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Sep 15 2013

Secular Meditation: Is This Practice Making Me “More Buddhist”? Take One Guess

So I got this comment from sciamannata on my recent post, Secular Meditation: The Serenity to Accept What Could Be Changed, But Doesn’t Actually Need to Be:

You are becoming more Buddhist every day :-)

…and I have stopped arguing with you in my head about this — especially while I am trying myself to meditate — because you seem to be doing very well as it is; in other words, you don’t seem to be missing out hugely by not using explicitly Buddhist concepts.

I remain somewhat uneasy about this movement to do mindfulness meditation etc. without acknowledging that it is entirely based on a tradition that was developed and preserved for a couple of thousand years by assorted Asians in an essentially religious context — but if that is what it takes for some more people to benefit from it, hey, Buddhism does have an esplicit concept of “skilful means” that I’m sure encompasses this as well!

Signed, a Buddhist atheist, or atheist Buddhist, who is working on what exactly that means :)

My reply:

Um…. thanks?

A couple of things, though. First, it’s just flatly untrue that MBSR and other secular forms of meditation/ mindfulness are, quote, “entirely” based on Asian religion traditions. For one thing, some form of meditation seems to have been developed independently by several different cultures, and is practiced in several religious traditions. Also, and rather more importantly: In addition to the Asian (and other) religious traditions it’s based on, MBSR is largely based on something very different and very important — namely, medical science. It’s based on double-blinded, placebo-controlled, peer-reviewed, replicated research, examining which of these many millenia-old techniques actually accomplish something, and which are about as useful as bloodletting or exorcism. That’s a pretty significant departure from the religious tradition.

And that’s exactly the reason I’m writing about this in a secular framework. I’m sure there are a lot of people who would be interested in meditation/ mindfulness, and who might benefit from it, but who are put off by the religious trappings that are so often attached to it — trappings make them hostile to it or suspicious of it or both. I was one of those people, for years. So I’m deliberately writing about my experiences from a purely secular angle.

It’s a funny thing. One of the most common criticisms aimed at atheists is, “Look at all the wonderful things religion gives people! Community, social support, comfort in hard times, ritual and tradition, music, art, meditation! People need that!” Then, when we point out that you can have every one of these things without religion, people holler, “Wait! You can’t take the religion out of these traditions and practices! You’re trying to take Christ out of Christmas!” (Or religion out of meditation, or whatever.) We can’t win.

Also, it seems to me that “being a Buddhist” or “becoming a Buddhist” would be a pretty deep and intense matter of personal identity, and would mean rather more than “adopting a handful of the philosophies and practices.” I’ve also adopted philosophies and practices of Epicurianism, Stoicism, Existentialism, Judaism, Christianity. That doesn’t make me an Epicurian, a Stoic, or an Existentialist — and it sure as hell doesn’t make me a Christian or a Jew.

Oh, and one more thing that I feel compelled to say here. From “Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99 Things That Piss Off the Godless”:

80. I’m angry that, in many Buddhist monasteries, children as young as ten years old are inducted as novice monks. I’m angry that children who can’t possibly understand the tenets and demands of the religion are recruited into devoting their lives to it. And I’m especially angry because the children who become novice monks are typically among the most impoverished — and they’re drawn into abandoning secular life and devoting their lives to the monastery, not out of a sincere religious calling, but out of a need for food and shelter.
81. I’m angry that the current Dalai Lama said that sex can only provide short-term pleasure and is inherently destructive in the long term, even leading to suicide and murder; that all forms of sexuality other than penis-in-vagina intercourse are banned by Buddhist teachings; and that, although he supports the tolerance of gay people, he sees homosexual sex as “wrong,” “unwholesome,” a “bad action,” “vices,” “not acceptable from a Buddhist point of view,” and “contrary to Buddhist ethics.”
82. I’m angry that, in Sri Lanka, the Buddhist majority has perpetrated intimidation, vandalism, violence against Christians and Christian churches.
83. And I’m angry that, when criticisms of religion are leveled, Buddhism all too often gets a free pass. I’m angry that the Westernized version of Buddhism typically ignores or dismisses these abuses. I’m angry that the versions of Buddhism practiced in Nepal or Thailand or Sri Lanka get treated as marginal or trivial, while the version of Buddhism practiced in California is somehow seen as the true faith.

So… yeah. “Becoming more Buddhist”? Not so much. If you want to be an atheist Buddhist, go right ahead. I have no more objections to that than I do to secular Judaism or cultural Catholicism. But as for me… nope. Fuck that noise. Fuck it right in the arse.

25 comments

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  1. 1
    RainbowSlushie^.^

    It’s based on double-blinded, placebo-controlled, peer-reviewed, replicated research, examining which of these many millenia-old techniques actually accomplish something, and which are about as useful as bloodletting or exorcism. That’s a pretty significant departure from the religious tradition.

    I don’t think I’m aware of any meditation techniques that are ‘about as useful as bloodletting or exorcism’. I would be more cautious before denigrating other meditative/contemplative traditions who have indeed, not been tested by empirical science one way or another, whether they are religious in nature, or secular. I’ve practiced mindfulness meditation before, and I’ve practiced other traditions of meditation, catholic, etc, and I’ve found they all have their uses and benefits. Considering it’s the ‘popular thing’ in leftist academia to test anything done in Buddhism, but not test the Western tradition of Meditation (because it’s considered ‘icky’ and dogmatic) It’s no surprise that these other forms of meditation haven’t been tested. The idea they’re somehow quack because they haven’t been tested is itself a pseudoscientific assertion. I have much experience indeed with various Catholic forms of meditation, and I have found, compared to mindfulness, that they are very powerful indeed, and certain forms of them do exactly what mindfulness purports to do, even better (keep one in the present).

    Having said this, I agree it’s good you took this Buddhist to task, I just think there’s little but speculation concerning other meditative/contemplative techniques other than mindfulness, because there’s been little testing done on any meditative/contemplative techniques other than Buddhist ones, because they’re the most popular in ‘leftist’ circles.

  2. 2
    jeroenmetselaar

    (* Actually…..It is probably true that mindfulness started out as mostly influenced by Buddhist techniques but the current practice is as I see it more Taoist then Buddhist, but that is a very debatable point. :D *)

    I have experience with Catholic “meditation” and it is a different thing altogether. The constant repeating of the rosary and prayers are brainwashing, nothing less. The goal is not relaxation, coming to or finding yourself, entering the here and now or any other benefit from eastern meditation. The goal of dogmatic churches is to empty yourself to be filled after all.

    That is the difference between the desert and eastern religions: Desert religions prescribe what we should be, it is from the outside in. Eastern religions are about the human condition and how to deal with it, it is from you outward.

    That is why when you strip desert religions of myth and dogma there is nothing left but when you strip eastern religions of these you end up with mindfulness.

  3. 3
    RainbowSlushie^.^

    @jeroen

    Well I very much disagree, based on a decade’s worth of traumatic experience otherwise: the rosary is most certainly the thing that helped me to focus my mind and calm my senses, producing a relaxed effect on my nervous system. It’s most certainly not “a different thing altogether”. As well I’ve had experience with mindfulness meditation, and it can and does produce similar effects to forms of buddhist meditation, including mindfulness. Not only are you wrong, you couldn’t be more wrong. Apparently you didn’t say many rosaries: I said tens of thousands of them, so I tend to think I know what I’m talking about and the states of relaxation different types of meditation produce in the mind. The Rosary is simply a longer mantra, it’s not nearly as different as you seem to think it is. Also, contemplative meditation is a bit different than the Rosary, although that can be a form of contemplative meditation. Contemplative meditation is something you incorporate throughout your day: where you do day to day things and contemplate on various abstract ideas, pphilosophical, symbological, moral, etc, deliberately. In this Catholic instruction is not only useful but quite profound.

    That is why when you strip desert religions of myth and dogma there is nothing left but when you strip eastern religions of these you end up with mindfulness.

    This is little more than mindless claptrap, apparently you’re not aware that mindfulness isn’t the only meditation technique Buddhism produces. Here, let me introduce you to a different meditative technique, since your view of reality seems to be exceedingly arrogant and simplistic: http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/2002/04.18/09-tummo.html

    So if all Buddhist religion strips down to mindfulness meditation, why then, please tell me, is this Buddhist monk obviously using a meditative technique different from mindfulness?

    I suggest you not belittle that which you obviously don’t understand, and it’s apparent you have a facile grasp of meditation, contemplation, and the various traditions which you ignorantly show contempt for.

  4. 4
    RainbowSlushie^.^

    Here is another article, on Buddhist monks practicing this variant form of meditation:

    http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/2002/04.18/09-tummo.html

    “g Tum-mo meditation”

    Some Westerners practice g Tum-mo, but it often takes years to reach states like those achieved by Buddhist monks. In trying to find groups he could study, Benson met Westerners who claimed to have mastered such advanced techniques, but who were, in his words, “fraudulent.”

    Apparently so called Mindfulness Meditation is not the only form of Meditation, the shock and horror. Also, Buddhist Monks actually have access to forms of meditation arrogant secular people with a facile grasp of meditation and contemplation don’t and aren’t even aware of. Cue another shock, and I’m an Atheist and a Maoist!

    Also from this article:

    The Mind/Body Medical Institute is now training people to use the relaxation response to help people working at Ground Zero in New York City, where two airplanes toppled the World Trade Center Towers last Sept. 11. Facilities have been set up at nearby St. Paul’s Chapel to aid people still working on clearing wreckage and bodies. Anyone else who feels stressed by those terrible events can also obtain help at the chapel. “We are training the trainers who work there,” Benson says.

    The relaxation response involves repeating a word, sound, phrase, or short prayer while disregarding intrusive thoughts. “If such an easy-to-master practice can bring about the remarkable changes we observe,” Benson notes. “I want to investigate what advanced forms of meditation can do to help the mind control physical processes once thought to be uncontrollable.”

    Wow, the Rosary involves repeating a short prayer while disregarding intrusive thoughts. So, according to this associate Professor of Medicine (iow, someone who actually knows what they’re talking about) the Rosary would qualify as a ‘short prayer’ (which it does) and in practice I found during my Catholic years in fact that the Rosary most certainly induced a profound Relaxation Response, as evidenced from this quote by this very capable expert.

    I suggest you rethink your facile, sneering contempt, as it’s nothing more than haughty ignorance.

  5. 5
    RainbowSlushie^.^

    Also, comment 4 was @jeroen, for clarification.

    This is too easy jeroen, you should think before opening your mouth.

  6. 6
    RainbowSlushie^.^

    Also, I think music, music videos, and video clips are very good forms of meditation, and I engage in them regularly:

    Video clip:

    Quake 3 Arena Intro
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9B9dtc3J7wI

    Music Video 1:

    Linkin Park – Papercut ( Ghost In The Shell AMV )
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q2efQRsBtFY

    Music Video 2:

    Arkasia-Fall of the Republic
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F_zEHR0N8f4

    Music Video 3:

    DubWars-First Strike
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xev9CqOTku4

    Nice relaxing music piece:

    Self Oscillate-Volcanology
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qqJR5–N0IU

    I find music videos, music pieces, and music, are all wonderful forms of meditation that have reproduced the relaxation response (even continuously for hours) for me, for hundreds of thousands of times now =)

    Rather unorthodox form of DIY meditation/contemplation, but I like contemplating abstract thoughts and symbols while consuming the above media, each piece of media of which I linked to, I’ve probably seen repeatedly (over and over again) hundreds, some of them thousands of times.

    I know it’s fun to watch music videos of course, over and over again, thousands of times, just to cope with trauma day in and day out, and anxiety attacks. Like you know watch music videos on Youtube and talk about the Illuminati, one would think I was ten or something, but I’m 31 and a half years old, and pretty Autistic stuff. See that Buddhist Monk at the end of the q3 intro video? That’s me, except I’m actually more of a Nun, or an Anchoress if you will.

  7. 7
    jeroenmetselaar

    Well, that is the whole level dragged down to toddler level. Not following you there, good luck in the gutter.

  8. 8
    RainbowSlushie^.^

    Try using evidence, it’s there for you in the above quotes. You can engage it at any point in time.

    I’m not sure about the gutter though, as you were pretty much in the sewers with your arrogant comments dismissing entire meditation traditions in a facile manner. So if you want to engage the evidence concerning empirical reality, you can engage my comments at any point in time. Until then, you should prefer the la la land you’re in right? So petty. If you want to put yourself in the gutter, don’t be surprised when you’re shown evidence that disagrees with what you’re saying. Arrogance based on nothing but speculation and thin air is the very definition of ‘gutter’ to me, so I’m not really sure what you’re saying here.

  9. 9
    sciamannata

    I feel there are a couple of things I want to respond to or clarify here. I’ll try to be brief, I don’t want to get bogged down in details.

    Firstly, Greta, I admire you greatly in a number of ways, and I am sorry if what I said upset you. I often promote your posts because “WHAT SHE SAID!!eleventy1!”, and I want to be friends with you, not enemies – but I am not necessarily very good at articulating my thoughts.

    That said, I’ll go directly to the only actual point of disagreement I have with what you said.

    The specific techniques you described in your various posts on meditation are extremely close to those used in various Buddhist traditions. To the extent that I can confidently say that we’re clearly talking descent with modification here, not parallel adaptation ;)

    I don’t doubt you when you say that medical science has validated them, and that’s great and it is important — and it may legitimately be the only thing that matters to you; but it’s not the same as “being based on” science.

    Beyond which, the Buddhist tradition does in fact have an important strand of empiricism: testing it out for yourself, seeing what works. Which is not the same as saying that Buddhism is a science, or even that it is scientific. But those techniques have been invented, tested, developed, passed on, tweaked and adapted in practice. This is not the only strand in Buddhism (which is big!), but it is not marginal either.

    Other than on this point, I think we are not disagreeing much – just looking at things from different starting points.

    You can take religion out of meditation, obviously. The question is whether, by doing that, you lose something important. I do think that risk exists — but so does the balancing risk of being put off by the religious trappings. Which I totally understand, largely because I’ve had to struggle with it myself, and occasionally I still do.

    So we make choices. I’ve chosen to engage with a larger chunk of the Buddhist tradition, you have chosen to leave it all out. I think both are legitimate choices. As I tried to say in my previous comment, though maybe not very clearly: you personally don’t seem to need Buddhism-as-such, so I’m not going to try to persuade you — not even inside my own head.

    I have no problem with saying “we took a bunch of techniques and insights from various strands of Buddhism, stripped away all the woo and all the social-control mechanisms, ran clinical tests on them, and we’ll teach you the results”: in fact, I would call this a very good thing to do, and to learn. Because I don’t like woo and authoritarian social control, and because, as you said, people would be put off.

    What I object to is not giving their due to a 2000-year-old evolutionary bush of developing, changing and self-correcting traditions — especially in a context where those traditions largely came to the “West” through colonialism.

    Last thing, since it seems to have made you a bit defensive and I don’t like upsetting people for no good reason: I said you’re “becoming more Buddhist”, not “becoming a Buddhist”. I wasn’t talking about identity at all. (It was meant as a bit of friendly teasing, really — therefore the smiley.) What I meant is that you say things that come very close to a Buddhist outlook. Quite possibly because in both cases they’re based on close observation of self and the world.

    (…and as for the quotes from your book: no objections there.)

  10. 10
    infiniteartsupplies

    I attended a Buddhist group for several years and did my best to get my head around the philosophy during that time. I’ve since distanced myself from that group, and Buddhism in general, because of all the supernatural clap-trap which clearly contradicts science and reason. To my understanding, the core teachings of Buddhism, in a nutshell, are following:

    - All sentient beings possess an individual, eternal and immaterial “mind” which wasn’t born and will not
    die.

    - When we die, our mind exits our body into a non-physical realm called the “bardo”, where it stays for up to 49
    days.

    - After the bardo phase has ended, our karma decides our rebirth into the next life. A Buddhist will try to maximize his/her good karma in this life for a better rebirth. Good actions, kindness and meditation are the best ways to achieve this. Everything you are, and experience, is a result of your personal karma. Nothing else. If you were born as an orphan in the Congo, you quite clearly messed up.

    - There are six possible “realms of existence” into which we can be reborn: two in which we obtain a physical body (human or animal), and four in which we do not (god, half-god, hungry-ghost, or worst of all, the hell realm).

    - The only way to escape this cycle of sometimes more and sometimes less suffering is to reach the state of “enlightenment”, as even a round in the god realm — albeit quite long and pleasant — is impermanent.

    - Enlightenment can only be achieved through a shedload of good karma and meditation, and only in the
    human realm..

    - Enlightenment is only possible because the world/universe is an illusion created by our minds.

    I’ve since learned that it’s possible to call yourself a secular Buddhist and reject all this unfounded, unscientific horseshit, but then, why call yourself a Buddhist at all? Like Greta I try to maintain a regular meditation practice for the proven, tangible benefits it brings in THIS life. And that is all.

  11. 11
    sciamannata

    Dear infiniteartsupplies —

    I’m afraid you misunderstood Buddhism quite radically, since one of the main distinguishing features of Buddhism from the existing philosophies/religions of the time was the strong denial of the existence of an eternal soul — either individual or collective. I am not blaming you, the philosophical teachings aren’t easy to start with, and you may well have been thought badly.

    The Tibetan schools have elaborated on the older traditions and there is indeed the whole idea of bardos and rebirth and so on, but even so, the idea of an individual soul isn’t really there. I agree that it is confusing and complicated — and also that there is a fair amount of woo! Tibetan Buddhism is hands down the most mystical and magical of the big traditions.

    Why call myself a Buddhist? Because I see enough of value in it — beyond just the meditation techniques. (And when I’m talking to Buddhists, I often call myself an atheist instead. I think the interaction/confrontation is interesting and useful.)

  12. 12
    Greta Christina

    BrainwashingGoddess—–Mind Control for the Evil IllumiNaughty Agenda: Dial it back, NOW. Please review my comment policy. In particular, review #10. I do not take kindly to people barely walking the line of observing the letter of my “criticize ideas, don’t insult people” policy — while blowing right past it in spirit. I don’t like it when the SlymePit does it, and I don’t like it when you do it. (Also, please review #3.) Dial back on the nastiness and hostility, or stop commenting in my blog. Seriously. Now.

  13. 13
    Greta Christina

    The specific techniques you described in your various posts on meditation are extremely close to those used in various Buddhist traditions.

    sciamannata @ #6: Acknowledged, and agreed. With this modification: The specific techniques I’ve described in your various posts on meditation are extremely close to some of those used in various Buddhist traditions.

    I don’t doubt you when you say that medical science has validated them, and that’s great and it is important — and it may legitimately be the only thing that matters to you; but it’s not the same as “being based on” science.

    We may be quibbling here about what “based on” means. Except I don’t think it’s a quibble. I think the basic philosophy behind the scientific method is unique in important ways, and it brings something different and important to the table. It doesn’t bring different techniques to the table, but it brings more than just a rigorous verification of the techniques. It brings a different understanding of those techniques, and a different philosophical foundation.

    What I object to is not giving their due to a 2000-year-old evolutionary bush of developing, changing and self-correcting traditions — especially in a context where those traditions largely came to the “West” through colonialism.

    This is a fair point. I thought I had discussed that in my previous posts about this, but going back over them, I find that while I’ve mentioned it a couple of times, I haven’t spelled it out in any detail. I’ll write a post about that topic at some point. (It won’t be until at least November, though.)

    Last thing, since it seems to have made you a bit defensive and I don’t like upsetting people for no good reason: I said you’re “becoming more Buddhist”, not “becoming a Buddhist”. I wasn’t talking about identity at all.

    Okay. I’ll take your word that this was not your intent. Just so you know the context behind my irritation: I have had a bellyful of people telling me that I’m “really” this or “not really” that. They sometimes do so in a joking way, but there’s often real intent — and real condescension — behind the joke. I have a short fuse about it. (I’m not the only one for whom that’s true, btw.)

    I do have to take issue with this, though, from #11:

    I’m afraid you misunderstood Buddhism quite radically, since one of the main distinguishing features of Buddhism from the existing philosophies/religions of the time was the strong denial of the existence of an eternal soul — either individual or collective. I am not blaming you, the philosophical teachings aren’t easy to start with, and you may well have been thought badly.

    I’m sorry, but this sounds very much like “that’s not the true faith.” The reality is that Buddhism, as it is widely practiced by millions of people, does have non-trivial supernatural elements. To say “the way you were taught Buddhsm isn’t really Buddhism” sounds a lot like a progressive Christian telling a fundamentalist, “the way you were taught Christianity isn’t really Christianity.” (Or vice versa.) Of course it is.

  14. 14
    RainbowSlushie^.^

    <blockquote cite=""
    BrainwashingGoddess—–Mind Control for the Evil IllumiNaughty Agenda: Dial it back, NOW. Please review my comment policy. In particular, review #10. I do not take kindly to people barely walking the line of observing the letter of my “criticize ideas, don’t insult people” policy — while blowing right past it in spirit. I don’t like it when the SlymePit does it, and I don’t like it when you do it. (Also, please review #3.) Dial back on the nastiness and hostility, or stop commenting in my blog. Seriously. Now.

    I really do get it that it’s ok for you and the other commenter to arrogantly dismiss entire religious traditions but not be taken to task for it. Also, lol@Slymepit (See Red Queen I posted there as Marianne: http://pastebin.com/ZvTk2bqH ) I posted Red Queen in Slymepit, which is a genocidal tract, and it’s the only thing I posted. It’s cute you think I belong there when I posted a misandryist genocidal tract to them in my one post, which tract wasn’t joking in the slightest.

    Being arrogant in response to arrogant isn’t violating your comment policy, you’re just jealous and like to oppress sexual assault victims (such as myself) and others when we speak out vehemently against others due to your tone troll comment policy, as well you like to oppress and silence people like me when we take to task people like the commenter here who arrogantly dismiss entire traditions of meditation and contemplation.

    In short you’re just shallow and fake when it counts, I understand. You don’t know how to be wrong or let victims speak out, and there’s never a world where you’ll be anything I truly respect.

  15. 15
    RainbowSlushie^.^

    BrainwashingGoddess—–Mind Control for the Evil IllumiNaughty Agenda: Dial it back, NOW. Please review my comment policy. In particular, review #10. I do not take kindly to people barely walking the line of observing the letter of my “criticize ideas, don’t insult people” policy — while blowing right past it in spirit. I don’t like it when the SlymePit does it, and I don’t like it when you do it. (Also, please review #3.) Dial back on the nastiness and hostility, or stop commenting in my blog. Seriously. Now.

    Some people can dish it but they can’t take it Greta, you’re one of those people], and justified arrogance in response to unjustified arrogance (what you posted) is what you can’t take . I’m not sorry for anything I’ve said here, or in the sexual abuse thread, in the slightest, will not repent, you can ban me if you want. I really don’t care, because you’re nothing but a bourgeouis sellout anyway, you and the rest of the clowns on this site. The fact the Slympit are even more bourgeouis sellouts than you or anyone here as well as cavemen intellectually compared to people here, doesn’t concern me. I loved the terror I created in them posting RQ (red Queen) because balance is held in the world when terror meets terror, unjustified arrogance meets justified arrogance. Anything else is a reactionary support to the status quo.

    Maybe you should try not silencing and threatening to ban victims of sexual assault for defending themselves, and try not threatening to ban people for disagreeing with you using empirical evidence. If you don’t want ugliness, don’t be ugly.

  16. 16
    sciamannata

    Greta #16:
    Thanks for taking the time to reply even after declaring blog-blackout. I am happy about how the exchange turned out, and I think we both managed to explain ourselves to each other somewhat, which is good. I’d love to talk about this again; maybe it will happen once you’re back.

    I agree of course with your modification — not all Buddhist meditation is about mindfulness.

    I take your point about being told what you “really” are. Ouch. Sorry it came across that way, definitely not my intent. (It may have to do with the fact that I’m pretty casual with labels about myself. But of course, not everybody is myself. That would be pretty boring.)

    On the “no true Buddhist” issue… My fault again, but only that I fired off that message too quickly and wasn’t very clear. I see your point — I’ll explain better.

    The radical misunderstanding is the bit about the eternal soul: “All sentient beings possess an individual, eternal and immaterial “mind” which wasn’t born and will not die.” That is simply not Buddhism. The doctrine of anatman/anatta (“no soul”) is central to any form of Buddhism (and BTW, its empirical verification is one of the purposes of meditation). Some schools do have beliefs that look an awful lot like the existence of the soul, but I’m pretty confident that if you asked them, they’d still affirm anatman and explain in proper theological sophisms why their actual beliefs don’t really contradict it :)

    I don’t have the same objection to the other points — some are simply correct, some are generalizations from one tradition to all of Buddhism, and some are misunderstandings but probably widespread. (A special case is the idea that karma is the only thing that determines your life, or your next life. This is really Hindu rather than Buddhist. AFAIK Buddhists in Asia do not believe this — but many in the West do. It doesn’t make them not-Buddhist, but I will still maintain that it is a misunderstanding — and a dangerous, damaging one.)

    The supernatural elements? They’re definitely there — with varying importance in the different traditions. I don’t like them, but I don’t have to believe them — or to deny that they are important to a lot of people.

  17. 17
    RainbowSlushie^.^

    I should say though, thanks for the fair warning Greta, and I really do hope you indulge me with a ban, on your blog, or this site. It would be a small honor for me, as indeed it was a small honor to be banned from the Slymepit for what I posted there.

    It would be such an honor to be banned here, I really suggest you do it, I think it would befit you perfectly =)

  18. 18
    sciamannata

    infiniteartsupplies #10: I just realized that I forgot to apologize for my previous response to you. As I said, I just fired it off, and it came out rather more blunt than it needed to be. My previous reply to Greta goes into a bit more detail, but I felt I should apologize to you directly — sorry!

  19. 19
    infiniteartsupplies

    @sciamannata #18: No need to be sorry. Buddhism does indeed have something to offer, if you cut out the crap.

    Sam Harris sums up my thoughts on the subject quite eloquently in this article:

    http://www.samharris.org/site/full_text/killing-the-buddha

    Om..

  20. 20
    sciamannata

    @infiniteartsupplies #19:
    When I first came across Sam Harris, I was delighted at his Buddhist background and assumptions. Over time, and reading/hearing more of him, I grew very disenchanted and now I rather dislike him — for a variety of reasons, some of which have to do with his take on Buddhism (and then there’s his politics, and his utilitarianism…)

    Like all of Sam Harris, that article (which I had read some time ago) has some good points, and some that I would argue against. A discussion of Sam Harris’ take on Buddhism and/or of that specific article would be very interesting (to me anyway…) — but unfortunately at the moment I really don’t have the brainpower needed to engage in it.

    (And in fact for the next few days I’m going to have materially very little time to devote to the Internets in general, so I’ll have to bow out of this forum for now. I enjoyed the exchange.)

  21. 21
    julien

    Responding to this:

    Last thing, since it seems to have made you a bit defensive and I don’t like upsetting people for no good reason: I said you’re “becoming more Buddhist”, not “becoming a Buddhist”. I wasn’t talking about identity at all.

    And Greta’s response:

    Okay. I’ll take your word that this was not your intent. Just so you know the context behind my irritation: I have had a bellyful of people telling me that I’m “really” this or “not really” that. They sometimes do so in a joking way, but there’s often real intent — and real condescension — behind the joke. I have a short fuse about it. (I’m not the only one for whom that’s true, btw.)

    Greta is right on. That sort of thing really gets me too: taking the positive attributes of whatever group a person belongs to and claiming them solely for their group. Then, whenever someone expresses one of these attributes, claiming that they’re “becoming more like / acting like” a member of the group. I’m guessing if you consider yourself Buddhist you don’t consider yourself Christian. Have you ever done something nice and been told “that was very Christian of you?” Or been told “I know you claim to be a buddhist / atheist / whatever, but you act like a Christian?” As if being moral were synonymous with being Christian.

    I of course understand that it wasn’t your conscious intent to imply that buddhists are better than everyone else. But I hope you can understand that that’s exactly what it comes across as: smug superiority.

    BTW: We see this plenty in non-religious contexts (for instance, telling someone their viewpoint is “very republican / democratic”, as if there were no overlap). Even atheists like to claim the mantle of rationality or skepticism for themselves.

  22. 22
    julien

    Looking back at that after I posted it, I feel some context is in order. It came across kind of angry, but it’s really not. The “more of a buddhist” comment was (for me) a minor annoyance, not something to get riled up about. I was mostly just thinking out loud, and should have proofread what I wrote for tone :)

    Thanks for contributing to the conversation. I hope you can take my comment in the light it was intended: as a comment about how I feel, not as a comment about how you should act.

    -Julien

  23. 23
    infiniteartsupplies

    @sciamannata #20: As much as I have understanding for you as an ex-Buddhist myself, your proselytizing Buddhism on an atheist blog IS going to get you some critical feedback. Is that somehow surprising to you?

    And why do you have an issue with Sam Harris’ ” take on Buddhism?” The gist of his argument is that Buddhism, as a world religion, however benign compared with some of the competition, lends tacit support to religion in general – in all of its fundamental, intolerant and violent forms. That means support for the belief in ridiculous and divisive ideas without, and despite, evidence. And that’s why Buddhism as a religion needs to be be rejected by reasonable people and put into the anthropological section of the museum. Along with every other religion, past and present, if we are to progress as a species.

    There are of course arguably valuable insights in the Buddha’s teachings –if he ever existed– such as impermanence, emptiness and no-self. And indeed meditation. Back in the day, these must have been progressive. Definitely ahead of their time. But as Sam Harris says, if these ideas are rigorously tested by the scientific method and backed up by empirical evidence and found to be valid and useful, then they can and should be extracted from the religion of Buddhism. Like the wine and crackers may be taken out of Catholicism.

    In fact, who knows what the Buddha actually taught over 2500 years ago in India. But I’m confident we now have effective enough methods to extract the baby from the bathwater. So let’s just do away with the robes and the hocus pocus, shall we?

  24. 24
    sciamannata

    @Julien #21 : I totally take your point, and thanks for pointing it out. I had not realized it, but now that you put it that way, I absolutely agree with you. I will try to avoid doing the same in the future.

    …that said, what I meant was more specific than just “positive things” – Greta has said some things that correspond quite closely to Buddhist teachings in some previous articles.

    However, I cannot think of a way to express this that wouldn’t come across the way you said — and therefore I’ll just stop saying it. Or try, anyway :)

  25. 25
    sciamannata

    @infiniteartsupplies #23:
    The core thing is that I think you can do away with the robes and the hocuspocus, and still have Buddhism — in a way that can’t be done with Christianity, where the hocuspocus is a lot more central.

    (In fact, removing the hocuspocus is probably closer to the original; as you said, it’s hard to be certain – but there are some good indications.)

    That’s part of my beef with Harris; another related issue is that he generalizes too much from Tibetan Buddhism, which is what he knows from the inside, to all of Buddhism. A third, still related though less directly, is a bit of the Stephen Bachelor’s attitude that “those superstitious Asians are doing Buddhism all wrong, we know better!” (This is admittedly a caricature of the position, which I used for clarity, but I do see that attitude there, though more subtly.)

    Beyond that, his politics and utilitarianism are actually more damning from my personal point of view than this stuff about Buddhism, as I said I do agree with a lot of what he says even if I disagree with him (and you) on where the bathwater ends and the baby begins.

    (As for your first paragraph, I’m not sure what you’re referring to. In this conversation, I don’t think I’ve received any unfair criticism. There is entirely legitimate disagreement, which is absolutely fine.)

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