Monday, August 30, 2010

Buddhism Without Ironic Detachment

"Ironic detachment is a stratagem
for concealing one's feelings."

[Cool Rules: Anatomy of an Attitude

1. "... but in a way that corresponded with my own interests and needs."

As a young man, Stephen Batchelor traveled half-way across the world in order to study Tibetan Buddhism. Even once he accomplished the long and difficult journey from the British Isles to Dharamsala, India, Batchelor was at first turned away when he asked to be accepted for monastic ordination. Only after a full year of further reflection did Batchelor ask again, and this time he was approved to be ordained as a monk in the Gelugpa tradition of Tibetan Buddhism (on June 6, 1974).

Just three months after his ordination, however, Batchelor attended a retreat led by S.N. Goenka, at which Goenka taught his own version of vipassana, a form of meditation practice associated with Theravada Buddhism. Suddenly Batchelor decided that what he really wanted to study and practice was not Tibetan Buddhism at all, but rather "Goenka-style vipassana".

There was a falling out of some sort, though, so Batchelor did not actually become a student of Goenka's. Nevertheless, Batchelor claims to have "studied" with Goenka, when in fact that one retreat, followed by what Batchelor has described as "a certain conflict with Goenka", was the sum total of his training in "Goenka-style vipassana,"

Instead, Batchelor continued to be a Gelugpa monk, and pretended to be studying and practicing Tibetan Buddhism, even though he now believed that "Goenka-style vipassana" was "certainly ... more immediately effective" than anything found in Tibetan Buddhism. [see interview linked to above and below]

Many years later, Batchelor was asked: "Was there any conflict or difficulty around mixing the practices?"

Batchelor replied that there was some conflict, but this was only due to the fact that, in his words, "this practice ["Goenka-style vipassana"] was not really understood by the Tibetans." This is a very revealing statement. After three full months of formal training in Tibetan Buddhism Batchelor now felt qualified to condescendingly dismiss the "understanding" of the Lamas who had, reluctantly, agreed to take him in as a student.

Batchelor did consider possibly switching to another school of Tibetan Buddhism, but when he learned that they would also expect him to actually study and practice Tibetan Buddhism (what a concept!), he "quickly lost interest." [Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist, p. 61]

By 1979 (Tibetan Buddhists are very patient people) Batchelor's welcome appears to have been wearing rather thin. From a friend, he learned of a Zen monastery in Korea that accepted western students, and obtained (from the same friend) an English translation of Dharma talks by the head of the monastery, which Batchelor says he found to be "largely incomprehensible." With no more information than this, Batchelor wrote to the monastery, and as soon as he learned that they would accept him he took his "formal leave" of his teacher and in his own words "severed my links with the world of Tibetan Buddhism in which I had spent most of my adult life." [Confessions, pp. 61-62] My guess is that they helped him pack and gave him a ride to the airport.

Of his new teacher in Korea, Batchelor says that from the beginning, "I maintained an ironic but respectful distance ... I put Kusan Sunim's instructions into practice, but in a way that corresponded with my own interests and needs." [p. 66]

Batchelor was unpleasantly surprised to learn that, like his former teacher (Geshe Rabten), Kusan Sunim also naively believed in the "validity" of what he taught. To this day, Batchelor is scratching his head over the puzzling fact that both of these stupid backwards Asiatic simpletons were "committed to upholding and transmitting what they had been taught by their teachers and lineage." [p. 66] Oh, the inscrutable mysteries of le pensee sauvage!

In December of 1983 Kusan Sunim died. Batchelor spent the next year helping to prepare an English language edition of Sunim's teachings, and then, one year after the Master's death, he left Korea and returned to England and to lay life.

Back in England, Batchelor eventually came to be viewed (for some reason) as a Buddhist teacher and even something of a Buddhist philosopher. Certainly he viewed himself as not only both of these, but as nothing less than the prophet of a New Buddhist Dispensation.

However, Batchelor did not at first reveal the extent of his inflated self-image. Once again, ironic detachment served him well as he cautiously struck a pose as just another ex-hippie pseudo-intellectual searching for a form of spiritual practice that would blend comfortably with the blandly middle-class mindset and lifestyle that he had safely returned to after running out of wild oats to sew abroad.

To be continued .....

[The pic of the two girls at the top of the post is a promo for the film "Eve and the Firehorse" by Julia Kwan -- the pic was found here.
Little Buddha at the computer pic was found at Elephantjournal.
Ironman Zen pic is by Freakscity.]

"most Americans do not buy the 19 fanatics story"

The Greek word "phobos" (φόβος) is found in Homer, where it means "flight". In fact, Phobos was a Demi-god, one of Ares' attendants, the others being Deimos (terror) and Eris (strife). According to Hesiod, Phobos and Deimos were also sons of Ares by his wife Aphrodite, while Eris was one of the parthenogenic daughters of Nyx, Goddess of the Night.

In modern English usage, "phobia", derived from "phobos", has come to mean "irrational fear". In fact, a phobia is taken to be a psychological malady involving a fear that is not merely excessive, but that interferes significantly with leading a normal, productive life.

Thus the term "Islamophobia" has come to be used like a magic wand to make all reasonable criticism of Islam disappear into a fog of politically-correct psychobabble. Poof. According to the exculpatory apologetics of the multiculturalists, all negative opinions about the Religion of Peace originate only in the mental illness of Islamophobia. This is true even when criticisms of Islam are based on the explicit teachings of the Quran, the traditional biographies of Muhammed, the literature of the Hadith, the documented history of Islam, and the incontrovertible facts on the ground in all modern societies dominated by Islam.

The hysterical, baseless accusation of "Islamophobia" provides the backdrop to Judea Pearl's fascinating piece that appeared on Saturday in the Jerusalem Post (link here, and the full text is below) in which he looks closely at the "intense controversy" in America concerning the proposal to build a lavish $100M mosque-cum-"culture center" at Ground Zero.

A little over two weeks ago it looked like this controversy might die out. But President Obama chose the beginning of Ramadan to enter the fray with a clumsy, nearly substance-free declaration, followed by even more vapid "clarifications" that only further stoked the flames. And now that September 11 is less than two weeks away, there is no possibility of this "intense controversy" becoming anything other than even more intense.

Dr. Pearl -- a world renowned mathematician and philosopher in his own right who is, tragically, more well known as the father of murdered journalist Daniel Pearl -- asks the question: why? Why does this issue have such resonance? Why, in the age of the 24-hour news-cycle, do we seem to be incapable of "getting past" this story?

It's a good question, and Pearl offers some very important insights, and, in the process, does an admirable job of undermining the "Islamophobia" meme. Personally I do think he is far too quick to assert that "Americans are neither bigots nor gullible," for Americans have demonstrated that we certainly have the capacity to be both. Americans were gullible about Saddam Hussein's non-existent "Weapons of Mass Destruction". And a significant portion of the American electorate voted against Barack Obama because he is Black.

But more Americans voted for Obama than against him, and even most of those who voted against him did not do so because of racism. And many Americans never believed the lies about WMD, and even participated in large numbers in massive demonstrations against the invasion of Iraq. (The fact that this anti-war movement fizzled once the war started is a reflection of an understandable, although in this case misguided, reluctance to openly oppose a war once American troops are fighting and dying.)

And so even though we are, in fact, innocent of neither racism nor gullibility, these are not rigidly deterministic factors that by themselves ineluctably lead to any such thing as "Islamophobia". More importantly, Judea Pearl correctly identifies the key factor that accounts for the fact that nearly 3/4 of all Americans now oppose the Ground Zero Mosque: not an irrational fear, but a very reasonable distrust of Islam.
Undercurrents below the Ground Zero mosque
By JUDEA PEARL 08/28/2010 Jerusalem Post (direct link to article here)

I have been trying hard to find an explanation for the intense controversy surrounding the Cordoba Initiative, whereby 71 percent of Americans object to the proposed project of building a mosque next to Ground Zero.

I cannot agree with the theory that such broad resistance represents Islamophobic sentiments, nor that it is a product of a “rightwing” smear campaign against one imam or another.

Americans are neither bigots nor gullible.

Deep sensitivity to the families of 9/11 victims was cited as yet another explanation, but this too does not answer the core question.

If one accepts that the 19 fanatics who flew planes into the Twin Towers were merely self-proclaimed Muslims who, by their very act, proved themselves incapable of acting in the name of “true Islam,” then building a mosque at Ground Zero should evoke no emotion whatsoever; it should not be viewed differently than, say, building a church, a community center or a druid shrine.

A more realistic explanation is that most Americans do not buy the 19 fanatics story, but view the the 9/11 assault as a product of an anti- American ideology that, for good and bad reasons, has found a fertile breeding ground in the hearts and minds of many Muslim youngsters who see their Muslim identity inextricably tied with this anti-American ideology.

THE GROUND Zero mosque is being equated with that ideology. Public objection to the mosque thus represents a vote of no confidence in mainstream American Muslim leadership which, on the one hand, refuses to acknowledge the alarming dimension that anti-Americanism has taken in their community and, paradoxically, blames America for its creation.

The American Muslim leadership has had nine years to build up trust by taking proactive steps against the spread of anti-American terror-breeding ideologies, here and abroad.

Evidently, however, a sizable segment of the American public is not convinced that this leadership is doing an effective job of confidence building.

In public, Muslim spokespersons praise America as the best country for Muslims to live and practice their faith. But in sermons, speeches, rallies, classrooms, conferences and books sold at those conferences, the narrative is often different. There, Noam Chomsky’s conspiracy theory is the dominant paradigm, and America’s foreign policy is one long chain of “crimes” against humanity, especially against Muslims.

Affirmation of these conspiratorial theories sends mixed messages to young Muslims, engendering anger and helplessness: America and Israel are the first to be blamed for Muslim failings, sufferings and violence.

Terrorist acts, whenever condemned, are immediately “contextually explicated” (to quote Tariq Ramadan); spiritual legitimizers of suicide bombings (e.g. Sheikh Yusuf Qaradawi of Qatar) are revered beyond criticism; Hamas and Hizbullah are permanently shielded from the label of “terrorist.”

Overall, the message that emerges from this discourse is implicit, but can hardly be missed: When Muslim grievance is at question, America is the culprit and violence is justified, if not obligatory.

True, we have not helped Muslims in the confidence-building process. Treating homegrown terror acts as isolated incidents of psychological disturbances while denying their ideological roots has given American Muslim leaders the illusion that they can achieve public acceptance without engaging in serious introspection and responsibility sharing for allowing victimhood, anger and entitlement to spawn such acts.

The construction of the Ground Zero mosque would further prolong this illusion.

If I were New York’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg, I would reassert Muslims’ right to build the Islamic center and the mosque, but I would expend the same energy, not one iota less, in trying to convince them to put it somewhere else, or replace it with a community-managed all-faiths center in honor of the 9/11 victims.

Fellow Muslim Americans will benefit more from co-ownership of consensual projects than sole ownership of confrontational ones.

The writer is a professor at UCLA and president of the Daniel Pearl Foundation, named after his son. He is a coeditor of I Am Jewish: Personal Reflections Inspired by the Last Words of Daniel Pearl (Jewish Light, 2004), winner of the National Jewish Book Award.
see also:
"The Islamic Exception"
Do Muslims really bear no responsibility at all for 9/11?
The right to oppose Islam
Sam Harris: Islam is Different. (Duh.)
A Plague On Both Their Houses: Notes Toward a Renewal of Liberal Anticlericalism