Buddha for Dead White Males
March 10, 2010 7:01 PM Subscribe
What are some good resources on Buddhism for someone who wants to remain attached to Western scientific rationalism?
posted by Lifeson to Religion & Philosophy (35 answers total) 81 users marked this as a favorite
My worldview is naturalistic and scientific, but I am trying to establish a better sense of aesthetics and spirituality while doing so as someone consciously influenced by Western rationalism. Periodically, I find myself attracted to many of the concepts I see attached to Buddhism, and decide that I want to learn more from it. However, whenever I get started reading about Buddhism, I always think I'm going to like it until it starts getting into metaphysics and ritual. The shortest way I can express it is that I like Buddhism until it gets religious.
What I like about Buddhism is its psychology. When I read current Western literature in philosophy of mind and cognitive science, the pervasive idea that personal identity is an illusion is something that intrigues me, and Buddhism seems to be built largely around this idea, and Western tradition is very poorly equipped to grapple with this assertion. So much of our psychology, our ethics, and our language centers around trying to reconcile the Ego with the Other or the External World, but the best I get from Western writers who deny personal identity is some vague hand-waving at "Eastern traditions that embraced this idea millennia ago" or some inarticulate fumbling at what to do after we deny the existence of the self.
When I read about Buddhist meditative practice, I am attracted to the exercises that draw attention to consciousness as a void filled with experiences; the exercise of trying to clear your mind demonstrates the impossibility of the act while forcing you to confront your unconscious habits of thought and to examine your mind and self.
I approach these sorts of exercises from a self-consciously Western pragmatist point of view: it always sounds like it's going to be a careful empirical study of consciousness, and a set of practices developed to enhance mental health by cultivating discipline to control one's own mind and constantly increase awareness of how the mind can trick itself. It teaches an ethic of relinquishment of self-destructive tendencies. It sounds functional and insightful while emphasizing the personal and spiritual functions of being human.
I think there's something in that tradition I'd like, but I'm having trouble finding anything that approaches Buddhism this way. The moment I start reading about karma, rebirth and Nirvana, or spirits and planes of existence I lose interest quickly. If I can study the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path from a source that approaches them as hermeneutics for human psychology, or presents a comprehensive exploration of Buddhist psychology and ethics as it relates to correlative topics in Western psychology and philosophy, I'd be happy.
I understand that simply asking this question may mean that I'm simply missing the point of Buddhism, but if there's a resource for Scientific Buddhism out there, I'd like to see it.