Mod+ This Atheist has revolutionized Buddhism. Does the latest consciousness science agree with his belie

Discussion in 'Skeptiko Shows' started by Alex, Nov 10, 2015.

  1. Alex

    Alex New

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    This Atheist has revolutionized Buddhism. Does the latest consciousness science agree with his beliefs? |293|
    by Alex Tsakiris | Nov 10 | Spirituality

    Buddhist teacher Stephen Batchelor explores scientific materialism and secular Buddhism.
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    photo by: Stephen Lasky

    I remember the first time I tried meditation. The anxiety it stirred gave me a stomachache. When sitting meditation didn’t work I tried walking mediation as taught by Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh. That wasn’t much better — to confining, too restrictive, too many rules. It felt like church. But despite my inability to “do meditation,” I couldn’t escape feeling there was something to this Buddhist practice of quietly looking within.

    Today’s guest on Skeptiko, Buddhist teacher and author Stephen Batchelor, has probably done more than anyone else in the last 20 years to change how Westerners approach Buddhist meditation. His books,Buddhism Without Beliefs, Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist, and his latest, After Buddhism, stripped Buddhism of its robes and prayer wheels to consider mediation from a Western, scientific, reductionistic perspective. And while this approach has met resistance from many traditional Buddhists teachers, it has also been a tremendous boon to millions who wish to explore the well-documented scientific benefits of mediation without giving up their modern, secular worldview. Batchelor even made it okay for atheists like Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris to give meditation a try.

    Join Alex Tsakiris for an interview with Buddhist teacher and author, Stephen Batchelor.
     

  2. http://ncu9nc.blogspot.com/2015/06/beyond-joy.html
    Lester Levenson explains how he attained his realization in his book KEYS TO THE ULTIMATE FREEDOM
    ...
    I started seeking with no knowledge of metaphysics, no knowledge of the way. In fact I was anti all religion and all metaphysics; I thought it was nonsense, for the weakminded, for people who believed in fairy tales.

    But it was only because of the intensity of the desire to get the answers, I had to have the answers, that they began to come, and they came relatively quickly. Over a period of three month’s time I went from an extreme materialist to the opposite extreme: the material is nothingness and the spiritual is the All.

    The wish to get the answer was so strong, that in spite of my mind being one of the noisiest of minds, the answers began to come. I automatically fell into things (I knew no words for them) like samadhi. I would concentrate on a question with such intensity that I would lose awareness of the world, lose awareness of this body, and then I would be aware of just a pure thought, the thought itself would be the only thing existing in this universe. That's absorption when the thinker and the thought become one. One loses consciousness of everything but that one thought. That's a very concentrated state of mind and the answer is always discovered right there.​


    https://sites.google.com/site/chs4o8pt/meditation-1#meditation_serenity


    http://ncu9nc.blogspot.com/2015/03/realizing-ultimate.html

    You might have heard it said that "we are all one". What does that mean? The quotes below explain it. These quotes from: an ancient text, an advanced meditator, a near-death experiencer, a spirit communicating through an evidential mediums, a person using psychological methods, Christian scripture and Christian theologians, all describe something very similar:
    ...​
     
    Last edited: Nov 10, 2015
  3. Steve

    Steve Member

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    In my view it doesn't matter too much what they believe in the short to medium term, the result will result in a far higher consciousness than that which we as a species exhibit today. Stephen Batchelor, on the face of it, doesn't care particularly about philosophical questions or the stuff that we in Skeptiko forum tend towards. This is the thing, if all of his secular followers feel the same way, I'd be quite content, but I'm not sure that they do.

    My personal feeling is that the Spiritual side of things is everything(as Lester Levenson says in bold in Jim Smith's post). Without it we will sooner or later run aground, be it hundreds or thousands of years from now, if we last that long. Possibly it will become more open as we grow as a species and science hopefully grows alongside. I can't see enough people becoming non spiritual to ever totally wipe it out, but I can definitely see a wish to do so among an unknown number. It is something that really worries me, so much for free thinking and speech.

    I don't know enough about Buddhism, but I don't quite see how Stephen can call himself a Buddhist and yet not believe in reincarnation. He and Sam Harris seem to think similarly, but I think he is more open. I could be wrong.
     
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  4. David Bailey

    David Bailey Administrator

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    That was an interesting interview, and it was interesting that unlike most interviewees of a materialist persuasion, he did seem aware of some of the evidence against his position.

    I do get the sense that some people see science as a religion. He said more than once that "He isn't a scientist", but you don't need to be a scientist to understand the significance of the work of Ian Stephenson, or of NDE's! Cow towing to science is not a good approach. I wish people would realise that much science also has an axe to grind.

    Alex, I liked the fact that you didn't grind him even though his views are different from yours. He got his chance to put across his point of view - even though I think it is misguided. I wondered whether to contact him, but he seems to insulate himself from such discussions by saying he is focused on something else!

    David
     
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  5. Alex

    Alex New

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    agreed. big picture-wise Batchelor has done important and difficult work, but the "I'm not a scientist" line is kinda like waving the white flag of surrender on his main point.
     
  6. Saiko

    Saiko Member

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    If you get "spiritual" then you realize that the physical is one expression of it. At core level whether there are humans or not is irrelevant. And the notion that some people are more spiritual than others is ludicrous. The only difference is in the degree of awareness of their spirituality.
     
  7. Michael Larkin

    Michael Larkin Member

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    Obviously not. It skirts those questions. And why? Probably because Batchelor would rather not think about them too much. Which is fair enough, and I suppose that some of his followers might be more inclined to countenance Buddhism, which might eventually lead some of them to ask the bigger questions on their own account. He's putting forward a view that can be accepted by materialists, which might be a useful half-way house for them. Certainly, they should become better individuals thereby, and there's a half-open door they may at some stage care to step through. It's rather like secular humanism in that respect.

    It's a pity that he himself hasn't cared to go through the door: had he done so, he might have discovered something richer and more rewarding.

    Interesting that Lester's site has a section labelled "Money" that includes sections on "The lazy way to riches" and "The unexpected secret to success". Makes me take this quote with a pinch of salt.;)

    Anyway, I don't quite understand why for some materialists, like Batchelor and Sam Harris, Buddhism seems so attractive. It seems to allow them to indulge in philosophising without any kind of sincere involvement; I guess they feel the need of a nonspiritual spirituality--go figure.
     
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  8. Larry

    Larry Member

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    I haven't listened to the podcast yet but I thought I would leave a couple of links of comments and debates with alan wallace who you've interviewed and robert thurman regarding Batchelors approach to reincarnation and other aspects of Buddhism
    http://www.tricycle.com/feature/reincarnation-debate
    http://fpmt.org/mandala/archives/ma...ted-visions-of-buddhism-agnostic-and-atheist/
    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/monkey...ry-western-buddhism-some-links-to-follow.html
     
  9. Alex

    Alex New

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    nice :)
     
  10. Alex

    Alex New

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    thx... from the first:
    Batchelor: Stevenson investigated something like 1,700 cases in the course of his life, of which I think he says that there are forty-seven that he cannot explain by any other means than by past and future lives, and I agree with you that that's evidence.

    Thurman: Then there is the evidence of great figures in Buddhist history who claim to have remembered former lives—concretely. We can say they're all deluded. We can dispute it and discredit it, but we can't say it's not evidence.

    Batchelor: I accept that; that's why I would hold an agnostic view—because that to me is persuasive. Nonetheless, it's an unacceptable leap to go from those very small number of cases, to then concluding that rebirth is a fact that will occur to all beings. It's inductive logic to draw general conclusions from specific, isolated instances.

    ---

    I see what he means about not being a scientist :)

    I still think we have to look at Bachelor on the whole... a lot of the stripping away he's done has been positive.
     
  11. Steve

    Steve Member

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    From the comments section of Larry's first article:

    'Batchelor's approach works for you, fine - I've read his books too, and the parts of Dharma he personally deems worth preserving are certainly very valuable in themselves and can be a good starting point for a modern secularist (or refugee from theism) who is new to Buddhism. But I see secularized Buddhism as wandering around fearfully in shallow waters, and prefer to dive into the ocean of Dharma. A secularist feels the sand drop off, and warns everyone: watch out! Stay here! Nothing to stand on out there! A Buddhist swims. The Buddhist is no less empirical and rational than the secularist - just bolder and more trusting, and with a greater destination in mind.'
     
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  12. Dr. Savant

    Dr. Savant New

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    The answer to the question whether Mr. Batchelor is a Buddhist or not could be answered using methods of Religious Studies. Interestingly, the answer seems to be "yes". At least this is the conclusion in the following academic work
    (www.mahabodhi.net/batchelor.rtf):
    A Critical Examination of the Agnostic Buddhism of Stephen Batchelor
    Marjorie L. Silverman, Department of Religious Studies McGill University, Montreal QC

    I agree that Mr. Batchelor and Dr. Sam Harris share a lot of ground in their approach to Buddhism, and, that Mr. Batchelor is a bit more open to the reincarnation research by Stevenson et. al..

    Alex, thanks for the interview, I really enjoyed it!
     
    Last edited: Nov 11, 2015
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  13. Saiko

    Saiko Member

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    If one views Western academia's assessment of Eastern spiritual traditions as being the gold standard than sure.
     
  14. Judith

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    Early on I decided most religions were either too restrictive or outright bogus. I investigated them all. I was drawn to Buddhism ... but then discovered there were rules and practices required. So I nixed it. I like Carolyn Myss's definition of religions as elaborate costume parties...and she studied as a Catholic. In my view, you can't "ring fence" the ineffable.

    However, his view of meditation is certainly right on. I had to learn this when my husband got cancer and through the two years of his illness. If I hadn't practiced mindfulness and "being in the now", I probably would have had a nervous breakdown. Now I find life is much easier and free from stress, since I've recognized how I create my own stress by telling myself fear-based stories in my mind. And I'm getting much better at stopping myself when I realize my mind is headed in that direction.
     
    Last edited: Nov 11, 2015
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  15. soulatman

    soulatman Member

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    I really enjoyed this episode and the subject matter is of great personal interest to me, though I will admit to some frustration and disappointment that you didn't press a little harder on the materialist / Buddhist paradox (or for me contradiction).

    Stephen Batchelor came across as a very bright and courteous man, but please do forgive me for not being able to like him terribly. Is it just me, or is there something of the "Richard Dawkins" about him? Albeit, of a less arrogant, and zealous nature. The reason I sense an air of "Dawkins" about him, is because if we accept his revisionist version of the Buddha and the Dharma, we are left essentially with the same simple dead and meaningless universe, pointless existences and hopeless futile destinies. If we are to see the universe and our lives through lens supplied by Stephen Batchelor, again we find ourselves squarely in the centre of biological robot land, with nowhere to go, in the same way as when we put on our Richard Dawkins spectacles. The images are the same.

    To speak of Dukkha (Suffering) and a path which leads beyond or out of Dukkha when it is framed within the scope of Stephen Batchelor's Universe, seems like a sheer waste of time. I say this for the simple fact that if I am a biological robot, then dealing with the mental aspect of suffering (mental states being an epiphenomenon of my biological brain) is utterly foolish. It would be far easier and greatly more efficacious to dump a load of feel good chemicals into my "faulty" meat robot brain, than to attempt the futile and almost superhuman task of wrestling with the epiphenomenal "thoughts" which arise from that faulty meat within my cranium.

    Surely, it is always best to combat problems at their "SOURCE"! If the SOURCE of my suffering is in my thinking, and the SOURCE of my thinking is in my biological, electro-chemical brain, then the only REAL medicine is a good rewiring, and a potent cocktail of chemical antidotes for my biological malfunctions. Why the heck waste time on the slow and arduous path of meditation? Pharmaceuticals are far quicker and instantly potent.

    Intelligent as the man is, and seemingly nice and reasonable, I did find him incredibly evasive (in an exceptionally skilful manner - to the point where it was almost imperceptible). The conclusions that can be drawn from his re branding of the Buddhist message is exceptionally bleak, and possibly even dangerously underming. It might be nice for a bunch of very comfortable middleclass types to sit around in their spacious living rooms, on organic carpets, in their fairly Dukkha free lives, juggling Atheism, the meaningless biological robot meme and a pragmatic lotus position approach to coming to terms with the utter futility of it all, but some of us take it a little more seriously than that, and this message does not do anything to reduce the suffering or sense of meaninglessness in those who are REALLY suffering! There IS no way out for them, and this pill will be too bitter for them, so whom does it serve? Not those in REAL Dukkha! Not those hopelessly enmeshed in true suffering.

    I read the second article Larry posted by B. Alan Wallace (which is excellent by the way), and for me, this totally captures most of the shortfalls in Stephen Batchelor's position, and the subtle underlying arrogance and futility implicit in this materialist framing of the Buddha's teachings. He has not found a more authentic Buddha, he has reinvented Buddha in his own image, to fit the dominant modern messed up cultural and scientific paradigm.
     
    Last edited: Nov 11, 2015
  16. Alex

    Alex New

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    I totally get everything you're saying... and my initial instinct was to go there... but I am drawn to Batchelor the iconoclast.

    Sure, his wacky atheistic Buddhism doesn't really make any sense, but here's a guy who turned the ocean liner that is Buddhism... made it relevant, edgy, interesting, Lisa-Simpson-worthy -- that's hard to do.
     
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  17. soulatman

    soulatman Member

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    I get that too, and I appreciate your handling of Stephen Batchelor, it was a great show. I just felt that I wanted to go to the heart of his "Butchelorism" (re constructed Buddhism in his own image), and ask, "where does it leave us now"?

    I am certain that Buddha was not a nihilist, whereas Stephen Batchelor most definitely is, whether he acknowledges it or not.

    What does it ultimately mean if we accept his view. I have no problem with pragmatism, and if through some future discoveries it was impossible to deny I really am only a biological robot, I will (albeit reluctantly) swallow that bitter pill, and return to that position I flirted with once long ago, but I won't bother sitting around and meditating about it ... lol. Time is too short.

    This is not me simply wishing for a more palatable universe. Through a long exploration of the sciences, religions and philosophies, and also to a rather HUGE degree, through the topics explored in this wonderful show, I have arrived at a position where in order to explain the things which go on in this world, and also some of my own personal experiences, the materialist/physicalist/atheist paradigm, quite naturally of it's own accord, falls away. It is irreconcilable with the data so to speak.

    Any philosophy built upon the foundations of materialism will always feel lifeless, shallow and futile, because that is what materialism is. To re invent Buddhism in this light, may allow certain die hard materialists the opportunity to sit in the lotus position, clear their minds a bit, and then get back to whatever meaningless crap they were doing before, but it does a disservice to anyone looking for a really potent and powerful way to evolve as a being that is far more than a lump of meat, or looking to escape a viscious and overwhelming cycle of suffering.

    I can't help but feel passionately opposed to his re invention of the wheel (of birth and death), as clever as it may seem. Forgive the pun ;)
     
    Last edited: Nov 12, 2015
  18. Alex

    Alex New

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    wow... this is such a cool post... takes me in so many directions re stuff I've been thinking about.
    1. the shadow of materialism... very hard to root it out... crops up everywhere. so, Batchelor feels on solid ground talking about meditation without realizing the fundamental contradictions with materialism. this happens over and over with those that seem to be pushing the boundaries of science and/or spirituality but wind up falling back into the materialist trap.
    2. can you get partial credit? I say yes. Atheists get 0 points... wrong answer. Atheist Buddhists get partial credit and are allowed to sit for the final :)
     
    Last edited: Nov 12, 2015
  19. Dr. Savant

    Dr. Savant New

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    I agree completely with your analysis! It seems that Mr. Batchelor has found a skillful way to ignore any evidence for conciousness beyond the biology & brain function. His notion of "freely floating souls" (or something like this) signals to me that he views any ontological spirituality with skepticism, perhaps even with contempt. Having said this, I think that Mr. Batchelor does have a point: regardless of one's metaphysical assumptions a day-to-day life has to be lived with the consciousness we have. A compassionate and clear mind is Mr. Batchelor's goal and this has a great deal of inherent value, at least in my opinion. I admire Mr. Batchelor in many respects although I do not share his conviction that universe is ultimately "Dawkinsian", i.e. meaningless.
     
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  20. Mr Opti

    Mr Opti New

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    I enjoyed this interview a lot as well.

    A year ago I would have definitely said that, even though I have a totally different world view from Stephen Batchelor's, what he focuses on is the only thing that really matters. This is because love is the only thing that matters in the end. And love is always an experience and an act, and never dependent on a belief system (although it might well be influenced by a belief system).

    Now I have come to think that some people are wired more to follow an inner compass and some more wired to find truth from outside of themselves. (I think this division might be the same as Michael Jawer talked about in interview 286 - thick/thin boundary...)
    The people with a strong drive to follow their inner compass, might not need to come to a certain conclusion concerning these philosophical/scientific questions, because their sense of meaning will always come from experience rather than from their understanding of reality.
    I think for many of these people, a shift of world view to something beyond materialism will only become necessary when their individual experiences clearly contradicts the materialistic paradigm.
    This makes it more difficult to answer the question of whether his position holds or not. It will for some and won't for some.

    These are my thoughts for the moment, anyway.
     
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