While the “Great Debate: Reincarnation” continues over at the Tricycle Community, I’m reminded of an earlier article of Stephen Batchelor’s. “Rebirth: A Case for Buddhist Agnosticism” appeared in the Fall 1992 issue of Tricycle and laid the groundwork for Batchelor’s debate with Robert Thurman nearly five years later. In the article Batchelor writes:
“Whether he really believed in [rebirth] or not, the Buddha found the prevailing worldview of his time sufficient as a basis for his ethical system. It also provided an adequate set of metaphors for his doctrine of transcendence. His main concern, however, was not whether there is or is not life after death, but whether it is possible to live in such a way that one could transcend the dilemma of suffering.”
Sympathetic to Batchelor’s views is another Brit, early Buddhism scholar John Peacocke. In an interview for the Fall 2008 issue, he concludes:
I’m inclined to wonder how, in a Western context, we can make the best pragmatic use of the Buddha’s ideas, understanding them as something more than a doctrinal staple. According to many, for instance, you have to believe in rebirth to be a Buddhist. But there’s a tension here: Buddha exhorts us to investigate, yet rebirth is quite clearly something we can’t investigate. So what might it mean outside of its literal truth? How might we apply the ideas in a practical and meaningful way that makes our lives better and helps us to see things more clearly as they are? It is this practical dimension, based on both a historical and a phenomenological approach to the teachings, that I bring to my dharma teaching. This approach does not mean ignoring what the traditions say; it means examining what they have to say in the light of a close reading of the texts. We have to remember that the historical forms of Buddhism have all become “traditions,” and that these traditions, with their viewpoints, have often gone unquestioned. Such unquestioning acceptance seems to me to diminish the challenging nature and dynamism of the Buddha’s teaching.
For the full interview with John Peacocke, go here.
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