Buddhist Criticism and Apologia

What a big topic and it is so easy to discuss it poorly. I take the position that criticism needs to be done taking into account the likely performance of people under the secular default institutions of atheism (and anti-theism/anti-religion… the nomenclature gets complicated with Buddhism, which doesn’t believe in an Abrahamic God)– namely, civil government, psychologists, bars and bridge clubs. That covers ethics, what to do when the going gets tough, and socializing.

Criticism of religion seems to be of the following sorts:
Failures of individuals. The monk screwed someone.
Failures of institutions. The monastery didn’t have any means to prevent it or to fix it afterwards.
Failures of doctrine. The monk was doing his job (i.e. there was a doctrinal basis for the bad behavior, or doctrine encouraged it)
(And maybe others, but these are the biggies)

But secular individuals institutions have the same problem. The soldier screwed someone. The army didn’t prosecute. It was part of the campaign to terrorize the enemy. (Failures of individuals, institutions and doctrine again)

Of these 3, failures of doctrine are the most problematic. When someone says, “Joe is a bad Buddhist, a real sociopath”, then well, maybe he is. Ditto for the institution. Both of those can be fixed by following the doctrine. But if the doctrine is broken, the institutions can’t be fix, nor can the individuals.

How bad is it?
To know for sure, we need a natural experiment. Which economist will remind you are hard to find– for example, three similar cities one with just atheists who drink beer and visit psychologists when they are sad, one with Christians who go to Church and pray when they are sad, and one with Buddhists who meditate and read suttras when they’re sad. And observe for a few generations and count how many instances of psychologists we have sexually abusing their clients (how many alcoholics), ditto for how many priests screw their flock, ditto for the monks and meditation teachers. Without that, it’s just people picking a doctrine they like and assuming the people unlike themselves are a bunch of alcoholic, rapists murderers.

How to react- options
Destroy them all! This only works if the person, institution or doctrine didn’t have a good reason to exist in the first place. Otherwise, a new person will be put into an easy to abuse job, a new company will arise to replace the old corrupt one & in turn become corrupt, etc. This is what atheists and self flagellating bloggers would like do to respond to failures of individuals and insitutions. If we shut down all the churches, meditation centers, and so on, where would the unhappy people go? Bars and psychologists for quack nostrums, euphorics and other drugs. (I’m not anti-psychologist like the Scientologists, I just want to remind people about how little science has to offer for unhappiness at the moment & what is does have to offer, is just as likely to go the way of cold baths, Freudian hogwash, and many other scientific cures for unhappiness that didn’t pan out)
Ignore it. This is what institutions usually do and what people who can’t bear any cognitive dissonance do. 7th Day Adventists have better health and Mormons probably commit less crime– things Atheists would like to ignore. Vajrayana seems to actively encourage ignoring defects in teachers.
Call for specific reform. As for sex, I think a good deal of the bad behavior would go away if monks & priests married like everyone else. There would be a new sort of bad behavior to replace it for sure, its never pretty when relationships end, but the shocking and bizzare would probably go away.

What seems unlikely to work
“Don’t overpraise Buddhism!” This appears on Justin Witaker’s blog a lot. A complement to Buddhism can not be left alone until it is complemented with reminders of every failure of an individual or institution in history of Buddhism.
“We are so bad! We are so bad!” Self flagellation is a Christian virtue. I’m not sure where it fits in in Buddhism. Medieval monks beat themselves for others sins. I subscribe to Buddhist doctrine, but I’m not a member of all institutions.
“It all the same, bad, bad, bad” Oddly, normally seeing things all as one would be a Buddhist virtue, but monism works poorly with abstractions. There are different varieties of Buddhism. Some Zen institutions aligned with the nationalist government. SGI didn’t and went to jail. Nyingma priests can have families & I assume are less likely to get involved in sex scandals. I’m a Buddhist and I don’t even participate in an institution. Buddhism plays no role in the US gov’t and it plays a role in the Thai gov’t on account of nearly everyone being Buddhist there.

How to deal with the “No True Buddhist”/”No True Scotsman” Fallacy
When I say, no true Buddhist rapes, pillages and plunders, I mean, Buddhist doctrine (of *my* sort) doesn’t support that. When you counter with “Oh, that’s a no true Scotsman fallacy”, you are attacking the individuals and the institutions and violating a gricing maxim (of listening to the message, not some pedantic obtuseness that seems to advance your case). This is a matter of colloquial English, when I say, No True Buddhist, I mean the doctrine (and when we say no true Kantian, are we not talking about Kant’s obsurantism?). When you counter with the Scotsman Fallacy, you knew I meant doctrine, but want to express your distaste for the individuals, institutions and doctrine. Which would be better served by addressing what part of doctrine you don’t like and what you’d rather have in its place.

And finally, what would Buddha do?
No one knows. He died and didn’t tell Ananda. We do have a bunch of rules lists, among them are “don’t disparage the Dharma, don’t disparage the Sangha, don’t criticize other members of the Sangha” What a nasty self serving set of rules, huh? On the otherhand, what institution can survive ordinary sabotage?

I for one, shall implement this rule as “Don’t disparage the Dharma, sangha or other Buddhists unless you have a specific solution in mind”

Don’t like how ultranationalist-Buddhists in Burma treat minorities there? What is your solution? To disparage the way that westerners have an overly positive image of Buddhism? What a stupid solution. Better to encourage people to write their congressman instead of tweaking their rhetoric about how much they like Buddhism.

Don’t like how mean and nasty people were to each other in Tibet before the communist invaded (and in turn proceeded to be mean an nasty?)? How to fix that? Shall we disparage the way westerners have an overly positive image of Tibetan Buddhism? What is the goal there? Are you afraid that the tibetan meditation center up the road will implement feudalism and haul you off to be a slave at a monestary?

Comments are closed.