Grayling on the Dalai Lama

May 26, 2010 • 3:47 pm

I have this note from Anthony Grayling, which I post with his permission.

There is an op-ed in today’s New York Times by no less a personage than the Dalai Lama, headlined “Many Faiths, One Truth.” He is of course right: there are many faiths, and there is one truth: viz. that all the faiths are bunkum.  We all like the good old Dalai, do we not, who in this article iterates the claim that no-one heeds, viz., that tolerance is required for a peaceful world—except that he doesn’t seem to extend that warm sentiment to the limit. “Radical atheists issue blanket condemnations of those who hold to religious beliefs,” he laments, alongside mention of murderous inter-religious strife and religion-inspired mayhem—as if blanket condemnations‚ and mass murders carried out by zealots were somehow on a par.

Anyway: the point of mentioning this is to suggest that we never allow passage to the claim that the many faiths are all the same at bottom. The faithful hope that repetition of the claim will make it seem true.  In response we should endlessly iterate the obvious, that the religions are mutually exclusive, mutually blaspheming, mutually hostile,  bitterly and deeply divisive, and thus a rash of open sores in the flesh of humanity.

An equally bad thing about the Dalai Lama’s article is that he calls Buddhism a religion‚ and indeed in the superstitious demon-ridden polytheistic Tibetan version of it that he leads, that is what it is. But original Buddhism is a philosophy, without gods or supernatural beings—all such explicitly rejected by Siddhartha Gautama in offering a quietist ethical teaching; but he has of course been subjected to the Brian’s Sandal phenomenon in the usual stupid way of time and the masses.

102 thoughts on “Grayling on the Dalai Lama

  1. Man, that Dalai Lama piece was the Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood of Make Believe on the common ground between religions, wasn’t it? Sounds like he’s been sippin’ the same Kool Aid as Andrew Pessing…

    What does Grayling mean by the “Brian’s Sandal phenomenon?”

    1. I vote to send the Dalai Lama to meet with Osama Bin Laden and explain how all religions are equal and share a truth, blah blah blah.

  2. Aum (om)(ॐ) (唵) (阿吽) (प्रणव) (ஓம்).

    No matter the language, the concept is baloney, as are these religions and all others.

    1. I do like that the Chinese and Japanese versions (third and fourth parenthetical representation respectively) are very clearly phoneticizations–they’re the type of characters that are given to foreign loan words, not the type of character constructed to reflect the meaning of the word. The lingual tribalism of written Chinese really takes the wind out of many foreign religious concepts when they are read out.

  3. Can someone explain what “Brian’s Sandal phenomenon” is? Also, I was happy to hear Mr. Grayling make the distinction between original Buddhism and that goofy mess the Tibetans have.

    No matter how good of an idea one has, there’s always some fraud or prankster eager to turn it into vague, mushy nonsense for one reason or another. It would be like someone telling Einstein “you really should add some more variables into ‘e=mc^2’. Maybe ‘qt’ for ‘quantum transcendence’ and ‘MoM’ for ‘mystery of mysteries.'”

  4. In an earlier post the phrase “depending on how you define religion” was prominent. Now that the spiritual leader of one of the worlds oldest religions has tried to make a point, it is dismissed because in your opinion Buddhism is not a religion because it has no god(s).

    From this I take it that the only acceptable definition of religion is one where gods are included which means the earlier proviso is moot.

    It is more difficult to discuss an issue when the discussants keep changing the meanings of terms commonly used.

    With this god(s) requirement for religion many religions, so called by their adherents are now void; e.g., Buddhism, Non-Theistic Christianity, Secular Humanism, Ethical Culture. Even Agnosticism and Agnosticism are called religions by some.

    In my understanding of the term, religion has two primary core meanings. One is god linked and the other is values or meaning o living based. The non-theistic religions base their core on the latter.

    In an American Humanist pamphlet I read years ago, they cited their base as “reverence for life,” the same definition I believe Albert Schweitzer used.

    There is plenty to debate w.r.t. the religious who deny science. Ironically, the Dalai Lama is a consummate science supporter.

    I guess we UUs may or may not be religious. Oh well, uncertainty is one of the main drivers of religion. 🙂

    1. A religion is something that bears a family resemblance to the other things that we call religions. The family resemblance may be weaker or stronger, so some things may be more clearly religions than others. At the margins, there is some uncertainty about how we should classify some things. At the same time, we have paradigm examples that are definitely “in”, such as Christianity.

      If we’re classifying for legal purposes, we can emphasise some specific indicia, of which the most important in the cases has been belief in some sort of otherworldly or supernatural realm (not necessarily involving conscious beings such as gods). Others include an idea of behavioural norms that supposedly have an otherworldly source and the idea of some kind of spiritual transformation that we can undergo with otherworldly assistance. But even with specific indicia like that to lean on the courts are going to have to draw arbitrary-looking lines in marginal cases.

      Similarly, academics such as anthropologists and sociologists will have to make some more-or-less arbitrary decisions as to what is “in” and what is “out” for the purposes of their respective disciplines.

      But many of our ordinary-language concepts are a bit like that. It’s not surprising that the concept of a religion is.

      1. Heh. If you’re speaking in *legal* terms, a religion gets specific tax breaks, including parsonage allowances.

        This, I object to the most. Surely, some line in the sand must be drawn. Somewhere?

      2. My point is that if something, Buddhism, is a religion in one part of this conversation, it is confusing to dismiss it as not being a religion in another.

        Within the scientific community there are fairly clear definitions and terminologies developed through several centuries and generally, often universally, agreed as to their meaning.

        Similarly, within the religious community there have been even more centuries devoted to developing definitions and terminologies less generally and almost never universally agreed as to their meaning.

        While the unresolved differences within science are resolved, or at least lessened, through peer review and presentation of evidence, unresolved differences within the religious community enjoy no such opportunity for several reasons, chiefly because religious concepts exist beyond the grasp of the rational process.

        That said, there is a substantial body of written work edited and published by serious religious scholars–theists, atheists, agnostics and non-theists, too–which provides a wealth of sound descriptions of the variety of religions. For people of a scientific mind to be unaware of this or to ignore it is similar to the creationist who dismisses evolution because “it’s just a theory” having no idea what the difference is between a scientific theory and conjecture.

        I think the arguments regarding creationism and religious anti-science would be better served if those wanting to make their point knew a little more about religious scholarship.

        My first recommendation would be for anyone who thinks “a myth is a lie” to read the new Joseph Campbell book, Pathways to Bliss (2004) or Lloyd Geering’s Coming Back to Earth (2009).

        Campbell was an atheist and Geering was a Presbyterian minister, tried for heresy and acquitted, who is now secular.

        It’s a question of whether the common ground worth exploring. After all, scientific research is about investigating as yet unknown phenomena to see where it leads.

        1. …a wealth of sound descriptions of the variety of religions.

          I think the arguments regarding creationism and religious anti-science would be better served if those wanting to make their point knew a little more about religious scholarship.”

          Oh please. Religion, in any form you choose, if it involves any vague, fabricated, completely unsubstantiated piffle about the “supernatural” — IS PURE BOLLOCKS. Complete, unadulterated donkey dung.

          I’d rather have my fingernails pulled out than waste a single precious minute reading ANYTHING about “sound descriptions of variety of religions.” What a load of horse manure.

          1. To dismiss religion, which has been part of human culture since the beginning, voids any discussion.

            1. To dismiss religion […] voids any discussion.

              That is the point, religion merits no specific discussion. There are no “sound descriptions” because there is no soundness; compare with astrology or Santa Claus. There are no “as yet unknown phenomena” to investigate.

              There is no discussion to void.

              Moreover, Grayling’s characterization of buddhism seems to be so much theology, see the comments on the half millennium before the oral tradition was written down in pointedly religious texts with lots of supernatural phenomena. For all I know, there are no evidence that the historical figure even existed. (Though that is immaterial to the problem of not knowing what the original religion was.)

              Does that sound familiar? It should, it is the modus operandi of religion and its apologists.

        2. Psychologically and culturally myths have meaning and purpose, even if factually they are hookum (as is generally the case).

          Campbell outlined the main four functions of myth — I’m thinking of his PBS book and series “The Power of Myth”, but also here:

          I think all four functions of outdated myths fall apart with science and with a changing society, though.

          Where do up-to-date myths come from? Art. (See Campbell’s “Creative Mythology”) Even putting some Sagan documentary to music can deliver a pretty good, up-to-date myth.

          1. Fortunately, those who dismiss mythology as bogus do not crowd theaters to see Avatar, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings or any movie focused on whether living a human life has meaning beyond reason.

            As for Campbell’s four elements of a mythology, they are: the mystical, the cosmological, the social and the psychological… and they must incorporate all knowledge of the day.

            Whether mythology is important to someone can be determined by answering a few questions.

            1. Do we know everything there is to know? If yes, mythology is unneeded. If no, then.

            2. Will we use our imagination about the unknown? If no, no mythology. If yes, mythology is a possibility because it begins with thinking about a mystery.

            There is, however, no universal checklist. Each person must decide for themselves whether they will ponder mystery, cosmology, society and persona and develop a personal mythology by which to live. It’s their choice and, if honored, undirected by others and vice versa.

            1. Of course, none of that has anything to do with the plain fact of whether or not the mythology is TRUE.

              So, you’re basically saying that people think weird things when there is an unknown out there. OK, fine. But that doesn’t mean it’s TRUE.

              Really now. You’re excusing illogic and fantasy because it’s comfortable for people to not do the heavy lifting.

              I find that appalling.

            2. Kevin, it greatly helps the myth’s adherents and the other people they affect if the myth conforms to reality and the actual needs of the individual and his/her society.

              The old ones generally don’t do either, and that’s why they cause so many problems.

              Can individuals and societies thrive without myths at all? I don’t know, but I think most people will fill up the mythspace with crappy myths if they don’t have any good ones on hand.

            3. Your two questions do not determine “whether mythology is important to someone” at all. Obviously we don’t know everything there is to know, and obviously people use their imagination about the unknown. So what? Admitting both these obvious facts is consistent with any personal attitude toward the importance (or otherwise) of mythology at all.

            4. Obviously you have very little touch with parts of reality and have met very few scientists. You are conflating characteristics of science and scientists (or science interested) with characteristics of mythology as Knockgoats say.

              And as Coyne always say, even if someone would be mythologist and scientist, doesn’t mean that mythology is a fact, or even that it and science are compatible.

              Fortunately, those who dismiss mythology as bogus do not crowd theaters to see Avatar, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings or any movie focused on whether living a human life has meaning beyond reason.

              That was the most absurd comment on reality I’ve ever seen on a religious thread outside of creationism.

              Someone has never met an atheist scifi fan. I have, and I’m not even counting myself. It is a lot of fun, and has nothing to do with their mythology and attempts to reason about meaning. It has to do with their entertainment value.

              In which religion is sadly lacking, btw.

            5. Kevin, “Of course, none of that has anything to do with the plain fact of whether or not the mythology is TRUE.”

              Mythology is not true as a scientific proof, rather is is “something that never was and always is” according to Thomas Mann.

              Of course a pure fallicist would say that nothing is true except that there is no truth.

              Science deals with things that aren’t true… yet all the time and has no problem naming them.

        3. “Secular Humanism, Ethical Culture. Even Agnosticism and Agnosticism are called religions by some.”

          Piffle: with the exaception of “Ethical Culture”, these are not religions. The only people who call agnosticism and atheism religions are religious liars, who find this a useful debating tactic.

          “Campbell was an atheist”

          More piffle: he was nothing of the kind. According to Wikipedia “A fundamental belief of Campbell’s was that all spirituality is a search for the same basic, unknown force from which everything came, within which everything currently exists, and into which everything will return. This elemental force is ultimately “unknowable” because it exists before words and knowledge.”

          1. My saying Joseph Campbell was an atheist was an error. Sorry. I’m not sure how he would view himself, although I know, he said, “I do not believe in a personal god.” The latest reference to his thinking I know is one of his last books, The Inner Reaches of Outer Space: Metaphor as Myth and as Religion.

            I said atheism and agnosticism were seen as religions by some, not me. Take it up with those who say they are.
            Since religion defies precise definition among scholars, I’ll take the view of a recognized group. You didn’t mentions secular humanism and I may have been too specific in that claim. Many humanists call humanism a religion. Again, if you disagree, take it up with them. As for humanism being a religion, Eric Ericson, past president of the American Ethical Union and author of The Humanist Way calls ethical humanism “a non-theistic religion.” They even got Congress and the supreme Court to agree, which is an interesting historical note, but not irrefutable proof.

            If Wikipedia is your primary reference, I see our problem. Wiki is a good place for characterizations but unreliable for fact checked information.

            I prefer primary sources to secondary and beyond. That’s why I read Speciation and WEIT to better understand the present state of evolutionary theory and Campbell, Geering and others for insight into mythological/religious thinking.

            1. Campbell stated repeatedly that he didn’t believe in a personal god.

              He did believe in some sort of “god/gods”, of course, as psychological entities or some such which he thought were described by mythology. He said that religion was basically misunderstood mythology.

              I think we construct myths all the time, usually without being aware of them. The ones we could create today, with our much greater understanding of the universe, would put those of the past to shame.

            2. Our reading of Campbell, while similar, is somewhat different.

              My take on his criticism of religion was with Organized-Religion, not a personal mythology which he saw as an essential religion, a binding to or linking with what he called the ultimate reality.

              Thanks for the note.

        4. Since you seem patently ignorant about the matter, contrary to your smug lecture about things most people smarter and more educated than you already know:

          Buddhism has several flavours, including an entirely atheistic approach based on the core philosophy the Buddha espoused; modern or Western Buddhism follows this path. It dismisses the karma and, especially, the magical ever-returning Buddha in the form of the Dalai Lama, although they may admire some of his teachings.

          I’m relatively sure it is this Buddhism to which Grayling refers.

          And we don’t need any pompous lectures making the laughable assertions that we can’t know a myth is a lie. You seem patently unfamiliar with burden of proof and Occam’s razor.

          Run along now and let the grown-ups talk.

    2. “In an earlier post the phrase “depending on how you define religion” was prominent. Now that the spiritual leader of one of the worlds oldest religions has tried to make a point, it is dismissed because in your opinion Buddhism is not a religion because it has no god(s).”

      Of course, the note is merely passed along from AC Grayling, and not Jerry’s words.

      Not to mention the fact that religious thinkers have never exactly nailed down the meanings of the vague concepts they discuss.

  5. Slightly off topic. I remember once upon the intertubes I’d occasionally tangle with a theist who thought all religious ideas were not contradictory, but showed that mankind’s understanding of God was evolving to the truth. So, polytheism, animism were lesser understandings of the divine than Judaism, Christianity and that. I never quite could get an answer as to this persons beliefs and his thoughts on Islam and Mormonism, and if they were further along the teleological evolution of religion that he thought was a slam-dunk argument against that objection that internecine religious doctrines and fighting demonstrate the human source of religion. I was going to ask you guys how you reply to such stuff. It has just occurred to me that as Popper (so I read in a Grayling piece the other day) said: any explanation that explains everything, that encompasses all data and cannot be refuted, explains nothing. Is that reasonable?

    1. Well anything that cannot be refuted or falsified isn’t science that’s for sure. I don’t think it’s necessarily the case that anything that explains everything explains nothing, the GUT that they’re looking for attempts to explain everything though they haven’t found it yet.

        1. There’s a big difference between “explains everything” in the sense of “provides a unified account of the fundamental physical forces” and “explains everything” in the sense of “is consistent with any outcome that we might ever observe, and so makes no specific predictions.”

          I don’t see why a theory that “explains everything” in the first sense must also do so in the second sense. It’s only the second sense that’s a problem. If a theory is consistent with any possible observation and so makes no specific predictions, we can never look for the phenomena that it predicts. Thus we can never get good, empirically-based circumstantial evidence that it’s actually true. I guess one way of putting that is to say that it lies outside of science, but the real point is that we can never have any particular confidence in it because there are no relevant observational tests that it could pass that would give us that confidence.

          Again, though, why is any grand unified theory necessarily like that? Surely there are various ways that the fundamental forces could be unified that would make differing and specific predictions. If some current theories don’t, then that’s a problem with those theories, but I don’t see why it’s going to be a problem for all such theories that we might think of.

          1. “If a theory is consistent with any possible observation and so makes no specific predictions, we can never look for the phenomena that it predicts.”

            Thanks for this – I’ve been wondering about how exactly to separate “god did it” theories from scientific theories, which do all the work, until God appears just afterward to claim all the credit.

  6. Prof Grayling is right, insofar as the Buddha taught an atheistic, anti-dogmatic message, and that Tibetan Buddhism has added so much cultural and religious baggage to that message that the original point has been somewhat lost.

    I think it’s dinigenuous, though, to assume that the current Dalai Lama doesn’t know the difference. Indeed, I strongly suspect that this particular Op Ed piece was “Sponsored by the Dalai Lama” rather than being written by him. One can easily envision the dialogue:

    “We want to put your name on a piece preaching tolerance.”
    “Yes! Please do!”

    When I go to Barnes & Noble, I notice that there are now a large number of paperbacks out by “Robert Ludlum(TM).” The actual Robert Ludlum, author of “The Bourne Identity” (which in turn bears little resemblance to the fuilm of the same name), is dead and obviously had no part in the writing of these new paperbacks.

    So there we have it: the name of the author of a piece is no indication of the authorship.

    1. My spouse practices Tibetan Buddhism, and her teacher insists that there are absolutely no gods, demons, or other such superstitious baggage. She thinks of herself as an atheist.

      I think it is also important to recollect that the Dalai Lama said:

      “If science proves some belief of Buddhism wrong, then Buddhism will have to change. In my view, science and Buddhism share a search for the truth and for understanding reality. By learning from science about aspects of reality where its understanding may be more advanced, I believe that Buddhism enriches its own worldview.”

      That said, I would agree that, as practiced in its native Tibet, Buddhism has accreted a ton of supernatural detritus.

      1. You have identified what may be a key distinction between science and religion.

        Science is about discovering the universal known.

        Religion, in its practice, is strictly personal, the acid test being: Is this doing me any good in living my life. Is it doing others any good? Is it doing the planet any good? A yes to all three is the objective. Religions, in their various forms, both across and within, are intended to move adherents in this direction. There’s only one problem: people are involved and they can’t be trusted.

        1. “Religions, in their various forms, both across and within, are intended to move adherents in this direction.”

          Intended by whom? This is not how many Christians (for example) see religion: they see it as the literal truth, accepting which saves them from eternal torment. Many Buddhists would see it as the individual’s path to “liberation” from desire.

          Nor does it bear any relation to the actual function of most religion: to reinforce inequalities of wealth and power, and in particular, to provide a good living to the priesthood or their equivalent.

          1. “Intended by whom?” No, intended by what: the religious practice.

            That some religious adherents behave beyond the scope of their religions teachings is a human characteristic and does not void the religion.

            That some scientists practice science beyond the bounds of human decency does not void science.

            1. You’re imputing intent and agency to memes now?

              If a religious practice has any intent, it is “get this meme into as many heads as possible”. Certainly an abstract meme has no intent relating to the *good* it is doing to any of its hosts.

      2. I have always liked that quote as well, but I believe that the Dalai Lama then continued on to say something about how difficult it would be for science to disprove reincarnation and karma.

        1. Beneath this thought is the question, “Is everything knowable and, if so, to the human mind?”

          1. If, in principle, we can learn it, then in principle we can know it.

            If, in principle, we cannot learn it, in what sense can it be said to be a true or real phenomenon?

  7. I imagine that the Brian’s sandal phenomenon refers to “The Life of Brian”, when Brian is being chased by people who think he’s the Messiah and he loses his sandal.
    They grab the sandal and regard it as a holy relic left for them by Brian.

    1. And the disciples immediately start asserting, with conviction, what the lone sandal means — although of course it didn’t mean anything at all.

  8. “Brian’s Sandal phenomenon”

    I’m sure comes from “The Life of Brian” but memory does not serve me well enough to recall the specific part of the movie.

  9. Just another run-of-the-mill politician, trapped by (and deriving power and benefits from) the superstitious mob of blithering idiots that comprise his “constituency”. If he didn’t represent the embodiment of some mysterious higher power, he would be looping for Bill Murray at Riviera CC.

    Big hitter, though, the Lama.

  10. The Brian’s sandal phenomenon comes, I think, from “The Life of Brian,” where the crowd is running after him (Brian, the spoof Jesus) because they think he’s the messiah. He loses a sandal, and soon everyone is chasing after him each carrying a sandal in their hands (though they all have sandals on their feet). Where did the third sandal come from? Everyone’s received the sign!

    Perhaps, as Kirth says, the article is not by the Dalai Lama, but just under his name. But I suspect, since he’s the traditional holy man, and is a Tibetan Buddhist, after all, it follows his own ideas. Religious people tend to be quite tolerant of inconsistency. You have to be in order to believe, really believe, in a god. So, tolerance with those whom, with the next breath, you will consign to hellfire or equivalent place of torment, heavenly or earthly, is not very much of a problem. Of course, it doesn’t look a lot like tolerance any more. But – hey! – who cares? The idea is to get in a plug for religion, not preach tolerance.

    It’s the consequence of the peculiar form of mental pathology that religion constitutes. Christians are only now waking up to the fact that toleration has marginalised Christianity. They want to get back at the centre of things. It’s important to remind them that, if Christianity gets to be at the centre, everyone else gets to be there too. Perhaps that’s a form of self-contradiction they’ll actually understand.

  11. It’s depressing when a religious leader like the Dalai Lama talks about the unifying features of religions by claiming they share the themes of compassion. Ironically, he decides to leave out the other unifying features of the three major faiths which talk about the right to wage religious wars.

    It’s such a pointless article. He isn’t SAYING anything. He’s simply picking one or two quotes from each of the major faiths and showing how, from those quotes, these religions can all get along because they share a common theme of “compassion” and “mercy”. It’s so patronizing.

  12. Tolerance is fashionable because sensible people realise it’s the only way to stop endless wars, so the religious jump on the bandwagon and pretend they want it too. In truth they only want tolerance when they can’t get intolerance of every religion but their own. Islam is the most obvious case, they want tolerance in Europe but there’s no tolerance for other religions in Saudi Arabia or Pakistan (death to the apostate), but they have all behaved just as badly when they had the chance, and would do so again if they could.
    Religious tolerance is just a con to suck us all into believing they’re the good guys, it’s mostly lies.

  13. I don’t understand why so many atheists tie themselves in knots trying to make an exception out of Buddhism. You can take any religion, strip it of laws, rituals, and beliefs, and come up with some kind of Platonic ideal of a religion that’s pretty harmless. But actual Buddhism, in actual practice, has always been a religion.

    It’s not just Tibeten Buddhism, either. Mainstream, everyday Buddhism in traditionally Buddhist parts of the world like China, Japan, and southeast Asia is a mishmash of idols, temples, shrines, rituals, gods, ghosts, superstitions, fortune-telling, etc.

    Any idealized vision of Buddhism is irrelevant to its status as a religion. Buddhism is what Buddhists do.

    And while we’re tallying up atrocities, let’s not forget that the men who perpetrated the Rape of Nanking, the Bataan Death March, and set up Unit 731 were predominantly Buddhists.

    1. Possibly because Buddhism is the one religion whose founder/prophet/holy book/whatever specifically disavowed the existence of gods and afterlife — and who specifically said not to follow dogma, even his own.

      1. “…and who specifically said not to follow dogma, even his own.”

        And we all know how well that turned out (see Brian’s Sandal Phenomenon for more details).

      2. Actually, the real life and teachings of Gautama Siddhartha are as unreachable as those of Jesus the Nazarene: in both cases, all we have are manuscripts from centuries after their lives, filtered through generations of adherents. In the case of Buddhism, the earliest known manuscripts are from the 1st century BCE – around half a millennium after Gautama’s death.

        1. You beat me to it.

          We just have various traditions, created much later than when Buddha possibly/supposedly lived, that give his reported teachings.

          As we’ve learned in biblical studies, these traditions are usually just what the adherents of various religious traditions think or want to be true, and so they put words into the mouth of the founder to stiffle any dissent. There’s no way to know what the founder actually taught, if he even existed.

          1. You beat me to it as well. I’ve never before heard claims that there is an objectively observed “core” analogous to the synthetic deism that is specific to buddism. The only dictionary available right now (Wikipedia) verifies that indeed there is an gap of half a millennium before the putative words of a putative person is written down. And that in a decidedly religious superstition text. It is post-semitism all over again – a mythical likely non-existent founder, conflicting and oral traditions, et cetera.

            To pick out something specific without a text analysis wouldn’t be correct, and in any case wouldn’t be attributable to any religious or philosophical founder. So I’m at a loss here; unexpectedly Grayling comes over as a theological apologist of buddhism.

            Maybe someone knowledgeable in theology knows the status on text analysis of buddhism and historical analysis on this Buddha character.

            1. Oops, sorry, seems he had an actual name akin to Jesus of Nazarene. 😀 Gautama Siddhartha, then,

            2. D’oh! “dictionary” – encyclopedia.

              “historical analysis on this Buddha character”. Actually, never mind, the encyclopedia available seems to indicate that this was prehistory oral days, and that the only source to the existence of a “Gautama Siddhartha” is the religious texts.

            3. “text analysis of buddhism”

              As an aside, the Jesus Seminar published a text analysis , The Five Gospels–Mark, Matthew, Luke, Thomas–with all the sayings attributed to Jesus color coded as to the chance they were close to what he might have said. It infuriated the Fundamentalists which is merit in itself. The work was done by about eighty Bible scholars, Christian primarily, but others, too.

              Of the ninety one sayings considered, only fifteen made the cut as “very close to what Jesus would have said.”

  14. Am I the only one concerned that so many don’t know the Brian’s Sandal reference?
    We must get Life of Brian posted to YouTube forthwith.

  15. Even the Dalai Lama confuse belief with the believer.

    “Radical atheists issue blanket condemnations of those who hold to religious beliefs”

    I don’t see how mocking supernatural beliefs “condemns” the believer. It might very well be a welcome first step in freeing believers from “belief in belief”.

  16. I certainly am getting tired of this “atheists are strident” meme.

    We also happen to be right, and the ones who are screaming the most at our “stridency” just happen to be the ones whose oxes are being most severely gored.

    When will we stop being “strident”? When people like the Tenzin Gyatso stop being given sobriquets like “his holiness”, and have to earn a living, just like the average Joe.

    How hard is this to get?

  17. 1) Who told a press conference in 1997 that men to men sex and woman to woman sex is sexual misconduct?
    The Pope, or the Dalai Lama?

    2) Who told a Swiss magazine in 2001, that sexual organs were created for the reproduction of the male element and the female element, and anything that deviates from this is not acceptable?
    The Pope, or the Dalai Lama?

    3) An anti-abortion lobby group called “Consistent life” was given a huge boost after on of the world’s most prominent religious leaders offered his endorsement?
    The Pope, or the Dalai Lama?

    4) Who published a collection of religious teachings declaring that masturbation is forbidden?
    The Pope, or the Dalai Lama?

    5) Who declared that oral sex is not acceptable, even between a husband and wife?
    The Pope, or the Dalai Lama?

    6) Who published a collection of religious teachings in 1996 declaring that anal sex is not acceptable, even between a husband and wife?
    The Pope, or the Dalai Lama?

    7) Who said that having sex during the day is sexual misconduct?
    The Pope, or the Dalai Lama?

    Of course, every single answer is: The Dalai Lama.
    That usually throw these happy-go-lucky Buddhist wanna be for a six!
    (Especially the ban on daytime sex.
    The Pope is far more liberal on many of these issues)

    1. San Francisco Chronicle, 11 June 1997
    2. Dimanche magazine, Jan 2001
    3. Reuters, 22 Jan 2001
    4, 5, 6 & 7. “Beyond Dogma (The challenge of the modern world)” by the Dalai Lama (1996)**

    1. Well, there ya go.

      I never did understand why the Dalai Lama is so often protected by people that are happy to ridicule other religious celebrities.

    2. Any view of anyone contrary to the ‘right’ view leads to the rejection of the totality, meaning science is evil because scientists developed the atomic bomb.

      1. Besides being a tired and well worn argument used to refute a purported view or claim that the target almost always has not actually expressed, what does your statement have to do with MKG’s or my comments?

        From other comments by you it seems that you believe that there is some value to religion that is worth being saddled with all the negatives that come along with it. And that people that have no use for religious crap are ignorant of …. what exactly? The power, beauty, majesty, mystery, intellectual depth, spirituality, comforting aspects that can be found in religion?

        Why search for such things in something that is founded on, and consists of, ideas, concepts and claims that are demonstrably not true? Why not start with ideas, concepts and claims for which there is some good evidence of being compatible with reality?

        Religion (as in the common everyday usage, since you seem to be having issues with that) is bullshit. Studying religions can be very interesting and useful, just as studying mental disorders can be interesting and useful.

        Why are you so invested in trying to claim some special validity for religion? So invested that in your first comment on this thread you seem to intentionally misinterpret the OP in order to fabricate the conditions you need to say what you want to say? And which it seems you did again in this particular comment.

    3. As an ex-Catholic with a Buddhist wife, I can say:

      a) the Dalai Lama’s pronouncements on sex are greatly at odds with many of his followers, especially those in the West, and are certainly not accepted by all

      b) unlike the Pope, the Dalai Lama is not the sole source of doctrine for Tibetan Buddhists (indeed, it is a principle of Buddhism that the ultimate authority must always rest with the individual’s own reason and critical analysis)

      c) with the exception of #7, all of the positions stated are in keeping with established Catholic doctrine.

    4. Let us also not forget that Tenzin Gyatso is also a believer in the religion of marxism, IIRC later interviews. That hyper-religiosity of hankering to both buddhism and marxims has nothing to do with his bigot views of course, except perhaps explaining why he is so comfortable with adopting them.

      1. Marxism is an economic theory. Only rightists claim that it is a religion in order to denigrate it rather than argue it. Perhaps because the DL has leftist economic views explains why more on the left tolerate him and not fundy religos. His anti-sexual personal views, if correct as reported in these comments, are abhorrent and definitely non-leftist.

        1. Not only rightists. [Whatever that is.]

          More precisely, I label all ideologies as religions as much as they are grounded on belief instead of testing.

          Communism can be observed to fail, but was AFAIU never applied marxism, which dogmas’ remains to be tested.

          And anyone who claims marxism specifically isn’t a religion clearly hasn’t studied Lenin’s et al attempts to found a “marxist science”. It is illuminating, as it was entirely “theology”; philosophy based apologetics.

    5. Quite so. Which is why I wince whenever the Dalai Lama is mentioned in public debate as if he were some kind of moral exemplar … as in the recent TED talk by Sam Harris. This was a minor aspect of the talk, and other aspects were more interesting and possibly useful. But will people please stop using the names of the Dalai Lama and Mother Teresa as if those two somehow are/were morally exemplary?

  18. I’ve always thought of the Dalai Lama as a sanctified Deepak Chopra. However, I would agree with him that even the original form of Buddhism was a religion. Although it was all about how one should live, it did have a supernatural objective: to attain the state of nirvana and be freed from the cycle of reincarnation. So, inevitably, the moral prescriptions were meant to help people attain this supernatural objective. I do not see it as fundamentally different from “be good and believe in the jesus zombie if you want to go to heaven” except that I am not aware of the Buddhists carrying out any pogroms against non-Buddhists or Buddhists of a different sect (but some do have their religious wars).

    1. By the way, I thought the Sandal was a minor thing – wasn’t it the Gourd which was a big deal? Or do I have to watch The Life of Brian again?

      1. Oh, my good gourd!
        You make “re-watching the Life of Brian” sound like a nimietous dolorifugous nugatory barmecide!

  19. Anyone who would not prefer the Dalai Lama and pre-Communist Tibet to Communist Tibet deserves to be thrown into a Japanese World War II concentration camp. Czechoslovakia is the only democracy Communists ever overthrew. All other countries they have ruled, including Tibet, were right wing authoritarian states of one sort or another in their pre-Communist days. Communists have made every country they have ever ruled worse including an estimated 100 million people dead. Does any other twentieth century religion have as bad a record as atheism? The twenty-first century is promising to be no different. All Communist states are worse human rights violators and have less democracy than most Islamic ones. See “The black book of Communism” by Stephane Courtois et al.

    1. Um, I assume when you wrote, “Does any other twentieth century religion have as bad a record as atheism?”, you actually meant “… as communism”.

      The various forms of communism under discussion were apocalyptic, comprehensive, totalitarian worldviews. Such worldviews are likely to commit atrocities, as their leaders tend to think that the happiness, and even the lives, of present-day individuals count for little against the grand historical goal.

      The problem is that Christianity and Islam are also such worldviews, and right now they have a lot more clout out there in the world than any form of communism.

      It doesn’t really matter whether a worldview features one or more gods. What matters is whether its tendencies are apocalyptic, totalitarian, comprehensive. We should critique all worldviews like that.

      Unfortunately, monotheisms have a strong tendency that way. But monotheism is not a necessary condition for apocalypticism, etc. Belief in an impersonal mechanism of History can have the same result if the mechanism runs to a sufficiently precise plan and you subscribe to its goal strongly enough.

      Criticising apocalyptic Marxist concepts of history is good sport, but note that these were heavily influenced by Christian thinking. The worst aspects of communism did not come from Epicurus or Hume or other rationalist critics of religion who lived before Marx. They came pretty directly from Christian ideas.

      The case is even stronger with Nazism. Its extreme anti-Semitism came from Christianity, not from rationalists such as Epicurus or Hume.

    2. Atheism is a lack of believe, you moron. It’s like your lack of belief in Scientology or your lack of belief in fairies. People are motivated by the things they believe in, not the infinity of invisible entities they don’t believe in.

      1. lack of “belief” not “believe”– and my post was directed towards toward the clueless, Barry Kendall.

    3. No state has ever been founded on atheism or atheists wanting power; both of those are commonplace religious behaviors (catholic state/priest caste et cetera). Both USSR and Communist China flirted/flirts with religions vs state approval.

    4. You mean the stark division between those favored by the gods and the peons was a Good Thing? You should try living in such a society first before you happily condemn communist China. The dalai lama has a great propaganda machine, but like the lama they are full of lies. The Chinese authorities have done an awful lot of good in those remote mountainous regions, despite the numerous claims you see in the popular press. The biggest exception of course being Mao’s “cultural revolution” which killed millions across the nation. The imperial attitude that many of the Chinese still have doesn’t help, but even that is better than what those mountain tribes had before.

  20. Grayling said: … we [should] never allow passage to the claim that the many faiths are all the same at bottom. The faithful hope that repetition of the claim will make it seem true. In response we should endlessly iterate the obvious, that the religions are mutually exclusive, mutually blaspheming, mutually hostile…

    I can never understand how it works that atheists claim to understand what the faithful believe better than the faithful themselves. This is distinct from claiming that they are wrong about the facts of the universe; they are apparently so wrong they don’t even know what they think.

    In this case, while of course their are many believers who are intolerant of other faiths, there are also many who aren’t. Ecumenicism is real even if it doesn’t get as much press as fundamentalism.

    In San Francisco there is a proposal going on to build an “Abrahamic House of Community” which would be a shared building for Christian, Jewish, and Muslim congregations. Obviously these would be very liberal branches of these religions in a very liberal city, but again, doesn’t make them any less real. There is even more mixing going on between western and eastern religions.

    So if a Rabbi, for instance, doesn’t believe that there is inherent and ineradicable conflict and incompatibility between Judaism and Islam, or Judaism and Buddhism, why does an atheist philosopher get the authority to argue the contrary?

    1. We go buy what your doctrines claim you believe in… can we help it if you don’t agree with each other. There are lots of religions that believe that people who don’t follow the religion are going to hell (or reincarnating as a “lower” life form).

      But I understand your problem; I’m a bit sick of theists claiming to know what atheists believe. The only thing you can know about an atheist, is that s/he doesn’t believe in your invisible friend(s).

    2. “I can never understand how it works that atheists claim to understand what the faithful believe better than the faithful themselves.”

      Those of us who are former believers understand pretty well what most believers believe.

      The “better” aspect might be the frequent and correct observation that many unbelievers know the Bible and the related religious issues better than most believers.

    3. Huh? Now that’s a great strawman. “Jews and Mohammedans don’t really disagree, so why are the godless saying that they do?” First of all, your premise is wrong. Some, like the dalai lama in this instance, make the false claim that the various religions do not oppose eachother. Now some religious people may genuinely believe that, but it is an incorrect personal belief – it simply doesn’t match reality. Just look at Pakistan at the moment – some fundamentalist mohammedan cult is murdering mohammedans which they believe are not part of the true cult. The objection of the godless people is far more fundamental – religions make a demonstrably false claim to “know” things. In this particular case the dalai lama is spouting nonsense that all religions share a ‘truth’, but ask him WTF that truth is and he will not be able to give a substantial answer because his claim is a blatant lie.

    4. Hi.

      I wonder if you are subscribed to this post.

      I think what the atheists mean is not they understand the beliefs of religious people better; they understand the content of their propositions better than religious people.

      I am not sure how to define what a “belief” is, in the way that religious people use it. What atheists talk about are propositions – sentences with cognitive content.

      Atheists often argue that according to the propositions religious people subscribe to – ecumenicism makes no sense. If you subscribe to the proposition that a person who does not believe in your religion will burn in hell, you cannot be an ecunemical person. That is, unless and to the extent you disregard your own belief.

      I suspect that religious people define “belief” in a different way than atheists do. While for atheists, “belief” is mainly a cognitive process, for religious people it is mainly an emotional one.

      Personally, I think that the definition of religious people is wrong and disingenous. They talk about “believing in Jesus Christ” as if it is belief in a value, e.g. “believing in love”. But it is not. Even if (and one can argue this, it is a logical possibility) belief in Christ is PRIMARILY belief in the value of love, and only SECONDLY belief in the personality of Jesus Christ, in the historicity of Jesus Christ, and in the historicity of the old testament – they often forget that a belief in Jesus also MUST entail belief in the belief in the personality of Jesus Christ, and in the historicity of Jesus Christ.

      In that they are wrong and disingenous. However, they might be right in that belief in J.C. is belief in PRIMARILY the virtue of love.

      1. I am indeed subscribed.

        The error of atheists (and some religious people as well) is viewing religion as mainly a question of propositions. Religion is an attitude, a community, a set of rituals, much more than it is a set of propositions or a doctrine.

        Militant atheists generally either can’t or won’t see this, which is one reason the ongoing battle between them and religion is unbearably tedious.

        1. Of course most realize that it is a community, etc. Your statement is a strawman and extremely simplistic.

  21. “the Dalai Lama… calls Buddhism a religion…”

    One way to win an argument is to define terms to your liking, denying any alternate definitions in general use and specified in the argument.

    Since “religion” is defined in many ways and the Dalai Lama has been in place as the focal point of Tibetan Buddhism for a while, I respect his definition.

    One of the challenges in discussing science and religion may be that scientists, accustomed to working with precisely defined subjects, are uncomfortable with more elusive terms like religion.

    It’s a question of whether someone wants to discuss an issue or issue edicts.

  22. The Dalai Lama is not the only person who points to one “truth” as the underpinning of religion, but what does that mean? It depends on what is meant by religion. If by religion you mean a belief in god(s) then this thought is bogus, but if by religion you mean the insights a person has for the meaning of their life and the values by which they live, it may be true.

    Both definitions of religion are in used.

    Since scientists are peerless in assessing beginnings: the big bang, earth, life, human life. This exploration might benefit if scientists considered the beginning of human thought. After all, religion is about thought. Science involves thought.

    What is a thought? Is it a natural phenomenon? Can I capture it, measure it, assess it, define it? What does it mean? What is its source? How do emotions affect thoughts?

    Neuroscience is making interesting advances. The Charlie Rose Brain Series explores one aspect of the brain (mind) each month and asks each of the participating scientists at the end of the show, “What would you like to know?”

    I find it interesting that he never asks, “Are you religious?” For the scientist, that’s superfluous.

  23. Now that the spiritual leader of one of the worlds oldest religions has tried to make a point, it is dismissed because in your opinion Buddhism is not a religion because it has no god(s).

    Has the Dalai Lama ever denied the claim that he is the umpteenth reincarnation of the holy avatar Kuan Yin? In theory, if you buy Tibetan buddhism, the guy is a god. After all, that’s how and why he got his job. He’s not a hereditary monarch, he’s a recycled zombie-monarch.

    I think what Grayling is doing in his comments is the same accomodationist bullshit where people say “doubtless jesus christ was a great philosopher and teacher… it’s just all his followers that have it wrong.” Uuh, no. Separating the bullshit from the buddha’s life is about as possible as separating it from jesus’ and is equally fruitless. It’s the same kind of mythological nonsense handed down by oral tradition; the great ju-ju man (a descendant of princes, of course) celestial signs and symbols at his birth, yadda yadda yadda.

    “It’s not a religion” is nonsensical when you’re talking about something involving prayer, avatars, irrational belief in an afterlife or reincarnation or cosmic one-ness. That sure as hell isn’t a philosophy. If you extract the supernaturalism from buddhism, what’s actually left?

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