Mission accomplished »« An argument for gun control that might finally resonate with wingnuts

What? Zen Buddhists too?

This is getting ridiculous. Now there’s an ongoing sex abuse case within Zen Buddhism.

Joshu Sasaki Roshi, the founder and Abbot of Rinzai-ji is now 105 years old, and he has engaged in many forms of inappropriate sexual relationship with those who have come to him as students since his arrival here more than 50 years ago. His career of misconduct has run the gamut from frequent and repeated non-consensual groping of female students during interview, to sexually coercive after hours “tea” meetings, to affairs and sexual interference in the marriages and relationships of his students. Many individuals that have confronted Sasaki and Rinzai-ji about this behaviour have been alienated and eventually excommunicated, or have resigned in frustration when nothing changed; or worst of all, have simply fallen silent and capitulated. For decades, Joshu Roshi’s behaviour has been ignored, hushed up, downplayed, justified, and defended by the monks and students that remain loyal to him.

There’s something about being granted supernatural authority founded on claims that cannot be tested or supported with evidence that allows the nastiest side of some people’s psyche to run unchecked, isn’t there?

Comments

  1. Tsu Dho Nimh says

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kyozan_Joshu_Sasaki

    Yup … the monastic form of Zen is prone to that sort of problem. It’s emphasis is on master versus disciple, and with the master being the absolute head of his temple and with the authority to decide who is worthy of advancement …

    I heard about this in the 1990s, but I thought they had forced the old goat to resign.

  2. redwood says

    I’m not surprised at this at all. Is there a kind of “institutional nature” whereby whoever works for a large company, school or group automatically does whatever is necessary to protect said institution from embarrassment, shame or prosecution when any of its members does something wrong? Having spent my adult working life in Japan and having been employed at companies and schools, I can say that it’s a virtual art form here. Misconduct isn’t completely condoned–it’s just dealt with “in house,” out of the eyes of the general public and outside the legal system via apologies and payoffs. How different is this from the West?

  3. Steven Brown: Man of Mediocrity says

    I’m fairly uneducated when it comes to buddhism, zen or otherwise, but aren’t buddhist monks supposed to be celibate? Same as catholics? Hmmm.

    It’s only a correlation but I think it could use looking into.

    Nah. Let’s just blame homosexuals

  4. imthegenieicandoanything says

    People in authority will, given some time and a large enough number, be likely to engage in this sort of abuse. Atheists, even humanists, will suffer the same sort of scandals (and surely have, but I don’t even feel the need to search for the facts) when they have similar authority, however gently and carefully established. That doesn’t in any way make such abuses less horrible, but rather should encourage those who organize such institutions for the best of reasons to make it as difficult as possible to so abuse such authority, and to quickly deal with it when it happens despite these efforts, instead of concealing them.

    The idea of this being bad because it’s somehow unique, or more prevelant, to “religion” simply doesn’t hold for me, however obviously stupid any “supernatural authority” is.

  5. says

    Perhaps cause/effect is backwards in your thinking. Maybe it’s not that being a religious figurehead brings out the power madness, perhaps it’s that those that are attracted to power gravitate toward positions of authority. I’d find that more believable than the idea that people become bullshit artists as they fall deeper into religion. Religion attracts bullshit artists – some of them fool themselves first and then realize how easy it is and start turning the belief-crank for profit.

  6. tariqata says

    There’s something about being granted supernatural authority founded on claims that cannot be tested or supported with evidence that allows the nastiest side of some people’s psyche to run unchecked, isn’t there?

    I don’t quite agree with PZ here, although he came close to articulating what I feel is going on. I think the Stanford Prison Experiment illustrates that putting people in a position of authority over others – whatever the source of that authority – can permit individuals to express their cruelty more freely.

    What religious authority provides is a shield from the kinds of accountability and oversight that other people in authority are typically subject to and a way for the abuser to try to justify the abuse to those who are victimized by it.

  7. says

    @Steven Brown #5 – Observant Buddhists hold themselves to the “Noble Eightfold Path,” a list of behaviors seen as morally right which will help the adherent obtain Nirvana. One of these is samyak-karmānta, usually translated as “right action” or “right conduct.” The Pali Canon (the oldest collection of Buddhist scriptures) describes “right conduct” as abstaining from sexual misconduct. The actual definition of “sexual misconduct” is nebulous, and varies depending on the school of Buddhist thought. While monks are traditionally held to celibacy — physical desire is seen as a lure of the world of illusion to be avoided — it is recognized that celibacy is a matter of traditional interpretation, not actual scriptures.

    The thing is, when you are coming from a very lord/servant type of culture, and wield absolute power over your underlings, it is very easy to justify your actions, even when scripture is very clear.

  8. Pierce R. Butler says

    At the San Francisco Zen Center, two abbots (Richard Baker and Tenshin Reb Anderson have produced major scandals since the ’70s (though Baker’s involved a consenting – though married – adult, and Anderson’s, while awesomely dumb, was not sexual).

    Enlightenment just ain’t what it useta be.

  9. robro says

    Why am I not surprised. I suspect that if you dig into any authoritarian system you will find some form of this. Not that it matters a whole lot, but this doesn’t sound like pedophilia, or at least not just pedophilia. Perhaps it would best to say that religion is any abuser’s playground. And by “any” I mean other forms of abuse, not just sexual.

  10. says

    You know what, robro? You’re absolutely right.

    Religion seems to attract a certain type of person to the power it (“it” being religion) offers. Pedophiles, rapists, general abusers… what makes religious power so much more enticing than, say, political or celebrity/social power?

    Actually, I think I already know the answer to that: infallibility.

  11. says

    For a while I was sitting in on a Buddhist group that met at UCLA. Hearing about scandals like this at Buddhist groups elsewhere in LA was one of the reasons I stopped – it showed that a significant fraction of Buddhist teachers were ethically contemptible (the other reason was that I learned how much of a minority the functionally-atheist Buddhist schools are, and how much nonsensical metaphysics exists in the others).

    But I agree with those who’ve pointed out that this is not just a religious problem. Abuse happens in all social structures that aren’t set up to make it much harder to get away with something like that – it happens in companies, in the military, in schools, and in sports clubs. Religious groups may be more susceptible to ongoing abuse and to covering up such, because an abuser can invoke supernatural authority to avoid repercussions. But it would be a mistake to say that religion is the cause.

  12. laurentweppe says

    Religion seems to attract a certain type of person to the power it (“it” being religion) offers

    Not only religion: a study conducted in France a few years ago noticed that a majority of rapists were doctors, teachers, magistrates, high-ranking public servants/politicians and senior managers in the private sector. Not surprisingly, power attracts those who want to abuse it.

    Which also means that making religion toothless is unlikely to have any large positive effect in such matters: sexual predators who flocked toward religion would just choose other careers.

  13. says

    One day, followers of Shai-Hulud and his prophet Muad’Dib will make the news for sexual assault and I can finally say nothing more will surprise me.

  14. robro says

    @NateHevens — I don’t think it’s just religions, although they certainly stand out because of the hypocrisy the abuse exposes. Perhaps it’s any institution that has a similar authoritarian structure that gives someone virtually unlimited power over others and puts them above reproach. Politicians, celebrities, and businessmen have often been associated with abuse of subordinates sexually, physically, and psycho-emotionally. And let’s not forget the aristocrats.

  15. yubal says

    @ PZ

    Power structures are what enable and encourage abuse, not religions. Religions tend to build hierarchical power structures mostly with men on the top, but we see that all over the place.

    Rape and abuse are most often a display of power and suppression. How often does a woman not get a promotion or pay increase because she ignores the request for fellatio from the department manager/CEO/president? What happens to you if you report those sexual advances to HR? How many children are raped by teachers, coaches, caregivers? I say it is in the people, not in the religion.

    I dare you, the catholic church has a billion followers. Pick all the cases of abuse in the catholic church that went public in the last ten years and compare it by numbers to a smaller (secular?) group, e.g. the danish public school system in the same time. Compare it to more groups, Muslims, college students, engineers, journalists, kindergartens, Navajos, Russian Jews, Office Employees and break it down to the absolute numbers. How does that correlate to Buddhism and Zen-Buddhism? Assuming the reported cases are roughly equal, if not correct for estimates of cultural variances in report rates if you can. What do you find? That any case of abuse and rape is one case too much? We knew that before.

    I am not saying you are barking up the wrong tree here:

    There’s something about being granted supernatural authority founded on claims that cannot be tested or supported with evidence that allows the nastiest side of some people’s psyche to run unchecked, isn’t there?

    But you keep suggesting that a branch is a tree. And yes, it isn’t.

    Also, what Greta said recently about compassion and religious folks.

    Flat, boring catholic bashing doesn’t get more exciting when you apply it to non-christian groups. You simply ignore the root causes for institutional rape and abuse, hierarchical power structures, opportunity and weak ego.

  16. echidna says

    While I agree that power in any sphere promotes corruption, and corruption in institutions leads to cover-ups, I also think along the same lines as Tariqata: religion is special, in that people are already required to accept the unjustifiable, and avert their eyes from reality in order to believe things that are not true. It warps people’s sense of reality and justice, and this is more than just fear of authority.

  17. markd555 says

    I do give Buddhism credit for one bit of enlightenment that has affected my life and the wisest thing any spiritual leader has ever said:

    “Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumored by many, Do not believe in anything no matter if I have said it, Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.” ~Gautama Siddharta Buddha, 563-483 B.C.

    Absolutely the best “religious” advice ever.

  18. yubal says

    For clarification:

    Does anyone here blames the BBC to be a child molesting, rape enabling institution because of Jimmy Savile?

    How many employees does the BBC have, how many Master-Zen teachers exist an how many priest does the catholic church have?

  19. markd555 says

    >”Does anyone here blames the BBC to be a child molesting, rape enabling institution because of Jimmy Savile?”

    Yep I sure do. Celebrity status, no matter if it is media, sports, or religious enables repeat offenders.

    When you worship someone, no matter what the reason, they will get away with whatever they feel like; and even self justify that they alone are allowed and it’s ok because they are better than everyone else.

  20. says

    Does anyone here blames the BBC to be a child molesting, rape enabling institution because of Jimmy Savile?

    If Savile’s co-workers knew and didn’t act, yes. If Savile’s superiors knew and didn’t act, absolutely. If Savile’s superiors knew and didn’t act and in fact protected him, yes totally absolutely.

  21. John Morales says

    yubal:

    How many employees does the BBC have, how many Master-Zen teachers exist an how many priest does the catholic church have?

    How many don’t get caught at it?

    (Consider how many did get away with it for months, years and even decades before being caught)

  22. yubal says

    Marcus Ranum,

    that is the point. most commercial and public institutions have policies that cover that. Most religious institutions have them too. The question is if they acknowledge and enforce them or not.

    So you are willing to call the BBC “a child molesting, rape enabling institution” because of one man and a few others that knew and were scared from speaking up because of his status/value?

    By that interpretation, the public secular school system in almost every European country is “a child molesting, rape enabling institution”.

    I’d still rather blame it on the people who knew and didn’t speak up than the respective institutions.

  23. Azuma Hazuki says

    @20/MarkD555

    How authentic is this? I like it, but isn’t it hundreds of years between the supposed life of Gautama and the first texts we have on him?

  24. John Morales says

    yubal:

    I’d still rather blame it on the people who knew and didn’t speak up than the respective institutions.

    You don’t think that the fact that religious institutions are specifically trusted because they purportedly are sources of morality is at all relevant?

    (European societies would function just fine without religion, but not without a school system)

  25. says

    @Azuma Hazuki:

    The historicity of Gautama Buddha is debated. The earliest complete traditional biographies date to something like 600 years after he supposedly lived, although Wikipedia tells me that some fragmentary pieces of suttas are dated to quite a bit earlier than that (couple of centuries BCE, as compared to 5th century BCE for Buddha’s traditional life). All of these are very myth-and-symbology heavy stories.

    I can’t speak to the consensus of historians on this matter, but the Buddhists I’ve talked to either assumed that Gautama Buddha must have existed or asserted that if there was a historical Buddha or not was irrelevant to the ethics and practice of Buddhism. Again from the small sample of Buddhist I’ve personally met, the latter idea was more common among the functionally-atheist or at least agnostic Buddhists.

  26. raven says

    Bob Dylan said it a while ago.

    Don’t follow leaders!!!

    I think the next phrase is watch out for parking meters.

    This is a bit cryptic because it is a song after all. But the point is don’t follow anyone blindly. Think for yourself.

    That includes PZ Myers. Or me. Or anyone. Humans naturally form up into groups and tribes with a leadership of some sort. That is who we are and why we are the dominant species on the planet.

    But our natural tendencies can be hijacked by people for their own ends. Politicians, corporate executives, religious leaders, hereditary aristocracies, professionals, all have this problem.

  27. says

    @markd555, and continuing from myself @28:

    That’s the Kalama Sutta, from the Pali Canon, right? It’s a good sentiment. But, again if there was a historical Buddha, it’s hard to say that he actually said something like that. The Pali Canon was codified in the 1st century BCE, which leaves 400 years (given the traditional starting date of Buddhism) for oral tradition to lose and accrete and innovate ideas. And by that point there were already many different Buddhist schools with different canons, many of which were not transcribed or have not survived intact for study.

    I am reminded of the messy variety of early Christian texts, where Richard Carrier and others would argue that there did not need to have been any historical figure at all for the myths to clump together and produce a highly specific story. And now I reach the limits of my knowledge of history.

  28. Dunc says

    You seem to have some redundancy here PZ… Let me fix it for you.

    There’s something about being granted supernatural authority founded on claims that cannot be tested or supported with evidence that allows the nastiest side of some people’s psyche to run unchecked, isn’t there?

    Much better.

  29. markd555 says

    >”The Pali Canon was codified in the 1st century BCE, which leaves 400 years (given the traditional starting date of Buddhism) for oral tradition to lose and accrete and innovate ideas.”

    Even if extreme worst case the quote was actually from 500 AD from Mr Unknown instead of 500 BC from Gautama Buddha, it really doesn’t lessen the impressiveness of the quote for the time period.It’s very early skepticism, and a quote like that back then in many parts of the world is death sentence.

    Props to whoever made that early pre-scientific method skeptic quote.

    On the other hand, if you had Jesus running around saying he is the “Son of god” and ALSO referred to everyone else as children of god, and the part where he commonly referred to everyone else in the same way as himself was cut out a few hundred years after his death; a quote change like that changes everything.

  30. Ogvorbis says

    Pedophiles, rapists, general abusers… what makes religious power so much more enticing than, say, political or celebrity/social power?

    Predators can be very good at finding out where their prefered prey can be found, where they are vulnerable, and putting themselves in the right place. Tigers do it. Lions do it. Shrews do it. Sharks do it. Predatory abusers do it, too.

    In the savannah of Africa, it is waterholes. In the wilderness forest of the American west, it is game trails. In human society, it is heirarchical and authoritarian organizations.

  31. hexidecima says

    It is my considered opinion that thinking that one has found the secrets to the universe makes one think one is above reproach. I also think that since one is sure that one has found said secrets, and the god or force one worships doesn’t punish one for doing horrible things, one thinks that they are not doing anything wrong at all.

    aka “obviously God doesn’t have a problem with me doing this since he doesn’t do anything to stop me.”

  32. says

    I suspect some people enter clerical life because they know they have problematic desires,and hope it will cure them. It doesn’t, and instead gives them access to targets.

    Reading this guy is 105 years old, did anyone else think Happosai?

  33. says

    I have to second the many commenters here who have said that the issue is excessive authority, not religion. In fact, Zen roshis do not have authority based on any supernatural claims, and Zen asserts that its claims are indeed testable. It is not about anything supernatural, it is a system of psychological development which claims that its practitioners can achieve a state of tranquility and clear sightedness. Supernatural or really metaphysical claims of any kind are not essential to Zen.

    However, the culture does grant enormous respect and authority to master teachers. That is the problem here.

  34. frankb says

    #11

    two abbots (Richard Baker and Tenshin Reb Anderson

    Baker and Ten…>>> Baker and Tam >>> Jim Baker and Tammy Fye >>> Jim and Tammy Fye Baker. Coincidence, I think NOT.

  35. says

    Yep. It’s the power imbalance, not necessarily the smoke and magic.

    When I was a kid (back when Jesus rode dinosaurs), it was pretty well known that one of the local Boy Scout leaders was a pedophile. It took years before he was eventually outed — but we kids knew who to stay away from. At the time, such things were not discussed with parents.

    The difference with religion, of course, is that religious instruction and service attendance is rarely voluntary. I could skip a scout meeting and not get into trouble with my parents. Skip church? HA!!!!

  36. Ogvorbis says

    When I was a kid (back when Jesus rode dinosaurs), it was pretty well known that one of the local Boy Scout leaders was a pedophile. It took years before he was eventually outed — but we kids knew who to stay away from. At the time, such things were not discussed with parents.

    Damn. Makes me wonder how my abuser kept us quiet for all these years. No, I think I know. Damn. I hate this shit.

    Sorry, not you, Kevin.

  37. says

    yubal: Where in the OP does PZ bash Catholicism? I looked and looked.

    Unless you spell Catholicism “Buddist”…

    Kindly fuck off.

  38. says

    @39…I’m sorry I upset you. Probably should have put a trigger warning on the post. And I will for the remainder of this:

    TRIGGER WARNING

    My guy was pretty good at targeting the kid who had the least amount of parental support, the kid who was the geekiest-loneliest-had the fewest friends. He culled that kid from the herd. And the rest of us, like zebras watching a lion consume one of their own, did nothing. Because it was about sex and suspicion and stuff that people didn’t talk about.

    I suspect it’s a trained skill. You get better at it over time. And I suspect that the kids who were targeted may even have thought at the time they were getting something out of it as well.

  39. thumper1990 says

    I dare you, the catholic church has a billion followers. Pick all the cases of abuse in the catholic church that went public in the last ten years and compare it by numbers to a smaller (secular?) group, e.g. the danish public school system in the same time. Compare it to more groups, Muslims, college students, engineers, journalists, kindergartens, Navajos, Russian Jews, Office Employees and break it down to the absolute numbers. How does that correlate to Buddhism and Zen-Buddhism? Assuming the reported cases are roughly equal, if not correct for estimates of cultural variances in report rates if you can. What do you find? That any case of abuse and rape is one case too much? We knew that before.

    Could anyone make sense of yubal’s word-salad at #18?

  40. Ogvorbis says

    Kevin:

    Not your fault. I never know if certain things will trigger or not. Panic attack is over.

    TRIGGER WARNING:

    I was one of the ones he culled from the herd. I wasn’t alone. I don’t know if the lucky ones knew and said nothing, or were unaware of what was going on. Never even thought about it before now. Damn. Part of me thinks that they had to know but, back then, they could have been unaware.

    And I suspect that the kids who were targeted may even have thought at the time they were getting something out of it as well.

    That is part of where the hell of guilt and self-loathing lies. It hurt but I liked it. I hated hurting others, but I, physically, enjoyed it.

    I’m glad you escaped (relatively?) unscathed. Scary. And too damn common.

  41. thumper1990 says

    @yubal #25

    So you are willing to call the BBC “a child molesting, rape enabling institution” because of one man and a few others that knew and were scared from speaking up because of his status/value?

    Oh, I get it! Yes. Ditto for the catholic Church. In fact, more so for the Catholic Church because we can prove they actively colluded to cover it up, whereas we can only speculate that the BBC knew about or attempted to cover up Saville’s crimes.

  42. Tsu Dho Nimh says

    “I’m fairly uneducated when it comes to buddhism, zen or otherwise, but aren’t buddhist monks supposed to be celibate? Same as catholics? Hmmm.”

    Yes, they are. Unlike Catholic priests, however, they can hand back the robes and leave the temple with no excommunication and no paperwork. In SE Asia it’s common for young men to become monks, get an education, then turn in their robes to leave and have a family. They return to the monastery as old men (as widowers or their wives become nuns) and teach. It works fairly well.

    The most common definition of “sexual misconduct” in Buddhism includes mismatched authority … boss and employee for example, is in the “don’t do that!” category. Senior monk and student or non-monastic person is also considered improper.

  43. harvardmba says

    Another pointless diatribe from P Zed. What does he mean, Buddhists too? Is there some massive coverup in the Buddhist community? Does it roll all the way up to the Dalai Lama (even though he’s not Zen)? If not, then P Zed — STFU. This Buddhist is just one man, and sexual molesters exist in all professions — even evolutionary biology. I’m sure I can find evolutionary biologist who has engaged in sexual molestation in the course of his work, and when I do I’ll post “What Evolutionary Biologists too?”.

    As usual, P Zed is clueless. Take him out of the classroom and he’s as befuddled as the next ivory tower denizen. The Catholic Church is a about the massive, unprecedented cover-up which rolls all the way up to the Vatican, and the Pope.

    P Zed: STFU.

  44. raven says

    Harvard(grade school dropuout) is being stupid. Again.

    Religious leaders pretend to be moral authorities with a hotline to the gods and the secrets of life and the universe.

    Evolutionary biologists, gardners, bus drivers etc.. make no such claims of moral leadership and holiness.

    If the religious leadership is no better and frequently worse than normal people, what good is religion?

    If the religious leadership is no better and frequently worse than normal people, what does that say about the truth claims of the religions?

    I have to give the answers because harvard grade school dunce is really mentally slow. Religion is a huge net negative for our society, baggage being dragged behind us and holding us back.

    Religion has no verifiable truth claims. It is not a source of morality. If anything it is a source of huge immorality. The fundie perversion is based on pure hate, lies, and hypocrisy, to take on example.

  45. daniellavine says

    harvardmba@47:

    If you don’t like what PZ has to say you are perfectly free not to read his blog. You realize that, right? Like instead of taking the time to read this and then post an incoherent response you could have just…not read it.

    You should shut the fuck up. You should do so because you’re annoying and incoherent and, unlike PZ, have nothing interesting or worthwhile to say.

  46. raven says

    Harvard kindergarten kid is sometimes good for a laugh.

    IIRC, H-KK once called dogs and cats slaves and wanted to set up a reserve to care for the existing ones while prohibiting people from owning 4 legged slaves.

    The premise is wrong. Companion animals are mutualists or symbiotes to humans. Both benefit. And most pets can leave any time. They rarely do so.

    (I think this was harvard KK. It was a while ago and I’m not interested enough to look it up. If I’m wrong, I apologize in advance for confusing one crackpot for another.)

  47. Ogvorbis says

    harvardmba:

    Religions are, almost all of them, authoritarian organizations. Religions are, almost all of them, hierarchical organizations. Authoritarian and hierarchical organizations tend to attract people who take advantage of positions of power. Which means they have opportunity to abuse.

    Religions, in addition to being authoritarian and hierarchical, also make the claim that they have a monopoly on morality. They claim to know what gods want. They (often) claim that they, and only they, have the one real answer to life, the universe and everything, the only Truth!

    So when the people who are attracted to authoritarian and hierarchical organizations also have absolute morality, holiness and faith on their side, those who want to gather their own power are in a perfect position to do so. Additionally, for those looking to prey on those further down, or at the bottom of, the hierarchical ladder, organized religion gives them the perfect opportunity to prey. This is not unique to Catholicism, or Buddhism, or Judaism, or Islam, or Protestant Christianity. It can also happen in schools, scouts, the BBC, etc. The difference is that school and the BBC are not claiming that they exist to enforce gods’ morality (the scouts do, to a point). So for PZed to call out yet another religion that appears to be more concerned in protecting the product (their version of morality, what gods want, their authoritarian hierarchy, their patriarchy, etc) than in protecting children is right on.

    Biology is hierarchical (PhD, MS, BS, etc) and can, on occasion, be quite authoritarian. Please cite, though, where biologists claim that they have the one and only Truth! the one and only morality, and claim to be the one and only mouthpiece for gods. You cannot. Thus, your whine is completely off base, clueless, and, as usual, poorly thought out.

    If this is what a Harvard MBA gets you, I can understand why so many businesses appear to be run by the clueless.

  48. cyberCMDR says

    Given the discussion about people being attracted to power and using it for getting sex, I’m surprised nobody had mentioned Clinton yet.

    Actually, I think that money and/or power are enablers for the person who has them. They can enable someone’s good characteristics, or their bad ones. One can win the lottery and can use the money wisely and do good, while another can really fuck up their lives and those around them. What you bring to the situation, all your flaws and features, get magnified.

    Of course, some people really like their flaws, and pursue money and power so that they can be enabled to a greater extent. If you can stomach it, religion does provide an optimal environment for having power over others. It’s not like God is going to stop you.

  49. thumper1990 says

    @Ogvorbis #52

    You are good. Thank you. ;)

    Seriously though, who is this Harvardwhatchamacallit? I’ve seen him on here once or twice before and if my memory serves all he seems to do is drive-by rants, mainly aimed at PZ, and not very well connected to the subject matter.

  50. says

    @markd555 @32:

    As I said, it’s a good sentiment. I just don’t think anyone can justify insisting that there was a Siddhartha Gautama who said it.

    @thumper1990 @44:

    I think yubal was asking about the comparative rates of sexual abuse in different religious and secular institutions. The problem is that reporting rates are frequently low and very uncertain, so only very large differences in actual rates can be assessed.

  51. daniellavine says

    I just don’t think anyone can justify insisting that there was a Siddhartha Gautama who said it.

    There’s good reasons to believe there was a Siddhartha Gautama and there’s good reasons to believe that someone said that quote. There’s also a fairly good reason to think Gautama might have said something like that quote (that it’s consistent with the philosophy and teachings credited to him).

    There’s no justification to insist there definitely was such a person but there’s justification to insist there probably was such a person. Honestly, I think there’s a better case for Siddhartha Gautama than for Jesus of Nazareth.

  52. Sili says

    Honestly, I think there’s a better case for Siddhartha Gautama than for Jesus of Nazareth.

    I’d just love to see that.

  53. anuran says

    Authority without responsibility leads to abuse. This is not exactly news.
    The authority doesn’t have to be religious. The abuse doesn’t have to be sexual.

  54. says

    @daniellavine:

    I agree with Sili.

    The little reading I have done on the subject says that there is argument about if there was a historical Buddha or not, and that the earliest available approximations of a biography are mythical/symbolic discussions that focus on purported previous lives of the Buddha in both human and animal forms. The traditional biography of Siddhārtha Gautama wasn’t codified until hundreds of years after those stories were told.

    And note my caveat above. It is not justified to insist that there was a historical Buddha, nor would it be justified to insist that there wasn’t. But it may be possible to say which of the two is more likely to be true.

    But if I have missed some important evidence, please direct me to it.

  55. daniellavine says

    @michaelbusch:

    I’m not arguing with the fact that the biographies we have of Gautama are bits of mythology that were only written down hundreds of years after the events they purport to describe.

    I’m also not arguing that the largely mythical/symbolic biographies are false in most details.

    I’m simply arguing that it’s quite probable that such myths accreted around an actual historical figure. I think it’s very rare for myths to be simply made up whole-cloth. See the arguments about many Greek myths about heroes and monsters being inspired by fossils.

    @Sili:

    As far as I know, there is no evidence whatsoever for the historical Jesus besides the fact that a bunch of mythological biographies were written about the person. Same with Gautama.

  56. daniellavine says

    @michaelbusch:

    And if you want me to note your “caveat” — which wasn’t really a caveat at all — then you should probably take into account my much more explicit caveat.

  57. David Marjanović says

    It’s very early skepticism, and a quote like that back then in many parts of the world is death sentence.

    Not in India, where skepticism all the way to explicit atheism has an even longer tradition.

    I suspect some people enter clerical life because they know they have problematic desires,and hope it will cure them. It doesn’t, and instead gives them access to targets.

    Seconded.

    If the religious leadership is no better and frequently worse than normal people, what good is religion?

    If the religious leadership is no better and frequently worse than normal people, what does that say about the truth claims of the religions?

    Also seconded.

    Given the discussion about people being attracted to power and using it for getting sex, I’m surprised nobody had mentioned Clinton yet.

    Because the damaged party there is his wife, not Ms Lewinsky.

    See, we’re not talking about sex here, we’re talking about rape.

  58. cyberCMDR says

    @62: True enough.

    In the government however, they are very sensitive to power differentials when it comes to sex. There is a fine line between consensual and coerced sex when someone has power over your job, or in the case of religion, your soul. If a woman chooses sex with her boss as the lesser of two evils, is it still just sex?

  59. says

    @daniellavine:

    You are quite correct that there is insufficient evidence to make any claims to certainty (or, to be more precise, to functional certainty since all inferences have some probability of being wrong). @59 I merely noted my phrasing @55 to make it clear I agree with you on that. I’m sorry if that was itself unclear.

    Where we disagree is our assessments of the relative probabilities of there having been a historical Buddha as compared to there not having been. Given the numerous examples of highly-specific myths being reported as fact and the similarities between the early Buddhist literature and Jain and Hindu and other Vedic texts, especially the Jain stories of Mahavira, I am inclined to think that the Buddha is an entirely mythical character. But if I have come to that conclusion unaware of some important data favoring a historical Buddha having existed, then I would like to know what that data is.

  60. dysomniak, darwinian socialist says

    Because the damaged party there is his wife, not Ms Lewinsky.

    Tell that to Paula Jones and Kathleen Willey.

    See, we’re not talking about sex here, we’re talking about rape.

    Oh, so assault isn’t good enough. What about Juanita Broaddrick?

  61. Lofty says

    harvardparkingticket telling everyone they need to think exactly like him, cos he’s the only reasonable person in the village. Sure.

  62. Azuma Hazuki says

    @64/Michael Busch

    Fascinating! I’ve only read a little about the very early years of Buddhism, and while I did know of Mahavira, aren’t we overlooking something here? Viz, that both seem to have been Hindus beforehand.

    I suspect the main difference between Hinduism and Buddhism at that point is that the Buddhists didn’t believe Brahma was the ultimate reality/ultimate end, but that Brahma himself was just another illusory being glorying in his seeming omnipotence and would himself eventually die.

    Please tell me anything you can about this time period :)

  63. says

    @Azuma:

    I only know what little I have read. Buddhism and Jainism both developed out of the intersection of early Vedic religion and ascetic practices in first-millennium-BCE northern India. Early Buddhism and Jainism were only two of a larger number of significantly similar groups which Wikipedia informs me are now termed ‘Shramana’. The Vedic religion also led to modern Hinduism, but given that Hinduism itself has changed a lot over the intervening 2000+ years, it might be misleading to say that Buddhism and Jainism started as Hindu sects.

    Since they developed out of similar cultures, it’s not surprising that there is a lot of overlap in the Buddhist stories of Siddhartha Gautam and the Jain stories of Mahavira. Both are sons of a king (King Siddhartha for Mahavira, King Suddhodana for Siddhartha Gautama), both live a life of luxury before devoting themselves to many years of meditation and asceticism, and eventually attain enlightenment/omniscience while sitting under a tree.

    But as I have said, my knowledge of the relevant history is limited. Only an actual historian would know enough to have a truly informed opinion.

  64. daniellavine says

    Where we disagree is our assessments of the relative probabilities of there having been a historical Buddha as compared to there not having been. Given the numerous examples of highly-specific myths being reported as fact and the similarities between the early Buddhist literature and Jain and Hindu and other Vedic texts, especially the Jain stories of Mahavira, I am inclined to think that the Buddha is an entirely mythical character. But if I have come to that conclusion unaware of some important data favoring a historical Buddha having existed, then I would like to know what that data is.

    It’s not actually a logically valid to infer that because two obviously false stories have similarities that therefore neither is in any sense based in fact. For example, people have noted similarities between the gospels and the myths of Osiris. This does not indicate there was no historical Jesus of Nazareth, just that the details of the gospels that are similar to the myths of Osiris probably aren’t true.

    In other words, you’re still just noting the lack of evidence for Siddartha Gautama; this doesn’t provide any evidence against Gautama having been a real historical person. It isn’t prima facie implausible that these myths may have accreted around a real historical person and there is good reason to believe that such myths usually do accrete around real historical people. So no, I don’t need any more evidence than I have to say that your conclusion that Gautama probably didn’t exist isn’t justified by your argument.

    Again, I have no problem with the conclusion that Siddhartha Gautama’s “biography” is largely mythological.

  65. charlessoto says

    There’s something about being granted supernatural authority founded on claims that cannot be tested or supported with evidence that allows the nastiest side of some people’s psyche to run unchecked, isn’t there?

    You got that right! It’s a good thing no atheist has ever abused anyone!

  66. says

    @daniellavine:

    That a large number of similar but distinct groups developed in the same time period over a relatively large area suggests that there was never a single real person who became the focus of later myth-making – that would produce a point source instead (this is one of the arguments for mythicist interpretations of Jesus as well). Since the available documentation is imperfect, it is only suggestive and certainly not conclusive. And, as I said, I only know a little about the documentation that does exist.

  67. daniellavine says

    That a large number of similar but distinct groups developed in the same time period over a relatively large area suggests that there was never a single real person who became the focus of later myth-making – that would produce a point source instead (this is one of the arguments for mythicist interpretations of Jesus as well).

    I don’t think this actually follows, as I just said.

    Let me try another example. Do the similarities between the gospels and other contemporary Semitic cults constitute evidence against the existence of Pontius Pilate?

    If not, I’m not sure how you justify using the same argument as evidence against the existence of Jesus Christ. I’m aware that there is independent attestation of Pilate’s existence, but that’s not the point. The point is that the fact that Pilate appears in a clearly mythological account does not allow us to conclude that Pilate himself is mythological.

  68. says

    @daniellavine:

    As you say, the question isn’t the non-existence of Pilate – we have his signature on a block. It’s the non-existence of Jesus. Pilate doesn’t show up in the earliest Christian accounts. Those are scattered over a large area around the eastern Mediterranean, are clearly related but differ from each other in many ways, and don’t contain the biographical accounts of Jesus that were innovated later (effectively, the Gospels are in large part historical fiction). If Jesus had existed as a single historical person, we might expect a concentration of early records around wherever he lived and more similarity in the oldest documents as compared to the later ones – rather than a throwing away and deliberate suppression of an original variety of texts as a narrower range of sects gained dominance.

    Likewise, the various related but distinct Shramana groups spread across what is now northern India in the mid-first-millenium-BCE suggest that there may not have been a single historical person at the center of what eventually became Buddhism (and similarly for Jainism).

  69. daniellavine says

    @michaelbusch:

    Again, it just doesn’t follow. Independent attestation of Pilate’s existence is irrelevant to whether the gospels themselves constitute evidence against Pilate’s existence. Do they? Do you think they do? If they did the evidence we have that he did exist would obviously override it so it’s not really a “gotcha” here. I just don’t think there’s any way to conclude that any particular plausible detail from a mythological account — such as the existence of a particular person — is false on the basis that the mythological account itself is obviously false.

    Those are scattered over a large area around the eastern Mediterranean, are clearly related but differ from each other in many ways, and don’t contain the biographical accounts of Jesus that were innovated later (effectively, the Gospels are in large part historical fiction).

    I have repeatedly said that I think these narratives are largely fictional. Again, I don’t see how you can use the fact that the narrative is fictional as evidence against particular plausible details within the text.

    If Jesus had existed as a single historical person, we might expect a concentration of early records around wherever he lived and more similarity in the oldest documents as compared to the later ones – rather than a throwing away and deliberate suppression of an original variety of texts as a narrower range of sects gained dominance.

    We would only expect this in a largely literate society which Palestine under Roman rule was not. (Nor was northern India in 500 BC.)

    I don’t think the suppression of early gospels constitutes evidence against a historical Jesus. If anything, I rather think the opposite — that the gospels would have been suppressed because they would have been more accurate than the later fictionalized accounts and likely undermined the conclusion that Jesus was divine as a result. Not to mention that these earlier gospels would have been written within a generation of Jesus’ lifetime and it starts to strain credulity — mine anyway — to believe that a person would be invented whole-cloth within a generation of his supposed life.

  70. daniellavine says

    So either the gospels count as evidence against Pilate (overridden by the fact that we have his signature) which is, I think, a little weird, or they don’t. And if they don’t I don’t see how they constitute evidence against the life of Jesus either.

    Again, the fact that the narrative is obviously fictional does not imply anything about the accuracy of plausible details within the account. If I’m wrong about this I’d like to see an argument as to how.

  71. daniellavine says

    Another bit that’s confusing me…do you think there was originally a wide variety of gospels? How would that work? Dozens of people around the Mediterranean just happened to come up with a largely similar story with the same main character at the same time without communicating with each other?

    It seems much more plausible to me that the variety of gospels corresponds to a variety of oral traditions that are descended from some single oral tradition. The question is whether this original oral tradition is based on a historical person or not. I believe such traditions usually are based on historical persons which is largely my basis for the assertion that Gautama probably existed.

  72. says

    >>We would only expect this in a largely literate society <<

    No, we would only expect this in a _sufficiently_ literate society. And there were enough people writing in Roman Palestine to pose a problem for the historicity of Jesus. There are also a lot of surviving documents from northern India c. 500 BCE, as fragmentary as many of them are.

    My point wasn't just the suppression of the early gospels. It was that the early gospels were very diverse. All but a small number of texts were suppressed and or simply abandoned when one school gained dominance. The same thing applies to the Shramana groups other than Buddhism and Jainism.

    If the only evidence for Pilate's existence was two allied mythical narratives a century after the fact, we would be justified in treating him as likely being a mythical figure until and unless evidence to the contrary was presented.

    Re. inventing people "whole-cloth within a generation": that does happen. John Frum is a recent example, but you could consider almost any folkloric figure. It's not that a person gets invented whole-cloth as much as that people like to tell stories, and fictional stories can grow through repeated tellings and eventually be taken as fact.

    So the question becomes: given the imperfect available data, which hypothesis is favored?

  73. says

    >>Another bit that’s confusing me…do you think there was originally a wide variety of gospels?<<

    Yes. There were a wide variety of gospels in the early Christian literature, and at the same time and before that there were a wide variety of schismatic Jewish sects and mystery faiths. As Christianity appeared on the religious landscape it simultaneously fragmented into many different forms. So there was never any significant length of time when there was a single form of Christianity.

    Then later on, a narrow range of Christian sects happened to gain dominance over worship of Mithras or Orisis or Glycon and a bunch of other things – including the other Christian sects that were present at the time. Those sects then fragmented in turn, of course.

    And now I reach the limits of my knowledge of the history of Christianity.

  74. daniellavine says

    No, we would only expect this in a _sufficiently_ literate society. And there were enough people writing in Roman Palestine to pose a problem for the historicity of Jesus. There are also a lot of surviving documents from northern India c. 500 BCE, as fragmentary as many of them are.

    Most historians seem to find the argument from silence against the historicity of Jesus to be very weak. I’m not a historian so I’m not really qualified to judge, but I’ll stick with the consensus view that the argument from silence just doesn’t cut the mustard. There are plenty of plausible reasons why there might be a historical Jesus who was first only noted in oral histories which were only much later written down.

    My point wasn’t just the suppression of the early gospels. It was that the early gospels were very diverse. All but a small number of texts were suppressed and or simply abandoned when one school gained dominance. The same thing applies to the Shramana groups other than Buddhism and Jainism.

    Again, the idea that all of a sudden a huge variety of gospels appeared out of nowhere just doesn’t make any sense. A much more plausible theory is that the variety of gospels reflects a variety of oral histories descended from a common oral history.

    If the only evidence for Pilate’s existence was two allied mythical narratives a century after the fact, we would be justified in treating him as likely being a mythical figure until and unless evidence to the contrary was presented.

    We’d be justified in “treating him” that way — whatever that means — but not in concluding that he actually was a mythical figure. The story of Rip Van Winkle does not imply that Dutch settlement in the Hudson valley was largely a mythological event.

    Re. inventing people “whole-cloth within a generation”: that does happen. John Frum is a recent example, but you could consider almost any folkloric figure. It’s not that a person gets invented whole-cloth as much as that people like to tell stories, and fictional stories can grow through repeated tellings and eventually be taken as fact.

    Actually, I suspect John Frum is also based on a historical person. People like to tell stories — but they especially like to tell stories about actual events. These stories are often corrupted and/or exaggerated over frequent retellings — hence the mythological character of the narratives in question — but this does not indicate that the original inspiration for the story wasn’t historical fact.

    You beg the question by saying the stories themselves are fictional rather than the later details. There’s plenty of examples in folklore of real historical human beings having heavily mythologized stories built up around them over time. We even have a special name for the US version: “tall tales.”

  75. daniellavine says

    The story of Rip Van Winkle does not imply that Dutch settlement in the Hudson valley was largely a mythological event.

    Better example: the mythological character of the Iliad does not imply that there was no war between the Mycenae and the people of the ruined city discovered near the Hellespont.

  76. daniellavine says

    Yes. There were a wide variety of gospels in the early Christian literature, and at the same time and before that there were a wide variety of schismatic Jewish sects and mystery faiths. As Christianity appeared on the religious landscape it simultaneously fragmented into many different forms. So there was never any significant length of time when there was a single form of Christianity.

    Again, I think this variety makes no fucking sense unless it’s based on a variety of earlier oral traditions, and the existence of such oral traditions undermines your argument.

  77. says

    >>We’d be justified in “treating him” that way — whatever that means — but not in concluding that he actually was a mythical figure.<>Actually, I suspect John Frum is also based on a historical person. <<

    I thought the consensus on John Frum was that he is composite figure, innovated from older Tannese religious practice in the 1930s from experiences with Europeans/Americans and then modified into something like the current form after thousands of Americans passed through Vanuatu during WWII. There was never a single person who was the source of the character.

    Likewise, US tall tales feature non-historical characters – there was never any single person that inspired Paul Bunyan. Some have a historical basis, like Johnny Appleseed, but that isn't universal.

    The question becomes if the character of Buddha was based on a historical figure or was a non-historical innovation.

    And at some level, this all is irrelevant. The religious version of Buddha is nothing like whatever historical Buddha may or may not have existed.

  78. says

    Formatting fail:

    [[We’d be justified in “treating him” that way — whatever that means — but not in concluding that he actually was a mythical figure]]

    As I said, the mythicist arguments are suggestive, not conclusive.

    Re. your last: The idea is that the oral traditions were just as variable as the written records. Even by the time the Pauline epistles were written, there were schisms between the Christian sects – some were more Judaic in practice, others more favorable to the Greek-speaking population. Jesus was far from the only messianic / son of god figure being talked about at the time (that’s what the other Jewish sects and mystery faiths I mentioned were). That’s the pre-existing environment. Christianity appears in that environment, and at least in Paul’s version, doesn’t depend on a historical Jesus having literally existed. Then it promptly fragments into a bunch of different forms all of the place.

    And I think we’ve derailed this thread sufficiently.

  79. daniellavine says

    Re. your last: The idea is that the oral traditions were just as variable as the written records. Even by the time the Pauline epistles were written, there were schisms between the Christian sects – some were more Judaic in practice, others more favorable to the Greek-speaking population. Jesus was far from the only messianic / son of god figure being talked about at the time (that’s what the other Jewish sects and mystery faiths I mentioned were). That’s the pre-existing environment. Christianity appears in that environment, and at least in Paul’s version, doesn’t depend on a historical Jesus having literally existed. Then it promptly fragments into a bunch of different forms all of the place.

    So are you claiming that dozens of independent oral histories featuring the same characters and following each other in broad outline appeared simultaneously all over the Mediteranean? That’s still incredibly implausible. It’s still much more plausible that the variety of oral histories share a source — a “point source” as you said earlier.

    And this completely undermines your argument, based as it is on the very variety that renders the scenario implausible. The “variety” argument is self-defeating.

    Likewise, US tall tales feature non-historical characters – there was never any single person that inspired Paul Bunyan. Some have a historical basis, like Johnny Appleseed, but that isn’t universal.

    The question becomes if the character of Buddha was based on a historical figure or was a non-historical innovation.

    Yes, exactly. It becomes a question of whether it’s more probable that the central figures in such stories are entirely made up or based on a historical person. I lean towards the latter.

    I would like to know how you know that Paul Bunyan and John Frum are not based on historical individuals. Yes, I understand that the John Frum tradition is partially based on pre-existing mythological traditions, but it doesn’t seem the least bit implausible to me that the cargo cult followers met an allied soldier named “John” and built up legends around him. Similarly for Paul Bunyan — there’s no evidence for a historical person but I don’t see any evidence against one either.

    And at some level, this all is irrelevant. The religious version of Buddha is nothing like whatever historical Buddha may or may not have existed.

    I take issue with “nothing like.” Certainly his personality could have been very similar and Gautama may very well have originated many of the practices of Buddhism, or at least adapted them from pre-existing Vedic traditions. There’s plenty in the traditional biography that can be inferred to be outright false but again this doesn’t constitute evidence against any plausible details of the story.

    And I think we’ve derailed this thread sufficiently.

    As long as you get the last word, eh?

  80. vaiyt says

    Reading this guy is 105 years old, did anyone else think Happosai?

    Happosai is funny. Don’t you dare compare anyone in Ranma 1/2 with this guy.

  81. Esteleth, Ficus Putsch Knits says

    Well, we’ve drifted a bit.

    On the historicity of Jesus:
    It is my understanding that the Jesus-myth is a conflation of several things:
    (1) the teachings of a rabbi who lived in Palestine during that general time period. Given that the Gospels have a not-insignificant overlap in tone and content with the accounts of other rabbis of the period, this is plausible. There was a significant movement within Judaism at the time that featured philosophy that the Jesus-myth is similar to. For example, compare Jesus’ statements to those of Hillel, who lived in the first century BC.
    (2) Hellenistic theology and philosophy of god-kings
    (3) Religious traditions concerning gods who died and subsequently resurrected
    (4) Politics of Jewish people of the time period regarding things like the legitimacy of Herod’s rule, the position of Israel in the world and in the eyes of god, etc, and the experience of the Roman occupation
    (5) Heavy infusions of Hellenistic and Roman philosophy and worldview (e.g. Aristotelian cosmology).

    In all honesty, the biggest strike against the claim that the Gospels are true as written is the fact that the Romans (who were obsessive record-keepers) are utterly silent on the topic of a man of Judea with the name Yeshua bar Yousef of Nazareth being tried for fermenting revolt and crucified around the time of Passover in the fifteenth year of the reign of Caesar Tiberius in Jerusalem. Especially given the fact that Jesus was given a hearing in front of the Roman prefect. There would be records of this. Even if we accept the “well, maybe it wasn’t in 29 AD” argument – a search on the years around would yield something. And they DON’T. And the Gospels don’t give much wiggle room – the Gospel of Luke says that Jesus was born in Bethlehem during the time of the census that took place when (1) Augustus was Emperor and (2) Quirinius was governor of Syria. Okay, fine. This census did actually happen – in 6 AD. The Gospels describe shepherds in the fields at night, which they only do in lambing season (i.e. early spring). Let’s call it March for the sake of argument (Christmas being in December was only “agreed upon” in the second century). Great! Jesus was born in March of 6 or 7 (the census took awhile) in Bethlehem to Nazerene parents, their first child. Then things get tricky. Most notably, Herod the Great supposedly ordered the deaths of all the boys of Bethlehem in order to eliminate his rival. He certainly did have a reputation for brutality, and Bethlehem wasn’t terribly big in those days (meaning that the number of young boys might only be a few dozen), so the fact that there is no record whatsoever of this can be handwaved away. Oh wait. Herod the Great died in 4 BC. Oops. But maybe it was his son, Herod Archelaus? Well, he doesn’t have his father’s reputation for brutality, and the Romans judged him to be incompetent and removed him from power in 6 AD. Which is why there was a census – the Romans wanted to know just how many people there were in this newly-created province of theirs. Hmm. Maybe, instead this is Herod Archelaus’ brother, Herod Antipas? This has the advantage of him being actually alive and in power at the time. However, the “lack of records” thing is an issue.

    The first reference to Jesus in Roman records is in the writings of Josephus in 93 AD. Rather startling, isn’t it? The first inarguable reference to Jesus being written sixty years after his death?

  82. Esteleth, Ficus Putsch Knits says

    Sorry for the teal deer. But if there is anything I can bring the Horde, it is the fact that I’m one of those former-Christians who actually studied the Bible and Biblical history (and, as it happens, the fact that I’ve studied this crap and the fact that I am a former-Christian are closely related).

    There is no good evidence of the historicity of Jesus. Unless you accept “people who lived in this time and place said stuff like this” and “the Romans crucified people who pissed them off” as evidence.

  83. says

    So you are willing to call the BBC “a child molesting, rape enabling institution” because of one man and a few others that knew and were scared from speaking up because of his status/value?

    No. Because, did you see the word “few”? I’d say that there was one man who was a molester and a few enablers. Not the institution. To blame the institution we’d want to see an institutional pattern of abuse and facilitation (shuffling people around to conceal the problem, senior managers knowing about it, attempts to discredit complaints, etc) Same as Penn State, the Boy Scouts, or the Catholic Church. The question of institutional blame depends on the degree of institutional involvement.

    This is a vague concept, in the philosophical sense, so I would only refer to blame as a generality as a shorthand for discussing a problem at a level above individual details.

  84. says

    The historicity of Gautama Buddha is debated.

    Just a note, because a lot of people seem to misunderstand this: Hermann Hesse’s book “Siddartha” is a novel. I’ve been surprised by how many American buddhists I’ve met who mistake it for documentary.

  85. Esteleth, Ficus Putsch Knits says

    Not only is Siddartha a novel, it is a poorly-written one.

    I read that once. I fell asleep about 15 times. And it is pretty short.

  86. says

    [[So are you claiming that dozens of independent oral histories featuring the same characters and following each other in broad outline appeared simultaneously all over the Mediteranean?]]

    Not quite. The messianic/son of god/resurrection type story was already common. There was someone who first attached the name Yeshua to such a story. That particular story then promptly fragmented. That’s not what you would expect if there had been a single teacher with any amount of influence at the center of it all – said teacher and the people who knew him personally would act as a unifying force for a certain amount of time.

    Re. [[how you know that Paul Bunyan and John Frum are not based on historical individuals]]

    You said it yourself – Frum was partially based on pre-existing traditions. If you take a character from Tannese traditional religion, say that he came on a ship from South America, give him a WWII US uniform, make him tall like one person and dark-skinned like another (or light-skinned like some other guy), decide that Prince Philip is his brother, and so on, there isn’t any one person that is the source of the legend more than any other one person.

    Paul Bunyan traces back from an early 20th-century ad campaign to stories passed around logging camps after the Lower Canada Rebellion in 1837. If my memory of elementary school history and Wikipedia’s entries are correct, it was originally “Bonyenne” in Quebecois French, which would give a meaning something like “Paul Amazing”. There may be a few people who contributed to the folk tales more than others, but again there is no single person behind it (although Wikipedia notes similarities to the real-life Joseph Montferrand, who inspired the Big Joe Mufferaw lumberjack folk character).

    Re. [[Certainly his personality could have been very similar and Gautama may very well have originated many of the practices of Buddhism, or at least adapted them from pre-existing Vedic traditions.]]

    If there was a historical Buddha, what that person taught was processed through centuries of divergent changes before being transcribed into, for example, the Pali Canon. And Buddhism as practiced today is a very diverse set of beliefs that contains many things that were not part of the versions that were around in the last few centuries BCE.

    I did exaggerate when I said “nothing like”. There are certainly many common elements between modern Buddhism and early Buddhism, and between Jainism and Hinduism and all of the other groups derived from old Vedic religion. I should have said “very different”.

    [[As long as you get the last word, eh?]]

    That was not my intention. I have reached the limits of my knowledge of the relevant history. Someone better informed than I (Esteleth?, Richard Carrier?) could continue, but we have ranged very far from the problems of Zen.

    Re. the original post:

    Perhaps I should have mentioned this before: abuse of authority by Zen teachers is a long-established tradition. I once read some of the writing of Linji Yixuan, the 9th century Chán teacher. Some of it sounded quite good, but then I got to the part where he advises beating students as a way to force them to attain enlightenment.

    This is not to say that Zen in particular is bad – we’ve made the point that it unchallengeable authority is the more general problem. But it shows that the pattern of letting the master get away with things has been going on in Zen for as long as Zen has existed.

  87. Azuma Hazuki says

    Thanks to everyone who’s replied; this has been very educational! And Esteleth, I at least will never be upset at you for tl;dr, especially not on this subject. People like you are the most valuable, because you know all the inside baseball.

  88. chigau (違う) says

    Hey, everyone!
    Did you know that Harvard grants MBA degrees?

    michaelbusch
    If you type
    <blockquote>paste quoted text here</blockquote>
    this will result.

    paste quoted text here

    It will make your comments easier to read.

  89. sc_a5c68a34b2f6e431ec3e46c0a6153ea9 says

    As a zen buddhisty thing, I’m rather a fan of Brad Warners take on the whole issue: http://hardcorezen.info/the-sasaki-case-part-a-million-and-seven/1686

    Basically, it’s a problem when people pass themselves off as being “super beings” and have people believe them. Anyone who alienates themselves from the group and puts themselves above it are a problem. Unfortunately, zen in the west at least has suffered from this problem is spades, since the 60’s when it started becoming popular, with so called “zen masters” seen as having something almost supernatural about them. Zen doesn’t need that.