Saturday, August 9, 2014

Batchelor on postmetaphysical Buddhism

See Batchelor's essay "A Secular Buddhism," published in Journal of Global Buddhism 13 (2012), 87-107. The abstract follows:

"This essay explores the possibility of a complete secular redefinition of Buddhism. It argues that such a secular re-formation would go beyond modifying a traditional Buddhist school, practice or ideology to make it more compatible with modernity, but would involve rethinking the core ideas on which the very notion of 'Buddhism' is based. Starting with a critical reading of the four noble truths, as presented in the Buddha’s first discourse, the author proposes that instead of thinking of awakening in terms of 'truths' to be understood one thinks of it in terms of 'tasks' to be accomplished. Such a pragmatic approach may open up the possibility of going beyond the belief-based metaphysics of classical Indian soteriology (Buddhism 1.0) to a praxis-based, post-metaphysical vision of the dharma (Buddhism 2.0)."

This is nice:

"As soon as the seductive notion of 'truth' begins to permeate the discourse of the dharma, the pragmatic emphasis of the teaching risks being replaced by speculative metaphysics, and awakening comes to be seen as achieving an inner state of mind that somehow accords with an objective metaphysical 'reality'” (92).

The philological exegesis on 'noble truth' on the same page is pertinent, as it was a later addition in line with an ultimate metaphysics.

Also see the 'complete view' on 98-9, linked to dependent arising and ceasing. Even devoid of 'truth' it is a pragmatic path of steps to be mastered in a certain way and sequence.* There may not be one 'right way' but there are definite parameters for judging right ways. And these parameters are what maintain the practice as 'Buddhism.'

However, "the eightfold path is not to be seen as a linear sequence of stages that results in a final goal, but as a positive feedback loop that is itself the goal. [...] This loop I am describing, however, is not cyclical. If it were, one would keep finding oneself back where one started, which would be analogous to samsara" (102). Hmmm, that insidious and continuously (re)iterative twist or fold thingie.

* Like stages of skill acquisition.

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