Sunday, July 14, 2013

More on the Conspiracy to Create an Unnatural Buddhism

Here's a spot-on blog in Tricycle from Lama Jampa Thaye described as "a scholar, author, and meditation master from the UK, trained in both the Karma Kagyu and Sakya traditions of Tibetan Buddhism." We Are Not Kind Machines: A Radical Rejection of Scientific Buddhism
This is welcomed push back to the widening conspiracy of the so-called "naturalizing Buddhism" movement that sees itself as the White Knight rescuing Buddha Dharma from superstition and supernaturalism.
Lama Jampa opens with the observation:
Science seems omnipresent in the modern world, and its explanatory force and benefits are hard to deny. Indeed, its success has even led some, including a number of well-regarded figures in the contemporary Buddhist world, to argue that the dharma itself must be made more “scientific” if it is to survive.
What this is responding to is the false thinking that (1) the Buddha Dharma needs protection to survive, and (2) that somehow making Buddha Dharma more scientific is the path to its survival. Both points are wrong. The question "on the ground," so to speak, is not about survival but about transplantation and acculturation. It is a given that as the Buddha Dharma comes to "the West" to be transplanted here, there must be some kind of acculturation of conceptualization so that people in the West can have the conceptual bridges to understand what the Buddha Dharma is talking about. Building the conceptual bridges is what is called the "accommodation" phase by Peter D. Hershock in his book Chan Buddhism .
Hershock points out that every culture has its generalized worldview and every worldview is based on polarizations which characterize the contours of the natural tensions in that society. To become transplanted and acculturated, the Buddha Dharma must address the particular and specific features of each cultural configuration with which it comes into contact.  For example, ideas about what is a person and what is death are central themes and axes of polarization in every culture, but the ideas are polarized in specific configurations somewhat differently in each culture.
To Hershock the process of assimilation is a two way street, the Buddha Dharma brings changes to the culture and the culture brings changes to how the Buddha Dharma is conceptualized.  The process of assimilation and acculturation takes place in two phases of accommodation and advocacy. Hershock notes that he is not proposing the two phases are strictly linear, but may be occurring simultaneously or in rhythm.  I would point out that as a precondition phase we can speak of the initial introduction phase before either accommodation or advocacy has occurred.
The accommodation phase requires that the strangeness of the worldview of the Buddha Dharma be made familiar in some basic ways so that the worldview of the new context can relate.  In this way, the Buddha Dharma accommodates itself to the indigenous cultural framework.  A past example of this was when the Buddha Dharma came to China, the word Tao was taken up and used as a bridge to explain certain features of the Buddha Dharma.  Some people mistake this aspect of accommodation, where the Buddha Dharma is accommodating itself to indigenous concepts, as being "influenced by" those concepts. In this way it is often said that Buddhism in China was "influenced by" Taoism. However, this is not actually the case. The use of the indigenous cultural terminology and frameworks does not mean that the Buddha Dharma has changed, because the Buddha Dharma is not dependent or established on words or cultural concepts. 
The second phase is the advocacy phase which begins after some measure of accommodation has occurred.  In the advocacy phase the now somewhat accommodated and familiarized concepts are reviewed with an eye to how they are actually distinguishable from the indigenous conceptual frame.  Using the example of the Tao in China, the goal is to show how the Buddha Dharma view of the Tao is distinguishable from the indigenous view of the Tao.
Here in the West we have two competing frameworks of worldview, religion (primarily Christian) and science.  So it is not at all unusual for the propagation of Buddha Dharma to begin by accommodating itself to these two worldviews.  This is analogous to the Buddha Dharma coming to China and having to accommodate itself to the two competing worldviews of Taoism and Confucianism. This puts us in the middle between the two contending worldviews where if we are perceived as being too close to one framework then the other framework will write off the Buddha Dharma with the same critique that it uses against the other.
For instance, followers of the Buddha Dharma, when speaking to Christians, may use the word God to explain that the Buddha Dharma does recognize a transcendent awareness. But in the advocacy phase, it is made clear that the Buddha Dharma does not look at God with an anthropomorphic eye. Then with a bit more accommodation we can explain that the Buddha Dharma conception of God is more like the Christian mystics' view of God as the infinite Godhead, or source of all reality, etc. Then with another turn at advocacy the conception of God is related to the Buddha Dharma conceptions of emptiness, Dharmakaya, True Suchness, etc. Likewise, in accommodating to the Christian idea of life after death, the Buddha Dharma says, "Yes there is life after death," but then in the advocacy phase, the Buddha Dharma distinguishes what it means by life after death as a cyclic process involving karma and rebirth and not the eternal cul-de-sac of either heaven or hell. This is a lively process, but if the life is removed then the propagation devolves into mere propaganda. 
Similarly, in the West we who are followers of the Buddha Dharma must accommodate to the framework of the worldview of science.  It is when trying to accommodate to the polarized framing of the scientific worldview that we are seeing the "naturalizing of Buddhism" idea come to the forefront.  However, followers of the Buddha Dharma need to be most vigilant at this point in order to remain centered in the Buddha Dharma for the purpose of accommodation and not become co-opted by the scientific worldview and lose touch with the Buddha Dharma. Lama Jampa's blog post is on this concern.
Too many people, even some who have more than a passing introduction to Buddha Dharma, have become confused and conflate the Science Dharma with the Buddha Dharma.  In both Dharmas, there is reason, inquiry, a basic acknowledgement of the value of empirical experience, but how these polarized issues are dealt with is importantly distinguished. The Buddhists who are involved in the so-called naturalization movement are lost in the accommodation phase and have lost sight of the advocacy phase. The naturalization movement has two general proponents, those who are advocates of science and those who are Buddhists. The advocates of science are not interested in the Buddha Dharma per se, and instead they want to incorporate Buddhism into a subservient branch of science. It is from this point of view that the naturalization movement wants to alter Buddha Dharma to meet its own criteria. Followers of the Buddha Dharma need to be most aware of this. It is for this reason that Lama Jampa  writes,
While science itself is not dangerous to the dharma, the appeal for a “scientific Buddhism,” an insistence that Buddhism must accord with the materialist propositions often paired with scientism, most definitely is. Such a Buddhism is not the dharma.
The followers of the Buddha Dharma who think that they are helping the Buddha Dharma be transplanted to the West by being co-opted into the naturalization movement are simply being duped and pulled away from the Buddha Dharma. Many, if not most of them, do not understand what is transpiring in the Science Dharma itself and do not perceive the fight about materialism that is taking place among the followers of the Science Dharma.  Instead of aligning themselves with the materialists wing of the Science Dharma, the followers of the Buddha Dharma who want to engage in the legitimate accommodation with the Science Dharma must do so with full understanding of the polarizations and the framework of those polarizations that are within the Science Dharma itself, and chief of these is the question of materialism. 
Materialism affects (infects?) both science and religion.  Both scientism and creationism are materialist.  Buddha Dharma is not materialist. In the accommodation phase, Buddha Dharma must speak to both religion and science in terms that are not materialistic in order to speak in their own terms to those who are within the religious and scientific worldviews without being materialistic.   In the field of religion this means speaking to the contemplative practitioners of religion and not buying into the materialistic doctrines of religion. In the field of science this means speaking to those who value the scientific method of inquiry and hypothesis and not buying into the materialistic doctrines of the philosophy of science, or those of pseudo-science.   
One example is the subject of Lama Jampa's blog: the neuro-science of meditation.  To study meditation from the perspective of measuring brain activity is a science that is usurped by materialistic view of the psyche that only sees mind as physical brain activity.
Lama Jampa writes,
Now, it may very well be that brain activity changes during meditation. But it's difficult to see how knowing this could contribute anything significant to the process of dissolving the twin obscurations of disturbing emotions and nescience, a dissolution that alone brings about enlightenment. Would, for instance, Jetsun Milarepa have achieved decisive realization more swiftly if he had possessed a knowledge of neurology? The plain unvarnished truth is that while a variety of physical effects—from the modification of pulse rate to altered frequency of brain waves—may accompany meditation, these effects are not the source of the experience of the meditating mind any more than a lessening of indigestion.
This paragraph makes a point that is very important. It is the essential difference between neuro-physiological science and psychological science. Today, we have mostly lost this distinction and mistake neuro-physiological science as if it is psychological science, which it is definitely not. The physical sciences may approach the physical world and study it, but that is not the same thing as approaching and scientifically studying the psychological world. Those who have lost this distinction I would put into the camp of scientism. I have nothing directly against neuro-physiological science in itself, except that it has usurped the field of psychological science by calling neuro-physiology the real psychology and denigrating real psychology by calling it "subjective" or even worse, such as "mysticism."

I take Lama Jampa to be saying that the study of brain activity should not be confused with the study of the psychological activity of mind. To view the world as if the brain is the ground for explaining the world is the physiological leaning view that is all too often stained by materialism.  To view the world as if the mind is the ground for explaining the world is the psychological view. Brain activity is an objectification of mind activity. To the extent that the objectification of mind activity is taken literally and mind is being explained by the activity of brain physiology, then to that extent the view is materialistic. Objectification is to mind what literalization and materialization is to the practice of the Buddha Dharma, i.e. false thinking about mind.

Friday, July 12, 2013

The Opiate of Logical Speculation

Response to “Buddhism as the Opiate of the(downwardly-mobile) Middle Class: The Case of Thanissaro Bhikkhu
This is an interesting blog that seems based on nothing but the writer’s fantasy of Buddhism, not even on emptiness. But because the blog is titled “Speculative Non-Buddhism”  that is not surprising.  This is definitely “non-Buddhism.” And as for the “speculation,” in the Buddha Dharma speculation is the sine qua non of false thinking.
To say, “for [Thanissaro Bhikkhu], Buddhism is exactly the same as Vedanta or Jainism at its core,” is next to defamation and has no evidentiary support. Also saying “Unlike most x-buddhist teachers” implies that Ajaan Geoff is an “x-buddhist teacher” when he is not either an “ex-buddhist” nor an “ex-teacher.” Of course in one sense, Buddha Dharma teaches the One Vehicle in which all vehicles, even the Vehicles of Humans and Devas such as Vedanta or Jainism, have the same basis because all things (dharmas) are nothing but manifestations of mind. However, Buddha Dharma does not ever take the position as a positive assertion “that we are moving closer to permanently rejoining the perfect eternal atman, escaping the trap of this world once and for all” except in a very limited way as a very temporary expedient means for “crying and scared children” who are lost in the cul-de-sac of nihilism.

Specifically, this blog is guilty of misrepresentation of Ajaan Geoff’s teachings.  It is just a plain misrepresentation to say, “In his essay ‘No-self or Not-self?’ he makes it clear that his understanding of the teaching of anatta is that there is, in fact, an eternal soul, but that nothing that is part of our time-space continuum is part of that soul, and so we must learn not to be attached to anything in this samsaric world.”  That essay says no such thing. I invite all the readers to see for themselves by opening the link to the essay itself and searching for every reference to the word “soul.”
Tom Pepper's blog makes the fundamental mistake that non-Buddhists often make by equating the use of the word “mind” with the use of the word “self” or “soul.”  For example, nowhere in the excerpt of Ajaan’s use of the word “mind” does the word “core” appear, yet it is asserted that Ajaan is talking about a “core mind” as an eternal self or soul sort of thing, when he never said such a thing. There is just the assumption being read into Ajaan’s words that is not there in the meaning of the words. This rhetorical trick is useful for the writer, but is just plainly fallacious. Likewise the author does not understand what the term “unconditioned mind” means and imagines it to mean an “eternal and unchanging” "core mind" kind of thing. This kind of confusion is a symptom of the illness of logical speculation.

I can’t find anything in this blog that credibly represents either the teaching of Ajaan Geoff or the Buddha Dharma.  Believing this kind of logical speculation to be anything but false thining is the real opiate to be avoided.

Post Script: After writing the above I discovered that I was misreading the meaning of "x-buddhist teacher" to mean "ex-buddhist teacher."  After looking more at the blog, I see that the contributors of the "Speculative Non-Buddhist" blog use the term "x-buddhist" in a derogatory manner to mean their judgmental and speculative view of the real Buddha Dharma as a teaching of falsehoods and hallucinations. They believe that their "non-buddhism" which they speculate about is the real Buddha Dharma and that what they call "x-buddhism" is phony Buddha Dharma, even though it is what is taught by the actual certified teachers of Buddha Dharma.