I have no qualms about Mr. Batchelor’s agnosticism regarding reincarnation. His beliefs are quite reasonable. However, when he states that “an agnostic position toward death seems more compatible with an authentic spiritual attitude,” I wonder where he acquired the copyright to the “authentic spiritual attitude.”

Science requires proof; religion and philosophy are as yet based on belief. If some basic Buddhist tenets, like impermanence and death, are scientifically acceptable, we would be hard pressed to find objective proof of many of our other givens—including Buddha-nature, karma, reincarnation, and enlightenment. Nothing proves that the Buddha was enlightened, and nothing proves that his discoveries are valid for anyone else. He himself warned against accepting the teachings without having tested them. We are asked to listen, reflect, and meditate—not to swallow.

Skepticism is healthy. I think many Western Buddhists are attracted to Buddhism just because no one is asking us for blind faith. Buddhism is agnostic by nature up to a certain point. We are not expected to sign the lease until we’ve sniffed, squeezed, and test-driven—this is a part of the path. But at some point in our practice, we may reach a stage at which we choose to sidestep the skepticism, open ourselves wholeheartedly to a teacher, and accept his or her teachings. In Vajrayana practice, this commitment is an essential part of the spiritual process.

Opening to and being accepted by a teacher is an enormous responsibility on both sides, as anyone who has taken that step knows. For me, this means acknowledging that my teacher is wiser than I am, period. I don’t expect him to excel in baking, botany, or embroidery—but I have solid faith in his superior knowledge of all things of the mind, of the absolute. So at this point agnosticism means subtly clinging to my views, or subtly questioning my teacher’s. I’m convinced that actually being right or wrong about such matters is beside the point. Acceptance here is not dogma—it’s practice. There is a difference between proclaiming, grasping, imposing, or asserting and accepting. It seems to me that accepting a belief based on faith in the teacher or in the teachings is no less compatible with an authentic spiritual attitude than clinging to agnosticism.  

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