-Buddhists as close cousins
    to the New Atheists. Disbelief in God (or the historical Buddha)
    is an imperative. He can’t exist, so you must not believe.
    I hate this religious attitude.”

    I am certainly no expert on The New Atheists
    but I started to read Dawkins 1976 and have
    read the others too. I own many of their books.
    I’ve been atheist since way before 1962 and
    the big difference is that many of the News Atheists
    comes through as Modernist in the sense of
    the Enlightenment of 17 century?

    While the little I know about Glenn Wallis is only
    from SBA site I refused to go to his site.

    Glenn to me looks like a post-Modernist and
    not similar to the New Atheists at all.

    So my naive take is that two Post Modern views
    are in some kind of inner fight about whom is
    most true to Post modern ways to relate to Buddhism?

    Could you see it that way too even if we disagree in the end?

    I feel very confused now. Why should we at all care about
    Glenn Wallis? Is he some kind of authority on Buddhism?

    Ooops I am atheist but I don’t see me as The New Atheist
    I am a very Old Atheist. The New Atheists say this:

    Your are an atheist if you lack belief in gods

    But the Old Atheists of 1962 we says something like this:

    Your are an atheist if you find The God of your tradition
    to have no reliable evidence that make it reasonable
    to believe in and therefor you don’t follow or support
    your local tradition that you grew up within. And your
    are an atheist if you treat all the other traditions that
    way when you recognize that there is no evidence
    for their claims of reality for their gods either.

    All that should be retold much shorter than I do here.
    I am word challenged so I can not be concise.

    There is a huge strife going on in Atheism so I am
    odd man out there and the The New Atheists are
    most likely winning over us old times due to us
    gets too old to survive our age 🙂

    Re Secular Buddhism. Not easy to know. Sure there
    are different takes within it but their relation to
    Jodo Shinshu Buddhism makes me very skeptical to
    if SBA can be inclusive enough to embrace metaphoric
    takes on Amida Buddha to be a natural part of SBA?

    Sure they allow me to do that but does not include
    Amida officially. They could interview Jeff Wilson
    and that way get some recent take on Shin Buddhism?

    Nope Jeff is not my Guru or anything I just think he
    seem to be a friendly Shin Buddhist

  53. Sorry for the confusion NaturalEntrust: I wasn’t defending myself against any perceived threat,merely stating that I have no interest in being part of any movement. I view the conflict within Atheism as very remote from me. As far as these pages are concerned, I’m not even a Buddhist, let alone Secular or Speculative Non. I used to be one, but now I’m just doing my thing.

    I can’t speak for whether Glenn’s a post-modernist. I find that sort of terminology confusing because you never quite know how your interlocutor understands by such loaded terms. I don’t think I disagree with Glenn’s philosophy very much either. I rather admire the way he pushes the envelope but find it hard to follow him. He and most of the SNBs, rather than concisely explaining what they think, use the names of other philosophers as shorthand for a whole point of view. I find this style elitist. Anyway, he obviously considers my objections to style irrelevant or illegitimate.

    I’d be surprised if you’ll find Secular Buddhists into Amida Buddha. I am not, but I don’t represent secular Buddhism. I’m just a writer.

    As for Atheism, do you mean simply non-belief in God, or belief in God’s non-existence? Few atheists explain this, and even fewer bother to define what sort of God they’re denying, Some of them really seem to think that the only notion of God is of an old man in the clouds with a long white beard. As a writer and communicator, I find there are times and places in which it’s appropriate to use the word God, in a literary rather than a literal sense.

  54. NaturalEntrust says:

    Thanks, yes easy to do mistake
    I do them all the time myself. 🙂

    You ask me this:
    “As for Atheism, do you mean simply non-belief in God,
    or belief in God’s non-existence? Few atheists explain this,
    and even fewer bother to define what sort of God they’re denying, ”

    Sorry, I have no idea what to answer. I thought I knew at being
    Ten years old. I only retold what my atheist Dad told me.
    then at twenty years old I thought I knew what atheism is or was..

    At fourty years old I had a personal crisis after a divorce
    and my proud atheist did not help me. Okay it had not
    promise anything of that sort so who where I to whine about it.

    Anyway Humanism did not help me with the crisis either to
    my big disappointment. Maybe I did not get what Humanism is?

    So I asked a Baptist Pastor to help me despite that I am atheist
    and want to remain atheist. He found that fair and reasonable
    so he did meet me once a week for an hour and we talked Jesus
    him from his faith and I from my anti-faith. Felt good that somebody
    did show deep respect and consideration for an opposing view.

    It helped me to come over my deep depression and I went
    to the most atheist religion that we had locally. The Liberal
    Quakers. Some of them where atheists too but never talked
    about it during the Silent meetings. So we sat silent for some
    20 to 60 minutes and then shared a meal of food or just coffee.

    Anyway they had several into Buddhism so I talked to them too.
    And others where into Rudolf Steiner and others into Left Wing
    Politics and I got to know all of them some 70 to 100 active members.

    Three years of almost daily exchanges. Meeting in person
    or making a phone call or each Sunday during and after
    the Silent Meetings. we maybe did not do Mindfulness
    but we “meditated” as what we saw individually to be
    the way we wanted to meditate. None instructed us
    we had to decide on such ourselves.

    That where my Sangha for three and a half years.
    One of the Buddhists where a German Nun in some
    Japanese Orden that wanted to build Temples
    all over the world. I’ve forgotten who they where.

    So we where incredibly diverse and one had to be
    very tolerant to others different take on God and
    Buddha and Brahma and Marx and what have you 🙂

    My current view on God is that most likely us humans
    came up with the idea of God and that God is a cultural
    idea that some believers internalize and relate to as a
    personal savior through Jesus.

    I wish somebody had talked about Amida Buddha
    in the way I know about Jodo Shinshu today.

    The metaphoric version not the literalistic fundy version.
    I think Amida explain my experience much better than
    what Jesus or Holy Spirit or God do.

    But natural science explain my experience even better
    but Science is not a “contemplative practice” and not
    everybody can be a scientist. Amateur Scientist?

    Even that is only for very bright people.
    I’ve met such and they lose interest in me
    when they realize how poor grasp I have of
    what science really is.

    So I need a reliable secular contemplative practice.

    I doubt that “Real” Atheists would approve of my
    take on Amida Buddha and Shin Buddhism 🙂
    Yes I have tested and they either get upset
    or they ignore me as a ridiculous fool.

    Maybe I am. Thanks for caring about me.
    Wish you all the best.

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