Batchelor’s Ten Theses of Secular Dharma

| November 23, 2015 | 42 Comments

stephen_batchelorAll of the discussion on this website can be said to revolve around a single question: What is Secular Buddhism? How is it secular, and how is it Buddhist? What can we take from the traditional texts and practices, and what ought we leave behind? How does the dharma fit in with our knowledge from other realms, such as science, political culture, and the various wisdom traditions?

By and large, beyond our general Guiding Principles, the SBA has resisted promoting a set of settled answers to these questions. We have not been interested in creating a new set of doctrines, with their potential to ossify, first into dogmas and then into institutions and hierarchies. Taking Gotama’s teachings about anatta and his warnings about the thicket of views at face value, we have preferred to allow an open conversation to continue, watching to see what may arise organically from this process.

One of the voices in that conversation is Stephen Batchelor. In his new book, After Buddhism, he shares his most recent thinking about the nature of secular dharma practice in what he calls “Ten Theses of Secular Dharma.” I found them very interesting and provocative, and I thought it might be useful to share them here as a way of spurring consideration and discussion.

How do these theses sit with you? Do you think they’re useful? What do you agree or disagree with? Is this what Secular Buddhism is? How do these theses jibe with the SBA Guiding Principles? I look forward to participating in this discussion!

Ten Theses of Secular Dharma

1. A secular Buddhist is one who is committed to the practice of the dharma for the sake of this world alone.

2. The practice of the dharma consists of four tasks: to embrace suffering, to let go of reactivity, to behold the ceasing of reactivity, and to cultivate an integrated way of life.

3. All human beings, irrespective of gender, race, sexual orientation, disability, nationality, and religion, can practice these four tasks. Each person, in each moment, has the potential to be more awake, responsive, and free.

4. The practice of the dharma is as much concerned with how one speaks, acts, and works in the public realm as with how one performs spiritual exercises in private.

5. The dharma serves the needs of people at specific times and places. Each form the dharma assumes is a transient human creation, contingent upon the historical, cultural, social, and economic conditions that generated it.

6. The practitioner honors the dharma teaching that have been passed down through different traditions while seeking to enact them creatively in ways appropriate to the world as it is now.

7. The community of practitioners is formed of autonomous persons who mutually support each other in the cultivation of their paths. In this network of like-minded individuals, members respect the equality of all members while honoring the specific knowledge and expertise each person brings.

8. A practitioner is committed to an ethics of care, founded on empathy, compassion, and love for all creatures who have evolved on this earth.

9. Practitioners seek to understand and diminish the structural violence of societies and institutions as well as the roots of violence that are present in themselves.

10. A practitioner of the dharma aspires to nurture a culture of awakening that finds its inspiration in Buddhist and non-Buddhist, religious and secular sources alike.

— Stephen Batchelor

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Mark J. Knickelbine, MA, C-MI, is a writer, editor, political activist, and certified meditation instructor. "Buddhism Without Beliefs" and "The End of Faith" led him to seek out a dharma practice without the religious trappings of Buddhism. He found it at a local health clinic, where he learned mindfulness in the manner of Jon Kabat-Zinn. He has continued to study texts from the Pali, Chan and Zen traditions, and he is an active member of the mindfulness community at the UWHealth Department of Integrative Medicine. Mark is a member of the SBA board and serves as Practice Director.

Comments (42)

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  1. Jennifer Hawkins Jennifer Hawkins says:

    Hmm…

    These seem to suggest that a Secular Buddhist must also be an Engaged Buddhist. While I lean towards engagement (activism) and think it is essential that all practitioners of a Buddhism act/speak/etc ethically, I’m not sure about a “mandate” towards activism. It isn’t possible or even healthy for everyone to engage in activism. For some people, the more accessible and useful path is one of personal improvement that indirectly has a positive impact on the surrounding world. It’s not my path, but I think it is a valid one that should be accepted.

    Along these lines, there’s a lot of these that I “get what he is trying to express,” but don’t necessarily like the wording. For example, in #1, “…for the sake of this world alone.” What does that really mean? My presumption is that this means to focus on this one life as opposed to a more “literal rebirth / long term” view. However, this could be see as “the over-riding purpose of the Dhamma is to fix the world” and/or “a Secular Buddhist must be focused on the world at large” (as in Engaged instead of a more personally-focused path).

    I guess I’ll just go number by number:

    #2 = is great. I really like that he’s switched to using the word “reactivity,” and it’s especially helpful for my own thoughts.

    #3 = also has my unabashed support. It’s an unexpected statement that will probably have a great positive impact

    #4 = more unabashed support. Ethics is key and I think it’s worth emphasizing (given some of the questions / comments students in the Coursera: Buddhism and Modern Psych class have posed about Buddhist ethics)

    #5 = I’m really not sure about saying that the Dhamma “serves…” Something about that wording feels wrong. There’s too much emphasis on people as opposed to the Dhamma and the fact that everything (even the Dhamma) changes. (Not sure if that’s clear, but that’s the best way I can put this).

    #6 = I think it is very useful to reassure Traditional Buddhisms of respect.

    #7 = also largely true and perhaps important in light of recent scandals in other Buddhisms. I do feel like the wording could be misused, however. (“We’re all equals, so why does SBA have a Board of Directors?!”)

    #8 = I’m not sure what this one is really about or how it is truly different from #4. That said, of course I support ethics and compassion. ??? Maybe it’s about making sure that we care about the environment too and not just people? If that’s the case… it’s not that I disagree, but it immediately reminds me of the White House event where the only thing that came out of it was, “We should say something about stopping climate change” while there are innocent people dying to police and terrorist violence right now (or any number of other issues really). As if one can tackle climate change without addressing the issues of poverty and security. (Sorry, long annoyed aside. I just can’t believe that was the only thing they focused on instead of more immediate or underlying issues). Anyways, what to take from this… are Secular Buddhists required to be environmental activists? Also, if this is supposed to emphasize an environmental focus, then the wording needs to be more distinctive from that of #4.

    #9 = thank you!

    #10 = I agree that Secular Buddhism should look to religious Buddhist sources and to secular knowledge (like science), but I’m not sure about that “non-Buddhist” part. It feels like it might encourage the disrespectful “cultural appropriation” aspect of McMindfulness (if that makes any sense). Maybe it’s more that this seems to imply that there’s an obligation to look to things like Christianity or Shinto or something. There shouldn’t be an “obligation” and I don’t think there’s much in other religions that would necessarily be of GENERAL use (perhaps for individual people, but not in general).

    I hope these observations make sense. Some of these I really like. Others, I question the wording or what they are trying to express.

    • Mark Knickelbine says:

      Jenn, thanks for your thoughtful comments! I’ll try to reply to some of your numbers.

      1. I think you’re right that the pith here is “this world and not some other one in the afterlife.” But the wording does have the taste of that bodhisattva ideal that one necessarily practices on behalf of all beings everywhere. I personally believe that to be true — but ought it to be Secular Buddhist doctrine?

      2. Yeah! I think Batchelor defining “tanha” as “reactivity” is part of his effort in “After Buddhism” to accommodate the mindfulness movement.

      5. I think you’ve put your finger on something here. I can get behind the idea that “the forms the dharma assumes are human creations,” but that notion of the “dharma serving peoples needs” raises the question of what “the dharma” really is. This wording assumes that the dharma is somehow distinct from the forms it is manifested in. If that’s true, what does it mean, and how can it be true? My feeling is that the dharma truly is the human capacity for awakening from enslavement to reactivity. One of the ways that capacity can manifest is for an awakened person to recognize their connection with other humans and responding with a heartfelt desire to help others awaken. That is what leads to teachings, practices, texts, communities, etc.

      8. I think Batchelor would say that 8 is the natural extension of 4. If we believe our practice manifests in our behavior in the world, then our ethical choices will be based on the compassion, kindness, sympathetic joy and equanimity that our practice cultivates. Batchelor believes that building a culture of awakening is what Buddhists who are practicing for the sake of this world will be motivated to do. The end of 8 gives it an environmentalist feel, but I think the sentence overall suggests that we can’t exclude anyone from our hearts or our practice, including the Other, especially if the Other is in refugee camps or getting the hell beat out of him by a cop.

      10. Hmmmm. Here’s what I think. If, as I said above, the dharma is essentially a universal human capacity, then we should expect to see it expressed here and there throughout cultures and history. And I think when we look, we do, although within an incredible diversity of cultural understandings and expressions, and admixed with lots of other non-dharma stuff as well. So if I recognize the dharma speaking in the poetry of Kabir or Rumi, or St. Theresa, or traditional Native American stories, to say nothing of the traditional Asian Buddhist forms, is that not part of my heritage as a human being? Can’t I receive that wisdom without being a White Male Western Capitalist Appropriator? Is there not a valid argument that, since we’re all Lucy’s grandkids, all human culture is our common heritage? I’m asking sincerely.

  2. Jennifer Hawkins Jennifer Hawkins says:

    @Mark:

    #1: “But the wording does have the taste of that bodhisattva ideal … I personally believe that to be true — but ought it to be Secular Buddhist doctrine?”

    OMGosh that’s exactly it. I think it’s better for people to choose the appropriate level of “activism” (or outward focus) for them. Maybe it could be worded in a way that says, “We value improving the world – directly or indirectly.”

    #5: I think this one might be better as something like:

    “The dharma is subject to anicca (change) like all conditioned things. Each form the dharma assumes is a transient human creation, contingent upon the historical, cultural, social, and economic conditions that generated it.”

    I know this might come off as sounding uncomfortably “religious,” but part of the discomfort here probably comes from the fact that there’s Dhamma with a capital “D” (as in a Buddhist understanding of how the universe generally works – anicca, dukkha, anatta) and dhamma with a lower case “d” (as in more specific Buddhist practices and “phenomena” in the Abhidharmma). He’s most likely referring to lower case “d” – but even then, this wording evokes a sense of something for humans to use and abuse (think of how Genesis references how the land is for man to use). It would be better to say something that expresses that the dhamma (little “d”) is a path that was discovered and offered the most help to people, but there may be more than one path, there may be better paths, the path is subject to change as all conditioned things are. Also, my instinct (and I suspect the instinct of many) is that the Dhamma (with a capital “D”) would exist in some form with or without humans. Dogs can experience dukkha. Or if one’s definition of Dhamma is / includes the laws discovered by Western science, then a lot of that probably continues even when we aren’t there to observe it. I don’t believe Dhamma (capital “D”) “serves” man. I don’t know… just something about that wording.

    #8: True … but why not just combine #4 and #8 then? It can be done and it would probably be clearer. In fact, if part of the point is to emphasize that ethics should always include compassion for the other, then why separate the points? The points should be together.

    #10: The issue with #10 is more that it’s a kind of “mandate” as written – you MUST look for inspiration in all these places. While you certainly CAN and can even find things of use… should it really be a Secular Buddhist doctrine that you MUST? (If that makes any sense). It makes sense to say Secular Buddhists should look to Traditional Buddhisms and science and should explore a variety of sources… but I don’t know about creating this pressure to look beyond Traditional Buddhism and science as a NECESSITY. (We’re Secular Buddhists, not Theosophists.)

    As for cultural appropriation, personally, I think that this idea is often misused. There’s a difference between positive CULTURAL EXCHANGE (which is something that I believe is healthy and wonderful and has my full support) and CULTURAL APPROPRIATION:

    http://everydayfeminism.com/2015/06/cultural-appropriation-wrong/

    1. It Trivializes Violent Historical Oppression
    2. It Lets People Show Love for the Culture, But Remain Prejudiced Against Its People
    3. It Makes Things ‘Cool’ for White People – But ‘Too Ethnic’ for People of Color
    4. It Lets Privileged People Profit from Oppressed People’s Labor
    5. It Lets Some People Get Rewarded for Things the Creators Never Got Credit For
    6. It Spreads Mass Lies About Marginalized Cultures
    7. It Perpetuates Racist Stereotypes
    8. White People Can Freely Do What People of Color Were Actively Punished for Doing
    9. It Prioritizes the Feelings of Privileged People Over Justice for Marginalized People

    If you look at mindfulness meditation as used in MBSR or here at SBA – we don’t appropriate anything. There’s no taking “cool, Asian” stuff while ignoring that Asian peoples developed these techniques and should be respected. There’s no misinformation about mindfulness, no seeking for profit. However, as I hinted at in my response to the student asking about “McMindfulness”:

    http://secularbuddhism.org/forums/topic/i-need-help-answering-a-students-question/

    It’s possible for cultural appropriation to happen if we aren’t careful. If an “official doctrine” of Secular Buddhism becomes, “Look at everything and take whatever is cool” without a clarification of the difference between exchange and appropriation, you’ll get:

    A Euro American guy (sorry, but you’re the easiest to point to for this example) who uses “relaxer” on his hair, but one with acai in it because acai was used in “ancient Native American medicines” (and the acai is not grown Fair Trade – it is grown in mass production after Monsanto made a minor alteration and patented it so that it could charge the people who historically grew it for “copyright infringement”) having people pay $150+ USD for transcripts of his “Orisha energy guided mindfulness meditations” in which he says crazy inaccurate stuff about the history of meditation (and/or downplays the importance of Asian pioneers in the field) and plays up how “magical” this “ethnic” stuff is.

    He sure did look at a lot of sources and found a lot of stuff that he enjoys… but he ignores the history of those things – ignores historical violence and unequal power dynamics (i.e. using “relaxer” on hair or talking about “magical acai,” but not buying it from Native South Americans). He also makes a lot of profit – in part by playing to a negative (racist) cultural tendency to make non-European things “wild,” “exotic,” “magical” – and somehow not human.

    Anyways, that was a long aside, but my point is that I feel like #10 says “You have to go hunting for all the cool pokemon… I mean, religious stuff…” but doesn’t remind anyone of the difference between positive exchange and negative appropriation. And the more I look at people who are worried about “McMindfulness,” the more I see that a lot of it is not necessarily people against other people meditating or even modifying the practice so that it works better for them, but that people have this knee-jerk reaction against, “We’re not doing the religious part,” but it CAN go down the whole, “Let’s ignore who developed it, and it’s history, and some of the important context and just do it for profit like we invented it route.” It’s important for them to see how is SHOULD and CAN be as SBA (for example) does things – we talk about all of that history and context, and are inclusive not exploitive.

  3. RenCheng RenCheng says:

    Greetings,

    I believe that any Buddhist, no matter the tradition or manner of practice is an engaged Buddhist. For some it is engagement within a temple or monastery; for others it is engagement beyond the walls. Engagement does not have to be to the level of activism unless that is the choice made by the practitioner. A practitioner rises to the level of engagement that they view as useful and productive to themselves and/or their community.

    #10 – There are dharma lessons to be realized in every aspect of life from our livelihood (job, career) to our lifelihood (hobbies, activities, family, friends). As well there are dharma lessons to be realized from all non-Buddhist religious, spiritual and secular practices. Some are lessons on what to do . . . some what not to do. Buddhism had its arising as a result of Siddhartha’s quest to learn the practices of the revered holy men of his time and culture, Chan owes debt to Confucism and the Dao, Zen to Shinto, and Tibetan to Bon. The whole of the causal universe offers inspiration.

  4. Michael Finley Michael Finley says:

    Thanks, Mark and Jenn. Batchelor’s theses are a fine effort to capture the ideas that peculate through secular and non-religious dharma practice. I think it’s important that they are called “theses” rather than (for example) “tenets.” This implies that they are significant points for consideration & discussion rather than finished articles of faith. Anything I could add would mostly be nit-picking, but I’ll offer my reaction ;), taking them as an invitation to discuss.

    #1 Extremely important starting point, assuming it means (as I’m pretty sure it does) concern with ” “this world and not some other one in the afterlife.” But the wording did bother me a bit, and a bit more when I found both of you were bothered too. It does have an unintended religious tone: “for the sake of this world alone” perhaps sounds like it accepts that there is a world (or life) after death. Surely this isn’t intended to evoke the Bodhisattva ideal, but I suppose if there is as the suttas say, “this world and the next,” ignoring the latter could only be justified by something like the Bodhisattva ideal.

    A caveat: I’d like to know how deliberate the choice of words was. It possible that SB is trying to take an unalloyed agnostic approach, “without beliefs,” which suggests that escape from dukkha here and now is possible without definitively affirming or denying the “other world.”

    #2 I like it a lot. “Reactivity” is a good word, a good effort to find a word that works better in modern English than language than words like “attachment.” Not sure it’s perfect, but I certainly can’t do better.

    #3 What Jenn said.

    #4 Yes. Valuable both as a corrective to the self-focus that is particularly a problem for those of us who are affluent, western, consumers even of insight. More than that, there are other places than the dharma to learn concern for others, but I know that in my case at least, learning how I should speak, act, and work in the public realm with respect for others, without unnecessary rancor, and without letting my ego distort my actions, is something that mindfulness teaches best.

    #5 I’m more critical of the wording of this thesis than any of the others, but my problem is rather technical, and I wholeheartedly agree with what I’m pretty sure is the intent. Both of you seem to have had a similar reaction. I’ll put it this way: The dharma is no more a permanent thing, no more something with a meaning apart from its evolving content, than the Self or any other compound thing. Like any other idea, it is only alive if it is interacting & changing as it evolves to meet human needs. But it has no “self-nature,” as Nagarjuna might have said.

    #6 Follows from appreciation of the dharma as an evolving thing. I can respect the efforts of others in other times and places to adapt it to their needs (though I reserve the right to be critical of attempts to fossilize or misuse the dharma).

    #7 What Jenn said.

    #8-#9 Since I believe that compassion & ethical concern, are essential parts of the dharma and mindfulness, I agree wholeheartedly. I think #8 does add to #4, which is more about respectful action than ethics generally. I think #9 reminds us that ethical questions inevitably involve social & political dimensions. This may be something that comes more from the European Enlightenment than traditional Buddhist Enlightenment, but it is a truth worth attaching to, particularly since traditional Buddhism has not been a very effective antidote to repressive & violent political regimes.

    While these theses may endorse engaged Buddhism, I don’t think they require all of us to become social activists. “They also serve who only stand and wait.”

    #10 is also very important. It follows from #5. Because the dharma must evolve & adapt if it is to remain a living, useful thing, it must engage with modern science, other secular, even other religious, ideas. As Mark wrote, it in fact must.

    While I appreciate the concern for cultural appropriation, I think that borrowing, sycretism, has been a powerful source of intellectual and social vigour. There are good, bad, and ugly (not to mention just silly) appropriation or borrowings, which have to be sorted out with care. This probably isn’t to place to get into a discussion about this, however. And largely unnecessary, I think. The dharma is not a culture. It is — presents itself — as a set of ideas. It would in fact be disrespectful to treat it only as a cultural artifact to be respected only because it is someone elses’ belief system (no doubt less sophisticated than our own), and not because it is a powerful notion that deserves to be discussed, tested, used, and adapted. Anyway, Buddhism has always been a cultural chameleon; it does not belong to any single time or place.

  5. Michael Finley Michael Finley says:

    RenCheng — Our posts crossed. I think your comments are bang on.

  6. Jennifer Hawkins Jennifer Hawkins says:

    @RenCheng and @MichaelFinley both make some good points.

    In particular, this is a powerful point: ” I think it’s important that they are called “theses” rather than (for example) “tenets.”

    Still, something about him releasing a set of 10 (and possibly even separating #4 and #8 just so there would be 10 ??? ) automatically evokes a comparison to the Ten Commandments of Christianity. I don’t know… something just doesn’t sit well here.

    As for cultural appropriation, I only bring it up in response to Mark’s sincere question.

    “While I appreciate the concern for cultural appropriation, I think that borrowing, sycretism, has been a powerful source of intellectual and social vigour. There are good, bad, and ugly (not to mention just silly) appropriation or borrowings, which have to be sorted out with care.”

    As I said, there’s a difference between cultural exchange (the good one) and cultural appropriation.

    Cultural exchange gives us wonderful stuff like African-print kimonos:

    http://www.japantimes.co.jp/life/2008/11/04/lifestyle/a-beautiful-cultural-blend-african-kimono/#.VlTa1narSVM

    and Nike’s women’s leggings covered in Samoan male coming of age tattoos:

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/08/15/nike-tattoo-leggings_n_3763591.html

    It can be compared to citing your sources in a paper you have written. Your paper can be an absolutely novel insight on a subject, but if it doesn’t cite its sources or cites them in a misleading way

    (see how “anonymous” cut out the inconvenient parts of Mufi’s post on this thread: http://secularbuddhism.org/forums/topic/association-with-the-wise/ )

    then it’s not acceptable.

    Sorry I got so off topic, but I wanted to make sure that you understand that I’m saying, “I f**king love African-print kimonos. Not only are they aesthetically pleasing and novel, but they properly cite their sources” or in other words, “I f**king love cultural exchange, but it’s important to distinguish that from cultural appropriation, which is (in my experience) the fear at the heart of people who speak out against “McMindfulness.””

  7. Carl H Carl H says:

    #1. I see this as a reference to the widespread classical Buddhist idea that the purpose of practicing the dharma is to free oneself from this repetitive samsaric world, to escape from re-birth. This idea had nothing to do with improving this present world. SB seems to be making clear that this is not the case with secular Buddhism.
    #2. Clear and pragmatic.
    #3. Absolutely
    #4. Taking the practice off the cushion.
    #5. Contingent indeed. Keeping in mind that dharma refers not only to the teachings but also to the methods, it manifests depending on conditions. What manifested as the dharma in 6th century CE was valid for those conditions, but it hardly seems valid for ours.
    #6. Makes sense to me and is important to remember.
    #7. No gurus to surrender to, but many groups benefit from organization and that’s vertical as well as horizontal. Hierarchies are not inherently abusive, but are prone to become that way without care.
    #8. That is both “caring for” and “caring about.” I would have worded it “all things” and not “all creatures.” I care about trees and plants, mountains and rivers, but do not see them as creatures.
    #9. Certainly.
    #10. Teachings abound, they are not restricted to Buddhist teachings, though I find old Mr. Gotoma’s teachings makeup the most cogent model I have yet come across.

  8. Gregory Clement says:

    Thanks for presenting the list Mark but I didn’t like it. A lot of the language is inflated and woolly.

    1 The meaning is unclear.

    2 Is a statement of Batchelor’s particular understanding of the dharma. As such it isn’t useful to other secular Buddhists who see things differently. This starts us on the path of dogma which Mark is keen to avoid.

    3 What an odd thing to say. Is anyone seriously going to imagine that the dharma is only for black women? Why not just say, “We can all practise these four tasks”?

    6 Calls on us to ‘honour’ the teachings of all traditions. Why should we honour things that we may see as seriously misguided or unhelpful?

    7 Are we like-minded? Honour again. Respect is fine, but honour?

    8 Inflated language. Am I supposed to feel empathy, compassion and love for the smallpox virus?

    10 Waffle.

    Sorry Stephen!

    • Mark Knickelbine says:

      Gregory, thanks for your perspective. On #6, I note that he doesn’t say “all traditions” but “dharma teachings that have been handed down through different traditions.” I think his point is that dharma practice is not about the rote adherence to traditional doctrines and practices but about making the path real in one’s own experience. Using the “No True Scotsman” argument, I suppose one could say that a cultural form that doesn’t promote awakening — say, karma purification rituals — isn’t really a “dharma teaching.”

      With #7, he’s trying to find a balance between seeing all dharma practitioners as equals while acknowledging that some will have more knowledge, experience and/or degree of development (like teachers and best-selling authors?). As with #6, one would honor them to the extent that their knowledge and expertise contributes to the culture of awakening within the community.

      On #8, I’ll admit that the smallpox virus may not be lovable. But this begs the larger question: Are we to love living things only on the basis of their contribution to our own well-being? Can we send metta to people who have caused great suffering (trying to avoid the Hitler reference, and there I failed)? Pathogens contribute to a matrix of life that both makes our lives possible and that ends them. Could compassion and love here extend to embracing all beings with awareness and acceptance, if not warm fuzzies? I’m asking in all seriousness.

      I’m not sure of your point on #10. How is this a waffle? I think it’s important to make the point that the dharma is not the exclusive property of Buddhists. How would you say it?

      • Gregory Clement says:

        Well said, Mark. I read (past tense) 6 carelessly. It doesn’t say all traditions.

        I understand what he is saying in 7 but find the language exaggerated and false. I understand that this is simply a matter of taste. Some people put sugar on strawberries.

        On 8 you ask questions in all seriousness and I will try to answer in the same way. No. Yes. No. Of course to love only what is helpful to us is a kind of selfishness. We must learn to care about all beings that suffer and of course some of the sufferers make us suffer to. I always feel that stage one is compassion. A lot of dangerous and obnoxious people are miserable. We can at least wish that they were not. (This might also have the advantage of making them less dangerous and obnoxious.) Love is a bit harder, but we can work at it.

        Compassion for beings that are not capable of suffering seems to me absurd. I really don’t believe that micro-organisms suffer (to say nothing of viruses which I don’t think even count as micro-organisms). Dogs and rabbits obviously. Fruit flies? Not so sure.

        Number 10. How is it waffle? ‘…aspires to nurture a culture of awakening …’ makes me wince. I wouldn’t like to try to word it differently. That would be doing Batchelor’s work for him. Aspiring? Nurturing? Culture? It all sounds very fuzzy and vague. Does ‘waffle’ mean the same thing in America as it does here?

        I’m not sure that the dharma is anyone’s property, but I take it to mean the Buddha’s teaching. Poets and friends have also given plenty of good advice through the years. Well worth listening to and acting on. I probably wouldn’t call it dharma.

        Many thanks Mark.

        • Mark Knickelbine says:

          Besides Jenn’s previous citation of the “waffle” as a delicious baked item, “waffle” in the USA means trying to get around an uncomfortable issue by taking an ambiguous position or using indeterminate language. I suppose one can critique words like “nurture a culture of awakening” for their ambiguity, but I don’t think he’s being intentionally ambiguous, if he is at all. It seems straightforward to me: If we value compassion and kindness, then we will seek to promote the kind of community where these values are cultivated.

          And I think Batchelor is pointedly saying that the dharma isn’t just the Buddha’s teaching, and I agree with him. He taught, “Come and see,” which would not be possible if there were nothing there already to see. The legend of his awakening says that his first words afterward were the observation that all people have the capacity to wake up. What makes the dharma more than just a set of doctrines is that it is a capacity of the human organism — the doctrines can help us discover and explore that capacity, but ultimately what we learn, and how that learning transforms us, is a potential we receive at birth. This is why it is possible for, say, MBSR students to practice the dharma with no direct exposure to Buddhist doctrine at all.

          • Mark Knickelbine says:

            And as far as compassion for the fruit fly — compassion is not something that we do as a favor to a suffering being. It is a spontaneous manifestation of our visceral recognition that we are connected to all life. When one of the big Norway maples in my yard got damaged in a storm and had to be removed, what I felt was compassion. I don’t think the maple suffered, but compassion is an emotional response,not an intellectual calculation.

          • Gregory Clement says:

            Batchelor seems to be implying in number 8 that our ethics should be based on such things as compassion for non-sentient beings. You are right that compassion is an emotional response that comes unbidden but I can’t see that ethics demands that we have this response.

            A child may feel compassion towards a broken doll. Is the parent unethical for not feeling that? (Of course the parent should feel compassion for the child’s sense of loss.)

            This comment seems to have gone in the wrong box. Sorry for that.

  9. Gregory Clement says:

    As a side issue Jennifer I tried hard to understand your point about cultural appropriation but you lost me.

    • Jennifer Hawkins Jennifer Hawkins says:

      I agree with most of your points, Gregory. I will say that the list seems to want to address criticisms of Secular Buddhism from Traditional Buddhists and others and not to address Secular Buddhists themselves:

      #4 is probably a reference to recent scandals among Zen (and other) schools

      #5 is “we can ‘change’ the Dharma b/c of course it changes, so stop criticizing us for this”

      #6 is “don’t worry Traditional Buddhists; we totally respect you”

      etc etc etc

      As for #3, no one thinks the Dhamma is just for Black women; in fact, there’s kind of the opposite problem. There are people who go, “Meditation or (Secular) Buddhist practice is just for well-to-do White people,” and so minorities don’t explore Dhamma practice.

      I don’t want to go into a big explanation, but look at the Mindfulness Summit that just ended. It was nearly $200 for transcripts and videos; otherwise, you had 24 hours to access the content. That immediately excludes lower income people, people who work multiple jobs, parents, etc. It also didn’t feature many non-European skin tones. Plus add to this the general portrayal of meditation centers as places full of skinny Euro-American women in yoga pants and jeggings and embracing all kinds of “New Age” stuff… it creates the idea that certain minorities won’t fit in / be welcome or won’t agree with it [for example, I sure as heck can’t support an organization that insists on homeopathy or not vaccinating your children, which is what the “New Age” association evokes].

      Anyways, I’m pretty sure #3 is about saying, “We’re not just for White people and we’re not into pseudo-science. Give it a try; you’ll be welcomed.” I think having that as sort of an “official” statement would help more minorities of all types to give Dhamma practice a try.

      @Mark

      I say #10 Waffle as, “Should we seek to incorporate the teachings of waffles in our Dhamma practice?” I’m not sure if that was the actual criticism, but it was funny and got me thinking about waffles.

      Anyways, about cultural appropriation. I honestly think that people cry “cultural appropriation!” too gosh darn often. But it does happen sometimes and should be avoided. To that end, I posted a link to an article that explains the difference. Basically, appropriation is when people take something from another culture (often for profit) and completely ignore its surrounding context. I think it only came up because the cancelled yoga class was in the news that day. (Members of a cult-like group said it was “cultural approrpiation” and got it banned from a campus – and the rest of the world was like, “WTF, no it’s not.”) Anyways, let’s use yoga. If someone find out about yoga (in Asia) and brought it into the US by saying, “I found this ancient mystical practice of the “Ch*nks” and refined it. Now I’m bringing it to you for only $9.99.” That would be appropriation. It ignores Asian development of yoga, it stereotypes Asians (“mystical” not to mention “Ch*nk”) and it’s all done just to make a new product to sell. Fortunately, that’s not how yoga is in the West. Most people know and teach where yoga comes from and does not stereotype the Asian ethnicities who engage in various forms of it. There is some money-making, sure, but it’s usually Asian/Americans themselves leading these classes.

      Basically, when you exchange with another culture, you have to understand the thing that you want to explore. You can’t go, “What a cool symbol, I’m going to put it on women’s period pants,” because you didn’t bother to learn that it was a male coming of age symbol (so that would be insulting to them). You can’t say that you invented rock n’ roll when really you took your songs from African Americans. You can’t dress up in a Native American headdress (that would only be worn on certain occasions) to go hang out in a bar while talking about how backwards the “injuns” are. You have to know the history of what you’re exploring and to acknowledge it. You also have to acknowledge the people who you are exploring (and not say racist things about them while also loving their stuff). That’s the difference.

      I hope this makes sense.

      Anyways, another thing that gets said about Secular Buddhism is that we are “appropriating” Buddhism. We don’t. We don’t stereotype, we aren’t “in it for money” (per se), and we fully acknowledge the roots and history of Buddhism. However, I think #10 opens the door to people just “willy nilly” taking stuff without being careful to acknowledge it properly. And so, if his goal is to address criticisms, #10 fails to address the “appropriation” one.

  10. Gregory Clement says:

    Thanks for your detailed response Jennifer.

    My point about black women was of course a joke. I’ve never thought of Buddhism as being something for thin white women. Most of the world’s Buddhists are brown. Certainly in my city the Indian Buddhists must outnumber the white ones by a hundred to one. I doubt if many of them are interested in homeopathy or are campaigners against vaccination.

    I hope I won’t annoy you by disagreeing over cultural appropriation. One of the wonderful things about the human race is the way in which we are able to learn from others and incorporate alien ideas into our own culture. We’ve done it for thousands of years. We got paper money and gunpowder from the Chinese and curry and pyjamas from the Indians. The Babylonians gave us measuring angles in degrees. The Arabs gave us our numerals. The Romans gave us our alphabet. The Greeks gave us most of the vocabulary of medicine and botany. The French gave us the metric system. The Scots gave us whisky. Tomatoes and potatoes came from South America. To continue the list would be boring. There is no need for anybody to feel in the slightest bit embarrassed or indebted for the good ideas of others. There is no reason for unease about modifying and re-interpreting the creations of others in a new way that happens to suit our tastes and needs.

    Millions of people all over the world perform Shakespeare’s plays, debate and adapt the ideas of Darwin, and use and abuse my language. They are welcome. I don’t feel diminished or cheated as a result.

    You might argue that there are some especially sensitive things that should be treated as exceptions. Perhaps religious symbols for example? I have to disagree. Christians have to accept the casual use of crosses in jewellery. Buddhists have to put up with Buddha statues as garden ornaments. It makes me squirm a little but there is no duty on others to share my sensitivities.

    You refer to making money out of the culture of others. I don’t see that this makes any difference. (French restaurants?) You speak of racist language. That’s just bad in itself without any reference to cultural appropriation.

    Excuse me for going on a bit. Thanks for your thoughts.

    • Jennifer Hawkins Jennifer Hawkins says:

      I should have specified: that is the common perception in the US / the West.

      And I’m not annoyed. What you are talking about is NOT cultural appropriation. You’re talking about cultural exchange, which is something I wholeheartedly support. It’s the source of so many wonderful things (art, fusion food, African print kimonos, etc) that I can’t even begin to properly describe my love for it.

      I wish I could get you to understand what the difference is, but I’ve already tried everything I can think of.

  11. Gregory Clement says:

    Thanks for trying to help me understand, Jennifer. It’s not worth making too much of this but do you mind if I analyse a bit of what your wrote? Let’s go to the yoga example. What are the things that you object to?
    1 Ignoring the Asian origin of yoga. (We ignore the Arabic origin of numbers. It doesn’t matter.)
    2 Stereotyping of Asians. (That’s just insulting without regard to our practice of yoga.)
    3 Someone’s making money out of it. (Why shouldn’t they? Australian actors are paid for putting on Shakespeare’s plays. No-one sees this as shameful.)

    You say we have to know and acknowledge the history of what we are exploring. I can’t see why. Who knows or cares about the history of the metric system? (It was developed in France after their Revolution as part of an attempt to build a new society based on rational principles.) Are we causing offence by not knowing or caring?

    Of course we shouldn’t say insulting things about other people. That is true whether we use their inventions or not.

    Perhaps we’ll have to agree to differ on cultural appropriation. It is an interesting topic.

  12. Jennifer Hawkins Jennifer Hawkins says:

    I’m not sure if you missed this part, but yoga is NOT cultural appropriation. It doesn’t do any of those things mentioned.

    As for the metric system, I question if a system of measurement can be considered a cultural aspect for these purposes. Also, I don’t deny that it’s possible for European/American culture to be “twisted” (if you will) in non-European/American contexts, but a key difference is that Euro/American culture is a dominant culture (for historical reasons).

    Let’s use the Native American example. Let’s say you encounter a group of non-Native Americans (let’s say White people) who run a sweat lodge in their backyard and do peyote in combination with it. They don’t really know any history of the practices and are just approximating what they think they are. When asked about why they do it, they obviously feel/think that Native American stuff is “magical” and like getting high. The problem with this is that actual Native Americans were not allowed by Euro-Americans to practice their religions for over a century (not only were such religions repressed by violence, but also by the kidnapping of children and actual US law). It’s not right that these people can practice random bits of Native American religions when Native Americans can’t. It’s “cool” for White people, but not for actual Native Americans. Also, while Native Americans have certain beliefs surrounding the use of peyote (for example), this group seems to mostly be doing it to get high and just kind of mentioning some religious jargon to shroud that. And finally, it’s pretty messed up to talk about how much they “love Native American culture” while engaging in the “magical” stereotype and not really learning anything about it or doing anything to help actual Native Americans to be able to continue their own culture.

    I lost my point a little bit… basically, it’s not impossible for Euro/American culture to experience appropriation, but it isn’t likely because Europeans / Americans usually haven’t had their culture violently suppressed. They usually don’t have the same level of heavily negative stereotypes to content with. Usually, most people have at least some familiarity with Euro/American culture. So non-Europeans using the metric system doesn’t reference some historic trauma for Europeans. It doesn’t evoke any stereotypes. It doesn’t allow people to continue to be ignorant (and thus prone to stereotyping and hate) of Europeans while picking bits of their culture to consider “cool,” while disregarding the rest of it and the people themselves.

    Here, let’s use a more European example: the Sami. In the not too distant past, Nordic peoples have taken their land, razed their villages, and discriminated against them in all kinds of ways. Now imagine that someone builds a theme park that it’s kind of a replica of a historic Sami village (or at least, it’s inspired by Sami villages) but put things in there like actors who play up being stupid or simple or bloodthirsty (etc, stereotypes). When foreigners come, the Sami aren’t really mentioned. Instead, it’s this cool theme park that some Norwegians (or Swedes or Fins, etc) came up with because look at how cool these houses look (etc). After taking their land, destroying their villages, outlawing their names/languages (to a certain extent), and other discrimination – they do not get to make a Sami village (that the Sami couldn’t legal do for a long time), say that they came up with it, and fill it with subtle stereotypes and ignore the historical and current suffering of the Sami.

    The issue isn’t exploring other cultures or blending elements to make wonderful things. That’s great. That’s cultural exchange and I love it.

    The issue is ignoring the history and abuse of a people, making the stuff that they aren’t allowed to do “cool” for the people who abused them, and generally allowing racism against those people to continue while loving their stuff.

    In order for something to be cultural exchange, there has to be equal power and respect between those exchanging. Appropriation happens when things aren’t equal. You don’t get to ingest peyote when Native Americans aren’t legally allowed to (*note this recently changed and now Native Americans are less harassed about it at least). You don’t get to say, “Gosh, I love these Sami dresses,” while being okay with the government preventing their children from learning their language and wearing those dresses. You don’t get to “love the culture” while still being ok with discrimination towards the people of that culture.

    I’m not sure how else to clarify things, but you can’t say, “I love this culture and just want to share it,” while ignoring the things that have happened to that culture and being ok with the people of that culture getting mistreated and not being allowed to practice their own culture.

  13. Gregory Clement says:

    Thanks for such a detailed response Jennifer. I’m sorry that I misunderstood your point about yoga. The rest could lead to even more misunderstanding. I know almost nothing about Native American culture, and I’ve never heard of peyote or the Sami. The world is full of troubles and injustice and it is hard to keep track of all of them.

    Perhaps I can jump to the end of your argument. You say…

    ‘You don’t get to “love the culture” while still being ok with discrimination towards the people of that culture.’

    I would say you could leave off the first half of that. It isn’t good to be ok with discrimination towards anybody. But what does ‘ok’ mean here? Does it mean you discriminate yourself? (Bad) Does it mean you support discrimination by others? (Bad) Does it mean that you don’t know about the lives of those people? (Not so easy to judge.)

    I find the historic culture of China fascinating. I’ve no doubt that a lot of Chinese have had a pretty hard time throughout the centuries and probably many suffer now as well. I’m sorry about that but I’m not quite sure what I’m supposed to do about it. It doesn’t make me feel guilty about reading Chinese poetry.

    You’ll probably think that I’ve completely missed your point. Luckily you are a very patient person.

  14. Jennifer Hawkins Jennifer Hawkins says:

    LOL. It’s ok. I’m surprised you’ve never heard of peyote though:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peyote

    Maybe you’ve heard of mescaline or another plant, Ayahuasca? Anyways, it’s a hallucinogen that’s used in some rites of some Native American groups.

    Also the Sami:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sami_people

    are the ethnic minority that lives mostly in the artic circle of Norway/Sweden/Finland/Russia.

    It’s not too surprising that you haven’t heard of them. I first learned about them through Dungeons and Dragons (as in the inspiration for the “bard” is derived from The Kalavala – an epic poem of Finland – which mentions the Sami). Also, if you’ve seen Frozen, Kristoff is Sami.

    Sorry, got off point. Discrimination is bad. It’s bad when you as an individual engage in it and it’s bad to condone it in others. I don’t see how that affects cultural appropriation. Cultural appropriation is another facet or form of discrimination / racism, so they all go together. And yes, there’s a certain obligation to know *something* about what you are borrowing and the people you are borrowing from. You don’t have to be the world’s leading scholar on Chinese history, but if you are going try to sell something based off of lotus shoes, you should know that women had to mutilate their feet to wear them in order to attract powerful husbands.

    Think of it this way – when Euro/Americans appropriate part of Native American culture (let’s say feathered headdresses), they are taking something from Native Americans for their own joy when Native Americans aren’t allowed to enjoy it themselves. Basically, when we appropriate stuff, it’s like taking someone’s culture as a spoil of war.

    I think I’m still failing to explain.

    This isn’t about guilt. And reading Chinese poetry isn’t cultural appropriation.

    I don’t want you to feel attacked, but I want you to consider this:

    You know nothing about Native American religion. You don’t know what peyote is. You have no idea who the Sami are. Why is that? It’s because a European group came in, killed and abused these people, and then came up with a narrative about how evil or magical they are – or just didn’t bother to remember them at all. By not knowing about them, they are dehumanized. It’s easier to discriminate against them and then to forget that it’s even happening. Reading about them or the Chinese or anyone who is of a different culture is actually helping – you know about them, you humanize them, and by knowing about what happened to them historically, you don’t go on to repeat those atrocities. But if you go into a store and buy a feather headdress and never think about the conditions that lead to it being for sale next to purses, then it’s basically, “We’ll take this and do what we want with it. We won and you can’t wear them anymore.” You don’t have to know everything, but there’s some basic things you should know and acknowledge when you borrow. It’s like I tried to say above – when you write an academic paper, you damn well better cite your sources. You don’t get to like stuff and ignore the people or the violence behind that stuff. If you do, then you allow discrimination to continue. The fact that someone in the US (I assume) can live and not know a thing about Native Americans is kind of a testament to the problem. Again, this isn’t an indictment of you personally, but of the surrounding cultural conditions. Borrowing is great, but it needs to be done properly.

    I still feel like I failed here, but I did my best. I hope you’re starting to get it. And anyways, we’re now way off topic from the article, lol

  15. Gregory Clement says:

    We might as well finish there Jennifer. We are way off topic as you say. No, I’m not an American.

    Best wishes!

  16. JamesT says:

    I am very grateful to Stephen & Martine Batchelor for helping me to get over the obstacles that a western educated rationalist is likely to feel when encountering the dhamma as I first did 25 years ago. In particular Stephen for his books and Martine for some very well timed words of wisdom to me at a key stage of my practice. I say this because although I am critical of these theses below, this is not to deprecate the huge contribution that I believe Stephen has made and continues to make to the development of buddhist thought.
    But I have found myself departing from Stephen’s approach as my practice has developed and I now find the ten theses making me a bit uncomfortable. I haven’t read Stephen’s latest book, its not out in the UK yet.

    Ten Theses of Secular Dharma

    Comment:
    Its a bit Lutheran – nailing your radical theses to the door of the buddhist church. Is this really the right model? Luther created a huge schism in christianity. But the buddhist practice is surely to be wary of reifying systems of thought into facts on the ground in that way. The worry is that this creates a form of conceptual division which can only ever be artificial.

    1. A secular Buddhist is one who is committed to the practice of the dharma for the sake of this world alone.

    Comment: This implies that there is another dhamma that is committed to practice for the sake of another world such as entering a heaven. But mainstream “religious” buddhism, in so far as it believes in individual rebirth, is not committed to the dhamma for the sake of a entering different world, it just believes that individuals are reborn in this world until they achieve extinguishment of kamma. They too are committed to matters affecting this world so I am not sure that this thesis achieves anything.

    This thesis also has an evangelical ethical implication which I think may be unhelpful. See below.

    2. The practice of the dharma consists of four tasks: to embrace suffering, to let go of reactivity, to behold the ceasing of reactivity, and to cultivate an integrated way of life.

    Comment: Of course this is an attempt to render the 4 noble truths. But I disagree with the use of the word “reactivity.” I don’t accept that it is a teaching of the dhamma that a person should not react to their experience. The dhamma is a reaction to experience. This thesis contradicts thesis 1 that the dharma is practiced for the sake of the world, which is clearly a reactive stance. In fact I probably disagree with Stephen that the 4 noble truths are an original core of the buddha’s teaching. Rather I am minded to agree with Chris Beckwith in “Greek Buddha” that the 3 characteristics of all phenomena are more fundamental and original.

    3. All human beings, irrespective of gender, race, sexual orientation, disability, nationality, and religion, can practice these four tasks. Each person, in each moment, has the potential to be more awake, responsive, and free.

    Comment: Stephen is trying to make an anti-discrimination statement here and of course I support that. But I don’t think this works as such a statement. I agree with the 2nd sentence, but have reservations about the wording of the first
    .
    What is Stephen getting at in using the word “can?” This can be read as a statement of permission or a statement of capability or both.

    If it is read as a statement of capability then at its best it is an attempt to make a statement about equality in that capability. I agree that it is doctrinally correct not to draw distinctions between for example, men and women as to their capabilities of following the dhamma (I use that division because it is well known that some traditions do draw that distinction). But it is not true that all people have equal capabilities to follow a specific practice of the dhamma. Take for example a person in psychosis or severe depression (ie with a disability). The reality is that dhamma practice might simply not be the right thing for them at that time. In terms of applying this thesis to a practical situation, how does a retreat organiser deal with a person who is uncontrollably disruptive of a retreat due to a mental health issue where the rights of that individual conflict with the rights of others?

    If it is a statement of permission then this is really a rule applying to organizations and associations, ie a statement that the secular buddhist Sangha should not create these divisions amongst those who are interested in dhamma practice. That is fine to a point.

    But when we include in that religion, we encounter a contradiction. Of course secular buddhism is discriminating intellectually against so called “religious” buddhism. That is the point. Similarly, thesis 1 sets out that the practice is not done for the sake of another world. But Abrahamic religion is often conceived as done for the sake of entering heaven rather than hell. So on the one hand this definition of secular buddhism seeks to make the dhamma a temporal practice open to those of all religions but then it states that it does not concede to theistic motives.

    In practical terms, does a buddhist autonomous network (see below)accept god worship in its practices? Or does this fail the test of like-mindedness. These issues are unclear.

    An equalities and non discrimination statement is important, but this one is too vague as to its intent.

    4. The practice of the dharma is as much concerned with how one speaks, acts, and works in the public realm as with how one performs spiritual exercises in private.

    Comment: I think that here, Stephen is possibly trying to capture the eightfold path. But for me this thesis fails because it is premised on a division of private and public realms that may have diminishing relevance for practitioners as they mature.

    5. The dharma serves the needs of people at specific times and places. Each form the dharma assumes is a transient human creation, contingent upon the historical, cultural, social, and economic conditions that generated it.

    Comment: This is a favourite SB theme of course and I know he is fond of saying that buddhism itself is subject to the 3 characteristics of phenomena, ie it is also impermanent, unsatisfactory(?) and not self. But again I think this thesis is hopelessly vague. Where Stephen writes, “each form the dharma assumes” he appears to mean that there is something essential in the dhamma that appears differently at different historic times. But Stephen’s work generally (I have read all his books apart from this recent one) may be characterised as an attempt to pin down the essential dhamma and to strip away what he regards as cultural accretion. So this thesis opens up the question, what is essential and what is cultural accretion? What is radical about secular buddhism, its its proposition that much of what is accepted as buddhist fact in more ancient traditions can be dropped as non essential or non progressive because it is culturally specific. Again if that is what is being said, it ought to be made clear. But “secular buddhism is an attempt to get at what really matters.” Hmmm – I can see that not going down well in some circles because of its patronising implications.

    How is this approach to be used with regard to practitioners of other religions within secular buddhist networks? Surely there is again a contradiction in seeing the dhamma as culturally relative in certain respects but not appling the same thought process to other religions. But if you do that you end up asking what is essential and what is accretion in other religions. But does secular buddhism accept the christian catechism or that Allah is god’s prophet? Again, this is not thought through.

    I think what Stephen means to say here is that people from other religions are welcome to explore the dhamma. But are there limitations of how far their perspective on secular dhamma practice is welcome in terms of influencing the development of the secular approach with theistic beliefs?

    6. The practitioner honors the dharma teachings that have been passed down through different traditions while seeking to enact them creatively in ways appropriate to the world as it is now.

    Comment: What is the “world as it is now?” I suspect it looks different in Syria to where I live and in fact probably looks different to my next door neighbour than it does to me. I am not sure what Stephen is getting at here. A negative spin on this would be that “the world as it is now” means “western cultures which have moved beyond the superstitious irrationalities of the third world” and some people will read it in that way.

    But I think that in the context of the theses overall, Stephen is just trying to make a statement in favour of the dhamma as something subject to change, a statement against dogma. But for the reasons stated I find his formulation of that idea unsatisfactory.

    7. The community of practitioners is formed of autonomous persons who mutually support each other in the cultivation of their paths. In this network of like-minded individuals, members respect the equality of all members while honoring the specific knowledge and expertise each person brings.

    Comment: Again it strikes me as very western to cast the “community of practitioners” as a network of autonomous persons. What about all the people who choose a monastic life in another part of the world where the experience is, on accounts I have read, anything but that of a living as a node point in an autonomous network.? This formulation is exclusive and much too specific to the way “dhamma USA” appears to have developed.

    Who are “like minded people.”

    On this account, secular buddhism involves joining an autonomous network of like minded people. In terms of an equalities and non discrimination perspective, I think this is pretty naïve. What matters is the movement towards the other. The reference to like minded others is exclusive and unnecessary.

    8. A practitioner is committed to an ethics of care, founded on empathy, compassion, and love for all creatures who have evolved on this earth.

    Comment: I disagree with this on 2 main grounds. Firstly, many people come to the dhamma from backgrounds of suffering where their experiences have been anything but that of care and compassion and have real difficulty with the giving and receipt of care and compassion.

    Practitioners need not be committed to anything. The dhamma is an exploration. To require them to be committed to a religious sounding ethics will in many cases to exclude them.

    Secondly, on philosophical grounds, I disagree that the practice of the dhamma is ethical. Ethics are a shifting universe. We develop compassion as we begin to transcend the ego but this is not the development of a different statement of ethics, it is a reorientation of the heart.

    I think that buddhists are wise to avoid casting the dhamma in ethical terms, notwithstanding the precepts, on the ground that it is misleading to think that compliance with ethical precepts is equivalent to progress on the path. To the extent that they go together it is incidental.

    9. Practitioners seek to understand and diminish the structural violence of societies and institutions as well as the roots of violence that are present in themselves.

    Comment: Why? Where does the Buddha discuss the structural violence of societies and institutions? What is the difference if any, between the violence of societies and the roots of violence in individuals apart from the fact that the former is an organized and therefore magnified version of the latter? Where does this leave the choice of individuals as to their spiritual priorities? Is this really giving essential status to marxism/feminism?

    Lets say that I am in the army or police and I read this thesis. I may think, “these people are against me ideologically.” Would they be right? Again this sort of statement creates a big outgroup. It leaves me wondering whether the theses are overinflueneced by the north american political left.

    10. A practitioner of the dharma aspires to nurture a culture of awakening that finds its inspiration in Buddhist and non-Buddhist, religious and secular sources alike.

    Comment: This suggests that what is essential is “awakening” and that sources that assist to promote awakening may be found elsewhere than buddhism. I certainly agree that sources to assist with awakening are not only found in buddhist texts, but I only say that from a buddhist perspective on what awakening means – and the meaning of awakening in buddhism is very specific – it is overcoming delusion and the greed and hatred (and much else) that flows from that delusion.

    So in my view, to position awakening as the centre around which all knowledge circles, is to cast awakening adrift from its buddhist roots. To me that casts doubt on the use of the term “secular buddhism” at all. Why not “secular awakening”? The answer is because that doesn’t mean anything. Let’s not lose the buddhism. You end up with MBSR.

    Writing this critique has led me to wonder what if anything is distinctive about secular buddhism. I think I would say the following:

    “A secular buddhist is the identifier adopted by some buddhist practitioners who are focussed on using the buddha’s teaching and the buddhist tradition to promote awakening within their current lifespan using methods whose efficacy are verified ultimately by the practitioner’s own lived experience.”

    I can apply this to myself. I think this distinguishes secular buddhism from merit gathering for a future life and the requirement for verifiability is in line with the Kalama sutra. It does not exclude a lot of practitioners practicing the dhamma who happen to be agnostic or sympathetic to the idea of individual kamma driven rebirth. It allows people of theistic religions to participate whilst not conceding ground to theism.

    As practitioners we should do our best to avoid division. I feel that Stephen’s 10 theses go too far in that direction, being over complex and in certain respects raising a number of inherent problems.

    • Mark Knickelbine says:

      James —

      Thanks for your comments. Yeah, the numbered list is a bit Martin Luther-ish, but thank goodness for the numbers, or else replying to these posts would be a pain!

      2. I think there’s a difference between reacting to one’s experience and responding, or at least that’s the distinction Batchelor is making. Reaction is what happens when our perceptual, emotional and behavioral habits are set off. We are in their grip and may not even recognize it. When we can see those habits arising and make a decision as to whether to go with them or not, we are no longer reacting but responding from a place of freedom.

      3. I think it’s important to make clear that dharma practice is available to all, because Buddhist traditions have not embraced this egalitarian spirit, even those that have been transplanted to the West. I suppose people with severe mental incapacity may not have the ability to learn or practice, but this is a quibble.

      4. You’re not the only one to note the “public/private” dichotomy. Perhaps I’m being generous, but I think what he’s trying to get at is the understanding that one’s dharma practice involves the whole of one’s life, including one’s interrelationship with other people, and is not a private concern we can confine to the cushion. This is also important because Theravadin Buddhism especially concerns itself with private liberation. Someone whose feet are firmly on the path may understand that the public/private distinction is illusory, but then they don’t need any of this explained to them, perhaps.

      5. Again, this statement is a needed antidote to the traditional Buddhist notion that Our School preserves the true teachings of the Buddha just as he taught them, and that by tampering with Our Traditions you are violating what the Buddha taught. Batchelor’s contention is that the dharma is not a set of doctrines but the capacity of every human to awaken. This capacity of the human organism will naturally express itself in various cultural contexts, but it is not equivalent to those cultural manifestations. I think the net effect of this understanding would be greater tolerance for religious beliefs that promote a culture of awakening.

      6. In other words, the dharma does not consist of trying to replicate the monasticism of ancient India, medieval Japan, or Tibet, which is how traditional Buddhist traditions proceed. The “world as it is now” will of course be experienced variously depending on who and where you are, but it will always be here and now, not centuries or millennia ago.

      7. The question here is, if we do not accept truth as being the province of traditional hierarchies, then where does authority lie? It is very Western to say, it lies with the democratic decision-making of autonomous individuals — that’s our cultural manifestation. If you don’t agree with the basic premise, however, you probably don’t care whether you’re considered a secular dharma practitioner, anyway. “Like minded people” are people who are in basic agreement about #1 and #2, I suppose.

      8. I think Batchelor would agree that the compassion that arises from dharma practice is the result of a reorientation of the heart. He would say, however, that practicing to cultivate compassion is itself an ethical act. This statement simply voices the ethical implications of having made that choice. Our heart reorientation is always a work in progress, but it is important to state that secular Buddhist ethics are based in compassion, not in dogmatic adherence to precepts, and that they would not encompass, say, burning mosques or attacking Rohinga people.

      9. Again, this is a statement of the implications of what came before. Quietistic withdrawal from the world is not an option for someone who values the cultivation of compassion for all beings.

      10. The whole point of this exercise is to make clear that traditional Buddhism does not own awakening. It is not a doctrine, but a human capacity. As such we should expect to see it manifest throughout human culture and history, and I think we do. Again, you can choose not to believe that, but then you would be happy with traditional Buddhism and this exercise is irrelevant to you. I don’t thing Batchelor is saying that learning from other traditions is essential to dharma practice, but if we do not look outside Buddhist materials, we will not recognize that awakening is a potential for all humans, not simply what the Buddha taught.

    • Jennifer Hawkins Jennifer Hawkins says:

      “But it is not true that all people have equal capabilities to follow a specific practice of the dhamma. Take for example a person in psychosis or severe depression (ie with a disability). The reality is that dhamma practice might simply not be the right thing for them at that time. In terms of applying this thesis to a practical situation, how does a retreat organiser deal with a person who is uncontrollably disruptive of a retreat due to a mental health issue where the rights of that individual conflict with the rights of others?”

      Speaking as someone who is disabled and has severe depression (etc), we certainly CAN / are capable of practicing Secular Buddhism / Dhamma. It’s often tempting to think of (Secular) Buddhism in terms of Christianity – that the Eightfold Path is akin to the Ten Commandments and that every time you don’t live up to one, it’s a sin to atone for. However, in more than one source (Batchelor, the Suttas, etc) the Path should be seen as something to seek. You find the Path; you aren’t always on it. ANYONE CAN TRY THEIR BEST TO FIND THE PATH. There are days when depression can interfere with ‘Right Effort’ (hypothetically), but that doesn’t equate to, “It’s impossible for people with depression and they shouldn’t try.” Indeed, you are right that sometimes a specific practice doesn’t work for a specific person (whether they are disabled or not), but that hardly prevents them from seeking the Path. Neither Gautama Buddha nor Secular Buddhism require that someone follow a very specific practice. If you have a medical condition that makes it difficult to sit in a certain position for 30 straight minutes – well, try something else. In fact, the ever-famous Kalama Sutta encourages those seeking the Path to explore, try things, and see what works for them.

      As for your latter example, there is no requirement here or elsewhere in (Secular) Buddhism that people must go to a Western-style retreat. Going on retreats is not equivalent to Dhamma Practice. Dhamma Practice can be anything from taking 3 mindful breaths in the morning to joining a monastic order. If someone has a condition that prevents them from going on a retreat (in other words, they have attacks that disrupt others’ ability to fully engage with the retreat), it’s pretty obvious how to deal with that. You compassionately inform them of the issue. If there’s not a way to make it work, suggest something else for them. DON’T BE A JERK, but if they can’t do a retreat, don’t do a retreat.

      Anyways, I like how you pointed out the “Ten Commandments nailed to the church door” aspect and that in places it seems to say, “Secular Buddhists must embrace theistic practices.” I had some of the same reaction, but you expressed it better, lol.

  17. JamesT says:

    Thanks

    I freely admit it would have been useful to read Stephen’s book first to see the context in which he sets out these theses.

    I was reading these theses more as a manifesto for a “modernised” dhamma, by which I suppose I mean one that is evidence based, with the primary source of evidence being the individual’s own experience.

    But your account is that the context is the backdrop of an ossified traditional buddhism.

    But to follow on from your own point in 2, is it the right route for secular buddhism to define itself reactively.

    I have been listening to the podcasts for the last year or more but have never found my way to the site before. The podcasts are great. I never knew there were so many varieteis of tea!

    I don’t hear much reactivity to tradition and that is a good feature. But what I do hear is buddhist practioners interested in awakening in this life and for whom the speculative metaphysics of some traditonal buddhism is simply not relevant.

    I am sure you know that much popular buddhism in south asian countries is based around the gaining of merit for a better rebirth. Its easy enough to understand why Stephen’s views are a threat to the social and ethical structures of those societies and so why some feel it is necessary to attack him. The majority in these populations are not practitioners as we think of them.

    There is a good argument that it was the requirement of early states for a popular morality that led kamma and rebirth to be promoted as a core belief of buddhism in the first place.

    Personally I have no interest in trying to undermine that.

    I don’t have a problem with 4 noble truths – but I would regard them as a later formulation of the buddha’s teaching and not the early core as Stephen suggests.

    In practice I often meditate on the eightfold path, but I don’t do much with the first 3 truths.

    I am a bit sceptical about Stephen’s method which to me places too much confidence in linguistics as a method of identifying original teaching.

    But I don’t think that matters, because evidence based dhamma practice sifts out what works and because there is a long tradition of great practitioners to assist.

    So I am more minded to look at the whole buddhist tradition and find out from that what works to overcome delusion and what follows from it, than to pursue an attempt to identify orignal teachings of the buddha.

    In summary I am saying that for me secular buddhism means evidence based practice.

    As an afterthought it occurs to be that perhaps this is an instance of what philosophers call “the demarcation problem” which is where the boundary lies between science and non science.

    The scientific method is an act of imagination in positing a hypothesis followed by the pursuit of experimental evidence to prove or disprove the proposition. Secularity is pretty much defined by reliance on this method.

    But in a traditional buddhist society, a monk might say, “I can tell you for sure what will happen here if we disavow kamma and rebirth” and in its own way that is an evidence based statement.

    If the speculative metaphysics of traditional buddhism are not relevant, then there is there really any need to spend much effort in arguing about them?

    Well again from my own experience, the strength of some of these traditions in the west may be discouraging some potential practitioners. For that reason I am very supportive of what you are doing. But I think the better apporach is to define its own terms rather than look backwards whilst moving forward.

    I critiqued these theses not apreciating they are a response to the kamma/rebirth debate. But the problem with moving forwards whilst looking back is that you can trip up.

    • Mark Knickelbine says:

      I know that Batchelor’s focus on philology and history do make it look like he’s trying to establish Gotama’s original teaching, but I don’t think he really is. I think he is trying to show, first off, that there are a consistent set of practical, this-worldly, egalitarian teachings in the Pali texts that are at odds with what Theravadan Buddhism became. He is also trying to undermine the notion that the Nikayas are a unified, coherent set of texts that are contemporaneous records of “what the Buddha really taught,” and which have been delivered to us more or less intact. His point is that Buddhism does have its own historicity and evolved over time, so it is not illegitimate that it continue to do so. Therefore, I think he would agree with the statement that we can’t know for sure what Gotama “really” taught and, absent some new cache of evidence, we probably never will. I read a great article that suggested that the earliest Buddhists were not concerned with the exact preservation of the words from Gotama’s lips; rather, they believed that any arahant could teach on his own authority and in his own language, as long as the basic doctrinal outlines were being followed (we see this in the suttas taught not by Gotama but by Sariputta, for instance). As a result, Buddhism was spread through northern India by people who were isolated from each other, and subtle variations in doctrine would have developed as a result. It was not until later, when northern India had been Brahmanized and Buddhism had to compete for support, that a codified and recitable set of texts like the Brahmans had became necessary. The composition of many of the Nikaya texts, then, would have been part of the way Buddhism itself became Brahmanized.

  18. These principles sound all very well, and I have no objection to any of them as provisional principles, but they don’t answer the question as to why we should follow them. If Batchelor’s answer to ‘why’ is a universal and timeless one, for example based on the need to balance the absolutising tendencies of our over-dominant left brain hemispheres and soothe ill-adapted emotional responses, then he needs to make this part of the basic explanation. If we don’t have such an explanation, then we also don’t know the underlying rationale of the principles, and thus how to interpret them. If, on the other hand, he seeks to support these principles only on Buddhist tradition, this raises many other issues as to whether and why Buddhist tradition supports them, and whether that is a helpful basis for interpreting them.

    • Mark Knickelbine says:

      Robert, I think this is a good point. Delineating the outlines of secular dharma practice without stating explicitly why anyone should practice at all does leave us to deduce the rational for any of these theses. He does discuss the ‘whyfor’ at length in After Buddhism but it should be stated here too.

  19. JamesT says:

    In reply to Robert, my answer as to why buddhism (which I appreciate is not your question), would be that the evidence of experience in following an effective version of the dhamma is that it works to address suffering and to build a more compassionate approach and that on some basic psychological level, this is for practitioners the most fulfilling thing they have found in their lives. This starts in some shaky way almost from the first time someone sits down to meditate and looks at what is going on in their experience. This is evidence based practice.

    In response to Mark’s response to my last post, great if that is the case. But if that is Stephen’s underlying view, then I think he has made a mistake promoting these theses. They read like an ideological manifesto. As I think Robert suggests, on what basis should I follow this?

    If as I am suggesting, the defining characteristic of secularity is verifiability, it is difficult to see how one can say these theses can be validated by evidence. They are opinions, even if they are attractive ones, but they are not open to or shared by all people who may need an effective dhamma. It seems to me that the promotion of an effective dhamma is what Stephen is pursuing above all.

    It is the focus on verifiability within one’s own experience that makes the dhamma relevant to the west at all. That will be the feature that wins out in the end.

    But now I have said enough.

    Thanks

    • Hi James,
      Suffering often seems to be the first thing mentioned by Buddhists (secular or otherwise) when one asks ‘why’, but I don’t find it adequate, because so much of our spiritual/ integrative activity is not negatively directed at reducing suffering, but positively directed at some kind of pleasure or fulfilment. Integration seems to me a far more appropriate and universal goal, because it takes whatever our values are now and works open-endedly to make them more adequate and effective in addressing all conditions. Addressing suffering is one aspect of those conditions, but not the only one.

  20. Michael Finley Michael Finley says:

    SB probably had the historical precedent of Luther’s theses in mind. But I think the primary intent of Luther’s theses was to identify what was distinctive in his approach to Christianity, the things that he thought made it useful or necessary to define a protestant position. Likewise, I think what SB is attempting to do with his theses is to identity what is distinctive about the contemporary secular approach to Buddhism. This exercise need not been seen as divisive, at least no more so than merely asserting the notion of a secular Buddhism.

    Seen this way, perhaps we shouldn’t expect SB’s theses to give a fully articulate reason to adopt them. (For that matter,I don’t think Luther’s theses gave explicit reasons to believe either). They are, I’d suggest, really addressed to those who are already involved in a discussion about the possibility of a secular Buddhism or dharma practice, an attempt to clarify ideas rather than win converts.

    Finally, I’ve made some comments on the content of theses in an earlier post. I also suggested that I’d read “theses” as points for discussion rather than tenets of faith. Despite some criticisms, I think SB has given us a good starting point for discussion.

    Most of my problems had to more with ambiguities that invite misreading of SB’s intent — for example, the first thesis seems to me simply suggest that secular Buddhists are concerned with how to live their lives, not in speculations about future lives or other worlds. I really can’t imagine SB meant any more, or less.

    • One big difference between these principles and Luther’s theses is that Luther was mainly concerned with belief, whereas Batchelor is mainly concerned with practice. However, if we are to make any principle or principles work in practice, I don’t think we should underestimate the role of the justification in making the principle work. Without the justification, the principle is free of contextual motives and can only be adopted for its own sake and used formalistically or legalistically. I’d go so far as to say that you can make up whatever principles you like, but they are practically useless without a justification.

      By analogy, take the first precept of the Buddhist 5 Precepts. This is sometimes interpreted as non-violence or non-killing. But how do we know how to tackle all the obvious issues involved in interpreting this – e.g. whether and how far it involves accidental killing, killing of animals for food, mercy killing etc – unless you have an underlying justification to interpret it with? I’d suggest the Middle Way is a far more important moral guide than any of the 5 Precepts alone, because it tells you why killing is (often) best avoided – because of the absolute denial and thus repression of our recognition of another’s personhood and/or capacity for pain that is involved. With that key, you can look at any individual case and ask yourself whether such a denial is going on. You are also motivated to do so if you accept the principle in the first place. Without such a motivating justification, people tend to just appeal to precedent, scripture etc, rather than actually taking full responsibility for the way they’re applying the principle and fully engaging with it.

      In the Buddha’s First Sermon, the Middle Way precedes the explanation of the Noble Eightfold Path and the Four Noble Truths. This seems to me to be no coincidence. The principles were just the best ones for the circumstances, but to motivate people to adopt these or any other principles, something universal must precede and justify them. It’s this universality that I find missing in Batchelor’s accounts generally, because he’s so concerned with historical arguments. But I’ve yet to read the book from which Mark extracted these principles and see the context, as it’s not yet available in the UK.

  21. Michael Finley Michael Finley says:

    Robert,
    You wrote: ” I don’t think we should underestimate the role of the justification in making the principle work. Without the justification, the principle is free of contextual motives and can only be adopted for its own sake and used formalistically or legalistically. I’d go so far as to say that you can make up whatever principles you like, but they are practically useless without a justification.” Well put, and of course true.

    I’m just suggesting that an attempt to identify a secular path in distinction to more orthodox or “religious” paths, does not need to justify the principles it sets out. It operates in the context of an already settled belief that the Buddhist dharma, of many sorts, likely has insights that can help one to avoid “being overwhelmed” by suffering, personal& collective. If (for example) one wants justification for concern with this life, without affirming any future existence, I’d suggest that the theses are addressed to those who already doubt the reality of future lives, and function to affirm to possibility of a dharma that does not require that belief.

    Having said that, I do think we often do a poor job of giving reasons why one should take our ideas seriously, or engage in the kind of practice that is associated with them. SB, like many others, can perhaps sometimes be faulted for spending too much effort on clearing away the impediments — belief in reincarnation, a simplistic notion of karma, the paraphernalia of religion — that keep many people who not looking to be credulous believers from even being curious about Buddhism. But even if I convince someone that Buddhism is attractive because it is non-deist ethical system that isn’t at war with modern science etc., it is harder to convince that it’s any better than a vague humanism, that there is anything more or less specifically Buddhist than deserves closer examination. (see Linda’s latest piece as an example of the kind of thing that helps in this effort, but even it is not likely to be read by anyone not already, as they say, “a stream enterer,” or who at least has a foot in the water.

    • Yes, I guess most people who even visit this site would agree “that the Buddhist dharma, of many sorts, likely has insights”. The question is what those insights consist in. A focus on this life rather than another is also already settled for the vast majority of people, but what sort of focus? Personally I think we can do a lot better than ‘a vague humanism’ or just the creative tension involved by the whole idea of a secular religion. I think the Middle Way offers a much clearer account of what those insights are and how they might be universally applied. And it seems that Batchelor for the most part agrees with me (see our podcast conversation: http://www.middlewaysociety.org/the-mws-podcast-51-stephen-batchelor-robert-m-ellis-on-the-middle-way/).

      I will have a look at Linda’s piece.

    • mufi says:

      Hi, Michael.

      When you say “it is harder to convince that [Secular Buddhism] is any better than a vague humanism.” I’m reminded of Doug Smith’s saying that Secular Buddhism qualifies as a sub-category of Secular Humanism, which paints a more specific (less vague) picture of the latter, but then I suppose that one could quibble with Doug on that claim…say, by countering that the two categories overlap, but one does not subsume the other.

      Regardless, I suspect that a bigger problem for any modern philosophy of life – be it Secular Buddhism or otherwise – is that, the more specific it gets, the more likely it is to be challenged by opposing views on this or that point, thereby raising doubts about its adequacy among practitioners or potential ones. I’m not sure what the solution is to that, except to stay informed on relevant scientific research and to developing my critical-thinking skills, but that meta-approach seems more generic than the kind of endorsement of Buddhism that Stephen Batchelor is after.

  22. Michael Finley Michael Finley says:

    Mufi, greetings.

    I’m happy enough to regard Secular Buddhism as a species of humanism. (Of course, all classifications are only aids to understanding, not absolutes). I take your point that the more specific any -ism becomes, the more it’s likely to be challenged (and likely with good reason). But where I want to put the emphasis is on things Secular Buddhism addresses that aren’t very satisfactorily addressed by generic humanism. So it’s not so much a case of insisting on a doctrine that invites conflict as a added dimension that most (many?) humanists probably could accept. In particular, I have in mind the whole complex of ideas about the conditioned nature of the self, the way we react to the world through the lens of self, the way this generates harm to self &others. (These ideas aren’t uniquely Buddhist, of course, but Buddhism seems to have hit on an effective way to combine them and put them in practice, particularly if freed from the trappings of religion & orthodoxy).

    Some of this is caught by Batchelor’s second thesis: “The practice of the dharma consists of four tasks: to embrace suffering, to let go of reactivity, to behold the ceasing of reactivity, and to cultivate an integrated way of life.” I wrote before that the task of the theses is primarily to distinguish Secular Buddhism from religious varieties of Buddhism. But I’d amend my earlier approach to suggest that the theses also (quite properly) situate Secular Buddhism within the humanist tradition.

    Isn’t Secular Buddhism essentially an effort to draw together some ideas from Buddhism and Humanism, in the belief that many of these ideas are complementary? It seems to me that constructive discussion of the theses should focus on the need to define (always operationally & provisionally) the relationship between Secular Buddhism and the two currents of ideas that inspire it.

    • mufi says:

      Isn’t Secular Buddhism essentially an effort to draw together some ideas from Buddhism and Humanism, in the belief that many of these ideas are complementary?

      Yes, I think so…or at least not logically contradictory. Whether they sit well together in the mind of your average secular humanist (of whom my stereotype is a white post-Christian male)…well, I suppose that’s subjective insofar as it depends on how comfortable or averse one is to religious symbols (in this case, Buddhist iconography and jargon).

      Having read some Stoicism over the past few months, however, I don’t think the problem is entirely confined to “secular religions”…even an ancient philosophical school like Stoicism, which largely died out before it developed into a religion (or was absorbed to some degree by Christians), begs a lot of questions about whether its tenets are, you know, true (if only in a conventional sense of truth). As with Buddhism, a secular humanist will surely want to take a critical look at its metaphysics and epistemology, but even in the domain of ethics – which is where secular Buddhists and modern Stoics seem most interested – one is likely to come across claims about “the good life” (or lives, as the case may be) that beg for supporting evidence beyond mere anecdotes and pithy quotations.

      Lest I be accused of ‘scientism’ here, I hasten to add that I don’t wish to reduce philosophy to science. But insofar as secular humanists are after the kind of dispassion and impartiality that they suppose underlies scientific norms, I would expect little enthusiasm for pre-scientific philosophies…or at least for their wholesale adoption. Case-by-case evaluation of this or that claim, regardless of its “genetic” origins (i.e. Buddhist, Stoic, or otherwise), is another matter, which better describes the pragmatic “meta-approach” to which I referred in my previous comment.

  23. Michael Finley Michael Finley says:

    Perhaps a clarification — when I suggested that Buddhist and Humanist ideas are often complementary, I didn’t (primarily) mean that they re-enforce one another, but that they complete one another. I came to Buddhist ideas because I found that my humanist perspective was not entirely satisfactory because it didn’t, in itself, deal adequately with its own implications about the human situation.

  24. ricardofranciszayas says:

    Incidentally, I listened to the audio book version of “After Buddhism.” I happen to be a huge fan of Stephen Batchelor but I can say that this book is a worthwhile read, even though it’s not a fast read. So taken in the context of the book, it is easier to appreciate where the 10 theses are coming from.

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