The Buddha: Cooked or Raw?

| March 28, 2014 | 15 Comments

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Reading the past is bit like interpreting a Rorschach test: the more distant the past, the blurrier the image, especially when the society in question was preliterate and archeological evidence is sparse. Over thousands of years the humidity of the plains of the Ganges River dissolved the mud, iron and wood that the people of the Buddha’s time used to construct their world.  The Pali Canon, which tells of the Buddha and his times, was not written down until three or four hundred years after the events described were supposed to have occurred. When the Pali Sutras were finally committed to writing, competing texts existed whose comparative antiquity is unknown, but which tell somewhat different stories of the Buddha’s life.  As Stephen Batchelor points out in his book, Confession of a Buddhist Atheist, the Theravada Sutra’s, like most founding religious texts, contain contradictory versions of beliefs and practices.  What we know of early Buddhism includes magical events, mystical experiences, moral dictates and elements of even earlier Brahminical ideas, along with bits of social, political and economic history.  Like interpretations of the famous ink blot, scholars and different Buddhist sects have varying versions of what happened.

Into this arena Stephen Batchelor has stepped throwing down a gauntlet to the religious traditions of Buddhism.  His is a courageous book.  Even if you disagree with it from a scholarly perspective, or because of your gut beliefs about Buddhism, the book will challenge you to examine that to which you have committed yourself.  Religious Buddhists may have the hardest time with the book because they either don’t share Stephen’s identity as “a late twentieth-century-post-Christian secular existentialist,” or they have different experiences of meditation, devotion, ritual, or service.  My sense is that scholars will question the assumptions and details of Stephen’s argument, and religious Buddhists will avoid engaging the book as they have his earlier arguments for a secular Buddhism.

So what does Stephen claim?  First, he presents his ideas in the context of his own experiences.  For about ten years he was a Buddhist monk.  He began as a Tibetan monk where he undertook intense intellectual training in the Dalai Lama’s Geluk order.  Although he found his teacher an inspiring human being, he grew dissatisfied with the closed nature of Vajrayana discourse.  Instead of probing issues, Stephen found Tibetan learning and disputation merely a way to reassert already closely held beliefs.  He describes the group with which he went to Switzerland under Geshe Rabten as a ‘Jesuitical vanguard’: “My mind honed by the subtleties of dialectics, primed to spread the Dharma to Europe…”   So after six years of teaching things he grew not to believe, he switched horses and headed off to a Korean Zen monastery.   Now suspicious of unchallengeable doctrines he spent four years practicing Zen, including long periods meditating on the Koan, “What is this?”  Although the existential essence of this practice appealed to him, he again found the unquestioning beliefs restricting.  Having been moved by meditating on the body with the Theravada teacher Goenka many years before, his Zen master’s assertion that mindfulness of breath and body was “no more meaningful than watching a corpse exhale,” disturbed him.  As he had become disillusioned with Tibetan’s fixed ideology, he found Koreans’ belief of awakened mind over matter another way of smuggling ideas of eternal Atman, god, or universal consciousness back into what he felt to be meditation’s role of inquiry without fixed conclusions. So, he returned to secular life in England to teach among the Western Theravadans along with his now wife, Martime, who had been a nun while he was a monk.

A few weeks ago I was in the sitting room of my little house under redwood trees in California, eating roasted, dried Salmon made by First Nations’ Tahltan matrons and rushing through Stephen’s book so I could finish it before a book talk he was to give.  On the walls of my room were an other-worldly framed embroidered skirt my mother brought in Chichicastenango, Guatemala in the 1950s for one dollar, a picture of the last Maori chief whose face was tattooed like an exotic brown ivory carving, a 1940s Argentinean caricature of two gauchos chopping a hardwood tree entitled “Cabracho lindo,” a huge moose antler I found last year in Shake’s Swamp in the coastal mountains of British Columbia, a Maori snake skin painting, and a water color of a ghost gum tree and blue mountains by the first Australian Aborigine to paint western style.  He was hounded for his hubris.  On a shelf filled with a life collection of tchotchkes, which people like to call an alter, is a carving in sitka spruce or giant red cedar I did on the Queen Charlottes in my first attempt at a miniature totem pole and a piece of bayo blanco or caoba I futilely tried to carve in the British Honduran jungles. The wood is so dense that it dulled my Buck knife and sinks in water.

Why would a person with my interests read Stephen with such ardor? The pictures of him as a Tibetan monk reprinted in Tricycle Magazine show an angelic man, while his journals of the time indicate how torn he then was.  Out of all his experiences this self educated, English hippie turned Tibetan then Zen monk has produced compelling explorations into the struggle many of us have gone through to find a meaning for life in our meditation practices.  His first authored book,  “Alone with Others” was written in 1980 when he was 27.  About the same time I had been sitting intensely for three or four years when Larry Rosenberg, who had earlier forced me to meditate when I was desperate, now ordered me to begin teaching meditation at the university where we had been colleagues.  He had been denied tenure some seven years before for doing such an outrageous thing.  I, erstwhile mathematician, political revolutionary, sociology professor, back-woodsman, electrician and car mechanic already had tenure and was to carry through for him.  I did so for 17 years in spite of the university’s sometimes not so subtle discomfort.  Now in Confession of a Buddhist Atheist I find Stephen, a middle class Englishman, some 13 years my junior, treading a similar path of discovery but through vastly different woods.

As he so readily admits, Stephen’s book is a construct.  He reads both history and the Pali Canon to create a Buddha for whom inquiry into the nature of suffering in this human body is the central activity of meditation, and things like karma and rebirth are inheritances from Brahmanism (not Hinduism which he well knows is a much later phenomena in India), and belief in them is to be put aside.  This, of course, runs head long into many traditions’ claims, that acceptance of them is fundamental to being Buddhist, and if you don’t accept them it is only because your practice is not deep enough to reveal their fundamental truth.  Like others, I was once asked by a well-known scholar-monk, who taught meditation, whether I was a Buddhist.  I replied with the question of what would make me one.  He gave the classic response: refuge in the Buddha, acceptance of (or maybe belief in) karma and rebirth and the four Noble Truths.  When he was surprised that I flunked the test, I responded, “I don’t know about being a Buddhist, but I have dedicated a good part of my life over the past 20 years to meditating and I guess I will continue to do so.”   Sitting at the Insight Meditation Society for 37 years now, I am troubled by how much it and other Theravada centers have become more and more religious.  Like Stephen, with respect to his Lama and Zen Master, I love and respect teachers I have sat with. I have watched some grow and mature in ways that I admire.   But still I am uncomfortable with the slide into religion.  Although Stephen dismisses Krishnamurti (and given what has been revealed about his life, there is now good reason to), his insistence on inquiry and silence deeply influenced my practice.   Being a forest yogi, I found the essence of Ajaan Cha’s, Ajaan Mun’s, and Mahabowa’s teachings to be very much in the same spirit.  It is interesting that my meditating in the wilds, rather than a monastery, has led me to much the same insights as Stephen presents.

Where I would argue with him is about the historical and textual evidence he adduces to support his position.  But then we are both intellectuals so this is all good material for learning—not a battle for the TRUTH, which we both reject, along with the idea of the absolute versus the relative.  Stephen asserts that the absolute is just another way of smuggling in GOD which all Buddhist sects do in spite of Canon references which indicate the Buddha, like the Tar-baby in Walt Disney’s “Song of the South,” was mum on the subject.

I may be wrong, but I think the origin of ethical Buddhism, i.e. splitting the moral and meditation aspects of Buddhism off from what seemed to be its cultural incarnations, lies in the so-called Protestant-Buddhism begun under British occupation of Ceylon in the 19th century. Some Empire builders were attracted to Buddhist ideas but turned off by what they saw as its heathen beliefs.  So they cleaned up Buddhism to make it more presentable, and were joined by some Westernized Ceylonese Buddhists.  We are indebted to them for bringing Buddhism to the West. *  When I first began sitting with Westerners who had come back from Asia, they either didn’t have or hid their Buddhist beliefs. They taught an ethical meditative practice.  So if one wants to practice Buddhism in this ethical form can one find support for it in ancient Buddhist history?  The citations from the Pali Canon that Stephen examines are a good starting point.  Among many other things in the Canon, the Buddha certainly asserts a pure inquiry perspective.  And if these are some of earliest dated utterances, as some of the traditions argue, they must be the most authentic—not something added by later editors or commentators.  But the antiquity of parts of the Canon is in much dispute.   In fact, no one is sure when (and if) the Buddha lived. “….The available sources do not allow reconstruction of the date of the Buddha exactly, because we have no convincing evidence whatsoever of reliable chronological information being handed down in India before Alexander’s campaign.”  Archeology and linguistic analysis are of some help here, but the record is incomplete.  Religious sources put the Buddha back in the sixth century BCE while some scholars see his death as late as the fourth century BCE.   New archeological finds on this are also disputed although believers have jumped on them as confirmation and have begun making pilgrimages.  (New York Times, November 25, 2013)   One scholar proposes that the Buddha’s use of humor and irony is a good argument for the Sutras having one author.  Others object to this thesis.   As another put it: prior to king Asoka, some 150 to 200 years after the traditional date assigned to the Buddha, there is little independent evidence of Buddhism, but after Asoka plenty.**

It is interesting how the image of the Buddha we embrace reflects the aspects of life with which we are comfortable.  While agreeing with Stephen’s conclusions about the essence of the Buddha’s teachings, it is interesting how Stephen, being a much more civilized person than I,  finds the Buddha a civilizing force in a developing civilization.  As the objects in my room indicate, I lean more toward the primitive and find in the Sutras and history evidence that the Buddha drew more on his relationship to nature as the source of the same sense of conditionality that Stephen emphasizes.  Stephen’s version of the Buddha’s immersion in civilization and politics of the time draws upon Sutra dating and archeology, which are themselves in dispute.  Arguing that the Buddha was deeply engaged in both palace and general politics, Stephen wants to make the Buddha a more realistic human being rather than a manifestation of detached saintliness.  In his desire to build a stable teaching community, the Buddha needed patrons and patronage meant compromise.   Patronage requires a social structure of cities, trade, and tamed countryside.  Of one of the major scholarly works on which Stephen draws, a reviewer has to say, “….evidence in support of the thesis that cities were well developed is thin.”  Descriptions of cities in the earliest dated parts of the Pali Canon are brief and scarce. And evidence for the material development, which support cities, is lacking.  Where it exists in the Canon, the texts are of a much later date.

I prefer a Buddha who was much more of a forest monk.   I would like his times to be earlier, at the very beginning of urban existence, when the cities, or gamas (this mysterious Pali word) could be anything from a crossroad with a few craftsmen, to a mud fortified village, to a caravan stopping place.  The great northern road that Stephen mentions connecting his developed urban centers, can also be argued to be nothing more than a forest path along which travelers proceeded with great caution, fearful of wild beasts, dacoits, and uncivilized indigenous peoples who may have been hunter-gatherers.  In the forest where Siddhartha wandered were also sannyasins (sramanas) of many sorts: matted-haired Brahmin ascetics, shamans, magicians, etc.  Moving in and out of gamas were seekers and shamans whose outlooks were pre-agricultural but were making their way into the budding towns.   In this scenario the Buddha’s insights into impermanence and contingency, are seen to be inspired by his confrontation with untamed nature and brought back to an emerging civilization where a new won freedom from agricultural drudgery possessed by incipient mercantile and ruling classes gave room in life for discontent to flower.  As that society developed it wrote into the Buddha’s story the aspects of civilization and politics which Stephen cites.  And the ideas of rebirth and karma that the Buddha took from earlier Brahmanism became embedded as beliefs in the growing religious institutions which his followers built with the help of ever richer patrons.  Stephen argues that karma and rebirth were an unquestioned part of the contemporary worldview, and while the Buddha’s original message didn’t support them, he did not argue against them.   From my preference for the wild as the inspiration for the Buddha’s discoveries, my ink blot has the porches on which some monks dwelled becoming monasteries in a domestication of Buddhism which held forest wandering as an icon but discouraged it.  All newfound civilizations war on the wild, and religions need to tame the charisma of wanderers for fear of their challenging revelations.  So the Four Noble Truths and the catechism of rebirth and karma with which Stephen had so much difficulty during his monkhood became embedded in religious institutions that, if Stephen is right, the Buddha laid the groundwork for in order to have his teachings survive.  In Stephen’s secular Buddhism, we need to deconstruct some of the beliefs, which underlie those institutions in order to return to the Buddha’s original discoveries.  I couldn’t agree more, although I might do it sitting under a tree with bugs and snakes, as my version of what the Buddha did.  Stephen has written a very provocative book.  It should be taken seriously by both meditators and teachers of meditation.

 

The title is a misappropriation of Claude Lévi-Strauss’ way of characterizing the effects of culture and society.

*Footnote: there are excellent references for what I have written here.  You can find some in the footnotes to “Meditation in the Wild.”  If you have  questions contact me at charlie@meditationinthewild.com

** I like to think that Asoka had a role analogous to that of Constantine in making Christianity part of the state. See my book for an elaboration.

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Charlie Fisher

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retired professor, naturalist, writer.

Comments (15)

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  1. Mark Knickelbine says:

    Charlie, this certainly is a good summation of Batchelor’s book, the issues surrounding what we can make of the Pali texts, and your own take on the situation. There is one assumption in it that both you and Stephen (along with most monks and scholars, and me not long ago)make, and that is that Brahmanic ideas appear in the Nikayas because they preceded Gotama’s teachings and therefore were part of the cultural background. After reading Bronkhorst, I am increasingly convinced that Brahmanism was not common in Gotama’s day and place, and did not become well established in northern India prior to Ashoka’s time. As Bronkhorst shows, the Ashokan inscriptions already attest to competition between Buddhists and Brahmins, but suggest that the Brahmanic culture that is depicted in most of the Nikayas did not yet exist in Northern India prior to then and probably not until sometime after Ashoka’s reign. As Brahmanism became the dominant religion by co-opting royal support, Buddhism had to compete with it, especially with its assertions of primacy and magical powers such as divination and other rituals that would be quite useful to princes. Read in this light, the obsession of the longer (and I think later) Nikaya texts with disputing with Brahmans, undermining their authority, disparaging fortune telling and other magic while asserting the spiritual powers of arahants, starts to make perfect sense. This would support the idea that many Nikaya texts were composed no earlier than about two centuries after Gotama lived, and it would also explain how and why Buddhism came to adopt many Brahmanic concepts, such as an emphasis on rebirth and escape from samsara as being its central goal.

    • Charlie Fisher CharlieF. says:

      Mark,
      I love revisionist history. I am not sure whether or not you are an academic scholar in the field but certainly both Stephen and I are amateurs. (He was the brains to learn Pali, but I am too old and lazy.) So we are a bit behind the curve with respect to the literature: e.g. the critique I cited of Stephen’s major source. Because of the shutting down of opportunity in universities and opting for other life styles, one finds some of the best work in history etc. done by freelance thinkers and even journalists. So now I have to read Bronkhorst whose work I don’t recall seeing, but I may have. I have no objection at all to redoing the sequencing of Brahminism and Buddhism because their internal histories are often self-serving, examples of how victors own history. I love the fact that Constantine chose among warring factions for reasons of state and then the parties wouldn’t adhere to his decision. Who knows what went on in Asoka’s time?

      I have been reading Doniger’s book, The Hindus. What a trip. With her irreverent style she manages to offend everyone. Her point that for Herappa and Mohenjo-daro we have abundant physical evidence but little to tell us what it meant whereas for the religion of the Vedas it is the reverse, little physical evidence of the reality in which Brahmins practiced what they spoke about. Still given the dating of the Brahmin’s oral texts, they must have existed at the time people say the Buddha did. But that does not mean their influence in the Sutras did not happen until much later.

      I will read Bronkhorst and get back to you if I find anything to add to this discussion. Meanwhile your reading is as good as any. Charlie

    • Linda Linda says:

      Bronkhorst’s logic is badly broken by a terrible tendency to take later concepts and apply them back in time to ancient texts. He has to come up with some pretty silly alternative timelines for texts and great thinkers to even begin to make his theories work.

      Here’s a good post on the subject:

      http://jayarava.blogspot.com/2012/07/revisiting-greater-magadha.html

      Mark and I will continue to disagree about why there’s so much rebirth in the suttas. I’m currently reading Joanna Jurewicz’ (hard to find) book “Fire and Cognition in the RgVeda” in which she describes the way the ancient poets who wrote the Vedas very intentionally used everyday spheres (migration, warfare, sex and childbirth, etc) as “source domains” to aid in the description of esoteric philosophies. What I see is the Buddha, coming along much later, using the same methods, very intentionally, in reverse — this indicates to me that he was quite familiar with the Vedic works, and I find support for this even in the older suttas. He uses the once esoteric philosophies of rebirth as source domains to aid in the description of what’s going on in everyday life. In those old suttas he uses Vedic concepts that were later claimed by those who claimed the title of Brahmins to make his points about how we live our lives.

      I do agree with Mark that Brahmanism wasn’t as big as we have tended to think it was in the Buddha’s day, and that it got to be much more of a factor later. But what I have found in my studies is that the society was very much more complex than we give it credit for — that those called “Brahmins” in the suttas were not much into rebirth at all but were more concerned with purity and ritual, and obtaining one good rebirth (they don’t talk much about morality leading to a good rebirth); that those who talk about cyclic rebirth and doing good deeds to get there tend to be ksatriya (warrior) class — kings and members of their court and staff, not those called Brahmins. And the concept of self-as-world seems to come from the heretic wanderers, not so much from Brahmins nor from the warrior-king class.

      Where I’d suggest that Mark is most spot-on, is that when Brahmanism became a bigger influence later on, many of the texts got changed. It seems quite evident that the bulk of the Nikayas got “pericoped up”. I would add that it is likely that at that point any suggestion that the Buddha was using rebirth as a “source domain” (the way Jurewicz suggests the earlier teachers used familiar life events) got lost or buried, replaced by an understanding of what he was saying about rebirth as being literal. More than anything else, the change in understanding will have come from those who believed that rebirth *was* the natural order.

      • mufi says:

        Linda: With this talk of the sources (and, implicitly, targets) for metaphors, you’re speaking my language (or at least to my amateur interest in linguistics).

        That said, to explain atomic or quantum theories, a physicist might use conventional experience of spherical objects, like balls or bullets, as his source domain. Whatever s/he thinks or believes about the metaphysics of such objects (e.g. that balls really exist or that they are really illusory) really doesn’t matter. So long as the source domain is apt enough to convey a sense in the reader/listener of the target domain (viz. atoms and sub-atomic particles, which aren’t literally balls or bullets), we have a working metaphor.

        So, in the Buddha’s case, I would agree that his use of rebirth as a source domain in metaphors – particularly, metaphors that target his teachings (e.g. the 4NT) – does not necessarily inform us of his beliefs about rebirth.

        But that much alone simply leaves us with an agnostic view on the matter, whereas traditionalists can always point to the plain textual evidence as a support for their more “gnostic” view.

      • Linda Linda says:

        Wonderful, mufi — spot on. If, in your comment about “But that much alone simply leaves us with an agnostic view on the matter…”, the ‘agnostic’ is referring to the suggestion that the Buddha is being agnostic/endorsing agnosticism (rather than — I think you did *not* mean — that we are left in doubt about the Buddha’s stance) then I believe that is the point. All his talk about the problems Views cause fits perfectly with seeing his teaching as teaching agnosticism. I think this is at the heart of what he’s saying about how to reduce suffering In The World (rather than just for our own little selves) because that sort of agnosticism increases tolerance, even empathy, for other peoples’ points of view.

        And, from that perspective of empathy, I’d say let the traditionalists point all they like. It also seems to me that the Buddha recognized that one cannot make people give up their Views — no amount of logic, pushing them to meditate, pointing out examples, or using source domains to increase the chance of a listener making the connections will get someone who doesn’t want to follow what’s being said all the way to its conclusion to go there. It is a little scary (I find it a little scary, anyway) to head into the level of uncertainty that it seems to me the man was saying is most useful — very uncomfortable at first — when “I don’t know, I honestly don’t know” is the most usual answer to any of the big questions.

        • mufi says:

          Linda: In other words, both teachers – the modern physicist and the Buddha – take for granted that their listeners will be familiar with the source domain – otherwise, it won’t be very useful in the metaphor, as a means of understanding the target domain.

          Is there any doubt that the physicist in my example believes in balls? Actually there is, since s/he might be the kind of scientific reductionist who claims that the fundamental objects of physics are more real than the objects of everyday human sensory-motor experience. But, unless s/he tells us so explicitly, we should indeed be left in doubt about the matter.

          Same with the Buddha re: rebirth. Based on my own limited experience of the Pali Canon, I would naturally jump to the conclusion that the Buddha believed in rebirth. But, if I’m reminded of the cognitive bias that psychologist Daniel Kahneman calls “What You See Is All There Is (WYSIATI)”, then I’m more inclined to wonder whether or not I’ve been too hasty in my judgment.

          That’s compatible with the idea that the Buddha also endorsed agnosticism, but it’s not quite what I meant. Sorry if that comes as a disappointment.

          • David S says:

            I’d agree with Mufi’s statement… “But that much alone simply leaves us with an agnostic view on the matter…” (if I understand him correctly).

            The texts themselves do not contain an explicit interpretation of the Buddha’s views on rebirth. That leaves the question of an agnostic approach up to us (not the Buddha) in reading the texts given they include aspects of multiple views.

            The texts could be interpreted as he accepted the truth of rebirth so fully that he did not intend to contradict them, only that he saw a different way to stress a relation to them through suffering’s release. Or it could be that he saw the issue of rebirth as a reference point in a purely tactical strategy of communication of a view that lay outside it. Both can be read within the texts. Other layers of interpreting come through in Mark’s comments on provenance issues given all those who passed on the teachings and all those who finally wrote them down.

            This leaves us with the ‘I don’t know’ stance of agnosticism, yet I move more towards siding with that of simply taking what I can and moving on with what makes sense given my experience.

      • Mark Knickelbine says:

        Linda, I appreciate that your thinking is evolving on this topic. And thanks for the Jaya link — he certainly knows more than I do on the topic. However, I think one need not accept all of Bronkhorst’s revised chronology to find strength in his evidence that Northern India was not Brahmanized circa 500 BCE, and that this process was finalized post-Ashoka. For my purposes, it’s enough to agree that the stylistic changes and shifts in doctrinal emphasis we see in later suttas (MN and DN especially) are evidence that the suttas were heavily revised substantially after Gotama’s death. Such an agreement would undermine the assumption that the Nikayas represent a doctrinally consistent body of work that can as a whole be used to buttress some orthodox reading of “what the Buddha taught.”

        • David S says:

          Mark I don’t understand this idea that Northern India was not Brahmanized. Didn’t brahmans originate in the practice of the Vedas circa 1200-600 BC? The brahman being the forth priestly staff who supervised/monitored the other priests? And this having originated in the Indus Valley of northern India?

  2. Carl H Carl H says:

    Re: Buddha and Bramanism, I’ve heard Stephen, as of last year, say that his reading of the Bronkhorst book had found him in agreement with the material, though he thought the author had a tendency to push his ideas a bit far.

  3. Michael Finley Michael Finley says:

    Charlie, is it really necessary to chose between the forest monk and the civilizing teacher of ethics? It’s plausible to argue that Gotama “ethicized” the religious/philosophical discourse at a time when urbanization along the lower Ganges was making the mores of tribal, agricultural society inadequate — but does that have to mean he drew his inspiration only from the cities? Thoreau’s contribution to public ethics as industry arrived in New England and the U.S. expanded westward was, I think, stronger for his time on Walden Pond.

    (There is a bias here on my part. I have done a large part of my meditation overlooking lakes & woods in northern Saskatchewan. There is a large, flat-topped erratic boulder above Redberry Lake (we fancifully call it the “stone of sacrifice”) that is quite comfortable to sit on … I don’t think that experience is irrelevant when I return to the city).

    • Charlie Fisher CharlieF. says:

      Michael,
      I would love to come sit with you at Redberry Lake. Google Earth does it little credit. My grandpa traded with First Nations at Lac du Bonnet and had a general store in Moose Jaw. Of course it is not either/or—I live in California and worked for a university. It is a matter of taste but when it comes right down to it: that society forgets the palpable reality of the raw, it does so at its own peril. See my book on Discontent for how species do themselves in and how human’s retreat into mind magnifies suffering.

  4. Mark Knickelbine says:

    Charlie, I am an amateur too, which may be an advantage when considering the Pali texts. For both the monk and the scholar, there is an inherent interest in the Nikayas being pretty much what they claim to be — contemporary accounts of the Buddha’s life and teaching. The monk wants his doctrinal authority, the scholar wants to be able to conduct textual analysis as if the Nikayas are one coherent body of work. Even in translation, however, it’s clear that the Nikayas are not a coherent body of work. It seems obvious to me that they represent a progression in both doctrinal emphasis and compositional style, one so dramatic that I don’t see how it could have occurred in one lifetime. They were obviously composed at different times by different authors with different ideas about Buddhism. Bronkhorst’s theory suffers from the paucity of available evidence, but it explains how the texts came to be as they are much better than any other explanation I know of.

  5. mufi says:

    Charlie: I look forward to reading your books, the first of which (Discontent) has been sitting in my Amazon wish list, since I heard Ted’s podcast interview with you.

    Historical origins aside, I presume that it is no accident that Buddhist meditation retreats nowadays tend to be situated in beautiful, less civilized places. With or without formal practice, there is something meditative in simply being there.

    I consider myself fortunate to live in such a place; that is, in (what the USDA classifies as) a “non-metropolitan” county, where such retreats can be found (albeit, partly because we’re also not far from metropolitan counties, where many of the retreats’ patrons live and/or work). Too bad these same retreats also tend to be too religious/traditionalist for my taste. Having heard that IMS was different (i.e. more secular/modernist), I’m disappointed to hear that it’s been moving in that direction.

  6. Michael Finley Michael Finley says:

    I forgot to mention in my last post how much I enjoyed Discontent when I read it last year.

    It is no accident that meditation retreats are in “less civilized places.” For me, I think meditation has often been a way to recover a state of mind that I first encountered in countryside and wilderness. A lot of my “meditation” is in fact “walking meditation,” though I doubt it conforms very closely to the traditional Thai model. Now, I’m lucky enough to have a cabin in a bird sanctuary that’s less than an hour’s drive from home. I don’t get further north into the boreal forest as often as I used to, but without the lake side cabin and the forest, I suspect I’d be much less sane.

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