Some talk begins very nice, as I feel, and gives then this conclusion. What do you think?

Very recently I came across a very extensive site (of a theologician) on buddhism (along his/her multiple years seminars). I knew this site from some years ago, and “dismissed” them 15 years ago, because I got sceptical about its general tendency. But -coming back this days- it has a wealth of historial material, much interesting reflection . For instance: about early Buddhism in Germany (from Schopenhauer to 1 world war, then to 2nd world war up to about 1990 or 2000, documents of/about Oldenburg, K.E.Neumann, Nyanatiloka, Nyanaponika, Govinda,… Seidenstücker, Debes, Dahlke, Hecker… ) - - - many many documents and very lively.

Finally there is a talk of 2020 (reference see at end) - very nice, some aspects I mostly miss in introductory talks about Buddhism - but then the author comes to the following conclusion, which is partially alarming all my hair on head and body.

Now (well- who am I? :slight_smile: )- without any further spoiler, just to get more trained to understand what is happening here, I’ll cite that conclusion (translation by, but I think it’s correct).

My question: what do you think about this conclusio:

But since Buddhists are fallible human beings, the following factors also played a major role in the unfolding of Buddhism. Without any claim to completeness:

  • Already Buddha gave reason to regard him as virtually omniscient and infallible in everything he says. This leads to the fact that blindly every nonsense, which he - as a child of his time - has dispensed or is supposed to have dispensed, was and is regarded as eternal truth.

  • Although Buddha is not a divine savior, he was in fact deified - and thus belittled. He often became the object of prayer and supplication.

  • The sacred is more attractive than salvation. That is why one often encounters ceremonial hoopla and greed for quite banal altered states of waking consciousness such as oceanic self-delimitation. The range of esotericism was and often is extensive.

  • Life as a monk or nun is monotonous and boring. So one “studies” eagerly. To study always new, one needs appropriate texts. Demand leads to supply. So, in the course of time, new allegedly ancient texts are produced almost like a factory. The collections of the canonical writings became more and more extensive.

  • Not only among theologians, but also in the history of Buddhism, Buddhism often became a discussion circle.

  • Greed of professional Buddhists (monks, nuns, roshis, etc.) for material things, for power, for sex is often a driving motive. Guruism is also often a root evil in Buddhism. Wealth corrupts Buddhist institutions

cite [“Buddhism is not an association of people marching goose-stepping to Nirvana”. (D. Kantowsky). An introduction to Buddhism] Guest lecture at the Universities of Tübingen and Würzburg on 2020-06-16 from Alois Payer

Judging from the rest of the lecture, Mr. Payer seems to be a practicing Buddhist with a taste for the EBTs. With the exception of the first point, all of these appear to be criticisms either of later developments in Buddhist doctrine and practice or spiritual materialism in general.

The first point isn‘t clear to me as he doesn‘t really specify what nonsense he means. I can partially agree with the point he makes about omniscience and infallibility: All the Buddhisms I have encountered have this unspoken tension between the come and see and Buddha knows best mindsets, where it‘s usually implicated that while you‘re free to be skeptical as a wee puthujjana, you‘ll eventually come to see it just like the Buddha, that is, if you‘ve really become an ariya, and thus it‘s faster and easier to just believe everything outright. Of course, this line of thinking immediately hits the wall when you see learned monastics of many vassas vehemently disagree about basic doctrinal points. Which of them is the one with Noble Right View™? How would you even know? As with politics and everything else, the choice between available starter kits is usually made by motivated reasoning, based on psychosocial needs and aesthetics, and rationalized after the fact using in-speak copied from the relevant talking heads and one‘s peers.

What do you find particularly alarming about Payer‘s conclusions?

Hi Jonas, thanks for your thoughts, I sppreciate the words & thoughts of your first paragraph.

In general it is a bit sloppy, a bit too sloppy as my style-feeling alarms me. But well - in one way I like a certain sloppinness over formalism (and it is from an introductional talk to nearly random “lay”-people), so this remains only as a soft grumble in the belly.

“life as a monk or nun is monotonous and boring” - häh? Ok, I’m no monk, and I know buddhist monks only from some visits in Plum-Village (a Thich Nhat Hanh’s monastery in South-France) so “how would I know what’s correct about”. But the words of the Buddha tell different, about freedom, open senses, and I myself have a deep love for the life outwards and in/with the forest: my 14-day-walk through the “Blackforest” (Germany) evolved to the (short) most lucky and with-me-and-nature-in-peace time of my life. As well meeting here in the forum monks, even if only verbally, - they don’t seem to suffer boringness … So at this point with the Payer’s conclusion is a bit more than grumble in the belly.

By the first bullet point my alarm bell is loudly ringing. How can an intellectual formulate the misrepresentation of the Buddha as almighty, etc pp, by “He gave reason…”. I’m much sensitive for such stretched & turned causality formulations, getting them for instance in the Rigpa-abuse controversy, when the great guru Sogyal tried sometimes to put the causality from him towards the young female victim, throwing out the meme “she seduced me” - perhaps somehow like “the young woman’s prettiness gave me reason to …” . I don’t know what A. Payer is thinking here really. Perhaps it is simply an unfortunate over-sloppiness for the talk - but after so many scientifically worked out materials: such a lunaticism?

But this are only the easiest to answer bullet points. Originally my intention was to let you co-discutants here first make your consideration readably stated - without biasing you by my own feelings/focuses.

Oh yes, his style is rather informal and at times polemical. I was assuming that the point about boredom was made as a joking criticism of monastics who wrote new stuff and attributed it to the Buddha. Looking back, this interpretation isn‘t necessarily supported by the rest of the lecture. While the way he talks is clearly intended to convey an appreciative but deeply critical attitude to the uninitiated, it‘s hard to know what is and what isn‘t a joke.
As for misrepresenting and overstretching in the first point of Payer‘s conclusion, I don‘t know. We‘re talking about a long-dead historical figure here, not about a victim of sexual abuse, and, according to the Canon, the Buddha did say that he had mind-boggling cosmic insight and that he was the perfect teacher. Anyway, if this is indeed a misrepresentation, why get agitated about it? There‘s so much bad info about Buddhism around, just add it to the pile.

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Oh well, if the selection of an example (which is meant to illustrate the problem-complex of “turning causality” as an aspect of method of thinking) leads to an unfortunate focus it’s of course a bad example and I should have tried to find a better, less contaminated, one. Sorry for this!

Yes, point taken - accepted! I didn’t come to the Canon as a teenager or twen, but in the age of 50 (after “meeting” Lao Tse, Osho and Krishnamurti) and being myself in a teaching position with the essential tool of self-reflection, and maybe that was the reason that I never got up to the idea of an “almighty” or “all-knowing” Buddha although reading the text about the Buddha’s cosmic insight and foresight. Moreover, I was then involved in LOUD :wink: discussions in a usenet-forum about buddhism and so such an idea of "almighty"ness would have been cut out quickly if ever arosen. So I can think now you are right - such sentences in the Canon might easily ring up the “mystic services” in someones mind.
Hmm, I still don’t like that causality direction in that first bullet-point, but I can see this now with more calm - thanks for this.

Anyway - I hope this conversation does not stop further thoughts around; just to make clear that I much appreciate that written talk of A. Payer: I’m going to write a very friendly email to the author; perhaps we’ll have an answer from himself later.

I can appreciate that! Faulty reasoning quickly leads into a thicket of views, so it‘s good to point it out.

By the way, he has a column in Ursache & Wirkung magazine (for the non-Germans reading along, this is the German-language (non-sectarian) Buddhist magazine with the highest print circulation, so I guess it‘s kind of an authority here), that might give some context. And today is his birthday, so maybe congratulations are in order :grin:


(The birthday info is an amazing one - thank you!) :slightly_smiling_face:
Just found (german): (old) newspaper-article mentioning his birthday

The following search command/url gives a group of 26 links into the “Ursache\Wirkung”-online journal with essays by Alois Payer from 2016 on. (search command) Browsed through several of them. I liked each one I’ve read so far :slight_smile:

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Too strange, I’ve never heard his name! I’ll have a look at his website, though. Thanks @Nessie for pointing it out.

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I have been looking a little around on Payer’s website (by far not reading everything of course), and I am not quite sure what to make of it.

First of all, the motto on the top of the site sounds dubious to me.

Freie Information für freie Bürger / Free information for free citizens

It alludes to various things. For once, there’s this motto of those who are opposed to speed limits on German highways, “Freie Fahrt für freie Bürger” (“free run for free citizens”). Also, the term “freie Bürger” is used by various political groups, including such ones with a far right orientation.

So, what does Payer want to express by this motto? We don’t know.

I am also not sure in how far Alois Payer sees himself as a Buddhist. The website is not an explicitly Buddhist one. It has also a lot of information on Judaism, Islam, other religions, and a lot of other more or less unrelated topics.

Payer himself originally studied theology (both Catholic and Protestant), but then, after coming in contact with a religion-critical discussion group, gave it up. Perhaps he had an all-too-strict upbringing as a Jesuit pupil, enclosed behind barbed wire for seven years as a teenager!

He is (was?) a professor for Indology and Buddhology and a few other areas. He calls himself a “militant anti-theist” and a “critic of religion”.

When it comes to Buddhism, my impression is that he sees his mission in correcting all-too-pious Buddhists by confronting them with some “facts”. In one place he speaks of the need to “demythologize” Buddhism.

And now to the actual article @Nessie refers to, and the six bullet points.

It seems the six bullet points are not regarded by Payer as the “conclusion” of the article. The sentence that introduces them says:

Aber da Buddhisten fehlbare Menschen sind, spielten bei der Entfaltung des Buddhismus auch folgende Faktoren eine große Rolle. Ohne jeglichen Anspruch auf Vollständigkeit:

But since Buddhists are fallible humans, the following factors also played a big part in the development of Buddhism. Not meant to be exhaustive:

We may rather take the sentence below these bullet points as the author’s “conclusion”:

Ich habe versucht, Ihnen ein wenig zu helfen, Empathie - Einfühlungsvermögen - bei Ihrer Beschäftigung mit verschiedensten Aspekten des Buddhismus zu haben. Mehr beabsichtigte ich nicht. Danke für Ihre Aufmerksamkeit.

I have tried to help you a little in having empathy—the faculty to feel inside the other—in your interaction with various aspects of Buddhism. My intention does not go further. Thank you for your attention.

Which has to bee seen in relation with the explanation about “empathy” at the start of the article, where it is said to be also the basis for a “humane” form of rejection.

Overall, such statements sound rather unclear to me, and I can’t really see what the author actually thinks about Buddhism.

The sentence with the “nonsense” sounds in fact quite denigrating to me, especially the way it is phrased in German, but there isn’t always the same tone throughout the article. The sentence goes:

Dies führt dazu, dass blind jeder Unsinn, den er - als Kind seiner Zeit - verzapft hat oder verzapft haben soll, als ewige Wahrheit betrachtet wurde und wird.

This [taking the Buddha to be omniscient] leads to blindly regarding any nonsense which he—as a child of his time—has poured out or is said to have poured out as eternal truth, both in the past and the present.

(There’s actually not really a good English counterpart for the German word “verzapfen”. It’s quite a denigrating one, usually used in the context of nonsense. Maybe you can explain it as “pouring out unqualified things that you have concocted yourself”.)

One point is that Payer frequently refers to Hans Wolfgang Schumann, another German Indologist, though much less polemical than Payer. If memory doesn’t fool me, Schumann explains rebirth to be a doctrine that the Buddha adopted uncritically from his contemporaries; so my first thought was that Payer perhaps refers to this when he speaks of this “nonsense” that the Buddha spoke “as a child of his time”. But that’s of course a bit speculative.

When we take the part of the sentence “or is said to have poured out”, this relates to the other point where Payer speaks of the boring life of monastics which leads to them creating new texts. Of course there has been some additions of the canon over time, but the way it is alluded to here sounds rather as if most of the canon is just an invention of bored monastics. The thing is that Payer frequently speaks in allusions without explicitly stating what he thinks, so he can always say, “I didn’t say that”. And at the same time, there’s a subtle sarcasm throughout the text that to me makes it feel rather hostile, if that isn’t exaggerated; but in that direction.

So overall, I see more questions than answers. And I hope I am not doing an injustice to the author.


Great post, well-researched and thoughtful. Thanks, Venerable!

There‘s a certain lag in language. The right-wing connotation you sense there has deepened in the last few years, especially with the protests against CoVid measures, but ten years ago and further into the past, the use of this kind of language was rather more politically ambiguous. Many of the older people who aren‘t quite on top of the newest developments in „subtle“ speech signals can unwittingly employ this code. So if there aren‘t any other pointers to politics on his site, in interviews or such, I‘d disregard it as an oddity.
Other than that, even if Payer was right-wing in some capacity, how would that factor into your evaluation of his thoughts on Buddhism? He might have worthwhile thoughts in that domain even if he had questionable ideology. Frankly, that‘s the way I view monastics who voice any kind of political opinion at all (which, as a PoliSci student, I don‘t think is a wise thing for monastics to do) - with utmost care, but not dismissing them outright.

He might also be referring to post-Canon doctrine, possibly the Abhidhamma as well (though if I remember right, he does cite the Visudhimagga in his lecture). My intuition about that point was that it was meant as a potshot at Mahayana.

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Yes, and the last edits I saw on the site date only back to 2023. We don’t know from when this flag dates. At some place he makes also reference to Covid, but I don’t remember what exactly the tone of this was, and don’t find it right now.

Well we had already a right-wing regime in Germany that abused so-called “Buddhist” ideas for their propaganda. But I am not saying Payer does any of this. Seeing such a possible pointer simply makes me look more carefully.

My point here is that Payer might not be up to date about how people signal their political leanings nowadays. We‘re going through rapid changes in political memes, alliances, and signal words at the moment, and even the younger people around me tend to lose track of who says what now if they don‘t watch the relevant political channels regularly. With the catalyst of Social Media, the papanca on steroids that has colonized the (former) pre-political space is constantly mutating :sweat_smile:

Fair point. There‘s this strain of fascism that is weirdly infatuated with its warped version of Buddhism. We also had this one thread here at D&D about Julius Evola‘s „Doctrine of Awakening“ that was… worrying. With proper context and a critical attitude - sure, read Evola. I read parts of „Men Among the Ruins“ out of curiosity some years ago and lived to tell the tale. But as Evola was the picture book example of a fascist occultist, reading him the same way one reads Thich Nhat Hanh, as a secondary source on Buddhism or a self-help book, would be exceptionally stupid.
So yeah, something to look out for.

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Including me, definitely! :grin: