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Thread: A book that may interest: The Boddhisatva's Brain

  1. #1
    Senior Member kirkmc's Avatar
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    A book that may interest: The Boddhisatva's Brain

    This seems to discuss a number of topics that have come up here on the forum recently:

    "If we are material beings living in a material world--and all the scientific evidence suggests that we are--then we must find existential meaning, if there is such a thing, in this physical world. We must cast our lot with the natural rather than the supernatural. Many Westerners with spiritual (but not religious) inclinations are attracted to Buddhism--almost as a kind of moral-mental hygiene. But, as Owen Flanagan points out in The Bodhisattva's Brain, Buddhism is hardly naturalistic. Atheistic when it comes to a creator god, Buddhism is otherwise opulently polytheistic, with spirits, protector deities, ghosts, and evil spirits. Its beliefs include karma, rebirth, nirvana, and nonphysical states of mind. What is a nonreligious, materially grounded spiritual seeker to do? In The Bodhisattva's Brain, Flanagan argues that it is possible to subtract the "hocus pocus" from Buddhism and discover a rich, empirically responsible philosophy that could point us to one path of human flourishing. "Buddhism naturalized," as Flanagan constructs it, contains a metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics; it is a fully naturalistic and comprehensive philosophy, compatible with the rest of knowledge. Some claim that neuroscience is in the process of validating Buddhism empirically, but Flanagan's naturalized Buddhism does not reduce itself to a brain scan showing happiness patterns. Buddhism naturalized offers instead a tool for achieving happiness and human flourishing--a way of conceiving of the human predicament, of thinking about meaning for finite material beings living in a material world."

    http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0262016044

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    Senior Member Amelia's Avatar
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    Re: A book that may interest: The Boddhisatva's Brain

    Sounds interesting. I hardly have the money to spend on books at this time, but I always like to know about good books in case I find myself with a little book money!

  3. #3

    Re: A book that may interest: The Boddhisatva's Brain

    Thank you, Kirk.

    I am always interested in Buddhist practitioners who are trying to see through the (in my view) "hocus pocus", superstition and exaggeration often tangled up with this wondrous Path. I will have a look. On the other hand, I really do not consider myself a "materialist" either. I recently wrote this to someone elsewhere:

    I do not consider myself a "materialist" [in the meaning that all that is 'truly true' is the physical atoms and energy driven by cold, blind physical laws that seem to guide the universe].

    I believe this life is, in whole or large part, a kind of dream ... as most Buddhists do. A dream fashioned by the mind amid emptiness, probably from something outside our eyes (maybe not even anything 'outside' according to schools of Buddhism), but a mind created interpretation of that 'outside stuff' nonetheless. Dogen described our life as a "Dream within a Dream", so dreamy ... a dream of life, but our lives nonetheless.

    I also believe that there are "more thing in heaven and earth than dreamed in your philosophy, Horatio" ... I often say that people of future centuries will look back at many of our firmly held beliefs and chuckle at our quaintness ("Oh Martha, do you know that folks way back in the 21st century still believed in Darwin, Equality of the Sexes and the Law of Gravity!?"). Furthermore, there are countless worlds ... whole muli-verse universes with perhaps varying histories and physics at work ... where even dragons might fly and fairies grant wishes.

    But that does not mean that dragons fly and fairies grant wishes on our world.

    But, I am drifting off topic.

    It is just that, in this dream, I do not necessarily believe that, even if I dream them, there are necessarily Loch Ness monsters, Yetis, Fairies, Trolls, broom riding Witches or UFOs (although I certainly believe in Sentient Beings on countless other worlds). I am doubtful of distance healing, palm reading, hungry ghosts who haunt us (if literal, not figurative or psychological), mind reading and levitation (pending some verifiable evidence otherwise ... I am a great skeptic, but an open minded skeptic).

    So, although it is "all a dream" and not real in the least ... still, some things in that dream may be more real than others (yes, that is a Koan, one of the main themes of many Koans in fact).

    As I have said many times, I honor and respect the right of anyone to practice Buddhism as they wish. I hold no monopoly. If they wish to believe, for example, in flawless and ideal Buddhist personages of the past, magic powers and events, levitation, literal rebirth as ducks or gods (you name it), I salute them. What is more, they may be right (and my doubts misplaced).

    But some of us don't believe in such things (better said, are great skeptics to the point of disbelief), yet our Buddhist practice too (to quote you) ...

    ... sees through and gets beyond, and once beyond them, such things sit lightly

    We think that many of the legends about Buddhas and ancestors are myths (meaning that they probably are "exaggerated and made up stories" presenting very idealized images ... although even myths, as fiction, have value as speaking to human truths), that many "Sutta/Sutra" are creative writing by very "not really the Buddha" authors (some inspired and brilliant, some not very), that most of the claimed "magic and supernormal powers" in Buddhist legend probably never happens/ed (and I am not talking about "the magic of this ordinary life, all around us". That magic I believe in.).

    Nonethless, our Buddhism/Zen Practice feels Wholly Whole and Completely Complete to us, for us, as us. I do not teach for all Buddhists, or even all Zen Buddhists ... but I do teach for the Zen Buddhists who may need to hear such a message, and who may be relieved to know that some of us consider the more "unbelievable" aspects of Buddhist claims to be unnecessary and perhaps (emphasis on "perhaps") a kind of ignorance and belief in baseless superstition fully equivalent to a belief in the Loch Ness Monster, broom riding witches and palm reading.
    Let me say again that different human beings, Buddhists and Zen Buddhists may benefit from different paths. I am pointing out a path to those folks who may be skeptical, questioning or rejecting of certain traditional aspects of Buddhism and Zen Buddhism, yet wonder if they thus "can still practice Zen Buddhism in a sound way." I want to show them that they can.

    What is more, I think that Buddhism has passed through 2500 years of traditional societies with traditional beliefs. Now, we are entering a time when science, historical research, and changes in social values are casting great doubt upon, or placing great pressure on, many of our traditional tenets and beliefs. I then ask myself whether, without those elements, the Buddhist/Zen Way is still viable and worthwhile. I believe, beyond doubt, that it is.

    What are examples of the areas that some skeptical students doubt and/or modern times are challenging? Here are a few examples (no surprises in the list):

    1 - The reality of (and need to believe in to be a "Buddhist") literal, mechanical models of 'post-mortem' rebirth and "1-to-1" cause-effect views of Karma.

    2 - Idealistic hagiographic biographies of Buddhas and Ancestors, often filled with super-powers, super-human feats, fantastic creatures and settings, and the like (except for their figurative or psychological meanings, as in many myths, pointing to truths of the human condition).

    3 - The infallible nature of "Sutras" as the "word of the Buddha" (when all were written by human authors of varying insight and talent, though religiously inspired, from their own imaginations and philosophizings).

    4 - The "magic" effects of such things as protective talisman, Dharani or ceremonies and the like (literally, and not limited to their psychological effects on the hearer).

    Those are just examples.

    I am in no way a critic of anyone who believes in those things as part of their Buddhism. I just speak to those Buddhists who do not believe in such things ... and, themselves, are often criticized by other Buddhists as "not being Buddhist enough" because of their skepticism or rejection of such "core" beliefs.

    What is more, I do not share your view that such is a "given of modern life, and not controversial" among Buddhists. I think they are incredibly controversial still among Western Buddhists, as the controversy surrounding folks like Stephen Batchelor shows. What is more, in a Europe and America where often sometimes the majority or a great plurality of the population in polls profess to believe in any manner of things from ouiji boards to crystals to God's having planted the dinosaur bones to trick us ... I would not be so sure. I have found many Buddhists to be, perhaps even more than the general population, attracted to what I personally believe are questionable New Agey beliefs of various sorts.

    Add the many corners of Buddhism such as Shugden (if this is bashing anyone from another corner of Buddhism, moderators, let me know and I will remove it) and the like, "prosperity teachings" of a certain Buddhist group very popular in the West and, in the Zen world, the apparent wildness over at OBC, and I would challenge your assertion about how "down to earth" and non-superstitious we are.

    http://obcconnect.forumotion.net/t142-o ... planations

    http://obcconnect.forumotion.net/t68-fi ... e-buddhism

    someone wrote:
    There's definitely a greater acceptance of "mythic-magical" thinking among Buddhists in Asia (as compared with Western Buddhists) in my opinion. And it's probably very helpful to most people. This is especially true in regards to beliefs about an afterlife, the Pure Land, and the spirits (souls) of departed ancestors.


    Oh, I believe that it can be helpful and comforting to people to be told these stories even if "made up". What is more, some people may need to be told such stories, and that is right for them. And what's more, they may not be "stories" and might be true and not "made up" (and my belief that most are probably not literally true might be mistaken.). However, I tend to believe that it is helpful in the same way I told our 7 year old that his beloved pet bird who died "surely went to heaven to be with grandma". It was a way to comfort him, let him maybe have a small taste of something more subtle. In other words, it was okay to "fib" to him (fib to him though I was not so sure the bird went to be with grandma ... and, well, who knows ... it might have! In fact, it surely did from the viewpoint of Emptiness!).
    Gassho, Jundo

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