http://www.huffingtonpost.com/james-rotondi/buddhist-backlash-stephen_b_521675.html; Buddhist Backlash: Stephen Batchelor Braves The Storm
Stephen Batchelor does not look like a man at the center of a storm. But the calm, bespectacled 57-year-old Englishman is in the eye of a hurricane of controversy taking place in the global community of Buddhism.
Batchelor is a former monk in both the Tibetan Geluk and Korean Zen traditions, and a noted scholar and translator of canonical texts. His original writing first began making serious cultural waves with 1998’s Buddhism Without Beliefs, which posited a radical new “existential, therapeutic and liberating agnosticism”–one which rejected the belief in reincarnation and karma, and proposed a secular approach grounded in meditation and mindfulness, along with a historical understanding of the Buddha, achieved through a modern lens.
I think that Batchelor is the victim of static buddhism in the Tibetan or Thai versions: these legacies are frozen and tend to produce a negative reaction after prolonged contact. The issue is not really karma or reincarnation beliefs. Karma beliefs are incoherent. But then take the extreme cases, like Hitler: if his behavior has no karmic kickback after death, then the doctrine is clearly false. But it would seem that the cosmos deals with such extremes, because it is inevitable. Who knows. We can’t verify any of this, and must, in a Kantian sense, exit on rumors. The problem here is in part that of scientism also. A better standard would be the Kantian, with its warning about metaphysics. Karma and reincarnation are metaphysical beliefs, as are their negations. The problem is not that they are fictions, but that they are Kantian ambiguities, beyond the realm of observation. If someone therefore affirms their reality we are in no real position to either believe or disbelieve.
The question of karma is simply unclear, while that of reincarnation is ambiguous. It is the last chapter in a story that omits the early introductory stories: to wit, the creation of soul in homo sapiens. That’s the catch in denouncing reincarnation: why stop there. The belief in a soul, then having a head, I guess, are the next to go. Something obscure makes the question beyond resolution. And the traditions that transmit these ideas don’t understand them. The question of soul, of immortality, as opposed to reincarnation, (and the Gurdjieffian recurrence, a bit different)
The answer is that these beliefs are not necessary on the path of meditation, however much they are present in the more general path of buddhist information or history. Sufis seem to believe in reincarnation, but never speak of it. I learned this when someone called someone in the Gold situation the reincarnation of Ouspensky. And the result of that? Spiritual thieves appearing out of the woodwork on the rumor this person bore a great baraka from Gurdjieff between lives. As a Judas to the Gurdjieffian religion not deserving such high energies he was marked for being stripped of this energy: they wanted to get their money back, so to speak, across lives. The thieves of baraka are thus of high enough attainment, it seems, to be able to read the rebirth circuits of famous former teachers. With such madmen little can be concluded, but I wouldn’t conclude the unreality of reincarnation. The issues actually began to get a form of scientism of their own, in, of all people, Ouspensky himself, then of J.G.Bennett, with his six-dimensional universe. The sense of the timeless is beginning of all these beliefs, and that sense is no superstition.
The issues are clearer in the thinking of Shopenhauer: the phenomenon and the thing-in-itself make the self a curious entity beyond time and space, and reincarnation the illusion of having been born: the self suffers a brief pitstop as a temporal object, but is never born and never dies. As with gravity turning into a spatial question in general relativity, so with the ‘soul’ and the related reincarnation are structural issues in a different kind of explainable (I can’t however say ‘spatial’/geometrical) context.