Toward an Integral Buddhism

Via on Jan 21, 2010

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In the Winter 2005 issue of Buddhadharma, Reginald Ray had an article (“The Three Lineages“) on the primary lineages of Buddhism. Mr. Ray discussed the primordial lineage, which conveys the direct experience of the awakened state; the transmission lineage, which comprises the variety of methods for conveying or teaching the primordial lineage to students; and the organizational lineage, which in this sense is the person who is officially responsible for upholding and maintaining the organizational structure of a given tradition.

If one wants to speak to a person, it is helpful to be able to speak in a language that fits his/her worldviews. The Buddha understood this. He developed a variety of teaching techniques (the transmission lineages) in order to convey his wisdom (the primordial lineage) to his students, who have since created the Buddhist sangha (the organizational lineage). Buddha recognized that each person, or stage of personal development, would need to have the teaching presented in a way that was accessible from her/his life conditions or worldview. The Buddha taught an Integral Buddhism. We do not need to kill the Buddha (as Sam Harris once famously suggested), we need to honor the full spectrum of ways we can follow his teachings.

In integral theory, which is based on a variety of developmental models, people, cultures, and societies develop through successive stages that occur in a predictable order, and none of which may be skipped. In psychology, we are most familiar with Piaget’s cognitive developmental stages, Kohlberg and Gilligan’s moral development, Jane Loevinger’s stages of ego development, Erickson’s stages of psychosocial development, and Clare Graves biopsychosocial values stages, to name just a few of many. For a Western view of religion, we might also consider James Fowler’s stages of faith. Most of these have been verified (and updated or revised) through many research studies.

In the Eastern traditions, there also have been developed a series of hierarchies just as important and verifiable as those developed in the West. From Sri Aurobindo’ Integral Yoga to the Buddhist Vijnanas, from Vedanta to the stages of Mahamudra, hierarchies of spiritual development have been proposed and tested throughout the centuries. The difference is that those from the East have been based on interior experience rather than exterior observation and measurement as have the Western models, but that does not render them any less verifiable by the scientific method.

http://aura.gaia.com/photos/11/107786/large/meditation.jpg

For each tradition there is an injunction. If one follows the injunction, which may be to engage in a specific meditation technique, for example, there is a specific outcome that will result from the practice. One follows the injunction, notes the results, and then compares it to the predicted outcome. If it does not match what was predicted, then the injunction is not valid; but if it does match, we must honor that interior knowledge as truth.

If we can take this wider viewpoint – incorporating the exterior knowledge of Western science and psychology and the interior Eastern wisdom of the various spiritual traditions – in our understanding of spiritual practice as well as in the rest of out lives, we will be approaching an integral knowledge system. From this foundation we can approach an Integral Buddhism.

As individuals and as cultures, we develop through a series of ever more complex and more compassionate understandings of the world, as identified by the researchers mentioned above (both East and West). These stages can most simply be defined as egocentric, ethnocentric, and worldcentric (this is a very simplified version, for more complex divisions, see Ken Wilber’s work in Integral Psychology and Integral Spiritualityhe has made the best effort at integrating East and West over the last 40 years). Buddhism serves each of these stages in different ways.

At the egocentric level, people seek to understand the world through the lens of their limited ego-mind. Because ego sees itself as the center of the known world, emphasis is placed on kinship patterns, power needs, and personal expression. These Buddhists engage in rituals, believe that there are god-like Buddhas who can intercede in human lives, and take literally the Buddhist version of heavens and hells. There is a lot of magical thinking involved in this form of worship and practice.

To rational Western thought, egocentric beliefs seem silly – and when seen in more militant religions, such as Christianity and Islam, they may even seem dangerous — but they serve a vital function for those who live in the egocentric stages of development. They help people at this stage make sense of the world and feel safe in a universe that, to them, seems indifferent and frightening. Sam Harris and the other “new atheists” are often talking about this level of religious practice when condemning fundamentalism in Christianity and other faiths.

At the ethnocentric level, Buddhism looks more like religions we are familiar with in the United States. Karma is the law of cause and effect that can seem very much like Christian versions of sin and punishment. Reincarnation is taken literally and objectively is not much different from belief in an afterlife. It is in the upper stages of ethnocentric belief that a rational scientism can take hold and try to eliminate all the “non-rational” elements of Buddhist belief. Scientism would reduce Buddhism to meditation practices that can be observed with the tools of science, which is what Harris has been advocating since the publication of Shambhala Sun article. Although he has argued to the contrary, atheism and scientism comprise a worldview that posits certain tenants about how the world operates, many of which are no more verifiable than the belief in God.

The important thing to understand about egocentric and ethnocentric worldviews is that each stage along the path thinks it has a monopoly on the truth. From its viewpoint, every other worldview is simply wrong. This becomes most problematic in the ethnocentric stages, where there develops an Us-versus-Them mentality. Even scientism is not immune from this polarized thinking. As much as it likes to think of itself as hyper-rational, it still buys into the duality of its viewpoint against all others. This is a component of religion that Harris has identified as being the source of much killing and brutality (The End of Faith). I agree.

As much as it would be nice to eliminate ethnocentric beliefs from human experience, it simply cannot be done. It is in our nature to divide ourselves into groups as we engage in the formation of identity. We see our children do it in middle school, when cliques first emerge, and we do it as cultures when we enter the ethnocentric stages of development. We cannot skip these stages, but we can try to educate cultures in the same way we educate our kids. We can teach tolerance and acceptance, but we must also create the life conditions that allow people to feel safe enough to be tolerant. This cannot happen if there are tribal factions seeking power and control at the expense of other tribes or groups.

However, as people approach the worldcentric stages of development, they begin to be tolerant of other viewpoints and other ways of understanding the world not because their God or religion advocates loving others, but because their interior moral compass tells them that this is how we should conduct ourselves (Kohlberg’s universal ethical stage of morality). At the lowest stages, this looks a lot like postmodern relativism, which allows that all views are equally true and therefore should be honored. But at the higher stages, we begin to see an integral worldview that can honor the truth of each earlier stage and see how each stage is crucial in the hierarchy of human and cultural development.

An integral worldview understands that as we develop, we transcend each previous stage as the new one emerges. But we don’t lose those earlier stages — they continue to live within us, and they continue to have needs for understanding the world. As we transcend each stage, it is included in our options for viewing and interacting with the world. If we are put into situations that mirror the life conditions we experienced when that worldview was dominant, it can be triggered into action in order to deal with the current situation, even if we transcended that stage decades ago.

An Integral Buddhism understands these truths. It can accept that the egocentric, pre-rational elements of Buddhism address needs within each of us to make sense of a world that can seem overwhelmingly indifferent to our needs for stability and safety, even if our rational minds can’t grasp that fact. An Integral Buddhism understands that ethnocentric, rational elements of Buddhism are crucial to a well-rounded practice, allowing believers to worship within a framework that creates meaning and addresses needs for structure and absolute truths. An Integral Buddhism seeks to include elements from all of our previous stages into its practice, everything from ritual offerings to 100,000 bows, from devotional prayer to Tara worship, from mindfulness practice to non-dual consciousness.

An Integral Buddhism does not reject any safe and compassionate practice that addresses needs in the human psyche for transcending the ego. An Integral Buddhism takes a worldcentric stance and allows for all compassionate forms or worship, all levels of belief, and all varieties of teachings. The Buddha recognized very early that different people required different teachings. As Reginald Ray points out in that old Buddhadharma article:

“The early texts tell us that far from settling on one method or “program” for transmitting the awakened state to others, the Buddha spent his entire teaching career developing different “gates to awakening” that reflected his disciples’ differing capacities and needs. By the time of his death, so we are told, the Buddha had developed 84,000 different methods of transmission of the awakened state.”

About William Harryman

I am a writer/editor, fitness trainer, integral coach, and a graduate counseling psychology student. I blog at Integral Options Cafe and The Masculine Heart. I am an occasional contributor to Elephant Journal.

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28 Responses to “Toward an Integral Buddhism”

  1. Hey Bob,

    Thanks for the thoughtful comment, as usual. I'm an INTJ, if the Myers-Briggs system means anything to you, so my nature is to go into the "heavy scholarly stuff" to make sense and systems of meaning. In other words, I'm a geek.

    The four approaches you mention are good – three of them are ethnocentric and the fourth is worldcentric, although #2 is approaching worldcentric (in my opinion). We could (and maybe should) use the terms preconventional, conventional, and post-conventional, or pre-rational, rational, and post-rational, or prepersonal, personal, and transpersonal.

    The main point is that there is a fourth stage – integral – that honors all three of the earlier stages as valuable ways of making sense of the world, while each of the first three see only their narrative as the true story of how things are.

    For me, these are ALL just stories we tell around the fire to make sense of the mystery, the ultimate reality that cannot be pinned down as any one thing (The Tao that can be named . . . ). No matter what worldview we hold, we all just create narratives (just as every novelist does) that offer an explanation and a set of rules for why we are here and what it all means.

    I enjoy comparing stories. :)

    Peace,
    Bill

  2. Very interesting comments, Bill.

    I used to teach a system similar to Meyer-Briggs as part of my leadership training workshops. Like you, I'm an extreme analytical. However, I had another trait that made me a reasonably decent entrepreneur. After I learn a lot about something, I find myself driven to reverse course and distill what I've learned to its elegant and practical essence, something I can use rather than continue to cogitate about.

    You can see these traits in my approach to Yoga. I've read a great deal, and I'm so analytical that I've read 5-6 different version of the Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita, and Yoga Sutra. I even threw in the Dhammapada so I could compare and contrast the Buddhist writing of the same era.

    But true to form, after I got to a certain point, I realized that for me Yoga has to "devolve into simplicity." So the emphasis in most of my writing is the sublime simplicity and livability of Yoga, not all the complexities I've learned about.

    (continued below)

  3. This is exactly what I once did with leadership development. I read everything I could get my hands on for awhile. But then I headed back in the opposite direction. I taught simplicity in my workshops, and eventually wrote a paper called "Leadership is Like Tennis, Not Egyptology" ( http://wp.me/PlVS9-3 if anyone's interested.)

    So is spirituality, I think.

    Bob Weisenberg
    http://YogaDemystified.com

  4. Greg says:

    Bill, very interesting article. Brings me up-to-date on the Wilber "camp."

    I hesitated to respond to Bob's four-point analysis in an effort to correct what I feel are inaccuracies regarding Buddhism. Felt the response might seem argumentative, so abstained.

    However, your article raises issues in a new context that provides an opportunity for questions and clarification. In your analysis, it seems you discount the teachings of the Buddha regarding reincarnation and thus also the Tibetan teachings regarding guiding the deceased through the bardo stages. Is this the case?

    For example, the following is the last verse from the Dhammapada. How do you characterize this verse?

    "Whoever knows all his past lives,
    Sees both the happy and the unhappy realms,
    Is free from rebirth,
    Has achieved perfect insight,
    And has attained the summit of the higher life,
    Him do I call a Noble One."

  5. Hey Greg,

    Yeah, I'm agnostic about reincarnation. I am more in the Stephen Batchelor camp, Buddhism Without Beliefs (a review from Bhikkhu Bodhi: http://www.buddhistethics.org/5/batch1.htm). I'm pretty conventional in my development at this point.

    I would point out, however, that the Buddha certainly believed in karma (which I believe is true within our individual lifetimes) and reincarnation, as did most people in his time. Beliefs such as these are not jettisoned because one becomes enlightened. Spiritual enlightenment is only one line of development, among many.

    Then there is also the issue of cultural self (the self that must interact in society) vs. authentic self (the part that is always already enlightened) – Buddha discovered his inherent enlightenment and gave us tools to do the same (a variety of them, as I mentioned, based partly on the development of his audience). But he was also a human being living in a cultural context, as are we all. Cultural values no doubt influenced his teachings and beliefs.

    As an aside, I read your earlier comment (which you have since deleted) and the intro to this comment – I am not really a Wilber follower – I use what is meaningful from the different integral camps. I like Wilber, Spiral Dynamics, and Psychosynthesis (among others), but I am more interested lately in Jean Gebser, who tended to see the "integral stage" as one in which time is no longer a defining characteristic of experience – the ever-present ground of being.

    One of the things I want to make clear that the article does not is that enlightenment is not a stage of development (no matter what Wilber or any other Westerner might say) – we are always already enlightened. This is the truth of Buddhism that often gets lost.

    We do not become enlightened, per se, we discover our inherent nature as enlightened beings.

    Peace,
    Bill

  6. Hi, Bill.

    With you on everything above, without being familiar with any of the references except Stephen Batchelor. (If I were a Buddhist, his would probably be my orientation as well.)

    Your points are all well taken, especially what to do with things that don't fit our current sense of rationality, like reincarnation for example. As I wrote once myself, "when the texts challenge us with concepts we can’t accept as literally true — turn them into powerful metaphors. The essential message will remain the same."

    The ancient sages did the same things with the things they couldn't accept. In fact, most of the types of spirituaity you mention in your article are evident in the Upanishads and Bhagavad Gita. For more on this, see "God or Reason–Is There Really Any Difference" http://wp.me/PlUox-fd .

    Bob Weisenberg
    http://YogaDemystified.com

  7. Thanks Bob,

    I sometimes think the metaphors we use can be more powerful than an absolute belief simply because metaphor is more fluid than belief, offering more ways into the mystery.

    Peace,
    Bill

  8. Greg says:

    There is a huge problem with Batchelor's work, and a problem with working from that platform.

    The Buddha told his followers he was not offering them belief. He was not offering metaphor. The Buddha eschewed blind faith. He did not promote belief.

    Instead, he offered the practice. He went on to teach what a student would come to find as a result of the practice. The Buddha did not say, "I surmise it to be this way or that way." Rather he engaged the practice, observed, and then reported the observations.

    That which the Buddha taught was thus not conjecture, it was not a matter of belief to be accepted blindly. It was simply a matter of "If you do A, you will discover B."

    Batchelor comes along and does not engage the practice. He is a notable failure at the practice. So he does not do what the Buddha said. He does not do A in order to observe B. Instead, he references his cultural beliefs (based on blind faith) of skeptical materialism and takes that which the Buddha observed and labels it "belief" and rejects it.

    Those who come upon Batchelor, who have not themselves engaged the practice, buy off on his sleight-of-hand, not recognizing that the Buddha stated explicitly that his teachings were not about belief but rather that which could be observed as a result of the practice. They fail to realize Batchelor is offering his beliefs under the guise of getting rid of beliefs.

    Thus we lose the practice. We lose Buddhism. We end up with the cynical, skeptical materialism of Batchelorism. The problem is that Batchelor's views do not hold up when we inspect them. They are unsubstantiated. They are based on blind faith.

    On the other hand, when we practice as the Buddha taught, we discover his observations were precise and dead on the money. They were not metaphor. They were precise descriptions of the nature of things. Enlightenment truly meant seeing things as they actually were. Unfortunately, we have degraded the term with its current pop usage.

    The Buddha directly addressed the problems of skeptical materialism that arise in all eras. Such thinking is a part of samsara, an aspect of the attached mind of the skandhas.It is sweetly ironic that the samsaric mind of attachment has become labeled Buddhism by Batchelor.

    Anyway, check it out when you have a chance. When you have time to bring the discernment of the Diamond Sutra to the problem, cut away with the diamond.

  9. Greg. Very interesting observations, as usual. (Don't ever worry about being "argumentative". I have always found you to be a thoughtful and respectful debater.)

    I have very limited exposure to Batchelor. However, based on what I've seen, I would think his point of view is more like yours than not. When Batchelor uses the word "beliefs", it's quite clear to me that he's talking about all the religious dogma and beliefs that the organized religion forms of Buddhism have built up around the Buddha's original simple and direct teachings. I assume you don't like these later additions either.

    To me, Batchelor, like you, is advocating going back to the basics of direct experience, bypassing the Buddhist priests and hierarchy and dogmatic beliefs, as urged by the Buddha himself. Is this just my misunderstanding of Batchelor?

    (continued below)

  10. This was also the theme of one of the few Buddhist books I have studied, "Beyond the Breath" by Marsall Glickman http://bit.ly/4EySdn , a devotee of S.N. Goenka. This book is also about returning to the basics of meditation as Buddha probably practiced and intended it, before Buddhism became a "religion".

    I will take a look at the Diamond Sutra. I actually prefer reading the original ancient texts with perceptive commentary to reading new books. What are the key ancient texts of Buddhism I should read?

    Bob Weisenberg
    http://YogaDemystified.com

  11. integralhack says:

    Greg, William,

    I did post earlier and delete it, but I really didn't state that anyone was a follower of Wilber. I merely pointed out some issues that I had with Wilber, although I do find some his mappings and evolutionary ideas interesting. Because I was treating Wilber in a cursory fashion, it didn't seem helpful in explaining Wilber (and was probably unfair to Wilber). So I deleted the comment. Sorry for any confusion this may have caused. I probably should have let it stand.

    Great discussion as usual. Years ago I probably would have sided–if one must take sides–with Batchelor, but now I'm more in the Bikkhu Bodhi camp.

    I find it interesting that Batchelor now (several years after Buddhism without Beliefs) is referring to himself and the Buddha–if I'm understanding him correctly–as an atheist. By atheist, Batchelor isn't referring to the popular usage of the word as in "anti-theistic" or "God(s) don't exist" but as "not-theistic." In other words, God is outside the discussion of practice, but not making a statement in regard to God's existence.

    If this is the case (I've only listened to one brief dhamma talk by Batchelor on the subject, so misunderstanding on my part is possible), it may be that Batchelor is coming around to a view that is more in accord with the Pali Canon. I'd be interested in hearing from anyone who has read anything Batchelor has written in regard to atheism and Buddhism (I know he has a book out on the subject).

    Best wishes,

    Matt Helmick

  12. Bill. Good analysis. One can't define atheism without defining God. And I contend that if one define's God broadly (and I think correctly) enough, almost everyone believes in God.

    One of the reasons I have a personal preference for Yoga over Buddhism is that all of your considerations above are dealt with convincingly right in three main ancient Yoga texts (Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita, and Yoga Sutra). And since Yoga never became its own religion, everyone still ultimately refers back to these richly nuanced documents(even though they do interpret them somewhat differently at times.)

    What do I mean by defining God "broadly enough". I guess I'll take the unusual step of copying in my entire blog on this subject, since it's so directly relevant. It also show how sophisticated the ancient Yoga sages were in their thinking about God. I consider the Buddha to be one of this group.

    (continued below)

  13. God or Reason–Is There Really Any Difference?

    Some of the ancient Yoga sages believed in a very personal God and others believed in an impersonal God, or God as simply the life-force of the universe.

    Many religious thinkers define God as “that which is unknowable, but which drives us towards love and goodness”.

    Given this commonly accepted definition, almost everyone believes in God. In the end what matters most is that we all agree there IS some universal drive toward making the world a better place, not where that drive comes from.

    The result is the same, whether one believes it comes from an unfathomable life-force or a personal divine being. Both are equally mysterious, both can legitimately be called “God”, and both lead us to love, goodness and morality.

    The sages who wrote the ancient Yoga texts were themselves in disagreement about God. Their debates are evident in the three major Yoga texts, the Bhagavad Gita, the Yoga Sutra, and the Upanishads.

  14. In the end the texts themselves allow for the entire spectrum from secularism to traditional religion. That’s one of the things that makes them so amazing and enduring.

    In the time of the Yoga Sutra (about 2400 years ago) the sages couldn’t agree on whether or not there was a God, and if there was a God, was it a personal God or an impersonal God. So Patanjali cleverly wrote the Yoga Sutra to appeal to all these sides.

    Yoga was itself a comparatively rational attempt to deal with all the irrational Gods and rituals of the Indian religious culture of the time. It was quite rebellious in that it wanted to learn about consciousness from direct experience rather than the ancient Vedic hymns and priests.

  15. The more scientifically-minded sages simply made everything they couldn’t accept as reality into a metaphor and moved on accordingly. That’s what they did with the entire pantheon of ancient Gods — they made them into powerful metaphors of our inner struggles.

    And that’s what each of us individually should do today when the texts challenge us with concepts we can’t accept as literally true — turn them into powerful metaphors. The essential message will remain the same.

    Bob Weisenberg
    http://YogaDemystified.com

  16. integralhack says:

    William,

    I too am interested in reading Batchelor's new book, but probably not ahead of my current stack! I still prize Batchelor's book, Buddhism without Beliefs. I think, if nothing else, he got a great conversation going about what it means to be a Western Buddhist in light of living in a more rational, more secular society.

    I wouldn't dismiss his new book too quickly as I'm not sure it's out of step with the agnosticism he presents in Buddhism without Beliefs. As I said, I think Batchelor is using a particular definition of atheism here, not quite in line with the anti-theistic line that Harris and others take. Defined in this way, it would be possible to be an agnostic and an atheist at the same time!

    Bob brings up a good point in bringing up the definition of God. Naturally, one Westerner's view of God might be quite different than a Hindu's concept of Atman/Brahman, for example. For me, God is shorthand label for all transcendent/immanent notions of animative Spirit–a divisive and heretical notion in itself!;)

    I also like the definition Bob presents of God as “that which is unknowable, but which drives us towards love and goodness." Of course, some religions–even some schools of Mahayana Buddhism–might challenge the "unknowable" aspect just as some Christians claim to have a "personal relationship" with Jesus. Defining "knowing," however, becomes a point of contention with various views of what it is to experience the ineffable. Unfortunately, this kind of claim is as unprovable just as it is impossible to prove that a person does not have these experiences. Debunking arguments become useless exercises.

    One aspect I think is unfortunate about some Western Buddhists I encounter, is that they take a book like Buddhism without Beliefs and it becomes their new Bible, perhaps adding to it the Dhammapada, because it is a succinct (and easily consumable) presentation from the Pali Canon. From this they construct a presentation of Buddhism which "is in accord with their own view" of life and reality. Not everyone does this, of course, but it does happen. I did this myself when I was just starting out (and like Greg, I would still classify myself as a relative beginner on the Path). This view becomes problematic if you are too quick to table or reject a concept (including say, rebirth)–leaving one vulnerable to miss out on some other rich aspect of a spiritual teaching because it appears too "magical" on the surface.

    Here is where skepticism and agnosticism can go too far if you don't make a genuine effort to read from the canon (and the key Mahayana Sutras, commentaries or Hindu/Yoga texts and epics, if you like) like a good literary critic. You must suspend your belief and prejudices–even if grounded in things that you take as "fact"–as much as possible to read the texts as they were intended to be understood. This is a daunting task even with my prejudices absent!

    In light of this, I really have no issues with Batchelor's view (insofar as I understand it). Because both Buddhism and Yoga are focused on practice rather than acceptance of dogma, I have to conduct the investigation myself rather than rely on any one writer's interpretation.

    -Matt

  17. Wow, integralhack, that's a great summary and conclusion. I'm with you on everything. I first started feeling comfortable saying I believe in God after fully absorbing the idea "Brahman".

    Given my very broad definition of God, to not believe in God one would have to say they don't make any distinction between what is good and what is bad. An atheist who believes in the concept of good and bad automatically believes in God by my definition. God is simply whatever the unknowable source is of that concept of good and bad.

    If the answer is "evolutionary biology", then God is the source of that evolutionary biology. At the end of every logical discussion there is always an unknown source that deserves to be called God. The only exception would be a person who claims to know everything about the source of the universe.

    Defined this broad, but I think eminently sensible way, there is no such thing as no God. I've never heard an atheist say there is no such thing as good and evil.

    My point here is not to prove there is a God by fiddling with the definition, but to show that it's a false argument, since most people can agree on the concept of good and evil and some sort of ultimate unknowable life-source, whether they say they believe in God or not.

    The ancient Yoga sages and the Buddha were anxious themselves to put this irrelevant distinction behind them and focus on awakening to the wonders of higher consciousness and the moral life that results. I'm not sure about Buddhism, but the ancient Yoga texts explicitly welcome all forms of God within the realm of Yoga, and thus are truly universal in their outlook.

    I've so enjoyed this discussion with all of you. Thanks for the education.

    Bob Weisenberg
    http://YogaDemystified.com

  18. IDTesting says:

    Testing please ignore.

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    Curabitur quis neque nec turpis accumsan adipiscing id at ligula. Cras mi magna, mollis sed lobortis quis, aliquam non ligula. Vivamus venenatis imperdiet malesuada. Ut vel mauris urna. Praesent fermentum velit vitae arcu eleifend scelerisque. Quisque quis augue a mi consectetur sollicitudin. Morbi ullamcorper rutrum nibh, id rutrum ligula molestie feugiat. Nam sodales malesuada lacus, eu aliquam elit viverra fermentum. Aenean varius consequat tellus, id pellentesque nunc fermentum eu. Cum sociis natoque penatibus et magnis dis parturient montes, nascetur ridiculus mus. Curabitur tincidunt dictum felis, id malesuada libero lacinia et. Nam dignissim luctus nunc, sit amet fringilla massa euismod eleifend. Curabitur nec eros lectus. Suspendisse vel quam ut felis feugiat ultricies et non risus. Suspendisse massa nulla, tempus id pulvinar a, adipiscing ac metus. Sed mollis lacinia orci id varius. Integer aliquam malesuada lectus. Cras elementum, felis a porta varius, sapien metus pellentesque erat, eget adipiscing mi odio volutpat felis.

    Morbi quis purus felis, luctus convallis eros. Aliquam commodo aliquam lorem, ac rutrum magna ullamcorper in. Fusce bibendum ante vitae tortor cursus hendrerit. Suspendisse venenatis varius malesuada. Pellentesque imperdiet metus et mi bibendum et consectetur tellus semper. Sed sed augue tellus, non porta sem. Maecenas et aliquet libero. Fusce sem mauris, ultricies et mollis non, faucibus vitae massa. Class aptent taciti sociosqu ad litora torquent per conubia nostra, per inceptos himenaeos. In fermentum nisi sit amet risus scelerisque condimentum. In lectus elit, blandit ac porta in, euismod vitae tortor. Phasellus sed diam massa. Donec egestas porttitor eleifend. Praesent placerat tristique eleifend. Nulla fringilla arcu non tellus cursus iaculis. Aliquam ultricies consectetur erat, quis tristique nunc cursus malesuada. Etiam eget nisl eros.

  19. Greg says:

    Whew. Had a few chores to attend to…before I could return to the discussion.

    At the risk of beating a dead horse, I will add a few comments about my concerns with the Batchelor approach.

    Yes, Batchelor references the edict of the Buddha that says one does not speculate but rather one engages the practice and arrives at enlightenment through direct observation.

    However, he then immediately violates that edict by avoiding the practice and offering an opinion (speculation) on the very things the Buddha taught such as karma, reincarnation, bardo stages, post-mortem realms, transcendence, etc.

    Rather than engaging the practice to discover whether or not these referenced phenomena can be verified and observed, he places the bias of materialism over the teachings and relegates the observations of the Buddha to the status of myth, delusion, or outright deception. He basically argues the Buddha lied when he said he had observed such phenomena and found them to be true. He argues the Buddha could not possibly have made such observations, as we now know they are not possible.

    The problem with assigning the teachings, the observations of the Buddha, the label or status of myth is that one then risks inserting bias into the practice. This bias will then operate as an obfuscation that prohibits one from actually observing things as they are. One has inadvertently set up an automatic barrier to enlightenment. When one practices, one is stopped at the point where a bias or speculation has been inserted.

    In essence, by assuming the Buddha's observations were myth or delusion, one inserts a lie with regard to the true nature of things that one hopes to discover through the practice. This is particularly diabolical as the lie or bias that one has inserted aligns directly with attachment and clinging. That which one intends to overcome through the practice (attachment) is strengthened by the a priori bias. Essentially, one begins the practice by agreeing to the very dynamics of attachment that keep illusion (samsara) firmly in place.

    Anyway, that's my brief soapbox presentation for the day.

  20. Thanks, Greg. Appreciate your thoughts very much. (I think any comments I could be repetitious to what I've already written above.)

  21. Sarnath Buddha

    Sarnath (also Mrigadava, Migadaya, Rishipattana, Isipatana) is the deer park where Gautama Buddha first taught the Dharma, and where the Buddhist Sangha came into existence through the enlightenment of Kondanna. Sarnath is located 13 kilometres north-east of Varanasi, in Uttar Pradesh, India.

    The deer park where the Buddha preached his first sermon is now called Sarnath. It lay forgotten … until a British amateur archaeologist excavated the site in the nineteenth century. He found stupas and a pillar originally erected by emperor Ashoka in the third century BC. The biggest stupa, called Dhamekh, was on the site where the Buddha supposedly gave his first sermon, sitting with the Brahmins from Kapilavastu. Later archaeologists discovered the shrine where the Buddha apparently had sheltered from the rains; they also found monasteries, which seemed to have been destroyed by a great fire. A temple built by the Sri Lankan Buddhist Anagarika Dharmapala now stands in place of the shrine. The ruins of the monasteries lie amid vast green lawns. The grounds also include a deer park and a zoo.
    http://www.tanuscraft.com/homecraft/index.php?mai

  22. [...] the highest values of Rand’s philosophy were applied by an individual who was an aspiring Buddhist, then he or she would be under a Bodhi tree for some time before coming back to teach all of us. [...]

  23. (This was actually the very first comment to William's article. I deleted it by mistake, and then retrieved it because it's central to understanding William's response.)

    I can only go back to my original point which is that the ultimate reality of the universe is infinitely unknowable, not just a little bit unknowable, but INFINITELY unknowable.

    I've seen four basic responses to this challenge:

    1) The Buddha's way was to avoid all metaphysical speculation as a waste of time and just focus on what it takes to live a good life. The majority of Buddhism that has come since pretty much ignores the Buddha's advice. ( I'm pretty sure we're grossly violating it with this very discussion!)

    2) The "let's figure it all out and explain it in greater and greater detail" school. This includes much of post-Buddha Buddhism, some forms of Yoga, and most systems of metaphysical philosophy. This is what I think many of the sources you quote are trying to do. Interesting enough, it does not include science, which tries to figure things out but rigorously admits the limitations of its knowledge.

    3) The religion approach, which believes that some blessed one among us has seen the ultimate reality directly and has conveyed it to the rest of us, be it Jesus or Mohammed or Moses, etc. These systems have no need for logic or proof because they are considered direct revelations from the ultimate reality itself. Many forms of Buddhism have adopted this model in effect, with the Buddha as the blessed one.

    4) The ancient Yoga approach, mirrored somewhat by small mystical minorities in each religion and philosophy, which accepts the utter unknowability of ultimate reality and builds a spirituality around the wonder and awe of what we don't know. It also embraces the ideals for good living like those espoused by the Buddha.

    These are all valid approaches to the ultimate reality of the universe. It's just a matter of personal preference, I guess.

    Thanks again for this most interesting discussion.

    Bob Weisenberg http://YogaDemystified.com

  24. In my opinion, it's a misuse of the word "atheist" to say it's not a rejection of God. I know the literal meaning of the word theist with the prefix "a" should mean that. But usage has taken this word in a different direction. "Athiest" today in common usage means actively denying the existence of God.

    However, "God" is almost always defined by atheists to be a tangible personal God you can pray to and have those prayers answered. As soon as you expand the definition of God to be be simply "unfathomable life force", many atheist believe in that, but they still might not be willing to call that "God".

    In any case, you point is well taken. Disagreements often evaporate when terms are defined more clearly.

    Bob Weisenberg
    http://YogaDemystified.com

  25. I like the sentiment of your comments, John, similar to what Matt suggests might be going on with Batchelor, but the term atheist has become so loaded with cultural baggage as a result of Harris, Dawkins, Hitchens, Dennett and the rest. There is no way to use that term anymore without most people thinking of the NO GOD camp, and even worse for those of us who are atheist and not extremist, the whole fundamentalism of scientism. Too bad, that. So I'll stick with agnostic as my label, a label Batchelor used to embrace.

  26. My own preference is to avoid all religious terms in my writing about Yoga, including "God", "divine", and "athiest". If asked I will say honestly I believe in God, but then define God as "the unfathomable wondrous source of the universe".

    This used to feel like a stretch, but it no longer does because my definition is the same as that of many of the ancient Yoga sages. That's why I feel I've found my spiritual home in the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita.

    Bob Weisenberg
    http://YogaDemystified.com

  27. Not too many that I haven't expressed already. Yes, great discussion all around.

    Where will you publish your article? Are you talking about Elephant? I think that would be a valuable contribution. There have been so many important ideas expressed in these comments. I would be could to digest them into an article which would both preserve the ideas and draw others into the discussion.

    Bob Weisenberg
    http://YogaDemystified.com

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