View Full Version : Two Grounds

04 Jul 16, 08:19
Reading Stephen Batchelor's latest book After Buddhism at the moment, on page 56 he says "The dharma Gotama talks of reaching was thus a ground with two dimensions, one that he calls conditioned arising and another that he calls nirvana.

These two dimensions are equally fundamental and primordial.

Whereas conditioned arising discloses the causal unfolding of life, nirvana discloses the possibility of a life no longer determined by reactivity or habitual inclinations."

This he says is the basic understanding Buddha found at the root of early Buddhism

Any comments

04 Jul 16, 13:19
Here is a review (http://www.lionsroar.com/review-stephen-batchelors-after-buddhism/):

For Batchelor, the answer is that we must locate the elements in Gotama’s teaching that “stand out as most distinctive and original… and to bracket off anything attributed to [him] that could just as well have been said by another wanderer, Jain monk, or Brahmin priest of the same period.

Bronkhorst's Buddhism in the Shadow of Brahmanism uses this approach as well.


Now, Batchelor says that nibbana is "cessation of reactivity", which isn't accurate. Nibbana is the cessation of greed and hate and delusion, which is the removal of the second dart. The reviewer sums Batchelor this way:

Mental, emotional, and physical suffering is part of human existence, but our reactions to it can be controlled through understanding our conditionality and selflessness and by undertaking the fourfold task: to comprehend suffering, let go of its arising, behold its ceasing, and cultivate the path.

So he's focused on "reactions". Now, we know that the Buddha's back hurt, so we know that an arahant can still experience unpleasant bodily feeling from weather or back pain or what have you. This is the first dart, and it never fully goes away in life. This flowers off of the biological imperative: pursue pleasure, avoid pain.

But emotional turmoil and mental suffering are exactly the second dart that's removed by the Path (there may still be scope for invasive thoughts, but these 'invasions by Mara', when noted, are immediately defused). Batchelor seems to want to claim that they will still occur, so it's a question as to whether "dukkha-nirodha" is actually possible, and it seems that Batchelor doesn't think so, instead favoring a "habit-nirodha" idea.

This is a problem. I can understand getting rid of metaphysics (wholly laudable), but saying that nibbana is the cessation of reactivity is exactly as problematic as saying it's the cessation of rebirth. Both of these things may or may not happen as a result of nibbana, but neither is actually a referent for the term 'nibbana'.


Then there's "conditioned arising", but this would require looking at how Batchelor has unpacked it. But "a ground with two dimensions" does not give me reason for hope.


Finally, the reviewer comments about Batchelor's idea

that Gotama somehow transcended the worldview of fifth-century BCE India; this seems an odd claim from a scholar who otherwise rightly insists on situating the Buddha, and Buddhism, within historical context.

I don't think this claim is a problem, though. The Buddha doesn't have to have ethereal butterfly wings in order to have a brilliant flash of insight, and we don't have to assume he lacked the critical apparatus (via his wanderer milieu) to think outside the cultural box, despite being a historical figre; other big names throughout history have done similarly, so it's easily within the human purview.

The reviewer then jumps the tracks:

Cannot Batchelor, and we, live with a Buddha of many faces and voices that change with time, culture, and personal inclination?

No; this ahistorical myth-making is so hideously bankrupt of value, I struggle to find language strong enough to convey the vapidity of it.

05 Jul 16, 10:45
Hi Daverupa

Thanks for the reference to the review, I found it interesting.

What I find is that no matter what people do or say, it is always through a prism of their views, views change so nothing is fixed.

I guess it is a journey, I take from what I read what I find useful for what I currently understand, it moves me on, I try to see what makes my life better for me and those around me, discernment is important for me.

I do get, that translation is an art form rather than a science, therefore according to the translator the meaning or sense of what is translated can be altered.

05 Jul 16, 13:48
therefore according to the translator the meaning or sense of what is translated can be altered.

Which is something that Stephen Batchelor points out on page 26 of his book.

Personally I think its a good idea to compare different peoples translations of suttas.