Barbara's Buddhism blog has a post that's somewhat about the first two topics mentioned in my title, with a bit of flavoring on the issues of karma and rebirth. It's worth a read.
The issues of karma and rebirth aren't that difficult to deal with as a westerner, as noted in the text and comments, with the understandings of non-duality, dependent origination, and emptiness as meant in Buddhism.
I did want to post a few other things here though on this point.
- We in the West are often somewhat anachronistic in our imputing viewpoints to people in the past. We have been jaded somewhat by our Western, scientific, rationalist viewpoint that, even if many people in their day to day existences are bat-poop crazy, have at least exposure to the idea that logic and empiricism exists. It is not at all clear if these ideas were known to Hakuin, let alone Dogen.
- Barbara draws from a Buddhist Geeks blog post here, by Dennis Hunter. Frankly, I don't have the time to read all of it, but I'm reminded that I still have a blog post coming on why Charles Tart appears to be a woo-filled crackpot, and what science is and is not, and why from my more-or-less Mahayana postmodern phenomenological existentialist point of view a metaphysical naturalist perspective critiquing Tart would be erroneous, even though my critique arises from the very same scientific method that metaphysical naturalists would use to dismember Tart's arguments. I probably share a lot of Hunter's sentiments, but as a scientist with a more-or-less Mahayana postmodern phenomenological existentialist point of view.
- And yes, yes, yes, those are Western philosophical concepts through which I apprehend Eastern philosophy. I am not and cannot be a metaphysical virgin in my thinking here.
- And none of it matters unless it is useful to my realization in practice.
- So I myself am not really swayed by critiques on Batchelor on rebirth, though I'm not that intrigued to go into depth on Batchelor in the first place! See my recent posts here and here.
- I do wish to critique though, in the spirit of inquiry, Hunters bit here:
But there is also good reason to feel ill-at-ease about the agenda behind this movement [ of Buddhist rationalism]. It’s hard to escape the feeling that the whole movement is founded upon the prevailing materialist assumptions of Western scientism (“mind = brain function, nothing more”), and fueled by a wish to dismiss rebirth and karma in order to bolster the illusion of intellectual certainty and further reinforce that doctrine. One can dress up this kind of reductionist philosophy and call it “agnosticism” but—as they say in the advertising industry—that’s just putting lipstick on a pig.
I don't think that any modern philosopher in the vein of myself would hold this view of being either ill-at-ease with the metaphysical naturalist perspective applying to a rejection of a literal rebirth (as I note on Barbara's blog, karma's a whole other kettle of fish). A literal rebirth is a falsifiable hypothesis, and the fact that life has the characteristic that there are an exponentially increasing number of live beings on earth over time has always posed a fundamental conundrum for this viewpoint, if one assumes that the literal rebirth is on earth (and if it's on the planet Ogo, well then it's non-falsifiable as a belief of course, and literal assertion of such beliefs becomes sundered from observation and therefore neither worthy of respect nor defense, but of course disrespect, ridicule and all that should only be applied insofar as it can be skillful to help increase wisdom, compassion and generosity).
We scientists though, express our certainty tentatively, as I wrote recently in a comment on another blog, but I'm willing to bet my salary that Dr. Charles Tart's "evidence" for rebirth is not what one would normally recognize as being consistent with well conducted scientific experiments, and therefore, scientfically, phenomenologically, existentially, almost everywhere, except on a set of measure zero, as far as we can tell, for all intents and purposes, it indeed is a false hypothesis. This is not from the position that this is all there is, a metaphysical naturalist position. Metaphysics, by its very nature, deals with issues that are "above" or "beyond" or "outside" of the scientific domain. To have the position "This is all there is," or "There's more to us than what we can measure and observe" are metaphysical positions and neither one is in the domain of science!!!
More on Charles Tart later...