Advayavada Buddhism

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Archive for the tag “Buddhist Morality”

Consensus Buddhism: what’s left

Vividness

When I started writing about Consensus Buddhism, four years ago, I pointed to signs that it was in crisis and on its way out. Now, its failed attempt to mount a coherent political response to secular mindfulness shows it’s over. Of course, the teachers are still teaching and the centers are still open; but as a cultural force, it’s spent.

This means specifically that it is no longer capable of suppressing modern Tantric Buddhism—one of my main motivations for writing about it. (There’s many other obstacles to that—but Consensus hostility had been the most daunting, and that’s no longer significant.)

So I’m probably done writing about Consensus Buddhism. There’s some loose ends, though.

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“Buddhist ethics”: a Tantric critique

Vividness

“Buddhist ethics,” as I’ve pointed out in recent posts, has nothing to do withtraditional Buddhist morality. Instead, it’s indistinguishable from mainstream leftish middle-class American secular morality. That, in turn, mainly derives from Calvinism.1

This page points out disagreements between contemporary “Buddhist ethics” and a Tantric Buddhist view, for several reasons:

  1. I think, at these points of conflict, Tantra is ethically correct, and “Buddhist ethics” is wrong.
  2. Western Buddhist Tantra was suppressed in the early 1990s partly because of these conflicts. Explaining the Tantric view may help reopen a door that has been closed for two decades.
  3. An attractive, genuinely Buddhist alternative to “Buddhist ethics” might be possible.
  4. Middle-class American secular values are failing many people. Tantra might be a weapon for throwing off Calvinism’s memetic domination.

Tantric Buddhism includes a complete rejection of mainstream (Sutric) Buddhist morality. However, since “Buddhist ethics” is not…

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The mindfulness crisis and the end of Consensus Buddhism

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Secular “mindfulness” courses, promoted as stress-reduction treatments, have become more popular than Buddhism. A meditation method based on modern vipassana is their core.

Many Buddhists have strong mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, it’s great that so many more people are experiencing the benefits of Buddhist-style meditation. On the other hand, “mindfulness” seems like weaksauce kitsch; it’s missing most of what’s important about Buddhism. There’s a worry that if Buddhism is “unbundled,” with its most attractive part available separately, it will disintegrate,1 and critical aspects of the whole will be lost. And isn’t the whole greater than the sum of its parts?

But… what is the important rest of Buddhism?

That’s a genuinely difficult, important question. I wrote about it in a post three years ago that foreshadows this one.

As I wrote that, Consensus Buddhism was organizing a political consensus that ethics is what makes it…

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“Ethics” is advertising

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AnistonSmartWater

People really, really want Buddhism to be about ethics, even though it isn’t. Why?

Anyone who has read more than a couple Buddhist books knows:

  1. Consensus “Buddhist ethics” does not contradict leftish secular morality on any issue.
  2. Consensus “Buddhist ethics” contradictstraditional Buddhist morality on most issues.

From this, one ought to conclude that “Buddhist ethics” is not Buddhist at all. It just is leftish secular morality. Calling it “Buddhist” does not make it so. Why pretend?

Although most Consensus Buddhists know the two facts above, I have never come across anyone pointing out what should be the obvious conclusion. It took me more than a decade to notice it myself. Why?

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FTFY Buddhist ethics

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tiny_disagreement
Monkey explains why he lives in an underworld, in Journey to the West

Traditional Buddhist morality is obviously wrong. But the Buddha was enlightened, and Buddhism is the correct religion; so it seems that, due to some minor mistake, the tradition does not represent the true Buddhist ethics.

Since we know what is ethically correct—and Buddha would surely agree!—we can fix it for him. That is the principle of FTFY Buddhist ethics.

[Note to future historians: “FTFY” is 2015 internet slang for “fixed that for you.”]

Current “Buddhist ethics” is identical to current Western leftish secular ethics. How can Buddhist leaders pretend that it has anything to do with Buddhism? How can traditional Buddhist moral teachings be explained away? FTFY is the main rhetorical strategy.

FTFY ethics explains what the Buddha would have said about something he didn’t discuss. For example, we can easily see that he would have

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Why Westerners rebranded secular ethics as “Buddhist” and banned Tantra

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Many of the Western creators of Consensus Buddhism say in their autobiographies that they went to Asia because they were disgusted with the sex-and-drugs hedonism of hippie culture. Coming from Protestant cultures, they were looking for a system of self-restraint, but they had rejected Christianity.

Traditional Buddhism is renunciate, not Protestant, and renunciation is also unacceptable to Americans. But Buddhist values had already been partially replaced with Protestant ones in the Asian modernist forms the Consensus founders encountered in the 1960s and 70s. They could, and did, continue that process.

The lay precepts against sexual misconduct and intoxication may have come at first as welcome repudiations of hippie self-indulgence. However, as we’ll see on the next page, they had to be loosened, reinterpreted, and effectively negated to function in America.

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How Asian Buddhism imported Western ethics

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Modern “Buddhist ethics” is indistinguishable from current secular ethics and has nothing to do with traditional Buddhist morality.

So, where did it come from, and why?

The short answer is that Buddhist modernizers simply replaced traditional Buddhist morality with whatever was the most prestigious Western ethical system at the time. They decorated that with vaguely-relevant scriptural quotes, said “compassion” a lot, and declared victory.

This replacement occurred in roughly three phases:

  1. Around 1850-1900, Victorian Christian morality replaced traditional morality in modernist Asian Buddhism. This hybrid was successfully re-exported to the West, but is now unknown in America, because Victorianism is considered old fashioned. It’s still influential in Asia.1
  2. Around 1900-1960, Western political theories were imported into Buddhist countries, and were declared “the Buddhist ethics of social responsibility.” This was the root of “engaged Buddhism,” one of the two main strands of current Western “Buddhist ethics.”
  3. In the 1990s…

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Buddhist morality is Medieval

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Buddhist morality developed in feudal agricultural cultures. Mostly, it is typical of such societies: similar to what you’d find in Medieval Europe or the pre-modern Islamic world. It is crude, arbitrary, patriarchal, and often cruel.

In Europe, Enlightenment rationalism enabled smart people to say “wait, that’s nasty and stupid.” Christian morality gradually became less barbarous, and evolved into secular ethics. As I’ll explain on the next two pages, traditional Buddhist morality was replaced with Victorian Christian morality in the late 1800s, and with leftish secular morality in the the 1980s. The result is that modern “Buddhist ethics” has no similarity to traditional Buddhist morality, much of which would horrify Western Buddhists.

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Traditional Buddhism has no ethical system

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On this page and the next, I will argue that traditional Buddhism has no ethical value for liberal, educated Westerners. There is no “ancient wisdom of the Buddha” to draw on when constructing a modern Buddhist ethics. That is why modern “Buddhist ethics” has nothing in common with the tradition.

These two pages may seem like an attack on traditional Buddhism, but my intent is only to dispel a modern illusion. The myth of “Buddhist ethics” has obscured, for Westerners, most of what Buddhism has to offer. It needs to be cleared away to make Buddhism visible again.

These pages might be misunderstood, at this point, as the core of the series on “Buddhist ethics.” They’re not; the uselessness of traditional Buddhist morality is just a background fact. We need it to understand why modern “Buddhist ethics” had to be invented as a replacement.

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“Buddhist ethics” is not Buddhist ethics

Vividness

By “Buddhist ethics” (with scare quotes) I mean what is taught by Consensus Buddhism.

For several years, I have repeatedly asked:

Is there any significant issue on which “Buddhist ethics” disagrees with contemporary Western leftish secular ethics?

So far, no one has said “Yes, if you are an American Buddhist, you should do so-and-so, whereas leftish secular Americans think you should do the opposite.”1

Doesn’t that strike you as remarkable?

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