Sceptical Buddhism as Provenance and Project – by James Mark Shields, Bucknell University

James Mark Shields (Bucknell University)
Sceptical Buddhism as Provenance and Project
In his 2015 publication After Buddhism, Stephen Batchelor makes a strong case for reviving what he calls a “secular Buddhism,” rooted in the “skeptical voice” of early Buddhism as found throughout the Pali Canon, one that “refuses to be drawn into affirming or negating an opinion, into making ontological assertions, or into asserting anything as ultimately true or real. The sage chooses to suspend judgment rather than get involved in disputes.…” (22). While sympathetic to Batchelor’s thesis – one that resonates
with the subjects of my own scholarly work – this paper examines the links between “secular,” “critical,” “sceptical,” and “radical” Buddhism, in order to flesh out a genealogy as well as possibilities in thinking Buddhism anew as a 21st-century “project” with philosophical, ethical, and political resonance. In particular, I am motivated by the question of whether “sceptical” Buddhism can coexist with Buddhist praxis, conceived as an engaged response to ameliorate the suffering of sentient beings.