If I had to guess, the biggest skeptics or detractors of what I have to say on this blog have not studied the Buddhist canon sufficiently to know that much of what I blog has a scriptural basis. Obviously, their source of information is other than the Buddhist canon. Perhaps they are content with reading what a pop Buddhist author, like Stephen Batchelor, has to say about what the Buddha taught whose interpretation of Buddhism is, frankly, off-the-wall.
This leads me to say that there are really two views of Buddhism that are always going on. There is the view of pop Buddhism and the view of Buddhism from the canon (both the Nikayas/Agamas and Mahayana canon). In most cases, they are not even close.
Yes, I can understand why some who visit this blog are shocked.
Let’s look at two important pop Buddhism views. The first is Brahmanism. Supposedly, the Buddha was dead set against Brahmanism. But the real truth—from the canon—is that the Buddha was not opposed to Brahmanism. He simply wanted to reform it. In the celebrated Dhammapada there is an entire chapter, Bhamanavaggo, devoted to the ideal Brahmin which goes on for some 41 verses. The educated Buddhist or beginner who has read this chapter in the Dhammapada, I am sure, is chuckling at the nincompoop who is adamant that the Buddha’s teaching is antithetical to that of Brahmanism which, by the way, is like insisting that Martin Luther was an opponent of Christianity!
The second pop Buddhist view is that the Buddha denied the self or atman (in Pali, attâ). Well, it is true that the Buddha did deny the self—but it was the view of self as being one or more of the Five Aggregates. In regard to this, the Sutta-Nipata Commentary says: “Uprooting (uhaccati) of view of self (attanuditthi) means removing the view (ditthi) [of self being] one’s own body (sakkaya). Does this entail an explicit denial of self? Hardly. The self which is not part of the Five Aggregates is, rightly, the Buddha’s self.
“There is the case, monk, where a well-instructed disciple of the noble ones—who has regard for noble ones, is well-versed & disciplined in their Dhamma; who has regard for men of integrity, is well-versed & disciplined in their Dhamma—does not assume form to be the self, or the self as possessing form, or form as in the self, or the self as in form. He does not assume feeling to be the self... does not assume perception to be the self... does not assume fabrications to be the self... He does not assume consciousness to be the self, or the self as possessing consciousness, or consciousness as in the self, or the self as in consciousness” (M. iii. 18).
In the above it is difficult to miss the fact that the Buddha is denying that any aggregate can be the self. This, I hasten to inject, is a via negativa strategy which is fairly common in all mystical traditions. When I say that my physical body has no soul or self, this is not to be construed as a denial of self but, instead, as a denial of the belief that the physical body, which is impermanent, can be equated with my true self. This should be a no brainer. But it seems not, at least for some.
Since 1995 I have debated plenty of pop Buddhists over these two issues. Despite all the evidence in my favor, the pop Buddhist view remain stubborn, partly for reasons I suppose which are characteristically modern which hates anything ‘Hindu’ (i.e., heathen) and hates the idea of an absolute which is not subject to birth and death. But this says more about the principle values inherent in modernity which arguably lean towards evil.