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"The Buddha Delusion": On Addressing Criticisms of Buddhism

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On Amazon's page for Confession of a Buddhist Atheist, I found this review. Very little of it is actually a review of the book, but the author has some particularly scathing things to say about Buddhism and about its Western adherents.

The first paragraph reads:

We have had nearly a hundred years of Buddhism in the West and the West is getting worse. What has Buddhism contributed to contemporary western societies? It has added a touch of gravitas and exoticism to the self-help, wisdom-while-u-wait industry.

It has created a cluster of hierarchical groups wearing black or maroon skirts - each claiming orthodoxy and direct ancestral links to the Buddha himself.

It has conferred a dignified aura to hard-line vegans, neo-puritans and the occasional recovering hedonist.

It has granted a few celebs the chance to express platitudes for the spiritual emancipation of their fans and of paparazzi. It has managed to both sanitize the world of psychotherapy (via mindfulness-based cognitive-behavioural therapy) and re-mystify it (via trans-personal psychology).

And with Mandela fading fast from the limelight, it has also given the media two new moral superstars to applaud and patronize: the Dalai Lama and Thich Nhat Hanh.

The rest of the review is a lengthy invective regarding Buddhism in the West.

We have the Buddha's instruction in the Brahmajala Sutta on how to deal with such criticism: "5. 'Brethren, if outsiders should speak against me, or against the Doctrine, or against the Order, you should not on that account either bear malice, or suffer heart-burning, or feel ill will.

If you, on that account, should be angry and hurt, that would stand in the way of your own self-conquest.

If, when others speak against us, you feel angry at that, and displeased, would you then be able to judge how far that speech of theirs is well said or ill?...

But when outsiders speak in dispraise of me, or of the Doctrine, or of the Order, you should unravel what is false and point it out as wrong, saying: "For this or that reason this is not the fact, that is not so, such a thing is not found among us, is not in us."'

What do you think? Read the review and see where, if any, the discrepancies lie. (I'll give you a hint: the first one, in the first sentence, is the reviewers assumption that "the West is getting worse."

First, who says it's getting worse? I certainly think we're better off than we were 100 years ago on many fronts: socially, materially, and otherwise.

Second, there is no verifiable causal link between Buddhism's arriving in the West and any alleged deterioration that happened within that timespan.)

Certainly, no one who has benefited from the Buddha's teaching will be in any way jolted by the criticism.

I found myself reading with amusement.

I do think this person has a beautiful way with words and a wonderful way of stirring up controversy. I also thing, surprisingly, that he brings up some quite valid points, especially concerning "bio-morality" and Buddhism's uncomfortable alliance with the positive thinking crowd.

Of course, I myself have been helped greatly by some of the therapeutic applications he criticizes.

Mindfulness-Based Cognitive therapy has what ultimately helped me get rid of my recurrent depressive episodes.

Reading such a review was thus an exercise in equanimity: guarding myself against the tendency to throw the baby out with the bathwater and disregard the reviewer entirely, and admitting that there is some good critical thinking in there as well.