August 07, 2012
A Dialogue with Stephen Batchelor and Don Cupitt
You might have seen it mentioned in last Friday's Buddha Buzz that there's a new interview between Stephen Batchelor and Don Cupitt over at the Secular Buddhist Association website called "The Future of Religion: A Dialogue." Tricycle printed its own dialogue between America's #1 Buddhist Atheist (that's Stephen) and Anglican priest Don Cupitt back in 2003 that you can read here. This new conversation between the two, which originally occurred in London in May, is extremely interesting but rather a lot to wade through. Here's a small excerpt—if it piques your interest, make sure to head on over to the Secular Buddhist Association website to read the conversation in its entirety. And don't forget to check out "A Secular Buddhist," Batchelor's article in our new Fall 2012 issue, and "The Atheist Pilgrim," an interview with him about Buddhist pilgrimage.
Madeleine Bunting (conversation chair): Stephen, if we don’t have a God or don’t have a concept of karma, where does our morality come from? And it seems to me that the way Buddhism is dealing with that in the West now, is that it is saying: if you want to be happy you have to become a Buddhist of some kind, in the sense “don’t inflict suffering, pursue an ethical life." But it becomes a goal dangled in front of you, this is the way to be happy. Is a lot of Buddhism’s teaching about happiness a way of trying to promote itself in the West? I just wondered if you could comment on that.
Stephen Batchelor: Well, I think Buddhism has been somewhat hijacked by the happiness industry in some sense, and I think it is another example of how we reach for this knee-jerk inclusion of happiness, because obviously it sells well. But I don’t think Buddhism is in the business of happiness, at least not overtly. I think a great parallel with how Buddhism is presented as being about happiness is that its very first teaching is to embrace suffering and dukkha—the first truth. And the parallel with this is that if one really wishes to live a life fully and abundantly, that requires us to be entirely honest and forthright with the reality of the world as it is, rather than in some imagined perfected future. So I always see happiness as a kind of a bonus, as a rather good side effect, but frankly I don’t practise Buddhism because I want to be happy. I would think that a rather superficial reason. I seek to practise Buddhism because, in the words of Don, it gives me a narrative, a framework within which to make sense of my life. And that to me, in other words the question of meaning and fulfilment, is more important than whether I feel happy or not. One could argue it’s better to live a happy life with the accent on fulfilment and meaning rather than on the feeling of happiness.
Image: Stephen Batchelor.