A Buddhism Critic Goes on a Silent Buddhist Retreat

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A Buddhism Critic Goes on a Silent Buddhist Retreat

John Horgan


Quote:I’ve been hard on Buddhism over the years (see for example my critique of the bestseller Why Buddhism Is True). But I like to think I’m open-minded. So, in 2018, I put my skepticism to the test by going on a weeklong silent Buddhist retreat, which my pro-Buddhism friends Lisa and Bob argued was my moral obligation.

The retreat rocked me. I’m still trying to make sense of it, but I’m going to take a stab at describing it, if only for my own sake. As I told Julie, a teacher who advised me not to write during the retreat, I’m not sure what happens to me until I write about it.


I do appreciate Horgan going to test his skepticism, hopefully he visits a good medium at some point.


Quote:There is no best thing to do with life, and Buddhism errs in implying otherwise. The exaltation of enlightenment makes us vulnerable to abuse by sleazy gurus. And seeking enlightenment is pretty self-indulgent. The world isn’t all fireflies and goldfinches. It has problems that need fixing...

I think this is just a flawed understanding of Buddhism, or at least not acknowledging that there are many ideas of what Enlightenment/Nirvana actually is.
'Historically, we may regard materialism as a system of dogma set up to combat orthodox dogma...Accordingly we find that, as ancient orthodoxies disintegrate, materialism more and more gives way to scepticism.'

- Bertrand Russell


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Interesting, and positive, though I'd take issue with the idea of being "vulnerable to abuse by sleazy gurus". For me, one of the aims of direct experience is to break the dependence on authority, sleazy or otherwise.
(This post was last modified: 2020-10-26, 09:17 AM by Typoz.)
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(2020-10-26, 08:03 AM)Typoz Wrote: Interesting, and positive, though I'd take issue with the idea of being "vulnerable to abuse by sleazy gurus". For me, one of the aims of direct experience is to break the dependence on authority, sleazy or otherwise.

Yeah, it's an odd criticism of Buddhism. There's this idea that pseudo-skepticism is a religion free from gurus and cults. But we know that's not true:

The bizarre – and costly – cult of Richard Dawkins
'Historically, we may regard materialism as a system of dogma set up to combat orthodox dogma...Accordingly we find that, as ancient orthodoxies disintegrate, materialism more and more gives way to scepticism.'

- Bertrand Russell


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I'm a general fan of Horgan.  Doesn't mean I agree with all his takes, but he comes through to me as authentic.  We need more authenticity. Smile
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(2020-10-26, 06:25 PM)Silence Wrote: I'm a general fan of Horgan.  Doesn't mean I agree with all his takes, but he comes through to me as authentic.  We need more authenticity. Smile

Oh yeah I agree. He's been more willing than most to separate science from materialism.

I think he's a big reason Idealism and Panpsychism are allowed more representation on Sci Am.
'Historically, we may regard materialism as a system of dogma set up to combat orthodox dogma...Accordingly we find that, as ancient orthodoxies disintegrate, materialism more and more gives way to scepticism.'

- Bertrand Russell


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(2020-10-26, 02:52 AM)Sciborg_S_Patel Wrote: I think this is just a flawed understanding of Buddhism, or at least not acknowledging that there are many ideas of what Enlightenment/Nirvana actually is.

Just to touch on this, here's a recent book on the way Taoism had something of a counter to Indian-based Buddhism. Taoism then influenced Zen Buddhism.

Quote:Buddhism migrated from India to China in the first century C.E., and Ch’an (Japanese: Zen) is generally seen as China’s most distinctive and enduring form of Buddhism. In China Root, however, David Hinton reveals how Ch’an was in fact a Buddhist-influenced extension of Taoism, China’s native system of spiritual philosophy that was grounded in an earthy and empirically-based vision. Hinton describes Ch’an as a kind of anti-Buddhism, a radical and wild practice aspiring to a deeply ecological liberation: the integration of individual consciousness with landscape and with a Cosmos seen as harmonious and alive.

Hinton presents this original form of Zen with his trademark clarity and elegance, each chapter exploring in enlightening ways a core Ch’an concept—such as meditation, mind, Buddha, awakening—as it was originally understood and practiced in ancient China. Finally, by examining a range of standard translations in the appendix, he shows how this original understanding and practice of Ch’an/Zen is almost entirely missing in contemporary American Zen, because it was lost in Ch’an’s migration from China through Japan and on to the West.


I would also say that "Buddhism" as practiced in Asia is pretty varied, just Vedanta is not the usual way Hindus in India think of things. I suspect most Buddhists expect to have an afterlife, and even Nirvana is not equivalent to Oblivion.

AFAIK Buddha doesn't even describe exactly what Nirvana would entail. The similar concept of Moksha in Hinduism is often thought of as a kind of integration with the Godhead but some of the same believe[r]s also speak of dwelling with Krsna (or Vishnu, or Shiva, or the Goddess) for eternity.

What we do know is Buddha does speak of breaking the cycle of "addiction" with regard to incarnation, so that one can achieve liberation:

"...the tears you have shed across lives are greater than the waters in the oceans...

Long have you thus experienced suffering, experienced pain, experienced loss, swelling the cemeteries — enough to become disenchanted...enough to be Liberated."

-Siddhārtha Gautama
'Historically, we may regard materialism as a system of dogma set up to combat orthodox dogma...Accordingly we find that, as ancient orthodoxies disintegrate, materialism more and more gives way to scepticism.'

- Bertrand Russell


(This post was last modified: 2020-10-30, 07:56 PM by Sciborg_S_Patel.)
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(2020-10-26, 05:20 PM)Sciborg_S_Patel Wrote: Yeah, it's an odd criticism of Buddhism. There's this idea that pseudo-skepticism is a religion free from gurus and cults. But we know that's not true:

The bizarre – and costly – cult of Richard Dawkins

Just as an aside, I remember posting that link on the Skeptiko forum some years back and was surprised that it shocked a couple of the resident skeptics. There were a few similar criticisms of Dawkins around that time which marked the start of his decline as the leading proponent of aggressive atheism. Also around that time I remember listening to an interview he did with BBC radio in which he was asked why he is usually described as being such an angry man. He audibly bristled at the suggestion and barked back (angrily) "I'm not an angry man!".

Sorry for the diversion ... as you were.
I do not make any clear distinction between mind and God. God is what mind becomes when it has passed beyond the scale of our comprehension.
Freeman Dyson
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