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2 years ago  ::  May 19, 2012 - 12:14AM #1
gangajal
Posts: 835
There is a fashion nowadays in the West to naturalize Buddhism.

This book,

The Bodhisattva's Brain: Buddhism Naturalized

Owen Flanagan (Author),

is an example of such an attempt to naturalize Buddhism. The book review in the amazon.com site says the following:
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 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.

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What do you think of such attempts? Will Buddhism make sense even after subtracting the 'hocus pocus' (Karma, nirvana etc)?


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2 years ago  ::  May 19, 2012 - 2:53AM #2
Jm8
Posts: 784

I guess this belongs to the Buddhism section.

Seems that Flanagan tries to "naturalize" mahayana Buddhism. Otoh, theravada/hinayana is quite naturalistic already with its next to none spirituality. So maybe he could save his efforts.

Imho, Buddhism without its goal - nirvana, liberation from samsara - is like a car without a driver. You can sleep in it, keep stuff in it, etc. but miss its real purpose, to drive around. Iow, a bastardized, eh, naturalized Buddhism may enable one to feel better within samsara but won't help anyone out of samsara - the reason why Buddha descended in the first place. And that's probably the purpose of the author and the likes. Pitiful.

However Buddha himself predicted (hmm, predictions... something that naturalists would like to get rid of) that his path will not last long in Kali yuga. But as Krsna says in the Gita, evam parampara-praptam...

about the mahayana vs. theravada history and mahayana's relationship with vaisnavism:

www.veda.harekrsna.cz/library/PureLandBu...


Hare Krsna
Your servant, bh. Jan

www.vrindavan-dham.com
www.veda.harekrsna.cz

jIve dayA nAme ruci vaiSNava sevana
IhA chArA dharma nAhi zuna sanAtana

"Hear, Sanatana! Kindness to all living beings, taste for the holy name, and service to Vaisnavas - apart from these there is no other dharma." (attributed to Lord Caitanya, often quoted or alluded to by Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati, e.g. in Caitanya Bhagavata Adi Khanda 1.1 purport)

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2 years ago  ::  May 22, 2012 - 12:02AM #3
gangajal
Posts: 835

People like Flanagan are searching for meaning within a strictly materialistic model. The claim is that Buddhism minus the hocus pocus will provide the meaning of life. My objection to this line of thinking is that life can not have any meaning within a strict materialistic paradigm. What meaning can be found in the life of a child who dies young? For that matter, what meaning can be found in the lives of most persons? It seems to me that without a goal like moksha, there can be no meaning in life. I doubt very much if a stripped down Buddhism can help.


I posted this in the Hinduism section because many of my posts in the Buddhism section have been removed. I had also previously received emails threatening to stop my access to Beliefnet if I posted in the Buddhism section.

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2 years ago  ::  May 22, 2012 - 4:00AM #4
Bhakta_glenn
Posts: 845

May 22, 2012 -- 12:02AM, gangajal wrote:


People like Flanagan are searching for meaning within a strictly materialistic model. The claim is that Buddhism minus the hocus pocus will provide the meaning of life. My objection to this line of thinking is that life can not have any meaning within a strict materialistic paradigm. What meaning can be found in the life of a child who dies young? For that matter, what meaning can be found in the lives of most persons? It seems to me that without a goal like moksha, there can be no meaning in life. I doubt very much if a stripped down Buddhism can help.


I posted this in the Hinduism section because many of my posts in the Buddhism section have been removed. I had also previously received emails threatening to stop my access to Beliefnet if I posted in the Buddhism section.




Gangajal.


Buddhism will not take root in the West until Western people are awakened by it. The Tibetan Schools of Buddhism and Theravada Buddhism have now made qualified Teaching available to Western people.


I read your experiences on the Buddhist board with some interest. I am not surprised. They only want to talk about Nirvana/NIbbana, or Mindfulness.


Hinduism is considered to be inferior.


When one refers to Househoders' Dhamma, they think it is popular Buddhism, and that the Householders are all ignorant, and unenlightened. They have no idea that if the Householders disappeared, then the Sangha would follow. The Buddha created the Householders' institution before the Sangha was created, for their support, food, clothing, shelter, and money.


I am a student of the late Dr Rewata Dhamma. He is a former Vice President of the World Buddhist Sangha Council. He also attended the Sixth Buddhist Council in Yangon for the establishment of the Theravadin Buddhist Scriptures. After passing the highest Theravadin examinations in Myanmar, he went to India to study Sanskrit, Indian Philosophy and Mahayana Buddhism at the Benares Hindu University.


He came to England in 1975, at the request of the 16th Gyalwa Karmapa of The Kagyu School of Tibetan Buddhism to establish the Dhamma. All that is required is a small group of Buddhist Householders who can maintain a small Group of Bhikkhus [Monks] to live in accordance with the Vinaya [Code of Discipline], four to be precise.


He did rather more than that. He established Buddhist groups all over the western world. All of them have access to qualified Theravadin Buddhist Teaching; He built a peace pagoda which is housing relics from the cremated remains of the Buddha. He built a Temple [Vihara], and a Dhamma Hall which houses a small Buddhist university which is affiliated to the local university, whilst administered by a Buddhist university in Myanmar.


I think that this has a lot more going for it than Flanagan's stuff.



 


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2 years ago  ::  Dec 07, 2012 - 10:25PM #5
Kartari
Posts: 2,165

gangajal and all,


This is in fact a very interesting topic to me. As an atheist/non-theist Westerner drawn to study Buddhism and its history, I must concede that my research to date has shown that, indeed, Buddhists have ever adapted Buddhism to incorporate or blend their local theistic and supernatural belief systems with the Dhamma. From the days of the Indo-Greek king Menander (a.k.a. Milinda) who decided that the Buddha was a deity a few hundred years after his death (prior to which Buddhists had regarded the Buddha as an ordinary human being), Buddhism had adapted to preexisting cultural traditions and religious beliefs as Mahayana spread to central and east Asia, and Theravada to southeast Asia. The Buddha himself originally set out to find a path to end the endless process of cyclical reincarnation, a belief inhereted from the Brahmanical culture he grew up in in ancient northern India.


So what Buddhism is doing now in Europe and the Americas is no different, imo. Buddhism has always been a mutable religion, ever adapting to the cultures it is adopted into. The Buddha's original problem was dissatisfaction and finding a way to cease it, and his teachings, it is claimed, work to reduce or even eliminate dissatisfaction. This fundamental goal has been adopted by Western secular Buddhists. One can even point to the Buddha's original teachings (e.g. the suttas) and see that his original message was entirely unconcerned with many of the supernatural and theistic beliefs which were in fact added to Buddhism over the many centuries of mingling with other cultural and religious norms. Except reincarnation, which as it turns out, is not a necessary belief for utilizing the Buddha's teachings for their stated goal: the cessation of dissatisfaction. The teachings simply work, in a demonstrable manner. Hence, atheists and theists alike can fully appreciate what the Buddha set out to do. Indeed, Buddhism has a history of reformation, where certain important figures have sought to strip away from Buddhism what is viewed as superstition or foreign to the religion, to restore it to a pure form.


On the other hand, there are a number of Western Buddhists who do seem somewhat oblivious to Buddhism's true history as far as incorporating various theistic and other supernatural beliefs. In their defense, I do not believe many of those I've encountered (here on Bnet and in person) are even taught about this past from their teachers. They are only given the teachings that matter to ceasing dissatisfaction in a pragmatic manner. I had to delve into Buddhism's history to find out about this myself, otherwise I'd have never known. Perhaps an element of only seeing what one wants to see is involved in this as well for some, as a number of Western Buddhists are former Christians who do not want to have anything more to do with supernatural "nonsense."


Ultimately though, I do not see how holding to theistic and other supernatural beliefs is important to the ultimate Buddhist goal.

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2 years ago  ::  Dec 07, 2012 - 10:37PM #6
Kartari
Posts: 2,165

gangajal,


May 22, 2012 -- 12:02AM, gangajal wrote:

People like Flanagan are searching for meaning within a strictly materialistic model. The claim is that Buddhism minus the hocus pocus will provide the meaning of life. My objection to this line of thinking is that life can not have any meaning within a strict materialistic paradigm. What meaning can be found in the life of a child who dies young? For that matter, what meaning can be found in the lives of most persons? It seems to me that without a goal like moksha, there can be no meaning in life. I doubt very much if a stripped down Buddhism can help.



I think it is the promise of dissatisfaction's cessation that appeals to Western atheist/agnostic Buddhists, rather than finding an ultimate meaning in life. Meditation is shown to benefit one's state of mind in many ways; simply doing so can establish this for the practitioner.


But meaning is a relative term. Meaning is something humans as individuals bring to their lives. It is not necessary for meaning to be granted to them by an external being like God.


While utterly tragic, a child who dies young could be granted loving experiences by caring parents, relatives, and close friends of the family. Those who survive will be haunted by the pain whether we turn to dust after we die or go on. Likewise, we can still seek the goal of ceasing dissatisfaction regardless of what happens after we die. For this life, if not another or others, it remains an important process.


May 22, 2012 -- 12:02AM, gangajal wrote:

I posted this in the Hinduism section because many of my posts in the Buddhism section have been removed. I had also previously received emails threatening to stop my access to Beliefnet if I posted in the Buddhism section.



That sounds bizarre. I visit the Buddhism debate forum here and there and never spotted you doing anything that would warrant such an extreme response. It's supposed to be a debate board, in any case.

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2 years ago  ::  Dec 09, 2012 - 11:55AM #7
gangajal
Posts: 835

Kartari,


It does not matter how Buddhism reacted to local systems like for example, Tibetan Bon, long after Buddha was dead. Buddha had to face various Indian systems during his time. How did he react to them? I have gone through some parts of Tripitaka and found that Buddha believed in the 33 Hindu Deities. He meditated under Gurus and attained the supernatural goals prescribed by those systems. Yes, he was not satisfied by those experiences in that he did not believe that these experiences were the end of the road. Nevertheless, it does not seem right to claim that Buddha's original message was entirely unconcerned with the supernatural or Deities. He accepted the existence of the supernatural and the Deities, probably from personal experience through meditation under then famous Gurus, even if he wanted to go beyond them. The fact that Buddha was searching for a path to end the endless process of cyclical reincarnation, a goal for all branches of Vedanta, seem to suggest that he was in fact a believer in the supernatural.  It is not true that Hindus did not know about the path out of endless reincarnation. (There is no such thing as Brahminism; It is a pejorative term coined by 19th century colonial Indologists.) All branches of Vedanta agree that Chittasuddhi, purification of mind, is the minimum requirement for escaping from the endless cycle of reincarnation. The cycle is endless only for the morally impure.


It is simply not true that all supernatural beliefs have been superimposed on Buddhism centuries after Buddha's death.  Buddha himself believed in supernatural things like Karma, reincarnation or rebirth, the 33 Hindu Deities, (what he thought to be) 'lower' meditative experiences.


What secular Buddhists are doing in the western world is to utilize what they think of Buddha's teachings for cessation of dissatisfaction. I agee that western Buddhists are only seeing what they want to see. I have no problem with that. They have the right to take what they want from Buddha's teachings. The reason for this attitude is most probably due to their dissatisfaction with the Christian teaching of blind belief. All I am saying is that I am skeptical if it is possible to end all dissatisfaction by stripping Buddhism of all supernatural elements since it is quite obvious Buddha himself did not do any such thing.


[[Ultimately though, I do not see how holding to theistic and other supernatural beliefs is important to the ultimate Buddhist goal.]]


It is not necessary to believe in either theistic or supernatural things. One should also not close one's mind to these possibilities provided these things are personally experienced. Some extreme forms of Advaita Vedanta like Ajatavada, for example, is indifferent to Deities. Nevertheless, the question of how can one completely remove all dissatisfaction in an imperfect relative world remains? A famous mantra in one of the Upanishads raises this question. It raises the question about how one can be completely satisfied in a relative world since all things come to an end in such a world?  Only the Bhuma or the Infinite can permanently satisfy some one. The Infinite in the sense being used here can not be this relative world of our senses.

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2 years ago  ::  Dec 23, 2012 - 6:29PM #8
Kartari
Posts: 2,165

gangajal,


Dec 9, 2012 -- 11:55AM, gangajal wrote:

It does not matter how Buddhism reacted to local systems like for example, Tibetan Bon, long after Buddha was dead. Buddha had to face various Indian systems during his time. How did he react to them? I have gone through some parts of Tripitaka and found that Buddha believed in the 33 Hindu Deities. He meditated under Gurus and attained the supernatural goals prescribed by those systems. Yes, he was not satisfied by those experiences in that he did not believe that these experiences were the end of the road. Nevertheless, it does not seem right to claim that Buddha's original message was entirely unconcerned with the supernatural or Deities. He accepted the existence of the supernatural and the Deities, probably from personal experience through meditation under then famous Gurus, even if he wanted to go beyond them.



I am aware of at least some of his experiences with gurus, but I am unaware of the 33 deities. I am interested in reading these suttas, might you recall which ones specifically?


From my own Pali canon readings, I've read through the Dhammapada several times over, multiple translations, and have read a number of suttas, though certainly not the entire canon yet. From those readings, I've seen not a clue that the Buddha was concerned with any deities; at most, referring to them in passing, in no more committed a manner as a modern athiest might say OMG.


Dec 9, 2012 -- 11:55AM, gangajal wrote:

The fact that Buddha was searching for a path to end the endless process of cyclical reincarnation, a goal for all branches of Vedanta, seem to suggest that he was in fact a believer in the supernatural.



I agree entirely. His postulation of the process as anatta (or anatman) merely redefined the meaning of reincarnation, rather than rejected it, despite modern secular interpretations which avoid supernatural connotations.


But believing in the supernatural does not necessitate a belief in deities. I am curious to read any suttas which suggest the Buddha did.


Dec 9, 2012 -- 11:55AM, gangajal wrote:

It is not true that Hindus did not know about the path out of endless reincarnation. (There is no such thing as Brahminism; It is a pejorative term coined by 19th century colonial Indologists.)



I apologize, I was not aware the term was pejorative. I've been studying world and Asian history lately and have come across the term without realizing it was not a favorable description. unfortunately, while Westerners like myself owe much to the 19th century translators, they did not entirely mask their condescension towards, or ignorance of, the East.


Dec 9, 2012 -- 11:55AM, gangajal wrote:

All branches of Vedanta agree that Chittasuddhi, purification of mind, is the minimum requirement for escaping from the endless cycle of reincarnation. The cycle is endless only for the morally impure.



I do not know as much about Hinduism as you do. Thanks for the info.


Dec 9, 2012 -- 11:55AM, gangajal wrote:

It is simply not true that all supernatural beliefs have been superimposed on Buddhism centuries after Buddha's death.  Buddha himself believed in supernatural things like Karma, reincarnation or rebirth, the 33 Hindu Deities, (what he thought to be) 'lower' meditative experiences.



Again, I agree about rebirth and karma, originally understood in a supernatural context by the Buddha and his early followers. I'd like to read the suttas regarding deities before ceding about deities however, as while I remain far from being an expert on the canon, I have read extensively on the subject nonetheless and have become fairly convinced the Buddha himself was likely not a theist, or was at least a non-theist.


Dec 9, 2012 -- 11:55AM, gangajal wrote:

What secular Buddhists are doing in the western world is to utilize what they think of Buddha's teachings for cessation of dissatisfaction. I agee that western Buddhists are only seeing what they want to see. I have no problem with that. They have the right to take what they want from Buddha's teachings.



To be honest, I think it is part of the human condition, to see what we want to see. From my studies, it's clear to me that throughout the world, regardless of the religion in question, the masses have tended to adopt teachings they like and discount what they do not, which depends largely upon preexisting cultural norms. The actual teachings of specific individuals tend to give way to what the masses find safe and appealing, it seems. That's not to say, however, that other wisdom does not emerge from these reinterpretations.


Dec 9, 2012 -- 11:55AM, gangajal wrote:

The reason for this attitude is most probably due to their dissatisfaction with the Christian teaching of blind belief.



That is likely true of some ex-Christian atheist Buddhists.


Dec 9, 2012 -- 11:55AM, gangajal wrote:

All I am saying is that I am skeptical if it is possible to end all dissatisfaction by stripping Buddhism of all supernatural elements since it is quite obvious Buddha himself did not do any such thing.



Well, I tend to look at all of religion as the process of humanity's search for meaning and wisdom. Just because the Buddha himself didn't say something doesn't mean it isn't true. I do tend to favor the original teachings as Theravada traditions utilize, though I also find some Mahayanist concepts appealing, like emptiness for example, which strikes me as a very powerful truth that, to my understanding, came after the Buddha. Also, that one does not need to become a monk to become enlightened (a Mahayanist perspective). Humanity has the innate capacity to find wisdom, as the Buddha's story itself teaches us. So I am a fan of the idea that, if it doesn't make sense to me, I have the right to reject it; and if in the future that same thing does come to make sense, I am free to incorporate it once more into my philosophy and spiritual practice.


Dec 9, 2012 -- 11:55AM, gangajal wrote:


[[Ultimately though, I do not see how holding to theistic and other supernatural beliefs is important to the ultimate Buddhist goal.]]


It is not necessary to believe in either theistic or supernatural things. One should also not close one's mind to these possibilities provided these things are personally experienced. Some extreme forms of Advaita Vedanta like Ajatavada, for example, is indifferent to Deities. Nevertheless, the question of how can one completely remove all dissatisfaction in an imperfect relative world remains? A famous mantra in one of the Upanishads raises this question. It raises the question about how one can be completely satisfied in a relative world since all things come to an end in such a world?  Only the Bhuma or the Infinite can permanently satisfy some one. The Infinite in the sense being used here can not be this relative world of our senses.



To me, it's all about the process. I think this holds true whether one believes in future lives or not. We may find it futile to end all dissatisfaction; perhaps you are right. But given we are here for a limited time, I think that's all we really can do, is begin and maintain the process - proceed towards more awareness than when we started. Should we die, at least we lived well, and helped other to live well; and should something more exist for us beyond death, then we have prepared ourselves as best we could.

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2 years ago  ::  Dec 23, 2012 - 11:43PM #9
gangajal
Posts: 835

Kartari,


    Thank you for your detailed reply.


    I have given some references in the Pali Canon that mention 33 Deities and other Devatas:


(1) Sakkapanha Sutta:Sakka's Questions


A God consults the Buddha (Digha Nikaya 21)


(2) Mahasamaya Sutta: The Mighty Gathering


Devas come to see Buddha (Digha Nikaya 20)


(3) Kevaddha Sutta:About Kevaddha


What Brahma Didn't know (Digha Nikaya 11)



Gangajal

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2 years ago  ::  Jan 20, 2013 - 12:37AM #10
Kartari
Posts: 2,165

gangajal,


Thank you so much. I have still not had the opportunity to sit down and get to these suttas, but I do intend to. I'll report back when I do. :)

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