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Buddhadharma : Winter 2015
winter 2015 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly 77 revieWs cessation of reactivity—which, given the vagaries of human existence, may not always be sustainable; it is none- theless as close to true freedom as we can hope to come. All these arguments—which boil down to the claim that the Buddha taught “a task-based ethics rather than a truth-based metaphysics”—are sup- ported by careful, learned, and often cogent analyses of key canonical texts and terms. Altogether, Batchelor’s analy- ses of Gotama and his dharma add up to a bracing and provocative—one might say radical—reconsideration of much of what we think we know about the Bud- dha and his teachings. Certainly, After Buddhism merits the consideration of every thoughtful Buddhist. That said, I confess that—much as I appreciate Batchelor’s humanistic and existential approach to the dharma and the élan and erudition with which he argues his case here—I remain, on bal- ance, unpersuaded. My reasons, once again, are primarily methodological. Given the antiquity, complexity, and multivocality of the Pali canon, I doubt that any interpretive principle, however ingenious, can unequivocally give us the “real Buddha” that Batchelor seeks. His own approach—to exclude from consid- eration the metaphysical ideas held by the Buddha‘s contemporaries—seems doubly problematic. First, it implies that Gotama somehow transcended the worldview of fifth-century BCe India; this seems an odd claim from a scholar who otherwise rightly insists on situat- ing the Buddha, and Buddhism, within historical context. Second, it begs the question of what the Buddha thought and taught by deciding beforehand on dubious methodological grounds what canonical evidence will be admitted: when we rule out passages that sug- gest Gotama did believe in rebirth and a transcendent nirvana, it’s predictable that what remains is Batchelor’s ethical pragmatism. More basically, I would argue that while historical research into the begin- nings of Buddhism is invaluable, the quest for a “true” Buddha and dharma is probably a misconceived and futile exer- cise. It is ironic that Batchelor, the great proponent of Buddhist doubt, should be so intent on locating an indubitable, essential Buddha—who turns out to be just the Buddha we moderns need. Cannot Batchelor, and we, live with a Buddha of many faces and voices that change with time, culture, and personal inclination? Cannot we accept a Buddha who does not look or speak like us, and who, in his very difference, challenges our own modern ideological and moral complacencies? To try to live with that Buddha—even as we create a dharma that resounds in our age—might be the most daringly modern move of all. myadornart.com Visit our website for quality thangkas and Zen art. We offer wholesale rates on group orders for a variety of monastic garments, and practice materials. Handcr aft Arts Gallery TOP: CHENREZIG (DETAIL) BY LAMA SHERAB GYATSO