Friday, July 12, 2013

The Opiate of Logical Speculation

Response to “Buddhism as the Opiate of the(downwardly-mobile) Middle Class: The Case of Thanissaro Bhikkhu
This is an interesting blog that seems based on nothing but the writer’s fantasy of Buddhism, not even on emptiness. But because the blog is titled “Speculative Non-Buddhism”  that is not surprising.  This is definitely “non-Buddhism.” And as for the “speculation,” in the Buddha Dharma speculation is the sine qua non of false thinking.
To say, “for [Thanissaro Bhikkhu], Buddhism is exactly the same as Vedanta or Jainism at its core,” is next to defamation and has no evidentiary support. Also saying “Unlike most x-buddhist teachers” implies that Ajaan Geoff is an “x-buddhist teacher” when he is not either an “ex-buddhist” nor an “ex-teacher.” Of course in one sense, Buddha Dharma teaches the One Vehicle in which all vehicles, even the Vehicles of Humans and Devas such as Vedanta or Jainism, have the same basis because all things (dharmas) are nothing but manifestations of mind. However, Buddha Dharma does not ever take the position as a positive assertion “that we are moving closer to permanently rejoining the perfect eternal atman, escaping the trap of this world once and for all” except in a very limited way as a very temporary expedient means for “crying and scared children” who are lost in the cul-de-sac of nihilism.

Specifically, this blog is guilty of misrepresentation of Ajaan Geoff’s teachings.  It is just a plain misrepresentation to say, “In his essay ‘No-self or Not-self?’ he makes it clear that his understanding of the teaching of anatta is that there is, in fact, an eternal soul, but that nothing that is part of our time-space continuum is part of that soul, and so we must learn not to be attached to anything in this samsaric world.”  That essay says no such thing. I invite all the readers to see for themselves by opening the link to the essay itself and searching for every reference to the word “soul.”
Tom Pepper's blog makes the fundamental mistake that non-Buddhists often make by equating the use of the word “mind” with the use of the word “self” or “soul.”  For example, nowhere in the excerpt of Ajaan’s use of the word “mind” does the word “core” appear, yet it is asserted that Ajaan is talking about a “core mind” as an eternal self or soul sort of thing, when he never said such a thing. There is just the assumption being read into Ajaan’s words that is not there in the meaning of the words. This rhetorical trick is useful for the writer, but is just plainly fallacious. Likewise the author does not understand what the term “unconditioned mind” means and imagines it to mean an “eternal and unchanging” "core mind" kind of thing. This kind of confusion is a symptom of the illness of logical speculation.

I can’t find anything in this blog that credibly represents either the teaching of Ajaan Geoff or the Buddha Dharma.  Believing this kind of logical speculation to be anything but false thining is the real opiate to be avoided.

Post Script: After writing the above I discovered that I was misreading the meaning of "x-buddhist teacher" to mean "ex-buddhist teacher."  After looking more at the blog, I see that the contributors of the "Speculative Non-Buddhist" blog use the term "x-buddhist" in a derogatory manner to mean their judgmental and speculative view of the real Buddha Dharma as a teaching of falsehoods and hallucinations. They believe that their "non-buddhism" which they speculate about is the real Buddha Dharma and that what they call "x-buddhism" is phony Buddha Dharma, even though it is what is taught by the actual certified teachers of Buddha Dharma.


Anonymous said...

I hope I don't offend you, but your understanding of that blog is astoundingly poor. There is indeed much to criticize there. If, in trying to do so, though, you don't understand even the basics, you end up looking, well, ignorant and they intelligent. Can you try harder?

By the way, how do you square your defense of Geoff with his million-such statements that:

"There are many dimensions to the mind, dimensions often obscured by the squabbling of the committee members and their fixation with fleeting forms of happiness. One of those dimensions is totally unconditioned. In other words, it’s not dependent on conditions at all."

That's atman pure and simple.

Alan Gregory Wonderwheel said...

No offense taken. We obviously disagree on the correct or appropriate understanding of the "Speculative Non-Buddhism" blog. I would hope that you would "try harder" to help me "try harder" by your spelling out exactly and specifically what it is that you think I do not understand correctly.

Taking the quote you offer as a perfect example, I have to say that categorically that quote has nothing to do with "atman." So rather than "pure" or "simple," you have polluted the quote with your own confusing interpretation of atman based on some kind of self-projected literalizing.

Nowhere does that quote mention "atman" and nowhere does it suggest that "mind" is an equivalent of "atman." The phrase "dimensions to the mind" refers to varieties of awareness, not to "types of self." Saying "one of those dimensions" refers to a feature of awareness, and neither to an internal nor an external "objectified self" which is the conventional meaning of "atman."

Now there is a very interesting and enlightening area of discussion to be had if we open it up to the non-conventional meanings of atman where atman is the equivalent of the Greek "psyche" or Latin "anima" meaning “to breathe, to move.” Now in THIS regard, since mind and psyche are equivalents then we can leap frog to a dimension where atman and mind are largely identical. But, and I emphasize BUT, this form of "atman" is most definitely NOT the meaning of atman as either an individual or universal "self." This aspect of "atman-as-psyche" comes from “breath” and “movement,” and the very same confusion about the meaning of human breath and movement being objectified as a “soul” or “self” is found in both the terms “atman” and “psyche.”

So one can say that Ajaan Geoff’s quote is using the word “mind” to speak about the psyche, i.e., the breath and movement of awareness, and not about the psyche as either an individual or universal soul or self. Since the term “atman” is conventionally and almost exclusively misconstrued as a “self” or “soul,” we Buddhists usually prefer to use the term “anatman” or “no-self” or “mind.” But when we say “atman is anatman,” “the self of no-self” or “the selfless self” we are speaking in both senses meaning “the atman that is not atman,” i.e., “the breathing awareness (atman/psyche) that is not a soul or self (atman/psyche).”

Buddhist_philosopher said...

Great post, Gregory. No offense to the above Anonymous poster, but I think you understood the blog well and the particular post in question.

jps said...

Hi Gregory - I am pleased you punctured that bombastic Mr Pepper. I encountered the whole 'x-Buddhist' clique through various online fora they post to a couple of years back, and decided they're essentially all cynical sophists. They can turn any argument in their apparent favour, but they lack any real appreciation of the 'great matter'.