History, Evolution, and The Darwin Debate

Darwiniana header image 2

Buddhism as already naturalized

December 31st, 2011 · 1 Comment

I am not quite ready to review this book as promised, but will start anyway by noting that there is an explicit reference to Darwinism in the book as a background motivation to ‘naturalizing buddhism’: The Bodhisattva’s Brain: Buddhism Naturalized [Hardcover]
Owen Flanagan

That is totally misguided. I often wonder who I am dealing with as I observe someone reject Buddhism because it won’t fit in with Darwinism. Throwing out Darwinism is unthinkable. One can only throw up one’s hands.Buddhism has been tested by time, and enters secularism by the back door in Schopenhauer. You may prefer the old buddhism to Schopenhauer, not my point. The issue is to see that modernity is completely open to the past recreated inside it, if that is germane.
I recall, btw, Rajneesh making the observation that buddhists were always afraid philosophers would destroy them! So it seems here. Flanagan’s book is simply useless, but it sounds the note of academic pronunciamento pretty well, and will be hard to counter for many.

So let me rush to point out that Buddhism is already as naturalistic as you can get, despite a decided trend toward ‘weeds and foliage’ in Mahayana, and the obscurities of Tibetan buddhism.. But the basic core is eminently suited to the mood of science. So why this obsessive nitpicking with bad philosophy to completely flatten the whole subject. Not even nirvana remains as a conceptual core. It is a strange mindset, like having a problem with flowers because they stand out from the plant and stem. So with enlightenement (no coincidence the metaphor of the lotus bloom arises here so often) as a state of rare blooming that fulfills but is distinct from its source and surroundings. Flowers are supernatural exceptions, ???. Not
The naturalism of buddhism is, or should be transparent. To be sure Vedantists and Samkhya-ists often quarelled over the ‘dualism’ of Samkhya. But the latter is just a model. The unity of purusha and prakriti is somehow inevitable, but less clear to explanation. Who knows.
You have no grounds in saying that ‘nirvana’ is a supernatural state. Some might say so, but it is completely unnecessary. I could be wrong here. After all, if the Kantian categories show how close our minds are to the ‘out of matter’ hallucination, it might be ‘discussable’ to see enlightenment standing beyond nature. But you will always be haunted by the lotus bloom example: beyond, yet within.

It is a misunderstanding of what nature is, as the Romantics tried to show, btw. But even if you can’t see to put the state of enlightenment into a purely material context, so what? It is very close to something that must coexist in and with nature, just as, with our discussion of being and existence, there are things that are real but have a different form of existence. We can’t avoid this. Physicists shout their material ideology, but then use Platonic ideas in the form of mathematical equations to do all the explaining.

In any case, I point to the case of Rajneesh, a clear exemplar of the Enlightened state, who never indulged philosophical issues such as these. They never entered his path to enlightenment (although after he reached enlightenment as a teenager he went on to spend his early adulthood studying philosophy at the university, before he spoke publicly). I don’t think the question of the ‘path’ being some spiritual way outside of natue ever arose in his mind, as he always grooved over nature, jungle scenes, and the animalistic substrate of man. He certainly thought about going beyond mind, thought, to, what is that? It seems all too natural for buddhas to have arisen with the coming of homo sapiens.

These philosophical quibbles with buddhism, apart from some valid objections to accretions of nonsense, are ‘mind madness’, and part of the turmoil arising in the attempt to still the mind.

Tags: General

1 response so far ↓

  • 1 Darwiniana » Buddhism as a ‘modernity’ // Jan 2, 2012 at 2:39 pm

    […] Richard comment on buddhism Richard said, January 1, 2012 at 1:45 pm · Buddhism, whatever its liabilities when it’s left freely to evolve in historical contexts, when it’s working rightly and understood rightly, has actually delivered the goods as a redemptive vehicle (in an ultimate sense); I don’t get the feeling that I can say the same about contemporary science or anything else. […]

Leave a Comment