Wow, I thought serious Buddhists were supposed to be full of compassion, empathy, and oneness with all sentient beings. Guess not.
Because I just quickly read through a scathing critique of Stephen Bachelor's "Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist," which B. Alan Wallace hates. (Thanks to Ira for an email that turned me on to this essay in Mandala, a Buddhist magazine.)
Wallace is a leading Buddhist thinker who tries to meld science and spirituality. According to Wikipedia:
His life's work focuses on a deep engagement between Buddhist philosophical and contemplative inquiry and modern science and philosophy, with a special emphasis on exploring the nature and potentials of the mind in a radically empirical manner, as free as possible from the dogmas of religion and materialism.
Wallace is very much into the supernatural side of Buddhism.
He believes in past lives and reincarnation. These are religious beliefs, since there is no proof for them. But if the Buddha supposedly taught something, no matter how little evidence there is for it, this is good enough for Wallace.
Since Batchelor dismisses all talk of rebirth as a waste of time, he projects this view onto his image of the Buddha, declaring that he regarded “speculation about future and past lives to be just another distraction.” This claim flies in the face of the countless times the Buddha spoke of the immense importance of rebirth and karma, which lie at the core of his teachings as they are recorded in Pali suttas. Batchelor is one of many Zen teachers nowadays who regard future and past lives as a mere distraction.
Well, I'm no Zen teacher, but I'm on Batchelor's side.
I used to believe in reincarnation. Now I'm thoroughly agnostic, with a tilt toward atheistic, on this possibility. Sure, it'd be nice to have another chance at life. It strikes me as more important, though, to live this life as fully as possible.
If Buddhism is as religiously dogmatic as B. Alan Wallace makes it out to be, it's no wonder why secular Buddhist writers such as Stephen Bachelor are so popular nowadays. A commenter on Wallace's essay says:
This attack of atheists is unwarranted. Most atheists I know don’t believe in a God and as far as I know the Buddha did not believe in a God. If he did, I probably would not be a Buddhist. As such, someone who doesn’t believe in God is an atheist. Likewise, I admit that I do not believe in the Virgin Birth of either the Virgin Mary, or Achi Drolma, the Tibetan Buddhist deity. I do however, believe in parallel universes, simply because there is some evidence of that!
...Whatever our beliefs, whether we are Buddhists who believe in God, or flying saucers, or not, to say atheists and agnostics are individuals who are not concerned with awakening or “reality” as Mr. Wallace implies is an egregious error.