Batchelor and Brhamali Debate Teachings of the Buddha and Rebirth

This forum features Stephen Batchelor and Ajahn Brahmali in a debate the meaning of the Buddha’s original teachings on the Four Noble Truths and Eightfold Path and the implications of teachings regarding rebirth. It’s an excellent way to focus in on the teachings of the Buddha himself, what the Buddha thought was essential for the spiritual life.


4 thoughts on “Batchelor and Brhamali Debate Teachings of the Buddha and Rebirth

  1. I thoroughly enjoyed this debate. Having Ven Brahmali debate with Stephen Batchelor helped me to understand traditional Buddhism, and listening to Stephen Batchelor clarified and strengthened my own position as a secular Buddhist. Stephen Batchelor has been profoundly influential on me and my way of life for many years, and I have been privileged to attend talks given by him, and also attend classes taught by Martine Batchelor, in New Zealand. Thank you, Engage!, for making this debate available, it was excellent.

    1. I thought Stephen did very well in this debate as well. Brahmali started off being very convincing, saying that the Buddha taught on “rebirth” as the return of consciousness into a new body, and that it’s found throughout the Pali canon. However, after Batchelor took that apart, Bhrahmali was left with saying “well, Buddhism includes ‘rebirth’, so if you don’t espouse ‘rebirth’ you’re not a Buddhist.” but without giving any kind of convincing argument as to why we should incorporate that into our practice. And if the Buddhas was about anything, he was about not adopting ideas and practices just because it’s “traditional” or because someone in authority told you to, nor even because “the Buddha said so.” There has to be a good reason for it.

      Neither one spoke on what I think is the central doctrinal problem with “rebirth” which is that “who or what is this “consciousness” that is reborn?” It conflicts with the doctrine of “anatta” which the Buddha also taught. There is no eternal singular “self”, whether understood as mind, personality or consciousness, that continues after death. Consciousness is conditioned on the body and the Five Skandhas, all of which are themselves conditioned and impermanent, and nothing continues after death. There might be an argument for, as Dr. Ambedkar proposed, some kind of “collective consciousness” that persists after the death of the individual. And that collective consciousness forms the cultural conditions that shape the “selves” that are born into those cultures.

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