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Why I Don't Dig Buddhism

Source: Why I Don't Dig Buddhism - Scientific American Blog Network

Please state what you think about the article

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Could you put some effort into explaining how you think this article relates to Early Buddhist Texts. (I’m not saying it doesn’t, but it’s good to help start the conversation in a positive direction.)

BTW, it’s better to link to an article rather than paste the article here. Copyright, etc.

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Please reconsider the opening post.

Pasting a whole article which is necessarily under subject of the forum only works against you: only a few will read it all and most will be left wondering what is exactly the relationship between it and the objective and theme of the forum.

Otherwise, I would strongly suggest you consider trying somewhere else, like Reddit maybe?

As @Snowbird says, make an effort to present your suggestion of topic for discussion under the guidelines of the forum and principles of right speech. :anjal:

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It seems that I can’t edit the post I try to delete it and just preview the link

Update 1
It works, thanks

This is a personal opinion piece that is essentially a mash up of every materialist criticism of Buddhism that’s been bandied about over the past 20 years.

My understanding is that the author dabbled for a little bit, didn’t really do any serious study ( for example, he flagrantly misrepresents and misunderstands Karma), or develop a serious meditative practice, so he threw in the towel. When it is correctly pointed out to him that he did not initiate enough effort, he responds with a flippant “life’s too short!”

Some of his issues are perfectly understandable. He is an ex Catholic like myself, and I understand his misconceptions, because depending on the environment you are raised in, Catholic doctrines can do alot of long lasting harm. It can take awhile to break that mold.

He is also a scientific materialist, for lack of a better term, as his arguments revolve entirely around meditation, neural activity, enlightenment, etc. Never once does he mention the 8FNP, Sila, or any of the core components of the path. This is a major problem of a lot of Western Buddhism, where the primary draw is meditative attainments, but no emphasis on building a solid basis of ethics first.

The author isn’t bad, or ignorant. I think he just needs to invest more time.

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Thanks, I agree with you wholeheartedly I want to find other arguments against him

Update 1
Here are my criticism against him

Eventually, I stopped attending my Zen sessions (for reasons that I describe in detail elsewhere). One problem was that meditation never really tamed my monkey mind. During my last class, I fixated on a classmate who kept craning his neck and grunting and asking our teacher unbearably pretentious questions. I loathed him and loathed myself for loathing him, and finally I thought: What am I doing here?

I think he should try vipassana or other theravada practices instead of mahayana practises

Buddhism, at least in its traditional forms, is functionally theistic, even if it doesn’t invoke a supreme deity. The doctrines of karma and reincarnation imply the existence of some sort of cosmic moral judge who, like Santa Claus, tallies up our naughtiness and niceness before rewarding us with nirvana or rebirth as a cockroach

He is wrong again here, the law of kamma like relativity and gravity are not determined by god, no concious being decides your life

and even the Dalai Lama has doubts about reincarnation, a philosopher who discussed the issue with him once told me

He should consider theravada instead of mahayana, Dalai Lama is not representation of buddhism

The mystical philosopher Ken Wilber, when I interviewed him, compared meditation to a scientific instrument such as a microscope or telescope, through which you can glimpse spiritual truth. This analogy is bogus. Anyone can peer through a telescope and see the moons of Jupiter, or squint through a microscope and see cells divide. But ask 10 meditators what they see, feel or learn and you will get 10 different answers.

Again He should try theravada meditation instead of hindu or mahayana meditation,not all meditation are equal

Actually, modern science—and meditative introspection—have merely discovered that the self is an emergent phenomenon, difficult to explain in terms of its parts. The world abounds in emergent phenomena. The school where I teach can’t be defined in strictly reductionist terms either. You can’t point to a person or classroom or lab and say, “Here is Stevens Institute.” But does that mean my school doesn’t exist?

Even if he said that self is body + mind yet this so called self can still suffer implying that this self can’t keep itself happy all the time ,if it can’t control itself then it’s not it in the first place

Then there is the claim that contemplative practice will make us gentler, more humble and compassionate. In Zen and the Brain (MIT Press, 1998), the neurologist and Buddhist James Austin proposes that meditation and mindfulness erode neural regions underpinning our innate self-centeredness. But given the repulsive behavior over the past few decades of so many gurus—including Chogyam Trungpa, who was an alcoholic womanizer and bully—you could conclude that mystical knowledge leads to pathological narcissism rather than selflessness.

Again please quote a bad theravadin teacher because you keep quoting mahayanist teachers

This is the notion that some rare souls achieve mystical self-transcendence so complete that they become morally infallible

Actually what happens is the opposite if they do mistakes then they should not be considered as gurus in the first place

To me, “spiritual” means life-embracing, and so a path that turns away from aspects of life as essential as sexual love and parenthood is not spiritual but anti-spiritual.

When you die you will leave all those things

If you meet the Buddha in the road, kill him.

This should not be taken literally

That’s unnecessary, I think. It’s not like he is going to read them.

I learned back in the day when I was a pro-Catholic apologist was that the real reason the vast majority of people engage with apologetics is because they aren’t trying trying to convince other people, they are trying to convince themselves.

This man is obviously highly educated and highly intelligent, but he is treating the Dhamma as a subject of intellectual curiosity and investigation, instead of getting to the actual meat of the Dhamma, which is Sila and practice.

Ajahn Chah had a great point about people like this guy:

" The vulture may fly high, but what does it eat?"

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One of Buddhism’s biggest selling points for lapsed Catholics like me is that it supposedly dispenses with God and other supernatural claptrap.

One of the biggest issues is the false marketing that exists around Buddhism in the west. Trying to tie this back in with EBTs, if he had been given a true picture of what the Buddha taught in the first place, I imagine he never would have had a real interest.

I learned more about Buddhism by reading books and articles, attending lectures and conferences and, most of all, talking to lots of Buddhists, some famous, even infamous, others just ordinary folk trying to get by.

This approach clearly has problems. You are bound to end up with a mish mash of wrong views.

Unfortunately, I think the monastery he references living close to is the one where Bhante Bodhi teaches his sutta classes. Too bad he didn’t pursue original sources.

I’m not so familiar with it, but you may want to investigate the Milindapañha if you are interested in arguments against skeptics. Forgive me if you already are familiar with it.

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This makes me think about yoga. To many people (who are only exposed to superficial versions of it) it’s the class after the spinning class at their local gym. They generally don’t know much about its religious/spiritual context.

I wonder if it would be as popular if the context was widely known?

Edit: Like with (mc)mindfulness, a lot of the more challenging aspects are removed, presumably to make it more appealing to western audiences.

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The basic critiques are as follows

This claim is disingenuous. Buddhism, at least in its traditional forms, is functionally theistic, even if it doesn’t invoke a supreme deity. The doctrines of karma and reincarnation imply the existence of some sort of cosmic moral judge who, like Santa Claus, tallies up our naughtiness and niceness before rewarding us with nirvana or rebirth as a cockroach.

Which is a complete misunderstanding of karma which I need not expound on further

Those who emphasize Buddhism’s compatibility with science usually downplay or disavow its supernatural elements (and even the Dalai Lama has doubts about reincarnation, a philosopher who discussed the issue with him once told me). The mystical philosopher Ken Wilber, when I interviewed him, compared meditation to a scientific instrument such as a microscope or telescope, through which you can glimpse spiritual truth. This analogy is bogus.

The analogy is not perfect and is not meant to be. But he is right that Buddhism is not a hard science. But this is not a critique of Buddhism per se, just of certain presentations of it (Buddhist modernist presentations of “Buddhism as a science of the mind” etc)

Meditation reportedly reduces stress, anxiety and depression, but it has been linked to increased negative emotions, too. Some studies indicate that meditation makes you hyper-sensitive to external stimuli; others reveal the opposite effect. Brain scans do not yield consistent results, either…etc

He’s lumping general studies of meditation with “Buddhism”, he doesn’t even cite any actual studies. This is not even an argument.

Moreover, those fortunate souls who achieve deep mystical states—through meditation or other means—may come away convinced of very different truths.

This is widely acknowledged in Buddhadhamma

Actually, modern science—and meditative introspection—have merely discovered that the self is an emergent phenomenon, difficult to explain in terms of its parts. The world abounds in emergent phenomena. The school where I teach can’t be defined in strictly reductionist terms either. You can’t point to a person or classroom or lab and say, “Here is Stevens Institute.” But does that mean my school doesn’t exist?

The existence of a psychological “self” i.e. a personality, is not denied in Buddhism. What is denied is atta, etc. This misses the mark again.

Then there is the claim that contemplative practice will make us gentler, more humble and compassionate. In Zen and the Brain (MIT Press, 1998), the neurologist and Buddhist James Austin proposes that meditation and mindfulness erode neural regions underpinning our innate self-centeredness. But given the repulsive behavior over the past few decades of so many gurus—including Chogyam Trungpa… I suspect some bad gurus have fallen prey to mystical nihilism. They may also have been corrupted by that most insidious of all Buddhist propositions, the myth of total enlightenment. This is the notion that some rare souls achieve mystical self-transcendence so complete that they become morally infallible—like the Pope! Belief in this myth can turn spiritual teachers into tyrants and their students into mindless slaves, who excuse even their teachers’ most abusive behavior as “crazy wisdom.”

Criticizing individual Buddhists is not a criticism of Buddhism in toto. Any large enough discipline or group of people has had terrible people in it. I wouldn’t criticize all of the discipline of physics because many physicists produced the atomic bomb.

I have one final misgiving about Buddhism—or rather, about Buddha himself. His path to enlightenment began with his abandonment of his wife and child. Even today, Tibetan Buddhism—again, like Catholicism—upholds male monasticism as the epitome of spirituality. To me, “spiritual” means life-embracing, and so a path that turns away from aspects of life as essential as sexual love and parenthood is not spiritual but anti-spiritual.

Sigh. This has been discussed and addressed numerous times. Honestly, a search of the discourse forum will find good replies to this, or a google search. I’ll just add that not everyone wants sexual love and parenthood, and the monastic vocation is for those individuals. Likewise, there are many other Buddhist vocations that are not monastic throughout the tradition.

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I’m just going to “attack” the author’s main argument

I have one final misgiving about Buddhism—or rather, about Buddha himself. His path to enlightenment began with his abandonment of his wife and child. Even today, Tibetan Buddhism—again, like Catholicism—upholds male monasticism as the epitome of spirituality. To me, “spiritual” means life-embracing, and so a path that turns away from aspects of life as essential as sexual love and parenthood is not spiritual but anti-spiritual.

  1. Buddhism is actually a hedonist religion, it’s just that the Buddha prioritizes sublime pleasures over low quality sensual pleasures like sex and food. In one sutta he even says he pities the fool (like the actor Mr. T says) who gets neither sublime nor sensual pleasure, in other words ascetics who abandon sensual desires but do not get sublime desires.

  2. You can either add pleasure or remove pain, both result in the same thing which is temporary relief and happiness, however adding pleasure leads to addiction (further craving), removing pain doesn’t. This is why the dhamma is framed in a negative often, like stopping things rather than adding things.

  3. You don’t need to abandon your wife or kids to attain enlightenment, lay people can be celibate in a relationship, attain non-return, die, and become an arahant shortly after, there’s a sutta that explains all the types of non-returners turning into Arahants, most aren’t even done being reborn and they attain Arahantship/parinibbana “upon landing”.

  4. “Spiritual” is not an objective word, so it has no inherent meaning. For some spiritual might mean lighting candles, for others it might mean a grueling hike. Usually spiritual means something that is not common and not mundane. There is nothing spiritual about having sex, that is probably as mundane animalistic as you could be, it’s everywhere in the animal kingdom. Marriage I would say is more spiritual than sex, because of the idea of “matched souls” and such.

  5. Are you really embracing life if you’re actively ignoring the painful aspects of it thinking it won’t happen to you? Furthermore isn’t it masochistic to do something that is painful? Just because you CAN do something, doesn’t mean you should. You could say anyone who doesn’t sky dive and ride motorcycles isn’t “life embracing” too. So who decides what is life embracing or not?

  6. In the end, everyone has their pain-avoidance strategy, for one to claim theirs is “life embracing” while the other’s isnt, is arrogant. There is no meaning or agenda to life, you’re born, you live, you die, and you’re possibly born again. It’s up to you to decide how to make the most of your short human lifespan. There is no judge, only consequences.

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It’s from 2011. Wonder if the person has a different opinion? I didn’t first take precepts until 2012, so things can change :man_shrugging:.

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The author of the article describes himself this way: “Grouchy skeptic, know-it-all, Scientific American contributor…” My guess is that he was being intentionally lazy in his research and reporting, insofar as an essay that involved actual research of the life of the Buddha and his teachings might have taken time and effort, which Horgan certainly wasn’t going to invest for this “grouchy skeptic” piece. For my part, whenever I see an article on Buddhism that cites Trungpa, or Ken Wilbur, I normally expect a train wreck. or worse :poop:

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Alright I will post a poll just as watercooler

Do you agree with that scientist ?
  • Yes, that scientist is right
  • No, he is wrong
  • I both agree and disagree with him
  • Neither I agree nor I disagree with him
  • I have other answer
  • I won’t participate in this poll
  • This question is unanswerable

0 voters

I remember coming across this very article a few years ago when I was seriously looking into Buddhism for the first time. And I’m grateful to the guy who wrote it. His critique, among others, deepened my desire to pursue this path. Because I couldn’t find any criticisms of the Dhamma that don’t boil down to misunderstanding or difference in values. Which is quite remarkable.

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Ajahn Chah also suggested that “sila, samadhi, panna” is like a stick with a beginning (sila) a middle (samadhi) and an end (panna). Pick up any part of the stick and the rest of the stick comes with it. I think it’s good that the author of the article even attempted to pick up the stick. He didn’t have the wherewithal to actually pick the stick up, but hopefully he will go back and give it another go in a little while.

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It is not uncommon to see Western converts coming through Zen or Vajrayana remain confused by inessential things and miss the essential and study other books and teachers claimed to be Buddha’s words.

"Those who consider the inessential to be essential
And see the essential as inessential
Don’t reach the essential
Living in the field of wrong intention

Those who know the essential to be essential
And the inessential as inessential
Reach the essential
Living in the field of right intention"

  • Dhammapada 11-12, ch1 (yamaka)

Buddha invited everyone to dig his essential teachings and realize the truth for oneself.

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