One of the greatest heralds for today’s ever-increasing Secular Buddhism is Stephen Batchelor. Once studying to be a Tibetan Buddhist Monk he switched gears and instead began to identify himself first as an agnostic, then later as an atheist. His atheism is not just based on denying some notion of an eternal godhead, but rather as an antithetical foundation for anything beyond the senses. Everything for him is a matter of contingency:
The idea that mind existed independently of matter as a kind of formless, ghostly “knowing” made no sense.
Being-in-the-world means that I am inextricably knit into the fabric of this fluid, indivisible, and contingent reality I share with others. There is no room for a disembodied mind or soul, however subtle, to float free from this condition, to contemplate it from a hypothetical Archimedean point outside. Without such a mind or soul, it is hard to conceive of anything that will go on into another life once this one comes to an end. My actions, like the words of dead philosophers, may continue to reverberate and bear fruits long after my death, but I will not be around to witness them. (Stephen Batchelor, Confession of a Buddhist Atheist, pg. 78)
To pin down his philosophy is an easy matter—he is an incorrigible nay-sayer of Transcendent Reality and an absolute proponent of historical consciousness. This blog will share insights on this by The Zennist, and by paraphrasing the words of B. Alan Wallace, who the Zennist states is an open minded scientist/religionist; and then by capping the matter off with my own observations.
The Zennist notes that Batchelor derides anything of a “spiritual” nature. Because of this he “has not yet entered the stream (sotāpatti) of sanctification nor is this person in possession of right view; in short, such a person is a puthujjana who has entered no paths; who is just an ordinary person or worldling. He or she is a person of spiritual darkness (andhaputhujjana—blind worldling).” The Zennist also indicates that Batchelor’s well-read text, Buddhism Without Beliefs, is a kind of “manifesto of secular Buddhism.” Batchelor is adamantly opposed to such “tenets of Buddhism as karma, rebirth and, I would argue, the very importance of nirvana.” As such, Batchelor is a materialist par-excellence. As will be stressed in my own observations, The Zennist would point out that, as a premier Secular-Buddhist, Stephen Batchelor does not want one to “awaken to the unconditioned—it is all about staying conditioned,” or just staying-stuck in contingency.
Wallace’s insightful article, Distorted Visions of Buddhism: Agnostic and Atheist, zero’s-in on Batchelor’s secular stance; the following is a paraphrase from the text:
Wallace begins by saying that Batchelor illegitimately constructs the Buddha’s position based exclusively upon his own prejudices. Batchelor’s historical-consciousness mode negates the Buddha’s Buddhadharma and recreates it to his own speculative views. In a very real sense, he re-creates the Buddha and Buddhism in his own image; this is in direct opposition to traditional schools that faithfully maintains the authentic thrust of the Buddha’s Four Noble Truths and his classic teachings on dependent-origination. Wallace insists that Batchelor’s position is indefensible. What Stephen Batchelor has done is to highjack the Buddhadharma and equates it exclusively with modernist notions and secular values; he is an agnostic-atheist existentialist who denies that the Buddha ever put a “spiritual” value into his teachings. For Batchelor, and others who are entrenched in his mindset, the Law of Karma and future and past lives (essentially reincarnation) are ridiculous notions that borders on ignorant hysteria. Contingent-Existence is the starting and endpoint, beyond that is mere superstition. Wallace argues that perhaps the most important characteristic of the Buddhadharma that secularism ignores are the “contemplative methods” that fervent adepts have practiced since time immemorial. All that is needed is today’s shallow rational-emotive cognitive therapies in solving all of life’s dilemmas:
Rather, he advises Buddhists to seek such knowledge in what he deems the appropriate domains: astrophysics, evolutionary biology, neuroscience, and so on. With this advice, he reveals that he is a devout member of the congregation of Thomas Huxley’s Church Scientific, taking refuge in science as the one true way to answer all the deepest questions concerning human nature and the universe at large….Batchelor is so convinced of his own preconceptions regarding the limitations of the human mind and of meditation that he ignores all evidence to the contrary. (Wallace)
Being scientifically-oriented himself, Wallace is not denying that science and the Buddhadharma can walk hand in hand; but science and rationalism are not the end-all of everything, as most existential modernists insist they are; for them man and his reasoning faculty, and not Mind, is the measure.
Having read Batchelor’s, Confession of a Buddhist Atheist, one can discern his trek away from traditionally-oriented Buddhism. Batchelor fell under the spell of Rudolph Bultmann and his disciples, like Paul Tillich, and their demythologization and hermeneutical approach in deciphering religious texts. For them, “historical consciousness” is the only measure in which to equate everything within the Total Life-World. Batchelor’s sole concern is with contemporary (and temporal) society and solutions—all based upon contingent reality and how it “unravels moment to moment.” In this mindset the Reality of the Dharmakaya and its fertile Transcendent Stature are left by the wayside since it’s considered to be extrinsically worthless and dispensable in a world that is becoming excessively utilitarian. Mindfulness is just all one big response to passing phenomena; moreover, “such freedom (nirvana) was to be found not by turning away from the world but by penetrating deep into its contingent heart.” The contingent heart, all at the expense (and dispensing) of the Tathatic-Heart of the Sugata, is where it’s at:
I had been coming to similar conclusions myself: that the practice of Buddhist meditation was not a quest for mystical experience. I also was aware that I felt less and less like a “religious person.” For Gotama rejected any assumption of a transcendent reality—irrespective of whether you call it God, Self, or Consciousness—and encouraged instead a contemplative examination of the complex, fluctuating, and highly specific world that is present to our senses here and now. (ibid, pg. 195)
It’s apparent that Stephen Batchelor has a low disregard for the Sutras; even just a slight perusal of them, in particular one’s like the Flower Ornament, will prove what a fool he is to even consider that mystical experience is null and void. But such is the mind of the puthujjana, one riddled with contempt for True Reality that goes against their vain imagination—and all things are contingent upon what “they determine will be” best for the world—witness the growing Globalist agenda and domination. All is contingent upon the “now” of this time and age. Batchelor is also guilty of a great heresy—that “it is your actions alone that define you.” Indeed, it’s all a matter here of Contingency vs. Transcendency. This is truly a narrative concerning a wastefulness of scholarly acumen. And therein lies the fallacy—the demarcation line between Buddhaic Truths and skandhic conditioned elements and consciousness. In this, he is a child of Mara. Batchelor points out that “In Pali, Mara means killer; as well as physical death, Mara refers to anything that wears you down or causes your life to be reduced, blighted, or frustrated.” His own words here shall most likely be his testament, because his empty teachings that reduces all to mere contingent materiality—he is a killer of the spirit—will eventually leave one quite Empty of THAT Noble Self-realization that alone will empower those who are faithful to the Authentic Buddhadharma to transcend and “rise above” this most twisted and perverted time and age.